Written by Elijah (Work Experience)
This week, I’ve been catching up with the cast and director of this year’s opera for audiences with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). This Is My Bed is being taken to Luxembourg to be performed in the Philharmonie theatre hall. This follows an extremely successful tour of the UK from March 2018 to June 2018 in more than 12 different schools.
I caught them during their rehearsal as they were rounding off a two week run at Polka Theatre in Wimbledon – a stone’s throw away from the Perseid school – a day school for learners with severe learning difficulties which helped develop the show. There is a fantastical feel to the show which incorporates everything from water antics to musical hair. The cast consists of 3 singers and 2 players. The singers that will be travelling to Luxembourg are Bradley Travis, Abigail Kelly and Emma Watkinson. Their director is Tim Yealland, a man with upwards of 15 years’ experience working with the English Touring Opera. I asked them a few questions regarding the show – which began this week and is to be performed in front of the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg – at their final translated rehearsal and this is what they had to say:
Q: What’s it been like touring this show around the UK?
A: It’s a lot of fun to take on tour. Especially when you’ve been touring in operas in the evening; we were doing The Marriage of Figaro and Gianni Schicchi and Il Tabaro which is quite dark and serious. It’s quite fun to do something like this in the daytime where you get to interact really up close on a personal level with the people that you’re performing for.
B: It’s been fantastic. It’s really interesting because we devised this piece in a special school near Wimbledon and then toured it to lots of different special schools around the country. It’s always a different show because you get different interactions with young people and it’s a lot of fun to do.
It’s always a different show because you get different interactions with young people and it’s a lot of fun to do.
And what’s most amazing about it is to see reactions of young people who are often almost non-verbal, so to see they might make eye contact with you or they’ll do something really great with one of the things we’ll take into the audience.
A: Yes, very often we have teachers that will come up to us afterwards and say “This child does not interact with anything, it’s very difficult and he has been so engaged by this performance” which is something quite special – to be involved in giving people experiences like that.
E: And, like Bradley says, as a performer, every show is so different – you never know what you’re going to get in this kind of context. Because this is so interactive, that makes it really exciting for us as well.
Q: Is there still that differentiation when working at one theatre: the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon?
B: Yeah, that’s quite different because it was really lovely to do it in one place but then that was far more driven towards 2-5 year olds. We then tailored it far more to be like a big playtime with the kids. But then – even in that bracket – every show was different because you never know what a 2, 3, 4 year old might do!
E: They could come with their nursery or their parents so you get a very different dynamic then. There are different relationships (between children and their elders) so kids react differently.
B: But it was really nice because, in a school setting, we might just be in a school hall so we transform that space into our play space, but then being at Polka, it was lovely because we had lighting and it was professionally done and we had full houses every time, which was amazing.
Q: Now, why Luxembourg?
A: Whichever SEN show English Touring Opera are touring along with the main stage shows that year, we will take that to Luxembourg and perform it there, at the Philharmonie.
B: Then we go and do it a large number of times in a small number of days so we’re doing it 10 times in 3 days in the Philharmonie and – to make it understandable to the audience – we’ve changed all of the dialogue to Luxembourgish rather than English, which is a little challenge but it’s also fun.
Q: How long have you had to learn that?
A, B, E: Three weeks.
B: We decided on a final version which takes everything from the English that we need but makes it really clear, succinct. It’s got exactly the same story and then we will slip into singing in English but all of the direct interaction with the audience will be in Luxembourgish.
Q: Has it been a challenge?
B: Yes, it’s a little bit of a challenge.
A: Yes, because it’s – more than anything – an unknown language. As singers, we sing in French and German and Italian and various languages, but, with Luxembourgish, it’s very rare that you’ll ever going to need it.
A, B: Unless you do this project.
[They all laugh]
A: It does provide a bit of a challenge.
Q: Is there anything different associated with performing in Luxembourg other than the language?
T: What’s different is that the performers are in the Philharmonie in Luxembourg! They’re in this unbelievably state-of-the-art, modern concert hall – it’s a very big, beautifully made, modernist structure. It’s quite an unreal, weird environment but a beautiful space nevertheless; it couldn’t be more different from a little theatre called Polka Theatre on the high street in Wimbledon. It’s completely different – it’s high-tech Europe.
It’s quite an unreal, weird environment but a beautiful space nevertheless.
A: I think – from previous experience – had we not done Polka shows in between going to Luxembourg, jumping immediately into doing it at the Philharmonie would be very surreal indeed.
E: There’s a similar environment.
A: We’ve gotten used to a similar environment and making sure we know the practicalities like lighting.
B: Two shows a day as well.
A: Yeah, two shows a day so we’ve gotten used to that. So, yeah, the difference isn’t going to be as dramatic but it will be quite something.
T: And then the audiences are wildly different in Luxembourg. Adults can watch the show in beds! Then you have very young autistic kids and older autistic kids and then you have families. It’s a very mixed audience – it’s great really.
Q: Speaking of the audience, I’ve heard you’re to perform for royalty. Is that added pressure or just excitement?
B: I don’t think pressure, I think it’s just exciting that he’s coming and recognising how important it is that we go and do these shows. I think it’s really fantastic that he’s coming to experience it for himself.
A: And hopefully it will also mean that the relationship between English Touring Opera and the Philharmonie – being recognised now by royalty – will continue and carry on for the next few years. Yeah, no added pressure. But we’re going to squirt him in the face with our water gun.
Source: ETO Instagram