Showtime: Jude Mack

The big day was finally upon us. The well-trodden boards of the Tobacco Factory stage were suddenly graced with Ruby on her scooter, Daniella dancing around on a cupcake high and Diggory in iridescent leggings and a crown made of candles.

We arrived at the theatre early on Sunday morning and the excitement was palpable. All of the mentors and students were uncontrollably hyper but Daisy focused our somewhat manic energy into an intensive and impressive game of (our own version of) Zip Zap Boing. We were then handed the dazzling costumes created by Bea Born and Tiggy Bayley and embarked on a sassy fashion show of strutting and posing as everyone felt their character coming alive.

We ran through the show a few times, only interrupted with sporadic dance breaks whenever Justin Bieber came on the speakers, and ironed out any last minute details. We then took our places for the performance. We sat excitedly as the final touches of face paint were added to every actor’s face (including blue glitter lips for the food items left in the Deep Freeze too long), and our massive audience took their seats.

Every piece was incredibly funny and touching and it made a huge difference to everyone’s performance to have a laughing, tearful, cooing audience reacting to our actions onstage. Every student performed with the confidence of a professional actor; projecting to fill the space, using physicality to portray their emotions and pausing to receive the abundant laughs of the audience. The most noticeable thing about the entire day though was just how much fun everyone was having. We were all incredibly proud of the vibrant, colourful characters we had created and the amazingly high level of performance, but it was the sheer joy of the students that made it such a special experience.

Miski perfectly summed up everyone’s feelings when we were all hugging goodbye by yelling, ‘aw man, can’t you come back next Wednesday? Let’s do another show!’

Week Ten: Leah Weerasinghe

Today marked our 10th and final session in the black box space that has become Bristol New Voices’ home over the past weeks. After a few quick catch ups and armed with biscuits and squash, we were prepared for whatever the session threw at us. Or, more precisely, whatever disasters we were about to face. This brings us on to Hughie’s new warm up game ‘Natural Disasters’ where both mentors and mentees alike became expert in dealing with all kinds of weathers. Tornadoes, fires, earthquakes and floods – we’ve seen it all. However, without a doubt, Ruby C’s urgency in her decision to clamber upon and cling to furniture in order to avoid the ‘Great Lawrence Hill flood of 2016’ was a particular highlight.

After the mayhem of the disasters had subsided, we revisited an earlier game of walking across the room and greeting each other in accordance with different emotions and characters. It was lovely to be able to return to this previous exercise and to see and feel the transformations in both the young people and the mentors since the first time these games were played. We have some very talented, intelligent and thoughtful young people in our company. Daisy then added a new element to this exercise, as we walked across the room, our characters met each other for the first time: whilst Rafferty the balloon found a new friend in Carly the Cupcake Panda, Carlton Chop and Rusty the broken down tour bus seemed such kindred spirits that the only reasonable conclusion was that they were cruelly separated at birth. If only we had a term more then I have no doubt that there would be ample material and pairings for the Company to continue to explore!

Once the games were over, we began rehearsing our scenes within our pairs. Olga and I spent our time working on the overall spacing for the scene, creating animated reactions to each other and, specifically for myself, how to kneel like a balloon (if a balloon could kneel!).

All pairs then were given the chance to perform and share their work which was especially exciting as we got to see what everyone else had been getting up to over the past two weeks and experience the scenarios that our wonderful playwright Adam has so carefully crafted. As performers, we followed our first rule which was ‘Be Brave’ and as the audience, the second rule ‘Be Kind’, was especially important. The run-through ended with our first bow as a company and, even though it was a practice, it was wonderful to share the stage space with these brilliant young people. We all can’t wait for Sunday.

Week Nine: Max Thrower

With 11 days until the New Voices grace the Tobacco Factory with some of the best characters seen since Winnie The Pooh, our penultimate session began with an air of sadness and excitement. We were sad that this was the last session with mentee Aji and the prospect that the project had nearly reached its end. However, the excitement for the fun yet to be had and the achievements to be made was palpable.

We began with an improvisation game (led by our resident improv mentor Eli) in which three people go in the middle and at all times there must be one person sitting, lying down and standing up. Scenarios were performed, which saw the likes of Diggory, Olga and Ruby in a furious battle of wits (and sits) to claim the precious cubicle stall. In my opinion it was a testament to the relationships built over the last nine weeks; allowing mentors and mentees to comfortably interact in a game that I don’t think would have been possible earlier on in the process.

After we’d had our fun, it was down to business. Daisy dealt out Adam’s scripts (that are, quite frankly, charming) and we split into our pairs or threes to start rehearsing. Mentor Jude and I worked with mentees Jaz and Aji to put our charming characters to life. Jaz quickly asserted herself as director, giving advice on posture, voice and movement. We then watched Olga and Leah’s and gave constructive feedback. If their’s is anything to go by, the audience really is in for a treat come the 20th.

Our end game was suggested by Sammy, and consisted of an interrogative game of Grandma’s footsteps called ‘king of the castle’. The appointed ruler was allowed to ask questions to those approaching and could send back all those they deemed unfit. Some rulers were fair and understanding of their approaching subjects, others ruled with an iron fist, not taking any excuse as a valid reason to encroach on their precious kingdom.

We ended with the usual game of zip zap boing. Frankly I thought I was incredible at this game. A tour de force: the incoming storm; the Rocky Balboa of zipping and zapping. Slayed by a sly Kit Kat from Hector seconds into the game, this proved not to be the case. Maybe I’m getting old or perhaps the students are becoming the masters. Whatever it is, some like Daniella are uncannily skilled at this game, playing with such grace that I can only describe it as breath taking.

After we’d said goodbye to the students, we had a quick chat with teacher Adrian who gave us some lovely feedback, informing us how the kids really look forward to the sessions and how even students from years nine and ten had been asking as to when they got to participate in such session. Wonderful to hear, wonderful to take part in. I’ll be sad when it’s over. But in the meantime, we have a show to do…

Week Eight: Hughie Stanley

After seven weeks working together, the feeling in the Bristol New Voices camp this week was one of excitement and expectation: we got to read through our new scripts – written by our playwright, Adam Peck – and give life to all the wonderful ideas that our team of mentors and young people had come up with over the last few weeks. Very quickly, a buzz of excitement could be felt in the room as everyone was busy getting down to the (serious!) business of creating some really exciting scenes, characters and…theatre!

It is testament to everyone on this project that our Wednesday afternoon sessions in Lawrence Hill are so full of energy, enthusiasm and great creativity. With a few more weeks to go now before our sharing event at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres on Sunday March 20th, I cannot wait to see the work we have all put in continue to develop and grow into something wonderful for everyone to come and watch. This week marked the start of work on the scripts; now onto more rehearsing, more discovering and the opportunity to really bring those scripts to life!

Thank you, Bristol Alumni Foundation!

We want to extend a huge ‘thank you’ to the University of Bristol Alumni Foundation, who have just awarded us an (incredibly generous!) £300 grant to go towards making our March showcase happen!

Thanks to this grant we will be able to print posters and flyers to advertise the show around the university and Lawrence Hill communities, make even better costumes and props to bring our very exciting characters to life…

Thank you, Bristol Alumni and Friends!

 

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Week Seven: Emer Clark

It was another great session with Bristol New Voices this week! We arrived in a hurry and made our way in to the drama studio, a space we are now very familiar with. Within minutes we were huddled in a circle playing a very competitive game of piggy in the middle… whilst also having a dance to Justin Bieber of course! The session this week began with a game of ‘Beans’. This involved everyone acting out different types of beans as they walked around the space. We had some fantastic runner beans, jumping beans, jelly beans and some of the most interesting looking kidney beans I have ever seen! Keeping with this food theme, we then did a vocal warm up, going around the circle and shouting out the name of different kinds of fruit and vegetables, adding an action and altering our voices to go with this action as well. We had some excited blueberries, some loud apples and an exquisite pineapple.

Once warmed up and full of excitement, we did an activity which involved walking around the space in different ‘manners’ (carefully, confidently, suspiciously…) and then being led by different parts of the body. We started walking around as if we were being led by our noses… but it got trickier. We had to then lead with our stomachs, and eventually our toes. With each action, different types of characters started to emerge. When leading with our nose we felt sneaky, but when leading with our stomachs we felt more relaxed and as if we didn’t have a care in the world! It was really interesting to see how changing how we walked really influenced the types of characters being created.

Following this, we were then put in the pairs from last week and we reminded each other (and ourselves) of the characters we came up with last session. We re-introduced these characters and quickly recapped their age, family members, favourite things and their dislikes. Our strange and curious characters once again came to life! We did something called ‘hot seating’. We all took it in turns to sit in a chair as our characters whilst our pair asked us a series of questions. If you ever want to know what a Cupcake Panda does on a day to day basis… this is where you find out! We discovered loads about our own characters and our partner’s characters, which was great.

Now time to get these characters on their feet! We did some improvisation exercises in our pairs and were given different scenarios to act out. We focused on how our characters walked and talked, and how they interacted with the other character in the scenes we were creating. The space was filled with the noise of different characters chatting enthusiastically. A pair of scissors waddled about, feeling guilty after taking a precious feather from their best friend, a bird. Luckily it seemed the bird quickly forgave the scissors and all was mended. We watched each other’s improvisations and tried to gauge the different characters and their relationships. After each scene, hands shot up with eager guesses as to what the characters were! It was great fun and a really interesting experience. We are all becoming more comfortable performing in front of each other and this meant some really funny, dynamic scenes were created.

We then finished with a fast paced game of ‘Zip, Zap, Boing’, which we are becoming very good at! The session this week was fantastic and the scenes we created really reflected how we have developed as a group. We all left this week full of excitement, especially as we get closer to our show date on the 20th of March.

Week Six: Eli Lower

Phew, what a week! Keen to get back into the swing of New Voices, it was a scrum this afternoon to get into the drama studio, drop our bags, and get straight to it. Excitingly, today was our first session welcoming our brilliant playwright Adam into the room, so we needed a couple of warm ups to remind each other of everyone’s names (and to showcase some of the team’s abilities to be very sneaky dancers!).

Once we were sufficiently warmed, we used our bodies to physically recreate several scenes – an abandoned classroom, a dusty attic…. but with a catch. Three members of the group had to leave the room while the rest of us built the world, becoming bins, computers, spiders, and more. Then, they re-entered, and by tapping each person on the head to hear a quick phrase – “my legs hurt!” – they tried to decode the scene. As it got harder, the detectives were allowed one question. Since the one question on everyone’s lips, “What are you?”, was forbidden, they had to settle for things like “Why do your legs hurt?” which soon revealed enough to show that Leah, whose legs hurt from being sat on all day, was a classroom chair! This game gave us all great practise at being inanimate, or non-human objects, which set us up perfectly for the next exercise.

Being carefully observed by Adam, we then went off to create characters of our own. This really gave our young people time to shine, as they came up with suggestions like surfer scarves, globetrotting eagles, and Justin Bieber’s horse-mother! Then we paired up to ask each other questions about our characters – the most important being, “if our characters met, would they get along?”, which got an almost resounding “yes!”. (One student wasn’t so sure about being friends with Jacob’s character, but he was a smelly apple core who lived in a compost bin, so who can blame them?!) All of the characters that were created were absolutely fantastic, and it was lovely to see our young people really get into the details, creating families, hopes and fears, and thinking of creative names.

After the session was over, we chatted to Adam about where to take the project from here, and we can just tell now that with his input the project is only going to get better. We’re now able to start thinking about how to build the scenes, explore characterisation, and even have inklings about what we might want to do with the set!

As we gear up towards the show on the 20th, it’s going to be so exciting to see our ideas develop from this embryonic stage into a fully-fledged narrative to be performed to an audience at the Tobacco Factory! Bring on next week!

Week Five: A Week Off!

This week was half term at City Academy, and it felt very strange not to be heading down to Lawrence Hill, en masse, for our regular Wednesday afternoon workshop.

So, to combat the ‘no-BNV-blues’ we had a team sushi-making night! Despite missing a few mentors, we had a lovely evening chatting all things New Voices (and non-New Voices) and getting excited about the workshops to come.

Next week, our playwright Adam will be joining us with the aim of getting to know our mentors and young people and eventually writing them 10 short scenes for performance at the Tobacco Factory in just over a month’s time… Eek!

Week Four: Hector Dyer

It’s not all fun and games…well, actually we’re finding it quite easy to make sure our weekly sessions are exactly this. All of this is thanks to the ever-growing (in numbers and in confidence) group of young people we’re lucky to be working with. Their infectious energy and creativity is somehow increased each Wednesday afternoon and word seems to spreading – three more members this week! This was our final session before the half-term break and it was a good indication of how far this group has come together.
As the crucial matter of laying out some –very quickly snaffled – biscuits and orange squash was being done, an impromptu game of ‘Piggy in the Middle’ kicked off. It was quite quickly, and with good reason, renamed ‘Diggy in the Middle’ as the unmistakeably gangly limbs of Diggory did their best to launch him round the room in a quest to try and get hold of the fiendishly elusive ball. Sweaty, exhausted but with a grin bigger than the Chesire Cat, Diggory flopped down in the perfectly formed circle as we kicked off.
It is always exciting to welcome new young people to the group in an immediate sense. Not only because the scope of characters and suggestions grows and grows, but also because those who have been around for longer can show how much they have learnt and help them settle in, be it explaining the myriad of options for Zip Zap Boing, leading the way in exercises, or telling them of Our Three Rules. 
The theme to this week was how we can give life and character to anything in our imagination. Having created a park scene with a summer breeze and a radiant sun, we quickly showed our steelier side and built a kitchen dripping with grease, grime and bin juice.
The bulk of the session was spent devising characters from a hodge podge collection of household items. One team chose a nearly finished toothpaste tube, another chose a sweet packet, ours took a barbeque grill while a match-box completed the set. After only fifteen minutes the four groups had built characters with incredible histories and habitats. There was Colin McColgate – no prizes for guessing which object that was – who had fallen off a delivery truck in Spain and squeezed out toothpaste to propel himself along. Our group created Barbara – the barbeque grill floating in space who followed her fire-extinguisher of a brother around the milky way collecting stars…how’s that for imagination?
So, a week off for all of us and then we’re back with a bang on the 17th for our first session with Adam!