Writing and Directing a Halloween Play


A few weeks ago I visited the beautiful grassroots activist community Transition Heathrow who are protesting against the immoral expansion of  Heathrow Airport. You may have heard of the ongoing battle, No Third Runway, with Heathrow Airport and the hundreds of peoples lives will be uprooted against their will if Heathrow succeed in replacing their homes with tarmac, (not to mention the pollution to the rest of the surrounding areas!) But I digress slightly.

Upon one of my visits there, a few of us began to discuss Halloween that was to be in a couple of weeks times and I thought that it would be a fun to do something at the site, some kind of event. From there my mind did its usual thing when I get an idea in my head where it moves even faster than usual, and my pen could not keep up with my thoughts as I frantically wrote out an entire walk though play to be held at the site, Halloween themed of course, with an Eco-Friendly message. Somebody had mentioned something about Alice In Wonderland to me earlier that day, so with that memory in my head, I decided to base the play around that, keeping the characters the same yet with changing the lines to fit the eco-friendly theme and to make that extra bit creepy for the Halloween portion of the evening. I buzzed around the site excited as I recreated my characters. Such as 'The White Rabbit' whose line "I'm late!" I developed to "I'm running out of time. We're running out of time", a continuous metaphor to how we are all running out of time to save this earth. And the 'Queen of Hearts', who actually did have a heart for the environment and looking after it, and any of those who opposed that dream; "Off with their heads!" (Or "Off with their dreads!", as my creative actor changed it too to fit its main audience!)

And so 'Welcome To Wastefulland' was born! 

I arrived at Grow Heathrow on the Wednesday night, with show time on the Saturday, I still had no definite actors! But I was okay with that. There was something about the whole thing from the moment that I came up with the idea that filled me with confidence. Plus after years doing amateur performance, I know well just how much can be achieved with little resources and time to work with. And besides, I wanted the performance to be about Grow Heathrow and to display the sites grounds as much as the narrative through each minimalist set scene.

After taking 5 minutes at the end of the Wednesday meeting to speak about what will be happening with the play, I got not only a round of applause but  wonderful buzz of excitement from around the room and people all eager to either get involved or watch the finished product. First hurdle; Done. The next day, using the amazing Straw Bale House as a rehearsal space, which was made by the residents by hand, everybody who wanted to get involved met me there the next day. Armed with only 2 copies of the less than an hour long script, I brought costumes from my own wardrobe, (because you know who doesn't own bunny ears, a cat outfit, and a top hat!?... I actually have 4 top hats... I don't even know why myself...) The first rehearsal, as was everyone actually, was amazing! I can honestly say that directing the play and conducting ans getting involved with the rehearsals was possibly even more fun than the performing itself. My actors were so wonderful, so enthusiastic, and each a team player - a directors dream!

During that day and the next day to come, some of the cast changed and it ended up being some of the cast having to play 2 parts and I played the rabbit since it was the easiest for me to move around each set. Each learnt their lines and nailed their parts in just a couple of days which was extra extraordinary since none of these people, bar a couple had never acted and only a couple had acted in school years before hand. But again that was one of the points of the play. I didn't want professionals, I wanted members of Grow Heathrow to get involved and help boost morale across the site. This was for them to have just as much fun as the audience watching the show, (and quite an audience it was! I was very impressed and happy at the large turn out). The feedback I received from my actors was immensely rewarding. "Thank you for being the most chilled out director ever!" and "It can't be easy to organise hippies, well done for organising anarchists!" Life in itself has taught me to keep my nature relaxed. Stressing out never got anybody anywhere. And I wanted the performance preparation process to be fun for my actors, not full of pressure, And from the smiles on their faces in each rehearsal, I can happily and confidently say that we achieved that.

Another thing to sort for the show was the only slight issue of lightning. It was an immersive play, where the audience walked through the site and found each scene there ready and waiting for them, often with hem being forced to get involved such as the actors running around and through them or the audience having to make a choice in the scene. The walk through the creepy darkness was part of the fun! But to make sure that the audience new their way this needed candles. Lots of candles. 105 to be exact. My wonderful assistance who also played the Card, (who painted the roses red), as well as actors who had finished their scene, ran around lighting candles as the play went on. To create a path and to make the most of the beautiful site, I had the audience walk around the way they came before hand, except then turning off in a different direction, the candles having lit the previous path blown out with candles forming anew path lit. In the mists of all the actually quite fun, candle lighting and blowing madness, my wonderful assistance said that the audience might get lost and I should go guide them. I quickly agreed and went and stood by the next next scene and with my pocket watch and White Rabbit attire, completely improvised a scene on the spot where I singled out audience members and creepily asked them to tell me how much time we have left. I also had a staring context with one of them in the process, (I won!).

The ending was also quite improvised. The Queen shouted 'Off with their dreads', as nobody seemed fit enough in here eyes to look after the earth, and I lead them to an area where they found a scarecrow dressed as a dead Alice who had died from all of the Wastefullands pollution, complete with a blonde wig which I had borrowed from the sites free shop. Some of my amazing actors had even come up with a song that day which they performed in the scene. Wanting to take the audience into the 'Pretty Garden', we improvised that the Queen ad changed her minds and lead them to the beautiful Meadow, where the remaining actors awaited, and told them that this beautiful greenery is their future, if they continue to look after the environment.

 The whole experience was so much fun, and so honestly rewarding. The feedback and applauses from the audience, each one I spoke to having loved it and many keen for Grow Heathrow to do more plays, made it even more the worth while. It was not 'professional', it was not on a huge, famous stage, and none of my actors where Bafta nominees; but I did not want all of that. I wanted realness. Real people, in a real area, bringing to light real issues in an entertaining way and for the audience to really get involved in a play for once. Instead of just sitting their as if the stage is just a bigger version of their TV set. And I wanted something for the team at Grow Heathrow to work on together and to have something to look forward to together, amidst the horrible weather conditions that makes their life on site at this time of year even harder.

My talented actors said to me with real earnestly during rehearsals and at the end of the show, "Thank you so much for this opportunity". As cheesy and cliché as it, it really is me who is to thank them. It was my first, non-education-related, play that I wrote and directed myself, and I sincerely could not be happier with how it all went and I am so, so proud and thankful of all my actors and to everybody who came and so glad that they all enjoyed watching it as much as we did performing it.

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