In the end, anyway, the show has turned out honest, delicate, exploratory, and yes – awesome. We started out with a simple enough premise – Let’s explore what awesomeness is, what it means, and put it all on stage. But of course any provocation as simple and far-reaching as that couldn’t end as simply as we had hoped. It was arrogance or naivety or some combination of the two to think that it would.
I suppose it was silly to paint with such a broad stroke, but we emerged from the Freshly Scratched event at BAC looking for the next great show idea and, for us, that process started with discussion.
What sort of show would you like to make?
What sort of show would you like to see?
We thought about all the times we had seen shows and walked out of the theatre awestruck. About every time we had ever experienced something and thought:
That was AWESOME!
And we began to brainstorm and make endless lists – What are awesome things?
And discussing how ‘awesome’ can be good and bad – how it can be quiet and simple or humongous and complicated. So we had all of these ideas, like how we could make rainbows in the space, or how we could perform the 1812 overture live, and somewhere along the way we fell into a bit of a trap. My friend Rachel calls it bit soup – where a piece becomes a complicated mess of loosely connected (if at all) bits. Like a variety show on steroids, bit soup can be fun to watch but is more often exhausting, frustrating, and can leave one feeling empty when all is said and done.
We scratched the show at BAC and it was a huge success. But in the context of a developmental space with forgiving, predisposed audiences, a performance can work that might not stand on its own outside of a lab. Several months later, when we recast the show and began putting things together for Edinburgh, weaknesses in the piece began to emerge. It became clear that we needed a structure to underpin the performance – maybe a storyline or an arc. We came up with the idea of an airplane – a flight into awesomeness – we would all be passengers, stewards, pilots… The audience would enter the piece along with us and we would all go on the journey together! This was going to be a different show – one with more participation, more goodies, sexier, louder; a bigger production.
We scratched it out at the Fox & Cutlass, and though we got through it by the skin of our teeth, the audience response was amazing. But again, the environment was a forgiving one. And Eden, Julian, Alfie, and the rest of that crew provided an incredibly supportive environment. Even so, the cast were feeling the strain. We were working with some young performers and, for several, the devising process was an unfamiliar one. We were trying to do too much, focusing on the trivialities, and some of our collaborators felt unsupported in the process.
When we sat down to work out contracts for the upcoming tour (London, summer festivals, and Edinburgh), some things came to a head and we lost a cast member. A couple of weeks later one of cast underwent a personal tragedy – a home invasion and attack, which left the rest of the cast shaken – and we lost two more members. Our performances at Guilfest and the Secret Garden Party went successful but exhausting, and a couple members of our dwindling cast were thrown by the experience of festival performance, about as different from the protected environment of the theatre as you can get.
By the time we got back to London for our Edinburgh previews at the Tristan Bates Theatre, we were like a pack of hungry, tired dogs. A disappointing review during our previews was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and we lost a final cast member with just hours before one of our last London shows. The four of us remaining (Kayden Jane, Trish and myself, and our Designer, Max) sat in a circle on the stage, trying to decide what to do.
It was our darkest hour.
But from the desperation of the moment was borne an honesty and a fragility that would be our saviour. We threw aside all pretences, all assumptions, and brought our exhaustion, our vulnerability, and the openness of our enquiry to the audience, offering the exploration as a gift. And what followed was incredible. The Times came out and praised the show and sent us off to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a bang. Coming to the end of the tour is bittersweet. We’ve endured more changes (to the cast, to the format of the show and the script, and to our own approach to the work), than we ever would have imagined, but the responses, both audience and critical, have been overwhelming. And perhaps more importantly, the performance we’ve arrived at in the end feels right. We may not know just what awesomeness is, but we’ve spent the last few weeks inviting audiences to help us discover, and what we’ve found has been awesome in its own way.