Monday, 7 July 2014

Sad News

In the spring of 2010 I did a favour for a friend. She was offered a tour in the autumn and this project included two weeks of work in the summer. She was booked for another job on those two weeks. I hadn't heard of the company but she made it sound like an interesting project. So I said 'I'm not working then. If the company are happy with it I don't mind covering those two weeks'. I have to say I'm so very glad that I went and had a cup of coffee with her that day. Because that company was Propeller and they did indeed use me for those two weeks. The production I worked on was Pocket Dream and it was a revelation. An hour long version of Dream with just 6 actors. It was fast, it was furious, it was funny and I understood every minute of it. I had seen and worked on a number of Shakespeare productions over the years but this was something different, something a bit special and I really loved working on it. I was made to feel so welcome by the company, who had all worked together before, that by the end of the first day I felt like one of the family. I really enjoyed my taster of Propeller and when I was asked to DSM the 2011-12 tour I jumped at the chance.

Over the three tours have done I have been asked many times 'What is like touring with 14 boys?' Well it's like touring with 14 brothers. We are all together day in, day out, from the start of rehearsals in October until the end of the tour months later. You get to know who'll give you a hug when you're a bit down, who'll be able to finish the crossword you're struggling with and who to avoid sitting next to at breakfast when all you want is a bit of peace and quiet until you've had your third cup of coffee. We might annoy each other from time to time but you know there is always someone who has your back. And that sense of family, of brotherhood comes from that first day of rehearsals in October. The whole company are together in rehearsals all day, every day. We all sit and get to know the text together, when we're comfortable with that we get up and start to work on our play. Everyone has voice in the room, everyone can contribute their ideas and that sense of sharing and ownership of the work shows through. Ideas that have been worked in quiet times or over the lunch break are brought into the room and shared. No suggestions are stupid suggestions. Well, maybe some of them are but everyone feels safe enough to make them and takes the good humoured teasing when your fellow cast members point that out to you! I think this way of working, the foundation stones of the text work and the community spirit of our casts and crew are what makes Propeller's shows so strong. Ed once made a comment in rehearsals that when a cast member is on stage they shouldn't be thinking about themselves but about the rest of the cast. That you don't try and put yourself in the best place for your bits but make sure that others are in the best place for theirs. That way, when it's your moment to shine there are 13 others making sure that you are in the best place. (He put it much more eloquently than I, obviously). A true ensemble spirit.

So having had the pleasure and privilege to work with Propeller on three international tours it was with shock that I received last week's news that the Arts Council had decided to cease funding Propeller. I have seen the quality of work that has been produced and the audience responses to that work. I have seen an audience sit 3 abreast on the steps of the auditorium because the show had sold out and they wanted to see it, I have seen the articulate and intelligent conversations we have had with school children at post show discussions, I've heard elderly audience members leaving the auditorium declaring that 'I've never understood Shakespeare before'. I think that it is a really sad decision that leaves this exciting and innovative company with such an uncertain future. I really hope that the Arts Council listen to the voices of our audiences and to those of us who have had the privilege of working with the company and reconsider their decision to cut our funding.

You can add your voice through Twitter using #savepropellergroup  

Or write to the Arts Council

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