By the year 2000, I’d been directing school shows at King George School in South Shields for 12 years and had been Head of Drama for about 10 and there’d been a number of students who had moved into professional theatre and were—as everyone does—having a tough time getting work, so I decided to set up KG Productions which would give them professional experience in those first, very difficult years.
Our first show was Claire Dowie’s Adult Child Dead Child, written originally as what she called a “stand-up theatre” piece which she performed herself. I asked her if I could play it with two performers, not changing, adding or subtracting a single word but simply dividing it up between two actors who portrayed different aspects of the protagonist’s character.
With her permission given, Adult Child was performed by two 19-year-olds, Kimberley Ramsay and Lisa Wood, who had left the school and were studying Drama at South Tyneside College. There were performances at the Customs House in South Shields, at Bretton Hall in Wakefield and for sixth formers at three schools in Wuppertal, Germany.
We began as we meant to go on, with a really good piece of contemporary theatre which stretches the actors, but unfortunately that wasn’t exactly what happened, at least not for a while.
The next work that came our way was a piece of theatre-in-education. We were booked by Northumbrian Water to do a piece called Water Waste (“What a Waste”—geddit? Sorry, their idea, not mine) for primary schools. Actually, what we were given was a title and a storyline—someone (it was a woman in our version) had travelled back from a time when water was very precious and rivers had dried up to beg her ancestors not to waste water.
That was it! Just a storyline—we had to create the play. And of course we did. We decided that some participation from the children was needed, so in each school we asked the teachers to nominate (without telling him / her!) one of the kids who they felt would handle being brought into the play. Our time-traveller would be that kid’s great great great (and possibly even more great—should that be greater?) grandmother.
And that was it! Suddenly we were a TiE company.
Or at least it seemed as that was going to be the case: next we were commissioned by South Tyneside Council to do a piece on recycling (Who Let the Rats In?) which, like the first show, toured South Tyneside primary schools, and by GoWarm to do a piece on Energy Conservation (Sparky, about a rather dim clown) touring primaries throughout Durham and South Tyneside.
(We created both the storyline and the play for both of these shows.)
I have always been conscious that TiE can be very worthy and—if I am perfectly honest—very dull and yes, I’m afraid Water Waste did fit into that category. But, although the storyline we were given didn’t lend itself to any light-heartedness, we did our best by the interplay between the two 'modern' characters, incompetent workman Wayne (Miller) and bossy boss Miss (Julie) Allom.
Humour, though, was built into the other pieces from the start: Wayne, now “The Recycling Man”, is constantly prat-falling or being thrown around by the rats (we had some lovely rat masks!) and, as Sparky the daft energy-wasting clown, he drew squeals of disgust from the kids when, having been told off by his mam for leaving the fridge door open so the milk went off and turned semi-solid, he drank it to prove it was OK.
(It was actually cream-cheese in the bottle, but we didn’t tell the kids that!)
And they howled when his mam squeezed out his soaking underpants over his head. There’s nothing kids like better than a bit of rudeness—especially poo jokes—but we thought it better not to include any of them in a show intended for primary schools!