Aisha’s Blog – When We Were Brothers
For me, theatre is an experience – an experience that doesn’t necessarily have to happen within a designated building. It can take place anywhere – and by taking a play to a space not normally used in this way, it can throw up a lot of possibilities: How can the space be used in a creative and exciting way? What emotional experience will the audience have? How does the space resonate with the story? But on the flip side, it can throw up challenges too – after all we aren’t in the confines of a theatre, with the safety of a stage, seating and everything else found there, we’re somewhere else – it could be a pub, a train station or an unused building – and we have to somehow fit a show into that space and make it work for an audience.
With When We Were Brother’s we took the play to The Underground, a live music venue in the centre of Bradford. In this space, with its bar and stage and sticky floor (which was mopped to an inch of its life by the owner and our stage manager) was a space that would serve the story well and vice versa. Looking at a place like this I think about what’s already there, what can be used – the bar, the tables, high chairs and lights – as well as the feel, the atmosphere that already exists and then I also consider what’s going to be brought into it by us, by this production, physically and emotionally, and the story that is going to be told within its walls and then on top of that – as what the audience will bring to it too. Essentially the space has to fit the story (and setting) and the story has to fit the space. I suppose this is one of the challenges of working in non-theatre spaces – it isn’t about just plonking a play in a location and hoping it’ll work, it’s much more than that. You don’t want the audience to be looking at things on the wall and not watching the action unfolding in front of them!
This is why I find it incredibly interesting and why I like the challenge of working in this way – working out what is possible in the spaces that Freedom Studios takes shows to. For the tour we’ll be back at The Underground for two performances and then we’ll be going to a number of pub venues and community spaces – so for the latter where there isn’t a bar we’ve had one made (a decision that was made early on because we wanted the play to go to community venues as well as pubs), with beer pumps and all the expected paraphernalia, so we’ll be evoking the ‘place’ where the play is set, with the sound and lighting adding to the atmosphere.
For the tour, where each venue is different, we planned well in advance – all the potential spaces were visited in the summer to see if the play and the way it’s been staged would easily fit without too much tweaking – we looked for playing space in front of the bar, whether the bar opened up on the right side and where the audience would sit to get the best experience. Re-rehearsing it hasn’t been a problem – yes, we have a smaller prop bar but making the show a little smaller hasn’t taken away anything from the story that is being told – in fact it has given it more intimacy.
When We Were Brothers explores a friendship between two boys Danny and Tommo, and the mental health struggles faced by one of them – it opens up important conversations that need to happen – that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to cry and it’s very much okay to ask for help.