Our blog series regularly invites guests to share their thoughts on different aspects of life in Dundee, their own practice, and anything in between. This edition comes from hidden route, run by Lisa Williamson and Gemma Nicol, who offers a space where young people from all backgrounds and experiences can come together to collaborate, be curious and respond creatively to the world around them.
This is a letter. This is a declaration of our undying commitment to you. This is us pouring our hearts out, saying there is nothing quite like you. This is us saying with sadness in the pit of our stomachs how much we miss you.
This is a love letter.
This is a love letter, to our rehearsal room.
Like most youth theatre practitioners, the past few months have heavily revolved around Zoom. Building a safe and welcoming environment, digitally. Finding a way to remain creative, digitally. Warming up and playing games, digitally. Chatting, debating, discussing, and laughing, digitally.
Now, while we are aware of how lucky we are to have the ability to do all of these things during this time we can’t deny that we miss the rehearsal room. We miss being in the same physical space as a company. The energy that fills the room when we are all together simply can’t be replicated in a series of tiny boxes on our computer screens.
We held our first youth theatre sessions as hidden route in October 2019. At that point, it was the seed of an idea, two groups of young people, and a beautiful rehearsal space in the centre of Dundee – Gilfillan Memorial Church.
Gilfillan Memorial Church is a vast and expansive space that allows all of our curiosities to run free, it invites exploration and experimentation. It simply cries out for you to create performances that cram your audiences into small cupboards, invites them to sit by the organ or to take in the view from the balcony.
It seems so long ago now that we were last there, so we asked two of our hidden route ensemble members, Blair Flight and Lily Forsyth, to reflect on what it means to create theatre in the rehearsal room.
If you have ever been to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London you will have likely noticed its lavishly layered balconies, marble columns and open-air rooftop. In Dundee, we have our very own rehearsal space that I would describe as Shakespeare-worthy if you know it well enough. There you would also notice the many balconies, tall ceiling, and pearly white pillars.
Every hidden staircase, window, and door in our hall has been used as inspiration to create a diverse piece of drama. The wide space of our rehearsal hall allows for movement and physical exercises, sometimes involving the whole ensemble.
One of the first exercises I did with hidden route resulted in a beautiful forest of people moving in obscure ways to reach different parts of the wide room, using objects or each other to get there. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to that because of the chaotic yet focused energy around it.
While I haven’t been a part of anything quite like that for a while now, there is thankfully no getting away from the safe, creative atmosphere of my own drama group, even if we can’t all be in our own little Globe Theatre just yet.
Working together in the rehearsal space at hidden route, you start to draw out these shared ideas and subject matters that were in everyone’s mind but they weren’t necessarily delving into until they have that group spark. Having such a welcoming, safe environment really helps you create strong bonds and be comfortable exploring complicated, interesting, and challenging ideas you might not have before.
The devising work and movement exercises that we had been working on create these wonderful moments of group synergy that come out of nowhere but are often really powerful, it is always so exciting and motivating to build from these moments and see what we can spin out from them.
While moving that environment online has proven difficult and such a drastic change does mean some things are lost, the same ensemble energy is present, we are managing to be creative together despite the loss of a shared space and still finding new ways to explore dynamic and interesting work.
I’m eager to get back in the room with everyone and see what this experience will have influenced us to create next and to see what we transfer from working in a digital 2D medium back into the space.
As a company, we create site-specific and site-responsive theatre and in the few short months we had been working together we had started to create two exciting performances with our companies, using Gilfillan Memorial Church as the starting point for our creativity.
When lockdown unexpectedly arrived at our doorsteps we quickly had to accept that those performances probably won’t ever happen in the way we imagined. We know that what makes theatre really special is the immediacy, the liveness, the way it exists only in that exact moment with those exact people.
The nature and beauty of youth theatre is that your company is always changing and evolving as participants move on or head off to college or university.
So, as we look into an uncertain future and accept that we will have to continue to try and find the creative opportunities that Zoom and other digital platforms have to offer. We also know that when this is all over there is a vast and exciting space in the centre of Dundee just waiting to let us in and continue to water that seed of an idea we planted in October.
Our beloved rehearsal room.