At last! Today is another milestone step on the nation’s roadmap to recovery as we open up a little more. But if anything confirms The Petuaria Players rational approach to not making premature decisions then the appearance and potential threat of the new variant that is now showing its ugly face is it.
Already there is talk within government that the total lifting of restrictions planned for June may be in jeopardy. That is one of the reasons that we have not scheduled a meeting of our planning committee until that time.
Like ourselves our followers and audience regulars are keen to see us back on the stage and are asking when that will be. The short answer is, we don’t know yet.
It is always a challenge at the best of times to find three plays that fit our cast and their availability and our stage. At the moment we are faced with too many unknowns. We are eager to get there but we need to be in a position – months ahead of a performance – where we know actors and backstage people can commit their free time to a play, are in a safe position to be rehearsing and performing in sometimes very close or intimate proximity and that they will not have to halt a production because a cast member has to self isolate. We have no stand ins. And then we have to know how we can safely bring an audience into our venue and pay our costs.
Many assume we are ready to return to rehearsals but both the rules and the above constraints mean that day is, sadly, still a little way off. Professionals are in a different position and new ways of performing to limited audiences are now in progress and that is to be welcomed.
Hopefully, next month we will have more clarity and be better informed to make decisions. And as soon as we have more news we will be posting it on here and on Facebook. Make sure you are following us to stay informed.
To sum up, our thoughts over these unknowns are about as clear as that infamous statement from Donald Rumsfeld.
….as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know….
Going back to 2008 and the very mention of ‘Improbable Fiction’ brings wry smiles to the cast as they think ‘costumes’. More of that shortly.
Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Improbable Fiction’ was the final play of the season before our summer break that year. It had read well and we all found it hilarious and zany and we looked forward to rehearsals. Janet Drewery took on the responsibility for producing and directing this ambitious production.
It is a light hearted play that centres around Arnold, who runs the Pendon Writers Circle, a group of not particularly talented, unexciting, amateur, aspirational wannabe authors. Arnold himself is a writer of instruction manuals – which gives you an idea of the level of his creative imagination. With his unseen bedridden mother upstairs they meet regularly in his front room. Act One amusingly shows one of these meetings and reveals the characters and their planned novels.
Improbable Fiction by Alan Ayckbourn, performed in 2008
Where the whole play bursts into farcical dream-like fantasy is act two where by some mysterious means the ever sensible and boring Arnold finds himself living in those novels brought vividly to life. However, all five novels and genres become entwined in a comic saga of mayhem that leaves poor Arnold in a very confused state.
Now let me say up front that this was a successful and fun play to do, a production we are proud of. I say all this because behind the scenes we also have fond and amusing memories where things didn’t always quite go to plan……..
When I said earlier ‘costumes’ comes to mind that was related to the ambitious second act. Act one was normality for us. But I doubt the audience were ready for the zany antics of act two. Neither were we really. With no scene changes, just continuous action throughout the whole play, we knew that we were coming off and on stage as different characters with different costumes as we swapped continually between the interwoven five storylines of the writers’ imagination.
Slideshow: Act One
Only when we all went to a Leeds costumiers to select what turned out to be our largest collection of costumes for a single play and possibly our largest hire bill did we begin to realise what we had in store. It was only when the hire costumes arrived – in time for the tech and dress rehearsals – that the practicalities of everyone actually getting into various costumes at speed, to go on for a few lines, and then off and into another, did we realise the challenges we had. Rehearsals had involved no costume changes other than in our imagination. Reality, we discovered, took ten times as long.
The audience was subjected to such a frenzied fast moving confusion of zany characters and plots that they could never have known the tension, stress and sweat backstage, with just seconds to change; the shouts backstage of “which ******* character am I now?” and “Which ***** outfit am I supposed to be in?” We were very afraid of turning up for a three minute scene in the wrong costume. Indeed even our lines had us confused as we announced ourselves with wrong names…. It was, however, all in keeping with the manic plot and unless your name was Alan Ayckbourn the audience could never have known.
Slideshow: Act Two
And who can forget Dianne’s stunning portrayal of a squirrel. Our fondest memory, and hers, was the night she seemed to be wandering around the stage in a drunken fashion, seemingly having lost all sense of direction and had also forgotten to put on her squirrel paws. It turned out that in her frantic rush to change into the squirrel outfit backstage and rush back on in time for her entrance, she realised, too late, that she had thrown the paws into the squirrel head at her last costume change. As she dashed onto stage ramming the head into place the paws slid forward inside and over the eye sockets leaving her stumbling around blind. More suppressed laughter on stage.
As if this mix of characters and plot genres wasn’t enough – a children’s story, a romance, science fiction, crime detection and… a musical – we had to blast our way through a song and choreographed dance routine every night. The song and dance “There’ll be light at the end of the tunnel” took on a new meaning one night when the lighting cable suddenly disconnected plunging the stage into darkness. With a frantic and stressed Richard scrabbling and cursing in the pitch black under the mixer desk amidst a spaghetti bunch of cables we valiantly carried on in true showmanship fashion, our costume glitter sparkling in the pale green hue of the emergency lights. As full light was restored moments later to the line ‘There’ll be light….” the audience was no doubt impressed with our stunning and creative lighting design.
But as I said, despite these humorous memories, we put on a great production and the audience only saw performances they thoroughly enjoyed.
More memories soon!
Keep following us or register your email on this website to keep up to date with future posts and news, when it comes, of when we can resume our productions. Fingers crossed!
Next weekend would have been set build for our final play of the season but with the cancellation of our April production The Petuaria Players are, like everyone else, lying low.
What does it mean for the Petuaria Players?
It means that our summer period of rest has started prematurely and who knows how long it will continue. Technology and online interaction has replaced our meetings. This means that we can continue to communicate and arrange our play readings and discussions, something which will accelerate shortly. But it also means we can still do what we do best – socialise. Courtesy of Zoom and essential stocks of alcohol and nibbles we can meet more often than we did before! All without requiring a taxi home.
What about next season?
Everyone knows that nobody knows. This strange world we are in will continue for some time to come and it is not hard to imagine that a degree of restrictions and behavioural recommendations will affect our drama plans to some extent. It’s too early to say.
The best we can do for the moment is hope that a degree of normality will return such that we can present a full programme for next season. To that end we have now secured an extension to our performance licence that would allow us to complete rehearsals for FlatSpin and make that the first play at the end of October if possible.
However, it is far too early to make positive plans but when we do know we will certainly announce it here.
Stay Home, Stay Safe
So in the meantime we will continue with our readings and Zoom meetings and a few posts on here. So stay home, stay safe and see you all soon.
On Friday I found myself in the unusual position of being a paying member of the audience for ‘Say It With Flowers’ – probably for the first time since joining the Petuaria Players 13 years and 40 productions ago.
For me it was a play off ‘resting’ with minimal involvement other than on the graphics and publicity design so it was an opportunity to book a seat and watch a performance properly. Usually, for members who are not cast in a play, we would find ourselves carrying out tasks backstage, blind but listening to the actors and reactions from the audience.
So to sit down in the auditorium and experience the full production in all its glory, feel the reactions and ripples of laughter close up, to hear the whispered comments from nearby seats was amazing.
More rewarding was to watch my friends bring weeks of hard, stretching rehearsals to fruition. And what a performance. As usual, the coldness and dryness of rehearsals turned into warmth and laughter on stage, the ultimate reward of all that hard work, hearing the audience laugh and react, often in places or to lines that we hadn’t realised were that funny. Even though I had seen everything multiple times by now, to watch and appreciate it in the audience I was surprised how fresh it felt, despite knowing what was coming up next on every scene.
It was a superb night, a great performance by the actors, and not forgetting the unsung heroes working backstage with the numerous props and the fitting music that accompanied the play.
The last night of the run was on Saturday and had the added excitement of having Jane Thornton in the audience. Jane, of course, wrote Say it With Flowers so it was an honour to have her watch our interpretation of her play and to feedback to us at the end when she came backstage to meet the cast.
It was certainly interesting for her to be watching us because we have often watched her perform on stage, often with husband John Godber.
Jane Thornton joins the cast on the set of Say it With Flowers
Afterwards it was time for our traditional after-play drinks (and pizzas) on stage and the setting of ‘Stan and Mavis’s’ patio created a great backdrop for our late night January summer garden party.
Somehow, despite the late night festivities, we were back there at 9.30 on Sunday morning to dismantle the set and the auditorium. Now we can relax – for a week – before rehearsals start again for the next one…..
Watch out for our upcoming posts with news about the next play and the photo gallery of this production. Why not subscribe and never miss a post? Simply add your email on the front page where you see this widget –