Can you ‘tour’ online ?

A British company through the lockdown

By Claire Templeton, Executive Producer at Theatre Rites

Like many other artists and companies, Theatre-Rites should have been touring during April and May.  On 23rd March we were due to start re-rehearsals in London for Big Up! our co-production 20 Stories High.  Big Up! is a puppetry and beatboxing collaboration for ages 4 plus and was to open at the Southbank Centre in London on 15th April and then tour throughout England.  Our new Beatboxer, Grace Savage, had already spent some rehearsal time with the show’s original Beatboxer and Composer, Hobbit, in preparation.  All systems were Go.

We made the decision to cancel before the Government enforced lockdown but were able to pay a large chunk of salaries.  So, after giving everyone time to attempt to adjust to this strange new world, we started the ubiquitous Zoom discussions about how the Big Up! family could still create, even in isolation.  We had incredible talent in the ‘room’: Grace Savage and Hobbit, singer/performer Dorcas Sebuyange, puppeteers Clarke Joseph Edwards and Teele Uustani, designers Verity Quinn and Joe Hornsby and Co-Director Sue Buckmaster.  

We were unsure about many things. Should we simply share the whole show online?  How could we stay true to our devising process without our playmates in the room?  How could we replicate that magical spark that happens when artists collaborate in response to objects? There was a consensus not to share the whole show online, partly because we hadn’t filmed it for that purpose, but partly because this talented team wanted to create – and so Big Up! at Home was born. 

Together we developed a series of videos presented by different performers or creative team members. Nearly all videos have a section from the show and a linked activity devised by one of the team – mostly a series of ‘how to’, but also some which offer a little respite from the online noise.  There is a section in the show where Dorcas sings a Lullaby to Little’ Un (a toddler puppet) after they have both experienced emotional meltdowns – something we feel many of us can currently relate to!  Our Big Up! At Home version is Dorcas singing the Lullaby in her bedroom – a moment of calm that we all need right now.

There’s a multitude of content out there and we know that it must be so difficult for families to sift through.  We’re working with the venues we were due to tour to, to ensure that Big Up! At Home is spread as widely as possible.  We know it’s not going to reach the numbers that the live performance would have, but perhaps it offers us an opportunity to consider how in the future we connect with audiences.  There’s much for all of us to learn, not least how we connect with those who have limited or no access to the internet.  

But it’s one a step at a time and we’re focusing on Big Up At Home as an online project. We took the essential and the joyful elements of the show and turned them into a series of fun after school activities – it was important to us that we provided opportunities for children to play on their own, but also opportunities for the children and parents/carers to play together – something that was distinct from home schooling.  It seems more important now than ever that we remain playful.

So, if people want to learn how to create their own mini set, how to make sound effects, how to beat box, how to create a drum kit and more, then they can visit our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7Jttr56WJ-FqhXbyc_pJkRpnCpGdhUWi

In many ways it’s been the same as producing a tour; creating the content is only half the work, making sure it reaches an audience is the other half and just like the real world, the virtual world is a competitive market – in truth, it’s much more competitive. 

We’ve learnt a lot, we’ve made mistakes, it’s been inspiring, it’s been fun, it’s been exhausting, and it’s been creative.  But mostly we’ve really, really missed our live audience.

https://theatre-rites.co.uk/