WRITTEN BY DAN OWEN
As I sit down to write this blog, I’m on the edge of my seat – ready to finally wave goodbye to our 3rd lockdown and jump straight back into the rehearsal room. It’s nearly three months since myself and my fellow company members last frequented the comforting blue walls of our beloved HQ, yet something tells me that upon returning next Monday it will be nothing short of a ‘feels like we never left’ type of moment. Up until Christmas, we’d managed to keep things ticking in person right through the winter term, despite various government restrictions and the like, so it was truly a crushing blow when we heard the news that there was to be another national lockdown. These new restrictions of course presented to us company members the inevitably of Zoom lessons, such is the way with online schooling. We’d all heard the horror stories from friends in Universities of being trapped in their rooms, their worlds shrinking as their courses are delivered to them in an incredibly dull fashion – their eyes going square as they stay fixed to their computer screens. Was this to be our Year Out Drama experience from now on? I for one refused to believe that a company as resourceful as ours would fall to the pressure COVID-19 has thrown the arts industry under, and indeed the disarray it has left many other drama schools in. It turns out I was right. I’ve grown quite proud since joining Year Out of our little tribe of creatives, a group who – despite the gloom hanging over theatre at the moment – continue to create work, make things happen and shine as an albeit small but brilliant beacon of hope for other young performers out there. It’s this bulldog-like grit and resourcefulness that had me approaching my zoom lessons with less negativity, and more hope than anything else – for I knew that if anyone could make zoom lessons engaging and fun, it was Year Out Drama.
The first couple of weeks were tough at first – the content of the course was of course forced to shrink with moving online – but with that aforementioned resourcefulness we still managed to cram in dance, singing and recorder lessons, our regular weekly HIIT workout, daily improvisation tasks, guest alumni speakers and a set project to work on! *and breathe* In truth the last six weeks have flown by, in part because I wished them too – but mainly because as they say, time flies when you’re having fun. Year Out Drama managed the impossible – they made Zoom lessons something to look forward to. Our daily improvisation type warmups always got us up and energised, and we even managed to spice up the dreaded and ever repetitive ‘daily walk’, with small photography competitions to busy ourselves with. But without a doubt my favourite part of Zoom-ing has been the extended group projects we are set. ‘She’s leaving home’ was the title of our first project – a task that gave us a chance to try our hands at not only acting, but writing, directing, camerawork and editing too.
Another highlight has been our Alumni guest speakers, whom we invite into our zoom meetings to tell us their post Year Out Drama story, and to then fire at them a barrage of questions from us hungry-to-learn current company members every Friday afternoon. Year Out Drama’s list of alumni is extensive and hugely impressive – and contains professionals from every corner of the arts industry and beyond. We’ve spoken to the co-host of the UK’s biggest true crime podcast ‘Red Handed’ Hannah Maguire. We met Sophie Willis, who previously worked as a costume designer on films such as ‘Aladdin’ and who now runs her own business making bespoke wedding veils. Add to this makeup artist Amy Whyard and ‘Bridgerton’ star Luke Thompson, as well as recent Guildhall acting graduate George Heynes. These talks have been hugely informative, and I’ve taken so much away from them. Their advice and stories have really left their mark on me, and to know that they once stood where I now stand as a company member is hugely inspiring.
I’m currently writing from my home in Crosby, Liverpool – indulging in a small period of someone-else-can-do-my-washing-for-me-for-a-while following on from our half term break. Tomorrow, I return to Stratford, and to in-person work. In writing this I’ve had a chance to reflect on my whole experience of online lessons – I’ve noted that, like all things Year Out Drama, it’s been everything I expected and so much more. It’s instilled in me an intense professional discipline, and if I catch myself slouching or my smile fading from now on, I’ll remember the example that was set to me by Debs, Al and all the team during these past weeks – with a smile and a positive attitude comes energy, an infectious energy that is so crucial in our industry, an energy that sparks creativity, the energy that makes theatre and indeed Year Out Drama so brilliant. I will not lie, I sincerely hope that I never have to type another Zoom meeting ID into my laptop ever again. But I will look back on these weeks with a certain fondness. I’ll say again – I’m proud of this company of ours. When life gave us lemons, we made some damn good lemonade.