First up in our 3 part series of ‘How-to’ digital blogs, is Roxanne Moores giving you an insight into how to produce a digital event.
Seeing so many of you creating more online content during the pandemic, has encouraged us to impart our own snippets of wisdom to help give a behind the scenes account of all it takes to make it a success. Roxanne has worked for Contact for many years and has undertaken an array of fantastic projects ans as our creative producer this was the first time a pandemic had tasked her the job of adapting our childrens show – Forest of Forgotten Discos, from live theatre to online – quite a feat but a great success of 2020!
Roxanne Moores – Creative Producer
Like many other theatres across the country, in late Spring 2020, we had the biting feeling that our alternative Christmas show The Forest of Forgotten Discos!, written by the wonderful Jackie Hagan, and directed by tour de force Nickie Miles Wildin, would not be possible in person. We took some time to ponder- could a show which had thrived on human connection and immersion in its forest like world, work on screen? We decided, (with Nickie’s and Jackie’s enthusiasm thrown in), that it could, and more to the point we should deliver some festive fun into our audience’s front rooms, and school halls, in what’s been a bit of a bleak year for many.
When we contacted our actors, Marcquelle Ward, Paislie Reid, Sara Cocker and Sophie Coward (who had appeared in the 2018 live theatre show) with the update, we were met with such positivity and support for the idea, which included online Zoom rehearsals, self-shooting short videos, and the final show (did I mention it was live?) from home. Cue lots of questions- what sort of device will you film on, do you have good WiFi connection, how high is the ceiling in your living room, and (my favourite) do you mind a giant hand painted jammy dodger residing in your house?
After consultation with Tech Wiz (official title) Ricardo Vilela, we agreed that the show would be staged on Zoom Webinar. We had several test sessions to troubleshoot its functionality and found it offered us the level of interaction we needed, especially allowing our pièce de résistance; a big, celebratory closing disco where audiences were invited to turn their cameras on and dance away with our characters.
Making, and rehearsing theatre always is so contingent on a level of trust and creative team/ cast chemistry and I was really pleased to see how each team member offered this trust remotely, sending their ideas, talent and positivity through the power of their laptops.
Led by Nickie online rehearsals progressed. This included the actors learning choreography and sections of BSL over Zoom- which was no easy feat but expertly supported by Becky Barry, our sign language advisor.
Doing the digital show gave the work a new life. Raffie Julien who is an ace D/deaf actor came on-board to play a new role, our Manchester diva Bee-Trix. Raffie also co-presented our series of three How to Videos, which were available prior to the live shows.
We commissioned two of our Level Up music artists Jack D’Arcy and Gabby Kirk to create new compositions for Forest. These became our soothing welcome song, and the funky Forest dance song (a vital cue and clue that the big disco was about to commence.) We also worked with Level Up’s Jordan Sim as our Sound Effects creator, who didn’t once bat an eyelid when Nickie explained the type of fart she needed, for Bear Hugs, big erm… moment.
Costume fittings and design work happened online, seeing our Designer Kat Heath work with the actor’s selected home spaces, to transform them into colourful, kooky, and inviting digital dens. Make-up and props were ordered, and set was delivered to the doorstep of actors houses by production assistant Phil Buckley.
We did hit some challenges during our preparations: the WiFi of an actor performing from their garage dropped days before the show (cue calls to Ricardo), functions such as closed captioning didn’t work well in our tests for everyone (we had the brilliant assistance of captioner Eluned to work out an alternative application for us to offer), and Phil had to do some cutting down of trees in the back of the van when ceilings were lower than expected!
The 4th and 5th of December performance days soon came around. The team signed onto Zoom early to run some line runs and conduct technical checks, (it turns out on Zoom individual sound settings have to be amended each time, and each person’s settings can be different dependant on their device- again, thank goodness for Ricardo!)
Myself and Georgie (house manager) sat a good 10 meters apart in Contact’s new, open plan office. Georgie cross-referenced Zoom users in attendance with our bookings, and sent a full team message via WhatsApp to communicate it was house open. With a deep breath we watched the ‘show is about to start’ countdown. I posted a welcome note to our audiences, tips about using Zoom, and notes around access.
The first show was to over 40 classes, mainly in Greater Manchester, but some were as far afield as Cornwall. We had pre-learnt several of the class members names, and like all good festive shows do, referenced them, with Alexa- our human android genius- scanning the humans ‘Oliver, in Stockport one day you will grow up to own an excellent cat’. It was great to see the little details that Nickie and the actors had worked hard to perfect playing out online; the characters looking at each other between their Zoom ‘dens’ and the admirable timing of lines said in cannon. The heart-warming story lead us to think about different family units, connection and friendship.
At the end of the shows, the big disco began, revealing our masked superhero DJ Cremin (who also happens to be Christie, our ever obliging finance manager, by day), smashing out a playlist to make an under-10s heart sing. Alexa invited the audience to come into the Zoom room, and turn their cameras on if they wanted. To our delight many people did. It was amazing to see the children’s happy faces; some had made their own bear dens, some were sporting their handmade bear ears, all were putting out some spectacular disco moves. Georgie and I were moved that for perhaps a small window of their day, people had been brought together in trying times, and had some fun.
Enjoyed this blog? Here are 2 more of our 3 part series of ‘How-To’ digital blogs: