I’m writing this on my way to the second week of rehearsals for HOT (Helen of Troy). I’m stuck in traffic on the North Circular with a dozen boxes in the back of the car — oh, don’t worry, someone else is driving — and thinking about the best way to assemble the set pieces once they come out of their flat packs. Should I have brought a hammer? Will there be enough of those stupid little IKEA Allen keys?
When I arrive, there will be people waiting for me to help me unload and get the boxes into the rehearsal space. This still feels like a miracle to me: we have a team of 9 collaborators working on this show.
I said to Katharina (our brilliant director) last week: it’s the most supported I have ever been as an artist. In rehearsals, Katharina and Vicky (who plays Helen) are generous and rigorous and talented and loads of fun. Meanwhile, Fae (our producer) is posting beautiful images on our social media pages and Ben (our stage manager) is organising risk assessments and storage with the venue. Ilayda (our designer) has been running all over town finding materials for the show and updating her epic spreadsheet. Yaiza (our composer) has already delivered the music and a very clever modular sound design that we can decide how to use as the show develops in rehearsals – because she’s so in demand that she’s in tech with another show this week. Sherry (our lighting designer) will be dropping in to rehearsals this week to see how the staging is shaping up. And my dear Susie (codirector of Pinecone with me) is there for me whatever I need: from the earliest read through of the script to the Arts Council application to our two-hour phone call last night talking through how the show ends and also what colour rugs to buy.
I really can’t believe my luck. What a team! I love this African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
And it certainly hasn’t been fast, as you’ll know from my 10 years of blog posts starting with the early days of The Helen Project!! We wouldn’t be here without my original co-writer Megan Cohen and the support of DIVAfest at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco, plus the brilliant cast of the very first workshops. Then Sharon Burrell and Angela Bull showed me the ropes of producing on the London Fringe when we reformatted the show as a five-actor “solo” piece for the Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre. That’s when I first started thinking about performing — which led to a few scratch nights and loads of rewrites, a breakthrough at Invererne Creative Residency, sharing a new script with Yaiza, Susie, and some generous artist friends Sandi and Jessica, and then morphing their feedback into something totally new: Helen of Troy Calls Bullshit, which Katharina and I developed that summer with the support of the Canvas Cafe in Brick Lane.
Another breakthrough came when I went to a workshop on autobiographical performance with Bryony Kimmings. Over the course of the week, I discovered my place in the show, and created the teenage character who now joins Helen as co-protagonist of the story. That’s also when I changed the title for the last time: HOT (Helen of Troy).
Then the production work started: we applied (unsuccessfully, twice) for funding from the Arts Council, and also for a few other development opportunities. Artsdepot offered us a week’s residency in their creative space, with a small cash commission, and from there we were on our way.
With artsdepot’s support, our ACE application was finally successful, and the residency week itself was full of creative epiphanies – including the idea that it’s not truly a solo show, and the Helen voiceover needs to be done live. By the end of the week, Katharina and Ilayda and I had devised the outline of the show and a few key bits of dialog.
Then I went off to write the first draft of the script, staying with my friend and co-director of Voila! Europe Festival Sharlit Deyzac at her new farmhouse in Portugal, which she is turning into an artists residency. There, I wrote the lyrics for the songs, and a short “espresso” draft of the script: only 20 minutes long and way too dense, but enough to get us started.
In December, we had 5 days of workshopping, writing, discussing music and sound design, and casting our Helen – that’s when we met Victoria Howell. A couple new drafts later, we started the “actual rehearsals”.
And now we’re getting ready to take the show to The Cockpit next week (next week? NEXT WEEK!!), supported by their Theatre Maker programme. That means our show contributes to their theme of “Motivated Theatre” (theatre that can only be made by the people making it, with a deep personal connection between the artists and the show), and they help with discounts on the space and extra marketing support.
Phew! That’s a lot of people and organisations involved in making my “solo” show!! It has been an epic journey to get to this point – and in some ways, this is just the beginning! Hopefully after these performances, the show will go on to other venues, festivals, a tour… but that’s for another day!
A big round of applause for everyone who has been part of HOT (Helen of Troy) over the last 10 years. You absolute legends!