The Dog and the Elephant: A multitude of sins – Jack Johns, Actor

The Dog and the Elephant - Shoot Stills - Credit Found Studio (2)

Hello Bristol! My name is Jack Johns and I am playing Bendigo Barlow in The Dog and The Elephant, which is coming back to Bristol Old Vic Studio this February. It’s a one man show about a Bare Knuckle Boxer in late Victorian England who suffers with Tourette’s syndrome – it focuses on his relationship with an Elephant that he meets in a Travelling Menagerie.

Both Matt Grinter (writer/director) and I are thrilled to be coming back to Bristol Old Vic as this is production very much started its life here – it’s home. The idea was born in Bristol, we rehearsed in Bristol and we had our first performance as part of Ferment Fortnight last year. Since then we’ve been to VAULT Festival, the Pleasance London, LATITUDE Festival and even recently shot a film version of the piece – now we’re back! Though I’m hoping this time round I won’t knock over the set, which shouldn’t be an issue given that the set is minimal, but somehow I’ve managed it before.

The show has grown a lot over the last year. Every time we have performed at a new venue, we’ve been sure to re-rehearse for a couple of days. There is always something new found in these rehearsals. I think its because there is often quite a chunk of time between them, so you tend to come at them with completely fresh eyes. I think this is a good thing for a one man show, as a normal rehearsal period is absolutely exhausting and you can very quickly loose sight of the overall objective, you often can’t see the wood for the trees. We are actually just re-rehearsing for our Bristol run, and we’ve allowed longer this time due to technical changes, and a few script developments.

We had an interesting development with the show when we were approached by FOUND Studio. They saw the show at VAULT and thought it would make an interesting short. Their background is in animation, high end commercials and music videos. When we saw their work we immediately agreed as we could see that it was going to be a quality product. We have spent the best part of the year developing it with them, firstly cutting down the script with Matt. This was quite a tricky process as, timing-wise, it needed to be cut in half, but it still needed to maintain the main narrative. Inevitably some characters and plot points had to go; this process went back and forth a bit but soon was settled.

With this came new challenges. The new script was an absolute nightmare to learn, as I’m now so familiar with the stage text. Thought it’s essentially the same words – they were now in a different order, lines that didn’t finish in the same way, things jumping all over the place. Hell. It was harder than starting from scratch. We got new tattoos drawn up for my character – they play an integral part in the piece, and the in film version some these will come to life through animation. I had to hit the gym, which I hate, because as they say ‘the camera never lies’, you can hide a multitude of sins on stage.

We shot the whole thing in one day a couple of weeks ago. It was the hardest days work I think I’ve ever done, 10 hours doing a monologue on repeat. Bare Knuckle Boxers with Tourette’s syndrome are fairly high energy characters to play. Needless to say, at the end of the shoot I was on my knees, quite literally. Post Production is now underway and in a couple of months we get to see the finished product which we’re pretty excited about.

The Dog and the Elephant - Shoot Stills - Credit Found Studio (8).jpg

This has been an amazing and sometimes quite intense journey for both Matt and I. Being a one man show – it’s just me as an actor, whilst the show is written and directed by Matt – so it’s a small team of us two. In terms intensity, this is about as distilled and potentially claustrophobic as it gets. There’s no cast to bounce off, no Writer/Director discussions. Just two people in a room. For a long time. A very long time. Luckily, we are close friends and have worked together many times before. It did definitely feel like the most creatively exposing process either of us have ever been through – there was no one else to take the blame if it went wrong, just us. There have been highs and lows in bringing this production to the stage, but all said and done, we had a fine old time. We’re working on other projects together, and I was still invited to Matt’s wedding, so it can’t have been that bad!

Now I’m sitting with the script in front of me desperately trying to unlearn the film script ready for rehearsals, and the show next week. So I should probably get on with that…

Would be lovely to see you at the show.

Jack

The Dog and the Elephant returns to Bristol Old Vic Studio from 3 – 6 Feb 2016. Find out more and book tickets here.

Bristol Old Vic’s Best Of 2015

It’s been a pretty spectacular year here at Bristol Old Vic made amazing by every single one of our 112,000 customers who bought a ticket to one of our 595 performances! Thank you to all of you who came and supported us. Here are a few of 2015’s top moments from the staff at Bristol Old Vic.

Life Raft at Bristol Old Vic

Life Raft – photo by Jack Offord

“One crazy September night, I ran headlong from a Bristol Old Vic standing ovation at the end of Melly Still’s thrilling production Life Raft to Arcadia’s Spider Show in Queens Square. None of us had seen or heard anything like it!

Both of these events were part of Bristol’s European Green Capital programme and they showed in different ways why the Bristol 2015 arts programme was so important. Artists of this quality see new possibilities in the world and inspire the rest of us to do the same.”
Tom Morris – Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director

“Absolutely nailing Bristol Proms in it’s biggest and most ambitious year! But watching the first run through of Pink Mist in rehearsals was a huge high for me.”
Hannah Maun – Ticketing and Audience Insight Manager

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And Then Come the Nightjars – photo by Jack Sain

“A top moment of mine was And Then Come the Nightjars in the Studio. Absolutely stunning set, beautifully moving story. I was very touched by this piece.”
Rachel Wilson – Programming and Producing Administrator

“My highlight would definitely be launching our 250th anniversary programme. From initial whispers in the office, to sculpting a season, to frantically decking the Paintshop out for the announcement during our Christmas press day – being surrounded by staff, friends and supporters, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the most exciting year.

It’s a massive privilege to work in a building steeped in so much history, and actually a bit mind blowing when you look ahead and see the world class creatives we’re working with in 2016. I’m looking forward to walking our corridors over the next year and being able to wonder what the next 250 have in store for this beautiful theatre!
Charlie Coombes – Press Assistant

“My highlight has to be the opportunity for Bristol Old Vic Young Company to come together with our pals Travelling Light and Bristol Museums and Galleries to perform A Thousand Seasons Past in Museum Square in a specially built auditorium– no mean feat and a triumph of team work and Bristol working together!”
Sian Eustace – Young Company and Participation Producer

Jack Russell

Bad Body Double: Jack Russell

“The moment when our new and old Graphic Designers Jack Archer and Russell Hancock met, in exactly the same clothes and, you guessed it, made Jack Russell!!”
Karen Palmer – Marketing Manager

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre cast and creative team with Bristol Old Vic team at the National Theatre press night. 

“As well as a year full of absolutely killer productions (my favourites include Pink Mist and the hilarious Orpheus by Little Bulb Theatre) it was such an amazing experience to travel to the National Theatre en-mass to see our production of Jane Eyre in the Lyttleton theatre.”
Duncan Smith – Marketing Officer

“The absolute high after our first meeting with someone who agreed to buy a Bristol Old Vic silver ticket! And seeing Associate Director George Mann’s crystal clear influence on our work across our programme (Pink Mist, The Crucible, Sleeping Beauty) and admiring his talent and enthusiasm.
Sarah Watts – Capital Campaign Coordinator

“It has to be the Bristol Old Vic ‘Enchanted Forest’ themed Christmas party where our Made In Bristol company all came as magic elves. They even made their sparkling beards themselves…” [photos embargoed]
Cameron Cheek – Operations Coordinator

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Pink Mist – photo by Mark Douet

“I will never forget the opening night of Pink Mist. The audience were utterly silent throughout the performance until the moment it ended, when they all gave the cast the most monumental (and fairly emotional!) standing ovation. Ridiculously well-deserved for one of the best plays of last year.”
Jonathan Harper – Marketing Director

Thank you to everyone who supported us in 2015! We hope to see you again in 2016 for our 250th anniversary year, it’s going to be a big one.
Happy New Year!

Sleeping Beauty – Rehearsal Diary: Week 5

by Ewan Black

So here we are in the final week of rehearsals, and it’s all gone very fast. Through week five we continued to work on the second part of act two. It became apparent that this wouldn’t be so easy as we have to create a satisfying ending. What I mean by “satisfying ending” is that we want the audience to feel like all the problems of the story are resolved or left in a way that is pleasing – we ended up creating a chase scene, making sure the play flows well and, as I was saying, create that fulfilling ending.

The chase scene took a while to go through because there was a lot of movement involved. The chase is married with a fantastic heavy rockish song which makes it all a lot more exciting. Doing the chase scene without the sound and lighting effects was still good but I’m sure when we have all of it together it will vamp up the effect and create a fantastic bit of theatre… again I don’t want to go into too much detail about it – you’ll have to come and see it!

The ending has proven quite hard to crack for us. We have already had four different variations and I have a feeling that as we go into tech next week we will have at least another one, or at least a slight alteration. As I said this is because we are trying to find the ending that satisfies, that finishes our characters stories and that provides a great message for the audience to go away with and think about. Part of our problem is that we have taken two stories and put them together to make one. We have the story of Sleeping Beauty and the welsh folk tale of The Leaves that Hung but Never Grew. We need to make sure both stories are completed by the end, and that they are combined well.

On Friday we did a run of act two and some problems arose. Sally realised that the act didn’t quite flow right and that we had lost the “heart of the story”, which in our case is the relationship between Prince Percy and Deilen – and of course, their individual stories. We had lots of funny bits and larger than life sections that in reality aren’t part of what I like to call ‘the core story’. When I first look at a play I like to find the core. So for me, that would be picking out the key components of what actually happens in the story and putting aside the things that aren’t essential. This helps you to keep on track of what is, as Sally said, “the heart of the story.” So on Saturday, Sally and dramaturg Adam Peck thought about where they could implement more scenes that would show the developing relationship between our two main characters. We also cut down some of the other scenes that weren’t crucial. Sally and Adam also decided to swap some scenes around to make the show flow better. Then finally we changed the ending to answer the questions that the welsh folk tale asks and create that all important satisfying ending.

On Saturday afternoon we did our first full run through of the show. It went well, we also saw that the work we had done in the morning really helped shape the story. Sally and Adam took notes of what they thought worked, and what they thought didn’t work, and I’m sure we will do some more editing on Monday before we go into the theatre to start tech.

The show is in a great place and I’m excited to add costumes, lighting, sound and, of course, the stage to what we have done! Into tech week we go!

Ewan recently graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and is a Peter O’Toole Prize winner, generously supported by Bristol Grammar School

Photography by Steve Tanner

Sleeping Beauty plays in Bristol Old Vic Theatre from 27 Nov 2015 – 17 Jan 2016. Find out more and book tickets here

Sleeping Beauty – Rehearsal Diary: Week 3 & 4

by Ewan Black, Company Member

Ewan in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty - Photography by Steve Tanner

Ewan (left) in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty – Photography by Steve Tanner

Week 3

Things are going very well in camp Sleeping Beauty! With a lot of discussion about what will work and what won’t, we eventually get to the end of act one. This meant we could move on to the next stage of the devising process.

Once we have the shape, the basic text and the songs in place we now go back to the start of act one and finesse, edit and fine tune. We started doing this on Tuesday and through the week would go very slowly over each scene really picking out the detail. In a way we started rehearsing a play the normal way! It’s still a very open process and many of the scenes change dramatically and sometimes even the main story line will too. What I’ve come to notice is that we go round in big circles testing out every idea under the sun and then normally use the original one. It’s just part of the process because then we can be sure that we have taken on the right idea!

We had George Mann and Marc Parrett come in to look at the movement and puppetry. Sometimes we would be looking at movement and puppetry at the same time, all whilst singing and doing magic!

This is also a chance for Benji to go through sound ques with the band and really sharpen up when the music comes in. Benji is doing the sound design for the show so this means any explosions, phone rings or magical noises need to placed.  This sometimes takes a while but it’s worth doing now so that it doesn’t take up too much time during the tech week.

After we had gone through the whole first act, readjusting and polishing, we then did a run for most of the people involved with the show. So the lighting designer, set designer, producer, costume designer, stage manager and marketing all came to watch. This is so they could get an idea of where the show was going and start thinking about ideas for their departments if they hadn’t already.

We ended this week on a very positive note with a fantastic first act in place. Time to dive into act two!

The company in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty - Photography by Steve Tanner

Week 4 

Week four takes us into the second act of Sleeping Beauty. We have a rough idea of where the story will go, but there are still lots of plot holes to fill and resolutions to be made. We start by improvising – the same way we did act one in the first two weeks. Sally will tell us what needs to happen in the scene and where the story needs to go, we improvise that and Adam Peck will record it.

Lots of fantastic things came out of this week and it’s proving a lot faster to improvise as our characters are already built now and we almost know who will say what where. We’ve actually moved very fast and by the end of the week had 35 minutes of act two down, leaving only two or three scenes to do next week.

We spent two days on a travelling scene which has turned in to quite an epic piece of devised theatre! In this part of the show the girl and Prince Percy are travelling against the elements, which are being created by the company. Benji and brilliant band created a rather amusing song to go along with it which I have the pleasure of singing! This part took two days because it had to be choreographed by George Mann and it’s quite a lengthy bit of music that has to be filled. The end result was absolutely fantastic.

A personal favourite from the week though was a little sheep dance but I’m not going to get into that as I don’t want to give it a way! Sheep kick line. I’ll just say that.

So we are in a great place going into the final week of rehearsals and I imagine next week we may do a full run of the show!

Ewan recently graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and is a Peter O’Toole Prize winner, generously supported by Bristol Grammar School

Sleeping Beauty plays in Bristol Old Vic Theatre from 27 Nov 2015 – 17 Jan 2016. Find out more and book tickets here. Check back next week for more from Ewan in the rehearsal room.

St. Joan of the Stockyards: Rehearsal Diary – Intensive Week

by Marco Adduocchio, Company Member

St. Joan of the Stockyards follows the story of Brecht’s version of ‘Joan of Arc’ – in this case called ‘Joan Dark’ – and her battle against the meat King Pierpont Mauler. Its theme is religion vs. capitalism, and what happens when these collide. The play is set in Chicago, but we are not setting it in a particular time period so that it’s accessible to everyone and can be related to any era the audience chooses. The process has entailed a mix of devised material and working with the script. The original script was incredibly rich and long, so we had to cut it down to an hour and a half from the initial length of five hours. Nik Partridge, who is the director of the show, has been inspiring in his approach with it and lead us to demonstrate the folly of capitalism and show how the themes of the play relate to society today, with humour and precision.

St Joan of the Stockyards in rehearsal

We started the week with the full cast and we had already blocked most of the show – we just had to refine and develop the scenes.  On the Wednesday, we did a full run of the show. We are in a great place to have all the scenes blocked and the transitions almost sorted so early on, as now we can focus on working on the characters and lines. Our deadline for learning the lines is the 20th of November – but we are almost already off book!

During the week, we have been devising some movement to represent the craziness of the stock exchange and the stockyards. I quote my favourite movement teacher, Gail Gordon: “Any fool can move quickly albeit not accurately, but it takes skill to move slowly”.  We were doing a lot of slow motion movements repeatedly for some scenes until we got it right, which was exhausting. We also did some restraint movement where other actors had to hold us back to simulate a crowd of rioters.  Our assistant director, Maisie, has been fantastic – she is able to pluck out ideas for movement out of thin air, which is a skill that I strongly desire.

On the Thursday, we met our musical director, Ben, who has been writing music for the show and on the Friday we started learning the song he has written.

The show really utilizes all the skills actors need in modern theatre. It is very dynamic with its use of the staging and levels, as we are performing it in traverse, which opens up many options for the audience. This is because the main action will be seen by everyone, but there will be subtle moments where some audience members will be able to see other movements depending on the angle they are sitting at. We are also utilizing the balconies, which will simulate the environment in much more detail.

Overall, the week was very successful as we are working hard and developing the show at a good pace. We are looking forward to progressing further with it and improving what we have done to the highest standard it can be.

Check back later in the year for more from the St. Joan rehearsal room…

St. Joan of the Stockyards plays in Bristol Old Vic Studio from 13-16 January 2016. Find out more and book tickets here – book before 15 November 2015 to get the early bird offer of £6 tickets.