The cold, insidious rise of Winter will be the theme of our next show.

Whilst we often enjoy returning to our older shows, especially when our schedule is as packed as it has been for the last few months, there’s nothing like getting stuck into a brand new show to really get the crew excited to get back to work.

We’ve just come off our annual 3-week break and everyone’s looking a bit worse for wear. For the parents in our troupe, this break has meant a return to family life. Many of our younger stage performers (usually in their late twenties or early thirties) have children and this break is their chance to go home and spend some quality time with them.

A life in Be Happy Theatre is a demanding one: we are not paid a huge amount for each show that we do and the work often involves us having to travel away from home for long periods of time. During these down-periods it’s important for us to take stock of where we are and where we’re going, this is a key part of our growth and greatly aids the creative process.

The seasons have changed since our time away here in Britain. Thanks to the unusually balmy October that we were treated to, the sudden onset of Winter has come as a bit of a shock to us. One minute it felt like the warm evenings would keep stretching on forever – the next we were hurrying for the thermostats and woolly jumpers.

The bite of the first winter’s night took us all by surprise, but it also has us feeling distinctly apprehensive.

This apprehension, or unease if you like, could be attributed to a number of environmental issues – the cold being just one of them. Upon our return from our three-week break we had the chance to get together and discuss how we were feeling in relation to where we wanted to take the next show, thematically speaking.

Today’s political climate is in a state of flux. The glacial pace of the Brexit negotiations have been so slow that the media has stopped paying it any attention. Accusations of corruption in relation to the US Election and Russia have been slowly making their way to the surface, but now these important findings have been overshadowed by the raft of sexual assault allegations that have been flying left, right and centre at some of the biggest figures in the entertainment industry.

Our next show is going to be an exploration of the passage of the season (an inevitable change that still has the power to shock us) in relation to the comparatively immobile societal climate that we find ourselves in.

How can we make any progress in seeking justice when we find ourselves constantly stuck in the freezing mud with more and more issues? How do we summon the energy to move forward at the same relentless pace as our environment? Can we pick up our feet and keep up with the constant spinning of our globe?

These are the questions that we are hoping to answer with our next piece.

We’ve been a little preoccupied of late with a different type of performance schedule…

After the success of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival shows we’ve had a lot of enquiries.

From being a roving group of troubadours, constantly seeking and searching for work, we’ve become something else entirely. Our tour schedule is starting to fill up with multiple engagements: everything from workshops in inner city schools to 5-day runs in some of the biggest theatres we’ve ever had the chance to play in. It’s a rather eerie feeling, suddenly being wanted by the cultural world. Some of our players are overjoyed, they talk excitedly about how this is good news for all of us as performers. With every show that we play, in every new city and space, we are extending our reach to more and more people.

It’s wonderful, being able to reach so many people of course, but the question is now that we are in demand, has our role as performers changed irrevocably?

 


The charm of our company of players has always been that there has been no expectation on the audience’s part. The people who have traditionally come to our shows are usually blissfully unaware of what they are about to experience. After all, why should they have ever heard of us before? In the old days, our shows would usually be booked at the last minute, taking advantage of gaps in the schedules of venues that we had no real right playing in the first place.  We’d send members of our casts out into the street, in full costume and characters, talking to the public and getting bums on seats. It was always a mad rush to fill a theatre and get a production together at the same time – but that was part of the thrill of those days.

Today, things are a little different. With a packed schedule and precious few days off, we’re all much more focused on our shows that we’ve ever been before. Be Happy Theatre used to be an alternative lifestyle for professional performers, who were weary of the endless rigmarole of the traditional theatre circuit. It also served as a stress-free stepping block for eager amateurs, looking to get a taste of what life working in a theatre could be like. But now our audiences are growing in size, the old pros are starting to get a taste for the limelight once more and the new players are seeing each performance as a chance to get spotted.

There’s no reason to feel wary of this shift in dynamic though. If anything this change needs to be embraced. It’s wonderful seeing the performers and writers in our company more enthused about their work. They were passionate before, but there was a certain lackadaisical air with which they used to hold themselves, that suggested that they were simply going through the motions rather than giving their whole selves to each performance. Now, however, there is a real drive amongst us.

Every line, every movement, every performance – matters.

We’ve just finished a string of shows that have left us bruised, exhausted but a lot better off.

As we’ve mentioned already, there’s been an increase of interest in our little theatre group.

Besides the string of bookings we’ve had at bigger theatres, we’ve also been contacted by what we can only refer to as ‘high-net worth individuals’. This kind of enquiry is completely unprecedented in Be Happy Theatre history. We’re used to scratching around for work, desperately dividing beer money between the company and counting our pennies. So when we were approached by an elderly couple, who were throwing a grand soiree for their niece’s 21st Birthday Party, we were a little taken back.

Although we’ve got a rich history of running theatrical workshops for kids and teenagers, this well-to-do couple had no interest in hiring us for these services. They wanted our performers and our performance skills alone. We didn’t know it but we had drifted into the realm of ‘performers for hire’ – a lucrative niche that can snowball into an extremely profitable enterprise for all involved. As our cast of players is constantly changing and rotating, it’s rare that we keep a consistent core message or motivation. Some other theatre groups may look down on us for not sticking to a strict mission statement, but we see this otherwise.

Performance has many reasons for existing. It may suit other companies to hold their artistic integrity above all other priorities, we are a group of individuals who act and work together as such. The varied group of performers we attract into our company are not conformists. They prefer to live by their rules, to decide their own fate by making decisions that adhere to their own values rather than someone else’s. If one performer does not feel comfortable taking part in a particular event, then they are under no pressure to do so.

When this recent enquiry was brought up in our weekly meeting, it was clear that everyone was feeling a little skint. The promise of a big pay check for completely improvisational performance work clearly struck a chord with everyone involved. Although this lovely old couple had only asked for a handful of performers, they were going to be getting the whole Be Happy Theatre group, regardless.

In our usual eagerness to impress, we’d made ourselves up in our complete Circus get up. Over the years, we’ve collected dozens of Circus related outfits, from traditional Clown get-ups to much more elaborate Animal Tamer costumes. Strong-Man leotards, Human Cannon-Ball flight suits – you name it, we’ve got it. Our aim was to explode into the party with as much raucous energy as possible, we wanted to show these kids how much fun they could be having.

We were booked to arrive as the main form of entertainment at 8, the guest would be arriving and we would be setting the tone. However, when we pulled up the long gravel drive (after passing two security checkpoints already) it was clear that we were in for a bit of a surprise ourselves. Loud pumping House music could be heard battering the single-glazed windows of the grand manor house. We’d forgotten what young people could be like.

It turned out that half a dozen ice sculptures had been delivered ahead of schedule, putting the party ahead by a few hours and accelerating the rate of alcohol consumption dramatically.

The manor house was a circus before we got there, but we certainly added some more authenticity to the occasion…

With the Fringe Festival now just a twinkle in the rear view mirror, another chapter in Be Happy Theatre’s playbook has been closed.

As much as we’d love to rest on our laurels, give ourselves a pat on the back and have a nice sit down – there truly is no rest for the wicked.

Taking a Be Happy show on the road is often an intense, emotional roller-coaster – that some performers simply cannot commit to on a permanent basis. Of course, we’ve got plenty of mainstays that have been with the Company for a few years now, but these are often road-worn pros who understand the importance of mental stability and finding a sense of home, when one is away from their family.

homesick

Due to the transient nature of many of our performers and the term-based cycle of productions, the end of September is always a time of upheaval and regeneration. The talented amateurs and professionals, that make up the constantly rotating menagerie we have here, often need to make a move from the company at the end of a show.

 

middle-aged-peopleWith about half of our summer performers leaving for fresh pastures, we’ve got a sizeable number of places to fill for our Christmas show. As ever, we’ve got no idea what story we’ll adapting for this year’s Seasonal show – our cast sizes have been known to vary from as little as 8 to as many as 40.

 

The way we recruit our performers has not changed since the inception of the Company. We don’t have requirements or restrictions when it comes to age or previous experience. We simply travel around the country holding open auditions, with zero limitations. Attracting a wide range of performers for different disciplines, once we have reached a decent number of players, we’ll then begin to formulate a concept for the show.

 

Although we’ve had actors as old as 65 in Be Happy productions, this year we’re going to be targeting a slightly younger age for our new recruits.

Every year, young people go through seismic life changes inherent in growing up. Leaving primary school, a child goes from being the biggest kid in the school to the smallest. The teachers that they’ve grown to trust and understand have been left behind in a different town or village. At the start of a new term, they’re faced with the daunting challenge of building a myriad of new relationships, that will not only determine their social status but also they’re future well being for the next 5 or 7 years.

 

 

A similar, but perhaps more crucial change occurs when a generation of teenagers leave the Secondary School establishment and enters into the realm of adulthood.

The pressures of choosing between A-Levels, Vocational Experience or simply finding a job can weigh heavy on a young mind. Individuals, crowded by peers that have mastered the art of appearing in control, might struggle externalising their inner conflict – the performance of theatre and improvisation can help with this.

 

 

That’s why we’re making special effort this year to reach out to younger would-be performers, on the cusp of adulthood and in need of a life-changing adventure that could change their entire perspective on life as they know it.

 

For the first time in Be Happy Theatre tours, we’re going to be travelling around the South of England’s Secondary School and Colleges. We’ve developed a short-hand version of a show we ran 5 years ago and we’ll be taking a skeleton crew of 10 players out to inspire a new generation of actors.

Although colleges and schools often have their own Drama and Theatre productions, Be Happy offers teenagers the opportunity to realise a dream that some thought might have died decades ago: the dream of running away to join an acting troupe. By employing the use of cunning college marketing and advertising techniques that we’ve learnt from some friends across the water, we’re going to be trying our best to recruit as many fresh young faces to our cause as possible.

ncds-asia-report-cover-spotlight-short

The allure of travelling overseas to East Asia is potent, drawing thousands of young British people every year. We offer a slightly different Gap Year alternative. A year travelling Europe, working with professional actors, performing in a full-length show in some of the most prestigious venues in the Theatre world.

Once our motley crew of players has been assembled, we’ll be making a start on our Christmas Show. A time of year that can often be tough on our young performers, this year will be one that they’re not likely to forget. 
shakespeareIt was Shakespeare that once wrote that:
 All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
For the most part, I am inclined to agree with him barring the ‘merely’.

 

In this current age of modern technology and innovation, it can be easy to feel like your life is ‘merely’ one of billions in the world. But it is so much more than that.

 

At Be Happy we believe that in every waking moment of our day,  whether we are working, cooking a meal or simply talking to our friends – we are improvising. This doesn’t mean that we are lying or acting in some way.

 

Human beings are incredibly complex beings, all acting and reacting to each other in a matter of microseconds. The responses we make to conversations, the gait of our walk and the flavour of the food we prepare are all wonderfully unique and are made up of billions of microscopic movements and thought processes. In essence, although your life might dull or repetitive at times, we are constantly improvising in every aspect of our existence.

 

A great many of our performance pieces are created through the use of improvisation. It’s a wonderful technique that allows us to engage our imaginations and attempt to push the boundaries of our work. By going ‘off-script’ we are attempting to defeat the deceptive nature of traditional theatre and create performances that are borne out of our natural need to improvise.

Although our shows tend to stray from formal realism, there is an inherent level of it when it comes to using so much improvisation in the formula of our work. By juxtaposing our vibrant dance sections with minimalistic conversations based on improv, we aim to bridge the gap between performance and reality – showing our audience that there’s no reason why life cannot be filled with the joy of performance as well as unadulterated joy.improvisation

Of course, there is a risk-reward nature to improvising that reflects the risks that we take in our everyday lives. Even though we may stick to the same use of words in our day to day lives, outside forces are constantly influencing our style of dialogue and introducing new phrases can sometimes cause confusion. New languages can prove even more difficult to handle. Our performers come from a whole range of countries and so our performances reflect their unique cultures. Bringing together a group of people from different backgrounds can often leave to conflict, this is a key part of human life and one that we do not ignore.

conflicIt would be too easy to create work that celebrates the good parts of humanity. A 2-hour show of happiness and joy would be a beautiful thing, but it wouldn’t be a fair representation of our world as it is now. That’s why we try to balance the mood of our shows to take our audience through a range of emotions. Performance theatre is a wide-reaching platform and one that can be used to express a whole plethora of emotions. Conflict, anger and violence are things that exist in our world today. Even though it may be preferable to ignore the ugly side of humanity, we believe it is best to accept their existence so that we are best prepared to combat them.

 

We improvise every moment of our lives – so when it comes to meeting new people, or encountering a new problem have confidence in yourself and remember that:stage