Whilst lockdown had a lot of implications for business and personal restrictions, it did open up a period of time for a lot of people to explore something different or new. And so it was with me. I have dabbled for a few years in acting with some experience as a TV extra (especially on the Victoria Tv series on ITV) and had some stage experience following that in Birdwell and Wombwell. It was whilst rehearsing virtually (over Facebook Messenger group chat) the Wombwell Thespians Amateur Darmatic Society’s “Ladies Day” that I was inspired to write the first Pandemic Story – Paul and Beth. I have never written a play before, except for a 5 minute duologue as part of an Acting course at Northern College. But I had this story in my head that could have been written as a short story, but was put on paper (well, Mac Pages word processor) as a play… A relatively short play, but a play nonetheless.
I called it Pandemic Stories 1 but with no ideas about any story 2 or even whether it would ever happen, but it seemed a world where anything was possible. The story is basically a bit of a love story, but set within the world of restrictions and daily scares re cases and deaths as was the world of early lockdown. I rattled this play off in one day, following a sleepless night, but a night of ideas bouncing around in my head. It took another day or two tidying to get it ready and I sent it to my rehearsing partners from the Thespians. They didn’t hate it, and were supportive about turning it in to an audio recording. This was, I guess, my aim when I wrote it as I knew we couldn’t do it any other way than an audio broadcast in a radio play style (of which I listen to occasionally on Radio 4).
Once that way ahead was given, I moved pretty fast to cast it (from the players rehearsing Ladies Day), and set about rehearsing it and recording it over Zoom – a quick learning curve required on that software for everyone! And we rehearsed and recorded all week before I then edited. This whole process is different to acting on a stage where you have to know the lines, know the movement, get in time with everything and of course interact with props etc, and get it right on the night. In some ways an audio recorded play is simpler in form, just a lot more work in the edit and production process. For instance we can record lines over and over and select the best available. It was strange recording and rehearsing over Zoom, and never being present face to face with people, but that is the new norm isn’t it?
I was very lucky to have a great supportive cast from the beginning. And of course having written the play, I so wanted to be in it!. And I was (it helps being casting director as well!). So the two main roles were played by me (Paul) and Fiona Goulty (Beth), with Morven Robinson (Tina), Karen MacQuarrie (Newreader) and Hannah Studd (Police Officer). They all did incredibly well to cope with the material, the technical issues (Zoom was great but the quality of the recordings not always so good), and for giving the time and energy to do this at random times during the day and week. I used the freely available Audacity sound editing software to put all the bits together – again a learning curve required as never done anything like this before. And had to think about some theme music and sound effects etc. As this was a nil budget production for anything, I source some music (and I really do like this music and think it fits well) from a composer called Kevin MacLeod, who licenses (for free) music for all kinds of creative works as long as you give him the credit – so you will hear that credit in the podcast itself at the end, and it is in the full description of each episode.
You can find Kevin’s work here now (the link has changed a bit since the Podcasts recorded) >>> https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/search/ and I used the tracks “Almost New” (for the theme and between scenes) and “Rising Tide” (for the news broadcasts intros).
I think we all did well to produce that first audio recording and it was released it as a 36 minute Podcast via the Anchor Podcast Site – https://anchor.fm/wombwell-thespians/episodes/Pandemic-Stories-1—Paul-and-Beth-ecdf35
The whole process from writing to publishing took 8 days! Remarkable really as the next two took a lot longer! This was received well by friends and family (thank you!) and by others which of course is great and the whole group involved had a sense of achievement. It even made the Barnsley Chronicle as shown below!
The next blog will cover Stories 2 and 3 (next week sometime). And the cast grows bigger in Story 2, and the world moves on through the Lockdown!