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A visit to Jane Austen’s House

March 19th, 2014 No comments

As Outreach Assistant at The Watermill Theatre, part of my role is to write an education pack for all the shows in the theatre. These education packs are free to download from our website and are suitable for school groups or anyone interested in the making of each production. When I was asked to visit Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire as part of a research trip with the cast of Sense and Sensibility, I jumped at the chance!

There was an air of excitement about the trip; during the journey the cast, who are now in their second week of rehearsals were learning their lines in the back of the minibus, while myself, Lawrence our Production Manager and Stage Manager, Victoria were playing games to pass the time.

This was an opportunity for the cast to see the house Jane Austen lived in whilst writing her most famous novels, discover the intricacies of her family and experience life from her perspective.
The director Jessica Swale commented that Jane Austen’s house has a real significance to Sense and Sensibility; in the same way that Marianne and Elinor inherited a cottage from a distant relative Jane and her sister Cassandra were generously given the house by their elder brother Edward. As we entered the main house one of the stewards encouraged Alice, Cassie and Sally who play Lucy, Marianne and Elinor to rehearse one of their pieces on the ornate piano in the drawing room. This traditional music seemed to set the mood as we wandered around the house reflecting on what it must have been like to live here some 200 years ago.

The cast were intrigued by the unusual facts we learned at the house. For example, the creaky front door was left unfixed so that Jane would know when someone was entering and could hide her manuscripts. We were surprised to see how intricate the details on the clothes were and we also explored the bake house where the women would have to wash the clothes and slaughter the animals.

Having taken lots of pictures, enjoyed the beautiful gardens and avoided having a spending spree in the gift shop, we all made our way over to Cassandra’s Cup tea shop for a much needed afternoon tea to reflect on our visit to such a magnificent house.

Now I am looking forward to the Calamity Jane education pack when I am hoping The Watermill will fly me out to South Dakota to find out what life is like in the Wild-West!

Heidi Bird
Outreach Assistant

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A day in the life of the Watermill Development Team

March 11th, 2014 No comments

Last week, the Development Team went to visit Sheepdrove Organic Farm – rolling hills, a beautiful sunny day, and the lambing season about to start.  The reason for this visit?  We were talking to Sheepdrove about their forthcoming sponsorship of the development process for Hardboiled, a play which goes on tour to a number of rural venues in June including Sheepdrove Organic Farm on 17th June. Packages are available to see the show and enjoy a sumptuous organic supper at Sheepdrove. For further information, call Sheepdrove on 01488 674737 or visit their website
A full list of tour venues can also be found here

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Inside the All My Sons rehearsal room – Assistant Director, Suzy Ward’s Blog

February 5th, 2014 No comments

We’re in our second week of rehearsals for All My Sons, the full company is now here, and we have just finished getting through to the end of the play for the first time.

It is absolutely thrilling to work on such an expositional drama. Miller’s language is potent and traumatic and he truly exposes human flaws in everybody.  To work on forming such comfortable and jovial relationships between these tight-knit families and neighbours within the play, makes it all the more devastating for us to watch these characters’ worlds disintegrate.

We have been working on the intentions of each of the characters and the underlying knowledge which is being discovered bit by bit as the play unfolds. Everyone arrives with their own points of view and their own agendas and it is amazing to see these dynamics drive the play forward.

The next step in rehearsals is to work on large chunks of the play, trying to push the details through, establish the emotional arcs, and see how each scene will be affected by the preceding scene.

Suzy Ward
Assistant Director

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The power of live performance – All My Sons Director, Douglas Rintoul’s blog

January 24th, 2014 No comments

I came across plays by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and William Inge when I was a teenager. I found them innately theatrical, human, epic, didactic, full of heart and they blew me away. They made me excited about the power of theatre. I have never directed a play by Miller so to finally direct one, and All My Sons, takes me back to a time when I discovered great playwriting.

Miller’s play is perfect, it is profound, recognisable and utterly devastating. It is one of the great plays of the last century. It confronts not only events of the late 40′s but it is also a powerful indictment of our times. It is thrilling to mount a play that speaks of the now from the past – the experience is all the more powerful because it does so. One hopes that the audience will not be the same when they leave the theatre as they were when they came in. Something will have happened.  And this is what excites me about live performance.

Douglas Rintoul

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Dressing up, Drama Games and Family Fun Day – Work Experience Blog

November 6th, 2013 No comments

Ruth Sparkes writes about her time doing Work Experience at The Watermill last week.

When I arrived at The Watermill on Monday morning I had no idea that my three days here would be as busy, tiring and fun filled as they have been. I expected a few workshops and some admin work, but after meeting the lovely ladies in the office I was allowed to sit in on the read through for The Adventures of Pinocchio. As an aspiring actor it was a brilliant opportunity to see the very beginning of a professional rehearsal process. It was a day for first experiences as we then went to the costume stores and I let my inner child run wild as we chose all the best costumes to take back with us for the Pinocchio Family Fun Day.

On Tuesday I took part in the Drama Games workshop in the Lily Pond. This was a great way to demonstrate my improvisation skills (I’m still not sure why all the children laughed when I had a broken arm) and I learnt some great new games along the way. The afternoon was spent being slapped, punched and having my eyes gauged out in Stage Combat workshops. Once the Stage Combat teacher Robin had finished using me to demonstrate, all the participants took part and enjoyed it just as much as me.

Returning on Wednesday (with limbs and eyes intact), I assisted with the Family Fun Day. After sweeping the Sackler studio, more drama fun and games ensued. Eight sessions later and having been transformed into a rocket, a scarecrow and a wolf-clown by some very enthusiastic children I was allowed to go and join in with the dressing up! But, as I’m no longer a child, some tidying up was needed before finishing off the day.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my short but eventful time here and, having made friends with Milly and Bear, I hope I will be allowed to come back soon.

Ruth Sparkes

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Sherlock’s Last Case – Designer Simon Kenny’s Blog

October 17th, 2013 No comments

With a building like The Watermill, with all its original features and the way it’s been converted – you have to work around it or work with it, there’s a bit of both in Sherlock’s Last Case. Some of the design features are built to work with it and at times we’ve tried to make the theatre disappear.
I get my inspiration for design from everywhere; every show brings with it its own area of research. Obviously doing a play like Sherlock’s Last Case comes with a lot of material to reference. With all the books, the films, the museums, Sherlock Holmes is really well documented. Sometimes it becomes about the art or music of the period, or photography, and at other times the text takes on new meanings with time. Music is a really big influence, be it music of that period or not. When I’m designing costumes for modern shows or new writing, I often ask actors what music their character listens to, it won’t be referred to in the play, but it suddenly gives a really good sense of who they think they are and what kind of world they inhabit.

We also work with the wardrobe department and the actors. I find it very important to work with the actors in developing what the costumes should be. This is a slightly different play because they are such iconic looks. We know what Holmes and Watson should look like, and hints at character descriptions from the script reveal other features you need to be faithful to.
Sherlock is a fictional character, his Baker Street apartment doesn’t actually exist, but there are so many details in the books which tell you about the rooms, what’s on the walls, how it’s been decorated and how many steps from the front door into his apartment.
There are some brilliant people who have gone through all of these details in the books and then drawn maps and put together images of what they think these rooms would look like if all these details existed. We have, of course, had to adapt it slightly to accommodate for the audience who are looking in on these three dimensional rooms.
We did a lot of research at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, which has been constructed on Baker Street at the address that is closest to where 221B would have been. They’ve recreated the spaces with all the details from Sherlock’s stories. It’s brilliant being able to see what the proportions of the rooms would have been, what the buildings were like at that time, the way they would have been furnished and all the different details from the stories seen in one place. We’ve pulled various bits and pieces together from those worlds and then distilled it through The Watermill space to create the set.
There are so many people who know so much about Sherlock Holmes, who have ideas about what he should look like – mostly from the specific look in the 30s films. So we’ve referred to the stories, the locations, and even the films and the looks that have become iconic – we’ve wanted to reference those things as much as we can without being slavishly bound to recreate them.
Obviously Sherlock’s Last Case is a new story, but I think our interpretation of Holmes is familiar to people, whether they know the stories or not.

Simon Kenny

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Wardrobe are having a breakdown! – Wardrobe Supervisor, Amanda’s Blog

October 9th, 2013 No comments

In the Wardrobe Department, we like creating things, we like looking after things, and we like making things look nice. What we don’t like is destroying our costumes in the name of art – at all…. The trouble is, the costumes might look perfect when we’ve made them, but frankly, that just won’t do, they need to look authentic and lived in. This process is known as “breaking down” and can mean anything from a light sprinkling with fullers earth to create a dusty effect, to cheese grating a period suit and then setting fire to it – I know!

This happened during the preparation for our production of Sherlock’s Last Case when we were required to produce a suit which looked like it had been sprayed with acid and left to rot. Well, Eloise (Wardrobe Assistant) and I set to work with our trusty graters. We grated the jacket, the trousers, the waistcoat and mostly our fingers. If you ever find yourself in this situation, you will discover that a well made wool suit will resist the cheese grater for the longest time, but will eventually give in. Having reduced the 3 piece to shreds and liberally sprayed it with black paint, we presented our efforts to Simon, the show Designer. Simon looked doubtfully at our creation, “good start” he said with a raised eye brow “now set fire to it”… As I dragged the suit around the car park, looking for a suitable bonfire venue, I bumped into Production Manager, Lawrence who was all too happy to assist with his blow torch - a genius! As Nelly, Eloise and I looked on (from a safe distance) Lawrence set to work. The smell of singed and burning wool was quite delicious as you can imagine, but the job was done, and Sherlock Holmes became suitably attired, much to our delight.

Amanda Dooley
Wardrobe Supervisor

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An insight into the Romeo + Juliet Rehearsal Room

October 2nd, 2013 No comments

Poppy Jermaine, our work experience student, describes the rehearsal process for Romeo + Juliet.

I’ve grown up watching The Watermill’s productions and performing with the Young Company, so the possibility of a behind-the-scenes look at the development of a professional show was just too good to miss!  On my first day, I was eager to read the adaptation. The 46-page version maintains the richness of the story in a swift and efficient way, it gives the play a new urgency, heightening the action and sticking you to your seat.

I was apprehensive at joining rehearsals for a professional show for the first time, but Clive, the Director, and the actors – Ed and Sophie – were very calm and focused. They seemed totally committed in an effortless way, and it helped me feel a bit less nervous. When you’re trying making your first ripples in the industry pool you’ll do anything to be of service, but I was really chuffed when they said ‘don’t be so polite!’ as I tried to shuffle to the back of the queue for the kettle on their tea break.

Ed Hancock, playing Romeo, and Sophie Steer, playing Juliet, bring great energy; both are a wonder to watch. They are thoughtful and alert and pick up and drop ideas or characters as if it’s what they were born to do.

It’s fascinating to see how everyone works as a team to chip away at one creative decision after another. Clive listens as the actors throw ideas in the pot and then chuck them straight back out again. They are currently working out the best way to go from the fight between Romeo and Tybalt to the soundscape of Tybalt fighting Mercutio, which Romeo has recorded on his phone. They begin to work out how to make a clear character and action shift between the first and second of the three fight scenes. For the third, Clive is bringing in a Fight Choreographer. To add to the intricacies of this scene the second fight is introduced by a spitting row between Tybalt (Sophie) and Mercutio (Ed). Sophie, an irate knife-wielding Tybalt, first fights Romeo , then Mercutio, and Ed is playing both parts!

Clive gives them the freedom to play and experiment, ensuring the production is their collaborative creation. They toy with the idea of handing the phones to each other as they leap. Should Sophie go over or around the chair? Do they do the same number of steps? Do they apply a count or rhythm to the steps, or trust each other to land at the same time?

As an aspiring director, it’s reassuring to see that my preferred way of working – absolute collaboration – can be achieved in such a productive, playful way. I think he’s right when he says that he’s created a fun environment for the actors to rehearse in, which nurtures the trust and respect that they share as the show develops.

Ed and Sophie approach their characters and lines differently – Ed is constantly asking questions and remains thoughtful about the language. Sophie, meanwhile, throws herself in, attacking her lines with ideas that come to her in the moment; both of them know how to really have fun with Shakespeare! I noticed they carefully maintain the metre and rhythm of Shakespeare’s lines, only adjusting the text where absolutely necessary to allow for the modern secondary school location.  As this adaptation is only an hour long, it is especially important to unlock the meaning of every line, so they keep some rather hefty copies of the full Oxford Classic text of Romeo and Juliet close by refer to.

All three of them are in love with Shakespeare, and honestly – what’s not to love? It’s truly magical how these plays can transport a modern audience in any number of ways. It’s been a real eye-opener to watch the close-knit Romeo and Juliet team in rehearsals, it’s made me more confident about my own future in the industry in a way that I never predicted – I’m hungry for it now more than ever!  I feel positive. I love being with these talented people who are so committed, and I’m now sure this career path is for me.

I hope I can return here with a production of my own one day. A girl can dream!

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A starring role for Bear, the theatre dog, in Adventures in Wonderland

August 14th, 2013 No comments

I’ve lived at The Watermill Theatre all my life – five years and a bit – and no-one has ever asked me to write a blog before.  I guess that’s because I am a shy retiring Bear and no-one really notices me around the place.  But all that changed on Monday when, out of the blue, I was asked to star in the visiting production of Wonderland, by Teatro Vivo.

It’s exhausting being an Actor, I can tell you!  All that rehearsing and technical stuff and then having to remember to do the same thing show after show, is really hard work.  The day starts with a walk with Aunty Clare – which I have to confess I use as my physical warm-up – but then I am expected to do a vocal warm-up with the rest of the Company and help set the props (which is a bit much to ask of a professional Artist, if you ask me!).  With moments to spare before curtain up, and no time to relax and prepare for my role I might add, it’s into costume before final checks and then we are off.  I have several scenes but my big moment comes when I lead the Duchess from the Palace (pictured)  – my house by the way -  to meet and greet the Spades (a role I later reprise to greet the Clubs).  I also act as a spy and generally muscle in on any scene I can.  In particular I enjoy the scene with the mock turtle (Natasha) in the river (also pictured), when I occasionally bark as I feel she is getting an unnecessary amount of attention and no-one is looking at me!  The pesky chickens are also playing spies but they are nowhere near as good as me, as they are never in the right place at the right time – and I am delighted to be able to report that Milly, the Mill Cat, was auditioned for a part but rejected on the grounds of unreliability.

Anyway, Aunty Clare says the show is going down a storm (due in no small part to my starring role) and everyone is very happy.


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Oh what a Twitter! – The Production Blog

August 9th, 2013 No comments

Like most, I do find that the social network can be such a double edged sword, sometimes it is easy to forget who is following you – yesterday while I was at the scenic workshop going through the model for Sherlock’s Last Case, I spotted an old fashioned school blackboard in a skip.

Perfect! This is just the item we need for our forthcoming tour of Romeo and Juliet. So, having deftly removed it from the skip and negotiated with the owner, I then emailed some photos to Clive Judd, the Director, who is currently having rave reviews for a show at Edinburgh.
Fortunately, Clive is a friend and well used to the Watermill ways when it comes to recycling and so took my tweets about propping shows from rubbish skips well and joined in the banter .

Our ongoing mission to find ways to be greener and my continual batting on about it has really paid off, particularly as we have also just been contacted by Mr Robbs from the local firm Kosnic. It did help that he is an ex-youth theatre member and his mother was our wardrobe supervisor a while back.
As a company, Kosnic specialise in new low energy LED lamps to replace the current tungsten units and they asked if we would trial their units. Now, the highlight of their new lamps is an LED replacement candle lamp and with our new restaurant refurbishment and the two locally crafted chandeliers, what could be a better combination. The joy is that not only do they look great, but they dim and don’t flicker on just a normal domestic dimmer.

If you are around the Watermill do pop in and have a look at them; they are very funky and are saving us quite a bit on the electric bill.

Oh blimey I’m beginning to sound like Kirstie Allsopp!

Lawrence T Doyle
Production Manager

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