By Lizi Perry, bespectacled, flame-haired Co-Artistic Director.
Over the last week and a half, we’ve been inundated with applications for the role of Composer/Musical Director on our new project. It’s been so exciting to see who’s applying, and I’m really excited to read the applications in detail, to debate with our team who to offer an interview, to meet with these incredibly talented creatives. I’m excited to get started.
It’s a strange time to be at the helm of a small theatre company like ours. While pubs and shops re-open, theatres remain shuttered. Closed not only to the public but to most of their staff. This weekend I scrolled through Joanna Vestey’s series of photographs Custodians for Covid, a beautiful project capturing the solitary guardians of London theatres in their empty auditoriums. It’s strange to see this huge, hollow spaces, seem so still, so empty. These gorgeous shots capture a space that’s missing something, and it highlighted for me what I miss about going to the theatre.
There's been a great deal of theatre available to stream or to watch online, keeping us entertained during lock down, and raising much needed money for venues and creatives during this time. It's an opportunity to see shows that I ordinarily would have to travel far to see, or pay a huge amount for a ticket. But honestly, I've struggled to watch a great deal of it. The things I have seen have been great shows - brilliant performances, captivating design, inspiring writing, but they've lacked something. I've felt really removed from them - watching them felt almost academic. I miss the atmosphere, the sounds of the audience around me, the conversations in the interval. It's much harder to build that connection when what you're watching wasn't made to be filmed, but to be experienced live.
We always say, as The Roaring Girls, that we want to have a conversation – we want to share our stories, and we want our audiences to feel empowered to share theirs. It’s about forging a community in that space, at that time, through this shared experience. Looking through Vestey’s photos it’s easy to imagine these spaces filled with people, with laughter, with voices; the spaces filled with potential energy. It’s harder to picture how we get there from here, and how long that will take.
Over the past few months, with our industry lying in the dark, and the threat of it disappearing forever, I’ve been part of many conversations about what should theatre look like when it comes back. Let’s not return to the status quo, let’s make our industry fairer, more sustainable, more inventive. There are campaigns arguing for the rights of freelance workers, and demanding better representation of Black voices in our institutions. Our industry is filled with creative, passionate voices, and these conversations are filled with exciting, innovative ideas for change. It’s a precarious moment. But, like those vast empty theatres, filled with potential. It’s hard to be excited about the future, especially after these past months of lock down, but somewhere under many layers of anxiety, there’s a spark of excitement.
As we head into a new project, with new collaborators, we head into a rehearsal room unlike one any of us have ever worked in before – a virtual one. I’m not sure how hard it will be to work remotely - to bounce ideas off a screen and share ideas via email and chat threads. When we’ve explored ideas in the past we’ve rolled out paper and covered the walls in sticky notes. I’m not suggesting that I’ll forgo covering my own wall in sticky notes, but it won’t be a shared collection in the same way. I’m not sure how it will work, or how hard it will be. I know it will be hard – Zoom fatigue is real, and it's hard to have the same in-depth conversations when you can't make proper eye contact.
So at the start of this new venture I find myself anxious, scared, filled with concern. But through all of that, there's that familiar strain of excitement. This is the moment when the project we've talked about for years becomes real, the moment any ideas stop belonging to me and become something shared. This is the fun part - the spreading out of ides, charting the potential paths we could take, filling in the corners of our hand-drawn map. And then choosing a path (and, more often than not doubling back to take another, or drawing a bridge between two ideas, or falling of the edge and stating over) and venturing forward.
I don't know what this project will look like when it's finished. Not yet. I don't know what theatre will look like when this project is finished. But I'm ready to get started. Let's go.
A less empty stage, during Beach Body Ready, photo by Tom Arran.