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‘Our Town’ by Thornton Wilder – opening at @SheringhamLT this August – directed by @marcusromer

1 Jul

Our Town is a Sheringham reworking of a classic play, written in the 1930s by Thornton Wilder, winning him an internationally-acclaimed Pulitzer Prize and was later staged on Broadway and had a televised film version starring Paul Newman.  It focused on the cranky characters of Grovers Corners in America between 1901 and 1913.

Now it is being given a home town setting by Sheringham Little Theatre – where we are re-locating Grovers Corners to North Norfolk – It is a story of life, love and all the millions of moments that make up a lifetime. It follows the stories of two families and their friends and people of the town and how they cope with the ups and downs of their every day lives. It is a heartwarming and really touching play that will connect with audiences today.

I am looking forward to working with the combined cast of professional performers and members of the community cast. It will be a real privilege to work together and share this story for our audiences, and to celebrate what it means to be part of a community coming together after the periods of lockdown we have all been through.

It will run from August 7th – 14th and we are starting community rehearsals this Saturday July 3rd.

Tickets and information can be found at the box office – details here

Making a new #theatre production of #TWO using a zoom rehearsal process and a shorter rehearsal time in the theatre.

28 Jun
Howard Saddler and Joyce Branagh as Fred and Alice in Two – photo by Mark Benfield

I have just directed a new version of Jim Cartwright’s play, TWO with two brilliant actors – Joyce Branagh and Howard Saddler. This was produced by St George’s Theatre using their Cultural Recovery Fund money. We teched, dressed and opened the show at St George’s Theatre – and then moved the show to run at Sheringham at the Little Theatre who again supported the project.

Howard Saddler and Joyce Branagh as Landlord and Landlady in TWO photo by Mark Benfield

Like ‘Ghosted’ the previous project I made with the same production team, I rehearsed for a month with the cast on zoom prior to us getting together in the actual theatre. This worked well for the monologues and for the work on character development – and enabled the actors to ‘get off book’ and know their lines prior to us meeting in person.

Howard Saddler and Joyce Branagh as Roy and Lesley – photo by Mark Benfield

We had a three day rehearsal time prior to a technical and dress rehearsal day. This is of course a really short amount of time in which to get the show on its feet. It is a testament to the skill and expertise of the actors to enable us to make this deadline – which we did and opened the show the following day as per the schedule. The fact that the actors were ‘off book’ meant we could work fast and build the interaction scenes between the characters. A bit like being on a film set and working each scene in detail. This of course meant all the mimed props and ‘geography’ of each scene needed meticulous planning and rehearsal to cement the text and character into the environments for each of these sections. This takes time and focus – and again thanks to the skill of Joyce and Howard we were able to block these out and work through them in the time.

Joyce Branagh and Howard Saddler as Maudie and Moth – photo by Mark Benfield

I had chosen to play the piece in a socially distanced ‘cabaret’ style using the actual theatre bar. So the audience would be in the pub with the actors and their characters. This worked incredibly well and the interaction between the cast and the audience was a real treat to observe.

The tech rehearsal at St George’s Theatre using the bar and the cabaret style set up. Katie Thompson Assistant Director and Joyce Branagh photo by Marcus Romer.

The planning of the production dated back to January this year when we knew we may or may not have been able to be fully open by the proposed June 21st date. This of course impacted on audience capacity for us as the social distancing rules were still in force. But we had not know this during our rehearsal time in April and May on our zoom schedule so we had to prepare the show regardless. So again in Sheringham the decision was made to move it to the theatre space to allow us to socially distance an audience capacity of 25%. This has been really hard on venues as clearly all our pre-production costs were the same to get the show ready for our June opening time. The show was really well received and played to capacity audiences at each venue.

It is again a big thanks to Theatre Director, Debbie Thompson who runs both venues in Norfolk, to support us as freelance theatre makers during this time. A big thanks also to the actors Joyce Branagh and Howard Saddler, the crew and tech team of Mark Benfield, Chris Sainton-Clark, Katie Thompson and the costumes by Libby Henshaw, and all the FOH team and volunteers at both venues.

So here are the photos from the production taken by Mark Benfield

Making #Ghosted come to life – a new #theatre #headphone show for Great Yarmouth and Sheringham

20 Jun
The cast of Ghosted – photo by Mark Benfield

Ghosted is a new play that James McDermott and I developed during lockdown, which we premiered in June 2021 on the seafronts of Great Yarmouth and Sheringham.

James and I had been working across a number of theatre projects and commissions over the last few years and we started a conversation back in October 2020 where I discussed wanting to make a ‘headphone’ show outdoors by the sea and to explore the idea of multi episode ‘Box set’ theatre project and James had been talking about creating a coastal version of ‘Skins’ so both of those ideas came to fruition as an idea for ‘Ghosted’ The piece was designed to be three episodes, and for this project we would create episode one.

We were able to devise the story outline together – where a group of young people living in Norfolk are drawn together when one of their friendship group – Ash – disappears. His discard clothes left on the beach at Sheringham. A series of WhatsApp audio messages were sent to certain individuals that contained information about what might have happened to him. So their search for the truth starts there.

We approached Theatre Director Debbie Thompson who runs both theatres in Sheringham (SLT) and Great Yarmouth (St George’s) who was really encouraging and supportive to the idea and agreed to fund the R&D for the project and to programme it for both theatres in 2021 (with thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund). So James set to work on writing the text and he and I worked together as his drafts came through to hone the characters and the storyline.

This gave us a great focus during the winter months, and provided us both with work and a new creative project to work on. As freelancers this was really important for us both at that time. The script was finalised at the end of January and we cast the show in February. All our meetings of course were on zoom. We cast the show on zoom again after meeting an amazing array of talented young actors from across East Anglia.

Our plan was to rehearse the play on zoom too. Again to use a film analogy, the actors would work on their characters with me as director, and we would then rehearse the scenes via zoom together, they would then learn their lines and be off book for the time we could rehearse in the outdoor locations. I built the route for the piece in each location and we had photos of the set areas in which the scenes would take place. The style of acting was filmic in terms of the characters having quiet conversations with each other. The actors would be close mic’ed and their conversations would be audible in the sound mix for the audience.

The map and locations are here

For the audience we used the silent disco headphone technology that allow multiple channel audio feeds – these have an inbuilt Radio Frequency receiver that picks up the audio from the transmitting base station. The audio feed from the actors was mixed with a soundtrack which included voice messages, music and sound effects to build an immersive audio environment for the audience. The reach of the headphones meant that the actors could be up to 50 meters from the audience – allowing a cinematic landscape background to be incorporated into the piece.

The audience in great Yarmouth watching Adam and Jake on the beach for the memorial for Ash
The audience in Sheringham watching Adam and Chloe discover Ash’s voicemail

The audience moved from location to location with us as we followed the cast on their journey. Working with our Tech manager Mark Benfield who built a trolley which had a lithium ion generator that enabled us to power the transmitter, the microphone base stations, the sound mixing desk, and the computer which ran Qlab for the sound scape. This was all able to move from space to space – ensuring the audience were always in full audio connection throughout.

The zoom rehearsal process enabled us to work through all the text and prepare the cast to meet in person for the first time. So not dissimilar to arriving on a film set or location and being prepped to do your scene, knowing your lines and intentions – and as a real consequence of this – being in the moment and being able to interact and react with each other for the first time made for a really strong and heightened set of naturalistic scenes. There was no need for projecting for an audience. In fact the strength of the piece lay in the ability of the cast to play the scenes for real with each other.

Rehearsal on zoom with all the team

The piece played across the seafront of both towns in June 2021. This was episode 1. James has already completed the scripting for the final two instalments – he works very fast! – and we are in the process of seeing how we can move these forward with some new funding.

Ghosted was incredibly well received and audiences really engaged with the characters and the story. The technology all held up brilliantly without any hitches. We performed in brilliant sunshine for some of the shows and a torrential downpour for one memorable one too! Again this added to the atmosphere and the crashing waves and sheeting rain did not put people off at all.

Fish and Chloe in Sheringham prom for scene 7
The same scene – but in Great Yarmouth

Again the naturalistic opportunities of this work really enable the actors to work at their best. To really focus on the scene and the text – the audience move to a point where they can see them – again keeping a distance and allowing them to ‘eavesdrop’ on the characters conversation.

It also does not disrupt or draw attention to passers by. In fact many people just passed by as if two people were just having a quiet chat on a bench. That is the beauty of this way of working.

So a big thank you to James McDermott for his skill, patience and energy in making this happen with me. Debbie Thompson for the support and funding to enable us to make work with 7 very talented local actors. Mark Benfield for the tech wizardry and Chris for opping the Qlab on the trolley too!

But of course – big thanks to the cast – Ashton Owen, Amy English, Megan Artherton, Megan Sharman, Charlie Randall, Olly Westlake and Sam Thompson.

The cast of Ghosted – episode 1
The cast and team pre-show at Great Yarmouth

Old photos found on a memory stick…

1 May

Today I found these photos on a an old memory stick in an drawer – On it were these press pack images from previous shows I directed – photos by Karl Andre

Eliot Barnes-Worrell and the cast in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner adapted by Roy Williams 2012
Eliot Barnes-Worrell and Savannah Gordon-Liburd in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner 2012
Oliver Alvin-Wilson as Romeo and Louisa Eyo as Nurse – Romeo and Juliet 2010-2011
Rachel Spicer as Juliet – Romeo and Juliet 2010-2011
Christina Baily as JJ and Suzann McLean as her social worker Davood Ghadami and Melanie Ash – Looking for JJ 2007-2008 adapted by Marcus Romer – this show won the UK Theatre / TMA best production for young people

A new way of making a theatre show – blending a Zoom rehearsal process with an outdoor Bluetooth headphone adventure #Ghosted

28 Apr

Amy English as ‘Flo’ and Sam Thompson as ‘Jet’ in the zoom rehearsal for ‘Ghosted’

There is a lot of talk about hybrid working and making blended projects – ones that are created using a mixture of online technologies and in person meetings. Last year I helped to make War of the Worlds in Norway entirely on Zoom. This year as part of the Cultural Recovery funding for St George’s Theatre, Great Yarmouth we are making a brand new piece of work as an R&D that we are rehearsing on Zoom but will be showcased live across various locations in Great Yarmouth and Sheringham in June this year.

‘Ghosted’ is a new commission from James McDermott that I have been working on and directing the cast of 7 young actors from Norfolk on this new performance piece. The audience will be able to eavesdrop, using bluetooth headphone technology, on a series of encounters of the characters who are trying to piece together the unexpected disappearance of ‘Ash’ one of their friendship group. A series of voicemails and text messages are shared between the group as well as live ‘in person’ scenes are played out as the story unfolds.

This will enable a socially distanced performance in a series of public spaces along the promenade and seafront of both of the towns. We are developing the technology to enable the bluetooth headphones to pick up the conversations blended with soundtrack as we follow the cast along the route of the play.

UPDATE Read here to see how well the show went

The actors and audience will be socially distanced and the technology will allow an intimate audio and performance experience with the backdrop of the Norfolk coast as a new piece of ‘Promenade Theatre’ unfolds. This R&D has been enabled by ACE cultural recovery funding and the support of St George’s Theatre and Sheringham Little Theatre and their Director Debbie Thompson who have supported this freelance team during the pandemic.

Tickets for Great Yarmouth

Tickets for Sheringham

Explore the scene locations on the map below

The full cast and James McDermott in rehearsal 

With Megan Sharman as ‘Fish’, Megan Artherton as ‘Chloe, Oliver Westlake as ‘Jake’, Ashton Owen as ‘Adam’ Sam Thompson as ‘Jet’ and Charlie Randall as ‘Ash’

Back in the studio again…

25 Mar

For our current Mutiny Projects commission we are making three new pieces of work for the Future and Form project – part of celebrating 50 years of creative writing at UEA. We are developing projects with three amazing writers – Ayobami Adebayo, Mona Arshi and Imogen Hermes Gowar.

For our piece with Ayobami we are making a new film and live performance piece “Provenance” that will premiere at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May this year.

So it was great to be back in the studio again making the film for the project. We shot at Riverside Studios in London and had a Covid secure set up – Lateral Flow tests, Face masks, visors and socially distanced shot set ups. We shot with two cameras a series of single shots – as the presentation will ultimately be on three 50 inch screens that will range from one full image to three separate images. Our crew had Andy Delaney as Director of Photography, Graham Tobias on sound and Rich With as Gaffer. I worked as Director and it was great to work with Suzann McLean again as first AD. We had Evie Nuttgens as 3rd AD and Clapper loader. Our design and props were brilliantly made by Alana Ashley and make up hair and styling was by Remi Oyenekan.

Our actors were brilliant and gave great performances for us with our set up. They were Jumoké Fashola as Lydia Jimoh, Golda John as Iya Agba, Diana Yekinni as Adesuwa, Oliver Alvin Wilson as Jide and Suzann McLean as the Nurse. For the live performance Marva Alexander will join us in May and she will play Kehinde.

Below are some screen grabs from the edit that Sophie Mellor is delivering and some photos taken by me during the shoot.

As a team Mutiny Projects will be delivering this and the other two projects as part of our commission for Future and Form

Micro Library

6 Feb

The use of the micro library as an art documentary storyboard in pictures

Casting Opportunity – for a new theatre production #Ghosted by James McDermott directed by Marcus Romer

5 Feb

A new production for St George’s Theatre and Sheringham Little Theatre spring/summer 2021

Ghosted 

Instalment One

A Promenade Play

by James McDermott

Directed by Marcus Romer

Characters

Adam eighteen, male identifying       – bisexual, worrier, works in the arcade

Jake eighteen, male identifying          – gay, a scally, works in a cafe

Chloe eighteen, female identifying    – strong, sassy, works in a pub

Fish eighteen, female identifying       – questioning, perceptive, cheeky, works in a fish shop 

Jet eighteen, male identifying             – secretive, aspiring footballer

Flo sixteen, female identifying           – naive dreamer, still at school

Ash (in video & audio only) 18, male identifying – rebel, smart, middle class

Setting

The action in this play unfolds along a Norfolk seaside promenade. The promenades will be in Sheringham and Great Yarmouth. The story explores the efforts of six very different teenage friends, after their pal Ash disappears and his clothes are washed up on the beach. It delves into their characters, romances, and secrets which could explain Ash’s absence.

This is the first play in a series of plays that tell a large serialised story. It is the pilot episode for the potential series from an original idea by James McDermott and Marcus Romer.

Dates 

Submissions by                       18th February

Casting via Zoom w/c             22nd February

Rehearsals from                      1st March (via zoom)

Performances from April      Times tbc dependent on national guidance               

Casting 

We are looking for actors who ideally are either from, based in or have a connection to East Anglia. They must me able to have excellent Norfolk accents. Playing ages for all roles are 18 with the exception of the character of Flo who has a playing age of 16. We are looking for a strong diverse cast for this new performance piece which takes its inspiration as a rural and coastal version of ‘Skins’

Notes

For a COVID secure production, the actors would all wear head-mics and the audience wear Bluetooth receiving headsets enabling them to stand at a safe distance from the cast and each other. 

Rehearsals will take place on Zoom in March in preparation for the intended performance when times allow.

Please submit spotlight links or photo and cv to marcusromeruk@gmail.com

Please mark the email ‘Ghosted’ Casting.

Keeping going – making creative projects happen – the Mutiny way

31 Jan

dr-ankvar-PPE-v2-01

This last 12 months has been tough for everyone. Keeping going has been the main thing for us all. Surviving and keeping yourself and family as safe as you can has been the main focus. It’s been tough. We all know people who have been affected by this disease, either losing a loved one or battling against the ravages of the virus. We have all had to develop a new resilience. We have had to do things in different ways. We have had to be creative in our ways of thinking and turn our our hands to new skills or re learn old ways of doing things.

We are creative beings by nature and we are discovering how to navigate this new space. I have been so grateful to have been able to keep a connection with new work and get support from my colleagues at Mutiny. We set the company back in November 2019 as a new arts organisation, little knowing how the world was about to change. So Simon Poulter, Sophie Mellor and myself met up last February in to launch our R&D process for our new project at Watershed in Bristol. We spent a great week together working up ideas for an online interactive piece of work. Then the pandemic struck, one of our colleagues was unable to travel from Italy, we moved the work online and returned to our respective bases of Cambridge, London and Plymouth. We haven’t met in person or been in the same physical room now for nearly 12 months.

Yet in that time we have kept ourselves going by making creative work happen. We have pulled together ideas and projects, sometimes on zero budget, sometimes as a new commission or two, or by tendering for new work. As a new organisation we were not eligible for any of the Cultural Recovery Funding, so we had to keep on making and producing our own work during this time.

We have worked with amazing writers to create new work for Mutiny – we have commissioned Inua Ellams (The Barber Shop Chronicles and the Three Sisters, National Theatre) Roy Williams (Death of England, Sing yer Heart out for the lads, Days of Significance, National Theatre and RSC) to create new pieces for us. Inua wrote Landrovers vs Minis for us and Roy developed a new piece for Locus Solus.

The team of mutineers who have worked with us during this period are amazing.

We have made 16 new short films since last March, these have included all ur #Covid19Threads pieces using original tweets from the pandemic, voicing them with actors and creating new drawings and animation for them. The most recent was this week when we shared the story that Lily Whiting posted.

This moving true story was voiced by actor Amy Johnson. The rest of the series of #Covid19Threads can be found on the Mutiny website.

The creative work we have made has ranged from #Covid19Threads through to a new series of animated poems created by young people under the guidance of writer James McDermott for Norfolk and Norwich Festival as part of their Common Ground project. For Flip the Museum we worked with the museum of Lowestoft and were able to develop a series of new works based on the objects in the museum and locate these in the gardens of the museum. Here is the poem about the Benjamin Britten commemorative 50p piece.

We are currently working with three writers, Mona Arshi, Ayobami Adebayo and Imogen Hermes Gowar as part of the Future and Form project for UEA. This is to celebrate 50 years of the creative writing faculty of the University and is also funded by Arts Council England. This project will culminate in new works in May this year which will include the integration of Film, Augmented Reality, Sound poetry and interactivty available on site and online.

This amazing picture of Mona Arshi was taken by Matthew Usher on our research trip to Cley Marshes in Norfolk last September.

We are going to continue to develop our interactive game world project Locus Solus – based on the novel by Raymond Roussel. This had great support from Arts Council England and Watershed last year and we will be developing this concept as we move through 2021. You can get a sense of the project here with the video we made of the R&D which also included the actors Suzann McLean, Oliver Alvin Wilson and Simon Munnery

As a final video this is Land Rovers vs Minis written by Inua Ellams.

Landrovers Vs. Minis was commissioned by MKIAC – Milton Keynes Islamic Arts, Heritage and Culture – and features a new original script by playwright and poet Inua Ellams, with actors Cherrelle SkeeteFaisal Dacosta, Umera Fatima, Mia Nuttgens and Sam Thompson. Music by Sandy Nuttgens.

“Dee makes a Whatsapp Group adding Kay, Ishy, Emm and Hilz. Dee changes the group subject to: “Friday Protest” then, “Protest”, then “Resist”, then “Bun Babylon” then “Bun Babylon For Life” then “BBFL”. Dee makes the group icon a middle finger and begins typing…”

So keeping busy, keeping creative and making new projects happen is definitely the Mutiny way. It has sustained us and kept us focused and connected. Even though we are hundreds of miles apart this is our new way of working. Mutiny is Simon Pouter, Sophie Mellor and Marcus Romer three people remote and connected, with a team of mutineers working with us. We are looking forward to working with more mutineers in 2021.

Check out the Mutiny site for more details and contact details.

Creating a UNESCO City of Media Arts for York.

29 Nov

I found the launch video we made for #York as part of the @CityofMediaArts bid to become a @UNESCO City of Media Arts. It helped us to develop idea for the @YorkMediale back in 2014/15.

The bid succeeded and it worked.

York became the first Unesco Creative City for Media Arts in the UK

#ShiftHappened