BACSTAGE by JJ Gale

Cari Ann pointingThis past Saturday BACstage theatre group headed up to Salisbury Playhouse to take part in the National Youth Theatre Connections Festival. BACstage are a youth theatre group based at Bridport Arts Centre with ages ranging from 12-18 year olds. This festival is run by the national theatre and involves 230 youth theatre groups around the UK performing one of ten new plays written by established play writes. BACstage was chosen to take part in the scheme and chose to perform the play Heritage.

Heritage is a black comedy written by Daffyd James an established play write with years of experience. The play is set on May Day and a group of misfit children are brought together to rehearse for the festivities but as time goes on they realise they have been gathered for a far darker purpose.

My name is JJ Gale and I am a member of BACstage and played the role of Jackson McDonald in the play. We first started work on the script in January before performing it at Bridport Arts Centre on March the 4th and 5th. This was really enjoyable experience as the script is so interesting and has a great narrative. It is a black comedy therefore there are some really dark moments through out so we knew it was key to make the comedic parts noticeable too so there was some fun to the play. One of the great things that we as actors loved and has been noted by audience members and representatives from the national theatre is the strong characters. There are 13 characters and they are all so different but have individual characteristics that set them apart. This was a result of the large extent of extra character work we did in the lead up to the first performance. This work we did involved many different thought processes that were key in making us the character not just acting it. For me personally, when I was on stage I felt that I was Jackson the cool yet slightly psychopathic 17 year old secretly in love with Lydia; not JJ who is performing a play and saying the lines of Jackson. I must credit our wonderful director Niki Mcretton for showing us exercises to do before we went on stage to help us become our character not just say there lines. With all that in mind we put on two great performances to a local audience back in March. These went well both nights, had a good attendance and a positive response from many.

The next task for the group was adapting the play for the Salberg; the studio in Salisbury playhouse we would be performing in. We performed at Salisbury Playhouse, as it was the host venue for the regional Connections Festival over the week of the 6th to The 10th of May. Performing at The Salberg is a completely different ball game to performing on the traditional stage at Bridport Arts Centre. The Salberg is a thrust stage/ studio. That means it is a flat space a lot larger than the performing space at the Arts Centre. There is staggered seating in front of you, a balcony above you and seating at the flanks of the performing space. As an actor this can completely throw you, as an actor’s instinct is to never turn your back on an audience. The problem with that at the Salberg is you are nearly always acting with your back to a portion of the audience. In the lead up to our performance at Salisbury we had to re block many parts of the play to suit the Salberg. We did this by setting out the chairs on a flat space to replicate the Salberg. The re blocking process was really useful when it came to the big performance on the 10th of May. We also did some work on our delivery of lines in certain scenes to make sure they did not become stale in the gap between March and May. After two months of preparation last Saturday we arrived at Salisbury. We had a tech rehearsal from 10:00am to 1:00pm, which was our first time in the space. This allowed us to get a feel for the space but not get a full run of the play as The Salberg tech team were busy working on our lighting and sound cues. This was a useful time to get to know the space but the bottom line was we were going into our 8:00pm performance with no full run in the space.

8:00pm came in a blink of an eye and next thing we knew we were in the wings ready for our final performance. We were all nervous but excited and a tad emotional knowing this was our good bye to the last 5 months of work on Heritage. But we went out there and smashed it! Everyone was on top form, the characters were as lively as ever and the chemistry we all had on stage was off the scale. We accomplished everything we had hoped to in the performance, we had made members of the audience laugh, cry and gasp in the space of a 50-minute play. The reaction from the audience during the curtain call gave us all such a rewarding feeling. Post show was a feeling of unity and accomplishment within the group and some sadness knowing that it was now a farewell to Heritage.

What’s next for BACstage then? Well in my opinion with Heritage being the best play I have ever put on with the group I would love to do the connections scheme again next year. We would get a brand new play and be able to go on another great journey from getting the script to rehearsing to making decisions on your character and finding out its relationships with the others, all the way to performing it at to completely different venues. What ever the future holds for BACstage it is sure two be exciting!

JJ Gale is a  Beaminster school student and member of BACStage who recently completed a two weeks work experience at the Arts Centre