photo - shaun wykes

Shaun: The tricks of the trade.

The Foot in the Door process started with a bunch of young people sitting in a room in Withington, silently waiting to see what would happen, no one saying a word. Flash forward six days later and you couldn’t get them to be quiet! We walked through Piccadilly Gardens envisioning a major goal of our own, we wrote timelines of our lives and we learnt a breathing exercise that has been proven to lower the heart rate!

After the intensive week we had a series of workshops held in various locations across Manchester and covering a variety of topics. This gave us a chance to learn more about areas we were interested in but also to dip our toes into areas that may become our new interest!

My favourite workshop was the Directing in the Round workshop at the Royal Exchange. We started with a background and history of the Royal Exchange which included some fascinating insights including (my favourite) that the theatre is held up by beams which are secured into the marble poles because if the stage was placed on the floor the weight of it would make it fall through the floor! We then went back into the main space and learnt some of the basics about directing in the round, including that all energy should be directed towards the centre. Then we had a chance to work in groups to write and stage our own piece in the round (in about 20 minutes!). Our piece was about a couple who both saw their relationship very differently. We were progressively given instructions to not only build the piece so it would perform better in the round but also instructions that helped us develop the actual content. Not only was it a fantastic experience to be acting on stage at the Royal Exchange but also to get an insight into how pieces in this context are created.

We also learnt from Sharon Stoneham what a massive job a stage manager has, and people often don’t even know the half of it! Sharon generously went into great depth with us as to what a stage manager needs to do and keep on top of. She showed us her toolkit (which included, amongst other things, needle and thread, a hammer and tape). We saw what a stage manager’s script looks like after a production and how the stage manager needs to have an idea of what is happening in all the different departments. If an actor forgets if they move upstage or downstage at any point, then it is the stage manager who should be able to answer their question. The first in, and the last out, and no production would be possible without them!

Finally, a workshop that answered many of the questions I’d long been curious about was the Producing workshop with representatives from Art with Heart and The Octagon. How do you approach a venue with a show? How do you get producers to see your show? What does it take to apply for arts funding? And what exactly is a producer? That answer was never, and possibly never can be, answered. It varies so much depending upon the context of the show, the budget and the different skills and interests of the people involved. They went through what to include in the email you send to venues – photos, reviews, the synopsis – and how to grab their attention. But also to be understanding that you may send a hundred emails and get one reply and not to be discouraged. Everyone is going through this, especially at the beginning of their careers. We also looked at a hypothetical timeline of a production and when different tasks would need to be completed by. Although I’ve directed productions before it was interesting to see how other people space things out and when they see certain tasks should be completed by.

All these workshops shared valuable ideas, developed new skills and provided a deeper insight into a different area of theatre!