Sprint Acting

It has been seven weeks since I first arrived at Exeter, and in the last four I’ve taken part in three theatre projects…

You may be asking how it’s possible to fit so many into such a short space of time. There is no Tardis or Time-turner involved – the fact is that the university has a wealth of hidden drama on a timescale fit only for Usain Bolt, and perhaps Yohan Blake on a good day. I promise this isn’t an exaggeration.

Before Week 3 of term had finished, or Week 2 since I barely remember Freshers, I had already put myself forward to take part in EUTCo’s new initiative, Writer’s Rapid Response. This involved four new plays being commissioned in response to one of the bigger plays for the term, Scarborough by Fiona Evans. The four writers, including myself, had two weeks to complete the plays, and then directors and actors would have another two weeks to rehearse, produce and perform them.

I began work on Rapid Response immediately, but was interrupted 10 days later by Theatre With Teeth, who came knocking at my door to remind me I had signed up for their 24 Hour Plays. This was a daunting task; plotting, writing, editing and casting a brand new play between 8pm and 8am, then rehearsing the play with the actors between 8am and 8pm for the performance. Five plays were produced, and all of them were hugely successful. They ranged from the post-apocalyptic to the Paralympics, with one play even casting the three main characters as two coats and a bin. Yes, you read it right, talking coats and talking bins. This is the kind of fiction only produced by writers at about 5am under an unhealthy regime of overnight scriptwriting. Considering how the sleep deprivation bordered on illegal torture methods, it was an incredible and highly amusing evening of performances.

The following week it was time to stop my usual Friday activity of procrastination in order to get involved in Shake-in-a-Day. This is a project run by the MA Staging Shakespeare students, who pick an unknown Shakespeare play at midday, cast and begin rehearsals at 6pm, and perform at 7:30pm the next day. If the 24 Hour Plays were at whirlwind speed, this was a hurricane. The 24 Hour Plays were 15 minutes long – this was 2 hours. Imagine trying to shove a sock through the eye of a needle; now you’re thinking Shake-in-a-Day. The play chosen was The Taming of the Shrew, which was fortunate considering in the past they’d picked such chestnuts as Titus Andronicus and Henry VI Part I. Under the circumstances it was a godsend to pick a comedy, even if we did pick a ridiculously misogynistic one where one character was laboured with almost 700 lines. Overall the performance was as successful as it can reasonably be expected to be in just over a day – no-one had a script, but no-one particularly stuck to the script. The result was a roughly correct but often improvised Elizabethan cocktail, which is just as hilarious as it sounds.

With these two experiences behind me, I had almost forgotten about the Writer’s Rapid Response. The finished scripts had been handed in just before the 24 Hour Plays, and the actors and directors had almost finished their rehearsal schedules. The week after Taming of the Shrew, it was time for the final performances. The night began with Scarborough, which was brilliant in itself, but was rounded off with the four new pieces. With the relatively leisurely rehearsal pace of these four compared to the 1-day events, Rapid Response was much smoother and well-honed. The performances of all the actors were slicker, and in turn funny, dark, realistic and moving. It was easy to forget how little time they’d actually had with the scripts; some had only had three rehearsals. The night was a great mix of funny and serious, and showcased all the aspects of dramatic talent that Exeter has to offer – writers, directors, actors, stage managers and producers.

Shake A Day. David Johnson and Melissa Barrett. Photo Credit: Laura Baggs.

The Writer’s Rapid Response project was a resounding success, and did a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the full-length, and the 24 Hour Plays. It was also a great, low commitment opportunity to give chances for more actors to get involved, and I am sure it will continue to be a popular addition to the Exeter drama repertoire in years to come.

You may or may not have heard about all the different events described, but the information is readily available – just get yourself into the EUTCo or Theatre With Teeth facebook groups, or join the societies for cheaper tickets and email updates about performances and opportunities. There are workshops, socials, independent production and academic productions, as well as all the normal productions. There is so much to get your teeth into, get out there and make the most of it!

Written for Razz by Dan Squire.

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