Rehearsing in a pandemic

Teams rehearsals for the Spring Production well underway and filming has begun. Actors have been sent green screens and have sourced costumes with the guidance of the production team (and a few parcels en route to those who don’t have 1920s attire around their houses!) The editing team are already at work and the researchers are checking for accuracy. This image says it all. Our period choice was quite apt it would appear. Here, 6.1 student Elena gives us an actor’s perspective on the experience and how it feels to be involved in a lockdown project.

By Elena Belisario, 6.1
I’ve been performing since about three. Whether I was doing ballet, or singing in the choir, or acting in the school play, I always seemed to be on the stage. There was always this special thrill I got from being backstage and seeing the stage lights go up as I prepared to go on. So when I signed up for the Spring Production and went to that first Teams meeting, I really hadn’t expected that we would actually be doing it virtually, and that the ‘being on stage’ bit was going to be taken out of it. However, this experience has really helped me grow and appreciate how much the crew really play a vital part.

You see, being an actress, or being involved in acting, pre-COVID meant that you would rehearse, learn your lines, get your hair and makeup done by someone else and your costume made by someone else, and you would go on stage and act. The lights seemed to magically always work; the set had somehow magically appeared and, if it was being filmed for the parents, a video would magically appear on the school website or in your parents emails a few weeks later. Being involved in acting during COVID has made the realisation dawn on me that well, maybe, these things don’t just happen magically after all.

I have had to set up a green screen which people found take a surprisingly long time to iron. I had to record myself, thinking about the camera angles and setups and lighting. I had to find my own costume (which involved a lot of digging around my mum’s wardrobe) and I had to do my own hair and makeup (the 1920s bob is really a lot harder than it looks). All of this meant a lot more effort is required than usual, when the crew can do all of that for you. So this experience has really made me so appreciative of the crew and what goes on backstage whilst we actors are so preoccupied with ourselves and our performance.

It’s also taught me about making the most of every circumstance. When COVID first hit and then when schools shut for the second time, my personal reaction was complete meltdown. “All of these opportunities flushed down the drain, all of those memories we are missing out on!” I complained to my friends numerous times over the phone. Hayley and Joanne were real superheroes in the fact that they saw this as not an opportunity flushed down the drain, but an opportunity to do something different. To challenge ourselves and be resilient – that no matter what COVID throws at us, we can adapt and do something different. I have found that very inspiring.

The Spring Production is coming along very well: every rehearsal is exciting and I am so enjoying figuring out my character and learning how to cooperate with everyone online. I honestly can’t wait to see the end result and how all of our work turns out, and when the time comes, I hope that you enjoy watching it too.

This video gives you an insight into our Autumn production, ‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne, which was also delivered during the pandemic. This project was rehearsed and performed on site but adhering to social distancing measures, using duplicate casts across two bubbles to allow for student isolation. I hope you agree that it did not hamper creativity in the slightest and again showcases not only our students talent but their versatility and resilience in these times, which inspires us all.

‘Inspiring and uplifting’ Wednesday Workshops in Drama

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Last lockdown we introduced online, industry-style workshops with professionals in the field. These included online seminars with prolific playwrights and practitioners, alongside well-known and admired OBs, all sharing their insight and passion for following a career in the arts. When back at school last term, these continued in the form of ‘Wednesday Workshops’ (pictured above), which were well-received by students, who gained insight into the industry first-hand and met incredible actors and audition coaches who have helped fuel their ambition and refine their skills.

Now we are in lockdown again, we wanted the opportunity to continue online, and Eve Allin has been organising a vibrant and varied programme of workshops. Students can attend voluntarily in Wednesday’s Powell Time slot each week. Look out for what is on offer next term, and please join us if the topic or speaker sparks your interest. Here, students who have attended share their experiences.

Jessica Asamoa, 6.1 
On Wednesday I participated in a fantastic workshop led by OB Roly Botha. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to develop our skills in monologues, and we all learned a lot from the brilliant feedback which was given. Most importantly, everyone had a lovely time and enjoyed it so much that we all stayed behind at the end to ask questions. It was an extremely enjoyable and engaging workshop.

Eliza Hayward, Block 3
I really enjoyed the recent Drama workshop with Hebe Bartlett. It was really interesting to talk to someone with so much experience. She was engaging and helpful, and gave us such great tips for self-taping and how to get into the acting industry. It was a lot of fun and I learnt a lot. I’m looking forward to more of these workshops.

Nay Murphy, 6.2 and Drama Don
A wonderful and informative workshop led by charismatic Hebe, who is introducing us to the world of professional auditions.

Stella Miller, Block 5
Throughout lockdown, Eve has been putting on the most amazing drama workshops. I was profoundly inspired and uplifted by one of her workshops on theatre directing, where she talked us through the process of directing a play from start to finish; I was even galvanised into conjouring up a whole play of my own from scratch. I could not think of a better way to spend a Wednesday evening in lockdown than talking all things drama with Eve and other OBs.

Spring Production prepares to go digital

The Spring Production is now well underway. 6.1 students are acting in ‘Machinal’ by Sophie Treadwell, one of our A Level set texts. It is a digital production and Joanne Greenwood and her team are already busy with the production elements. Sam Coleman, a member of theatre crew, tells us what is going on behind the scenes.

By Sam Coleman, Block 4

As the closure of school extends and we settle back into the routine of remote learning, the hard working stage crew bring their talented skillset to a new environment. Over last few weeks we have been working on Machinal, a stage show set in the 1920s, preparations for which will continue over the coming weeks.

With more time on our hands we are able to conduct more thorough research and find historically accurate sounds, videos and images for a more immersive and realistic experience. With the production team meeting for an hour once a week, each meeting consists of a brief rundown of tasks to fulfil, followed by a usually silent and hardworking 30 minutes of researching, sourcing, snipping and downloading. After we reconvene and share our findings, we work towards creating a scene or making edits, adding in and layering sound effects, finding visuals to go with our ‘soundscape’ and ensuring the highest quality possible.

The stage management team have been researching historically accurate props and locations to assist the actors in imagining their environment, whilst the wardrobe department have assigned costume supervisors to work with each actor to help them style costumes and hair from what they can find at home. As our soundscapes and accompanying visuals begin to fit together nicely, it will be great to see how the project progresses in the weeks to come.

Industry professionals inspire at Drama department’s Wednesday Workshops

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Throughout the Autumn term, the industry based drama Wednesday workshops have continued, a wonderful opportunity for students to meet and hear from experts in the field.

Actor and drama school audition coach Martha Dancy has continued to work with 6.2 students who are looking to further their study after Bedales to prepare for a career in drama. Her help and guidance has been wholly appreciated by myself and the students, especially this year when the audition process is more varied and virtual than before. 

Our ultimate Wednesday workshop was a real treat. The kindness of professionals in the field during these challenging COVID related times has astounded me. How gracious and giving they have been with their time and how willing they have been to share their expertise. Kate Winslet encompassed this and more. She approached me to ask what she could do to help the Drama department and subsequently gave her up her afternoon to inspire our students with her top tips.  These will stay with them, I am sure, for a lifetime, but what will also stay with them was her wonderfully open, honest and down to earth manner which I and they appreciated so much.

Read students’ accounts of the workshops below.

By Caitlin Layhe Nugent, 6.2

In our first week, Martha talked us through personal statements and how to tailor them to conservatoires. Her insight on the drama school application process is invaluable and we’ve been incredibly lucky that she was kind enough to set time aside to teach us about that process and how it differs from place to place and how best to meet those needs.

By August Janklow, 6.2

Our third session was focused on self tapes. Martha ran us through the proper techniques to use when filming such as: lighting, angle, and eye line. We were instructed to deliver our lines as if there was someone sat behind the camera, reason being that our faces had to be in full focus. This among other things helped us feel more comfortable approaching drama school applications this year.

By Gus McQuillin, 6.2

A Shakespearean monologue properly prepared, is a great way of impressing a drama school during their auditions. Following a few previous sessions with Martha, she had got to learn more about me and how I generally behave and act as a person. This then enabled her to suggest a piece from Romeo and Juliet that she thought would  be a good mix of familiarity but also challenging enough that it isn’t staid and obvious. We were happy with Romeo and Juliet as I know the play, the plot and the dynamics between the characters and their relationships. Martha gave me some fantastic tips to help me become more comfortable with the piece. One was to look up the definition of any words that I didn’t completely understand, allowing me to see how they make sense and then form a coherent speech. She also advised that I completely translate the piece into my vernacular thereby basically modernising the piece so that I could conceptualise how the words might have been said in their time.

By Kit Mayhook-Walker, 6.1

On 9 December, Bedales Drama students were treated to a Wednesday workshop with the Oscar-winning actor, Kate Winslet. During the two and an half hour workshop, Kate answered students’ questions in great detail about her early acting career, the steps she takes getting into character, her favourite performances and her thought-processes behind her performances. She also led a short, scripted scene from the play The White Bike, which was previously a BAC scripted piece. She asked the two actors on stage various questions ranging from when did the characters meet to what their driving ambitions are, as a way of getting behind a character and grounding them in realism. This was followed by an improvisation with a 6.2 drama student where the audience gave them all the information; their names, ages, jobs, the scenario the scene takes place in. Everyone in attendance found this workshop extremely helpful for their future dramatic projects and we hope to see more of Kate in the New Year.

“Nuanced and detailed” take on Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’

This week, Block 5 and 6.2 students took part in a four-night run of this year’s Autumn production, ‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne. Due to ongoing restrictions, two duplicate casts of eight performed alongside dancers in the Theatre, with two of the performances livestreamed for parents at home.

By Isobel de Gier, 6.1

Watching Block 5 and 6.2’s nuanced and detailed approach to Nick Payne’s Constellations – aided by Hayley Cole’s directorial work – was a joy. Between the many interpretations of protagonists Marianne and Roland, played by the electric Ella Peattie and captivating Nay Murphy, there were multiple humorous moments. The play then quickly juxtaposed those comical elements with tender and heart-breaking scenes of the characters’ future selves.

The play masterfully toyed with light and shade, enrapturing its audience. The experience was immersive and the audience laughed, cried and became enraged alongside the characters – with every smile, laugh, or frown of the many versions of Marianne and Roland, the audience was enveloped deeper. This is not only a testament to the subtle and refined acting style, but the beautiful LED lit set, the bewitching dancing by Lucy Albuquerque and Mathilda Douglas and masterful directing. If you did not see the many parallel universes of Marianne and Roland, you really did miss out. 

By Aria Taheri-Murphy, 6.1

On Tuesday, the second cast of Constellations performed an amazing representation of raw love, shown through the perspective of many versions of Marianne and Roland. The audience watched the variety of ways their love unfolded in the different scenarios, however as the play reached its conclusion all the main plotlines merged into one story.

Not only were the actors amazing, but the set was incredible, set on different levels with small light-up hexagons beneath each level. These related to the hexagon projections across the stage. Projections of drawings and maths equations were used throughout the performance and as the audience began to understand the characters the hexagons became very significant. 

The dancing added an exciting new element, this too was socially distanced, but this did not affect the quality of their work. Two A Level Dance students performed throughout the play, expressing the characters’ frustration, love, grief, and pain. The actors clearly showed these emotions, however there were times where the dance could truly show the raw feelings the characters were trying to hide. Overall, the acting, directing, staging and choreography was amazing and created a hard-hitting love story which didn’t need to be shown physically, much like the National Theatre socially distanced performance of Lungs.

A break from tradition for Autumn production

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Our Autumn Production this year is Constellations by Nick Payne, which will be performed on four consecutive nights from 7-10 December, with two performances livestreamed for parents at home. A two hander about a couple, their relationship, quantum physics and most importantly love. It follows their journey and the multiple universe theory which means we see the various outcomes of each stage in their relationship. Not exactly your traditional Christmas production, but we never produce traditional productions here.

In previous years our Autumn Production has involved students from the whole school, across all year groups, with a cast and crew totalling more than 50. We have devised our own work, chosen cutting edge musical theatre, Greek tragedy, contemporary texts and adapted work to honour the First World War. But this year, obviously, things are different. The safety of our students and staff is paramount but at the same time we wanted to celebrate the fact we are open again as a school, a creative school, and able to perform again in the theatre. Whilst our numbers are restricted, both on stage and in the auditorium, and social distancing rules must be applied, I didn’t want it to restrict our innovative approach, nor the students’ theatrical experience.

Having watched Lungs at the Old Vic during lockdown, I was inspired by the chemistry Matt Smith and Clare Foy showed on stage and the fact that the chemistry existed despite the metre plus distance between them. This led me to look at similar plays and that’s where I landed at Constellations, a play I have loved for some time but not found the right platform for. However, I needed it to be more inclusive and to give more opportunities to more students. Focusing on the original intention of the play, our interpretation shows the possibilities that exist to anyone anywhere and scenes are explored with different genders and languages as well as sign language. We see the multiple outcomes of this relationship which could have affected any two people, anywhere in the world. Two duplicate casts of eight perform the scenes and transition with dancers who explore the themes of bee keeping, endless love, quantum physics, past, present and future. 

So, whilst the COVID Christmas term has been challenging, it has by no means hampered out creativity and we look forward to sharing our work; in person with the student and staff body and virtually (via live streaming) to parents, next week.   

‘Beautifully nuanced’ A Level Scripted and Devised performances

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By Caitlin Nugent, 6.1

On Tuesday, the 6.2 A Level students performed two pieces across the course of the evening. Firstly, they performed scripted pieces in a naturalistic style, working in groups of two or three to perform short extracts from contemporary plays such as The One by Vicky Jones and After the End by Dennis Kelly.

Each of the extracts was performed in an intensely realistic manner and it was clear that the 6.2s had been working hard to prepare beautifully nuanced pieces. Later on that evening in the Theatre, we watched their devised pieces, which were created in the style of a variety of practitioners, including Grotowski and the Belarus Free Theatre.

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Belarus Free Theatre visit

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By Livi Grout-Smith, Oscar Clark and Amber Pearson, 6.2

Last Wednesday morning, we were lucky enough to be visited by Natalia Koliada (Director) and Sophie Robins (Head of Communications) from the world renowned theatre company Belarus Free Theatre (BFT).

Created in Belarus in 2005 as an underground theatre company and having to perform in secret locations so as to protect themselves from prosecution from the Russian and Belarusian governments, BFT’s directors, Nikolai Khalezinm and Natalia Koliada, were forced to move to London to escape further persecution and have since directed their actors in rehearsal via Skype calls between London and Minsk. Having chosen the company as the inspiration for our final 6.2 devised piece, we had never thought we would ever get to meet one of them, let alone have lunch with them, as we did during their visit.

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Bedales student stars in Petersfield Youth Theatre production

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By Phil Tattersall-King, Deputy Head (Co-curricular)

The connection between Petersfield Youth Theatre (PYT) and Bedales remains as strong as it always has been. Not only does Bedales help with provision of rehearsal space, there are always Bedales students and staff involved in the productions in some way.

In this year’s glorious production of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Block 4 student Rowena le Poer Trench took on the role of Susan, one of the four children who stumble through the fur coats into a different world where animals talk and time works differently. Rowena carefully showed her character’s increasing awareness and wisdom as the plot developed, always being genuine and utterly engaged in the fiction.

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Whole school production concludes Autumn term

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By Blossom Gottlieb, Old Bedalian 2019

Perhaps it is the emotive true story of Mexican nun Juana de la Cruz that created the atmosphere of concentration in the Theatre during The Heresy of Love’s three-night run in December, athough I am inclined to give credit to the incredible cast and crew for really bringing this script to life. Smooth, practically choreographed transitions of the set whisked the audience from scene to scene, helped by the fabulous ensemble and their melodic singing. A gate was lowered from the ceiling to immediately capture the convent. This minimal use of set had maximum versatility, and therefore impact.

Notable performances from Kit Mayhook-Walker as Father Antonio and Oscar Clark as the archbishop at the start pulled the audience into the play ‘in medias res’ and remained strong, whilst Will Needs owned the stage with his excellently articulated monologues as Santa Cruz. Other beautiful examples of characterisation include Sienna Mills-Jung and Amber Pearson, who took on the roles of Sebastiana and Marguerita respectively, with Gus McQuillin as Viceroy and Bel de Gier giving a heart-warming performance as Vicereine.

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