R + D at Walpole Old Chapel December 2020

Finally we managed it – in Dec 2020 our rescheduled residency at Walpole Old Chapel went ahead within the smallest of windows between COVID-19 lockdowns. During this time, the UK was in a complex regional tier system, and although most of our cast and team members were local to Suffolk, a small proportion were travelling from higher tier areas.

As a consequence, we had to revisit and revamp our COVID-19 risk assessment, and rework our project budget to allow for non-local team members to stay in solo overnight accommodation. With singing as the primary art form of the piece, we put in place stringent measures to mitigate against the higher levels of droplets and aerosols generated: a one way system, plastic sheeting and screens, masks, allocated singing zones, strong ventilation, social distancing, and outdoor discussions/walks/rehearsals. It was freezing. It was unconventional. It was restrictive. But we were making theatre, music and art.

The key aims of the residency were to refine, adapt and address dramaturgical and musical elements of the current version of Witchfinder following its premiere in 2013. Within this was consideration of the site-specific nature of the performance, the integration of community performers, and the potential offered by actor-musician involvement. In addition, the original piece had been conceived with immersive experience very much at its core; with the claustrophobia of the witch hunt encouraged by actor-audience integration, close physical proximity and orchestrated hysteria. All aspects that would be expressly forbidden within a socially distanced ‘COVID-safe’ performance environment.

An emotional rollercoaster of excitement, anxiety, creativity, disappointment, innovation, problem solving, hope and despondency ensued. But under Emma Bernard’s calm and grounding direction, we found a new and invigorating way of working, rediscovered our creative selves, and agreed to concentrate on ‘making the show’, and think about the pandemic later.

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