Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The last of the farewell blogs...Hannah says goodbye on her way to drama school...

It is midnight and I am currently in another country having another crack at writing my last ever blog for which I have definitely missed the deadline. Preceding this there were possibly two others I'd signed up for and when I say "signed up" they weren't voluntary. Sorry Sarah. I think the reason for this is because it's quite daunting thinking about writing something with your voice, your own thoughts and opinions. The worries flood in, will people like it? Will they agree? Do I even have an opinion? So I end up writing some drivel I imagine other people will like, or not saying entirely everything I want to say. It is why I much prefer writing for myself. It is why when asked to write for Yew Tree I have always shyed away. These worries don't just go through my head when I am writing for an audience, they go through my head daily, in creating, devising, and even everyday conversations in front of more than just one person. A time they are not around is when I get to perform, luckily. If they were I think I'd need to find something else to do with all my time. But the pressure I refer to is something I know a lot of people feel, and it is especially difficult when surrounded by a room full of creative, funny and entertaining people such as Yew Tree-ers. These thoughts that seem to crawl into my head have only recently started to dissipate. Sure, there have been many drafts of this blog, maybe because I'm not satisfied easily, or maybe and more honestly, because I want you to like it. The main lesson I have learned from Yew Tree is that these worries or self-doubt are not worth it. Not everyone will like my work or me and that's ok, a person, whether an artist or not, should not have to feed off the validation of others. We all do it, but it's learning to live without it that's the hard part. In the rehearsal room in particular, there have been moments where I have felt unsafe, the self-doubt starts to seep into my mind, even when trying to find an interesting anecdote to tell to a group of people I have known now for two years. Yet all of these moments were in my head, as the reactions were never as critical as I imagined people to be. There is no judgement in Black company, even when you say something stupid or ridiculous, there will laughter (of course) but no judgement. The truth everyone knows is that we are our own worst critics, whether it's about something we create, ourselves, our appearances. No person of substance would ever critique you as harshly as you do yourself. It doesn't mean that "'self-indulgent twoddle" is the way to go, it means that self-esteem, confidence and self-love are much more beneficial. I knew this all along, but I never really put it into practice. There have been some moments where I thought Sarah is a crazy person for asking me to do things that scare me, whether it’s write a monologue (which I was too scared to do) or direct younger performers when I had never done it before (which I wasn’t too scared to do) and many more in-between. I feel fortunate that I have had so many opportunities with Yew Tree and also sad I didn’t take every one of them up, although if I did, there wouldn’t be any time for sleep. I feel like this is supposed to be an ‘end of an era’ blog post, a post for me to say goodbye and thanks and for it all to get a little emotional. And that is entirely what I expected would happen as a person who regularly cries at a kind word, song or sad advert on tv. The problem is, for once in my life, I don’t feel emotional about this. In my last session, I didn’t feel overcome with sentimentality or loss of leaving a group I have come to adore. It may be because it hasn’t quite hit yet, or it may be because I don’t think I’m losing anyone. The people I have met are a group who inspire me daily. I think it is important to note that my education at Black company has not solely revolved around me improving as an actor, but as a person, and that is why I emphasise that it is the people of Yew Tree that inspire me, even more than their performances. They have taught me creativity, compassion, freedom. I think just as I’m about to leave Yew Tree, I have finally felt as confident as I wanted to be, or as confident as the people who inspire me. It's strange to think a company of young people, most are younger than me, have so much talent, so much diversity. I have seen and heard about the Yew Tree members that have left before us, who have gone on to do incredible things, acting or otherwise. But I do have a real fondness for our Black company and that's why I'm glad I didn't start any earlier, I may not have got to meet and make theatre with the Black company I know. It feels unique to me, not because we are any better than the actors that went before us but because we're a pretty diverse bunch of people. Filled with writers, directors, musicians, singers, dancers, comedic actors, dramatic actors, and everything in-between. I would love to say I am all of these things but I'm not, maybe some day I will be. This goal of mine is inspired by Black company. It is impossible to watch them perform and not feel completely motivated to get on their level, to create work that comes even a little bit close to theirs. And this is where I get a little mushy as I have to say my thanks. My thanks to the incredible writers who always write what they believe, the musicians and singers who make me feel everytime they perform, the creatives who have an endless amount of ideas and talent flowing from their fingertips, the funny people who encourage me to be less afraid and the role model who supports me in everything I do. You know who you are, hopefully.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

John in his own inimitable style bid adieu to YTYT

This time around, the honour falls to me to write my farewell blog to Yew Tree, and likewise does the question of how best to encapsulate my time here. I fear, however, that most approaches have been or will be done in a better fashion than I can muster. I don’t trade so easily in sentimentality, nor do I feel I can share any anecdotes without concluding with the dreaded ‘you had to be there’, and so what else remains but my tried-and-trusted approach of an overly-philosophical essay on the nature of what Yew Tree does best: creating. In October I leave for university to study chemistry, a subject I enjoy because of its real world applications. When we understand the nature of matter and the way it changes, we are empowered to manipulate the world around us. We create new molecules, new elements, new structures and we use them to enhance the life we lead, and I have always found this to be an alluringly human, arrogant aspiration. This same understanding can also be used, rather disconcertingly, to handwave away swathes of the human experience. Our thoughts and feelings can be drily understood to simply be fluctuations in chemical concentrations in our brains, and to some this constitutes an entirely nihilistic take on what it means to be alive. If we are merely the product of chemicals mired in organs, then what are we? I do feel, however, that this misses the point. There is no theory to explain why we can think and feel and perceive as we do. There is a chasmic gap in understanding between the disciplines of neurology and psychology, and this gap contains the entirety of our thoughts, feelings, and consciences. We can never understand it, if our brains were simple enough to understand we would be too simple to understand it, and it is easy to think that this precludes us from being able to manipulate ourselves as we can manipulate the world around us, but on the contrary – it’s what we’re built to do. Before being co-opted by certain hilarious corners of the internet, the idea of a meme, a cultural equivalent to a gene was devised by Richard Dawkins. We take ideas and spread them person to person using our faculties of communication, and eventually develop a shared culture. Art isn’t purely a pleasurable endeavour, it is a series of new lenses through which we experience life, and it is thoroughly memetic in nature. When we create, we take our feelings and thoughts and parcel them up in a way that those who experience our art will have them replicated in their brain. This opens up new avenues through which we rationalise and express our emotions, adds a new depth to our understanding of life, grounds us firmly in the quasi-spiritual reality that however opaque the reason for our being is, we are still here. The things we create persist intangibly and spread memetically, and broaden the unifying human spirit that resides in us all. This boils down to a simple truth: humans without the tendency to create would be emotional Neanderthals. Without the tools to communicate, to rationalise the things we feel and share them with others, we would hardly be able to function at all – the slightest inconveniences would plunge us into blubbering tantrums, the slightest joys would leave us boiling over ready to explode. The creative spirit empowers us to delight and take part in the human experience, and to shape our emotional landscapes in much the same way as science has enabled us to shape the physical world. I choose to share this now, because I wanted to communicate the immense value this creative spirit has to me, personally. Were it not for the ability to express myself, however na├»ve and imprecise that ability may be, I cannot honestly say where I would be, or whether I would be recognisably the same person. I have been propelled through some of the stickier periods in my life by this intrinsically human tendency. I honestly believe we all have, in some way. I would of course be remiss to end this parting message without a note of thanks. In truth, this is why I chose to write about the importance of the creative spirit, rather than about my personal experience at Yew Tree. This seems to be one of precious few occasions in which a Yorkshire lad may find himself where ‘cheers’ doesn’t suffice as an expression of thanks, and in an effort to communicate my appreciation more thoroughly, I thought it right to impart the impact these last two years have had on me, such that I could in turn impart the weight of my thankfulness. The most enduring writ of gratitude I feel able to express is simply thus: wherever I shall walk the boards of a stage, or an open mic at a pub, or feel something deeply and express it, rather than bottle it up, wherever I shall exercise my sense of empathy so strengthened by my time here, or cope more ably with failure, and continue to move forward unburdened, wherever I shall write, act, sing, or exercise my newfound creative voice and in future sharpen it, some component of that moment will be owed to Yew Tree Youth Theatre. To those I’ve had the pleasure to know both on and off the stage, thank you for the company and the fond memories. To Sarah, thank you for your patience, your willingness to indulge my quirks, for the ever-present offer of help wherever required, and for furnishing me with opportunities to create and express myself wherever they could be found. Au revoir, YTYT, it’s been a blast.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Our second farewell blog comes from Sam Winder who's about to start his 3 years at Durham University to study physics and philosophy...or Spanish...possibly...apparently... 

I find it strange to think that aside from my close family and Wakefield’s steady charm, Yew Tree has been the most constant aspect my life - we’re talking 7 years. That’s longer than high school, it’s longer than I’ve known a fair amount of the people I see regularly, and it’s longer than any other group I’ve been to. In that respect, it’s framed a large proportion of my life and you could look through the Yew Tree photo albums and see me go from small blonde-haired Sam, through all the mistakes and the memories, and up to now when my hairline is a bit further back than is ideal for someone of my age but when I’m about to let go of most of the things that have defined my life so far and head on to the next step.

So, speaking of frames, photo opportunity #1 is at Sapphire Company, that’s after I’d given up my dreams of being a gymnast, cricketer, dancer, origamist etc. My early days in this company were the ones that taught me that you can quickly learn from those around you, that you can always find help if you ask for it and that you’re never alone: I may have been nervous and worried about social exile but even though Sapphire is filled with talented, impressive, intimidating people (that’s role-models in real terms), it is definitely not a lonely place. It’s watching the narrators and bold performers that gives you the drive to get there yourself.

Snapshot #2 is first Connections. The Connections process is something that gives as much back as you put in so it works out well that people tend to invite it to consume their lives. The thing about my first Connections was that I experienced the whole “serious acting” phenomena that Sam mentioned in his blog. There was a certain naivete that I had before my first “serious” role and that is summarised by the fact that I now write “serious” in italics and speech marks. There’s a shift in mindset that happens when you first take what you’re doing as 100% meaningful because you realise that every role has plenty behind it. This is something that you can take into the rest of your life too, whether it’s acting in Connections or the school play or in mastering origami, the only distinction between doing something and playing at it is that you treat it with respect.

With this being a farewell blog, it’s only right that #3 is a photo finish of my final few weeks at Yew Tree. One of my regrets over the past few years is that I didn’t dedicate myself as much to the things that actually matter because I was too worried about things like college and bits of paper and early nights. I’ve missed actioning my scripts and tracking down costumes and writing blogs as often as possible and signing up for every project going. However, between the last step and the next, there’s been enough time to take a breath. I’m thankful that in the last few weeks we’ve celebrated so many things: performing Macbeth, birthdays and being a company. I’m thankful that we’re devising again because each session is an investment in a hobby and in myself. Back to the things that matter.


It's all good though because even though this is my last blog and even though I’m not going to do another best and worst, I’m not leaving anything behind. I’m going to take with me the lives of miners, writers and Norwegians and the stories of teenage hackers, stab victims, every day heroes, and even a Sparkleshark (the first connections play I went to see). It’s been a good run.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Sam MG writes the first of our farewell blogs this summer...

Around two years ago now, myself and my proverbial partners in crime – Bailey Poching and John Broadhead – offhandedly mentioned that we should go and see Yew Tree’s latest production; we knew of it through Tom and knew that they were performing for the National Theatre’s ‘Connections’ program. Now, at the time, my only real acting experience was jovial roles in school musicals (We Will Rock You, Guys and Dolls etc…) and something of a ‘real’ acting challenge was what I wanted. After seeing this very same performance, entitled ‘Hacktivists’, three times, myself, Bailey and John decided that we were getting TOO MUCH sleep on weekends, and agreed to attend Yew Tree’s Gold Company sessions at 10am on a Saturday. 10am on a Saturday was something that I hadn’t seen since Under 7’s football. I could spend this writing about the plays we undertook, the direction we were given, the roles I performed in my tenure under Sarah’s direction, but, really, what I think I should talk about is what Yew Tree’s actually done for me. I didn’t study Drama at A-Level because, and I quote saying this to my own mother, ‘I don’t really like serious acting’. I’ve always thought I knew best ever since a young age, but I think it’s fair to say that 16-year old Sam was stupid in this regard. What I’ve realised that sentence and thought pattern actually meant was, ‘I’ve never done serious acting before and the thought terrifies me’. I think going from that sentence to playing Shakespeare’s eponymous ‘Macbeth’ in a little under 2 years epitomises the very sentiment that I’m aiming for in this. Yew Tree taught me that comedic acting has its place, and it will always be as fun as the first time you make an audience laugh whilst on stage, but theatre isn’t all about one emotion. In an entirely non-sadistic way, there’s just as much fun in making an audience cry as making them laugh, or making them afraid, or enthralled, or shocked. But Yew Tree has never just been about the acting. These two years have given me some of the most interesting social relationships I’ve ever partaken in, friends for moments, friends for days, friends for weekends, friends for months, friends for years, friends forever. People come and go throughout your life, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that people I met at Yew Tree will always have a lasting impact on me; because, before anything else, who could ever forget the fateful events of Boons 1, 2 and 3? I found it simpler to indoctrinate myself into the group as I was already friends with Tom and Amy, but in a somewhat surprising realisation, my years of friendship with them had never properly brought me face to face with Sarah. Initially, I think that Sarah was taken aback by mine, Bailey’s and John’s group antics, but I was always aware that she is nothing if not adaptable – she finds how to get the best out of every actor she works with. I could spend paragraphs upon paragraphs in words on Sarah, but the crux of my thoughts is that she’s a fantastic director, a true inspiration, and a definite role model. I’m sure she won’t miss my idiocy, but I sure will miss her reactions to it. Realising that you’ve become more than a member of a group, and realising it’s become more than just something you attend every week, is a spectacular feeling. No matter what words are said about Yew Tree, be they mine own or from the mouth of another, I have and will continue to vehemently defend this group of people, and everything they ever do, and be enthralled by our guile, our perseverance, and our want for enjoyment. A mantra that I will always live by, taught to me through Yew Tree sessions, is that if you enjoy doing something, never let anyone tell you otherwise. I could find myself writing for days about my experiences in these two years. Growing through the 16-18 year old stage proved to be a tumultuous section of my life, but Yew Tree was a constant, a reliable hub for enjoyment and creativity. So, take it easy, Yew Tree. Two years well spent, two years never forgotten. I’m excited to see its growth in the future, the direction it will take, and the way you’ll try to fill the manbun-shaped hole on your stage.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Mia was on work experience with us last week and as per tradition she's written a blog...

This week has been a long but exciting week so I would make yourself a nice brew, or a cold beverage whatever takes your fancy really, before you begin to read my blog about my week on work experience with yew tree!
This week I have been doing work experience and because I want to be an actor when I’m older I thought, what a better place to do work experience than with yew tree. So this week I’ve been going from school to school with Sarah.
We began the week at De Lacey Primary school in Pontefract. We were working with children who found education challenging so they were a little bit more difficult and needed the extra support in classes. In the first two classes, which were years 3 and 4, we were helping the children create physical theatre pieces to the song ‘Human’ by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. The routines included creating 4 movements about why the children enjoy being human. Some children did about hobbies they did or things about their personality. But it was also important that they recognised the negatives so some children did about things they didn’t like doing as much.
In the first class, which was year 3, one particular boy was struggling to come up with actions so Sarah asked me to work with him. I did this and together we came up with 4 movements he could do in the chorus part of the song. In the second class which was year 4 I helped a girl who was struggling because she was new and had only just joined the class. She managed to pick things up relatively quickly and so I asked a girl near her to help her out if she got stuck and to be her partner for a certain part of the song where the children, in pairs, would mirror what the other person was doing. The children from both classes were not shy with there being a visitor in the class, in fact they were curious and excited that I was there because many of them would ask me to watch their pair work or their 4 movements to see what I thought of them and obviously I was happy to help and give my thoughts which were all positive because their work was outstanding. In the afternoon we faced the more challenging class because they were very chattery and excited from playing at lunch time. In this lesson their teacher had asked Sarah to do some Haiku poems with them. So for this we first asked the children to create some freeze frames of different images. Then we taught them what the rules of a Haiku poem were. So they then created haiku poems in their groups for some of the different images Sarah had asked them to create before.  
In the evening I attended Sapphire Company where I came across some new faces and some friends who still go to Sapphire. I used to go Sapphire Company not so long ago but I recently moved up to Gold. In this Sarah taught them a new game called ‘Flying Sheep’. She’d taught this game to Gold a few weeks ago and it was a joy to play. At first people were confused but people soon picked it up and there were howling wolves and bleating sheep flying everywhere. 
On Tuesday we had a shorter day after a meeting at Park Junior school in Castleford we made our way to St Michael’s Academy in Flanshaw. Here we did classes with year 5 they had created a physical theatre piece about going on a space adventure. We began by warming them up then jumped straight in to rehearsing, the children were going to be performing this to their parents in an assembly. We had a few complications with where we could rehearse because the main hall was being used by the year sixes as they were rehearsing their leavers assembly and leavers play.  But we managed in the smaller hall they had, not ideal, but it was better than nothing.  
On Wednesday we started a bit later. At 1 o’clock I met Sarah at St Micheals CE Academy and we were helping with the final rehearsals for their physical theatre piece that they were going to perform in assembly on Friday. Then we went back to the West Yorkshire theatre Dance centre where I helped Amy out with the acro lessons. Once I’d finished here I went and helped but mainly just watched emerald company as they were just devising for they’re Christmas show.
Thursday was my longest day by far! We spent the day at De Lacy Primary school where we were rehearsing the 2 classes we’d worked with on Monday with their physical theatre piece to human. The boy I’d worked with on Monday was so much more confident today and Sarah told me it was because he’d had that extra help that he was so much more confident today. Both classes did very well. Then in the afternoon we worked with the class who were doing poetry and we taught them how do cinquain poems. The poems Sarah asked them to do were about super hero’s so each group created a poem about hero’s. Later on we had orange company where I had to lead a game. The game I chose was Golden Bridge. The kids had fun playing this. The thing with this game is it doesn't end so I had to tell the children when to stop because they would have probably played it forever! Then we had black company where I helped do a read through of a new play that’s been written by a composer that Sarah worked with for Remember the Oaks. This play was called “Remember where you came from” and it was about the history of mining.
Finally Friday! Today we started later again and we met at St Michael’s at 1 o'clock to see the year 3s perform in assembly. They did really well. Then we had Gold Company in the evening where we were devising some more scenes for the Christmas show. And that’s what I did on my week of work experience with Sarah. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading I know it was quite long but I’ve learnt so much from my week with Sarah.


Monday, 3 July 2017

Sam has blogged about our visit from Laerlingan!

With a title as a Norwegian Jazz/Swing/Folk Band, Laerlingen have always sounded like something not only from Yew Tree folklore, but of actual folklore as well. They’ve been ranted and raved about by Yew Tree members throughout my two year tender, but I never anticipated just how downright fun a night with the band could actually be. My first meeting with the band came through their incomparable Artistic Director, Rolf. Being the latest performer to arrive to the pre-show rehearsal, I was met with his wry humour: ‘We did this perfectly earlier, so if it goes wrong it’s your fault’. I laughed it off and took it in my stride, then proceeded to – almost in a scripted fashion – get the song wrong. His faux-stern look was enough to humble my performance mode, but a quiet word of assurance from the man which, I might add he had no obligation to do, set me straight for the real performance. In a free ten minutes before the show, we decided to socialise with the Laerlingen crew, who were delightfully happy to oblige us in perfect English. Whilst, as Yew Tree, we regard ourselves as somewhat talented, the irony that we shared a room with people with the ability to play multiple instruments and speak multiple languages was not lost on us. Whilst humbling, it was also enthusing, and set us up for a fascinating night. Now, I can’t speak for everyone here, but I’ve never seen a Norwegian Jazz/Swing/Folk band perform live before, so my expectations were practically non-existent. And saying that, my expectations were absolutely blown away by the sheer talent on show not only by Laerlingen but also by Yew Tree’s very own, an interchanging of swing songs and monologues centred on the topic of music; it was heartfelt, it was beautiful. But the emotional side was happily juxtaposed by Laerlingen in my favourite moments of the night; immersive songs which required audience participation. Look, we’re performers, we love the limelight, and any opportunity – be it a monologue or a guided shaking of our hips to trombones, saxophones, guitars and drums. MC’d and led exquisitely by Rolf, the audience followed his directions effortlessly, and what resulted was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve experienced in a while. I’m not one to turn down an opportunity to perform, and my own performance was partnered with John and Tom. Not three days prior had the Foo Fighters shut down Glastonbury with a stellar headline performance, and so we decided that it was only right to expose them for the frauds they are and perform their smash hit, ‘Everlong’, the way it should be. Whilst I let the other two battle about who could be our Dave Grohl, I myself was revelling in an opportunity to channel my inner Liam Gallagher, but perhaps with less of a swagger. Ultimately, this performance night was a hoot and a half. The people at Laerlingen, on top of being insanely talented, were down to earth, decent people who made performing alongside them a joy to behold. Rolf’s ideas run deep and his mind will always be working, and I for one can’t wait to see what our next collaboration is. Sam Mandi-Ghomi

Friday, 30 June 2017

Lovely Toni has blogged about Macbeth...


On Sunday afternoon, Black Company performed their full length Shakespeare, Macbeth, in the Calder at the Hepworth. For those unfamiliar with the space, this is the bottom floor of an old mill by the waterfront just next to the Hepworth playground. It’s hard to imagine that Yew Tree could pick a better setting. The stage was set against the back wall with the windows blacked out, other than the ones right behind the stage allowing three beams of light to flood into the room setting a dark and authentic tone. This also created silhouettes of the actors throughout the play, fitting to the eeriness of the witches and adding to the haunting nature of the cold blooded murders in the play. Barring the Romeo and Juliet film with Leonardo DiCaprio, I’d never seen a full length Shakespeare tragedy (despite studying Lady Macbeth for GCSE English). This was mainly because I’d stereotyped them as being harder to follow and a bit duller than comedies but Black Company have changed my outlook completely as I was drawn into each character and the plot more than I have been in any other Shakespeare I remember seeing. Macbeth was played by Sam in a way that took the audience on a journey of sympathy when he was manipulated into murder to complete condemnation and hostility for his betrayal to Banquo. Lucy’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth’s decent into guilt-induced madness was also memorable as she herself appeared to become a puppet of the witches as they surrounded her and forced her into constant hand washing of the murders she had overseen. The portrayal of the weird sisters by Hannah, Helena and Ellie ensured a constant eerie reminder of the play’s tragic ending. The witches were on stage much of the time, seen to be observing and manipulating the characters. Their use of voodoo dolls was very effective as whenever a death occurred offstage, the head of a doll would be plucked off; seeming that the actions were not just controlled by the characters but that their fate was already sealed and controlled by the witches. The performance lasted just under 2 hours which in itself shows the sheer amount of work that had gone into it. The epic physical theatre battle scene at the start of the play set the tone well, showing how hard each cast member had worked. Learning lines and performing any play for two hours is an achievement; Learning two hours’ worth of Shakespeare and delivering it as though old English is spoken fluently and lyrically by everyone, every day, as the cast did, was more than impressive. Not to mention that many were also tackling A-levels, GCSEs, mocks exams and other end of the academic year deadlines (- there even some year 6 SATs!). So Macbeth has possibly been my favourite plays I’ve seen at Yew Tree, and definitely the most impressive! I hope everyone involved is immensely proud of themselves for the incredible production they put on. Thank you Black Company for a great Sunday afternoon and a new found appreciation for Shakespearean tragedies!