Wanted - locked down households to act in radio plays
Any budding actors out there who have always secretly fancied starring a in a radio play now have their opportunity thanks to a Cambridge-based theatre company’s new project to keep us entertained during lockdown.
Theatre company Menagerie is inviting housebound households to perform and record short radio plays written in response to the coronavirus crisis. The group’s writers have written for the BBC Radio and stages across the world, but now they have written something just for the public to try out themselves.
Using the theme of ‘escapism’, the writers have come up with some ingenious stories which can be performed by all. Just 15 minutes long, they are easy enough to do at home and challenging enough to bring out your best acting.
Menagerie usually makes live theatre which is performed at Cambridge Junction and at theatres around the world, but coronavirus has brought a temporary halt to this work.
“With no performances for our shows, we had to adapt quickly,” says co-artistic director Patrick Morris. “It’s a really simple idea: we publish the four plays online for anyone to perform. They’re radio plays, so people record their performance and send it to us. We then release all the recordings we receive on a rolling basis throughout the summer.
“We are a live theatre company and in March, when the lockdown restrictions were imposed, all of our projects were cancelled. We had a production that was due to be running right now in both Russia and in London and then we had a festival of new plays for July, The Hotbed Festival, which would have run at Cambridge Junction. Sadly, all that was cancelled.
“We just needed to keep working and also keep some kind of creative relationship with people in Cambridge and beyond. And the only way you can do that at the moment is through digital means. So we hit on this idea of asking people to perform plays that we could write for radio. We managed to get some emergency funding from the Arts Council.”
The result is four short plays by professional writers which require either one, two, three or four actors. According to Patrick most parts can be played by either gender and people of any age to allow anyone to take part.
“Play writing is our world and our business but we wanted to put the onus of performance on the general public and see what they made of it, and see if they could find ways to record these plays and create the sound effects for them. Even if it was recording it on a phone, some of the plays are great fun but they ask quite a bit of people.”
Patrick adds: “We don’t mind if you haven’t acted before, we’re trying to be as inclusive as we can given the medium we are working in. We want to find a fun way to bring households together.
“We also want to hear how people interpret the stories. The writers have produced this work very quickly. It would normally take more time to produce plays of this quality, but we have great writers – one has written for the RSC, two have written for BBC radio before, one has written for Bury Theatre Royal. We really have top-notch writers who have come up with plays on the theme of escapism. That’s the theme that binds these plays together.”
He adds: “It’s about our own need to escape from the reality of coronavirus and our own homes, even now things are being eased there is still a sense of confinement for people around the country.”
Theatre companies have been some of the hardest hit businesses during lockdown as it is very difficult to put on a socially distanced play in a theatre.
“It had a massive impact on us because our plays are our public face, that’s why we exist,” says Patrick. “And of course no one can go near a theatre at the moment for understandable reasons. I imagine we will be one of the last areas of social life to return just because of the nature of intimacy which both theatre-making and theatre-going involves. Actors have to be close to each other.
“There are really interesting ways around this and I don’t want to downplay that. We will all come out of this having learnt something about what is important to us as artists and what is possible using online technology, but nothing can replace that live interaction of audiences and performers breathing the same air and living that experience as it is being made.”
With millions still stuck at home, Menagerie’s aim is to relieve boredom, whether people live alone or with others.
“This is an activity for parents and children, single adults, grandparents, any kind of household,” says Patrick. “People can be performers, sound effects specialists or be in charge of the recording. It’s that easy.”
So for any budding actors, technicians and sound effects whizzes out there, now is the chance to have a go. For full details, visit menagerietheatre.co.uk/escapism.
Choose from these plays
Headhunters for 3 performers - A crazy journey into a secret world. The Headhunters get inside heads to fix minds, mend pains and flush out bad memories. But this job is the toughest yet. Written by Fraser Grace (BBC Radio, World Service, Royal Shakespeare Company).
Island Ecology for 4 performers - Stranded on a desert island, 4 friends have to survive without descending into brutality and power games. Written by Craig Baxter (BBC Radio, World Service).
The Fall for 2 performers - Hansel and Gretel set the record straight about who they are and what really happened the night they finally got home. Written by Vanessa Ackerman (first time writer).
A Drop of Human Kindness for 1 performer - A story about the joys of gardening and the terror of being indoors with the one you love. Written by Danusia Iswasko (BBC Radio, Bury Theatre Royal) .