The Other Room has been a breath of fresh air for the theatre scene in Cardiff, and their success made applying to the Young Artist’s Festival pretty daunting. The driving force behind The Other Room (Kate Wasserberg, Bizzy Day and Ben Atterbury) created an atmosphere of inspiration, collaboration and support. So, despite feeling woefully out of my depth, I was eager to escape my office job for a week and work creatively with like-minded people.
Any feelings of trepidation I had on the first day vanished quickly on meeting the other participants; although all ranging in age, background and experience we definitely shared the same drive to produce new work during this unique opportunity. We spent Monday cramming information into our brains and by the end of the day, I was shattered. We received a variety of workshops all aimed at furthering our personal development. We learnt how to better manage ourselves (and our agent) through talks with Gemma McAvoy of the Emptage Hallett Agency and a presentation from Simon Curtis about the representation and support we should expect from Equity. The Other Room themselves explained the process of founding a theatre company – this included all aspects of fundraising, different forms of marketing and how to find and effectively work with a creative team. The general message of the day and indeed the week itself was not to wait for ‘the best work’ to find us, but to learn how to make our own work ‘the best’.
Tuesday began with individual workshops for each group; the directors went with Kate Wasserberg, the writers to BBC Radio Drama producer Helen Perry and Welsh playwright Tracy Harris, and the actors took an acting masterclass led by Suzanne Packer. A whole host of actors at various stages of training got to know each other, relaxed into the working environment and were gently reminded of the key techniques and acting skills we would have to hastily apply to our upcoming productions. We explored a character’s intention, their status and their non-verbal signals through games and improvisation, then looked at a large scene in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good to apply these techniques.
On Tuesday afternoon, we split off into our 5 companies (made up of actors, a director and stage manager) and began the rehearsal process for our newly commissioned plays which would be performed to paying audiences on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
During the rehearsals, all the elements involved in staging a new play were necessarily accelerated. At the end of our frenzied yet brief rehearsal period, we realised how strange an experience it was to have spent around 20 hours from start to finish on a play. Costume, props and set had to be kept minimal, effective and tasteful whilst still within a budget. For my own part, my lines were frantically learned and blocking or any kind of movement had to be basic, purely so I could remember it. The Other Room team flitted in and out, advising and supporting the companies along the way. My own play (Love by Kelly Jones) had its own little difficulties which were eventually worked out – we were really happy with the final result. The first of the sell-out nights was a success but it was when we all watched each other’s plays on Friday morning that we saw the whole effect of the work. I was extremely impressed by the exceptionally delivered monologues from actors in Cargo by Matt Hartley and Trending by Tracy Harris, the synchronised movements in Like by Neil Bebber and the ensemble work and choreography of I Feel Sexy All The Time by Tim Price.
No time to rest on any laurels, however, as on Friday afternoon we finally got to read the ten minute plays that our company writers had been working on; People. Concrete. Rain. Grey. written and performed by Rehanna MacDonald, Keeping Quiet by Michael Leitch, Spoilers by Sam Lane, Angus by Bruno Chavez, Foul and Fair by Carys Jones and A Missing Piece by Mario Bernengo. Throughout the week the writers had been receiving workshops and guidance from industry professionals (including an additional workshop from Soho Theatre’s Nina Steiger) and The Other Room Team, which had assisted them in writing these plays. A couple of drafts and lots of coffee later, our writer (we were working on A Missing Piece) and director guided the company through their play, which was to be performed at a rehearsed reading the next day. Invigorated yet again by a new piece to dig our teeth into we began a new set of rehearsals. Friday evening of course, we performed our commissioned plays again – our audience full of the Friday feeling and notably responsive. Saturday morning we fine-tuned our writer’s work, conducted a short tech rehearsal and in the afternoon performed rehearsed readings to each other and select guests. Being able to showcase work that was even more new than our commissioned plays was really exciting – especially given the high standard of dialogue we were presented with. The final performance on Saturday night was by far the most polished and so it was in high spirits that we kicked back in Porter’s to finally relax.
For a full overview of the Other Room’s Young Artists Festival read Phil Morris’ article here.