By Co-Artistic Director and stationary lover, Lizi.
Over the past week my social media feeds have been filled with back-to-school posts. I don’t have children myself, but many of my friends are teachers or parents, sharing their fears about new rules and regulations, anxiety about the continuing spread of the virus, and amazement at their offspring reaching such-and-such a milestone. Many friends have posted pictures of their kids on the doorstep, as is tradition, in very shiny shoes, with brand new book bags or blazers, grinning with excitement and fear, feeling “big”, on their very first day at school.
Recently The Roaring Girls started our research and development process for our next big project - we’re making a show all about menstruation - and there’s definitely a back-to-school feeling. I bought some post-it notes just for the occasion. As a stationary lover it’s hard not to take one of everything when browsing in a Paperchase, but limiting myself to just a notepad and some brightly coloured sticky notes (an essential item in a Roaring Girls rehearsal room), I felt that same back-to-school rush.
I’ll admit to being the sort of un-cool gal who enjoyed school, but mostly returning to school meant seeing friends again, and possibly new shoes or (gasp!) new stationary. I’ve never been the neat and tidy one, but packing up a pencil case and making sure you’ve got the right pens has always been an absolute delight. And if you don’t get joy from starting a new notebook or, even better, a new diary, then I don’t understand you and I’m not sure we see the world through the same lens.
Starting rehearsals, or in this case an R&D, isn’t quite the same as starting school, but there’s still an anxious excitement which feels a little different this year, under the shadow of the pandemic. We’ve been talking about this project for years, planning for months, and this is finally the moment when we can get together and focus just on this project. And much like school, I find pleasure in the packing of my bag on that first day - post-it notes to fill the walls, a large roll of paper to scribble ideas on, a speaker so we can have a boogie, and so on. Of course this year our first day took place over Zoom. And while we’ve experimented with sharing screens and compiling documents together, it’s not the same tactile experience. Even that excitement of seeing your friends - chatting over a coffee or sharing a bag of crisps on a break - is reduced to waving at them from boxes on a screen. We’ve still found ways to share music and dance together at the start of our day - but watching everyone sway in the Zoom gallery does feel like watching muppets flail about to their theme song.
All that being said, I am so excited to share the things we’ve been up to and what we’ve made together. It’s always exciting to get into a room and start something new, but especially following the lockdown period where we’d cancelled a tour and lost work, it’s a thrill to be tackling something new and collaborating with new people. One of the absolute highlights of this R&D period (pun intended) so far has been working with new people. Actor Sophie, is a joyful addition to our rehearsal room, and we’ve been amazed and delighted with the music that Emmy and Zoe, our Composers/ Musical Directors, have been creating - all three of them adapting to collaborating from a distance, and still bringing the fullness of themselves and their ideas. We’re also so excited by the possibilities and ideas that designer Nat is bringing to the table.
Though originally planned to be entirely over Zoom, we have been able to get some of us together in one room - firstly in a pub, and subsequently in rehearsal space (our thanks to the New Halfway house and Hull Truck Theatre). Aside from avoiding Zoom lag and the fatigue that comes from working in front of a screen all day, it's been great to finally be in the same space as each other - to be able to sing together, to physicalise ideas, and to chat more naturally. Yes, of course we're being sensible and keeping our distance etc., but it still feels exciting to be in the same place. And it gives me the opportunity to bring out my new post-it notes. I'm not saying that's the most important aspect of being in the same space, but I'm also not saying it's the least important...!
There's definitely that back-to-school feeling when prepping to get into the same room, but much like many kids and teachers across the country, alongside my sticky-notes I'm packing anti-bacterial wipes, hand sanitiser and a mask too. I wish everyone returning to school success, safety, and joy. As for The Roaring Girls, while we've been documenting our time together, perhaps next time we need to really lean in and take a back-to-rehearsals shot on the doorstep.
Rachael, Lizi, Sophie, and Sarah sit in the pub after rehearsals.