In April 2020, theatre company Cap-a-Pie was scheduled to begin rehearsals on their brand new production named ‘Credit’, a show about Universal Credit and how that welfare reform was affecting residents of Gateshead and Newcastle. The show aims to ask questions around how we see the benefits system and to lay bare the situation for many people who claim Universal Credit.
With lockdown and social distancing brought about by Covid-19, in-person rehearsals were cancelled and our scheduled performances at Alphabetti Theatre were postponed until further notice.
However, the creative team of Katy Vanden (producer), Brad McCormick (director), Laura Lindow (writer), Cooper McDonough and Christina Dawson (actors), Anna Reid (designer), Roma Yagnik (composer), Rachel Glover (production manager), Mandy Cheetham (Teeside University & Gateshead Council) and Suzanne Moffatt (Newcastle University) resolved to continue working on the production virtually and to do as much work as possible to get us ready for the time that we are able to be in a room together again.
The project received funding from several sources obtained over a period of four months in 2019 – starting with Newcastle University’s Institute for Social Science, then Newcastle University’s Population & Health Sciences Institute, a further grant was obtained from the Catherine Cookson Foundation, Gateshead Council awarded a sum and we then received funds from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
As the amount of funding increased, so did the scope and ambition of the creative work and the collaboration between the creative team, the researchers and experts in Universal Credit. When the lockdown occurred, only six weeks before the scheduled performances, it was heartbreaking to ‘un-invite’ the audience and panel members and postpone the performance.
We’re so grateful to our funders and partners for supporting us at this time. With their support we have been able to use our time in lockdown productively and support our freelance artists.
The following report is a summary of our activities that we were able to complete in that time in regards to the text itself; the sound design and music; and the set design. What has occurred have been some incredibly useful conversations, exercises and explorations that will be invaluable to us when we come to rehearse the play in full (and in person).
We’re so excited to get back to working on Credit as soon as possible.
One 16th September you can watch our actors read a section Credit online. We’ll then host 2 live events with some of the most interesting thinkers on welfare reform.
The process began as many rehearsals do, with a read-through of the play. To begin with it was just the director and the actors on Zoom to get used to reading it aloud over the internet.
The following day a read-through was done for the rest of the creative team.
What was immediately apparent was the challenge of connection between actors when they are not in the same room and how much of a person-to-person medium theatre is. That is not to say that the read-through did not work as the actors did a superb job and it was fantastic to hear the text aloud for the first time.
It also allowed writer Laura Lindow to hear the text aloud in relation to where there may need to be changes and tweaks to the script.
The play is essentially narrated by the two performers playing versions of themselves. When there are no named characters as such, the team talked about who these narrators are, why they are telling this story and because there is a significant amount of direct address, what is their relationship to the audience?
Part of the rehearsal process was an ‘interview’ with the writer, Laura, where the director and actors could ask questions about the script, the reasons and motivations for making certain choices and clarifying story points. This kind of exercise is invaluable to get further insights into the script from the person who conceived it.
Initial conversations about music were around something that had the flavour of the 80s New Romantics – it has drive and energy and a sharpness to it; there is also a connection to politics as it was primarily around during the Thatcher years.
Composer Roma Yagnik asked Brad McCormick (director) to source some images related to the movement of the piece that would help her with the compositions.
From the read-through Roma was able to start making sketches of possible compositions as well as some sound design ideas. Based on that excellent work there is now a musical palette to work from in rehearsals. Everything that was made felt like it had a place somewhere in the piece.
One of the forms that is considered is ‘live foley’, that is where sound effects will be created live on-stage by the performers. During rehearsals with the actors sections were identified where foley might come into play.
There have been discussions about having two microphones on-stage to assist in the live foley but to also be used by the actors to deliver text when appropriate.
The design process began with conversations between Brad McCormick and designer Anna Reid a few months ago to get a sense of a starting point.
Anna and Brad found themselves drawn to images which spoke to the larger scale of an urban environment, but could also provide a smaller frame for the more personal aspects of the story.
The initial sketches that Anna has done have all included a backdrop with vertical slats – it’s very corporate and generic but also has the feel of cheap rented accommodation that a lot of claimants are forced into. The structure also has the potential to have light shone through it from behind to create a really strong image. There will be a delineated floor of some kind to mark out the story-telling space and some small box-like structures to create levels and help us to create different environments.