In Our Day – Rehearsal Diary

Between the 25th February and 16th March, the Year Out Drama Company took part in a Reminiscence Project, led by Adam Fotheringham.

‘In Our Day’ was a piece compiled from the interviews with residents of the Bentley Nursing Home in Stratford-upon-Avon. The show was performed exclusively for these residents and their families on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th March 2019.‬

Throughout the process, members of the Year Out Drama Company kept a rehearsal diary.


DAY 1

BY ELEANOR HOCKING

A great first day of term! We started our new project on reminiscence theatre today, with our visiting director Adam. We spent the majority of today preparing to visit our interviewees tomorrow, and exploring some questions we might like to ask them, and themes we could explore. Part of this was practicing our interviewing skills in one another in groups, which was very useful. We also had some time set aside to practice a song we’re hoping to perform at the retirement home (to break the ice a bit) which was lots of fun; and it was so lovely getting back into the swing of things after half term and seeing everyone again! 🙂

Looking forward to the rest of the week!


DAY 2

BY OLIVIA CLARK
Today was our first opportunity to meet and introduce ourselves to a handful of the residents of Bentley Nursing Home and members of the surrounding community in sheltered accommodation.
We entered equipped with curiosity in mind and booklets of memory triggering sheets in hand. The company were split into groups of 3 and each group was able to talk to a resident of the nursing home. This was followed by a tea afternoon with a small group of those living independently. This gave us the chance to establish our intentions for the project and start to learn a little bit about the variety of stories that the residents may be able to offer us. It was particularly interesting to see the contrast between experiences they began to touch upon, such as nights spent in bomb shelters and resources being rationed for the war effort, and those of this generation. As well as this, we were surprised to find that they felt these experiences were not noteworthy or even “boring” but we left feeling enthused, fascinated and excited to delve into more of what this interesting group of people have to tell us in future meetings.
Our evening session was then spent devising and working through exemplar reminiscence material in order to work out strategies for which we may approach the material we gather ourselves.

 


DAY 3

BY SOPHIE GARRETT

The unusually warm February sun had the team in positive spirits as we gathered at 10 to get ourselves ready for the day ahead. We kicked off the morning with a brief discussion about how to approach being in a more formal situation with the friends we began to make yesterday at the care home and assisted living. We planned out a few questions and topics as a back up just in case conversation didn’t flow so naturally as it had yesterday, then we were off.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with eager faces – one member of the home said that she hadn’t been able to sleep for her excitement and had put on a new dress for the occasion! We split off into our little groups of three for our first official interview of the project. Each group collected an hour or so of audio footage with the three participating members. We said our farewells and see you laters and separated for lunch.

We later returned to interview two more women who sparked so amazingly off each other that we barely needed to ask questions! As the day drew to a close, we set off home to work on transcribing todays interviews.


DAY 4

BY LOUIS SIMON

Summer is over. A return to the typical English weather of rain.

With no interviews today, we spent the morning with our director, Adam, performing various exercises on how to present the verbatim transcripts and the difference of realism (and naturalism) and the style we are presenting.

The afternoon started with song; with Liv teaching us a few numbers which, we hope, will bring back fond memories for the audience. We were then tasked with taking our transcriptions, passing them to another group, and cutting them for what we could perform. After talking about the difficulties of editing and cutting personal stories, we broke for dinner.

To finish the day, we travelled to Warwick Art Centre, to see a brilliantly emotive, contemporary dance piece called ‘The Storm’.


DAY 5

BY BAILEY HOLLINGSWORTH

With a full assortment of interviews from Wednesday having been transcribed and a clear idea of where we would like the residents to expand, we entered into our second round of interviews with optimism and excitement.

Two of the three groups visited with another two residents. My group again met with Muriel, a woman whose life contained memories from riding on a fashioned saddle on the crossbar of her father’s bike to school to sliding down her driveway, much to her grandmother’s dismay, during icy winters. An overarching theme that I kept noticing was the dramatic contrast between my complete lack of ability to relate to some of her stories, like that of her mother, whose family lived with no running water or electricity, and my absolute familiarity with others like that of her sister, who always cheekily “borrowed” her clothes, leading to many arguments between them. It fascinated me that while the past seems this alien idea that modern individuals cannot link themselves to, certain experiences and emotions are timeless and truly universal.

After finishing our interviews, we headed for a debrief, where we shared about our experiences, celebrated successful moments, and recognised challenges to work through in the coming days.

I learned a lot from these people and through their stories, universal truths about family, sense of self, and relationships we have to one another. I cannot wait to see what’s to come.


DAY 6

BY IZZY CRYER

Hello week 2!

After an interesting, and worryingly plain-sailing week 1, forth we go into week 2 of our reminiscence project. How smooth a start things got off to last week filled us with optimism, courage, and a minor but lingering sense of fear. At what point will something go wrong? When will we fall short? Obviously, the answer here is hopefully never and not at all, but it would be foolish to pretend those aren’t very real fears we have. But I once heard that the key to discovering the best things in life was to Follow Your Fear. So I guess blindly listening to, and trusting, some haphazard words of advice is how I’ll be proceeding these final two weeks. What could go wrong? (Please, no one answer that.)

Today we began conducting our final interviews with the truly, and I do mean truly, delightful residents of the Bentley Care Home and surrounding sheltered accommodation. They had all given us so many wonderful and rich memories already, I couldn’t wait to get back to Joan’s house for our second interview and hear more about her gang of streetwise friends who ran wild in the streets of suburban Birmingham. It was an absolutely delightful morning, as anticipated, as we sat around in Joan’s living room armed with cups of tea and biscuits; not a hindrance to asking questions at all, Joan seemed to have an endless stream of many hilarious adventures and vivid memories. And a history of being somewhat of a dancing queen too! She even shared with us some incredible photographs. A true insight.

In the afternoon we also had the pleasure of meeting with a new face, Rita, who we had been told by care home staff was feeling somewhat (in her own words) ‘miserable’ today but was still up for having a chat with us. Well, not to toot our own trumpets too much, but as we spoke to her more and more she kept saying how much us coming to visit had brightened her day and brought her out of her slump. It really put into perspective for me that not only are they helping us with our project, but that we’re helping them too, and giving something meaningful and special back to them, even just by coming to see them. I’m already sure I’ll be paying more visits once this project is over, as I’m sure we all will.

And now, to round off the day, transcribing! Hooray! Turns out though, that’s not a simple skill to master at all…


DAY 7

BY GEORGE CADMAN

Excitement and sadness, we hit a milestone today that really puts the whole project into perspective. All the interviews done so time for creativity!

Kicking the day off with a sound warmup and some vigorous hamstring fun we sat in a circle and were given a brief. First plan of action was to work through two beautiful musical numbers with Liv and Company, they truly were a pleasure to sing!

Once fully warmed up and ready, it was time to get cracking on the script, so that means back in the circle. Patiently waiting, Adam assigned us “characters” in the few pages of script that had been edited by him. Various Female and Male personalities with different stories were revealed when reading the text and there was a definite theme within the first scene that gave opportunity to some pretty amazing character work.

Post lunch, this was where it got interesting, after being given a taste of the style and how the show is going to look in that first scene we then were split up into groups of three and given “things to compile”. My group was tasked to find anything that related to “Food and Rationing”, once finished we could get cracking on turning that into a script.

Post dinner, in the Clore Learning Centre, the sound of a ‘Ten Vol Bad’ (Tennis, Volleyball and Badminton) ball was bouncing around and I knew it was time for a game! Setting the chairs up in record time we were poised! After a great game we were vitalized for being creative.

Continuing on with more script work and recapping on the morning session we did some awesome ensemble work thinking about how to react to things on stage.

Keeping the attention to the audience was definitely a great challenge, knowing that they would be in a semi-circle/ multiple lines of sight was very challenging when delivering your lines.

After a very productive session we moved on to an activity to understand how to maintain energy within a group, this required a keen ear to properly feel and understand how to continue “said energy” from peers in the company! We then progressed to some ensemble emotion work that required the two groups to a) react to a love film and b) a horror film. This was very fun as I got the horror film and was able to really give it my all on showing how scared I could get!

Final exercise for the day was called “Clowning”. Pretty simple, your objective is to make someone laugh, the catch is you can’t do anything but look/ walk towards your partner and audience. This proved difficult and figuring out how to fully relax and not force a laugh was very interesting. All in all this was very insightful into how we as people like to “do something” instead of just being “empty”.

Ok, the day is almost done and that calls for a final game of Ten Vol Bad, unfortunately, yet fortunately, that was cut short by bags of supplies from Deborah Moody for PANCAKE DAY!

HOORAY!


DAY 8

BY CIRILLA NEILES

Today we started with dance! We did HIIT training first before moving on to some technique work. After this, we had a well deserved lunch and then it was back to working on the Reminiscent project!

We played some games first to get ourselves focused and in the zone! After this, we split into two groups. One worked on the Food and Rationing script and the other worked on the Courting and Relationship script! I was in the Food and Rationing group, with Malcolm helping us. It was extremely productive, and by three o’clock we had a performance ready to be shown to the other group! The other group also performed theirs, which Adam had helped them with, which was fantastic, and extremely enjoyable to watch. I can’t wait to see what the project will be like when we finish.

Following on from this, we then worked on the opening, which is the hymn ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’. I found out I’ll be opening the song which I’m very excited about doing. Adam directed us in a way that meant for the people watching, it wouldn’t be too much all at once.

Once we had done that, we went into working on the part we had done yesterday, which is straight after the opening. We fine tuned certain aspects to make it flow better and used different techniques, for example – a freeze frame. We worked on this until the end of the day, before doing a run from the opening to near the end of the first section.

At the end, Adam pointed out that due to the fact that the interviews we did were with women, there aren’t as many male roles. He said how in the theatre, it’s usually the other way around with women being the supporting character or having less of a role, which is extremely true. It’s very refreshing to have an opportunity where women are all the leads, and very rewarding.

Already the show is coming to life and the stories are being told. I can’t wait to see what the end result is.


DAY 9

BY HUGH MAWER

We began Thursday as all the best Thursday’s begin… by vigorously slapping each-other’s bodies to wake up, followed by a healthy dose of blinded trust exercises as we lead our partners around the room, first by the backs of our hands, then with gentle contact on the shoulders and finally with the mouth words.

To round out our warm up, we got vulnerable, and as a group told each other what we appreciated about each other, as well as what we appreciated about the people whose memories we were working with and the project in general.

Here’s where we got practical, starting by running through and polishing what we had already established from the beginning to make sure we didn’t forget any of it overnight. Once we’d re-established our previous work, we got musical and began to learn the basics for Abide With Me, including beginning to split it into its harmonies.

Having worked out how to sing good, we split the company into smaller groups and tackled small sections of the next piece of the script, dividing the lines amongst ourselves and developing a rough staging for it. At about this point we decided we could do with a break, and so we migrated to The Holy Trinity for several intense rounds of our national sport: ‘Ten-Vol-Bad’, to work out our stress. Once we’d relaxed and developed new rivalries for everybody, we finished setting up the harmonies for Abide With Me and broke for dinner.

Finally, after dinner, we broke back into our small groups again for focused sessions working on our sections with Adam, editing and polishing any issues in our staging as well as getting some notes on our delivery of the lines, and finally, following all this, we got that most wondrous homework of learn all of your lines asap.


DAY 10

BY ELLY HOCKING

What a nice day today!

We started this morning with warm-ups and singing. I think, out of all the songs we’ve been practicing so far, Abide With Me is probably my favourite. Liv has been amazing at teaching us all, I can barely sing in the first place, so how she manages to sing, teach us to sing, and play the piano all at the same time is a mystery to the likes of me.

We then went down to Bentley and visited some of our interviewees. The ladies were happy to see us, which was great, and we had a lovely time speaking with them. Bailey, George and I all went in to see Muriel, who was our very first interviewee. We have seen her quite a few times now. It was great to just sit and talk to her, and not have to worry about asking the right questions, or recording. She’s got such a gentle manner and is so funny, that it’s always nice to see her. I think we might have worn her out a bit today though, she was a bit tired after a while so we left her to rest and joined up with everyone else.

While we were there, we checked out the space we’ll be performing in and briefly ran through a couple of things, just to get a sense of how much room we’d have, entrances and exits, etc. I do wonder how it’ll feel on the day, when we have an audience in there too. Probably a bit scary, but audiences are a bit scary really!

Best bit of the day coming up, here….

When we’d finished, we went and sang the hymns we’ve been learning to a couple of the residents. Several of the ladies were very moved by our performance. We went to see Muriel first, which was nice as we already knew she really likes Abide With Me, and I was a bit shocked by how much she seemed to appreciate it…she welled up a little. And then we all welled up a little! It felt like it really meant something to her, and it’s a beautiful thing really, to share something with someone and have it mean something to them. I suppose I’ve never really been in that kind of situation before. I can’t recall having made anybody cry with anything I’ve performed. It’s an odd way of describing it, but I felt connected somehow. Like we’d sent out this transmission, and then she’d sent it back. It felt important. For everyone.

Having seen how much Muriel enjoyed the songs, we went and sang them to a handful of other residents, all of whom were so welcoming, enthusiastic, and appreciative in their own ways that it really was very hard not to get too choked up.

Art is important, really. But it’s only important because of the people who see it. Art can lift people up, or bring them down, and I think today made me realise that those who make it have a responsibility. I’d like to lift people up as much as I can from now on. It felt very special.

Now that I’ve gotten off of my soapbox – we then went back to HQ, all of us slightly emotional. We then had recorder practice with Lesly, which is always fun! We were practicing some new music she had brought in for us, which I think we’ll be using for our next project. It was all very ‘Greensleeves’, if you catch my drift. And then we broke for lunch. I have this awful habit of making the exact same thing for lunch every day, for weeks on end, until I can no longer physically stand it. But sandwiches are nice, and I hate eating cold leftovers for lunch. What’s a girl to do?

We finished off today with dance, which Malcolm joined us for. Dance is led by The Fabulous Kath. I’m usually always slightly nervous about it as I have a strong suspicion that my natural sense of rhythm was surgically removed at birth. Possibly so it could then be transplanted into a taller, shinier, more socially-adept baby. Most likely Louis, who has some serious rhythm. Specifically, MY RHYTHM. GIVE IT BACK, LOUIS.

Weird, uncomfortable jokes aside, dance was great fun today. Renaissance dance isn’t challenging physically, necessarily, but there’s often a lot to remember and so much of it hinges on style. I’m looking forward to doing more of it. All in all, today was a lovely end to the week.


DAY 11

BY OLIVIA CLARK

The first day of show week. Monday has been a day of fine tuning and elaborating. We established that this week will not be a week of ‘polishing’, as that implies a sleek and potentially detached style of performance, but rather ‘fine tuning’ in order to preserve the genuine and truthful core of the project and the stories we are telling.
As we all well know, Mondays can often be one of the harder days of the week to get through and so we began with a couple of classic drama games to lift the energy and spirits of the group. This included ‘zip, zap, boing’, with a Malcolm twist of doing 5 squats if you hesitate, and ‘ninja’ in which we often discover the agility and stealth we never knew that we possessed.
This was followed by a discussion of a reflection on the week before, particularly focusing on Friday when we sang ‘Abide with Me’ and ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ for a number of the residents at Bentley. This was a day that we all found especially moving and therefore was an important one to talk about as a group.
The rest of the morning was then spent looking at the details of the scenes we had established last week. This included making our movements much clearer for an audience and incorporating some fragments of other stories here and there. After we returned from lunch, we continued to do the same, working through the piece chronologically and improving areas that were slightly weaker upon reviewing. We also added some new harmonies to one of the songs to give it another dimension, giving us a chance to work on pitch and bringing darkness and light to the music.
Excitingly, discussions are well underway for the title of the piece. A piece of information that I will leave to be revealed at a later point. Hooray!

DAY 12

BY SOPHIE GARRETT

We kicked off our day with a vocal warmup run by members of the company, then went into a few focus games involving tossing a ball between us with gradually more complex additions to the game. Next, we jumped straight into a vulnerability exercise in which we had to tell every member of the company (including our project leaders, Adam and Malcolm) “I love you”, “I don’t trust you” and “I see you.” We then had a debrief to discuss how each phrase made us feel, both on the giving and the receiving ends, then a much-needed break. Following this, we split into smaller groups and worked on the ‘war’ segment of the piece, amending and refining our work.

After dinner, we headed to The Other Place Theatre and warmed up with a few intense games of Ten-Vol-Bad, much to the joy of every company member! We then ran through each movement in the piece before performing a full stagger through of the almost-complete script. To our surprise, it was significantly longer than expected due to the sheer number of incredible stories given to us by those at the care home! After a quick notes session, we wrapped up the day with some sudden-death rounds of Ten-Vol-Bad.


DAY 13

BY LOUIS SIMON

Wednesday began with dance. With it being contemporary, we started off with the aptly named ‘Kickass Warmup’, before leaping into our routines.

Finishing off a new contemporary warm up, one that makes you feel like warriors, we looked at technique; adding new, more challenging parts, to the existing routines.

While we had been in dance, Adam and Malcolm had spent the morning cutting down the script to a shorter, lighter, leaner version. So, our task after lunch was to tackle this.

Splitting off into two groups we worked on the new script, figuring out new blocking and cue lines before doing the same thing with the very end of the show.

We now have a full show. From nothing three weeks ago.

 


DAY 14

BY BAILEY HOLLINGSWORTH

It’s the day before our first show, and consequently the last full day of rehearsal. The excitement to share this piece with the members of the Bentley Nursing Home is palpable. We cannot wait for the opportunity to see the faces of the residents as we deliver stories they lived back to them.

All things considered, we were incredibly focused and driven today, determined to develop the show to its fullest potential. We began the day with some warm-up games, including creating soundscapes, partaking in glorified musical chairs, and sending nonsensical sounds and movements to each other. These games served as the perfect tools to energise us for the day of hard work ahead.

We spent the morning working on our individual scenes so they’d be comprehensible and concise. After a bit of line work, we reflected on the project and wrote out some specific aspects that really stuck with us, to include as anecdotes in the program.

After lunch and some rehabilitative “Ten-Vol-Bad”, we ran through the entire show, donned in our pastels, so there could be one final diagnosis of the state of it and what touch-ups were needed.

Finally, we discussed notes and worked through them in the evening. Speaking for all of the group, we are so incredibly eager to present this work and indescribably grateful to the investment of Malcolm and Adam in the development of this project and of us.

 


 

DAY 15

BY IZZY CRYER

Well, this is it. It’s showtime!

I suppose there’s a lot of pressure riding on the blog account for our two performance days, I only hope I can do the experience of the culmination of our efforts justice.

Our final reminiscence piece, “In Our Day”, was taken into the Stratford Bentley Nursing home on Friday 15th March.

In the morning we all gathered, full of a nervous and excited energy, at HQ. We all shared how we were feeling ahead of the piece’s maiden voyage, and for me personally I found myself somewhat afraid of the unknown reaction of our audience. How would they take it? Would they enjoy it? Would they be upset? Or worse than that, would they be bored? The unknown element factor was the hardest to wrangle with that morning. But it was a great boost to see how excited everyone was to get to perform to the residents. As a team, we’d worked so hard for three weeks, pouring blood, sweat and at times literal tears into this. Doing the stories justice was all we wanted. And to not overheat in the nursing home temperatures. But mainly the first one.

So we donned our trusty pastels, grabbed our prop chairs, and made one of our final official pilgrimages to the care home. When we got there, we were greeted with such excitement and warmth by the staff, especially Mihaila, it put us at such an ease. Some of the residents were decorating cakes, and all seemed eager and excited to see the show. We readied the performance space and got ready to start. We’d never once done it in the actual space during rehearsal, nor with any semblance of the actual audience we’d have, so this was daunting. Exciting too, obviously! But daunting nonetheless. Surely someone was going to accidentally knock the precariously placed chandelier at some point, right?

And then the audience was in! A wonderful turnout of familiar and friendly faces, and some of their families too. Next thing we knew, Adam was doing his opening spiel, and then we were off! I shan’t go into the nitty gritty ins and outs of every moment, but I will say that it was met with such a warm and open reception, that every moment felt better and better. The whole performance flew by and by the last fleeting notes of We’ll Meet Again, the adrenaline was well and truly in our veins and the feeling of finally showing them what we’d been working on was, well, truly a gift. There were tears amongst the audience, in a good way I assure you, and you could see with their immediate feedback that it had really touched them, and been received tenfold of what we’d anticipated. The general consensus was overwhelmingly positive, and some of the memories the audience shared even then, was a reminder of exactly why we were doing this. And with chats with our particular interviewees afterwards, it was definitely warm fuzzy feelings all around.

Rita and Agnes, two of the lovely ladies I had interviewed, had been unable to make it to that mornings performance due to their health, which was such a shame as both had been so looking forward to it, and so many of their stories had been included. But we went and chatted to them, which was still wonderful, and we only hoped they’d be able to make it to the second performance on Saturday afternoon. I even left Rita’s room with some of the carers assuring her not that she only ‘might’ make it tomorrow, but that she ‘absolutely would’ be there. They’d make sure of it.

Plus, it turns out the cakes they were decorating were for us! Adorable?! And exceptionally tasty. A lovely gesture.

And with that, it was the opening ‘night’ over, and full of beans, we ended our day with dance. Would the next and final show be the same? Would the audience be different? Would Mavis singing along to the songs set us off crying during the show this time?

(Spoiler: Absolutely.)

The Saturday performance was in the afternoon this time, so we all got to rest and recuperate that little bit more beforehand, but as Adam so rightly said, it was going to require a different kind of energy brought to the table this time around. And I think I can safely say we delivered on that front.

The biggest joy of that second show was that Rita, Muriel and Agnes had all been well enough to leave their rooms and come to watch the show. It was such an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to have them hear their stories that they so generously trusted us with. So I can wholeheartedly say that the second performance went just as well, and was as well received as the first, if not more so! Muriel’s daughter even gave us a small token gift from Muriel and her family as a thank you, which was truly wonderful.

I’m very aware I keep repeating words like wonderful, rewarding, touching and so on, but really, this whole experience has radiated all of those things and more, every day that we spent on this project, and to finally see it come to life at last, was the best.

And we couldn’t have done it without the staff and residents of the Bentley, who were so welcoming and enthusiastic from day one, that they made the whole thing a breeze, and an especially enjoyable one at that. We couldn’t have thanked them all enough after both performances were over, and we all went away full of the warm fuzzies, knowing we’d done ourselves and the residents proud.  And absolutely sure in the fact that we’d be back again to see all of those incredible ladies very soon.

So, what more can I say? It was easily one of the most eye opening and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. One I, and my fellow company members, will surely carry with us closely for the rest of lives. I am so thankful we were given such an incredible opportunity.

And without out fearless, wise and unfailing leader Adam, we would never have gotten this far. And Malcolm, too of course, who I know for sure has made some lifelong friends in those ladies, whether he likes it or not! (He loves it.)

Now, onto the next project! Whatever that may be…

 

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