During lockdown, the Stahl Theatre invited pupils to attend Playgroups with the opportunity to meet theatre professionals online via Teams, writes Sophie Pickering. Attending the Stahl Playgroup was always the highlight of my week, even if there were sometimes slight technical issues! Over the weeks, we met a variety of theatre professionals, who talked about a wide range of roles in theatre and television, ranging from acting to sound-effects, puppeteering to stage management, and even the production and staging of a blockbuster.
Actress Abigail Matthews and her phenomenal puppeteering skills really stood out for me. She has been involved in many shows including War Horse and Goodnight Mister Tom. She explained how puppetry requires good teamwork and really strong muscles. During the session she showed us how we could use everyday kitchen and household objects to construct our own animal puppets. I managed to create a baby seal out of a hairbrush, a tea towel and a pair of tongs.
That said, Jez Bond (OO, pictured centre) also stole the show with his talk. It was amazing to listen to his incredible story of how he has created his very own theatre: Park Theatre, in Finsbury Park, London. He talked about his time at Oundle School, during which he gained lots of experience in the backstage production of theatre performances at the Stahl. After leaving school, his love of theatre drove him to pursue his dreams and eventually open his own theatre. What an inspiration!
I really relished participating in these Playgroups as well, writes Evan Miles, but for me, Tom Fox and Beck Owen-Fisher were the highlights. They were funny, had great stories to tell and were very experienced, nice people – they are the Director and Producer of Lamphouse Theatre. Also, they were very interesting characters and I really appreciated talking to them about their experiences of acting and directing. It really brightened up my home learning experience.
The scope of the talks was truly vast, as Harry Rumfitt recounts. In the fourth week we were given the pleasure of meeting Ross Bain and Rachel Hurd-Wood, both actors, who have starred in hits such as The Bodyguard and Sherlock Holmes. This was a fantastic opportunity for all of those aspiring to be actors themselves, either secretly or overtly, to get to know the stories of two successful actors.
"This was a fantastic opportunity for all of those aspiring to be actors themselves, either secretly or overtly, to get to know the stories of two successful actors."Harry Rumfitt, Laundimer
For the budding young artists amongst us, Alecky Blythe recounted her experiences of being a theatre maker at the Verbatim Theatre. This was a truly fascinating session and allowed us to understand the skill that goes into creating a production. Those of us who enjoy the limelight of the stage but also find ourselves drawn to the world of business were given a valuable insight into theatre skills in business by the owner of the Orange Side, Business Coach Natalie Macaluso. Thanks to her we were able to understand how a combination of acting, producing and directing skills could help us structure our own business careers – truly something for everyone!
Sound designer Carolyn Downing led another of the talks, writes Imi Oakey, describing what her job is and how important it is to the theatre, as sound can be used to support productions in many ways other than just playing music. For example, Carolyn explained a scene where an actor had to hit balls with a bat in a scene, but as balls couldn’t be used for the audience’s safety, she set up speakers so it sounded as if the ball was coming towards the actor, then a louder sound as it was ‘hit’, and finally the sound of the ball whizzing away getting quieter so that the audience believed that the actor really was hitting a ball.
Overall, Sophie concludes, listening and learning from these professionals has certainly made my love for theatre grow. As an aspiring actress myself, these talks have been so inspiring and, even if I don’t end up on stage, I have learnt that there are a huge range of other extremely interesting and rewarding careers involved in the industry. As Harry writes, online schooling was a tough ordeal for all members of Oundle School, but for those of us who enjoy drama Miss Jones had a treat in store.
Over the six weeks it was a real pleasure meeting ten leading lights from the world of theatre.