A BLOG BY GIULIA HEATON
My Year Out Drama adventure began at the tail end of a September heatwave; that suspiciously placid period of 2020 where COVID restrictions were relaxed and society was ready for life to get back on track. Myself and the 14 other “current buns” jumped into life in Stratford all guns a-blazing, and what a start to our new chapter it turned out to be! Learning to work under Debs and Al’s guidance, teaming together to devise the strangest of skits and physical theatre pieces, and working on our first play Electra so early on (with the fantastic Sarah Bedi as a visiting director) bonded us as a company like nothing else could. Initially an anxious group of eager-to-please strangers, the entire company became a unique family in no time (well, how often does any other “family” perform renaissance dances and recorder recitals to each other on a regular basis?) Working up to the annual Christmas carol performance, YOD was a strong beacon of hope amongst the loneliness of a locked down England. Life was too good to be true.
Lo and behold, down came the orders from on high – Post-Christmas Lockdown Number 3. The travel ban, and particularly the closure of schools and universities, sank our little hearts. For there we were, on a high from an impeccable first term (minus the brief stint of a course-wide Covid epidemic…) – and all of a sudden life was back to shut doors, grocery deliveries and daily walks.
It has to be handed to Debs and Al, regarding how outstandingly they snapped into Lockdown action. Year Out Drama was back to Zoom! Daily improv warm ups, filming projects, guest alumni speakers, dance classes, competitions, weekly costume themed zoom quizzes – I even took up baking – there was no end to the joy of it all, and the spirit of YOD shone through every single computer screen. We overcame this challenge as only those in theatre can – with a song and a dance, as the show must go on!
Arriving back at the Clive Benfield Studio that first week of March, there was no messing about! Straight into rehearsals for Alastair’s chosen play, From Morning To Midnight. Speaking for myself and I’m sure many other members of the company, this was one of my favourite experiences of the year. To get chucked into the deep end of a full on rehearsal schedule was the best thing for us, and we gave this performance our all. A proper bang to the (delayed) new year at YOD!
An abundance of exciting projects later (a rehearsed reading festival week, a space-themed cabaret, performing Beckett, the lot!) I sadly found myself welling up backstage, about to perform in our last show: Being Alive. Our final showcase style production, directed by the fabulous Simon Green. Savouring every bittersweet moment onstage next to my wonderfully talented companions, I realised that the future years to come were going to require true glory to outshine these months passed. I have made friends for life, and built relationships I know I’ll carry with me. I’ve developed skills I didn’t know I held. I have collaborated with and performed for industry professionals, and how many aspiring actors can say that at my age? I have laughed, I have cried, I have been stretched to my very limits. This year I grew up, and I would not trade a singular second of this one of a kind experience for any other in the world.
My year out in Stratford, 2020/21 – globally tumultuous in its own rights – has been the best year of my life. May all future YODians hold a place as dear in their hearts for the Year Out Drama Company.