2021 is coming to an end. As with previous years, this article will cast a critical eye over the last year of ETC, looking at what we did well, what we could have done better, and what we would like to do again.
Shot down in Lockdown
Talks for some form of charity fund-raising event began at the end of 2020, when Jodie approached us and asked if we’d be interested in being involved in a project during Spring 2021 that was being held as part of her Events Management degree. The initial discussions were very vague – not only was Jodie’s events company yet to be formed, it was very difficult to plan anything since it was unclear what the lockdown restrictions would be like in the following months. As the end of 2020 approached, it was clear that the pandemic was far from over, and as we headed into 2021, lockdown was back in full force. The plan for the event was put on hold.
It was February when Jodie contacted us again, now joined by classmates Izzy, Eleasha and Ioana, who had joined forces to create events company Future Functions. The idea had changed – instead of a live event, the event would be virtual, and take the form of a murder mystery where the audience could get involved and interview suspects over Zoom. The suspects, of course, being members of ETC.
The first task for us was to find actors to get involved. With myself, Tom, Chris, Paula and Rhian signed up as suspects, we realised the night required a couple more actors. We needed someone to portray the victim, in pre-recorded footage that would be shown to both set up the mystery and provide answers at the end of the night. Enter Elise – who was more than happy being involved in these scripted pieces, but didn’t feel confident enough to improvise on the night.
We also needed someone to host the night – a detective who could explain to the audience how the night would work, and act as a compere to introduce each suspect. The fact that the show was remote meant we weren’t limited to people that lived locally, and thankfully Ed, who was living in Leicester at the time, was more than happy to step in.
With the actors in place, Future Functions wrote a rough outline of the story, taking inspiration from the infamous parish council Zoom call that had gone viral a few weeks before (You have no authority here Jackie Weaver!). Leaning heavily into the lockdown setting, characters included a local landlord, who had been running a delivery service during lockdown, a pharmacist who was involved in the vaccine rollout, and a baker whose business was under threat.
We spent the next few weeks fleshing out the story, writing out clear storylines (including precise movements of the day of the murder) to ensure that we would not be caught out by the audience’s questioning, or say anything that contradicted other actors. We also recorded footage and created materials that could be released to the audience as extra clues. This gave us the idea to get even more people involved by asking them to record different witness statements of other village residents (thanks to Sam, Becky, Ezra, Josh and Ellie for helping out!). It was great that we could get so many people involved, at a time when we were all separated physically. It is somewhat ironic that the ETC production with the biggest cast happened during lockdown!
We had lots of meetings with Future Functions to discuss how the night would work – trying out breakout rooms, working out a running order, and putting each other through our paces by conducting in-character interviews. There was still a fear that the tech might fail, someone might lose wifi connection, or sound/video quality would not be very good, so we recorded some of these mock interrogations which could be played to the audience should someone’s connection drop out (and on the night, Chris lost connection for a few minutes, but the video helped us through!)
Prior to the night, ETC were all very worried that something would go wrong – having never done a production like this before, it was hard to know if there was anything we had missed. Future Functions assured us that everything would go smoothly, and we should have listened to them, because the night was a great success. Everything happened as we’d planned, the audience got involved, some of them identified the murderer correctly, some didn’t. And Future Functions were able to raise over £2000 for Cavendish Cancer Care, which was amazing.
At the Sheffield Hallam Uni awards, Shot Down in Lockdown won the “Most Professional Event” – a true testament to the hard work of Future Functions.
After the show, Tom took our videos and recorded interrogations, and repurposed them for our Youtube channel, with a bonus video revealing whodunnit. The show was then able to feature in the Ashfield Virtual Arts festival, an online event that featured acting, dancing, singing, poetry and more from the local area. It was great to see Shot Down in Lockdown continue to live on.
Shot Down in Lockdown was a lot of fun, and it helped to bring us together at a time when lots of us felt very far apart. It was nice to get so many people involved, to do something that was improvised, to be creative with media and video. It was also fun writing a piece that was set in the present day and very topical, taking the characters given to us by Future Functions, and working out how their lives would have been impacted by the pandemic.
We are currently hard at work rehearsing for our upcoming show “Door 2 Door: 1994”, which we hope to play in Mansfield in April. Whilst we have all our fingers and toes crossed that this will go ahead as planned, and there will be no further lockdowns or increased restrictions, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t consider doing another online event. It would be interesting to see if we could take our experiences from “Shot down in Lockdown” and merge them with an in-person show. Could we incorporate virtual elements with our regular shows? At work there is a lot of talk about “hybrid working” – making sure people are involved in meetings whether they are at home or in the office. Could a “hybrid performance” work? Or would that be too ambitious? Watch this space.
"Shot down in Lockdown" is available to watch on our Youtube channel: Shot down in Lockdown
Tom Morley, December 2021