For the past four and a half years I’ve helped to run a youth theatre group that specialises in musical theatre. It was my wife’s group really; she did all the major organising and ultimately she was responsible for whether it was successful or failed. In the end, that responsibility (and the ongoing worry that we wouldn’t have enough kids to make the productions work artistically or financially) meant that she stopped enjoying it and only tended to see the stress and anxiety. Which is one of the main reasons why ‘Summer Spectacular’ at the start of July 2015 was our last show.
Now it might sound like I had a cushy number: turn up on a Saturday, press a few buttons for the backing tracks, listen to a few lines and give a bit of advice. Well, yes, sometimes that was all I had to do. But ever since my teens I’d wanted to be a director (film & TV, rather than boardroom) so I enjoyed getting involved in how scenes and characters played out. And we gave a few acting lessons in preparation for LAMDA exams (everyone passed, some with distinctions).
But for me the main work was often on an evening: building set & props in the garage; creating a lighting plan in Excel; producing the programme on DTP software; editing tracks in Audacity; printing ticket order forms and then the tickets, and so on. A lot of this was usually done on the Friday night having realised we’d need something for the Saturday morning. This is why I was often quite happy pressing buttons – I was too knackered to do anything else. It was definitely wearing me down: a full-time job Monday to Friday, working in the evenings, six hours on Saturday running the junior and senior groups (with a seventy minute commute either side of that) and then Sundays working on the set. Admittedly that’s not a typical week – it tended to be worse closer to curtain up, but you get the idea. And we’d go through this three times a year.
I don’t miss the exhaustion or the feelings of trepidation when faced with working on a lighting plan or programme until the wee hours for two or three consecutive nights. But I do miss the fact that it inspired my creativity, re-igniting something that had for the most part curled up and died inside of me.
Our first show we played straight – didn’t even have to make any set, we just used somebody else’s – mainly because we didn’t know what we were doing and were terrified. But pretty much everything after that had some mark of my creativity in it somewhere, whether it was designing props or set, or writing a few extra lines. One thing we realised quite quickly is that when you’re working with the same bunch of eager kids over a series of shows, they just want a line to say (and the parents want to see their child have a moment in the limelight, no matter how brief). So I’d knock up a few ‘fill’ scenes to give some of the kids without main parts something to do and say. These were also used to give us a bit of extra time with set and costume changes – a win-win scenario (but don’t tell the copyright lawyers).
I also ended up writing two complete shows, as well as pretty much re-writing half of an existing show which we found out to be absolutely terrible once we got hold of the script (after paying for the rights to perform it). Our last production was a variety show for which I wrote and adapted a few comedy sketches. I have to say that I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have seen my work performed by some really talented kids in front of a paying audience and hear my jokes get louder laughs than the lines written by the ‘professionals’.
And that brings me to the other thing I’ll miss: our amazing kids. Some had been with us for almost every show (we did 17 plus two summer camps) and we’d seen them grow into confident performers skilled in acting, singing and dancing. Two of our lads are currently starring in a 17-performance production of Shakespeare’s Richard III and we’ll be in the audience on Saturday watching them perform. Our cast and their parents have been an utterly lovely bunch of people and our lives will be less bright and wonderful without them.
So, many happy memories… but we’re glad we’ve called it a day.
The problem for me is… what is going to keep my creative spark alive? I don’t have ominous, looming deadlines to work to. I don’t have my wife telling me that she needs a fake piano in ten weeks’ time; or a full two act script to write over the Christmas holiday.
I don’t want to lose that spark, but it may be tricky to keep it going when the pressure to deliver is off. I’ve got to keep writing, keep blogging and engaging with fellow bloggers. I’m taking steps to build up knowledge of a variety of aspects for my planned novel, and I need to keep my children’s stories going too. And I’ve got to impose some kind of deadline or expected commitment on myself and not let the whole thing drift.
I spent four and a half years resurrecting my creativity; now is not the time to let it die again, not when I can develop it on my own terms.