It’s now been a year since myself, Tom and Ezra performed “Teechers”. It doesn’t feel like a year ago. In many ways, it feels a lot longer than that.
When we began rehearsing Teechers, ETC was a brand new concept, and none of us had ever done anything like this before. Sure, we’d all acted before and been part of other drama groups. But this was the first time we’d done something on our own.
Putting on a production is not just a case of picking a script, learning the lines and acting. You need to find somewhere to rehearse, somewhere to perform, you need to advertise, you need to buy performance rights, public liability insurance, costume and props… There are so many things to do, and at the beginning of the process, that can be quite daunting.
We are now at a stage with ETC where a lot of this has become routine. We are 3 productions deep, and working on a fourth. We have more members, we have more contacts, we have more experience. For Teechers, we were making things up as we went along, but that was part of the fun.
Teechers was a perfect production for us, in many ways. Not only did our cast fit the quota, but the basic premise of a group of school children putting on their own production meant that the show didn’t need to be polished and precise and run smoothly.
Not only that, but there are aspects of the show that everyone could relate to, because everyone has been to school. Everyone knows a real-life version of the caricatures that are in Teechers. And, running under all the fun and comedic elements, was a very real serious message that everyone could relate to about the way in which education is changing.
It’s a message that Tom, Ezra and I all felt (and still feel) very strongly about. Schools are cutting funding to the arts, and instead putting all their focus into science. This will be seen by many to be a positive thing – indeed, when I recently went to visit a sixth form centre to talk to students about my research into black holes, I found the physics course over-subscribed, which is great. The problem is, I then went to see the drama class who were rehearsing Shakespeare. There were only two students on the course. It’s a credit to the sixth form centre to run the course at all, but it must also be disheartening and difficult to try to run a course for only two students.
When we were performing Teechers, we contacted schools to see if they would like to bring their GCSE students to our performance (Teechers is currently on the GCSE Drama curriculum). The schools responded by explaining that there was not the funding available to afford to bring their students. If, instead, we had performed (for example) a Shakespeare play that is on the English curriculum, it might have been a very different story.
It seems crazy to me that students can study drama to GCSE level and yet never have the opportunity to go to the theatre. No wonder so many people have an aversion to Shakespeare – they are forced to read and study it rather than watch and appreciate it. Subjects like drama and art and music are so important to everyone for their own personal development – developing confidence and communication skills as well as helping them to figure out their own identities.
One of my favourite parts of Teechers is towards the end of the play, when Salty (the character that I played) gives a speech about how politicians make the rules on education but don’t care about the actual people being affected by those rules. “They talk about choice and equality and fairness… Why don’t any of them live on our estate? […] They don’t care about us.” Teechers is a lively show, full of music and costume changes and paper aeroplanes. It’s a lot of fun and has many laugh out loud moments. But as I gave this speech, the audience fell completely silent. It was the first time I’ve stood on a stage and actually felt every single person in the room properly listening to what I was saying. It was a powerful feeling, and a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.
A year on, and ETC is about to become bigger than ever. We’re taking on new members in our very first open auditions event, we’re busy writing and devising new shows to take on tour in 2020, and we’re rehearsing “Constellations” which I hope is going to completely blow everyone’s minds when we bring it to the John Godber Centre in December.
But Teechers was where it all started, and it’s amazing to look back and see how much ETC has changed in the past year. Teechers was far from perfect, but for a brand new theatre company with no experience, no money and no contacts… I think we did alright.
Tom Morley - September 2019