Everyone has had a different experience of the lockdowns in 2020/21. At Open Theatre Company we have all found different positives and negatives from having to work digitally, and mostly from home, when our work is all about physical, human connection.
We wanted to share some of our experiences with you. To give a glimpse into working with Open Theatre during the lockdowns has been like for our practitioners and artists.
We asked Jenara, Jake, Vicky, Ashley, Saff, and Rob if they could answer some questions about working with us over the last year. They share how their creative work, and they as human beings, changed and adapted.
Let’s start all the way back in March 2020. The first lockdown was announced. Schools were closed. Theatres were closed. We thought it would last for a few weeks…
Q: How did it feel when we first went into lockdown?
JENARA (Practitoner): It felt quite surreal at first but a little thrilling at the same time as I have never been in a lockdown before and was interested to see what was going to happen
JAKE (Artist): Extremely gutted due to still being on tour for Hansel & Gretel at the time, which unfortunately had to be cancelled.
VICKY (Practitioner): I was honestly quite relieved when it first happened. I think I felt like things needed to close after seeing the rest of the world. I also thought it would be over in two weeks!
ROB (Artist): When we first went into lockdown it was a big change as I am used to being very active and going out every day.
SAFF (Practitioner): I was in my third year of university at this point, so it felt almost surreal trying to complete things online, and everything was so vague at the time. It felt as if, out of nowhere, everything was stolen. Everyone was confused, not knowing what was going on. We just had to take each day as it came.
We quickly saw the need to move our work online in order to stay connected to our young people in any way possible. It wasn’t going to be easy and was a brand new experience and challenge for us!
Q: What was it like having to move all of your work online?
JENARA: I didn’t work much during the first lockdown but during the second lockdown it felt quite strange and confusing at first. I found it crazy that we could still just carry on. Moving my sessions online felt weird to me because I just didn’t know how we could move our non-verbal physical theatre practice online and still have great sessions.
JAKE: At first I thought it wasn’t gonna feel the same as how we usually work, but as time passed it gradually grew on me.
VICKY: Working online was an interesting change as I began supporting work with film creation with our practitioners which I had never done before. It also led to working in new ways with the company and developing new skills. Trying to run Open Theatre sessions with young people online was a huge challenge and learning curve. I didn’t enjoy it at first as I was so worried about the young people not enjoying it, but now a year later it just feels normal. Like a second way of delivering work.
ROB: The online sessions were very good and it was nice to see people on the screen, but it was obviously not the same as face-to-face interaction! The script mentoring for my Ronnie and Johnny project was positive even though it wasn’t in person and it was nice to get started.
SAFF: We had to think on our feet and had to accept that we would feel a lot different, as it was something we would have never experienced before. That ultimately meant that our work was a lot more spontaneous and we couldn’t fully plan things. It was all so random and unexpected!
Before March 2020, the company had been moving at turbo-speed! Practitioners and artists were used to running around from school to school, to rehearsal spaces, to meetings. Most of our connections were in-person, often physically creating together.
When this stopped, we had to find new ways to stay connected with each other, as well as our young people. For some of us, this meant more talking than ever before! Others took the time for self-reflection…
Q: How did you manage to stay in touch with Open Theatre during this time?
JENARA: I didn’t as much as others did. Lockdown for me meant a time for isolation and reflection. I wanted to embrace that fully and spend time with myself. However, there were messages in the group chat going on and some online social stuff.
JAKE: Through email, message, and most importantly ZOOM to stay in contact with all groups like Friday Group, OOAK, Open MAC, and schools we worked with.
VICKY: Email, Zoom and a lot of WhatsApp messages! I’ve been more connected to the team than ever before which is strange. I think it’s because we were all at home whereas usually, we would be out delivering and running creative projects. Having to work from home for me meant wanting to talk more than before, probably to still feel connected to something from ‘real-life.’
ROB: The main way I stayed in touch was via Zoom but I also kept in touch with Grace and Marlien via WhatsApp and Messenger.
SAFF: I did a lot of work with Open Theatre through uni, and although they had uncertain times ahead, they really kept me in the loop by sending emails, checking in on me, and getting me involved in the work. They didn’t cut contact at all, even though nobody knew what was going on.
The last year has given the whole company the chance to work on new and exciting projects! Activities have been going on online, on doorsteps, in parks…
Q: What was your favourite lockdown activity you took part in/facilitated?
JENARA: Social work week was my favorite activity that I have done. I had never done a project like that before and it pushed me as a practitioner.
JAKE: Doing activities when I was doing the Behind Closed Doors project with Open MAC, involving disappearing and reappearing on screen throughout ZOOM sessions.
VICKY: Digital Doorways during summer 20202 was special. It was the first time I had run a full project online and then ended with doorstep visits which meant seeing young people in person for the first time since the lockdown in March. It was full of unexpected emotions and it is extra special now as I am working with some of that group again for our Unbounded project.
ROB: My favourite part was when Marlien and Ryan popped to my house to say hello. That was lovely.
SAFF: There was a couple of sessions in one of our alternate provisions which were bonkers – we just didn’t know how they were going to go. I also loved testing online work with the Open Mac group – to see how we can still be creative during the uncertain times.
The lockdowns have been an experience that will impact our artists and practitioners personally, as well as professionally. At Open Theatre, we believe that our personal growth is intrinsically linked to our professional growth. With that in mind, we wanted to ask…
Q: Have you learned anything about yourself from the experience of lockdown?
JENARA: I have learned a lot about myself and my capabilities. I am much more adaptable than I thought I was. I have loads more to offer and I learned how much I enjoy my own company.
JAKE: How much I miss working in person but knowing that this has opened a lot of doors for me including barriers to work with adapting to something different and making the best use of my experience in these strange times.
VICKY: I’m still not sure. I think it’s only now that we’re semi-coming out of all the lockdowns and have the vaccine that I’m able to reflect back on it all. I’ve learned that routine is more important to me than I ever thought before. Other than that it all still feels like a bit of a blur!
ROB: I learned that you can be creative in the house and how to improvise with different household objects.
SAFF: Definitely. I have grown up a lot during this time. The experience has been eye opening in a lot of way and I have learned to take myself back a bit and not stress so much. I no longer need to pressure myself to do great things, because ultimately, I am capable of it and can exceed my own expectations. I have been taught to slow down, look at the bigger picture, and really appreciate life.
Thanks to Saff, Rob, Vicky, Jake, and Jenara for sharing their thoughts and experiences with us!
If you haven’t already, check out our video that shares just some of the positive connection we’ve shared with our participants during the pandemic.
It’s a way of sharing a bit of positivity that creativity and connection can continue even in challenging times, and to say thank you to everyone who supported our work over the last year.
We couldn’t have done it alone!