From Athens to Howard Springs

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30.08.2021

Despite our national tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream being well and truly interrupted we’ve worked hard to adapt the tour to get the show on the road. We are pleased to report the cast is now quarantining at Howard Springs, ahead of performances in Darwin, Alice Springs, and then on to Queensland.

This is the first time Bell Shakespeare’s rehearsal period has included quarantine, so we asked the cast about the surreal experience of preparing a show whilst separated, isolated and locked down.

1. How do you stay “match fit” or rather “Shakespeare fit” whilst not performing?

Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Bottom/ Egeus)

This company of actors is just brilliant at keeping each other motivated and enthused.  When you see the show, you’ll realise how very physical it is – in rehearsals we spent an hour each morning on strength and flexibility exercises, as well as vocal and text work. It would have been easy to let that work and momentum slip, but the wonderful Jake (who plays Lysander) has become our company ‘dance captain’ and takes us through a physical warmup each morning via Zoom.  I, meanwhile, take the company through vocal work. This can be a bit surreal – there have been times when cast members have been split between NSW, VIC, WA and the NT, all Zooming in to join in the warmup. But it’s been wonderful that we’ve been able to do this through the COVID hiatus, not just to keep us ‘match fit’ but also to keep the Company camaraderie, even though we can’t (yet) be on stage together.

Michael C. Howlett (Demetrius/ Snout/ Fairy)

I’ve been watching a bunch of great performances online produced mainly by the RSC and The Globe (an alternative to the many bingeworthy shows on streaming services!). I think when you’re working on a classical play, it’s important to keep your ear in tune with the language and rhythm of these texts.

Gabrielle Scawthorn (Helena/ Starveling/ Fairy)

We have been having daily warmups to keep our bodies flexible and ready to climb, mount, scale, swing and various other actions through our set. 

Hayley Stafford (Head Mechanist)

Resistance bands can’t compare to loading a truck, but they do the job – just gotta be creative. I’ve been playing Nintendo Switch Ring Fit Adventure, it feels a bit daft jogging on the spot in your room, but it’s fun and it will kick your butt if you set the difficulty right.

On-Demand streaming yoga has also been a great way to start the day.

Ella Prince (Puck)

I have been climbing the rails of my balcony in an attempt to replicate Puck’s exploration of the forest/the set.

I try to keep my body moving and my mind open to the little wonders of the world, particularly the natural world. There is very little wildlife in Howard Springs, but we have encountered the occasional curlew, passing cockatoos and wee geckos. 

Imogen Sage (Titania/ Hippolyta/ Quince)

It hasn’t been easy to stay match fit, but we’re jumping straight into our technical rehearsal and then our first show once we get out of quarantine, and it’s a very physical show. And it’s Shakespeare! So we’re doing warmups on Zoom together every morning, which is partly to warm up, and partly to stay feeling connected as we’re not all together in the facility. Then I’m also doing a yoga or dance class each day to stay fit and get some exercise before it gets too hot! We have Jane Montgomery Griffiths doing a short vocal warmup with us every morning, which is helpful to keep me motivated and vocally fit in this environment, when I’d prefer to lie down with the air con on full blast! We also do three line runs on Zoom each week so we can remember our lines and try to keep the show fresh and “in our bodies”. It is an unusual experiment! But the nice thing about being forced to stay still (if there is one), is that there’s time to reflect on the show, and sometimes I think when we’re not working, but just dreaming and pondering, the best creative ideas seep in. 

2. How do you prepare for a performance when you can’t be in the same space as the set and props?

Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Bottom/ Egeus)

Thrice weekly Zoom line runs help – as we go through our lines we try to draw on our muscle memory to remember blocking/props etc. We’ve also got some archive recordings of our dress rehearsal which are useful aides de memoire.

Jacob Warner (Lysander/ Mechanical/ Fairy)

I have stolen some inspiration from musical theatre understudies/swings who watch video footage of the show and get very little actual runs at doing the full show until they are thrown onto stage last minute. So, I have been watching the videos of our technical rehearsals from before lockdown and reminding myself of the movements of the show and trying to vaguely recreate some of those movements during our Zoom runs to keep everything in my head. 

Gabrielle Scawthorn (Helena/ Starveling/ Fairy)

It’s very difficult. You have to engage your mind’s eye and really try to remember every detail that built up that mind’s eye image. And then you need to put a lot of trust and faith in muscle memory.

3. What do you love most about virtual rehearsals / warmups?

Michael C. Howlett (Demetrius/ Snout/ Fairy)

With lockdown, it’s been such a blessing to be able to check in with everyone every morning. It’s a daily reminder that we’re part of a brilliant team, and that we’re all eager and hungry to get this piece in front of an audience.

It’s also been a great opportunity to keep playing! Because of lockdown, we’ve had longer to rehearse this piece than would usually be possible. That extra time, I think, has given us all the opportunity to dive even deeper into this world and its characters.

Jacob Warner (Lysander/ Mechanical/ Fairy)

Our virtual rehearsals look a lot like what you think they would. The title sequence from The Brady Bunch. There have been some inventive ways to simulate entrances and exits from scenes and essential props (hiding behind couches, brandishing office chairs, pencils representing swords). 

We have been slightly lucky here in Howard Springs in that the four lovers are in rooms near each other, so we have been able to run full scenes from our balconies (such a shame it’s not Romeo and Juliet). There have been no complaints from our neighbours…yet.

Julia Orlando (Assistant Stage Manager)

It is very motivating to be able to check in and see everyone’s faces daily. It is a fantastic reminder of how resilient the arts industry is. Through this challenging time we are all still so committed to our production and to supporting our peers through lockdown.

4. What does a quarantine / virtual rehearsal day look like?

Michael C. Howlett (Demetrius/ Snout/ Fairy)

Group warmup over Zoom at 8:30am, followed by a coffee and breakfast in the sunshine out on our respective verandahs, accompanied by a little morning chat. After that, we’ll usually do our own individual workouts (it’s a very physical show, so it’s been important to stay fit). Then, we retire back to our rooms to do some work, whether that be on the text or whatever else we need to do in our lives. If it’s a line run day, that usually happens around 2pm over Zoom.

To close out the day, we get our dinners delivered around 5pm and sit back out on our verandahs to have another chat. 

Gabrielle Scawthorn (Helena/ Starveling/ Fairy)

  • 8:30am Group Zoom Physical Warmup
  • 9:00am Group Zoom Voice Warmup
  • 9:30am Yoga
  • 10:15am Breakfast
  • 1:15pm Lunch
  • 4pm Lines Run
  • 6pm Dinner and crossing off another day.

In between activities you are talking to your family and drinking as much water as possible to contend with 35 degree heat.

Ella Prince (Puck)

Howard Springs is most peaceful in the dark hours. I like to start a day before the sun is up . My cabin mates and I have a nice routine of morning yoga and dance sessions, as well as evening chats on our porches, when the breeze comes and the heat drops.

Julia Orlando (Assistant Stage Manager)

As the ASM my virtual rehearsal days look quite different to the actors! I have been participating in the physical warmups in the morning, but during the afternoon line runs I review the show plots and setting paperwork to keep the show fresh in my mind. When we eventually make it to the technical rehearsals this will allow me to assist the cast with furniture placements and transitions.

Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Bottom/ Egeus)

Ah well I’ve completed my quarantine and am in Darwin waiting for the cast, so my day is quite different. It’s a little strange being in the city for a fortnight by myself and I’m counting down the days until we can all be together again, but I’ve got a few projects I’m working on and I’m also finding a ridiculous amount of pleasure in riding around the city on an electric hire scooter – not very elegant but a lot of fun.  

5. What are you most looking forward to about performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream for your first audience in September?

 Imogen Sage (Titania/ Hippolyta/ Quince)

I can’t wait to feel the buzz of a live audience, and the terror that comes with that! It’s been a while since I’ve performed live, and had the thrilling experience of hearing the audience from the wings as I wait to go on: Will they like the show? Will they hate it?! What kind of audience do we have tonight? Will they be quiet laughers or loud laughers!? Wait, what’s my first line again? Do I have all my props? Okay, it’s time to go on! Oh no, no, no, no, I’m terrified! Relax, jump in, be with your cast, listen to them. Don’t overthink it. Go!  And then to realise, once you’re out there, that it’s really fun! I look forward to the real physical energy and joy of performing together on stage. You don’t really get that feeling of connection on Zoom.

Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Bottom/ Egeus)

Oh, everything! Words don’t adequately describe how it feels to know we’ll finally be doing the show. I’ve done this play several times over the years and this is the best cast, Company and production I’ve been in. I’m incredibly proud of it and it would have been devastating if it hadn’t seen the light of day. As for the thought of performing – well it’s what makes my soul sing; I can’t wait to be sharing with an audience again. 

 Jacob Warner (Lysander/ Mechanical/ Fairy)

I am looking forward to anyone seeing the show. It’s very hard to do a comedy without an audience and we have never heard an audience laugh at this show. Hearing that first laugh will be a real thrill.

Julia Orlando (Assistant Stage Manager)

With so many companies across the country unable to perform at the moment it will feel even more special to be able to present this to an audience. I think that it will bring hope to many others in the industry seeing that against all odds we have been able to open a show! 

Ella Prince (Puck)

I’m looking forward to speaking to a real audience, to finally sharing the story and discovering the play together.

6. Do you have a tour routine / or any pre-performance rituals?

Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Bottom/ Egeus)

I do have some set vocal routines – I don’t usually do traditional tongue twisters but instead recite bits of ancient Greek – a bit esoteric I know, but I was a classicist so know the language, and the rhythms of Sophocles and Aeschylus are incredibly good for working out your face and tongue.  We’ve even been learning some Greek together in our Zoom vocal warmups (I’d be curious to know what the other residents of Howard Springs think when they hear us all projecting ‘ototototoipopoida’!)

Julia Orlando (Assistant Stage Manager)

While on tour I try my best to settle into the accommodation as soon as we arrive and make the space as familiar as possible; unpack, spray a nice scent in the room, cover cold lighting with warm coloured scarves. I like to finish a long work day by unwinding with a cup of tea and debriefing with my team. 

Hayley Stafford (Head Mechanist)

The day for the tech crew is pretty set in stone – unloading the truck at 8am, bump in the show ready to rehearse at 4pm, bit of a break during the show, bump out and pack the truck by midnight-1am.

Imogen Sage (Titania/ Hippolyta/ Quince)

When I’m touring, I like to spend some time in my new digs unpacking my suitcase and getting set up, but then I like to get out to explore the area and chat to the locals. I often arrive early before a show so that I can warm up, but also so that I can get a glimpse of the new audience arriving! That way I feel like I have a connection to them before I go on stage. I am keeping their faces in my mind, knowing I’m not just performing to darkness, or myself, or my fellow cast, but to people who have come to see a show, be moved and entertained. It helps me think outside of myself and remember what’s important: telling a good story. 

7. Is there something you wish you remembered to pack?

Abbie-Lee Lewis (Hermia/ Snug/ Fairy)

I wish I packed my phone charger!!! I packed different types of pillows but not my phone charger (face palm). But luckily Hayley, our Head Mechanist, had a spare for me to borrow. Phew! Crisis adverted. 

Gabrielle Scawthorn (Helena/ Starveling/ Fairy)

My pillow. 

Ella Prince (Puck)

I wish I could pack a whippet to snuggle up with.

Imogen Sage (Titania/ Hippolyta/ Quince)

A house plant would be nice in this dull grey quarantine room, but I’m afraid it would wither in this heat!

Michael C. Howlett (Demetrius/ Snout/ Fairy)

A HAMMOCK. Might sound like a weird item to take on tour – and a hard item to pack – but a lot of the cast/crew brought up little fold away hammocks, and I’m very jealous of their afternoon swinging.

Julia Orlando (Assistant Stage Manager)

I am having some hammock envy of my balcony neighbours as they lounge in the afternoons! 

Hayley Stafford (Head Mechanist)

I wish I’d packed my little elastic travel washing line – though our washing dries super quick draped over the veranda rails, and the abundance of rocks nearby serve well at keeping things from blowing away.

I’m glad I brought my electric guitar. I figured the relative lack of distractions in quarantine would really prompt me to dedicate time to practice, and it has. I’m also glad I brought my headphones so nobody else has to hear me practice! And I’m glad I packed my Hammock. It’s top-shelf hammock weather in the afternoons at the moment – just gotta pack it up and retreat inside before the mozzies come out in the evening.

8. What has surprised you most about quarantine?

Gabrielle Scawthorn (Helena/ Starveling/ Fairy)

The bonding of the cast and crew. The last eight weeks has been quite a difficult journey for us all trying to maintain the show in our minds and bodies with various setbacks. Not to mention the generalised stress the lockdown has put on everyone. It’s been such an emotional journey. I feel such a communal sense of pride, support and determination within the cast and crew since we’ve come back together, that I know this is where I am meant to be. 

Julia Orlando (Assistant Stage Manager)

I have been surprised by the resilience and creativity of my peers! I have watched my teammates craft shade cloths out of bed sheets, rig hammocks from balustrades and find other creative ways to make quarantine as comfortable as possible. 

Ella Prince (Puck)

I am surprised by the level of frustration I feel at being confined to a small perimeter. Particularly not being allowed to go for a walk. I will dance out of Howard Springs and every time I think of this place, I will do a celebratory outside boogie.