In August, I received an email from imitating the dog, the theatre company I am an actor and Associate Practitioner with, date checking me for a touring show in the Autumn. We were months into the Coronavirus pandemic, our worlds' had been turned upside down and the future of theatre was looking perilous. To say I was surprised to get an email about touring is an understatement...
But in September we began to rehearse Dr Blood's Old Travelling Show, a co-production with Leeds Playhouse. The show is a socially distanced, contemporary morality tale. Dr Blood and his associates pull up in the town and tell a dark story of corruption and greed. It is a three-hander, outdoor show that comes out the back of a van and still includes the company's signature use of digital projection. Yes, digital projection in an outdoor show, touring the UK in October.
I have worked with imitating the dog for 13 years this month and this company is both work and a community to me. Arriving in the rehearsal room was a treat. But it was definitely entering the rehearsal room in the world of the 'new normal'; temperature checks (pre-rehearsal and at the theatre door), masks on, seating spaced two metres apart, working in a big workshop space to accommodate the van. It felt strange. The stage space had been designed, by Laura Hopkins, to give us three separate areas to ensure social distancing on stage and three of each mask and puppet was ordered - sharing props is a thing of the past.
Did all of these adjustments 'ruin' the experience? No, not at all. As we're all finding, we're incredibly adaptive and resourceful creatures. And importantly, we embraced the regulations as a creative challenge. The restrictions made us to look afresh at our ways of working and we found exciting, creative approaches to 'solve' problems.
Restrictions or no restrictions, to make theatre, to make art is a thrilling process and, as we tour the show, I am very proud of what we have made. The show is new, different, entertaining, exhausting and LIVE!