14 Jun Ego Behind The Curtain The Sanatorium (July 2017)
Hi! just a heads up, the following post was originally written in the autumn of 2017 so some information might be outdated.This blog is about probably my favourite Ego show so far “The Sanatorium” which we performed in July 2017.
Hello, Kyle from Big Ego Here,
I thought it would be interesting to pull back the curtain on the last Big Ego production of the Sanatorium to give you more of an idea of how much work and thought goes into a production and what it’s been like to take part in this Show as a cast member.
We started planning for our next show in late November or early December, the group was asked by Georgina and Corrine to have a think about what type of show we wanted to put on, we got into a few different groups to discuss our thoughts and feelings on this. It was pretty unanimous amongst everyone, that we wanted to do a more serious show, I guess that the group can do comedy really easily due to most of our personalities being that way inclined, so we wanted to challenge ourselves, a lot of us wanted to do something around mental illness, myself included. In my mind I feel that I’m not exactly a confident actor in terms of playing roles which involve being drastically different from myself, I know that sounds a bit odd considering I previously played a pirate and then a vampire but the difference is that in those shows I didn’t have to be serious in those roles. I thought I could kind of exploit my own mental illnesses in the next role (at least they have some uses!). in terms of style, the phrase “hyper realism” came up and we decided on a “who done it” type of show, like a mystery where we would be solving some sort of crime. We wanted the show to be dark, I think someone mentioned something similar to black mirror, so we wanted to make the audience feel uncomfortable and operate in moral grey areas.
Once we decided on the style of show, we went through a process of elimination of which type of setting and era we wanted the show to be in and at this stage there was what felt like billions of ideas thrown around. The way we usually decide on which ideas to go with is to write them down on a piece of paper and then we call them out and we vote by show of hands and the ideas with fewest votes get scrapped until we have a winner. I’m pretty sure at one stage one member jokingly remarked that we should do a show set in a post brexit and President Donald trump political climate, of course that wouldn’t be very realistic would it! Another Idea was to have a show set in a post apocalyptic world but the idea that stuck was to be based in a 1950’s mental institute. This would allow us to show how abysmal people were treated with not only mental health issues but with disabilities and homosexuality. The addition of the angle of deeply conservative religiosity helped further embed the tone of despair and serious story we wanted to tell.
Before anything is set in stone the group usually does a lot of improv to help Georgina and Corrine come up with the types of characters and scenario’s for the next show, personally improv terrifies me, I’m just abit rubbish at it I suppose, I need direction but it is useful and totally necessary for character development.
One of our main characters for the show was almost Devised during improv sessions, one of our members Connor came up with the idea of a character with multiple personalities based on the recent film Split the character would later become known as Leonard. Leonard is an interested character as he doesn’t have one persona so it gave Georgina and Corine an interesting Dynamic when writing the script.
In the process of character development, there was one session where the group had to take it in turns in pairs of two to have a kind of mock therapy / confession between a patient and a priest. This was different to a usual improv session as it had to be serious. I cant remember the exact questions and scenarios we were asked to act out but everyone was really convincing, it was very intense. It was from this session we worked out that Emily and Jason would play the characters Evelyn and the priest father Pardrig, it made perfect sense as Emily and Jason have Natural Chemistry which is what was needed for those roles.
Once we fleshed out the meat (or tofu considering we are a vegan establishment) of the shows’ theme, setting and tone of the show, we took a couple of weeks off to give Corinne and Georgina time to write the script.
With this script, we certainly got what we asked for, it certainly wasn’t a comedy! The was called Sanatorium I’ll give you a bit of a synopsis so you can get an idea of how dark this script was. The Sanatorium was set in a 1950’s catholic run Sanatorium (hence the title, Duh!). in this facility abuse and neglect was an everyday occurrence, with the nursing staff being more like torture’s than care givers, one of the shows main plot lines was that, there was a new nurse joining the Sanatorium and unlike the rest of the nurses she isn’t corrupt, she’s clean and she wants to help the patients and throughout the show, she witnesses all the mistreatment and over hears a conversation between 2 of the nursing staff who are exploiting the patients by allowing people to come into the Sanatorium and rape the patients (told you it was dark didn’t I) as a result of one patient being raped, she falls pregnant, (oh I should mention that the wards sister and head nun was not aware of the sexual exploitation taking place) therefore the staff involved with the sexual exploitation have to arrange the Sanatorium Doctor to perform an abortion. To make things extra interesting the patient in question is involved in a forbidding but mutual relationship with the Priest Father Pardrig so when the Father learns of the abortion and her subsequent death, the whole ordeal breaks his faith and his spirit and all of this builds towards a disturbing and chaotic climax. Of course with all this abuse taking place it creates an ugly environment amongst the patients some of whom come to the sanatorium with some serious psychological issue which become Exacerbated by all of the abhorrent abuse and those patients who don’t come in with mental health issues such as my Character Edward who simply has my real life disability and Harry who is simply a homosexual which would have been treat as a mental health condition in those times especially in a facility governed with a conservative form of religion, become psychologically damaged.
I initially got a bit carried away with this blog and wrote a paragraph on each patient, however I looked at the word count and realised this was turning into a novel rather than a blog, so instead let me tell you about my character Edward
In bed 3 we have Edward played by me! Edward is basically a lab rat he doesn’t have any mental health problem, although due to being physically disabled and the ignorance of the staff, he is spoken to in a way that makes it seem as though he has limited mental capacity, Edward seems to understand his purpose and knows he is viewed as subhuman and is clearly angry at his situation of not being able to live a normal life despite having the same ambitions as everyone else. These types of feelings were very easy for me to understand and I really enjoyed being able to express feelings which I’ve actually lived and sometimes still do, some of my lines felt eerily close to things I’ve said in real life.
From the embryonic stages of devising an Ego show to the final out come there is always a world of difference and I feel the group is often surprised at the shows we tend to pull off and this show was no different in fact we discussed during our post show session reflection that we felt the least prepared for the show going into opening night which made it feel all the more surprising when we got really positive feed back from the audience.
Given the set layout and the serious nature of the show I was really nervous as I was on set in character all show so there was no where to hide if I corpsed. Anyway as well as being on set during the show I was also very anxious as I would be out of my wheelchair for the first time at Ego. I don’t know if claustrophobic is the right term for what it felt not being able to move but it certainly feels uncomfortable being confined to a bed, but I trust everyone at Ego so it wasn’t an issue if anything it added to my character as quite a big part of my Role was to be terrified so this helped me kind of remember situations where I’ve felt trapped in the past.
Have I mentioned that I’m a bit of a sadomasochist as I love Tech Weeks! Even when we have to repeat scene after scene to get everything right, Even when most of the cast are exhausted, I love the togetherness I feel because even when we get frustrated with each other its all because we want to put on the best show possible, as well as this, tech week is usually the week it all gets very real and the script as well as the character development starts to resemble a show!
Tech Week is also most terrifying as this is sometimes when we realise that not everyone has learned the script and I have to admit that I’m guilty of not understanding what the shows fully about until tech week, this because I’m just plain better than everyone and my scenes are the only ones that are worthy of the ticket price, therefore I only ever learn my lines, I only rehearse my lines and I only ever perform my lines then as soon as I’m done I demand a massage in my trailer!.. no but seriously I do tend to pay way too much attention to my lines as I’m terrified of getting them wrong, as well as this I’m very conscious of my speech so I have to get used to pronouncing every word clearly but there’s one thing just simply speaking your lines and its another to pronounce the lines with clarity in character.
The lighting Set design and music for the show were really complimentary to the story we were telling, its pretty amazing to see our blank performance space transformed into a very cold and panic inducing environment.
During tech week, the night before our first show is when we have our dress rehearsal where we attempt (Attempt being the most appropriate word for this occasion) perform the show like an actual show in full costume with all the tech in place, this Rehearsal was either hilarious or terrifying and appalling, I suppose I thought it was hilarious because of how appalling it was whilst also being terrified at the fact that we were supposed to be performing this show for real in front of a paying audience the following night. So what was so bad about the dress rehearsal, well not me that’s for sure, as I’ve alluded to in earlier pro’s I’m an actor of supreme talents and abilities meaning I deliver nothing but impeccable performances! The dress rehearsal felt painfully slow as cast members just didn’t seem to know there lines or sometimes when to say there lines or if they even had any line to say at all, the thing is that when one person forgets or gets there line wrong it forces another cast member to fill in the gaps but when multiple cast members forget there lines it leads to a deafening loud and agonising awkward silence. As well as people simply not remembering there lines, we had an incident where we all thought Lee was given a really great performance by Lee who played Kenneth, as he kept mumbling the word help and groaning painfully… Lee Was Not acting, he was genuinely asking for help, luckily we got him help in time before there was a puddle underneath Kenneth’s bed! Personally I don’t really believe Lee actually needed help, I reckon he just couldn’t bare to sit through any more of the pretty shambolic dress rehearsal.
The fantastic thing about having such a dreadful dress rehearsal is that we literally couldn’t get any worse for opening night, or could we?… nope we couldn’t as although our first show wasn’t perfect by any means it certainly wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the dress rehearsal. This show Would be the first show I had invited a friend to, I was so nervous about this as she had never seen me act and is much more of a theatre goer than myself and she’ll love the fact that I’m admitting that I really wanted her approval, my friend said she loved the show and was emotionally drained. I’m pleased with that outcome.
Show by show we got better and the only audience feedback we received was positive, although, there was that one incident where an audience member had to leave mid way through a particular graphic scene, but I count that as a win.
So that was The Sanatorium and I loved what we managed to eventually achieve. There were some really amazing performances and we gave people nightmares as well as this we showed greater versatility as group, yes we can easily pull of a very funny show and make you laugh, but we can also be serious and give you something dark and make you cry.
Till next time…