piątek, 3 grudnia 2010

Yizkor tour

For three weeks we toured Staffordshire, taking our educational play, Yizkor around secondary schools. For anyone who thinks a life in the theatre is easy, they've never done a Borderlines tour. We met every morning before the sun had even risen, gathering round the urn for a quick caffeine fix. Then we'd pile into the tour car (project manager Kelly and Chris would take the white van) and the working day would begin.
On the back seat, it was breakfast time for actress Emma and myself - the smell of pre-made porridge and fruit out of tupperware pots filled the car. In the front, volunteer Brendan tried to navigate while the second actor, Kyle, drove - faltering slightly and stalling at almost every hill start, traffic light or cross road. The mission was to keep the right white van in sight and never deviate from the path set by Kelly.
When we arrived at the venue of the day, we would have very limited time to complete a full theatrical get-in. This meant our entire Eastern European shtetl had to be unloaded from the back of the van and installed into the performance space. We had to set up chairs for any number of audience members - 80 to 240 - and rig all the lighting and sound gear to make sure our production was up to New Vic standards.
There was sometimes time for a quick cup of tea before the audience began piling in and the actors needed to escape to get ready. I assigned myself the role of Emma's dresser, stylist and hair stylist, and would lead her to whatever hidden away corner of the staffroom we could find. Each day we fine tuned the dressing routine a little more and the ritual piling on of layers became smoother and faster with each show. I can now part knotty hair expertly with almost any tool at my disposal - forks, hangers or pencils - and have plaited standing, kneeling and even walking down the corridor.
Then the show would begin.
Yizkor was a play, set against the backdrop of the Holocaust, about two Jewish teenagers who lived side by side in a small town in Eastern Europe. The play tells the story of their teenage years and the struggles they face living in a Nazi occupied Europe through 1939 to 1943. It is a story of loss, strength, friendship and courage in a cruel and challenging time. The end of the play sees the older of the two friends hand his companion's baby brother over to a non-Jewish farmer's wife - that was my role each day.

Following the play, we would lead a series of workshops aimed at exploring the themes and issues raised. All interactive sessions, one activity was a simulation using buttons to represent people and asking the youngsters to choose a group to exterminate. Another session focussed on the importance of names and identity. One looked at inner strength and how to keep hold of this however hard times get. And my own workshop used a selection of games to look at trust and responsibility for others, linking this to Zegota (a Council to aid Jews during the Holocaust). We opened each workshop with a group discussion about stereotyping and tried to encourage the students to think about the relevance of this to their everyday lives and how it can become dangerous - as in the Holocaust.
After this full day's emotionally challenging work came the last physical workout of the day - our get-out. The packing up of the whole shtetl back into the van, ready for another day somewhere else in Staffordshire. Then the long journey back to the New Vic and sometimes a de-brief with the whole company. We had this choreographed like a dance by the mid-point of the tour, and we knew how to run it the most efficient way possible. But that doesn't mean it was always perfect. One day Kyle left his costume hanging in the staff toilets of a school and didn't realise it until we were setting off the next day. On another occasion, Kelly left the clean laundry at home and Kyle had to perform wearing my trousers and Emma was left in just a vest at the end of the show. Brendan over-slept one morning and had to be picked up, unshaven and bleary eyed, from the corner of his road. Chris contracted some mystery illness which took him off the tour for three days. And I managed to demolish the wooden cart which Kyle and Emma used to bring all their props on with. But, we got through all those obstacles and kept the smiles on our faces.

Although this was an educational tour, we had two special performances. One was at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, and the other was at the Jewish Community Centre in Leeds for the Holocaust Survivors' Association. It was a great priviledge to meet Wal - one half of the couple that inspired this play. A Holocaust survivor himself, it was amazing to see him again in the audience in Leeds. He is a truly inspirational man.

This was a very moving piece and we felt a great deal of responsibility in raising awareness about something as important as the Holocaust. The intensity of the tour meant it was essential for us to find ways of keeping our own spirits up and maintaining high levels of energy from start to finish. So we made sure we found the lighter moments in our days and took the time to enjoy Stoke and all it has to offer. One evening we took a trip to the Monkey Forest and danced and giggled our way around the Garden Centre and Christmas Market, picking up vintage CDs for nostalgic sing-alongs on the journeys that followed. Kyle and I were neighbours, which meant it was easy to spend time together and unwind and shake off the heaviness of the days.

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