Theatrefest Guest Blog

Jenny Rowe
We are delighted that Jenny Rowe is guest blogging for us at Barnstaple Theatrefest
Jenny brings her show, Life Deconstructed to Barnstaple.
And that’s a wrap for 2014! Thanks, Jenny!
Day 4 – Sunday
Day 4 of Barnstaple Festival started with our improv comedy drop-in class at St Anne’s Arts Centre. Nine people turned up, which was perfect for an hour and meant everyone got a good crack at the whip. We played some group games, including Word Ball (for the poets), 3-line scenes and Shift Left. Everyone was really up for it and one of the Londoners will be checking out The Maydays drop in classes in London (yeah, we caught one!)!
Afterwards we found coffee, caught up on admin, did a bit of flyering at the Queen’s theatre and I dashed off to see Dante Undone by Almost Human. I had been intrigued by this all week as I had seen the production team arranging for an icecream tub full water and Action men to be quick-frozen in a Butcher’s freezer. Yes, you heard me. The show had been developed in Manchester the previous week, an impressive feat for a performance featuring green screen, morph suits, live film-making, original soundtracks, live art and a series of grotesque and fascinating toy/doll/puppet hibrids. While the narration (a mixture of story and lecture) on Dante’s Divine Comedy continued in the background, the performers simultaneously videoed a landscape constantly being drawn and a selection of revamped toys miming the story.  It was dark, confusing at times, funny and a volley of information on the senses. I’d like to have been able to hear the narration better – apparently it was intentionally faint in places but I just found that frustrating, but otherwise I was impressed with the use of multi-media and would be interested in seeing this a bit further down its line of development.
Lloydie and I had our last show at 4pm. Pleasantly surprised by the audience size, we took a short text from someone with a tiger reference and a man called Thalleus (I think). Personally, this was my least favourite show – I still enjoyed it, but I felt I didn’t take enough risks and that our energy in many of the scenes was similar. Saying that, we had a fun scene exploring the idea of being eaten by a crocodile and how in the grand scheme of things that would somehow eventually make you omnipresent, and ended by accidentally setting fire to two teenagers in a dumb-waiter (sorry!). As usual with improv, you had to be there.
Sadly, this was the point Lloydie ran off to catch his train and then to America. He’s off to the DCM (Del Close Marathon) – an improv festival in New York. It was sad to see him go, but we’ll be rehearsing together for The Maydays’ next show ‘Oh Boy!’ soon, and we’re performing ‘Life Deconstructed’ a further 8 times at the Counting house, Edinburgh.
Shortly after, I was caught by the VOXBOX kids. This is a GREAT idea – an upside down plastic box with a hole for a camera. Box on your head, camera on, intimate voxpop that gets uploaded to the internet. I’m so stealing this for Brighton.
I managed to get another 2 shows in before the end of the festival – Getting Lost in my Home Town by Paul Richards (a solo story-telling comedy show by a self-confessed awkward man) and then Smidge, by Out There Theatre and directed by Hayley Joy. This was a charming show – the memoirs of an imaginary friend – told by live voice over and using shadow puppets, physical theatre and a little bit of improvisation to keep the cast of two on their toes.
The rest of the evening was given over to partying in the basement of St Anne’s Arts centre. It was a shame that a lot of the national and international theatre folk had to get trains back before work began on Monday, but it meant that I got to hang out with the locals and find out a bit more about the regional theatre scene. This is a really good point to talk about the Monday Collective, which I had vaguely heard of last year. A number of the Devon companies have some involvement in the group and it certainly feels like they benefit from the arrangement. It was a set up a few years ago and is a very loose collective of artists, spoken word, theatre, music and dance folk who meet around Barnstaple and Bideford every Monday. From talking to some of them, it feels like it’s a very precious thing – there’s no definite structure or leader, but they come together every Monday and meet in the pub, or play games, or work on a project or simply go for a walk. But the act of doing things together and sharing ideas clearly pays off as is evident by the number of Monday collective folk involved with Fringe Theatre Fest (by my count around 7 productions had some connection, and that’s not including those helping out with the fest in other capacities).
All good things must come to an end, and so it goes with fringe Theatrefest 2014. Two seats four Cheeks have had an amazing time. So many thanks should go to so many people, but the brief list is as follows – Gill Nathanson and Bill Buffery (Multi-Story), and Clare Thomson (Queen’s Theatre), Bob for putting us up for nowt, Lisa for being a wonderful tech, Pete Buffery for opening St Anne’s early for our workshop, Marina, Thom and Will for Snakes!/Wetherspoons fun, Sally Joy for putting me up for nowt and making me a packed lunch at 6.30am, Hayley Joy for driving me to the station at a similar time. Also, all the volunteers without whom this festival just wouldn’t be possible. Thanks and hope to see you again soon.
Day 3 – Saturday
We started the day with a lovely chat with Linda, who’s son was in Hansel & Gretel.  Linda loved our show so we persuaded her to tell us on video (see our twitter feed for the vid @2seats4cheeks.)
Afterwards, I went to a marketing meeting led by Tessa whose show Womanz will be at the Underbelly in the Edfringe. Everyone has LOVED her show this fringe and she led a productive discussion.
Later, we saw a marching band in the town centre and heard about a man who talks to a trained duck (still waiting to see this for real), before heading off to a dark retelling of Hansel & Gretel which explored the extermination of people with learning difficulties during WWII. The mixed cast of professional actors and differently abled amateurs made this all the more poignant. (Linda’s son who played Hansel was great, by the way!).
The afternoon brought us Purgatory Passengers by the very talented Sam Gibbs (hilarious, insane and full of heart), followed by Poetry Ping Pong – 2 poets battle it out to the death, telling their top poems; Rob read his from a well-thumbed tome full of poems called ‘Poem’, while Dan recited his from memory in a delightful deadpan. The addition of tinfoil headbands and pingpong balls just added to the fun.
At this point I realised I had forgotten to eat all day, so grabbed a handy Wetherspoons meal deal before a quick head-clearing walk, a read of our LOVELY review (‘Brilliant’ – yeah! nice!) and our second show.
We THINK the audience liked show 2, we certainly enjoyed it more than show 1 and we had some lovely feedback and a bigger audience. This time the text message was intriguingly from someone in Belgium who was reading something very academic. From that we discovered a couple who were trying to impress French businessmen with their cooking. It’s becoming hard not to overrun the show now as we get so involved in the characters we’ll glance at our watches and be horrified that we’re nearly out of time. Luckily for us, our Edinburgh time-slot is a bit longer!
After an evening of hanging out with Will, Thom and Marina of Snakes! The Musical (did I say, go see in Edinburgh? No? well do – they’re at Just the Tonic and they have a brilliant show), everyone piled in to see Emily Rose in Confessions of a Rabbi’s Daughter. This is a one-woman musical – and she wrote all of it (music, lyrics and script). She has a wonderful stage presence and this is yet another show on its way to Edinburgh so, once again, do go if you can.
So, the end of day three of the festival and I’ve seen 8 great shows for about 20 quid. Ok, I may have made up for that at the bar but this still has to be the most informal, affordable and accessible fringe in the country. One day to go, let’s see what tomorrow brings….
Day 2 – Friday
Day two of the festival and we headed into town to do our tech with the lovely Lisa (lovely and uber efficient – everyone book this lady!).
We have a very simple tech – intro music, lights up, us for 45 mins, outro music. That meant we had 40 mins to play, which was great to get a quick rehearsal in.
Our show went well, although we await a review with baited breath! We took a text message from an audience member to inspire the show, which was an O2 service.message, and from that did an improv show based on themes of technology, time (free minutes) and telephones. In hindsight, we realise we should have made it more clear to the audience that we would be inspired by the text and not take it literally but not bad for our first show.
Incidentally, at least one member of the audience asked us if the text was a plant and another wondered if we had planned any of the sketches beforehand. Both of these responses are always a really lovely compliment! (NB it wasn’t and they weren’t!).
In other news, Snakes! On a Plane is a wonderful tongue in cheek comedy musical,  Threnody of the Sky Children was a beautiful modern fable, and Johnny Mathis Stole our Christmas took me on a trip down memory lane with a poignant story of loss.
Then we got a bit drunk with Tessa from Womanz (go see her show in Edinburgh, btw) – More news tomorrow!
Day 1 – Thursday
So here I am at my second Barnstaple Fringe Theatre Fest and it’s like visiting relatives – informal, safe and incredibly friendly. It’s now 9.30pm on Thursday, the fringe has officially been running since 5pm and I am waiting for improv partner in crime, Lloydie, to arrive from Nottingham.
This time last year, I was teching Robert Cohen’s show, High Vis, and was getting used to what a jewel in the crown of fringes Barnstaple is. There’s a minimal entry fee (£35 I think), for that you get a technician, loads of support including poster & flyer distribution, and often a place to stay if you’re from out of town. This is a godsend, bearing in mind that North Devon is a bit of an expensive trek! This year I’m staying with Bob. Bob is providing me with a free room, he’s already cooked me dinner and he is a mine of info(not to mention a bloody nice bloke!).
Today I’ve met some old friends from last year (and they do feel like friends even though I’d only met them a few times last year) such is the Barnstaple theatre community and some new. A few will be going on to Edinburgh so it’s nice to know I already have some Edfringe connections. I’ve seen my first show – Quint-essentially Spectacular Vernacular (just as much fun as last year!) and I look forward to having a drink in the Queen’s Theatre Bar tonight and then performing our first show tomorrow afternoon….so, more from me tomorrow….ps this book is the poetry book of Rob from Spectacular Vernacular. He wrote a funny poem about a Zebra.
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