Monday, 31 July 2017

Working at Helmsley Arts Centre

Since October of 2016 I had the incredible fortune to be trained at Helmsley Arts Centre (HAC) by Steve Woolmer who is the founder of SW Productions a theatre production company. From October to December a team of myself and 4 others, with Steve and another senior technician called Chris worked on Helmsley's pantomime production of Snow White and the seven non-specific furry forest creatures (we experienced copyright issues, the children loved it). I took the role of Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) which involved me being hidden away in the SL wing of the stage following the script and ensuring props were had by the actors and scene changes all went smoothly. During pre-production the team collected, built and documented all the props that were needed for the production, this included making a clock, a tree stump and a log out of paper mache, which I have never had much experience in using but found to be great fun. We also collected other props that would bee needed such as a basket for the Evil Queen and a trolley for the dwarfs (or non-specific furry forest creatures). The experience taught me a great deal about the working of a tech team within the industry, I've been a DSM before but only ever at college on the 2016 show Disco Inferno and after Snow White on the college's 2017 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. This was a very different experience and working with someone who owns their own production company was brilliant, as I got to see the workings in real life and understand the industry from a different perspective.
As we were working with kids, throughout the show so we had to train ourselves not to swear which included us having a swear jar (there was about 35 quid in it by the end of the show which we used to buy nice coffee and chocolate).
After Snow White, we were offered the opportunity to continue working at HAC as venue staff while being paid a substantial amount, I hadn't realised we were going to get paid but agree anyway because it gave me great work experience and really helped with my understanding of my Level 3 Extended Diploma in Production Arts that I was doing at college. It also became something I could talk about at my university interviews, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama seemed very excited by it. Getting paid was just a bonus. I got the opportunity to work with both touring shows and 1812 productions. "The 1812 Theatre Company is the in-house amateur company of Helmsley Arts Centre, with a rich and varied show history - from Elgar's Rondo and Much Ado About Nothing to Quartet and Calendar Girls, as well as musical/comic revues and the annual Christmas show/panto.  We normally stage three major productions every year, and two smaller productions in the studio bar." Meanwhile touring shows come from all over the country to perform. A few of my favourite touring shows to work on were Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads which was written and directed by Adrian Berry, the performance by Snake Davis the Sax player a couple of months ago and Joe Stilgoe - Songs on Film who performed last month (all AMAZING). As for 1812 productions I've had the fortune of being able to work on quite a few, there was Snow White (I was DSM), Bugsy Malone (though I only made one prop for that show), Fallen Angles (I was sound operator and the show toured to Filey for two nights), Gaslight (I was lighting designer and operator - I also had no senior technician with me for two of the nights which was truly exhilarating) and Woman in Mind (where I was Stage Manager for the first time in my life). From each of these productions I learnt something different. each gave me a unique experience and introduced me to a wide variety of different people.
I also very recently (last week) worked on a show called The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter (as well as a skit called Lost Property by Jean Sheridan and Victoria Station by Harold Pinter), for which I was given a disk with the sound effects on and asked to make do. I had watched Steve use some software called Multiplay, a Windows based software designed to run cues for theatre which i taught myself to use. Although the new senior technician John has a degree in sound stuff I got him to do the lighting for that show while I did the sound because I had been to multiple rehearsals so I knew exactly where the sound effects should be, I felt quite proud that I was very slightly superior to the senior technician during this show.
I am so happy that my dear mother persuaded me to take part in the original panto team because in working at HAC I have made some fantastic friends, fantastic contacts, found what I really want to do with my life and become caused me to be very confident in doing lighting work in a theatre. Of course I realise that all theatres are different but I have the basic skills that can be applied to life outside of the small part of the world we call Helmsley.
If you are ever offered an opportunity like that, in a field you are interested in take that opportunity because it might just end up being on of the best things you ever do.


Helmsley Arts Centre
01439 771700