24:7 gave me my first experience of stage managing, and also my first involvement in a promenade production. I have a new awareness of the significance of space in a performance after this weekend: the Brief Encounters took place around a square on campus, each monologue performed in an evocative or appropriate area for its time period, setting or the character. The varied styles of architecture in the square was really helpful for helping us establish each piece’s mood, period, or style. For example in JoJo Kirtley’s It’s Not For The Likes Of Us, Steph Reynolds performed as a prospective student at Manchester University open day, sitting down at a picnic table to eat jam sandwiches next to the contemporary-looking cafe, and looking around at the tall buildings surrounding on all sides. For Ruth Evans’ performance of Jane Tonge’s Tracing Stars the sizeable area of circular green space worked well with the actor’s wellington boots to give a outdoorsy, open, feel and you could almost forget you were in the city centre.
On Friday our audience was outside experiencing the Brief Encounters monologues in a light drizzle. Saturday drew larger audiences for both performances, and because there was no audience seating apart from the benches already in the square, it was interesting to see the audiences flow into position organically around each actor. It was also a lovely sunny day so people were more willing to sit on the benches and probably a bit happier to be walking around outside. The final performance on Sunday was moved into the bar because the rain was so heavy that it would have been uncomfortable for the audience and actors. It was a shame to have to move it indoors, because the element of walking from performance to performance was lost, but the actors portrayed their characters inside the bar really well, with some inventive entrances and exits providing a sense of movement still.
For the outdoor performances, to give the audiences some idea of where they might be walking to, we used big numbers in pink chalk on the ground: also one large blue arrow leading up to the square, and a 24:7 logo I stencilled. It was quite difficult to see and some audience members didn’t really see it. It proved most useful for the fifth performance, Sue Blundell’s Treasure, in which the audience don’t immediately see a performer, and then John Smeathers comes up striding along the path and begins his performance – the big 5 on the ground was a helpful visual reference for the audience to know when to stop walking. On the whole I think the chalk added to the square for those who saw it, and those who didn’t see it didn’t need to, because it wasn’t an essential part of the performance. I think it was a nice touch.
I’ve learned a lot about how to use outdoor spaces and promenade from working on Brief Encounters. I’m very grateful to the actors and directors I was working with for being very understanding about this being a very new experience for me, and also to 24:7 and Foot In The Door for giving me the opportunity.