Archive for the ‘Production’ Category

“Prepare for tomorrow, lights off, set the alarm …”

November 9, 2009

Last day, last shows, last blog. Yesterday (Sunday) saw last minute shots being filmed before and during our final performances, and some audio was even recorded for our appearance on Radio 4’s You and Yours this Thursday.  So it’s end of the run of our show, but of course the discussion of the state of the business of corner shops continues.

Last warm up

Warming up before the last show

There was a lot of mention of ‘lasts’ yesterday. “This is the last time we’ll warm up together” “Last time we’ll open these suitcases” “Last time you’ll reset that fruit and veg”. And there was the inevitable pre-last show buzz of energy when you see your last opportunity to give it your all, stretching out ahead of you.

The company gathered on set after the final performance to toast The Corner Shop and it’s successes.

To The Corner Shop

Post show toast!

It was strange seeing everyone gathered in one place. The shop unit has always been full of people, but over the past few weeks we’ve been scattered about the place in different rooms, building, making, rehearsing, directing, thinking, writing, talking. And there we were, all together on the street. The scale of the company was immense really – stewards, performers, designers, directors, musicians, producers, administrators, project managers.

Mick kicks back

And many of the team were back in the shop bright and early this morning

Cleaning up

The clean up begins

to get stuck into the two day get out that lies ahead. It’s a huge job. Somehow, a street, two general grocery shops, a sweet shop, a Caribbean food store, a living room and a dining room have all got to fit into Foursight’s warehouse storage space. To say that Frances looked daunted last night as she sized up the towering ‘brick’ walls on wheels, I would say would be an understatement.

At the end of the run last year, people were saying ‘you should do it again, more people should see this’. So we did it again and more people have seen it. This year, people have been saying ‘this needs to tour, more people should see this’. I wonder how soon it will be before we can say that The Corner Shop is coming to a shopping centre near you.

I took a bit of time to really look at our exhibition during this last week and I spent a long time reading the material that was produced for it, and the quotes taken from the initial research interviews. So much of our script used direct and very poignant quotes taken from those interviews. At the end of each performance, the character of Pearl tells the audience that running a corner shop “didn’t feel like work, it felt like life”. It’s amazing to think that a shopkeeper chose to say those words and really meant them. Now you don’t get that in a big supermarket.

Another section of the exhibition looks at the future of corner shops…

Exhibition

Exhibition image

There is a limited time in the business that I do, specifically grocers…I would say a minimum five years and a maximum twelve years, you won’t see a grocers, a butchers and it will be like a domino effect, the newsagents will go, the pharmacy will go…” Robert Evans of Bob Evans & Sons, West Bromwich

We’re all human. We mostly want an easy life. To hop in the car and jet off down to the supermarket, to grab everything that we need in one fell swoop. Or do we? One audience member told us that after watching a performance of The Corner Shop, they felt compelled “to shop more in the local corner shop”. I can’t help thinking it’s a lucky thing that committed corner shop owners are prepared to, as one owner told us, “open until 10pm or until the customers stop coming…” I’ve got a shop just like that round the corner from my house.

Anyway, all this thinking and writing and blogging has got me gasping for a cuppa. But I’m out of milk. Now where am I going to get a pint of milk from, at this unsociable hour? I know just the place…

"Don't see the front door from the moment we open to the moment we close"

Rochi Rampal

Not a feat for the faint-hearted

November 9, 2009

As I popped out for a coffee on a break last week, I  noticed a sandwich board with a Corner Shop poster on it.  I stared at it for ages, watching all the early Christmas shoppers zoom past.  I was thinking to myself, “Amazing.  Theatre in a shopping centre”  I was crouching down to take this photo, and trying to ignore the stares and gawps I was receiving from people walking passed.  Julia Rosenbaum, our steward co-ordinator, passed me by and giggled.  She was probably the only person who didn’t think it strange that I was photographing a sandwich board.  Julia has been working with Bobby and the stewarding team to ensure that audience transitions from scene to scene runs smoothly and efficiently…

Rochi Rampal

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Theatre...in a shopping centre?!

 

 

So, how did I, a Birmingham-based school teacher, come to be one of the most public faces of The Corner Shop?  How did I come lead a team of volunteer stewards?  How did I come to be encouraging to stewards to assertively guide – or, as I like to put it, ‘boss around’ – a 60 person-strong audience in the unlikely setting of Wolverhampton’s Mander Shopping Centre?

Well, a little over 6 weeks ago, Bobby Tiwana of Black Country Touring made good on his promise to find a role for me within the organisation. As I walked into their Oldbury office, I had no idea of the trust that was about to be placed in me.

An hour or so later, I left with the task of recruiting a team of 30 or so volunteers to act as stewards for the upcoming performances of The Corner Shop.  I was also to brief my team; produce a schedule to ensure that we had enough stewards for each performance; and, along with Bobby, generally make sure that all things steward-related ran like clockwork.  Not a feat for the faint-hearted!

Next day, the search began… It wasn’t difficult to be enthusiastic about the project. The Corner Shop embodies everything that good theatre should be: Brilliantly acted and scripted?  Yes.  Engaging?  Certainly.  But also, comic, tragic (to the point of my having to hold back the tears), and deeply, deeply relevant.  For, though many of the tales of the production stem from decades ago, what could be more relevant in today’s recession-plagued society than a piece of theatre which touches on themes such as making a success of a small business in hard times; people’s bigotry and fear of immigrants; and the desperate need we all have for a sense of community.

It was, as I say, not hard to enthuse people about a production as inspiring as The Corner Shop but I was also aided by the fact that the stewarding roles on offer were so different from those of a more usual theatre production. Stewarding for The Corner Shop, always promised to be a little different… Members of the audience go on a journey through both the drama, and the performance space itself, so the stewards’ role involves guiding the audience through the different scenes, making sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time and, overall, ensuring that every audience member has a great experience.

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Julia and just some of the stewards from the team of 35

 

Was it easy to get people involved?  Well, there were hiccups: turning initial interest into commitment; getting the right number of people for each show; and jogging potential stewards’ memories without making them feel harassed!  I did, however, get a brilliant response from many people eager to get involved. Additionally, others put themselves out: spreading the word by making announcements; forwarding on my numerous emails; and even scripting advertisements to drum up support! I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank all those people who helped to spread the word.

By the time the run began, I’d assembled a fantastic team but I still needed additions to it and there were stewards who were forced, through situations outside of their control, to drop out of performances at the last minute. These moments seemed to fall into sync with those when Bobby would tell me I was doing a ‘sterling job’. Coincidence? I don’t think so. With this support from Bobby; that of Frances and Steve, Deb and Mick; and, of course, the wonderful commitment of the stewarding team, we have yet to be left in difficulty.

Briefing new stewards, a role which continued at almost every performance, continued to be a joy, as did watching the faces of each steward during their first show and talking to them immediately afterwards: Every single person involved has been full of enthusiasm for the project. As one of the members of my shiny, new stewarding team said after watching the dress rehearsal, ‘I’ve paid no attention to the route; I was so involved in the characters.’ This is a testament to power of the unique theatre experience that is The Corner Shop.

Julia Rosenbaum

Tick tock, tick tock

November 7, 2009

The clocks are ticking.  We’re into our third and final week of the run and we’re racing towards the last performance at what feels like top speed.  Time is running out. It feels as though we’re all very conscious of this – we’ve been lucky enough to get a second shot at doing a show we really love.  As with the end of any run, these last few days feel very precious.  I think our audiences are conscious of this too.  After the show yesterday, one audience member told me that she worried  “many people who’d hoped to catch the show last year would be left feeling frustrated at not managing to catch it again”.  Maybe she’s right.  Most shows so far this week have been sold out.  Last chance folks!  Get those tickets booked! DSCN1989

Our afternoon performance was filmed today by a fantastic camera crew, for future promotion and documentation.  We also picked up on most scenes once the performance was over and the audience had left in order to cover different angles. But this process gave quite a strange atmosphere to the set as our characters conversed with audience members who weren’t present.  It was a bit like going back to the rehearsal stage, even though it feels like we’re well and truly passed that.  And filming scenes that rely so heavily on meticulous timing must have looked hilarious. For our simultaneously running scenes, we attempted to keep time whilst off camera by frantically, but silently, mouthing words to one another.  The process of filming also gave some of us the chance to see scenes we’re not around to see now that the run is underway, as we’re normally hiding in other rooms and behind doors, out of the reach of the audience’s eyes.  I saw some parts of scenes I don’t think I’ve seen since last year.  I felt I was seeing these scenes as our audiences would see them.  I had to struggle not to giggle too loudly (and force a re-take of filming) at the divine Jean and her quest for her lost purse and I felt quite emotional at how touching I found this scene between customer and shopkeeper. DSCN1951 I suppose it goes back to my post earlier this week.  Our audiences really do connect with this piece, be it because of their memories of being the customer of a corner shop, or the owner of one.

“It was brilliant.  Bought back loads of memories.  We had a shop… and that split room – that freaks me out.  Because that was my childhood.  Mum and Dad booking up at the end of the week, fingers crossed it will balance, ‘cause if it didn’t you’d have to do it all over again…”Audience member

Rochi Rampal

Everyone’s got a corner shop

November 2, 2009

It was a busy last couple of days of the second week of the run.  There have been more set tweaks.  The boxes in the stockroom that climb the walls…

 

…encase the split room…

 

Steve and Gulshan stacking boxes

 

…and the week culminated in three performances on Saturday.  This felt like a bit of a shock to the system, but was great fun and enabled us to complete immerse ourselves into an intensive performance run!  And now, stepping back from the performances for a couple of days has been a refreshing opportunity to reflect on how the show has been going.   So many people commented last year on how they felt this piece of theatre should tour. It has hit me how much of our audiences this year are saying the same thing.

“Fantastic. Really glad I came up from London, this brought back a lot of happy memories.  Should be seen everywhere.”

We have been loyal to the stories that were told to us during the research phase and The Corner Shop is firmly rooted in the Black Country where our research was conducted.  But the owners of those stories have rich and diverse backgrounds, countries of origin and experiences.  These stories are universal. It’s no mistake that our nickname for our opening scene is ‘The Universal Shop’.

Our audiences have also been reminding us that what they see really speaks to them, that they feel moved to act practically…

“I will definitely be using my local corner shop more.”

I was talking with a shopper in The Mander Centre on Saturday, and explaining to her what the intriguing world behind the Sports World shutters was all about.  Her eyes lit up when she remembered her old corner shop.  She explained to me how happy she was as a young girl, being entrusted by her father with a few pence to go and fetch a pint of milk.  She told me how sad she was that they are “dying out and being put out of business”.  She shared with me her own stories of what made the shop important for her, and we talked at length about the changing nature of the business of corner shops.  This is what I love about this production: it can connect with everyone because everyone has got a feeling, a story, a memory about their corner shop.  I hope she comes to see the show.

Rochi Rampal

“Aint that right, Ms Bell?”

October 30, 2009

We’ve been having achingly long breaks in between performances this week (so long we’ve managed to fit in all sorts of hot dinners to keep us going).  While we’ve been scoffing bangers and mash, the Foursight and BCT team have been making use of the peace and quiet on set and they’ve been holding meetings in the only place they call home these days…

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Company meeting on set

Meanwhile, in the sweet shop, John and Julia have been filming their scene for a digital-video-e-flier thingumy (I’m sure there must be a technical name for such a thing, but I’ve yet to find out what it is…)

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Lights, camera, euphonium!

Julia’s role as performer last year has grown to performer/musician this time around.  Here, she shares her thoughts on the transition of stepping into the role of Ms Bell…

Rochi Rampal


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The fabulous Ms Bell

Last night someone asked me how I got involved with The Corner Shop. I was proud to say that I filled in as one of the hoodies last year when one of the community cast dropped out. Although I am grieved not to be lurking around the dark street corners and attempting to create havoc at every possible moment, I am thoroughly enjoying using the only weapon I now own, my violin bow, to confront the hoodies when they attempt to steal our hat full of pennies!

This transition from hoody to musician has created feelings of excitement, nervousness, humour, anticipation and enthusiasm. Alongside that, the extremely short rehearsal process of familiarising myself with my cartoon like character ‘Mrs Bell’ in the sweet shop scene has been a race against time. A strange yet fulfilling fusion of crazy instruments (donated by John’s magical box, Derek, and my mother, who is starting to wonder if she ever owned a melodica due to it’s lack of presence in the house), the wonderful patience of John, bright daring colours, a thousand ways how to say my one and only line ‘You’re right there Mr Jeffs’, and most importantly green fluff that manages to get EVERYWHERE!

I feel extremely privileged to work with such amazing people and artists, and humbled to be playing alongside Sheema, who has made me feel so welcomed. There is nothing better than having a jam with a sitar player in a disused shop in Wolverhampton! The Corner Shop has been an immense opportunity and is continuing to be utterly enjoyable!

Julia Hares

Heart of the Community

October 29, 2009

Today was our first day back after a few days off from performances and the show is going well. This evening’s performance was brimming with energy. Our audience of invited guests were really supportive. It was particularly special as some familiar faces who saw the show last year were back again and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show.Post show

One of the interviewees was present this evening, who provided a lot of the research material last year, and whose stories feature heavily in the script.  I can’t describe the feeling of knowing we are performing a piece which draws on real stories, and often to the very people who own those stories, who have lived them and told them.Exhibit Arzhang!

We’ve been getting some fantastic feedback. Hearing audience comments is really encouraging and reminds us why this remount was so important…

“Moments of sadness. Laughter, joy, humour, loss – a journey of human emotions. Wonderful.”

“…should be shown everywhere…”

“One of the best things I’ve seen in years.”

“A feast for the eyes and ears and funny and thought provoking – an excellent evening.”

“There was a time that the corner shop was at the heart of every community” reads the beginning of a ‘preview’ in last Saturday’s Guardian Guide. It feels as though we are at the heart of Wolverhampton Centre’s community right now. Shoppers continue to peer into the unit, asking each other “What’s going on here then?” It’s been hilarious trying to get people to take a flier from us as they pass by. Some stop, stare and mumble quietly amongst themselves. A few times I’ve called out from behind our little rope cordon “would you like a flier?” “No!” And they’re off, darting back into Walter Smith’s or the pound shop. There are, however, some brave souls who accept the offer of a guided tour from Frances or Steve and step courageously into the unit. I don’t think they’re ever regretful. I saw a woman and her family wander round in awe this morning before our performance…her two little boys followed Steve round hand in hand, walking in step with one another, jaws wide open. Beginning in a dark street lit by a single street lamp, littered with rubbish and graffiti. Into Regal Stores stacked with gold painted groceries. Through a strange looking split room of halves with a Hindi movie flickering silently on an old TV screen. I wish I could have seen their reactions as they entered the sweet shop.

Rochi Rampal

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Sarah's so at home in her room, she can't stay away - even on her break.

First Night

October 24, 2009

First night – done! It was in some ways strange to put on a ‘first night’ of a show we’ve performed twenty odd times before.  It also felt exhilarating to be back in the swing of the show again –as though we never closed last year, and yet fresh and new at the same time.

Those last minute tweaks and final checks really were being carried out right up until the last minute.  I just about managed to scrub away some tiny traces of paint from my hands before the performance started.  A striking picture I have in my mind is of Frances surrounded by colourful cloth, as she calmly and peacefully sewed pieces together amidst the rush of the last hour before the performance.

After the performance, Steve was talking to some audience members from outside Wolverhampton who have never visited the city until tonight. They absolutely loved the show… “Wonderful! Imaginative, emotive…reminds me about what’s missing in our communities now.”  I can’t wait to hear what other audience members feel about the show – not just those who will experience The Corner Shop for the first time, but those who are coming back this year for a second helping.

Rochi Rampal

Roller Shutters Up!

October 22, 2009

There has indeed been a lot to see and hear and take in for everyone over the past couple of days.  It feels as though there have been even more people busily involved in the run up to the opening; kind people who have arrived to help out with stewarding, school pupils observing goings on, last minute painters…

The design team's to do list: lots of tasks satisfyingly crossed out

The design team's to do list: lots of tasks satisfyingly crossed out

The old Sports World unit is now a far cry from the shop “where the trainers used to be.”  It is now a theatre set of shops and streets and living spaces, ready and waiting for its audience.  Well, almost.  When most of us left tonight, those directors and designers Lisa mentioned in her post yesterday were still huddled together, formulating plans, hatching more ideas and discussing technical hitches we encountered during the dress rehearsal this evening.  I hope they’ve gone home now to rest – I have images in  my mind of Rob, Johnny, Uzma, Mick all still frantically painting, sewing, sawing, hammering…

I wonder what the shoppers of The Mander Centre have made of the latest developments to the space that, until a couple of weeks ago, stood dark and empty.  All week, they’ve been peering through the gaps in the roller shutters.  Today, they have been wandering by, slowing up and pausing, taking fliers and talking to us about ‘what’s going on’.  With the roller shutters fully raised, they’ve been invited to watch some of our rehearsals taking place. This has been a really interesting experience.  Rehearsals are usually so private and personal.

Last week: a view through a roller shutter

Last week: a view through a roller shutter

It’s a time when the company can intensively look at what they will offer to their audiences on opening night and beyond.  But it’s been brilliant to have the shutters open to talk to the people whose attention we grab.  It’s been exciting to see fascinated faces watch snippets of the show and be privy to sneak previews.  It’s as though we’ve ‘been on show’ a little bit early, and this has really fed into a unique pre-first night energy.

We performed a run to a large audience today, which was extremely useful in terms of gauging timings. Timings will be massively affected by the presence of an audience, given the promenade nature of the performance, so the dress rehearsal today was invaluable.  Of course there’s a healthy dose of technicalities to work on, journeys across stage to run through, sound cues to perfect, notes to share, final props to check are sourced, costume changes to go over…all in less than twenty-four hours.  Sounds like a desperate state of affairs doesn’t it?  But it isn’t. It really will be fine.  We’ve a brilliant show, a fantastic team and an amazing set.   First night here we come…!

Rochi Rampal

Sweeties

October 20, 2009

This show makes me hungry.  I can’t stop eyeing up the set. Glittering heaps of chocolate and sweets, giant bars of Bourneville and Dairy Milk, beautifully stacked drinks cans that look as though they’re as cold as ice (although you wouldn’t know the cans are empty and the fridge hasn’t been used in so long it literally stinks!).  It’s really all so tempting.

It's been hard work, eating all those chocolates for the sweet shop.

It's been hard work, eating all those chocolates for the sweet shop.

We've been rummaging in our recycling boxes

We've been rummaging in our recycling boxes

 

If only it were real!

Yum!

Today, rehearsals indicated that we’ve got sound issues.  Noise from each of the simultaneously running scenes at times bleeds into the neighbouring scenes.  Whilst some sound does in fact compliment what’s happening in the next scene quite brilliantly (Julia’s melodica creeps effectively into the eerie story of Mama’s Hard Foods), it has today proved to be distracting during some moments – particularly during the quiet and reflective scene that takes place in a dining room of different decades.    I have a feeling Rob, Johnny and the rest of the design team will have some sound proofing tricks up their sleeves.

Keith working hard

Keith working hard

Aside from the noise issues, it has felt like a great rehearsal today.   The more we run the show in the space the more the energy builds.   The performance is flowing, our momentum is building and the prospect of opening night on Friday is feeling really exciting.

Rochi Rampal


Panic over

October 19, 2009

The power problems have been solved!  An electrician was on set today.  He has isolated the faults that occurred and fixed them, so there are deep sighs of relief all round.  So we’ve been rehearsing with lights (which is always helpful!), and the design team have been, as always, working their socks off.

Magic suitcases

Magic suitcases

Returning to the shop after a day away from the set was a real shock.  It was amazing to see how much the set had come on in such a short space of time. Loads has changed. It’s all happening.

The back room is now a place to put your feet up and relax to the soothing sound of ticking clocks…!

The Back Room earlier this week...

The Back Room last week...

The Back Room now.

The Back Room now.

Mama’s Hard Foods is ready for fresh fruit and veg…

'Mama's Hard Foods'

'Mama's Hard Foods'

And Regal Stores has it’s throne…

Regal Stores

Regal Stores

It’s all coming together. And Friday – first night – is creeping ever closer!

Rochi Rampal