Putting on a show

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Posted on 09/11/2015 |

Ian blogs about his experience of anxiety and how the challenge of producing a musical, in 48 hours, helped him overcome it.

In my early twenties, I struggled with anxiety. I know everyone does sometimes, but despite trying my best to be happy and cheerful, I felt shame, turmoil and incredible anxiety. It was often overwhelming.

I didn't really know why I felt this way, but I knew I needed help. 

I ended up starting medication and weekly counselling sessions.

Every week in counselling I would talk about things that make me happy and things I found very tough (the latter often met with long periods of awkward silence).

What if we gave ourselves only that weekend to create the whole show – a musical in 48 hours?

I spoke with my counsellor about the things I loved and what I could focus on that might be able to help. I’d always dreamed about putting on a theatre show but how could I do it? It was difficult to think how on earth I could pull it off.

I started speaking to my friend John – an enormous support throughout my difficult times - and together we made the call that it would be really good for me: let’s put on a show!

... my confidence was improving, the sessions were much quicker. I was finally talking about stuff.

We decided it would need to be done over a weekend so that all our friends could get involved and wouldn’t need to take time off work. But then we had a thought. What if we gave ourselves only that weekend to create the whole show – a musical in 48 hours?

So I booked the New Theatre in Oxford – with a capacity of 1800.

We contacted our friends Sheara and Esther who we'd known from university and were equally up for it. It seemed that not only did the show need to be in 48 hours, people were not going to settle for anything less than a great show in 48 hours.

We brainstormed a list of shows and were suddenly shortlisting some of the hardest musicals ever written. We settled on Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.

We needed to audition a cast and give them the scripts and scores in advance. They would need to learn them off book, and the actual weekend would be about putting it altogether.

Then it was show day, when, everything did not go to plan.

We'd meet up at 7.30 on the Friday night, do a read through and then block and rehearse it, performing it to 1800 people on the Sunday night. It sounded simple, no? With hindsight I'm not sure why we made so many rules, but it seemed to make sense at the time.

I explained this to my counsellor who started to look a bit pale and anxious (instead of me). He realised I was very serious.

By that time, my confidence was improving, the sessions were much quicker. I was finally talking about stuff.

It's important not to stay away from the people and things you love doing...

We auditioned about 100 people. We also visited comedian Mel Smith at his house! As a long-term supporter of the children's hospital he agreed to support.

Then it was show day, when, everything did not go to plan.

We'd only finished the lighting plot of the first act by the time the curtains went up. The second act went on to be completely unrehearsed (but exciting). There were times in the show where we didn't know what would happen! However, we'd created a sense of togetherness and atmosphere that meant all this didn't matter. The audience enjoyed the mistakes as much as they did everything that went beautifully. And the cast really did perform 'one of the best performances of Into the Woods'. Everyone was together, willing the show to go on. During the whole build up I'd written to Stephen Sondheim himself to tell him what we were up to. To our surprise he wrote back and told us it all sounds 'genuinely fresh and exciting.' It was certainly that!

We've gone on to produce five Showtime challenges to date. Hopefully each one builds a cast member's confidence, joy and trust in one and other. It is a great feeling, for one weekend to put all other things aside and work as a team to produce something special. The sense of togetherness was something I'd never felt before.

This year we are delighted to produce Thoroughly Modern Millie – in aid of Mind - to raise awareness and hopefully money for the wonderful work they do. The values of Mind match how the whole project started and we hope will continue for years to come.

I still have ups and downs, as we all do, but during the downs I know that a good project, supporting good causes, volunteering and being around people go some way to making things better. It's important not to stay away from the people and things you love doing for too long and do what makes you and others happy.

Auditions for the 2016 Showtime Challenge will take place on Saturday and Sunday, 7th and 8th November. There is still time to book a slot and auditions are open to absolutely everybody -  you do not need to be a professional actor to take part and all are encouraged to have a go. Good luck! 

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