Vera Shrimp – first night

Well now. The Soaking of Vera Shrimp opened last night at Live Theatre. I think there have been times when each of us has doubted that we’d ever get here, but here we are. In the thick of it, no less.

We did two performances yesterday. The first was a dress rehearsal to an audience of Graphic Design and Illustration students from Northumbria University who have been looking at the play as part of one of their current modules. Their brief includes designing a poster for the show. They have read the script, but now it was time to see it in action.

It was very useful for Tessa to have an audience given the amount of interaction there is in the play, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement!

Then it was on to the first performance proper.

Below are some of the nice things our equally nice audiences said about yesterdays performances …

There are three performances left – we hope you might consider coming along x

Vera Shrimp – the set has arrived!

Vera Shrimp rehearsals continue apace.

The set has arrived from Big House Events, Edinburgh. Designed by Emily James.

 

From concept …

 

 

To reality!

The set in the rehearsal room at Live Theatre. It took some lugging up them stairs, let me tell you!

 

 

 

Vera Shrimp designer Emily James about the set

Vera-Shrimp-Model-2

 

One of the best things about being a theatre designer is that you never stop growing – for each new production you find yourself researching something completely different. For The Soaking of Vera Shrimp I found myself immersed in the world of atmospheric sciences.

The starting point for my design was a visit to my old High School – my old stomping ground at the same age as Vera.  I rifled through the chemistry store cupboards looking for inspiration and snapped endless photos, trying to piece together what a teenage girl might use for a presentation about the Water Cycle. Rather like Vera and her raindrops, I wandered the classrooms absorbing everything. The dusty chalkboards and more hi-tech smart boards, the endless stream of information – posters, diagrams and maps on every wall.

Alison Carr’s beautiful script requires the audience to forget they are in a theatre and actually believe from the moment they enter the room that here is Vera, waiting to address them, with everything she has gathered together to help with her presentation. From the forgotten old suitcase found lurking in a dusty attic corner to the crude model banged together with bits of discarded wood and nails found in a neglected corner of the garage. A borrowed school chair, an anglepoise lamp from her dad’s study, her mother’s beloved watering can…a scientific equation of objects that create a visual snapshot to function as a backdrop to the play.

– Emily James

(published on the Live Theatre blog, 6.10.14)

Vera Shrimp – rehearsals

“Hello. My name is Vera Shrimp. I am going to talk to you tonight about my project.”

 

So, here we are, one month to go until Vera Shrimp takes to the stage.

And it is very much Vera taking to the stage, because this is her telling her own story in her own unique way.

You might be wondering why I’m so keen to stress that, but for anyone who saw the work-in-progress previews last year then this Vera Shrimp is a very different beast. 

For a start, she’s got a new face! Tessa Parr takes over the role from … well … me. I’m not going to go into the whys and wherefores (you can read my blog about it here if you want) but it’s absolutely the right thing for the character and the show. Vera is feisty, funny, resourceful, determined. She doesn’t need a detached narrator to tell her story for her.

This of course means a new script. Because not only are we changing the perspective, but also the way the story is told.

Vera is a girl who likes her facts, her statistics. Her ability to read the raindrops is not some mystical, airy-fairy metaphor. For her this is deadly serious; her future, her family are at stake. So she’s prepared you a presentation. There’ll be science, there’ll be things about Vera, and the science will help you understand the things about Vera and vice versa. So you might want to bring a pen and paper!

The set design by Emily James couldn’t be better and has everything Vera needs (plus a few surprises). We’re so excited for you to see it.

 

  

 

This has been a much more collaborative process than I have done in the past.

Rosie (Kellagher, director), Tessa and I have been in the room together discussing and devising. It took various forms. Sometimes drawing pictures of the characters and attaching character traits, or maybe devising experiments for each other to express what ‘grief’ or ‘heartbreak’ might feel or taste or sound like.

(And yes, I’d dismiss that as wanky, time-wasting bollocks too if I hadn’t been part of it and know how much it has informed finding the characters and the story!)

I then took the notes and ideas away and crafted them into a section or scene which we would return to and discus, try out and edit some more, until we had a script.

The process hasn’t been without its challenges, but equally its rewards. And as we head into this final stretch we can’t wait for you to meet Vera Shrimp

 

 (subsequently published on the Live Theatre blog, 22.09.14)

She’s ba-ack …

So, after a flurry of Vera Shrimp updates, posts and me generally yabbing on about it – it all went a bit quiet, didn’t it. But quiet doesn’t necessarily mean finished with, it just means … quiet.

Partly I was sick of talking about it. Just as I imagine everyone was sick of hearing me talking about it.

But mainly it was that talking isn’t what was needed. Rather time away to think and make big decisions. Which we have made.
And they are:
1. The play needs Vera Shrimp – she needs to be seen and heard, a character who is present and smack-bang in the middle of the action.
2. I will not be performing the play.

The first point is self-explanatory. Keeping Vera at arm’s length led many people to say it left them feeling alienated from her, that there was a Vera-shaped hole in the play. And the whole point of development time and previews is to put an idea/a show on its feet and say to audiences and fellow practitioners ‘here it is, what do you think?’ And they tell you.

The second point … I won’t lie, when it was first mooted I took it hard. To be ‘sacked’ from my own play – how humiliating. I was sure that I’d be a laughing-stock, couldn’t do it, wasn’t good enough. But maybe – deep down – I also felt a bit relieved. Writing, rehearsing and performing Vera Shrimp was hard. Not like curing cancer hard, but hard. I struggled with the rehearsals. And yes, it’s good to challenge yourself and challenge myself I did, but on the whole it made me uncomfortable, unconfident and – frankly – unhappy.

Looking back on it now, it is obvious that I was trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. Me being the peg and the play being the hole (keep up). I am proud of what I achieved with Vera and I am not saying I am abandoning my ambitions to write and perform a solo show, nor am I saying I should, but what I need to do is write the right solo show for me. Vera Shrimp isn’t that. ‘But you wrote the blasted thing in the first place’ I hear you cry, exasperated. I know I did. And only by doing it can I know that I am not the right person to do it.

So, Phase 2. We have been awarded a bursary from The Empty Space/Live Theatre to help us move forward in this next stage. We’ve got a week at Live culminating in a work-in-progress performance on Thursday 12 December … click [here] for the details. Following this, one of the 4 companies shortlisted will be awarded the full bursary to take their show further – watch this space (fingers crossed)

Much of this time will be spent finding Vera and her voice. And we are delighted to have actor Tessa Parr joining us to don the red raincoat. I’ve not worked with Tessa before but that fresh perspective is exactly what is needed for this bursary week and she sounds like a corker with experience working in the region and beyond.

Maybe Tessa is the Patrick Troughton to my William Hartnell. Although, Esther Smith is technically the original Vera Shrimp from my 2011 short When It Falls, so that makes her Hartnell, me Troughton and Tessa Jon Pertwee. Well, as long as none of us are Sylvester McCoy cos he was the worst. (I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, can you tell) 

These have not been easy decisions to come to. There has been plenty of doubt and hesitation and upset along the way. But they are the decisions we have made and are going to pursue to see where they lead us. I look forward to re-joining Vera and her raindrops for this next exciting stage …

All this Doctor Who talk has reminded me how amazing the 50th Anniversary Special was. Well, how AMA-ZING the last ten minutes were and the incredible return of you-know-Who!

Vera Shrimp – what you said

SOME AUDIENCE FEEDBACK | from the July previews @ Live Theatre & ARC Stockton

Original and engaging. 

Terrific setting – loved it. Really set the scene. Felt swept – or washed away by the storyline. Great to use one person for the whole play. Very enigmatic character. Great writing, very powerful and genuine!

Amazing storytelling, lovely performance. Moving. Visual. 

Very interesting, touching, thought provoking, sad, wet!

Just seen the beautiful, magical & emotional #VeraShrimp @livetheatre Congratulations @missalicarr @rosiekellagher 

#VeraShrimp is poetic and poignant. And funny. And you get a wagon wheel. Go fish @arcstockton 

Didn’t know what to expect but really enjoyed it. Thought provoking. 

Saw a beautiful, life-affirming, and moving play tonight. ‘The soaking of Vera Shrimp’ by @missalicarr. And got a crispy cake at the end

Very emotional, moving and heart-warming / hopeful. Brilliant performance by Alison and really liked the use of the mic and different characters. Beautiful writing. Loved the water. 

Really enjoyed it. Post Its and water. I love rain so this show, story really appealed to me. Magical.

Excellent eve @arcstockton. #VeraShrimp has really got me thinking. Lovely stuff incl some tender & heart breaking moments by @missalicarr 

Strongly recommend going to see ‘The Soaking of Vera Shrimp’ at Live Theatre tonight … Alison Carr’s new play joyfully explores words and semantics whilst chronicling a touching tale full of beautifully-crafted characters and witty one-liners.

Saw Alison Carr’s “The Soaking of Vera Shrimp” last night & it was amazing. 

Vera Shrimp, brilliant. That’s it!!!

A big thank you to everyone who came along and supported us and for being so generous with your feedback. And thank you to Live Theatre, ARC Stockton and Northern Stage.

Vera gears up for ARC

We had a great week at Live Theatre last week, rehearsing Vera Shrimp and then showing it in full for the very first time ever (gulp!)

Thank you to everyone who came along – we were delighted with the turnout and really appreciate the support. Those who were kind enough to fill in a feedback form, your comments will be typed up and discussed after the ARC showing this week and used moving forward.

Speaking of the ARC performance (smooth, eh) it’s on Wednesday 17th @ 7pm. There are tickets available [click here for details & booking].

If you’re dithering about coming along, here’s a few comments from last week’s previews gleaned from Twitter … x

The final countdown – Day#1

This week we’re back rehearsing at Live Theatre for the first of three Vera Shrimp previews. These are script in hand, work in progress performances which kick off on Thursday.

So, this is The Final Countdown (well hopefully not final, but a countdown. ‘The Final Countdown’ sounds more dramatic though) …

Here’s a brief rundown of Day 1:

  • Walking down to the Quayside in the blazing sun it’s hard to imagine that last time we were at Live working on this show (R&D in March) it was snowing!
  • Designer Imogen can’t be with us today but she has left a box of new shiny props – picking out each item, it’s like Christmas
  • As we’re doing a table read through in the Writers Room, Michael brings us up a fan. We love Michael.
  • We set to work blocking it all out. The week spent at Northern Stage in May really pays dividends as we’re whipping through the first half.
  • We break for lunch and sit on the Quayside to eat it. It’s roasting out. Rosie comes back with sunburn stripes on her arms after just half an hour.
  • We decamp to the Rehearsal Room as it’s available and, mercifully, much cooler.
  • We put umbrellas up indoors which makes me slightly nervous but is unavoidable.
  • We go back upstairs to the Writers Room for the final couple of hours of the day and nearly do ourselves a damage trying to shift the massive table out of the way.
  • I have to eat a cornflake crispy cake in the play. In lieu of these, we use Wagon Wheels for now as there’s a packet with the props. I have four lines to eat it in. I don’t like Wagon Wheels, I consider them vile.
    Rosie: “You look like you’re going to be sick.”
    When we run it again, I have to eat another one. See, suffering for my craft here.
  • I do my Scottish accent in front of Rosie (who is Scottish). It’s a tense moment for all involved.
  • We pour water into the umbrellas to see if they can hold it. They can’t. We empty them out but when I put one up later the drops run down my back. I’m glad of it in the heat.
  • We finish blocking and have a rough shape of the whole thing.
  • Tomorrow we do character voices, mic work and details.
  • Tomorrow we are one day closer.
  • Tomorrow I go to Greggs and buy cornflake crispy cakes.

  

Vera Shrimp – week #3

Hello! I’ve been a bit quiet lately, haven’t I.

So, since my last:

I was rehearsing for, and performing in, Bombshells at The People’s Theatre. A collection of monologues by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. I got to work with a lovely and talented team and sport ‘librarian chic’.

I went to New York. I know, right, get me, swish swoo.

A Wondrous Place opened in Liverpool before heading to Sheffield. It’s had some great audience reaction and reviews so far, including  ★★★★  from  The Guardian. It pitches up in Newcastle on Tuesday. More info and to book [here]

I applied to, and have been shortlisted for, Northern Stage’s Title Pending Award – which is very thrilling. The judging weekend is imminent, gonna dig out my loose rehearsal slacks and soft jazz pumps.

I wrote draft #3 of Vera Shrimp, ready for our development week at Northern Stage last week. Now, when we left Vera things were all a bit gloomy. Rosie and I had just finished our week at ARC Stockton and I was really struggling.

Well, fortunately, last week things took a turn for the better. I made a concerted effort to shake off what had gone before and come into it with a fresh and positive attitude, not be my own worst enemy and harshest critic. (Rosie will confirm that it’s an ongoing effort, but I tried!)

We powered straight in to getting the show on its feet and the words in to my mouth, and made a huge amount of progress. We started thinking about its shape and its tone, finding the voices of the other characters and my voice as narrator. We welcomed award-winning designer Imogen Cloet to the fold, and starting to think about the visual elements was very exciting.

The week culminated in a showback on Friday afternoon during which I performed a 30 minute extract from the play. It’s amazing what you can achieve in four days, and I am really proud of what we were able to show of our work-in-progress. I won’t lie, I was nervous. My performance wasn’t perfect but, you know, that’s ok. I got out there and I did it, which feels like a real personal victory. We were able to give a flavour of some early design ideas, Northern Stage’s Kev and Mareike provided us with lighting and sound to support and create atmosphere and mood … all in all, we have a show. Or the beginnings of one. And it, and I, can only get better.

Some audience feedback:

Lovely work. Well done missus!
Really really enjoyed being taken into Vera’s world.
Excellent and can’t wait to see more!
You have a really good face (!) 

So, we’re looking ahead now to the previews in July at Live Theatre and ARC. They’re work-in-progress preview performances but of the whole show – so those who were asking about how it starts, and how it turns out, come along and find out! 

    

Big thank you to Northern Stage for hosting us and for their support. Equally big thank you to those who came along to see it – your encouragement, comments and questions are hugely appreciated … x