It’s 1995 and my sister Charlie Mortimer tells me to go to youth theatre, on the Saturday. Like always I obeyed my sister and took part in what was going to confirm my dreams and desires of being an actor. I joined ‘The Young Musketeers’ youth theatre company, which was ran by Jen Hayes and Brian Dodd, the drama session was on every Saturday and was conducted in the studio space of The Queens Hall, Widnes. This venue had become very important to so many local people old and young and it was certainly a place that I became very attached to as well. At the time, to me it was a place where I could be myself, a place where I could be creative, where I could make people laugh and cry.
But this was just my opinion of it, there were other young actors, directors, musicians, dancers and artists in Widnes, who used this venue to either work on their art or used it to perform on the grand stage that it provided. A stage that had some great performers visit it including The Beatles, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Ken Dodd and local musical legend Greg Oldfield. To this day I feel honoured and humbled to the fact that me and many other young performers had been on that very stage and performed our art. From Cabaret nights, Band Nights and Shakespeare productions we all became part of this beautiful venues history.
The one unfortunate problem is the lacking amount of theatre productions that aren’t taking place in this studio space. A space that still retains that history and overall aura, which the Queens Hall gave to so many people. On the 24th July we at TBN are going to cure this problem and bring our latest piece of theatre ‘Safe Mode’ to our home ground. Personally it is a night, which will bring mine and Charlie’s Queens Hall saga to full circle. To have trained there, performed there and now bring work back there, we will both feel as if we have fully grown as creative individuals. That is all thanks to the original venue that set us on this wonderful journey. I hope that the 24th July brings back many familiar faces back to The Studio, Widnes. People who truly remember the good times this place brought. I hope they come to watch theatre that has been made with love and affection, theatre that was only possible because of the determination and inspiration that this very venue brought to our artistic director. I also hope this will also re-ignite the theatre community to start bringing productions back to Widnes. It’s a place that has such history in arts and entertainment that it would be sacrilege, to not even consider being part of that ever going history.
If you have any specific memories of the Queens Hall, that you would like to mention or talk about, feel free to leave a comment below it would be lovely to hear your memories of the place.
Fringe festival season has started and we now know, what is on offer to entertain and broaden our minds this year. This year, we at TBN are setting out our duologue piece ‘Safe Mode’, starring Nathan Morris and Rebecca Derrick. Since we started our research and development of this piece, I have become more intrigued, by duologue productions that exist in theatre and film.
In my personal opinion, if someone had asked me to describe my ideal production, I would have probably said, at some point that a strong ensemble cast, would be essential, but why? I believe the natural human instinct is to say more is better, but through due course, it has been clear to me that some of the finest pieces of work involve at most two or maybe three actors in one production.
Now there are several reasons why this could be the case
1. Investing more to the characters – When there are fewer characters in the piece, the audience can devote their emotional involvement, more to the individual characters on the stage and also feel more involved in their story.
2. More Effective Storylines – With the removal of an ensemble cast in a piece of theatre, the storyline doesn’t have to compensate for the several characters involved. Certain plays will include scenes, which are only really there to validate a characters involvement in the story or to try to give them a substance. It is just common sense when it comes to writing a piece that you need to get the characters involved and make sure that they are necessary to what is going on in the piece. However this can lead to over complex storylines, loopholes and overly long productions. With a two-actor piece, the drama, emotion and flow of the piece, is no longer sacrificed to keep the story running along.
3 – Feels more real – When it comes to a production like ‘Safe Mode’, ‘Waiting For Godot’ or ‘Constellations’ ,the scenes can feel more true to the dialogue and drama of everyday life. That’s not to say in our everyday lives we don’t ever have group chats with our friends and family, but let’s be honest, those chats aren’t the ones that make great drama. The conversations we have, with one of our best mates, relatives, partners or lovers are the ones that we remember and are most important and significant to our time on this world, which leads to my next point.
4-It becomes personal – Because it feels more real and familiar, we start remembering those same conversations we have had in our lives and we in turn start to truly feel the character’s emotions in the scenes. When something horrid has been said, we feel the heartbreak it causes, when something loving is said, we feel the joy and happiness it causes. With these scenes having those true moments of realism, we as the audience become a fly on the wall. It becomes a piece of reality TV except it’s actually good and 110 times more genuine than any ‘Big Brother’ or ‘TOWIE’. No reality TV has given us, the true feeling of intrusion. There are scenes in productions like this, which tension is so high you can barely move, because you think that you are going to make the conflict worse, scenes where the fourth wall disintegrates, because something charming or beautiful is happening between two characters and you truly feel engrossed in the moment.
Productions like this are more effective in giving an audience a dramatic experience than any blockbuster film starring Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lawrence. Two performers in a space with an audience, performing their creative art with all their heart and souls, it becomes infective. Even if theatre isn’t your cup of tea, you can’t take away that moment, when two people are telling a room of strangers a story, a story that is being listened to and is being endured by that very room of strangers and you are one of them.
Take that journey with us on one of these dates. It’s an experience we really want to share with you.
19th and 20th July – Gullivers Bar, Manchester
23rd July – The Continental, Preston
24th July – The Studio, Widnes
26th July – The Old Clubhouse, Buxton
I have to admit I was puzzled when Marathon became Snickers, why did the name have to change? The product remained the same, it’s not as if the name gives some clue as to what they are at first glance. I decided to do a little digging. The tasty, nutty, chocolate bar (should have called it that!) was only called Marathon in the UK and Ireland, everywhere else it was Snickers - a product of the Mars company since the 1930’s. Snickers was the name of the favourite horse of the company. I wish I had a favourite horse. Anyway, it got its name, for better or worse from something personal to the owner, a perfectly fine thing to do, but why did Snickers become Marathon for our markets in the first place? Possibly the correlation between energy and the endurance race. Perhaps they were concerned that Brits would panic “What the hell is a Snickers?” (I hold my hands up to that). Then they aligned the name throughout the world and almost everybody knows a Snickers – it’s a Mars bar with nuts in! (Nailed it)
So why am I banging on about chocolate and horses?
Names, let’s say the names of things rather than people for the sake of this blog, they are important. A name is not simply a tool we use so we know what to call something a name is an identity, in some cases a promise. And yes, sometimes a lovely horse.
And why shouldn’t there be completely personal reasons behind christening something? To name something after its function isn’t very exciting, there has to be some personality in there, maybe even a bit of an ethos. So we concoct names to show our love of something, or our flair for the creative or that we know fancy foreign words.
A theatre company is built essentially on promises, ones you endeavour to deliver no matter what your area of interest. Ultimately it’s all about the audience. The title of a production is the first thing they see but for an audience to know what they’re buying into, they look at the company name. Finding two, three, or four words to encapsulate what you do is, let’s face it, a bitch.
Naming a theatre company is like trying to navigate a minefield, many of your good ideas are taken “Oooh Oooh I’ve got a good one….Awww crap!” You want the words to stand out, to resonate but you don’t want them to give up their secrets all at once (what the hell is a Snickers?) After a time you have your name and it is working, it’s saying what you want it to say and people are starting to know the name and discuss your company alongside others, they know your work. Then inevitably with a lot of theatre companies, the years pass and change comes, your interests and focus shifts and you’re operating under a name that no longer sits right. It was you a few years ago but it doesn’t lend itself to what you do today. Imagine trying to rename a theatre company that has existed 6 or so years to find that shiny new companies have come along and taken all the good names. You try and try to get “Has anybody seen my…Theatre Company” past the team but no, again it’s has to stand the test of time, has to be ‘you’.
Change is risky, it’s why we fear it, the uncertainty of what’s to come. Once again in the world of theatre, it’s all about - will the audience go on the journey with you? All you can know is that the determination and drive of the theatre company never changes. So why not make adjustments in other areas, take that risk. Or as Snickers would suggest “Get Some Nuts” We know what we want to say and how to say it. It’s now up to you to decide.
What’s in a name?
Yoga, what is the first thing that comes to your head when you see or hear that word? Now to some people (including myself in the past) it has meant a group of pretentious barefooted people in white flowing robes, who float in mid air crossed legged and humming (maybe not that exactly, but you get the gist). But to other people it means what it is, a spiritual and physical exercise that opens and refreshes the individuals body and mind. Now when you look at it in that way, it sounds just lovely in every way, it almost sounds like a physical nap. So why is there this, love it or hate it stigma that lingers around the art form?
I was first introduced to yoga, when I was in sixth form and it continued to be a regular thing that came into my drama training in university. When I look back at my time of actually doing it, I can tell you I really did like it and I was also quite the dab hand at it as well. The problem I was having was not with the yoga, but with the mentors. Each person who taught me or assisted me in my yoga workouts always had a certain attitude, which frustrated me. An attitude and presence that made me want to roll my eyes and scoff at everything they were saying. To these people, it wasn’t to be practiced as a fun, happy and relaxing experience; it was a serious art that should be practiced, with straight faces and a miserable outlook on life and different individuals (which by the way goes against everything yoga is). Everything thing they said about yoga or meditation, always had this ‘well you wouldn’t understand’ feeling at the end of it. It felt like every yoga teacher I had, alienated themselves with yoga and didn’t think anyone else was worthy of it, until they represented the white robe wearing hippies I mentioned before. With so many experiences of people like this, I excluded myself from yoga and I believe that is a factor that pushes other people as well.
But that is a crying shame; yoga is truly a gorgeous thing, which can solve so many problems in people today. We are all so stressed out with so many factors in modern life. Career, sex, relationships, money, taxes, parents, family, the list is endless. So what do we do? We get on with it like mindless zombies, not taking into consideration that all these things are just brewing over in our heads. When you think about it, the body and mind, is like a computer, the stresses of modern life is like a virus and yoga is an anti-virus programme. If you don’t have a good anti-virus programme installed into your computer, the virus will win and your computer will crash, same as if you aren’t embracing yourself in a spiritual form in one way or another, stress will break you down and you will find yourself crying whilst guzzling a bottle of red. A lot people would say, they don’t need yoga to chill out and get away from stress, they would rather have a drink with the lads/girls or go watch a film or footy match, which are great ways to take a break, but they don’t solve the problem. What yoga does is it, lets you recharge yourself in such a unique way, it makes you check that everything is in full working order and reminds yourself that you have full control of body and mind, so in turn, take have full control of your life and the problems life brings to you.
So if I think it is, so great, do I actually believe that there are people out there, who can teach and supervise a workshop, without making people feel unwelcome or not good enough? Well for a time I would have possibly said no. But when I saw our very own Danielle McCullough, progress to become the Bruce Lee of yoga, I changed my mind. Danielle is a down to earth human being, who has a cracking smile and a wicked sense of humour to go with it. During my time planning and writing this blog, I was able to have a sample of the workshop, she will be introducing on 26th October. In this workshop, I could see that Danielle brings her charming character into the workshop and makes you feel welcome and most importantly calm. In the workshop we focused on exercises that had specific aims to help the everyday artistic performer, keep their body and mind in control. Exercises that help improve, breathing techniques, stage presence, vision, balance, voice etc. There were also references, to controlling a performers Achilles heel of pre performance nerves. What I was given was just a mere sample of a full workshop and I still felt I had learnt a lot. These exercises had the reference and purpose to improve me as an actor; I felt these exercises, where also there to improve me as a person and also as a business. We as performers are products of our own business and if our product is not 100% up to standard, the business suffers. Danielle loves what she does and just wants to help people get themselves to a better form of life on and off the stage.
I know of people, who still feel that yoga isn’t for them, because they’re not flexible or worried that they are going to get something wrong. I understand these fears and objections, because I have been one of those people. Being that I have been there, I know I can’t make you all believe that yoga is for all of you and I can’t force you to believe that Danielle is a sign that not all Yoga teachers are intimidating people. But what I can say is don’t ignore yoga, yoga is there for a reason. Danielle is that someone, who can show you why yoga is there for the taking. If you are still not sure about how down to earth Danielle is, take into account that she ran a Gordon Burns Appreciation Society, when she was in university, if that is not a sign of someone, who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, I don’t know what is.
So please don’t be shy and join us on the 26th October for ‘Yoga and The Performer’ at the Cloud Aerial Arts Wellington House, Manchester.
We've been to see two amazing shows within the same week this month, 'Billy the Monster and Me' and 'Wicked'. Both were amazing, spectacular and... well... wowee! (as our youngest member, William, said). They were both warm, funny, entertaining, touching, sad, scary, and for the family, it was great to see so many age groups coming together to enjoy these experiences as a unit (even on a school night).
With the West End hit it's easy to say that it's down to budget, orchestra and wires but I think that cheapens the actual heart and spectacle that is being created by this talented group of performers. Musical theatre is hard graft, takes supreme talent and dedication and absolutely serves it's audience fully.
But with minimal budget, one guitar and absolutely without the aid of strings we were enthralled with Billy and his close encounter with the monster, we were all fully engaged (I was very excited when I realised where we were going to get the answers from, to save us all from being gobbled up).
So, it's been proven that it isn't just massive budgets and hype that guarantees great quality theatrical experiences. But what made them both such a hit with their audiences?
So we've been working hard over the last month to bring to the stage our production of Othello. It's been challenging and fab, scary and enlightening with a fantastic cast behind it we've explored the story and characters together. So I thought I'd give you an idea on what you can expect from our production and why it's worth bobbing along to one of the performances.