The first quarter of 2018 is a somewhat crazy, and exceptionally important time for Common Chorus. By the end of March we will have produced the two most ambitious projects we have ever undertaken, and between them they represent the opposite ends of what I set the theatre company up to make.
The weekend of 16th / 17th of February saw us complete ‘A Wind of Change’; a large scale community theatre project that took us, and our collaborators InterACT, a year and a half to complete. Around 60 participants contributed to the script writing, there were 40 or so actually on stage, 11 local professional artists oversaw the production, there were three shows sold out before the first night, and now we have a galvanised community in Meanwood raring to go for whatever community arts adventure comes next. It was epic and wonderful and the recovery time will be lengthy.
But there won’t be much time to recover, as come mid March we launch ‘If I Say Jump’; our new professional cast show travelling to studio theatres up and down the country. It is performed by Lynsey Jones and Richard Galloway, and the script has been created by Fringe First winner Dick Bonham, with help from Jake England Johns. It’s a fast paced and comic story about a Vicar and her best friend, who just so happens to be a recovering alcoholic, who with the best of intentions get themselves into a right pickle with a rogue gun, a dodgy builder and a car full of flowers. It is also a sort of Western… set in Barnsley. I can’t say too much more about it without spoiling it – come and see it!
I love making community theatre because it’s such an intense and special experience, and I love making professional theatre because you can craft a thing that can be toured to people anywhere and everywhere. I set Common Chorus up so that I could do both.
Switching from one to the other in such a short time will take a little adjustment, however I try to approach both forms with the same process and mindset. When it comes to the content of the shows it is always about telling inspiring and entertaining stories. Our stories are fictional, and often fantastical is some way, but they always reflect the truth of important biographical stories that have been told to us. Our process, be it professional or community, always starts with stories from the real world which become fiction.
The way we approach people on a human level is also really important and consistent across forms; my mantra is ‘people are important’. I called the company Common Chorus because I see every project as an opportunity to bring people together to make a wonderful thing where every voice is important, but also where voices combine to make something bigger than themselves. In the theatre world we use the term ‘ensemble theatre’ to describe this approach. People haven’t always come across that term in communities we work with, but I think the idea is fairly universal.
I hope that by the end of Spring the first phase of what I imagined for Common Chorus will be complete. We will have created two successful examples of theatre I love, in two different forms. Sometimes these forms have different audiences, and involve different artists. But, it is always lovely when people and stories transfer between the two.
If I Say Jump is touring to the following venues this spring:
Thur 15 – Sat 17 March, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds
Thur 22 March, Waterside Arts Centre, Sale
Fri 23 March, The Witham, Barnard Castle
Wed 28 March, CAST, Doncaster
Thur 29 March, Square Chapel, Halifax
Wed 11th April, Harrogate Theatre
Thur 19 April, Arts Centre Washington
Fri 20 April, Helmsley Arts Centre
Tue 8 May, The Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead
Thur 10 May, Interplay Theatre, Leeds
Sat 12 May, The Civic, Barnsley
If I Say Jump – A Recovery Story
If I Say Jump is a new theatre show by Common Chorus theatre company. Danny, one of the two lead characters, is an addict who is nearly a year into his recovery journey.
At it’s heart ‘If I Say Jump’ is a about the same search for peace and wellbeing that is central to any recovery story. What it is not about is the chaos of addiction, or substance abuse. When we set out to make the show we were already aware of many dramatisations, of varying quality, that explore the spiral towards rock bottom. What we found much more interesting was the change in the mindset that comes with recovery, and then how that mindset is sustained day by day. Our hope is that this is a more original take on a recovery story, and potentially one that is more useful to those who are now practising recovery in the world day to day.
To make a full disclosure, no actors in the show, or people in the core writing team, are addicts or in recovery themselves. So, why are we making this, and who are we to make it? Well, our journey began several years ago when a worker at Spacious Places recovery centre in Leeds approached us about making a community performance with their clients. Spacious Places is an abstinence-based day treatment centre, and our team worked with their clients over the course of two years to make two shows that the clients themselves performed for a recovery community audience. Following on from this, our team of professional actors and writers shaped the stories that the clients had volunteered to us into a full length theatre show that we could tour, called Drink With a Chimp. This travelled mostly to recovery spaces in Yorkshire. To see a short video about our work with Spacious Place click here
Whilst working on this project, a funny thing happened. We found ourselves using the language of recovery as we talked to each other about the day to day stresses and strains of making and touring the show. Before long, it became clear to us that we had internalised many of the lessons and strategies that the Spacious Places clients had been using, and it had helped all of us become more resilient, mentally healthy and peaceful people in our day to day lives. So when it came time to think about our next show we realised that we were not done with recovery stories, but this time we wanted to tell a recovery story from a different angle.
We wondered if we could make story about someone who is not an addict, however they do have significant work to do on themselves and their own mental health before they can find peace. They will be helped along the way by someone who is an addict in recovery, who becomes a role model of sorts. So, If I Say Jump was born. It is a fast paced and comic story about a Vicar and her best friend, who just so happens to be a recovering alcoholic, who with the best of intentions get themselves into a right pickle with a rogue gun, a dodgy builder and a car full of flowers. It is also a sort of Western… set in Barnsley. It confronts the unexpected consequences of the snap decisions we make when things get stressful, and it is for anyone who ever asked themselves “why on earth did I just do that?”
We want to encourage people from the recovery community to come and see it, and let us know what you make of it. We have asked a number of venues on the tour if we can get a ticket deal to bring prices down for people in recovery. Below is a list venues on the tour and information about how you can access cheaper tickets. This list will continue to be updated.
Thur 15 – Sat 17 March, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds – See Interplay on May 10th.
Thur 22 March, Waterside Arts Centre, Sale – £5 ticket code #ActiveRecovery, Phone Box Office (01619125616)
Fri 23 March, The Witham, Barnard Castle – Reduced ticket code coming soon.
Wed 28 March, CAST, Doncaster – £5 tickets with code: RECOVERY
Thur 29 March, Square Chapel, Halifax – Pay What You Decide, no code needed.
Wed 11th April, Harrogate Theatre
Thur 19 April, Arts Centre Washington
Fri 20 April, Helmsley Arts Centre
Tue 8 May, The Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead
Thur 10 May, Interplay Theatre, Leeds – £5 concession rate tickets for anyone in active recovery or with an LS12 postcode using checkout code: RECOVERY
Sat 12 May, The Civic, Barnsley
Roll Up! Roll Up! Tickets are now on sale for this unique and exciting show created by and for people who love Meanwood.
16th Feb, 7.30pm
17th Feb, 3pm & 7.30pm
Stainbeck Church on Stainbeck Lane, LS7 2PP
Tickets are only £5 with a 25% discount for groups (4+ pre book only)
By tickets at: http://buytickets.at/interactleeds
Or you can get the from Stainbeck Church Community Cafe (Thurs 11-2pm) or call Ness on 07961535767.
The project is a collaboration between Common Chorus theatre company and local community arts organisation InterACT, who have been making wonderful things happen in Meanwood for more than 10 years. The show is about how people in Meanwood have responded to change, and has been created from real stories from local people and Meanwood history. There are around 50 folks people performing or working backstage, and it has been an ambitious thing to create. To do it we have called upon the energies of some of Leeds most exciting local theatre companies and makers, including Matthew Bellwood, Uncanny Theatre, Peter Spafford, Adam Z Robinson and Liz Welburn.
Keep up to date with news on the facebook event
Here are a few picture from rehearsals so far:
Common Chorus Theatre – If I Say Jump
Casting Call – Male Actor playing age 30 – 40 years, Leeds and touring – Paid.
‘If I Say Jump’ is an original storytelling theatre performance with parts equally balanced between two performers. We are seeking one male actor to perform alongside established company member Lynsey Jones. The actor would ideally live in commutable distance to locations in West Yorkshire.
‘Danny’ has been born and raised in a small Yorkshire ex mining community. He has made good on an underprivileged upbringing by working as a plasterer. His early adulthood has been plagued by alcohol misuse and anger mismanagement, however since becoming involved in a local Church community and recovery centre he has turned his life around. Through this time Danny has struck up an unlikely, but strong platonic friendship with local vicar Jenny.
The show is fast paced and often comic with provoking and sometimes dark moments. It mixes direct audience address storytelling with sections of naturalistic dialogue, and there are opportunities for physical theatre within the script.
- Playing age 30 – 40
- Must be realistic as having an under privileged upbringing in an ex mining community with a Yorkshire accent
- We welcome applications from BAME applicants
- Good comic timing
- Able to confidently address audiences directly and switch to a naturalistic acting style
- Ability to multi role characters
- Good agility and movement on stage
- Capacity to build a giving and supportive partnership with one other performer
Rehearsals In Week Commencing:
Week 1 – 22nd January, Resident at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds
Week 2 – 26th February, Resident at Interplay in Leeds
Week 3 – 5th March, Resident at Square Chapel Halifax
Week 4 – 12th March, Resident at Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds
- 15th March – Carriageworks Theatre
- 16th March – Carriageworks Theatre
- 17th March – Carriageworks Theatre
- 22nd March – Waterside Arts Centre
- 23rd March – The Witham, Barnards Castle
- 28th March – CAST Doncaster
- 29th March – Halifax Square Chapel
- 11th April – Harrogate Theatre
- 19th April – Arts Centre Washington
- 20th April – Helmsley Arts Centre
- 8th May – Old Town Hall Hemel Hempstead (traveling back 9th May, accommodation provided)
- 10th May – Interplay (Leeds)
- 12th May – The Civic, Barnsley
We have a pending funding application. The minimum fees regardless of its outcome will be £330 per week for rehearsals and £100 for individual performances; totalling £2420.
If we are successful in our application these fees will rise to £458 per week for rehearsals and £115 for individual performances; totalling £3097.
There are no subsistence or travel expenses for rehearsals.
Travel to performances will be provided.
Performances at Carriageworks theatre are included in the production week fee.
Please only express your interest if you are prepared to work for the lesser fee.
To express your interest please email your performers CV or Spotlight link to the Director, Simon Brewis, before 1pm on Monday 8th January. Please include ‘If I Say Jump Casting’ and you name in the email title.
Auditions will be held in Leeds on Sat 13th January, please let us know if this is an issue.
email@example.com / 07817649699
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
A Wind of Change – FINAL CASTING CALL and backstage recruitment !!!
This is your last chance to take part in this wonderful community project and celebrate the stories and people of Meanwood. Throughout the autumn we have been working hard to create the structure of show, and in January 2018 we begin rehearsals before we go in front of the audience mid-February. Now we know what the show look like, we are looking to fill these gaps. Could you be part of the team?
- Confident adult singers and vocalists: must be able to rehearse Tuesday evenings.
- Energetic young people aged 9 – 18 years: must be able to rehearse Saturday late mornings.
- Backstage and technical crew and makers.
If you’re interested, get in touch with Ness Brown as soon as possible!
More info about the show here
Please check this timetable to make sure you are available, click to download
– A Wind Of Change Participant Rehearsal Schedule
Plans for the new community show ‘A Wind of Change’, which kicks off in Meanwood in a few weeks time, are going well and the groups are filling up; Group 3 – ‘A Hidden Wind’ is nearly completely full! We are still looking for folks who live, work or have a lasting connection to Meanwood to take part and the deadline to sign up is the Wednesday 27th September: www.commonchorus.co.uk/awindofchange
It is a big project, where logistics can start to take over, so I thought it would be nice to lift the curtain on the creative side of things a bit as this is the exciting part. Through the summer I have been meeting with north Leeds’ very own master storyteller Matthew Bellwood, and we have been plotting and planning.
Something we decided early on was to use a ‘Frame Story’, a bit like Arabian Nights or A Christmas Carol where a charecter is on some sort of journey and as part of their story they witness, or are told, other smaller stories. The idea is that each of smaller stories help inform or impact upon the main story – like how Scrooge learns from each of the ghosts that visit him. So Matthew has created the overarching frame story for us that will run right through, and then each of the groups are going to create their own smaller storytelling performances that will fit in with it.
I think fiction is a powerful way of exploring what is real, and that is a motif that runs through Common Chorus’ work. We have been talking about how to have the show grounded in real life stories that come from everyday people, whilst at the same time having a sort of fantastical element that interrupts that. It was Ness at InterACT who first suggested that we should make the central theme of the show about change. I had this idea about the winds in the wood, which morphed into a wind of change, which in turn reminded me of Mary Poppins and the way she flies in and out of her story as the wind changes. Mary Poppins blows into the dysfunctional Banks family home, and with a spoon full of magic and fantasy she addresses the real world problems at the centre of their lives. Our story isn’t going to be set in Edwardian London, it will be set in Meanwood today. However, our lead charecter will be a young person coming to terms with a change that may be beyond their control, but how they respond to that change is still for them to decide. Here is a short extract from what Matthew has been writing, and a photo that was taken when we were exploring Meanwood that gives us a sense of setting.
The stranger’s hair is white, but streaked with strands of grey and black. She is tall and slender, though her shape is hidden beneath the folds of a large, grey duffle coat. Her feet are clad in bright yellow wellingtons and she holds an umbrella in her hand. The ferule at the umbrella’s tip is long and sharp. It is yellow, like the wellingtons and pointed like a beak.
The girl stares at her doubtfully. She knows she shouldn’t talk to strangers – but it seems rude to just ignore the question. “I’m Sophie” she says.
“Well then, it’s good to meet you Sophie. You may call me Mrs Heron if you like. You people seem to have an obsession with naming things and I suppose that it’s as good a name as any.”
“But … but who are you? Where did you come from? Have you been here all the time?”
“Yes,” says the woman, musingly. “I suppose that you could say that. The water has followed this course for generations. Thousands of gallons over thousands of years, down from Adel, through the Meanwood Valley, and then on into the centre of town – although the beck was there before the town of course. This watercourse has been here for longer than I care to remember. It helped to carve this valley out of solid stone, it shaped the landscape; fed the woods and trees and later on, it fed the mills and tanneries and dye works that grew up along its banks. It was the beck that bought the people here in the first place. It fed them and nourished them and gave them power. Of, course, it does not flow as strongly as it once did, but it’s still an important feature round here. But then you know that, don’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean? You made it an offering. The beck has had many offerings over the years and it always listens carefully. An offering is a kind of prayer you see? It comes with a question and the beck heard yours. That’s why I am here. I have come to help you answer your question.”
Today Matthew and I shared his whole story with the rest of the production team and group directors. We have had a great brainstorming session around it and I am really excited about the ideas that are coming out about how the groups will make what they will make. It is all top secret at the moment, mostly because it still needs people like you to come and help us make it into what it will one day be.
If you want to be involved, there is still time left! All of the sign up info including the groups and a rehearsal timetable are here. And the sign up form only takes three minutes to do and is here: Click to go to sign up form