Lockdown. Even the word is laden with doom. In February last year the English Theatre Company had just finished the first week of rehearsing ‘Allo ‘Allo, destined to be performed in May, when the production had to be shut down. Like millions of others we returned to our homes, not realising at that time how very serious this new virus was to become.
Treading the boards is what we do. As spring and the long, hot summer dragged on, our hopes of returning to the stage that year lay in tatters. But our musical director, David Allcock, had other ideas. He had been thinking about recording plays for Youtube. He’d never done it before but now seemed the time to experiment.
Four members of the ETC were pioneers in this new adventure. David’s intention was to record four of the unpublished short plays sent to him by two New Zealand playwrights. As a musician, he was used to recording music. However, recording a play, with actors, was a first and he wasn’t sure he would be able to make it work.
On the appointed day we gathered at David’s homemade studio, full of the nervous enthusiasm reserved only for projects where you haven’t really got a clue what to do. We took our places in front of David’s impressive looking microphone, which we used on the first run through and which proved to be so sensitive it was picking up the sound of traffic from a road some distance from his house. But we, as actors, were also struggling. As these were sound only recordings, all we had were our voices to act our parts. Facial expressions, bodily movements. an ability to bounce off other actors were all useless in front of this, unforgiving, intimidating, alien creature. Lines were fluffed and voices were flat. Small movements nearer to or away from the mic produced uneven sounds on playback.
Dispirited, we broke for lunch and trooped into the kitchen to be met by a very welcome sight. A bottle of well chilled bubbly was standing enticingly on the table. As we relaxed over a delicious meal, cooked by David’s wife, Rowena, we raised our glasses to toast the success of our new project. That afternoon, much revived, we spoke our lines with confidence. No matter that the second microphone David produced made us sound as if we were in an echo chamber when he played the recording back. We knew he could fix that.
Over the weeks, as we settled into each new recording session, lunch and the ubiquitous bottle of bubbly became as familiar to us as the new acting techniques required. A recording tradition had been born.
We all found working with David to be inspirational. He was on a steep learning curve himself and it took time and much effort on his part to master the complexities of sound recording. When he was finally satisfied, he then had to match the photographs taken and saved on his computer, to the storylines of the recordings. Finally he then had to learn how to upload the finished products to Youtube.
We’ve recorded three short plays to date. Where’s There’s a Will; Housewifely Duties and Dissembler. The links to all three are on the ETC website. We have one more to record when current restrictions ease. David’s recording studio now resembles mission control. Complicated machines litter desks and tables. Microphones are sprouting everywhere.
What next? Now we feel as much at home in front of a microphone as we do on stage, the aim is to continue recording and to develop our skills. We look forward to other members of the ETC joining us in new productions. Even when we’re treading the boards again, there are still lengthy periods between each of our performances. Time enough to produce more content for the ETC’s own Youtube channel.
Glass of bubbly anyone?