“Climb aboard everyone, climb aboard! We are about to set sail!”
Actually my journey started four weeks ago, after two weeks rehearsal the Climb Aboard programme commenced its tour. This is a fantastic session full of wonderful memories, old Jamaican stories and packed with so many interactive elements, the hour duration just flies by. We even have a working vinyl record player as part of our set, which delights both children and staff. All we need now is a fully functional Commodore 64 computer (which would take ten minutes for a single game to load, only to find the command “Load Error”) and our revisit of 80’s electrical equipment would be complete! Those of you who were children of the Eighties will recognise that reference, and I realise I’m showing my age which is not a bad thing.
At the tender age of thirty-three I find myself enjoying a fourth tour with The Play House as Tour Leader, and I must say what an incredible experience it is working with this company. All of the company members are so friendly, supportive and knowledgeable about all things T.I.E. with a perfect balance of professionalism and respect for individual needs and responsibilities. I truly hope there will be future projects I will be involved with. Which brings me to the point of this Blog; how do I describe my work to somebody unfamiliar with theatre-in-education? Often in social situations we are asked, “so what do you do?”. For myself there are two answers: the long way or the short way, but both responses conjure up the usual slight hesitation and wry smile, for I know once I have uttered the words ‘Actor’ or ‘Teacher/actor’ a presumption of this work will take place. “That must be really glamorous, you get paid a fortune for pretending to be someone else!” the reality is quite different.
Every day is different, and to describe even a handful of experiences would require a fully documented report to really get a sense of what we do. Essentially T.I.E. uses theatre as a teaching tool, to promote thought and discussion on the issues raised by the drama, but so much work goes into the preparation of the piece and the tour itself. For example, today (13th May) is the sixth day of the tour and we are performing in two different schools, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. My colleague and I meet at the prearranged meeting for Eight Forty-Five and arrive at our first school at Nine. This is actually a very late call as we have worked at this school yesterday and were fortunate enough to leave our equipment over night. Normally we would meet anytime after Seven, sometimes earlier, and allow ourselves a full hour to be at the school, bring the set into the space and erect it. Before the session starts we approach the staff members involved, and brief them about the programme and their role. If time allows, the all-important ‘Actors coffee’ is sought after which sometimes can become challenging if the staff room is on the other side of the building.
The session starts at Nine Thirty. Today we are joined by two work experience students, and our Director who will be making notes on the session, so no pressure! Everything goes well, apart from the before mentioned record player deciding to not function correctly, but with a couple of ad-libs we are back on track and at Ten-Forty, the session has ended and the children and staff’s feedback are extremely positive; “when can you come back?” “I didn’t want it to end!” Then it’s over to our Director for notes and suggestions; this is such a vital part of the process of delivering theatre as often an external eye on the piece will provide insight into a missed opportunity, or a chance to tighten up certain aspects. We receive one of the most flattering notes I have ever been given, “Just keep doing what your doing, it was excellent.” Wow!
Then it’s all hands to deck, as we proceed to dismantle the set, and load it into my very modest saloon car; but half way through this process we discover my jacket (with car keys in pocket) has miraculously disappeared! A further twenty minutes is spent locating the offending article, and we complete the get-out and Sat Nav our way to the next venue. Unfortunately the work experience students need to depart to write their own account of the sessions they have witnessed so far, which is a shame as they have almost become part of the tour, their involvement during and around the sessions having been very useful.
We stop for lunch then continue on to our second venue of the day. I have worked at this school previously and remark there shouldn’t be any problems getting our equipment into the school hall as we can park directly outside the entrance. On our arrival we discover the school has major building work being done to the entrance, and as a result we will have to park behind the school and carry the set over a road, through the playground and into the school to locate the hall. It takes us half an hour to successfully transfer the equipment, and we have thirty minutes before the session begins. Further complications arise when we introduce ourselves to the Reception staff, and are asked if we can start in fifteen minutes time, as the children will be leaving school earlier today. We do our best to get set up, and as the children approach the space we are ready to begin. Again the session goes well with more positive feedback and we say our goodbyes. All that remains is the get-out of our equipment, back through the school over the playground/road, and into the car, (no missing jacket this time) and we are ready to go for tomorrow’s sessions. Just a quick discussion on the meeting time and location, we then travel back to our meeting point and the day is finished.
So that’s it, a day in the life of a Teacher/actor. I could have included smaller items of interest such as the need to ring schools we will be working with next week to confirm start times, or the quality of a Gregg’s sandwich, but I’ll leave that for future blogs. I did mention earlier the assumption that Actors are extremely well paid. Well I might not be driving a Bentley, but I have two young children who have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and we go away for at least one holiday per year; I’m very happy.