Guest Blog: Slung Low's Alan Lane Talks FLOOD On BBC Two
"No, you don't say his line as well. Just wait, Sirgius, and once you hear your cue you throw the punch like you've been shown."
I'm stood on a piece of floating steel deck tied to a 16ft fishing boat full of 20 volunteers from the Hull UK City of Culture 2017 volunteer pool. All of which is floating in the 100m sq canal basin in the middle of the Victoria Dock housing estate.
I'm here because we're rehearsing Flood Part 3, which at the end of this week will be recorded for the BBC Two Performance Live strand. The strand was designed to give independent theatre companies a chance to make television, thanks to support from the Arts Council and the BBC.
Flood is a year-long project by Slung Low for Hull 2017 written by James Phillips. We've left our Holbeck base in Leeds for the year to tell the story of a future great flood, first of people and then a mighty wave. The wave destroys the nation and the second half of the year is the telling of how those who survive try to rebuild the world.
The story has been told so far through short films on the internet and in live shows of sinking, fire-covered sets watched by crowds of people on dry land who wear headphones to hear the action.
And this new Part 3 is going to be told on the telebox.
It's the height of the flood, and there are three survivors battling in the water. Without giving too much, away at some point one of the three climbs aboard the fishing boat full of survivors and there is a horrible fight.
And Sirgius was the most enthusiastic volunteer keen to throw the first punch. He's learnt all the lines in the scene running up to the punch. Which as preparation goes is impressive, because we only sent the chorus the script yesterday.
Sirgius is one of the community chorus. Each of the parts of Flood have a chorus drawn from the Hull 2017 volunteers, working alongside the professional actors who I cast in roles that require more rehearsal than the chorus could ever manage to fit in alongside their 'normal' lives.
Part 2, a live show, had a Greek-like chorus who stood under rain machines for 90 minutes every night bearing witness to the horror of a racial apartheid: the city made human. In Part 4 a different chorus play the more personal roles of survivors of the Flood, each having found their way to dry land, some with their faces projected 20 metres high on huge water sprays.
Slung Low has always had a commitment to working with People's Theatres. Groups of volunteers who share the stage with performers for whom acting is their livelihood - from Camelot The Shining City with Sheffield People's Theatre and Sheffield Theatres to Blood and Chocolate with York Theatre Royal and Plot's community of citizen performers. More than things on fire and headphones, it's our artistic foundation.
There's been a lot of discussion about the role and status of such performers in the industry, but to me, in large part because of our rigorous company wage which tends to clarify financial matters, it's always been clear: they are philanthropists. Donors of their time and talent. In a theatre world increasingly focused on paying attention to benefactors and VIPs, these are the most V.
Creatively, people's theatre performance companies explode productions. The regular complaint about there not being enough big plays about politics I've always thought must be made by people who don't ever get out to see People's Theatre. The grappling of a central question of a community (in this instance the ebb and flow of people into the city) is changed, made more powerful by the inclusion of that community in those asking the question.
And the overwhelming feedback we get from those who make this work with us is that it is a transformative experience: they walk taller as they fulfil the role of citizen artist in their city's public spaces.
So, if you get the chance to catch Flood Part 3 on BBC Two, on 12 August at 10pm, know that it's my friend Sirgius who throws the first punch. He is a citizen performer, a philanthropist to the arts, an absolute top lad, and he knew every single line in that scene.
Picture credit: Malcolm Johnson