Guest Blog: Ian Bonar On BE PREPARED at VAULT Festival
Be Prepared is a show about two people struggling with loss. Through a freak misdialed number, these strangers suddenly find themselves helping each other to remember and connect to the people they loved, and this unwitting collaboration between Tom and Mr Chambers is kind of how I feel about how Be Prepared came into existence.
I started writing it in my own little bubble. Trying to work out how I felt about my dad dying, trying to weave in this amazing discovery I had of finding my Grandad's memoirs that he had been writing whilst he had dementia - seeing his memories get jumbled up just as mine seemed to be.
And then, through a chance encounter, I met Rob.
I had decided to try out the opening 10 minutes of Be Prepared at a scratch night in Peckham. People seemed to like it. They laughed at the bits I hoped they would laugh at. Looked sad at the sadder bits. And my trusty Yamaha Portatone didn't let me down. SUCCESS.
As I went to get a pint afterwards, 'The Excellent Rob Watt' (as I like to call him now) sheepishly came up to me and basically said "I'm a director and I think we should make that show together".
So, we did.
Rob brought his own stories, his own experiences of death and of grief and of everything in between. He connected with the play in ways I could never have imagined. And it was suddenly so clear this process of grief - of losing someone - is at the same time the most specifically personal thing in the world, AND the most universal shared experience; for Be Prepared to work, we had to embrace that. Which has been brilliant.
We were both adamant that the show had to be funny. It couldn't not be. I was a bit worried at the start about what my mum would think. Didn't want her coming along and being upset by all the hilarity I was finding in the death of my dad and her husband. Lol Mum, LOL! But she really did 'lol' when she came to Edinburgh. And that was lovely to see.
The difficult thing was balancing the comedy with the other, crunchier stuff. The stuff that Tom (and probably me) is (was) trying to avoid. The stuff I needed to face up to. And I'll always be grateful to Rob for pushing the play there.
And then the collaboration just kept coming. I went to work at the RSC as an actor and Rob came up so we could have a go at a first full run through at a fringe festival that the company was putting on. The brilliant Erica Whyman came along and amazingly gave us some development time at the RSC Other Place.
Having the input, ideas and support from the Erica, Claire Birch and Rejane Collard-Walker was invaluable. They asked questions we'd never thought of and gave us the time and space to try and answer them.
That was a bloody brilliant week. We had the insanely talented musician Alex Crispin in the room, who had never worked on a play before but came in brimming with ideas and sat at the back creating an incredible sound design that blew our minds (bass so deep that it couldn't be heard but certainly could be felt - a bit like grief).
And we were able to work with the amazing movement director Fin Walker, who opened our eyes to even more ways of telling the story and pushed my body in ways I didn't think it go.
The more I've performed Be Prepared, the more I've realised that each audience contributes so much to the show too. Being able to see the moments that people connect with, find funny, or upsetting, or uplifting - seeing memories being triggered for them, and seeing how those moments are different every time means that the play is always shifting and changing.
Finally, I'd like to think that Be Prepared has been a collaboration between me and my dad and my grandad.
So, although I wrote Be Prepared and am performing Be Prepared and Be Prepared is sort of about me ad no-one else is actually in it, making the show has genuinely been the most excitingly collaborative thing I've ever been lucky enough to be involved in.