Touring - Not Always Plain Sailing!
|In Our Hands by Smoking Apples|
By Hattie Thomas, Co-Artistic Director, Smoking Apples
This Autumn I am on a national tour with my Theatre Company, Smoking Apples, with In Our Hands a show about a trawlerman called Alf. We began developing the show in both London and Cornwall in 2014, and premiered in Plymouth, Folkestone, Falmouth, London and Leeds in 2015. Following the premiere we have been delighted to book a tour to 19 venues with 21 performances across England over the next two months. Now that the tour is booked, all venues are confirmed and contracted and we have done our first few performances it should all be plain sailing right?
Well - in reality - no! Of course, we are prepared and ready for the challenges we can predict, but every time we arrive at a venue, there is no way of knowing how the day is going to pan out. We tour with a great technician, Clancy Flynn, and she makes our lives a lot easier, as each venue has a completely different set of lighting and sound facilities. Sometimes we arrive at a venue and there is a pre-rig ready for us, so all she has to do is focus the lights and run a cue to cue. However, a handful of our venues have only 8 or 9 lights for us to work with, and sometimes they are unable to pre-rig for us, so we have a bit of fun (and stress) trying to find a way to light our visual theatre show effectively with only a quarter of the lights we would ideally have. We still think it is really important to take our work to these smaller venues and definitely worth the extra work, as we want to reach people in towns and villages, as well as those living in the big cities. We have performed this show in a hospital hall with no theatre lighting and only one speaker for sound to play from, and the show still works without it and we can cope - it is just far from ideal.
Many things we can plan and prepare for, but not all problems are predictable. On tour with our previous show CELL, we have arrived at a venue with nothing rigged and no venue technician to help. The more venues we go to, the more issues we become aware of, the more prepared we are for next time!
Pre-rigs and lamps are not the only thing to consider however. We have over 100 props in our show, and after being unpacked, used in performance, packed, driven a few hundred miles and unpacked again, they do gather a fair amount of wear and tear. We obviously minimalise this as best we can, we cover our larger pieces of set with blankets in the back of the van so that they don’t get damaged by the various boxes and tank traps that go on top of them, but accidents do happen.
Being a puppetry company, our most precious items, and the hardest to replace are the puppets, these also happen to be the ones that require the most care. The shows protagonist, Alf, is made up of a puppet head and hands with a mechanised trigger inside so that he can pick things up. In April of this year, we did a Two Night Stand at the New Diorama Theatre in London and in the second performance, about ten minutes in, one of the puppets hands stopped working. A large part of his movement includes picking up various props, mugs, fake money, letters, a sponge sandwich etc. and so 10 minutes in we had no idea how to carry on with the show. In the brief moments backstage, we were doing make-shift repairs and muddling through the show as best we could. Luckily, no one noticed and it was a success, but we definitely learnt the hard way that we needed to have spare hands backstage in case it happens again.
The real fun of touring of course is the hours on the road, finding ways to entertain the team on long drives. So far, easily our favourite method is “Vanaoke”, with a musically challenged theatre company and a lot of enthusiasm, I will let you imagine that scenario.
In Our Hands is touring this Autumn, please visit their website for more information.