Guest blog: First Dates – A New Commissioning Partnership; Mark Powell, Artistic Director, Prime Theatre reflects on a new touring production

Prime Theatre and Wiltshire Music Centre (WMC) are currently making a new touring production for schools called “Don’t Pick Me, Miss!” 

We’ve been working together on smaller projects for the past 3 years; workshops, the BBC Wiltshire project “Singing Together” and a school’s performance of Bernstein’s “West Side Story” for Bath Festivals in 2018. It was working on “West Side Story” that I was introduced to Aga Serugo-Lugo, one of WMC’s associate artists. Aga and I found we had an easy rapport and a mutual respect for each other’s working practise (he’s really, really good at what he does and convinces me I’m ok at my bits too).

Prime likes working with WMC because they have something massive we don’t: a remarkable building to make work in!  Of course, there’s more to partnerships than exchange…working together offered a chance to enhance our practise too. WMC have great links with schools we don’t always engage with from our side of the county as well as a brilliant range of staff whose enthusiasm matches Prime’s optimism, and whose wider skills are wonderfully complementary too. Music is such a key part of most theatre productions and it’s been exciting to work with the region’s experts in that artform. The fact that Wiltshire Music Connect (the music education hub for Wiltshire) has supported this project is also fantastic and we’ve been pleased they’ve been able to pop into development rehearsals as they also live at WMC.

Prime has partnered theatre companies in the past but never a music organisation and, indeed, this is also the first time WMC have commissioned a new theatre show. By sharing resources, people and talent we’ve made more than we could have separately. There’s already been useful learning on both sides of the partnership and we’re not even finished: Prime has restructured how we build and report production budgets to match the great way that WMC manage their financial reporting, and next time we know that by having this understanding before we start any new project we’ll be even more effective.

The idea that actually brought us together was that we could create something unique from our mix of visiting artistic partners and a shared creative approach; an approach that would hopefully benefit children and their schools across the region. What that was…we weren’t quite sure. We knew that schools have many obstacles to engaging with both drama and music in their over-stuffed curriculum, so we decided to include poetry in our production as well. That way we’d be also able to offer something of additional explicit value to help sway a sometimes preoccupied senior team. There was interest from several schools to support our development and we spent a happy June week with pupils across Wiltshire exploring music, drama, poetry and Greek myths: a quadruple whammy for learning.

 

There have been three different periods of research and development in the past year and we found ourselves slowly dropping the Greek myths while increasing the number of actor-musicians to spread budgets further and multiply the dramatic possibilities on stage. In August we started to focus in on the changes in school lives that occur around Year 5…when you’re old enough to start knowing yourself but still a year away from the pressure of Year 6 and its looming SATs. At this point we also began inventing Maddie, a 10 year old who’s had to move schools and home over summer because of her parents separating. Maddie is set a literacy task to write a poem about being happy which, as you can imagine, is hard when that’s not exactly how she feels at the moment.

The creative team then had another brainwave…one that we could explore thanks to the development time WMC had carefully built into the schedule. We all have great memories of being aged 10 but acknowledged that things will have changed a lot since then, so a friendly school agreed to let us be new Year 5s for a day! We spent a day in separate classes as pretend new pupils and discovered a whole new world of pen licenses and interactive white boards, as well as the age-old perils of wet play!

It’s now the period before final rehearsals, the time where we take the 10 songs we have written and produce the final script that encapsulates the story we all found ourselves telling. “Don’t Pick Me, Miss!”  includes girls who are good at football, teachers who surprise pupils with their humanity and parents who aren’t always right.

We’ll be touring Wiltshire and Swindon schools at the end of February, but if you want to see for yourself what we’re sharing there is a public performance at Wiltshire Music Centre on Sunday 23 February at 3pm so please call their Box Office if you would like to find out more 01225 860100.

Mark Powell, Artistic Director, Prime Theatre

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