Tuesday 2 June
Early 2009 found ArtsCentreTheatre taking to the Benjamin Meaker Stage with a new adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s classic political farce “The Government Inspector”. The play deals with the uproar when the corrupt Town Council of a Russian town learn that an Inspector is coming from the capitol to look into their activities. They do not know who it is, or when they will arrive, so when an innocent stranger arrives in town they are immediately mistaken for the official and the various members of the council attempt to influence him while dropping their compatriots in it.
For our production the action was updated for a number of reasons. The most significant of these is that Gogol’s original, like so many plays, has hardly any female characters and ACT, as always, had far more women than men. By updating the play to modern times this imbalance could be corrected. It also allowed for modern humour and popculture references to be integrated into the script.
The action moved to Spyrodnia, an Eastern European country so small and insignificant that when they left the Soviet Union before the Berlin Wall came down no-one even noticed. Since that time the government, led by Prime Minister Elenya Verbovsky, had been using UN financial aid to line their own pockets which meant a visit from a UN Inspector was the last thing they needed. That said, the person mistaken for the UN Inspector, film executive from Down Under named Kylie Stoker, was far from innocent and more than happy to exploit the Spyrodnian’s interest in her as much as she could.
The greatest challenge for the actors was the need to not just maintain convincing characters but convincing accents for a play that lasted nearly three hours. All but four of the actors had to sound eastern European while the “Inspector” and her assistant had to maintain a believable Australian accent. The remaining two actors had a slightly easier time of it in that one was required to only speak German (when by strange coincidence she actually was German) and the second Hispanic (when coincidentally she was Portuguese). The greatest challenge for the audience and stewards was that, though highly enjoyable, as previously stated the performance lasted for nearly three hours! In one performance the stewards opened the theatre doors as the lights faded to blackout after 45 minutes of the first act, mistakenly thinking the interval was about to start, only to have to slink back to their seats as the lights came up again onstage to wait for another 45 minutes. Such is the rich pageant that is theatre!
Tuesday May 18th 2020
2008 saw ACT stage its very own Mini-Festival with an evening of one-act plays by established festival authors. Each member appeared in roles in more than one of the pieces; some in all three. Most significant, however, was the fact that this was the first time that members of the group were given the opportunity to direct their comrades.
Those who chose to take up the challenge found themselves dealing with subject matter ranging from the Holocaust to the mentally challenged to tabloid scandals.
“Permission To Cry” by David Campton, followed the fall from grace of a female MP when her lesbian affair comes to the attention of the gutter press. “Touching Tomorrow” by Gillian Plowman was a moving piece in which a well-meaning woman and her mentally challenged brother’s lives are disrupted when she takes in a homeless young woman who may or may not be a rape victim. The final piece, “Asylum” by Alec Baron, deals with an inmate of the titular institution in Germany who is being assessed for release but who harbours a guilty secret that moves him to violence whenever he is forced to confront it.
It has always been of key importance to ArtsCentreTheatre that its members explore as many disciplines of theatrical production as possible, of which acting is only one, and this multi-play format is the perfect way to achieve this goal; which is probably why ACT has returned to it on multiple occasions over the years.
Tuesday 12 May 2020
“ACT’s second production of 2007 was a somewhat bizarre, almost Pythonesque, comedy by David Tristram: “A Bolt From The Blue”. The play tells the story of Edward Jones, an everyman character, who is struck by lightning on his 40th birthday when working at the top of an electric pylon, then discovers that his DNA has been altered by the event and he is now ageing backwards. When this becomes public knowledge he is forced to go on the run in drag and then into hiding, taking refuge in the remote home of the dappy Sarah Appleby who, it transpires, suffers from the same condition but has managed to keep it secret. They form a doomed romantic relationship which ends when she falls pregnant and her womb explodes! (Yes, you read that correctly.) He then climbs another pylon, is struck by lightning for a second time and plummets to his death. Or does he?
The play has a large number of characters but is written so that it can be performed by as few as two men and two women playing multiple roles. This made it ideal for an ACT production as casts of various sizes can be accommodated without altering the script. However, the production was not without its challenges. These included: convincing bald wigs, mud-splattered faces that had to be cleaned off in seconds, an invisible dog, the exploding womb and the set.
The Samuel French website entry for this piece somewhat vaguely states that the play requires simple settings. What it fails to mention is that one of those simple settings is an electric pylon. Not only did we have to build something approximating the top of a pylon at the rear of the stage but Mike Berry, the actor playing Edward, had to fall backwards from it to land out of sight on crash mats borrowed from Rouge Bouillon School. To say that he viewed the prospect with enthusiasm would be a tad inaccurate but at least his understandable misgivings lent verisimilitude to his screams as he plummeted from the Arts Centre’s Tri-Lite – twice a night!
Tuesday 5 May 2020
“ACT’s sixth project, one of two in 2007, was a landmark production for a number of reasons. Previous projects had used or adapted existing works of fiction or drama; this was to be a completely new piece of theatre using an original script by Jason Kenyon, the group’s Director. When selecting subject matter for such an endeavour for the first time it is always a good idea to stick with what you know; and ACT knows about Amateur Theatrics. “But Tonight Can Be Better…” was an homage and pastiche of the world of Am Dram and featured the living thespianic embodiment Murphy’s Law: The Society of Amateur dramatics aka SAD. This fictional magnet for theatrical disaster included in its membership characters that were all too familiar to both the participants and the audience. These were people that could be found in any group of Amateur Thespians anywhere in the world, although admittedly some were exaggerated to a certain degree for the sake of the plot and comic effect; or were they?
The plot was very simple: it followed the events of the hour prior to the opening of the house for a performance of Shakespeare’s “Measure For Measure” by the group in the aftermath of a Dress Rehearsal that had ended rather suddenly when the House Tabs (Stage Curtains for the uninitiated) had been set on fire by an inconveniently located Lantern.
Although the plot was simple Jason didn’t want to make things too easy for the cast so the script for each performance was altered to reflect the night it was being performed and the different concerns that were uppermost in the participants minds on that evening. Thus the first night included references to the reviewer being in the audience; the second, what the reviewer had written; the third, that the performance was being filmed and that no-one should play up to the camera; and the last, where the after show party was going to be. The differences were not major but just enough to challenge the cast and keep them on their toes.
The production was a Masterclass in producing theatre on a shoestring budget. Because the script was an original work there were no performance rights to pay; apart from a small number of “SAD” T-Shirts that were printed the costumes came from the cast’s wardrobes; and the theatre itself was the set with the floorboards and blocks from ACT’s 4th production (of, oddly enough, “Measure For Measure”) painted in a different colour scheme! There was indeed method (acting) in our madness.
The show proved so popular, not only with the audience and the critics but especially with the members, that SAD have returned in no less than three further productions over ACT’s history: “A Comedy of Errors: The Dress Rehearsal”, “A Christmas Carol: The Auditions” and “As The Actress Said To The Bishop!”
Wednesday 29 April 2020
“One of the ongoing challenges with ACT is that of finding scripts with sufficient roles for the number of people in the group. Often this leads to some “creative” adaptation of scripts that are out of copyright but what happens if you want to use a script that is not out of copyright and thus not able to adapt?
ACT’s fifth production “Duck Variations”, which took to the stage in 2006, provided a very inventive solution to this conundrum. David Mamet’s play consists of fourteen conversations about ducks between two elderly gentlemen sat on a park bench. The ducks become metaphors for various aspects of the men’s lives and for modern life in general; but without changing a word of the text, and making each variation a conversation between two different people, it was possible to add an extra dimension to each piece that built upon the author’s exceptional script. It would also be possible to have up to twenty-eight participants if we needed them, and if we didn’t, then certain characters could appear in a variation with a different character than in their first. The characters were limited only to the people you could conceivably find populating a park; in other words, the sky was literally the limit. So we had a plethora of roles for the members to tackle from birdwatchers to blind-daters to pot smokers to gay cruisers to homeless people to sexually frustrated police officers to animal rights activists to hit-men dressed as Santa Claus and even one character dressed as a duck!”
Tuesday 21 April 2020
A few weeks ago Jason Kenyon mentioned that after “Lust Actually”, ACT’s current project, the next project will be “8 by 12 by ACT” – an evening of original duologues written, directed and performed by members of the group. He also said that he would be accepting submissions from past and potential members of the group and that he would be posting the guidelines for scripts so that people could begin work on them during the lockdown. And Jason is a man of his word. Below are the guidelines as promised. Anyone intending to write or in the process of writing scripts for consideration for inclusion in the project should bear the following criteria in mind.
Tuesday 14 April 2020
“For ACT’s second production of 2005 it was decided that it was time for the group to tackle one of the works of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, but ACT being ACT this would not be Shakespeare as we know it.
‘M4M: The Director’s Cut’ was an adaptation of ‘Measure For Measure’, one of the Bard’s so-called “problem” comedies. Most problematic for the group was there being more actors in the group than roles in the play, a theme that has continued throughout our 16-year history. The solution, on this occasion, was to double-cast the play but, again, ACT being ACT this was not done in the traditional fashion. Whereas double-casting would normally mean two separate casts, each taking two of the four performances in a run, in this case, each role was double-cast within each performance.
Like many of his other plays Act V of ‘Measure For Measure’ is, in effect, a recap of the first four acts leading to a resolution of the plays various plot threads. Here, that resolution is achieved through a trial scene where Isabella accuses Angelo of corruption, deceit and, effectively, rape. This production transformed the play into a courtroom drama by beginning the performance at the start of Act V. This was also done as an homage to Quentin Tarantino who delights in playing around with the order in which his audience sees the events in his films (hence the Director’s Cut). The critical events of the previous four acts were then played out as if in cinematic flashbacks. This allowed one actor to play a character in the main scene, while a second played them in the flashbacks. It also shortened the play considerably – wonderful as William’s works may be, he does occasionally waffle on a bit.
This production was significant because it was the first occasion where a member of the Arts Centre’s youtheatre made the move to the adult team. Jacqui Wagner, a stalwart of the youth group since its inception, joined us to play the courtroom Isabella. She was the first, but she has not been the last!
Tuesday 7 April 2020
“In 2005 ACT took to the stage with its third production, a new adaptation of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”.
The adaption, which was fully authorised by the Orwell Estate (at the time it was one of only four authorised adaptations), was Director Jason Kenyon’s first foray into scriptwriting – unless you count a rather ambitious script for a Nativity play penned at the age of six that was never performed.
The project not only required the cast to get to grips with the challenges of acting in a mask, which are considerable, but also the challenges of creating those masks from scratch. These were made using a base of plastic webbing that became malleable when immersed in hot water and could then be formed around the actor’s face. Foam rubber was then attached to this base to create the animals’ features and then fabric attached to create the ears, fur, skin, wool or feathers required. As this meant that the only person the mask would actually fit was the actor it was created for the cast were allowed to take their creations home at the end of the run as a souvenir.
While all the cast met the acting challenges of the production with gusto, one stood out for the JEP reviewer, and with good reason. Madeleine Carswell managed to upstage the entire cast with her portrayal of a sheep and her rendition of the classic Orwellian line “Four legs Gooooood! Two legs Baaaaad!” It was her only, solo, line in the production but she certainly made the most of it.
Tuesday 31 March 2020
From Jason Kenyon, ArtsCentreTheatre Director:
“For this week’s ACT post we travel back in time to 2004 and our second production, Bertolt Brecht’s ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’.
The production, one of the longest in ACT’s 17-year history, embraced the Brecht’s ideas of Alienation technique by use of shadow-play, casting different people in each of the principle roles in each of the five acts of the piece and by casting a puppet as the child who is at the centre of all the dramatic conflict in the play.
“Michael”, though merely a puppet, has become one of the longest-serving members of ACT. Since appearing in “Chalk Circle” he has appeared in a number of productions, including ‘Revolting Rhymes’ and last year’s ‘As The Actress Said To The Bishop’, and will no doubt appear in many more in the coming years. He is, at present, resting however and is temporarily employed standing (or more accurately sitting) guard over the Arts Centre Stage Department while the Theatre is dark.”
With the temporary suspension of rehearsals, ACT’s 30th production, a new version of the ancient Greek comedy ‘Lysistrata’ entitled ‘Lust Actually’, might be considered to be in jeopardy but, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
A considerable amount of preparation and rehearsal has already been done and the scheduled performance dates of 1-4 July currently remain in place. The cast have instructions to be word perfect when rehearsals resume and some are already looking at the possibility of rehearsing their lines by conference call. Others are recruiting family members to assist by reading in other character’s lines. I, for my part, will be available to dispense advice and direction over the phone or by email.
I will also be working on the technical aspects of the project: designing the lighting and sound; preparing the set; sourcing costume and props, so that, as far as is practicable, everything is in readiness when the cast return to Jersey Arts Centre.
In addition, work can continue on another aspect of the current project: that of developing scripts for the next production, due to be performed in November.
A few years ago ACT staged a production entitled ‘8 by 8 by ACT’: an evening of original monologues written, directed and performed by members of the group. The monologues were each performed on one of three platforms, each measuring eight foot by eight foot (hence the title). I felt that it was time for a sequel but didn’t want it to be a carbon copy of its predecessor. So, on this occasion, the platforms will measure eight foot by twelve foot and the scripts will be original duologues, not monologues. I have no doubt you can deduce what the project will be called.
Whilst the start date for the project is the week after the performances of ‘Lust Actually’, work on the scripts has already started as we need as many scripts as possible ready to go by the beginning of July.
With that in mind, I would like to invite former and potential future members of ACT to join with the current roster in putting pen to paper, or indeed finger to keyboard, and producing scripts for consideration. I will be creating an information sheet explaining the various parameters that authors will need to take into account when writing their duologues. Anyone wishing to stretch their creative writing muscles in this endeavour can email me at: email@example.com
The most important thing to note is that, despite the challenges we currently face, ACT will continue in its mission to develop the theatrical skills of its members and to produce quality theatre for the enjoyment of the people of Jersey: one way or another.
Deputy Stage Manager
ArtsCentreTheatre (ACT) Director