It has now been a few weeks since I returned home from touring Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show. In the time that has passed since we have moved into the second UK lockdown and the fact that we were able to tour a show during the pandemic feels even more miraculous.
It had already felt like a privilege to perform in the time we were touring in because the arts have been so badly hit by the pandemic. Then, on top of that, in the week that the show opened the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his comments about people in the arts needing to retrain. Yet there I was at the wonderful Leeds Playhouse, working with highly talented creatives, making live theatre that people were excited to see. I believe it is broadly understood, and has been well expressed by many, that his comments were both ill advised and offensive. I have a second job that is outside of the arts, as many of us do. His comments made me think about the times in the first lockdown and into the summer where the lack of creativity had got to me. I have a second job, but do I want to leave the arts? No way.
Dr Blood was a very fun show to perform. The challenges of making theatre in Covid times meant that imitating the dog created a very different sort of show. Being outdoors in October with digital theatre is not our usual space! It’s been a long time since I’ve done street theatre and I remembered that being outside with an audience is a different feeling. There is something freeing about being in the open air, which lends itself to a looser style of performing. We still had the imitating the dog accuracy of performance that is needed for working within camera framing but Dr Blood had punk influence, which fitted with this outdoor freedom. I had a spoken word song and letting loose on the words, screaming into the audience, channeling my very best punk feeling and dancing along to the song all the whilst feeling the wind and rain on my face felt exciting.
The tier system came in during the process but we were able to continue touring because the way we had made the show was compliant even in the highest tier. We continued through the UK October weather, which until the last day was surprisingly alright. Don’t get me wrong it was cold, very cold but we were supplied with hand warmers, blankets, even a hot water bottle! The rain and wind are trickier to manage than the cold. The cold disappears when running around in the show but a slippy stage keeps you very alert!
One of the strangest parts of touring during the pandemic was not to do with the show itself. The show, having been made within the guidelines, didn’t feel like compromises had been made or that we couldn’t tell the story we wanted because of it. And once we had the show that had decisions made that were impacted by the rules, it no longer felt like rules but was the track of the show. No, the strangest thing was missing out on the social side of touring. There weren’t many post show drinks and none of our usual evening meals after 10pm with the cast and crew, normally in a curry house, could happen. Even dressing room chats were gone with our solo spaces. The curfew was in place throughout the tour so from the time the show went down and everything was packed up (another element of working outdoors) there was rarely a chance that we had a drink together. Winding down after a show takes time, and socialising together is one of the great pleasures of touring. I missed that, a lot.
But as we took our final bow, over a windy and wet square outside of the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry I recognised the significance of the moment. During the tour, I’d felt part of the theatre community, which I had missed whilst working my other job from a screen in my flat. I’d felt part of the conversation about the need for the arts and culture, now perhaps more than ever. I’d felt creatively and intellectually stimulated by making the work. I’d felt free in my body and voice (and incredibly achy afterwards!). It was a joy and privilege to make this show and I look forward to seeing what gets made by wonderful theatre creatives after this second lockdown ends.