Last year a couple of my friends were part of something called the STEP UP Training Ensemble. I’m not a particularly good listener so I never paid much attention when they told me what this was about – I gathered it was something to do with theatre, that there was some training involved… I just let them get on with it. Some months later my friends had taken part in numerous workshops covering nearly every theatrical discipline imaginable, had created and toured an excellent piece of theatre based on some exciting new scripts and formed a tight network of people whose diverse skills could be called upon for future projects. I was listening by this point. And I wanted in.
The training programme runs yearly, and this year I was lucky enough to get a place in the ensemble*.
Our first session was nearly a month ago and the whole thing was frighteningly reminiscent of the first day at a new school. As I rode the tram towards New Basford I was filled with trepidation – Will they like me? Will the teachers be nice? Will the cool people let me sit with them at lunch? Et cetera… Then I got there and realised that we were all adults. Also there were no teachers – only other adults (Tilly and Mandy, who both work for New Perspectives) who were somewhat more advanced in their career, and had a similar interest in making quality theatre as a group.
So it began. It seemed like everyone else in the ensemble was equally nervous, which actually put me at ease a bit. I made some jokes** about biscuits, which were mildly well received and we discovered that we all take our tea the same way, which I feel brought us closer as a group – also it makes things infinitely more simple for the future. Our two sessions so far have felt like a giant icebreaker – entirely necessary when you have such a large group of strangers who will be working together in close proximity for the next several months. I’ve only just got my head around everyone’s names (it’s been a challenge – there are two Emmas, an Ellen and an Elanor…) and what everyone is most interested in theatre-wise, but I expect we’ll all get to know each other a bit better as months go on.
The morning of day one was spent discussing all the workshops and things we wanted to do and by the looks of things there is some interesting stuff on the horizon, all of which I’m sure you’ll be able to read about on this blog. The afternoon was spent being very silly – we played a range of drama games which members of the ensemble brought with them, such as Funky Chicken and Chicken Boy… there were also some non-chicken-related ones. I’ve always felt that as a theatre-person you don’t really connect with somebody unless you’ve been in a rehearsal space together and behaved in a truly ridiculous manner – making weird noises, prancing around like a loony and flailing your limbs in an unnatural manner – until it seems almost normal. It’s a good place to start.
I’m incredibly excited to see what we come up with as a group. We are clearly a diverse bunch made up of actors, directors, composers, producers, stage managers and designers, but we’re united under a common cause – to learn, to develop and to combine our various talents to make some superb theatre. I can’t wait until June when we are doing our show – but I’m sure when it’s all over it will feel like it’s much too soon. I’m glad I eventually listened to my friends. And I hope my other friends are listening to me now.
*When I tell people about this, it’s fascinating how they immediately react. About half ask ‘do you get paid?’, and the other half ask ‘do you have to pay for it?’. Interesting to see the value that different people place on things.
**My de facto method for dealing with uncomfortable situations.
Richie Garton, STEP UP Creatives Ensemble 2012/ 13