With covid restrictions in place, and lockdowns keeping us indoors, it was time to get creative with the tools at our disposal and find a new way of performing in this new normal.
We kicked off our brand new YouTube channel by reliving a little of 2019's Twelfth Night - with Fraser Haines reprising his Malvolio and music from Barry Dougall. But what else could we use YouTube for?
The radio play is a bit of a “British” thing. We wanted to bring some drama to our audiences during lockdown so we’ve worked on producing a number of audio plays.
Both were rehearsed and recorded from the actors’ own homes, with none of the cast having actually met up during the process. These individuals recordings were then edited together by Martin Borley-Cox. Have a listen, and see if you can tell it was all done in isolation.
Here’s Martin with an explanation on how he took a series of individual recordings and turned it into a full cast production.
Remember the days when we could watch actors on stage - even touching each other - without feeling queasy? The theatres have closed and the plays have stopped but, thanks to technology, the shows can go on. You can see everything we've been working on our YouTube Channel.
Of course, there’s no smell of the greasepaint or roar of the crowd. Stuff made for the internet is very different, so we’ve tried our hands at movie-making and radio plays.
We’re all familiar with putting together a stage play, so how do we do it when the actors and director can’t meet? The answer is, of course, Zoom. And it’s worked really well without any of the shenanigans you might get at a Handforth Parish Council meeting.
When it comes to recording, the actors have to create a duvet den: a sound-proofed teepee using clothes airers and blankets, or anything else they can lay their hands on. They listen to the other actors on Zoom - so they know when to speak - and record their own words on another device, such as a mobile phone. To improve the sound quality, a sock or pair of underpants are wrapped around the phone’s microphone. This is the glamorous world of lockdown theatre.
Acting in an audio play is very different to stage work, or even film. That’s because you can’t communicate a character’s feelings through facial expression or body language; every emotion as to be conveyed through speech, or those noises (laughter, sighs, groans) we make when we’re happy, angry or sad. or are just straining to put on shoes. This new style of acting has been a learning experience for all of us.
I then have the job of piecing together the audio tracks from each of the actors. It means editing out the lag, which you always get from internet calls, adjusting the gaps between speeches and, on some occasions, allowing two characters to speak at once.
The dialogue needs to be adjusted to make it fit the scene. This may include adding treble or bass, or introducing some echo. Perhaps one person is in the distance and gets louder as they walk towards us. It’s like painting a scene with sound. The audience can’t see the actors move but they can get a sense of movement through the sounds.
In A Summer of Spring, one scene is in the evening on a verandah. That meant finding suitable effects to recreate the atmosphere: distant traffic, the chirping of crickets, footsteps on wood as a character moves, and the scrape of a chair when he stands.
Royalty-free sound effects - which well meaning people have made available on the internet - are a godsend. But I have spent many a happy hour recording myself running upstairs, the clatter of cutlery on plates, the washing machine whirring and the click and bleep as my car door is locked. Who’d have thought that foley artists have so much fun?
Finally there is the music. Suitable music, used sensitively, lifts a scene and provides an emotional pull. Fortunately there are libraries of royalty-free music which can be used; but the choice is limited. If anyone would like to produce original music for our projects, it would be good to hear from you!
For the YouTube videos, even the audio plays, I add images and captions. It’s better than having a blank screen. I supplement my own photos with royalty-free images from helpful sites such as Unsplash.
Please have a listen to our audio dramas (and watch our other videos). We’re learning as we go but have had tremendous fun ensuring the shows go on. The radio plays are now available on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and all free of charge.