To celebrate Shakespeare and The Play for the Nation, Impact Arts caught up with the six actors and their directors (alongside their rehearsal Titania, Jess) from Lovelace Theatre Group, Hucknall ahead of their professional debut as the mechanicals in the Nottingham run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Why did you decide to put yourselves forward for this opportunity?
Linda Mayes (Quince): We were informed that there was this project going to go on with the RSC and that all the local amateur groups of Nottinghamshire were going to get audition forms if they wanted to apply so we had a quick think between ourselves and thought we would give it a go.
What was the audition process like?
James McBride (Snug): Nerve-wracking [laughs]!
Becky Morris (Bottom): We had a full weekend last March with the other groups from Nottinghamshire. The first day was pretty long, it was very movement based and we were getting assessed continuously throughout.
The second day was more formal. We had an audition with the RSC directing team showing the part of the play that we had prepared, then we had individual auditions followed by an afternoon of vocal and text work.
James: Within that we had certain parts that were switched; they swapped me and Linda (I was originally Quince) because they were interested in the dialect between Becky and Linda. And Linda is the best actress.
Linda: Well you’re not an actress are you? [Laughs]
Jess (rehearsal Titania): They did say in the feedback they gave to everybody they said they liked the camaraderie between our group. Because the other groups were such big companies they were thrown together; we work very closely.
Daniel Knight (Flute): We relate ourselves as friends. We aren’t just a group.
What were your reactions when you found out you had been chosen as the collaborative theatre group for Nottingham?
Jennifer White (Snout): We were put through [to] the final two first – we found that out in April. Then we had another audition in June and that was when we started thinking we could actually do it. Before then we were just in it for the experience.
Becky: When we were in the final we were like ‘Right, game on, we’ve got this’. We found out the following Wednesday; Linda received an email.
Linda: It said ‘there was a high level of amazing work’ to which I thought ‘Oh, here it is, the Dear John letter’, but then it said ‘we would like you to continue the journey with us’.
Daniel: I think it did come as a bit of a shock for all of us because here we were thinking we were going to just join a little group for a hobby, and put on little shows in a little town that no one has heard of, then all of a sudden it becomes this. All you could think is ‘wow, getting off your backside and actually doing something can pay off’.
Jen: At the workshop we were like ‘oh my God, we’re really lucky to be working with all these RSC practitioners’. They told us that this is exactly what the professionals would be doing, it’s not watered down, we were getting the full experience. We thought, ‘brilliant, we can take that weekend away with us’. Then suddenly, we got closer and closer to the goal.
Becky: There was an embargo, we weren’t allowed to talk about it until mid-summer. It was really tough not to tell people and everyone was asking all the time and we had to say ‘no, we haven’t heard yet’. We had two weeks of sending little secret texts.
How much collaboration has there been between you and the RSC creative team?
Tom Morley (Starveling): We have done streaming sessions. We had one a month between September and December, then from January it’s been twice a week because that’s when they’ve actually had the professional cast so we’ve seen them rehearsing. We’ve seen the other groups rehearsing, and then one of the other nights we were on the live streaming and other groups were watching us.
James: It’s like Skyping, it’s been very interactive.
Jen: We’ve had lots of different workshops: movement, vocal, and text. We also have an associate director assigned to us. In total there are 14 groups so the director Erica Whyman, and her associates Kim and Sophie, have split the groups between them. We have Kim and she’s fabulous! Everything she says is so useful, we get a lot out of it.
Becky: Linda and I went to London in December to do a comedy workshop with them because we are Quince and Bottom. It was really good. There were all the female Quinces and Bottoms there so it felt very much an empowering women workshop because obviously all the parts were written for men. I’ve been going down to London every weekend and have worked with the professionals a little bit because I have a scene with Titania, so have had to work with her and the fairies.
Tom: We won’t get to meet the special actors until the weekend before, which in a way is a bit annoying because we have a scene with Puck where she has to dance around the mechanicals. We might not find out where she’ll be until a couple of hours before we go on stage.
What can audiences expect from your version of the mechanicals?
Becky: Personally, I think it’s strongly female led. It’s an equal gender split but arguably the two strongest characters are women which is a really interesting dynamic, particularly because it is set in the 1940s, so transposing powerful women in that time is quite interesting.
Tom: We also have a broad range of ages and we are all very different people. I think that is what the mechanicals should be. We would definitely be flying the flag for Nottingham.
Linda: That’s what they asked of each region: bring something of yourselves to the characters.
Becky: We came up with the phrase last week that we are the home team and the RSC are the away team, so we hope audiences will be rooting for us!
What has your hometown’s reaction been like?
Linda: On Saturday morning when I went to get my eggs from the egg man, I walked in the café and they all stood up and clapped saying ‘Here’s the star’. I said ‘sit down, sit down’, it was really embarrassing!
Tom: My neighbour came to my door with a DVD and told me he had recorded us on BBC’s East Midlands Today and it said on the front ‘a star is born’.
Becky: I’ve just got sarcasm, people coming up to me saying ‘Shall we get your autograph now, or wait until the show’.
Daniel: I got a ‘well done, you’ve done something’ from my grandma.
Sam Butler & Jessica Millott
Interview conducted on Monday 22nd February 2016.
Image credit: RSC
See Impact Arts’ review of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream here