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Behind the curtain at Miracle Theatre

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We’re really looking forward to hosting Miracle Theatre’s production of Life’s a Dream in July. It’s an epic fable of love, war and destiny about a young woman travelling through a wild and mountainous region. She discovers a prince who has been imprisoned by his father since birth, to foil a prophecy that he will bring disaster to the world and death to the King. Prompted by the woman, the King is overcome with remorse and sets his son free, giving him the chance to prove his good character. But is it ever possible to escape one’s fate? We look forward to finding out here at the hotel on July 1st at 7.30pm.

We love watching Miracle productions, and wondered about all the work that must go in behind the scenes to make it all happen. So, we asked Miracle founder and artistic director Bill Scott to tell us more.

Q: How do you choose which plays to put on?

“It’s got to be doable by a small cast. It has to translate well to our open area theatre, so epic in theme and broadly told, not a claustrophobic kitchen sink drama, for example. You can’t do subtle, up-close stuff. Our plays tend to have a strong comic vein, but I like to balance that with weighty themes of free will and fate.”

Q: What are the differences between performing outside compared to in a conventional theatre?

“Outdoor theatre demands a very particular kind of performance. For most of the show, you are very exposed in broad daylight, and the audience is very, very close. You have to be able to look them in the eye, to really engage with them in a way you don’t on a theatre stage, set right back from the audience and performing in the dark.

“You also have to go out and find good venues. We rarely use theatres. We go for a field, or someone’s garden, or if we do go indoors in winter, it’s a village hall. We organise roughly 60 dates in a tour at about 50 different venues. That’s physically and psychologically very taxing. You’ve got to have lots of stamina, lifting bits of steel decking around and building a stage every time you do a show and adapting the show to the environment.

“Then there’s the marketing side. Marketing a mobile, outdoor performance is very different from marketing a theatre company set in one physical building. Then people know exactly where to go, they just want to hear what’s on. We have to tell 50 different audiences. It’s a much bigger job.

“But the audience really gains. It brings live theatre to people’s back yard – sometimes, literally. We go to remote places like St Just, where people would have to travel quite a way to see theatre – to The Acorn, say, in Penzance, or The Hall for Conrwall in Truro. Taking the work to the audience gives the whole undertaking a very different feel.

“The environment around us when we’re performing is always different we have to adapt to the playing space, and features can make us act differently. We are constantly being thrown distractions, but the actors get very good at turning them into part of the show. At one place where we performed, there was a pair of peacocks and when the sun went down they’d go up into a tree just behind our stage to go to sleep. Now, the actors could have pretended that it wasn’t happening, but then they’d have lost the audience’s attention, so they incorporated it and turned it into something very special that the audience was invited to really enjoy.”

Q: What’s different about an outdoor audience?

“There’s something very special about sitting outside watching live theatre whatever the weather. And there’s an appetite for it.

“People are used to putting on their smart clothes to go and see a play, paying lots of money and driving a long way to get there. The average distance a Miracle theatre-goer travels to see one of our plays is three miles!

“It really is on the doorstep. And it’s informal. It’s all about the audience experience of the play, not the peripheral stuff. You can turn up in board shorts from the beach and sit there enjoying a beer and a pasty. It’s a very informal and intimate experience.”

Q: How long does it take from choosing a play to performing it?

“It takes about three solid weeks to adapt a play. It’s great fun, you take a wonderful work so the hard bit has been done for you, and you have a great time taking liberties with it. I love the challenge of adapting a play with 30 characters for performance by a cast of six.

“Once we’ve selected a play, we set about casting it. We have a pool of actors that we have worked with for about 10 years. We always try to get someone new in as well, so we get people with experience and new blood too.

“We go through about five weeks of rehearsals. Then there’s designing the set and costumes.”

Q: How did you get into the theatre?

“I did a drama degree at Birmingham University, but felt disillusioned by it. I saw Footsbarn performing in Cornwall in the 1970s. Footsbarn Travelling Theatre is one of the world’s leading touring companies, performing for the most part in a circus big top, but also in theatres throughout the world.

“They were, and still are, renowned for their exciting adaptations of classics – Shakespeare and Moliere – transcending the language barrier with this unique blend of visual theatre, music and magic.

“I remember walking into this marquee and seeing their The Tempest. It was funny and alive, and everything I though theatre should be but couldn’t find at the time. It inspired me to set up Miracle. (Bill set up the company in 1979 and has been its artistic director ever since, writing, adapting and directing most of the productions.)

“It was a struggle for the first 15 years or so, all very hand to mouth, but since we got Arts Council Funding, it’s been a full time job for three of us and we can pay are actors properly.”

Q: What would you say to people who don’t go to the theatre?

“Just come and see how enjoyable theatre can be. I think a lot of people still think it’s an intellectual experience, not entertainment, and something other people do, not them. We want people to think of it like going to the movies. It’s entertainment. Going to the theatre used to be like going to church, you went for the good of your soul, not because you enjoyed it.”

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