Benjamin Brockman

Drama

2012

After receiving the BBM Youth Drama Award six months ago I started planning my trip right away.

The Planning-
I first went to a travel agent. BBM recommend a travel agent but I decided to use STA because I had a contact there and knew they could get me some good deals. I recommend booking flights as soon as you can and as far in advance as possible to get the best airfare. Through STA I was able to combine my flights and also get travel insurance (do not leave the country without travel insurance, if covers you for anything that happens). Also because I was going to work in the UK I needed to get a visa. As an Australian we can get a 2-year working visa. They are almost impossible to work out by yourself and if you attempt to do it yourself and you fill out a form wrong then your application will be rejected and you have to start again – it is a lengthy process. I suggest you consider using a visa service that I purchased from STA called Britbound. They take care of all your paperwork and make things easy. They also send you a UK sim card for your phone and an almighty Oyster Card before you arrive in London so you don’t have to worry about them when you get there which is awesome. For $300 it was the best money I’ve ever spent. But make sure that you leave up to 10 weeks before you leave to start the application process otherwise you won’t get your visa back in time. I was cutting it close. I left 9 weeks and received my visa back only a few days before I left. I now had to start looking at where I wanted to stay while I was in London. I didn’t have any friends overseas had no idea about where was good and where was bad, so I searched online. Depending on your budget and how long you are staying really affects your choice of living. If you want to go cheap and are happy to sleep on people’s couches for free the Couch surfing is the way to go. It wasn’t really for me, as I wanted my own room and somewhere I could keep everything safely. After a while of searching I found a website called AirBNB which is a site where people advertise rooms for rent for travelers.

I found a great room in a suburb called Fulham in a nice house and nice area. It was close to public transport and for 33 pounds a night it was cheaper than a hotel and more secure than couch surfing or a hostel. I had my own bathroom and also free Internet. I had my flights, accommodation, travel insurance and visa sorted – now on to what I was going to do.

The Placement (my Royal Court Saga)-
I had already decided where I would like to go to do some work placements. Because my passion is new writing it was natural to go to one of the most famous theatres in the world to do a work placement. The Royal Court Theatre in Sloan Square is the home and birthplace of many great plays. I started sending emails to the head of production at the time. Sometimes you can’t find direct email addresses on the Internet so if in doubt it is best to make an international call to administration.
Unfortunately it was a battle to get a quick answer from the Royal Court. Because of the nature of the way they work they don’t plan very far in advance and couldn’t really give me a show that I could observe and they kept putting me off. I was continually met with “Get back to us in a month” or “get back to us in two weeks and we will know more” or “we like to interview our work placements in person before we give them anything”. After 6 months of this continuous emailing back and forth and 4 international calls at convenient times to them I still was out of luck with securing a placement with the Royal Court and it finally came to a “let’s wait till you’re in the country” which left me a little disheartened. I was worried that I would not have anything to go to in London, which was scary, as I didn’t want to waste this opportunity given to me. So I got on the plane not having secured my work placements.

On my way over I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been on an international flight before and I was a little worried. It was okay and you just deal with it and occasionally get up and walk about. A good tip I got was to stay up as late as you can Australian time until you are really tired and then try and sleep for 8 hours and then get up and start the day even though it is still dark outside.
So after the very long flight I finally arrived in London and I was very excited. After getting on the tube and heading to my accommodation (see getting around London) I rang the Royal Court and left a message with them saying that I was in London and when should I come in. I got no reply that day and became even more worried. So the next day at 9am I went in to Royal Court and asked to see the person I had been in contact with. When I asked they told me they hadn’t arrived at work yet. I went back out in to Sloan Square in the cold and waited an hour before going back to stage door. I asked again if they had arrived and was met with “they still haven’t arrived yet”. I went back in to the square. London is cold and it started to snow. Things were looking really bleak at this point and I was getting very upset. I went back after another hour and asked again but was given the same answer. I went back out into the square and decided to ring the office. I rang stage door and ask them to put me through to my contact. Lo and behold they were in the office. After pleasantries were exchanged they were shocked to find out that I was actually outside the theatre. They were a little rude and told me “that people in the theatre normally plan meetings but I am sure I can meet you in an hour, go wait downstairs in the bar.” It became quite clear that I was in for a fight to do anything in this place.

The First Meeting-
I waited in the café for an hour reading a magazine. The production coordinator finally greeted me. Happy and delighted to put a name to the face, we sat down and started to talk. I was very polite and very thankful that she could come and see me. I was told that they still didn’t have much they could give me but they did have a show that was currently in its last few days of rehearsals and I could go along and see if there was anything I could do and watch a little. Inside I was a little annoyed that she thought a few days would be sufficient time to learn anything as I came here to improve my skills and gain invaluable experience in the field of new writing. However I accepted graciously and said that it would be awesome.

She asked me if I knew how to make my way to Clapham Junction because that’s where they were rehearsing. I told her I didn’t but that I was sure I could find my way there. She then went on a rant and told me that they like to have their interns know their way around so they don’t have to mother them and show them things. During this rant I got out my iphone and searched on the journey app that I had downloaded and found the information I needed to get there. Problem solved, she was a little stunned and after a moment of awkwardness of me slightly showing her up she invited my upstairs to fill out some forms. I was determined to be the nicest and most polite person you could meet but on the inside I was a little disheartened that I was met with such distain and reservation.

She then asked me to read a safety manual and tick off the sections I had read. She sat me down in the stage management office two floors below hers. Sitting and reading I started talking to two stage managers who were working there on a show called “Narrative” that would be playing in the upstairs theatre in a week. They were very nice to me and we chatted. They asked me where I was from and it was the first time during the day that I had met a nice person who was interested in where I was from and what my experience was. Reading the manual, sections were missing, it was incomplete. One of the Stage Managers in the room proclaimed that I was reading it very meticulously to which I said I didn’t want to make a mistake in case they asked questions, I wanted to do everything right to make the best impression possible. I went back upstairs and told her I had read the manual but sections were missing including the emergency evacuation procedure for the building. I had kindly written a list of what sections were missing on a sticky note and stuck it to the front of the manual. Finally she gave me the number of the stage manager in charge of the show and said have fun and to ring her if there were any problems. I was sent back out in to the cold to make my way to Clapham Junction. Following the directions on my iphone blindly I made my way to the rehearsal room.

The Rehearsal Room and The Low Road-
I walked in and said hello to everyone in the stage management workroom and office. I told them that I was Ben from Australia and I had come to do some work experience. I met the senior stage manager first who was the most senior stage manager at the Royal Court. I then met the DSM and the ASM. There were also three other interns on the show who had been there from the start. It was quite clear that this was a very large show but I didn’t know how large it was going to be until someone explained it to me.

It was the artistic director’s last show at the Court before he was leaving and it was huge show called The Low Road written by Bruce Norris. It is a fable about cut throat capitalism in 1800’s America with aliens at the end. It had over 25 actors, over 30 locations and over 200 props and costumes and wigs. Along with lots of scene changes, there would be 6 costume staff, 4 wig staff, 4 stage crew, 2 Stage managers, 2 mechs, a electrician and a fireman on deck for every show (that is a lot of people). It was the largest show that the Royal Court has ever undertaken and people were under a lot of stress to get it up and running.

As tech was the following week I asked what I could do to help. I got started making some props and breaking down fabric. I was finally happy to be doing something even if it was just small and not what I had thought. About two days passed and the show was ready to make its move to the theatre. I asked if I could help and watch tech. The senior stage manager said yes and said they were going to need all the help they could get.

Tech week at the Royal Court-
On Monday we started tech. I was sitting in the auditorium next to the stage manager’s table and watching. Tech in the UK is very different to a tech session in Australia. Normally you would start tech week with lighting and sound plots, getting the cues in the prompt copy. You’d have all the scenes marked up on the floor and know who is moving what, where and when. But in the UK you start from nothing and make your way through, plotting lights and sound and having actors on stage. It is all thrown together over four days. For the scale of the show I felt personally that it was a little disorganized. Actors were waiting on stage while lights were being discussed for 20 minutes rather than already having done the cues and bringing the actors and the technical elements together. It was very interesting to watch and shows that different places have different methods.

I continuously watched the tech for a few days doing whatever I could, offering to get lunch for the hard working stage management team and asking people if they needed anything. It was the least I could do. Then came one of the biggest scene changes in the show that required everyone and it turns out that they were running short of hands. This meant that some of the scenery couldn’t move at the same time the way the director wanted. I was sitting in my blacks and was asked to come on stage and help until they found another solution. They were running out of time as the first show was in a day and they still had to finished tech. I was very excited to help and did my cue with gusto and energy. It then struck me that if I did enough cues I would become indispensable. One cue turned into two cues which turned into three cues. I was willing to help as much as I could. Four cues, Five Cues, Six Cues and so on.

The next day we had a big company meeting as the show still hadn’t finished tech. They told us that the first preview had been canceled for that night so we could attempt to finish tech in the afternoon and get a full run in during the night. We finished tech that afternoon of the Friday having started on Monday. That night we did a full run and the Stage Manager said that I should do my cues for now and we could work out a way to replace me later.

The Dress Rehearsal and Previews-
The dress rehearsal went really well. I did my cues and nothing went wrong, everyone was happy. The next day a few final touches were made ready for the first audience. I asked the stage manager again what she would like me to do. She said to just do the cues and we can work it out later. Like many shows that have a rough tech week you will always find ways to improve how you work and because I didn’t really do much in the first act I started to pick up more cues until by the end of previews I had had an entire complex show plot that involved scene changes and props handling and I even had to wear a costume to go out on stage. Come opening night I asked again what I could do and whether I was staying with the show as I had other things I could do in London if not. The stage management team said that I had to stay as there was no way to replace me at this stage! I said that I would be happy to stay as long as I was paid as I didn’t think the union would allow me to be working and not be paid.

The Low Road Season-
So after it was decided that I would stay and I would be a paid ASM on the show I was delighted. I had come to the country not knowing what I would do and was met with hesitation. I turned my situation around and showed them I had experience and determination to be good at what I do. It was a great honor to be asked to stay and to have beaten 3 other interns who had been there from the start to be the one who got to actually work on the show. I was very proud of myself that I had turned what was a bad start in to a positive outcome from which I could gain valuable experience in one of the best companies in the world.

As the shows ticked over and the season continued the company appreciated my bright smile and great sense of humor. I made some very good friends who I will stay in contact with for a very long time. The Royal Court offered me some great advice and gave me emails and phone numbers for other companies that I could ring and send my CV to try and get further work. Towards the end of the season I asked if I could have a debrief. I sat down with a senior production manager who told me that I did a great job and that they didn’t really expect it from me but I proved them wrong. We talked about the future and what I planned to do. I said I was planning to go home as I had already promised to work at Griffin as a stage manager. But I would think about coming back. I asked if there were any opportunities to work here again. He was very optimistic and said yes if I would like to come back I would be more than welcome in the following 2013/14 season. I shook his hand and said I would love to come back. He said I should always keep in contact with people here at the Court. After a rocky start it was a great experience and taught me that persistence, passion and hard work pays off!

Other Things I Did While In Town-
Matilda the Musical-
I also got to do some amazing other things whist in London. I had the opportunity to go back stage of Matilda the Musical for a few days and listen to the calling of the show and follow the deck plots of the stage management team which was a lot of fun.
Private tour of the Royal Opera House-
I got a full private tour of the Royal Opera House through a friend at the Royal Court. I got to see places the public would never see and meet lots of lovely people who invited me to many theatre events.
Always go to the Pub if asked-
I met lots of other theatre people across the UK from just hanging out in the bar at the Royal Court. Many nights well spent drinking and having fun and that’s where I made most of my friends and connections. If someone invites you to the pub you say yes because it is where you will meet the people of theatre at their most relaxed.
Other Theatre-
While in one of the greatest cities in the world I really wanted to see as much theatre as possible and in as many places as possible. I also have an obsession with getting pictures of the preshow or post show set up of the stage. The list of shows I saw is as follows:
Spamalot the Musical (West End)
Lion King the Musical (West End)
Les Miserable (West End)
Ghost the Musical (Wimbledon Theatre UK Tour)
Book Of Mormon (West End)
Not I the 40th Anniversary Production (Royal Court)
Children of the Sun (National Theatre)
Othello (National Theatre)
Table (National Theatre)
Trash Cuisine (Young Vic Theatre)
War Horse (national Theatre/ West End)
Merrily We Roll Along (West End)
Charlie and the Chocolate factory the Musical (West End)
Matilida The Musical (West End)
Tips and Tricks for cheap theatre seats-
I paid full price to get good seats to particular things that I really wanted to see, but lots of theatres have deals for people under the age of 25. You can often find cheap seats if your turn up at the theatre box office at 10am in the morning of the show. Also if you go an hour before a show and say you are one person quite often they will give you a good seat for 15-20 pounds. Never pay full price unless you really want to see it and want great seats. If you’re not fussed with where you sit and just want to see something, rock up to box office and ask.
Food and Transport-
My favorite place to eat in London was Byron Burger. It is a chain of awesome American burger restaurants and for me it was the best food in town. I recommend anyone going to London to eat there.
The most important thing is to make sure you get an Oyster card for all your transport. The cheapest way to get around is to get a monthly Oyster for 100 pounds and you can travel as much as you want in the month. Do not buy a normal ticket, use an Oyster, which you can get from any Underground ticket retailers for 5 pounds. Also download Journey pro and Tube map for your smart phone because that will help you find your way around super quickly.

Other Places I visited-

Brighton-
I really wanted to visit other places in the UK to have a look and break up the scenery a little. The first trip I took was to Brighton, an hour’s train trip south of London. It was really lovely and I had lots of fun, went on a few rides on the famous Brighton pier and walked along the beach and had lunch.

Bath-
The biggest trip I took was a two hour train ride west to Bath. I have always wanted to go to Bath because it the only natural hot spring in UK and is home to the historic roman baths. It is also the only UK city to be entirely heritage listed. I went for 4 days and got to experience some amazing history and see amazing ruins. I also spent two days at the Therma Spa which uses the natural hot spring water to fill their pools. It was very relaxing and a nice break after spending 2 and half months at the Royal Court. While there I also took a bus tour to Stonehenge and the white chalk horse outside of Bath, which was an amazing sight to see. I recommend taking some time to go see the wonderful sights that Britain has to offer.

Weather-
The UK isn’t as cold as everyone makes out to be. Spring is a wonderful time of year to visit and it was quite warm. It snowed once or twice which was cool but if you pack a decent jumper and good socks you should be fine.
Museums and Landmarks-
See as much as you can. A bus tour is the best way to see most of London in one go and they are everywhere. I got to see Big Ben, went on the London Eye and saw Tower Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (I recommend that for any theatre person) and so much more. I recommend going to the Tate Modern and the British Museum. The Hayward Gallery also has some awesome stuff. I got to see a good lighting exhibition with some amazing sculptures there. Get a small Lonely Planet Guide Book as it will give you some great advice and tips about how to see stuff.

Conclusion-
All together I spent 3 months in the UK and 2 and half months of that was at the Royal Court working for them as an ASM. I had the best time of my life. I am happy that I got the opportunity to stay with them throughout the show season and work with wonderful people. I learnt so much and got to practice my craft and at the same time I opened up doors to working with them in the future. My time in the Court has really empowered me with a passion for new writing and new work and how important it is for the continuation of our art form. I came back to Australia more determined to change the face of new writing, doing my part as a stage manager for the writers. I know I am on the right career path and have reaffirmed that this is what I should be doing with the rest of my life.
As my first international trip I am so proud that I survived and didn’t die! It showed me I am stronger than I think and can survive in most situations. I have seen some amazing sights and awesome relics. I found this an invaluable experience and thank BBM Youth Support for the amazing opportunity that they gave me.
To be continued….

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