November 2021 – How to Write a Panto! By Oliver Hume

“Let’s write a panto!” said Aunty Jen

“Oooh that’s a good idea!” I thought brimming with the confidence of my many years of panto, vast catalogue of bad dad jokes and silly sense of humour.

Not as easy as you might think though. Ideas I had a plenty but putting down actual words was tough. And then Aunty Jen would ring up and merrily chirp things like “I want Robin to have a band! An actual musical band!!” or “I want this song in it!!” or “Do you want to do lunch?” So, I didn’t bother writing anything for ages. Just stored lots of ideas in my head. I knew I wanted Marion to be instrumental in the Sheriff’s eventual downfall, I wanted to put something clever in the school scene. I wanted Alan a dale as the glue. And being an actor who knows how annoying quick changes can be, I wanted to write a script that wasn’t hard to perform. And then Aunty Jen called and said “It’s September. Where’s my panto script!” and I panicked and said, “I’ll have it for you by the weekend!”

Well, that was a busy three days.

And I indulged myself, I looked for sketches I loved by comedians I admired, Danny Kay and Abbott & Costello, The Two Ronnies, John Finnemore. And looked through old scripts and found scenes I wanted to adapt.

And then I thought “what sort of set will they have?” and “Do they have time for a cow costume?” or “How good are they at staging a fight?”. So, I took out the massive fight scene with the cow involving the multi-tiered 40-foot-tall platform and sent it to Aunty Jen.

Who tells me she’s quite pleased with it. I hope you enjoy it too.

Much luck and Laughter,

Oliver

Summer 2021 – Alice in Wonderland! By Neville Cann

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll. We invited him to the show but he didn’t reply.

Alice’s story is a good allegory for the world we have been living in for the last year and a half.

We’ve adapted to change, solved practical problems, cried, tried different foods, maybe seen friends disappear, been afraid and run around in circles for no obvious reason, been trapped in small houses, grown from our experiences, shrunk into our rabbit holes and have kept the hope of emerging into a beautiful garden without losing our heads. It’s been hard, but knowing that Alice will be all right in the end makes it easier to laugh about it. Our awareness of our own condition, and a sense of humour, are what separates us from the Cheshire Cats, the doormice and the jam tarts. And then we woke up and it was all a dream.

Aunty Jen Productions was established by Jennifer Rigby, a member of Studley’s lockdown support group who created the character of Aunty Jen when she read a story every day on her YouTube channel. Since putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year, in the space of just three weeks, Aunty Jen Productions have now performed Sleeping Beauty, and Romeo and Juliet. We are already planning this year’s pantomime.

We are pleased to be working with flamingos again, having mentioned the Got To Go Flamingo in Sleeping Beauty!

Alice has been translated into ninety-seven languages, which gives us a convenient excuse if we go wrong.

Is it a children’s story or a social comment? Where does the Cheshire Cat go? Why is a raven like a writing desk? And who cares? Let’s just sit back and enjoy it.

Summer 2021 – Romeo and Juliet! by Jen Rigby

It’s been a difficult year for anyone working in The Arts, but finally, we’re back!

And here at AJP we’re delighted to be performing not one, but two outdoor productions this summer. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ along with Aunty Jen’s Theatre Academy this August, providing entertainment and summer holiday activities here at Studley Sports and Social Club.

But first… ‘Romeo and Juliet’…

After the success of our production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ last year, we though we should create a tradition of performing Shakespeare, on the back of a 40ft trailer, with a cameo appearance by a Stratford District Council wheelie bin! And whilst Shakespeare wrote King Lear in lockdown, we turned to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for our next production.

You might be wondering why we chose a tragedy rather than a comedy and the answer is quite simple… because it’s a GCSE set text. Young people haven’t really had the opportunity to ‘creep unwillingly to school’ over the last 12 months, spending the majority of the year studying at home. There has been little opportunity for extra curricular activities, theatre trips and most importantly, FUN! So, we’re combining our outdoor shows with workshops and performances for all of the local schools. It’s an opportunity to get them out of the classroom, into the outdoors, away from screens as we remind them that Shakespeare is funny, rude and still relevant to young audiences today.

In our programme we asked the actors to write travel themed biographies. We’ve just spent the last twelve months staring out of our windows with international travel banned. Well, what better then to stage a play set in the heat and the dust of medieval Italy? But how did Shakespeare know all about Italy? Not much it would seem! ‘So in the Taming of the Shrew he puts a sailmaker in Bergamo, approximately the most landlocked city in the whole of Italy, while in The Tempest and The Two Gentlemen of Verona he has Prospero and Valentine set sail from, respectively, Milan and Verona, even though both cities were a good two days’ travel from salt water.’ Writes Bill Bryson in his book ‘Shakespeare’. But Shakespeare did have an early version of Google to turn to… see the photo below which shows a beautiful book containing the ‘Theater of the worlde’ by Abraham Ortelius and Micheal Coignet. It’s the kind of pocket Atlas that would have been readily available for Shakespeare to access in the library of his neighbours, The Fields. And I’ve held it! On one side, there’s a map and opposite, a description of the country or city detailed in the map – right down to which lake is the best for carp fishing! And then there’s the thing that Shakespeare is most famous for… his imagination! An imagination that takes his audiences from Illyria to Bohemia, from France, to Egypt and Rome.

So sit back, relax and let your imagination transport you far away from Studley to a world of family feuds, of masked balls and of heady summer romance.

Image provided by Shakespeare Birthplace Trust archives

Autumn 2020 – Sleeping Beauty; it’s the panto season ! by Nicolette Morgan

How to rehearse a socially distanced panto during lockdown… 2 !

Our first aim as a production company was actually to put together a pantomime for the community, during what turned out to be a very strange time !

In the summer we stage a socially distanced version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the back of a lorry… which was so much fun and gave us all some purpose back. As actors we are used to adapting to different situations (the vast majority of actors across the UK all have a range of ‘side’ jobs to be able to continue to work doing what we love) but literally everything had stopped. To have a project to pour energy into was just brilliant, and to see people in the community helping each other was so lovely.

Lockdown lifted, and things began to go back towards a ‘new normal.’ We were thrilled to receive an arts grant from the Arts Council and the National Lottery, and from Warwickshire County Council when bam! A second lockdown was announced.

We were determined since the beginning that this panto will go on… lockdown or no lockdown! Zoom quizzes and script readthroughs became our way of staying in touch and keeping spirits high. Zoom rehearsals have their pros: the kitchen isn’t to far away and you can always grab a quick cuppa to keep you going but trying to explain to the family dog that he does actually need to move out of the way so we can rehearse movement is a surreal experience for sure; and rehearsals online are somehow quite draining – although fun.

Jen sending us amendments of scripts, and even dance routines choreographed with her daughters over WhatsApp was the new norm.

I write this two weeks before we can meet in person again to rehearse – and I cannot wait! Everyone is so excited to bring some festive cheer to Studley. It might not be the usual Christmas we all enjoy but in these strange times people really have pulled together and shown the true spirit of community.

Happy Christmas to you all !

Summer 2020 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Jen Rigby

How to rehearse a play during Lockdown!

Our first rehearsal took place on 7th July 2020, before the announcement by the Government that Outdoor theatre could take place! We wanted to be ready to leap into action the moment the announcement was made.

Little did we know it would be much sooner that anticipated! Just two days later we announced that our production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ would be taking place… we were extremely excited! But we had many challenges ahead.

Firstly, rehearsing via Zoom is utterly exhausting! Not only is it difficult to concentrate for much longer than a couple of hours (we manged 4 hours split into 2-hour sessions), but also how do you get any movement into rehearsals that are taking place in five different locations?

So, we started playing different games; our favourite was ‘one standing, one sitting, one lying and one kneeling’ which was hilarious!

We spent a lot of time discussing our individual characters, which is a luxury I’ve never had when directing Shakespeare in the past, there never seemed to be the time. This means that we really understand the characters we’re playing, found their back-stories and even created a team of bin-workers in tribute to the key workers who have kept our nation going throughout the Covid-19 pandemic (I think Shakespeare would approve)!

And then finally, wonderfully, we got together in person in my back garden for socially distanced rehearsals! Our stage is a curtainside trailer, so we marked out 8 metre squares on the lawn. And then began the task of creating movement, tension, and drama, without coming into close contact with each other!

And we discovered that these restrictions, instead of being stifling, were actually liberating! Allowing us to create closely choreographed scenes, where a diagonal move has more power than a move in a straight line and where a pom pom (made by our community volunteers) became stronger than a punch in the face!

We can’t wait to show you the magical, romantic, complicated play that we have created, we hope you’ll enjoy it and that you’ll join us again for future productions – we’re already planning a socially distanced pantomime here in Studley and a children’s production for next summer.

Keep an eye on the Aunty Jen Productions Facebook page for updates.