Recollecting ‘The Record’ with Jake Cooper

Having parted ways with his 45 on-stage comrades, we caught up with The Record‘s Jake Cooper to reminisce about his experience being a part of this boundary-pushing show.


I will do my best to avoid clichés here, but it does become difficult when the experience is so indescribably extraordinary! The process for me began in September 2016 when a friend shared an advert on Facebook: a call out for Bristolians to take part in the show as part of IBT Bristol International Festival 2017. I’m lucky enough to work at Bristol Old Vic in a number of Front of House capacities, so I had heard about the show already, and the premise of such a large cast of strangers was an intriguing hook.

The auditions, and subsequent rehearsals, took place at the Trinity Centre, a lovely converted church in Lawrence Hill. We were invited in groups of 10-15 to work with 600 HIGHWAYMEN (or Abi and Michael, as they were known to us) for an hour, during which we ran through some basic movement exercises, then worked on simplified snippets of the show itself. This briefest of tasters gave us a hint of how uplifting and special the project would be; coming together and performing with strangers, even just in a simple three minute piece, was incredibly powerful.

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After getting the call that I was in (yay!), I was given a page of cues and movements to memorise before rehearsals began in mid-January. For three weeks we worked in individual slots of about 45 minutes with Michael or Abi, never meeting or knowing who our fellow cast members were. This was a fascinating concept, and required a huge amount of trust in our directors. Thankfully, they were both incredibly easy to trust; not once during the process did their faith in us all doing the right thing waver, and having such an extensive focus on how I performed as an individual was so valuable.

Rehearsals flew by in this way, and before I knew it, it was show week. Our tech runs had also taken place individually, so we first met our cast mates on opening night itself, side stage in the holding area. Just as we began to introduce ourselves and try to ascertain who was doing what, we were brought back to focus by Michael and Abi, and were asked to simply concentrate on performing our parts as we had individually rehearsed them. As we had done so proficiently thus far in the process, we trusted them to follow their instructions.

So it was then that the lights went down, and one by one we stepped out on the stage with a strange kind of blind faith in each other. And what an experience! For me, opening night passed by with a sort of joyful surrealism. In a theatrical space that through my work I have an almost unparalleled familiarity with, I was doing something completely alien – performing a series of abstract movements with complete strangers, looking out onto an audience and wondering what on earth they would think. This was not acting or performing as we know it, this was simply seeing and being seen. So many elements came together: as well as seeing how my moves fitted in to the whole, I heard Brandon Wolcott and Emil Abramyan’s beautiful music for the very first time, and felt first-hand how the presence and engagement of an audience completed the art that we were making.

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For me, the reception of the audiences was what gave The Record context and meaning, and kept the piece alive beyond that opening night. As the performances passed, my castmates became less like strangers and more like friends. The movements became more natural, and the sensation of stepping out on to stage became less nerve-wracking. But each and every show, as Abi would always remind us, a brand new group of people sat in the theatre and responded to us completely differently. On stage, every time I moved my gaze to a new audience member, the feeling was unique. The tiniest acknowledgement, the subtlest alteration of expression was enhanced a hundredfold. And post-show, through talking with a huge range of people, the experience of the show continued to ferment and develop. Some people had taken upwards of a minute to realise the show had ended; some had left halfway through; some had been moved to tears; all, as far as I could tell, had experienced an emotional response that warranted discussion.

Whether you loved The Record, hated it, or were somewhere in between, it seems that our audience have all been moved to delve into its deeper meaning. The sheer range of topics to discuss post-show blew me away: the nature of humanity; the function of theatrical space; how to condition the response of an audience; death; time; how to form friendships. In choreographing something quite simple and minimalist, Abi and Michael have created an incredibly varied and poignant forum that continues to travel all over the world. Their vision and intellect is inspiring, and the discussion they elicit is always worth having. As a performer, I never watched the show in its entirety, so it’s difficult for me to comment on what I think the meaning of it all is. All I can say with conviction is that coming together with people that I would simply never have known otherwise to create art was immeasurably powerful. I have come away with a deeper awareness of the smallest interactions that we as humans share on a day-to-day basis, and that, no matter how pretentious it may sound, is valuable in a way that is incredibly difficult to articulate.

Junkyard Rehearsal Diary – Week 4

“We’re cooking now” – the perfect statement to round up week four of rehearsals (thanks Kevin) – and we really are cooking up a delicious pot of musical goodness. Every week we’re given new treats; a talented company, a rehearsal set, a trip to the Vench in Bristol and a new trailer. This week we were joined by our musicians and spent half a day, led by our composer Stephen, integrating the band and the company. I’m happy to report that they played nice. N’aww.

As for the rest of the week… we got through the whole play and by early next week – we will have gone through the play twice. We’ve been lucky to have had a five week rehearsal period because it’s meant that the scenes have been given the time and focus that they need. You know one thing that I love about rehearsals is the continuous discovery of story, key moments, character journeys and of the deeper meaning of songs.  There are various modes of storytelling in this production and with the time given we’ve built a strong language – it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of its unfolding.

I can’t wait to share more about costumes. Everytime I go into the production office, I sneak a peak at the rail of clothes – teasing me from the corner of the room – and try and guess what belongs to whom. At least I have a permanent reference by way of fashion vision boards in the rehearsal room to give me a taste of what each character will look like. No doubt, the costumes will play a big part in providing a strong contextual basis for the era in which Junkyard is set, which is important I think – Looking at the ‘then’ to take into the ‘now.’ It will also be interesting to see how the actors transform when they put their characters’ threads on. I have no doubt that they will wear the clothes and not let the clothes wear them. I butchered that quote but you get my drift.

Anywho, week five, the final week in London before heading to Bristol for tech and Press Night. It will be another week of hard-work, discovery and teamwork. *Rubs hands together* Let’s go get’ em.

Michal x

Written by Michal Keyamo
Originally published at: https://headlong.co.uk/work/junkyard


Bristol Old Vic’s Spring Season continues with Junkyard 24 Feb-18 Mar. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

Junkyard Rehearsal Diary – Week 3

What I really love about this production is it’s rhythm and groove – and rightly so! It is a musical after all. So it was quite a treat to start the week with a groove session to see what types of rhythms were waiting to burst out of everyone – which was a’plenty. Stephen and Musical Director Tayo continued to work hard with the company incorporating songs into Jeremy’s staging-process. It’s amazing to see how the songs lift off and extend within the space; Stephen is truly excellent at what he does and his ability to ease the company into unfamiliar territory has been a pleasure to watch. Well done to the company for being able to absorb all the information so far!

This week I’ve been on top of the logistics of the production keeping tabs on what goes where and when and for how long. We’re getting more slick and keeping the communication channels flowing has been instrumental to our success. There’s a nice chilled vibe this week and it’s been interesting to watch Jeremy work with the actors and demonstrate his ability to communicate his ideas with flexibility, flair and (my favourite word again) fun. Every line is met with precision and detail and the actors are encouraged to try things out and go with their instincts. I like this visceral approach!

We’ve also been working hard to use every nook and cranny available on the set and we’ve explored dynamic ways to present the locations within the production.  It made me think about how much a set can be a character in it’s own right offering so many choices. With so much inspiration around it’s no wonder the creative juices have been flowing and ideas have been firing from all corners of the rehearsal room. It’s been an exciting collaborative experience and everyone’s committed to Jeremy’s vision.

The week has flown by yet again. We ended the week with a Saturday morning session with our movement director working on getting those moves super sleek. I have a really great feeling about this production and I hope that audiences who come and see the show really feel the energy and love that has gone into it.

Until next week!

Written by Michal Keyamo
Originally published at: https://headlong.co.uk/work/junkyard


Bristol Old Vic’s Spring Season continues with Junkyard 24 Feb-18 Mar. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

Building the ‘Junkyard’ set with Chiara Stephenson

With the set now built and rehearsals continuing to heat up, we jumped at the chance to catch up with Junkyard Set and Costume Designer Chiara Stephenson. Here she reveals the inspiration behind the show’s interactive set and how it all comes together.


Hi, I’m Chiara and I’m fortunate enough to be the Set and Costume Designer on Junkyard.

The thing I always enjoy when working on any new production is carrying out all the research. I love letting new ideas stew in my brain and with Junkyard that’s basically meant marinating in all sorts of old books and images of the 70s to really understand the look and feel of the time. It was a delight to discover all the bonkers structures and playgrounds the kids of the 60s and 70s created, well before ‘Health and Safety’ kicked in. The precarious and dangerous nature of their constructions was what I found most inspiring, as was their fearlessness in jumping off them from ahigh.

Following a visit to the Lockleaze playground the play is based on and talking with some of the old workers, I was also really inspired by the way they’ve reincarnated ‘The Vench’ over the years. Each time the playground got damaged or vandalised, their attitude was just ‘f**k it, let’s rebuild it bigger and better’. That defiant attitude is something we’ve really tried to capture in the show, along with that sense of danger and precariousness.

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I actually used to play at an adventure playground myself as a youngster. The Battersea Park playground in London was always my go to. I don’t know if it’s because I was a lot smaller, but I remember the playground being epic in size and much more dangerous. In fact one of my earliest memories at my nursery as a 3-4 year old was being given a few bits of small wood and a hammer and nails. The freedom and trust was great and something I think you don’t find so much these days.

Junkyard is unique to anything I’ve ever worked on because we’re giving our actors similar free-reign to build the whole set themselves. The show starts with what is seemingly a pile of junk on the ground but, over the course of Act 1, each of the kids get to channel their madly creative spirits into constructing the junkyard playground itself. The design relies on huge levels of interaction from the actors. It’s a real logistical challenge for everyone so if we pull it off its definitely a salute to the cast more than me.

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Working on this show with Director Jeremy Herrin has been amazing. He’s a heavyweight really and I’ve had the amazing chance to throw all sorts of ideas his way, trusting that he’ll sieve out all the dodgy ones and pick out the keepers. He’s totally game for lots of play and experimentation. The one thing we are not short of in the making of this show is ideas, and silly ideas at that. Which ones will actually end up in the show, we’ll just have to wait and see…

I’d love to tell you the funniest moment so far, but with this production it really is impossible to answer! These moments are all too frequent due to the playful nature of the show and everyone working on it. It really does feel like we are all a bunch of kids mucking about in a playground as we weave the show into something explosive and exciting. Hopefully that will all come across on-stage and the audience will enjoy everything we’ve created!


Bristol Old Vic’s Spring Season continues with Junkyard 24 Feb-18 Mar. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

Junkyard Rehearsal Diary – Week 2

WHAT a week it’s been! We’ve officially set up camp and are getting our boots muddy. There’s a lot to do but we’re doing it with a lot of positive energy, focus and my favourite word – Fun. The music is becoming more and more goose-pimply and the movement and choreography is helping to support the journey of characters and the mood of scenes. AND we have a new edition to the Junkyard family – a spanking new rehearsal set to play with…and she’s Gawjuss. Yaass! *finger clicks*

So! Monday morning started off with a grand tour of the rehearsal set by our production manager, Simon. We ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ and asked many questions before we were left to it. It was handy that Simon put markings on the floor to have a clear idea of the three spaces we’ll be performing in – Bristol Old Vic, Theatr Clwyd and The Rose Theatre in Kingston. It was also very informative to have our designer, Chiara Stephenson, in the room this week to shed some light on her vision. So much to take in but our director Jeremy is committed to honouring each element of the production: Stephen’s music, Chiara’s vision for the set and Jack’s words.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing words come to life and Jeremy wasted no time in getting scenes up on their feet and getting the company comfortable navigating their way around their new home. It’s always so interesting to see how many layers can be revealed when you have the opportunity to feel it in the moment. The cast are already taking risks and making good choices and it’s nice to see our characters becoming more distinct as time goes by. What’s really useful about having a rehearsal set is that we have had the chance to explore the different modes of storytelling, as well as how to best represent different locations.

Speaking of locations, on Wednesday we filmed a trailer for the show at Oasis Gardens Adventure Playground in Stockwell (where I grew up. Zoop! Zoop!). It was so much FUN. It was the first time the company had been in costume; it was like walking into the 70’s. I almost wanted to run home, dig out my disco pants and purchase a purple afro. The company were sure troopers! Despite the cold, the energy was high, there was lots of laughing and joking, shaking and jiving. I won’t say too much about the trailer as I don’t want to spoil the fun but it should give a flavour of what’s to come. Next week we’ll carry on with staging the show, working with props and begin our costume fittings.

Our world is taking shape, and as we continue to unpick and examine the text the more layered the production becomes.

Written by Michal Keyamo
Originally published at: https://headlong.co.uk/work/junkyard


Bristol Old Vic’s Spring Season continues with Junkyard 24 Feb-18 Mar. For more info and to book tickets, click here.