The official start to Vamos Theatre’s Finding Joy 2014 tour was at Jacksons Lane in London, as part of the London International Mime Festival. Up to this point we had performed the show at the intimate Coach House Theatre in Malvern, where we had been rehearsing for two weeks prior (as well as the fortnight in Worcester before that), and then a performance at Barnwood Park Arts College in Gloucester.
London, baby! Having arrived in the big smoke the night before, we were all ready for the get-in at Jacksons Lane on the Friday morning. The company (cast, tour manager Edmund, and I) were joined by Rachael Savage (director) for this opening event, and following the set construction Rachael and Edmund began work on the lighting. During this juncture, at any of the venues we are performing in, I am required to move about the stage holding a mask, assisting those behind the console focussing the lights to find any dark spots… and when the actors are away the stage manager gets to play! How could I not take the opportunity to “perform” whilst wearing a mask on a London stage, even though my only audience were those directing me (in a tech capacity) where to stand in the space.
Jacksons Lane was very welcoming and felt a comfortable environment, positive in what it could provide the performers and the audience; a well-raked auditorium giving a good view of the set from any seat, and the stage itself with ample space for the actors to manoeuvre both on and backstage. As stage manager, my biggest concern was making sure that everything would run smoothly both pre-show and during performances, and in each venue I have been constantly working to find easier and simpler ways of achieving this. I can happily say that all three sold-out shows at Jacksons Lane ran like clockwork, even with heightened nerves knowing that international producers and reviewers were sat in the audience! A truly terrific start to the tour.
Our next stop was Pocklington Arts Centre in Yorkshire, a friendly space that gave the company a tremendous amount of heart-warming comments after the show. The trip to Pocklington, including get-in, performance and get-out, was all achieved in less than twelve hours – there’s never a dull moment in this touring life!
Bristol-bound the following day, with time to sort our accommodation for the four days and a lovely opportunity to see something of the city. The Tobacco Factory Theatre has always been one of my favourite venues, so it was a dream come true to be working there. Once the set had been brought up and assembled it was clear how beautifully it was to be complimented by the old wooden floorboards that make up a large section of the performance area, which completed the textured ageing aesthetic of our scenery.
With a pillar situated in front of our scenery flats at either side of the stage… challenge accepted! In the second act, a particular scene has a lot of action downstage right on a seat-platform attached to the scenery flat, by removing this seat and positioning it in front of the pillar our problem was neatly solved and the set temporarily achieved a more three-dimensional aspect. Now it might not be the stage manager’s role to watch the performance from backstage, but in Act 2 I am confined to the space behind that stage-right flat; between the various tasks that I perform behind there I can sometimes observe a few of the scenes through tiny gaps in the set. In the aforementioned scene, the character Danny tenderly helps his grandmother Joy get ready for bed, but the action occurs so close to the flat that I only know what is happening from cues in the music and the reactions of the audience. In the Tobacco Factory Theatre these actions were relocated further downstage and this allowed me the rare privilege to witness part of the scene more closely, and therefore experience these emotive moments together with the audience.
All three of our large Bristolian audiences were full of much appreciated laughter and energy, particularly on the first night where they gave a standing ovation and insisted on an extra curtain call! Richard, Sarah, Nanou and James were all extremely touched by the response.
This last week took us to Hampshire, but prior to that were a couple of other performances, this time in schools. Vamos had been commissioned by The Association for Care Training (ACT) to perform Finding Joy at the Hereford College of Arts and Bishop Perowne College in Worcestershire, in conjunction with the students taking part in themed drama workshops on social care.
And then came the rain… well, it had been raining before now, but our road-trip down to Havant last week had us driving through cats and dogs! The get-in at the theatre was exceptionally wet, though thankfully the doors were only a few feet from our van, and we were also greatly cheered by the knowledge of another sold-out show that night!
The black-box performance space was narrower than we were used to, and my usual spot behind the stage-right flat in Act 2 kept me on my toes, quite literally… There was only enough room for one person to stand, so the scene that required Sarah to also occupy that space meant that things briefly became rather crowded backstage!
The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre in Havant proved to be a venue full of wonder-filled surprises. With the get-in complete and our bellies filled with luncheon, a short expedition was in order! Last year the company introduced a small side project: “Where’s Joy?” photographs that would find Joy in different places on the tour. This year we are starting the project afresh and Joy has so far been found admiring Vamos’ large advertising banner outside Jacksons Lane, as well as imitating a chalked sketch someone had drawn of her at the Tobacco Factory on their comment-board. Now in Hampshire she was to be found dancing through a traditional big band rehearsal! Whilst finishing assembling the set we could hear the highly appropriate foot-tapping sounds of Mike Birch’s Almost Big Band coming from the room behind us; taking Joy’s hand, we delicately danced through their rehearsal and I took a couple of photos for the project. Nanou and I also discovered a picturesque replica 1950s kitchen in the Centre’s museum, where Young Joy and her husband Walter thus enjoyed “playing house” for a few minutes
and were captured on camera before they had to get ready for the show that evening.
For these first couple of weeks on tour we have already traveled up and down the country, receiving wonderful acclaim from our delightful audiences; this excellent adventure promises to bring even greater experiences as we travel onward! I will continue to tell of my own experiences in this blog, and narrate our journey as we wend our way through sunshine and rain so that others may find Joy, and more than occasionally I will be signing off on Vamos’ Twitter page as TM, so please do look out for that too.
It’s 103 miles to Somerset, we got a full tank of diesel, half a pack of Hula Hoops, there’s floods and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!