Philip’s Blog Archive

This blog takes you on Hoopla’s journey as we first staged The Night Queen. You may find it of interest (!?) but it has now been usurped by Philip’s blog on the Hoopla website www.hooplatheatre.com which tells of his adventures with Hoopla in a more general way -though there’s still plenty about The Night Queen (back on the boards in 2013).

Sunday 26th June

Sad to say au revoir to the actors – they have been marvellous – but not before Dan and Sarah help us put half the set into Paul’s garage! The rest of it (with Mick’s stalwart help) is now in our shed and attic, biding its time…

Saturday 25th June

Both shows go very well and audiences are good. In-between, we have a small but enthusiastic attendance for the workshop. At the end, I do a quiz which attracts some argument from the actors about dragons in Lord of the Rings! Helen from the Lighthouse really likes the show and it’s interesting to talk to her (with Jenny) about artistic and audience strategies. Again, any ponderings are curtailed by the need to get the set into the van!

Friday 24th June

Travel to The Lighthouse, Poole for the get-in. Great to meet up with everyone again. The set just fits through the access door (and I mean just) but once in looks rather good in the space.

Wednesday 22nd June

Hoopla! meeting to look at practical and artistic stuff and we’re all very bouyant about how things are going, though we agree we probably won’t get our budgeted fee for the project and in fact our hourly rate looks like it might turn out to be very low! Interesting discussions about other projects and I now need to do a treatment…

Monday 20th June

At St Osburg’s for the final time for The Night Queen and take the opportunity not just to do work around the play, but to get more feedback, which I’ll be collating after the tour.

Sunday 19th June

At The Roses, Tewkesbury today and the space could not be more different to the egg, a large and impressive stage and auditorium ideal for big productions. Gratifyingly, the strength of the design, the music, the directing and acting and, I’d like to think, the writing, really do come out as the play occupies the space as if it was made for it and the performance is wonderful. A relatively small audience for the space really show their appreciation and Deborah Rees, the Artistic Director, is delighted with the show. Occupying a larger space has been, as we intended, a real test of the play, but one that it passes with flying colours.

Saturday 18th June

Family audiences, rather than schools, today and very pleased with the response, especially from such a wide range of ages. The actors have been brilliant at matching the performance to the venue and the audience, both at the Belgrade and here – where it is definitely more intimate. The space is fabulous for children.

Thursday 16th June

Good schools audiences and a successful workshop in-between, everyone very happy. Also meet up with Ben, an actor friend and his partner and chat about the joys and challenges of (mainly touring) theatre. He tells the most extraordinary story about a Frantic Assembly performance that I really can’t go into here. Meet up with the others for a drink in one of the many salubrious pubs in Bath.

Wednesday 15th June

The weather is fab (am I too young to use that word?) for the drive to Bath and the get-in at the egg. All goes smoothly, and everyone very helpful, though my digs are up the steepest hill I think I’ve ever driven up! At one point I imagine the car rearing up into the air like in a Laurel & Hardy film, but thankfully it doesn’t. It then turns out I shouldn’t have driven up that bit. Great view.

Tuesday 14th June

Having caught up a little with non-Night Queen activities, I’m at Moseley school in Coventry working with their Year 6, who came to see the play the previous week and spend a very enjoyable afternoon doing drama based on elements of the play with them. Thay are particularly good at recreating a roller-coaster.

Saturday 11th June

I can’t believe how busy this week has been! Today we (Hoopla!) host a Writers’ Guild West Midlands Branch event (I am the secretary) jointly with the Belgrade about Writing For Children. A very strong group and lots of topics raised and discussed, ranging from in/appropriate language (and who deems it so) to copyright and royalties to getting an audience and the curse (or is it blessing) of adaptation. And that only gives you a flavour of the vibrancy of the event. I must also say that Steve Ball (Birmingham Rep) rather stole the show with his anecdotes from the ASSITEJ (International Organisation for Young People’s Theatre) festival he had recently attended, particularly the one about the bus he was on being hijacked – only to find he was in a performance piece.

The final show at the Belgrade is tinged with a little sadness – it seems to have gone so quickly and yet so much has hasppened. However, such ruminations are cut short by a plunge into the get-out and the realisation of just how heavy (I mean well-built, obviously) the pieces of set actually are! Luckily, plenty of people on hand and all goes smoothly. Even time for a celebratory drink afterwards.

Friday 10th June

A real change of pace as Jenny and I are down at the Merchants Academy secondary school in Bath for the egg’s Start Project, working across an entire year group in preperation to their visit to see the show at the egg. A very full, hands-on day using drama to explore issues as raised in the play and also develop the young people’s cultural awareness and self-confidence – important areas for the school pupils given their social background. Teachers very welcoming and supportive, which is great.

Thursday 9th June

At the Belgrade and chat to the schools before the show, as we’ve done workshops with them prior to the visit. Love the children’s excitement and enthusiasm. Talking of enthusiasm, also see Andy Breakwell (from Nottingham Playhouse) who has come up to see the play and who is very complimentary afterwards. The positive vibe (am I too old to use that word?) continues with Hamish from the theatre and Michael from the Arts Council, both of whom are really helpful in response to our thoughts (both artistic and practical) about next steps.

Wednesday 8th June

Paul, Jenny & I have a mid-production meeting to take stock of how things are going and – given how well the show is being received – look at how best to move things forward, including remounting the show.

Tuesday 7th June

First of the schools performances. Watched the show in the morning and then Jenny and I did a workshop with one of the schools, who really made a day of it – a great theatre visit. Then it was lovely to see so many familiar faces from St Osburg’s school in for the afternoon performance (I’ve been doing a big literacy project there – see my entry for Jan 11th!) and the actors came onstage afterwards to chat to them and answer questions. The first question was “How did you make it so perfect?” You can’t ask for a better question than that!

Monday 6th June

Jenny and I go to see Big School, the Belgrade show about transition to secondary school and it’s uncanny how many of the themes are echoed across the 2 shows, though very different pieces. It’s a careful, thoughtful piece that I’m sure children engage with (it’s proved so popular they’ve brought it back 4 years running) and allows them to think about and discuss that big change of going to secondary school.

Friday 3rd June

Going back to my old TV days as we video some of the show to promote – just got to work out how to upload it now…

Thursday 2nd June

Good audiences, especially for the matinee, and also quite a crowd for the 2nd acting workshop, which is similar to the first. We play a word game too, can’t remember if we did this on the Wed, but I enjoyed it! Just a few young people (& mums) for the post-show discussion, which does mean they get the chance to come on stage and go in Pamina’s secret hidey-hole, as well as meet the actors and puppets and of course ask questions, so all very jolly. I learn that the B2 space can be configured in 32 different ways – amazing. It is a great space.

Wednesday 1st June

Jenny, myself and the actors lead an acting workshop with an enthusiastic group of young people. They get to meet all the characters and Pamina and dad explain what they do and don’t argue about – with prompts from the children. The children then get the chance to act out some domestic disagreements of their own, helped by the adults. It’s great fun. They also meet owl and Popinjay and get to talk to them about their lives in the forest before creating their own forest creatures, which they act out and we have to guess at. Finally, they meet the Night Queen and the dragon and imagine what it would be like for their creatures to come across them in the forest. Scary! Luckily, Pamina soothes things down with the lullaby.

The evening is Press Night, so quite a crowd. Luckily the show goes down extremely well and many very positive comments. Particularly pleasing that both adults and children enjoy it.

Saturday 28th May

Opening night! Can’t say I’m not a little nervous. It’s a very good audience, both in size and also clearly caught up with the play (at least it seems that way to me). The actors come back for a second bow – how fantastic. Really pleased.

Thursday 26th May

Over to Leicester to spend the morning at Eastfield school with years 5 and 6. They take to playwriting like ducks to water and there is a wonderful moment when I look around the hall and there are 30 pairs of young people all intent on practising their scripts to show to the others. Quite noisy, but the energy is tremendous.

Monday 23rd May

Production week begins… the set is on the stage. We’ve had it from 2nd day of rehearsal and that has been fantastic, but there’s still a transition to making it happen in the space itself. I’m off to the central library to check on our display there.

Saturday 21st May

Change of focus with the Writing West Midlands Writers In Schools Skill Sharing Day in Birmingham. Really rewarding and interesting and good to hear each others experiences, issues and ideas. Very stimulating.

Friday 20th May

End of a busy week of rehearsals. Going really rather well, though I don’t want to tempt fate. Fantastic cast and Jenny really getting to the heart of the play. Paul keeping an eye on the music too! All the other activity re costumes, set, props etc going on too, of course.

Monday 16th May

Took time out from rehearsals to do workshops at Aldemoor Farm Primary School. Had a really good day – we spent the morning writing about our own forest creatures and the afternoon writing stories about dragons, then acting them out. Also took part in assembly as that curious creature – a lesser-spotted writer. We also talked about friendship. And I was treated to a very nice lunch! Many thanks to Tracey and all the staff.

Saturday 14th May

It’s another rehearsal day but I take time out to bring over the 2 youth groups that meet at The Belgrade, led by Orla, who is very helpful, so they can see some of the rehearsal. They are really engaged and it’s good to get feedback so early. The older group, in particular, pick up on many of the themes and character dynamics.

Thursday 12th May

Hannah the puppet maker is in today, but I’m chained to my desk – no, not rewrites, that seems to be pretty good so far (famous last words) – bt, yep, more admin.

Wednesday 11th May

I’m in rehearsals for the morning, then across to St Osburg’s school, where we do some activities around forest creatures. I haven’t been in since before Easter, when we had the sharing event for our big literacy project. I take in Pipinjay – Popinjay’s scruffier brother and he’s a big hit – as is the music (on CD).

Tuesday 10th May

Readthrough goes very well – the actors bravely have a go at the songs, despite it being Day 2!

Monday 9th May

First day of rehearsal, but really a logistics day (the readthrough is tomorrow). Meet Sarah, Dan & Naomi (Nez) – the actors – properly and do yet more admin! Music rehearsals are the main element, though I have to wrestle the dragon, Popinjay and several bags up to the rehearsal room, ably assisted by Emma, design assistant, then check I can find my way around the backstage area. 

Sunday 8th May

An amazingly busy week, largely in preperation for rehearsals that start tomorrow. Much of my time has been spent with admin, in particular the joys of payroll, but also we’ve been making sure scripts have arrived safely, the rehearsal room times are okay, etc.

Thursday 28th April

Very good meeting between myself, Jenny and Paul mainly looking at the music elements and in particular the use of the Night Queen aria.Inspired by what Chris, the composer has done, we’ve decided to thread it through the play as well as for the (hopefully) very strong scene towards the end of the play. 

Thursday 21st April

Uncomfortably aware of Easter looming, but managed to get the completed rehearsal (8th draft) script out, both by email and post, so very pleased. We’ve introduced a new element (the scarf) which I’m very pleased with – let’s see how it turns out in the production itself.

Tuesday 19th April

Took time out from working on the rehearsal draft of the play to go with Jenny to see Uncle Vanya in the Belgrade B2 (where we are performing). Really detailed production and lots to take away from it. It was done as a thrust stage – with the acting area at floor level and the audience on raked seating. This worked very well and gave the play a wonderfully intimate feel, which chimed perfectly with the staging. Struck once again with how versatile the B2 space is. The soundscape was also very fine – I hope we can emulate this with our production.

Friday 15th April

Taking stock today and updating the website – it’s felt a little neglected recently! Only 3 weeks to go to rehearsals so we’re trying to make sure everything is sorted for then. Final go through of the script later today and any further rewrites before it gets sent out – hopefully on Monday.

Thursday 14th April

Jenny and I went to see Goodnight Mr Tom in the Main House tonight. Absolutely packed – we had to have separate seats in the circle as we’d left booking so late. Really enjoyed the production and Oliver Ford Davies was fabulous as Mr Tom, though he had to work hard not to be upstaged by the children & the dog (Laura Cubitt in her element). Extraordinary range of audience, not just children and families. I was sitting next to a group of 5 women in their twenties. We were vey pleased to see that they were handing out leaflets for The Night Queen as people left. I took, one, naturally. I hear it’s going to be a very good play. Afterwards, talking to Oliver, he said that at the Q&A a lot of people had memories of the war – especially poignant in Coventry, of course.

Monday 11th April

Down to Poole today to meet up with Helen Donaldson and also take down the rest of the flyers. Great meeting and Helen showed us the space and the rest of the very impressive arts centre. We talked about the audience and finalised details of the workshop offer as well as the play itself and its themes.

Thursday 7th April

Really pleased that we are now fully cast and what a wonderful cast we have: Dan Willis as the dad, Naomi Lee Schulke as the Night Queen and Sarah Middleton as Pamina.

Friday 1st April

Meeting up with Paul today to take stock of where we are and also to audition an actor who had an emergency and couldn’t make it to the casting sessions but was, as it happens, in Birmingham. His audition piece was The Pirate King from Pirates of Penzance, which was very nostalgic for all of us, as we used it (with new lyrics) as Captain Hook’s song in Peter Pan at Worcester all those years ago now.

Wednesday 30th March

Auditions in Coventry. The room we had was fine, but it was very much backstage and took a bit of negotiating through the security doors. Luckily, we had a dedicated assistant for the day in Rob who was fantastic at getting people to and from us and everyone was very helpful, so that the audtions ran very smoothly. Again, a great range of talent.

After the auditions, Jenny and I met with Sam (the education officer at the Belgrade) and we went through the schools workshops to date. In several cases, I’ll be going out to the school to do workshops either before or after the pupils come to see the play. In other cases, the workshop will be at the theatre. We also took stock of audience development.

Tuesday 29th March

Auditions at the Arts Admin building in London. What a great venue – we were especially impressed by the cafe! A very full but very rewarding day. The writer doesn’t always get to be part of the auditions, so I was determined to make the most of it. I’m not sure which was better, my reading in of Pamina or of The Night Queen. I’d like to say I was a natural in both, but I don’t think that’s quite the case. I hope I didn’t put the actors off too much. Generally, Paul went through the singing with them and Jenny the acting. I was impressed by how talented people were – I am not good at singing and a very ordinary actor – and it was a shame we didn’t have more parts to offer.

Thursday 24th March

A busy day for me, as it was the celebration assembly as St Osburg’s school first thing followed by paticipation in the Belgrade Open Doors event. The presentations at St Osburg’s were wonderful and I was really pleased at how much they have achieved. Very different but equally enjoyable was the session at the Belgrade. We all agreed that we would have liked to have such opportunities when we were young. Afterwards, I met with Tom from the Marketing Department and we discussed ways of promoting the show.

Tuesday 15th March

Down to Tewkesbury today to meet with Maggie and discuss outreach and participation activities. We agreed to offer both writing and music workshops as they have a particular focus on music.

Sunday 6th March

Meeting of the 3 partners to see where we are up to, including a methodolgy for deciding who to call for audition.

Monday 28th February

A big day for me as I’ve now completed the next draft of the play. This will be adjusted as Chris’s music comes in, but it’s all there apart from the words for the finale – that’s a treat I’m saving for the next week or so!

Saturday 26th February

Jenny has done the casting breakdown, so I just have to look over it before Sharon sends it out. Sharon is looking after the admin of the auditions for us, which I’m very pleased about.

Friday 25th February

Pick up the flyers for the tour from Streetprint. Just the posters to do now – that should happen in the next week or so. It seems to have gone on forever, with proofs going back and forth over many, many days, but I finally feel like we are getting there.

Monday 21st February

My script redraft and lyric-writing period begins in earnest today, as the deadline for sending it to Chris re the music is now only a week away. It’s in pretty good shape, but, as always, there’s planty to do. However, meet up with Sharon as a welcome contrast to go through venue logistics, check and sign agreements and generally make sure we’re up to speed.

Friday 18th February

Workshop based on The Night Queen at the Belgrade with pupils from Aldemoore Farm school. They are amazing and very quick on the uptake. We have a lot of fun writing scenes about arguing with your parents!

Monday 14th February

Meet with Hannah in the morning about the puppets. This looking good. In the afternoon, design meeting at the Belgrade with the model box. This is a good meeting and I think the design will work really well. Some discussion of the trees and John Miller (Head of Production) references the silver birches they are using for Uncle Vanya – but things are never that simple!

Sunday 13th February

This is the deadline for the 2nd draft of the play, which I’m pleased to say I’ve hit! Alongside this I’ve been doing the sessions at St Osburg’s school, which are fun but tiring – I don’t know how teachers do it.

Sunday 6th February

Design meeting at our house with Dawn and it’s really starting to take shape now. Having something visual in my head is also helpful for the script work.

Friday 28th & Saturday 29th January

Not directly relevant, but I’ve taken part in a 2-day Creative Careers Fair at the Midlands Arts Centre under the banner of Writing West Midlands (I’m their chair). It gave me a chance to reflect on my career as I described it to others and that was very interesting. The Night Queen project came up once or twice, especially in a discussion session with Nick Walker from Talking Birds (who have worked with the Belgrade very recently).

Wednesday 19th January

Dawn round and a first glimpse of the design – very exciting. Also round to see Hannah, who we hope will be our puppet maker and that is all agreed – so yippee!

Friday 14th January

Jenny and I go round to see Matt at Streetprint and brief him on the print for the Belgrade (and subsequently for the venues). Matt is really helpful, but I have to say print is not my favourite area and I know there will be a lot of toing and froing over the next few weeks. However, we are very pleased with the image Dark Horse did for us and think it will work well for the publicity.

Tuesday 11th & Wednesday 12th January

My first two sessions at St Osburg’s and it’s good to get going. I always enjoy working in schools – the children are full of ideas and energy (usually!) – and constantly surprise and delight me with what they come up with.

Monday 10th January

It still feels strange typing in 2011. Where did that decade go? It seems only yesterday I was mesmerised by the fireworks of the new millennium. And yet it also feels so long ago. However, not looking back too far we have managed, despite the revelries or otherwise of the festive season (now definitely behind us), to have achieved quite a lot already this year. The Belgrade brochure is now out and we’re very pleased with it & our offering in it. Alongside the play we are having a pre-show event for one performance, a post-show discussion for another, half-term drama workshops around 2 shows, school workshops for each of the school shows and a writing for young people workshop between 2 of the Saturday shows. Plenty of participation there! And there will be more, including work at St Osburg’s school in Coventry (where Philip is involved with a literacy project through Cre8us) and follow-up work at Stanville school, Birmingham, where we did the Encounters development project. And we hope even more besides as things build. On the creative front, I am now well into the 2nd draft (due at the end of the month) following discussions between myself, Jenny and Paul and with input from Chris (composer) and Dawn. We went with Dawn to look properly round the B2 space with the Belgrade production staff and that was really helpful. We also firmed up the white card model design meeting ((Feb 14th) and other production issues. On the tour front, Sharon has been busy liaising with The Egg, Poole Lighthouse and The Roses, Tewkesbury and that’s all looking very good. It feels like the momentum is really building now and that’s great – though I must be careful not to feel a bit giddy with the range of activities and make sure I concentrate fully on the second draft. I hope to give encouraging news on that next time.

Monday 10th January

It still feels strange typing in 2011. Where did that decade go? It seems only yesterday I was mesmerised by the fireworks of the new millennium. And yet it also feels so long ago. However, not looking back too far we have managed, despite the revelries or otherwise of the festive season (now definitely behind us), to have achieved quite a lot already this year. The Belgrade brochure is now out and we’re very pleased with it & our offering in it. Alongside the play we are having a pre-show event for one performance, a post-show discussion for another, half-term drama workshops around 2 shows, school workshops for each of the school shows and a writing for young people workshop between 2 of the Saturday shows. Plenty of participation there! And there will be more, including work at St Osburg’s school in Coventry (where Philip is involved with a literacy project through Cre8us) and follow-up work at Stanville school, Birmingham, where we did the Encounters development project. And we hope even more besides as things build. On the creative front, I am now well into the 2nd draft (due at the end of the month) following discussions between myself, Jenny and Paul and with input from Chris (composer) and Dawn. We went with Dawn to look properly round the B2 space with the Belgrade production staff and that was really helpful. We also firmed up the white card model design meeting ((Feb 14th) and other production issues. On the tour front, Sharon has been busy liaising with The Egg, Poole Lighthouse and The Roses, Tewkesbury and that’s all looking very good. It feels like the momentum is really building now and that’s great – though I must be careful not to feel a bit giddy with the range of activities and make sure I concentrate fully on the second draft. I hope to give encouraging news on that next time.

Monday 10th January

It still feels strange typing in 2011. Where did that decade go? It seems only yesterday I was mesmerised by the fireworks of the new millennium. And yet it also feels so long ago. However, not looking back too far we have managed, despite the revelries or otherwise of the festive season (now definitely behind us), to have achieved quite a lot already this year. The Belgrade brochure is now out and we’re very pleased with it & our offering in it. Alongside the play we are having a pre-show event for one performance, a post-show discussion for another, half-term drama workshops around 2 shows, school workshops for each of the school shows and a writing for young people workshop between 2 of the Saturday shows. Plenty of participation there! And there will be more, including work at St Osburg’s school in Coventry (where Philip is involved with a literacy project through Cre8us) and follow-up work at Stanville school, Birmingham, where we did the Encounters development project. And we hope even more besides as things build. On the creative front, I am now well into the 2nd draft (due at the end of the month) following discussions between myself, Jenny and Paul and with input from Chris (composer) and Dawn. We went with Dawn to look properly round the B2 space with the Belgrade production staff and that was really helpful. We also firmed up the white card model design meeting ((Feb 14th) and other production issues. On the tour front, Sharon has been busy liaising with The Egg, Poole Lighthouse and The Roses, Tewkesbury and that’s all looking very good. It feels like the momentum is really building now and that’s great – though I must be careful not to feel a bit giddy with the range of activities and make sure I concentrate fully on the second draft. I hope to give encouraging news on that next time.

Monday 10th January

The Belgrade brochure is now out and we’re really pleased with it and our offering in it. Alongside the play we’re doing lots of other activities: a pre-show event, post-show discussion, half-term drama workshops, school workshops and a writing for young people event.

Thursday 6th January

Jenny, Dawn (the designer) and myself had an initial production meeting with the staff at the Belgrade and had a look at the B2 space, which is fab. I then had a meeting at St Osburg’s to start the planning for my sessions in the school.

Wednesday 5th January

Met with Sam Allison, the education officer at the Belgrade and discussed where we are up to with approaches to schools etc. (we will be doing a mailing via them). The 3 partners met in the afternoon to catch up after the Christmas lull.

November & December 2010

This is a summary, in no particular order, of some of the activities after we got the grant award from the Arts Council on 2nd November 2010: Sharon, our tour booker and associate administrator, liaising further with the venues and confirming dates and agreements; Dawn busy designing and meeting up as we go; finalising the contract and brochure with the Belgrade and getting in touch with the production staff; talking to Justine and Sam in the Outreach department; keeping track of our grant applications to the Higgs charity and the Sir Barry Jackson Trust; doing the Partnership tax return; discussions – via Paul – with Chris about the music; attending the Take Off festival and other events; redrafting the script (let’s not forget that!).

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