Tonehenge: continued development

After R&D week, I continued to work on Tonehenge at a slower pace, rewriting and refining the script and making plans for the debut performance. I began to worry that, as my first time playing any major roles as an actor, taking on so many roles might be unwise. So I searched around for actors that would fit the bill.

I decided to pre-record audio for a few characters, including a therapist and a few of the main characters' family members. The remaining "live" roles were Emily (played by me), Grace, and Aiden. Through a social group, I met a new friend called Danny who had experience of acting. Danny was delighted to take on the role of Aiden, as well as some of the pre-recorded audio roles.

While I would have liked to find another actor to play Grace, there wasn't time in the end. So I played Grace as well, denoted with a wig and apron change, and a "posh" Southern accent in contrast to Emily's broad Barnsley drawl.

The second half of the play was completely rewritten after the R&D week, and while it was hard-hitting and it certainly made its point, I think I managed to soften the edges so that it wouldn't be too triggering for anyone in the audience that was affected by the issues it explored. I also did careful preparation for this possibility, creating a programme that was littered with helplines, and gathering a number of mental health and trauma information leaflets and booklets for attendees to help themselves to.

Making the "stones" look more realistic was a challenge. I had decided by this point to make them chiefly out of cardboard, and to coat them with something that would look like stone. With no idea how to do this, I watched many videos on YouTube before I finally found on the one that gave me the answer:

The two main stones that formed the archway needed to be more rigid than the others, as they were the largest, and they were used to store props. wigs, and some of the tech. So I made these out of modular cube wardrobes that were constructed using wire frames and thin plastic sheeting. The resulting stone circle was bulky but extremely light, which was perfect for my purposes.

As I mentioned in the earlier blog post, during the R&D there were some problems with the electrical ground getting connected to the triggers when it shouldn't. I couldn't risk this derailing the show, so unfortunately the big electrical tarpaulin circuit had to go. I replaced it with a number of shielded jack cables, and fitted each stone with a jack socket so they could be "plugged in", like amping up a guitar. On the inside of each stone (which was hollow), a piece of wire connected the jack socket up to the trigger point near the top of the stone.

On the day of the show, we ran ground lines all over the stage floor, and I performed barefoot, so that I could be grounded wherever I went. I've been asked a few times whether I can feel it, when I complete the circuit using my body? The answer is no. The current is tiny and extremely safe. We carry around more electricity every day when we're walking around in our rubber-soled shoes, building up static.

The eventual show went very well, and we were lucky that it happened, considering how close it was to the start of the pandemic. A friend called Ema very kindly stepped in to help with lighting, which took some of the pressure off and allowed our director to focus solely on directing.

It's been seven months now since the show, and after some reflection I think that the show may have tried to do too many things at once. When I watch back the footage in the "making of" video at the top of this post, I can see that Tonehenge was actually a musical installation all by itself, before any script entered into it. The words and the story were almost a separate element, despite tying the two together by making the stone circle the main character's therapeutic "Safe Space". Either element - the story or the installation - could have survived and still been interesting without the other. The show worked - but it crowbarred two things together that could have been separate. A third element - the musical compositions - also make an interesting EP, without any accompaning stone circle or visual performance.

Of course, it could be argued that many artforms combine two or more elements, such as musicals (a play with songs), ballet (music with dance), and even film (a screenplay with incidental music). But Tonehenge smushed three of these elements together, and before I develop it any further beyond its debut, I should consider whether it needed to.