In the Beginning…

In the Beginning…

On a chilly afternoon in November 2012 I met with Ramin Gray and Nick Williams of Actors Touring Company to discuss their production planned for the summer 2013. It was going to be a new commission written by David Greig.

As a freelance stage manager it felt a long way off to be agreeing to work—who knows what projects might come up in between? But Ramin and Nick talked with passion and excitement about the play. There were suggestions of having a new choir at every performance. I thought it sounded interesting, but never really believed we would undertake such a mad idea… How wrong I was! A glint in Ramin’s eye told me this wasn’t one to let slip by, so I decided to join the production as stage manager.

It may have felt early to sign up to a show, but the Actors Touring Company had already spent plenty of time planning, discussing and developing. In 2011 during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Ramin met with David Greig to discuss ideas for a play. This meeting happened to be in the aftermath of the Breivik shooting in Norway, and their talk was consumed with discussing the effects of the massacre. They decided that perhaps this should be the seed of their play.

Teaming up with the Brageteatret, a theatre in Norway, Ramin and David spent some time in Oslo speaking to a whole range of people affected by the shooting. They witnessed a community trying to repair themselves, and while at a friend’s choir rehearsals realised how cathartic the power of song and singing can be. In short, the idea of The Events was born.

It still took us a long time to create the show. Leading up to the beginning of rehearsals in June 2013, David Grieg wrote many words and versions of the show. During rehearsals we discussed the ideas, argued about views; decided which bits worked, removed others, rearranged, edited and cut text. At times it was tough, but, looking back, it was exciting to be in such a creative and responsive environment. David was constantly present and he had ears for everyone’s thought, even the stage manager.

As rehearsals continued we kept coming back to the same question – what do we do with the choir?

John Browne, the production’s composer, was working with us on the play, and had written some beautiful pieces of music. We had a wonderful choir coordinator rallying the troops and signing groups up all over the country to take part. Having a new choir every night actually seemed to be happening—we just needed to work out how to incorporate them into the show.

We were joined by plucky young actors to form a rehearsal choir, but it wasn’t till we faced our first ‘real ‘choir that we saw what we were letting ourselves into. A big shout out should go to The Morris Folk Choir who learned the music in one night, attending a haphazard rehearsal before performing in an open dress at the Young Vic. This taught us a lot and we have worked hard to make the information clear and the choirs involvement enjoyable, important and worthwhile.

The Morris Folk choir returned to perform in the show once we had settled into the run and like the other hundreds of choir we have now worked with, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and took so much from the production.

I think I speak for the company when I say the choir’s involvement has been so amazing, each comes with their own style and charm. I worked on 176 performances before hanging up my mop and the thing that kept me with the show was the brilliant sense of community that each wonderful, touching and surprising choir brought to the show. The production has now reached 250 performances and I am pleased to say it is still as fresh as ever and this is thanks to the choirs.

Jess Banks