It’s a very ephemeral style of work at Creation Theatre Company. Having spent £100,000 on a production which rehearses for four weeks and runs for five weeks, we then pack up everything, wave goodbye to our actors -“so they depart, with a smile and a nod, and we miss them, and feel resentful.”
We weigh up whether we have need or room to keep props and costumes (we definitely don’t have room), leftover programmes are recycled and for months to come we find ourselves quoting shows to each other in the office. Sometimes we break even, sometimes we don’t, but the show will end regardless, and we immediately start work on the next one. It’s an odd business model.
There is something astonishing in that. How a company which receives no core funding can stay alive on such a model (especially one which requires the UK not to have a rainy summer) is baffling, yet we do it. There is also an emotional impact to it. Some of my favourite moments in the theatre, whether as an audience member or as a staff member watching in the wings, is when I remember how fleeting it is. Knowing that everyone involved, from the actors and stage management to the producers and the FOH team and all
the administrative people, have worked for months to create something beautiful which only a certain number of people will ever get to see is wonderful, if somewhat bittersweet.
But sometimes you can’t just let a show go.
Revivals are in at the moment (not the zombie kind, though supposedly zombies are in during times of austerity). We’re talking about theatrical revivals – a restaging of a theatrical performance after a show has closed (for a brief discussion of revivals in the UK, make sure you check out this week’s podcast). For Creation, that means we bring back the same title, the same artistic team and the same script. This summer, we’re doing it twice – reviving Alice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Why revive a show? Fundamentally, the rule of revivals at Creation is to ask “can we make it better?.” There have been shows in our history which people frequently ask whether us to revive.Take 2013’s production of Henry V, staged in Oxford Castle. This show was loved by audiences – however, there is no way we can think of to improve that show currently.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was equally loved. Audiences loved it, press loved it and we loved working on it. Despite this, we knew during the original run that there were elements of the show that we could develop. The video content, for example, could have been delivered more effectively. Following the success of our tech-heavy 1984, we are now far more confident with what we can achieve with it. In the office, we can’t go a week without someone opening a sentence with “In Dream, it would have been great if we…” With these improvements and changes, we can make a far slicker show, improving the audience experience and raising the production values.
These changes can also lead to productions taking on a different meaning when revived. In 2007, Gari Jones directed his adaptation of Hamlet in Oxford Castle, and in 2016 he directed it in the University Parks. Both productions were grungy, stylised and anarchic, but the stark black-and-white design of the 2007 production mirrored the bleak castle surroundings making the political threat within the play more apparent, whilst the beautiful leafy (if slightly duck filled) surroundings of the Parks made the 2016 Hamlet’s soliloquies on Man and Nature more powerful and fundamental to the impact of the production.
Sometimes shows don’t get the audience they deserve, which we can improve on in a revival. Spending last summer in the University Parks for Hamlet proved how good a venue the Parks are (not just for sheer aesthetics, but for audience footfall). Not wanting to risk a rainy summer, we knew our summer production should be weatherproof, and soon we had plans for a Big Top. The late Victorian circus style immediately brought Alice to mind, and before you knew it a revival was planned. A weatherproof production of Alice seems only fair; the original run took place during the summer of 2015, which was the coldest and wettest summer for three years.
As the need for a weatherproof venue suggests, there is also a financial aspect to revivals. Dream 2016 opened the day of the Brexit vote; the results of the vote stunned Oxford, and the following gloom hugely impacted on our audience numbers for a couple of weeks. Yet 99% of the audience when surveyed said they would come back. The final two weeks of Dream were sold out, with customers on waiting lists almost every night, despite the quiet first two weeks of the production. To ignore the people who pleaded for a ticket and take a gamble on a show we feel less passionately about would be ridiculous.
To many of our audience, these shows seem recent (Alice was 2015, whilst Dream was 2016) but things change. We’ve done seven shows since Alice opened (and when Alice opened, of the seven current members of the Creation team, one was on maternity leave, one was temporary, one was part-time, and two didn’t work for us). Like the shows, we evolve; our strengths as a team, the shows we want to make and the approach we take to our work changes.
For those who saw these shows before, come back and face these ch-ch-changes, and to our newer audience members, come and enjoy two shows that we love.