SIGNAL FIRE (N): A FIRE OR LIGHT SET UP IN A PROMINENT POSITION AS A WARNING, SIGNAL, OR CELEBRATION.
Signal Fires is a national project that was organised by Headlong and English Touring Theatre and included over 40 theatre companies (full list below).
In October and November, fires lit up across the UK with storytellers and audiences having shared in one of the original forms of theatre. The fires signalled the vibrancy of touring theatre, and the threat our industry continues to face.
We were invited to join the project by ETT back in September and we jumped at the prospect of being a part of something so active in it’s response to the pandemic – creating art in tandem with each other as we struggle through this difficult period.
Initially, I was taken by the defiance of the project. A stand against the virus that is crippling us, this government for delaying the sector specific support and for the narrative they peddle about us as an industry. But the more I thought about the concept behind Signal Fires – the message, the solidarity, the promise to audiences, artists and everyone who makes up our incredible sector that we will be back – the more I started to feel an overwhelming sense of pride. I was genuinely quite emotional after speaking with, and hearing of, different companies moving hell and high water to get their pieces up and running under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The creativity, talent and sheer determination that has gone into each project to get them off of the ground is extraordinary.
The idea behind our Fire started as a message to the Government but grew into a celebration of the size, breadth and brilliance of our industry. We had initially wanted to create an online piece of Gig Theatre but this proved too tricky in the time that we had available to us and with very limited resources. So we settled on a song and a simple visual narrative as a way of sharing our story.
I wrote a few verses of what felt more like a poem than a rap to begin with. I sent them over to Maimuna with a suggested structure and she had a think and then wrote some lyrics down and came up with a tune for them. A week or so later, we approached Oli Wellington and the three of us got together the following Sunday afternoon at Wildcard Studios – the day before we were shooting in the theatre! We decided on a HipHop tempo, Maimuna came up with the harmonies, guitar and synth part and we discussed the structure of the song; nipping, cutting and moving the lyrics as we went.
In the visual ‘story’ of the piece, I knew I wanted to have shots of a live performance and after discussions with the Wildcard team we settled on an empty theatre for the location. (Special thanks to the Pump House in Watford for accommodating us so last minute!). We got there early to rig the lights, (thanks to our lighting designer Jai Morjaria for his creativity and positivity!) and set up the sound equipment & instruments. We recorded the song there thanks to the technical brilliance of our recording & mix engineer, Jon Warburton. We chose to record it live in a theatre as we thought a studio recording may sound too ‘clean’ and I’m really glad we did as I think it gives the track a really lovely quality.
We also felt it was super important to have a real fire… to really symbolise the beacon and to feel truly connected to the roots of this tradition. We discussed many ways of doing this and racked our brains about where on earth we could light a fire outdoors (which is super hard in London!) So, at the end of the (long) shoot on Monday, we settled on shooting on a beach and arranged for our team to drive out to the coast on Thursday. We built a fire and grabbed a whole load of footage there, thinking a lot about the celebration and defiance at the heart of the piece. A massive shout out has to go to Jack Shanks and Isaac Whittingham who did such a great job just going with the flow, finding great shots that responded to the piece as it developed.
It was also really important to us that we somehow felt the size of our sector. One idea was to have loads of performers speak the text – but sadly we couldn’t afford loads of performers and we didn’t have the time to rehearse something of this size. That was when Luke, our resident designer, suggested we do a call out for ‘pictures of people at work’ to include in the video. We were overwhelmed by the response to this and want to thank everyone who got in touch and sent their pictures in. It was really heart warming to receive such enthusiasm for the project and idea.
We of course ran into many complications along the way – Lockdown being one of them! (it’s not easy finding a place outside to light a fire during a lockdown!). But with a skeleton team, some cautious thinking and a shed load of determination we managed to get something together. The edit was a slow process, hence why we are late in delivering this project! But overall I am super proud of what we have put together, the team who helped bring it all to life and, above all, our incredible industry and the wonderful people that make it up.
Thanks for watching, I hope you enjoy our contribution to Signal Fires!
Full list of Companies involved in Signal Fires:
45North, Actors Touring Company, ALP Musicals, balletLORENT, Beyond Face, Big Telly, Boundless, Diverse City and Extraordinary Bodies, Eastern Angles, English Touring Theatre, fEAST, Fio in association with Tara Arts,Fen in Association with Out of Joint, Fuel, Graeae, Headlong, High Tide, Highly Suspect, Kestrel Theatre Company, Kneehigh, Luxi in association with Hannah Bruce & Co, and Northern Rail, Middle Child, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, National Youth Theatre of Wales, New Perspectives, Pentabus, Pilot, Paines Plough, Potential Difference, Proteus, SBC Theatre, Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Slung Low, Spare Tyre, The Wardrobe Ensemble, This is My Theatre, Told by an Idiot, Wildcard and Yellow Earth Theatre
SIGNAL FIRES: STATE OF THE ARTS CREDITS:
Written by – James Meteyard and Maimuna Memon
Music – Maimuna Memon
Director – James Meteyard
DOPs – Jack Shanks and Isaac Whittingham
Lighting Designer – Jai Morjaria
Sound and Mix Engineer – Jon Warburton
Editors – James Meteyard & Jack Shanks
Creative Collaborator – Luke W Robson
Special thanks to:
Lee, Chris, Eddie and the team at The Pump House Theatre, Watford!
The Wildcard Family
And everyone else who submitted their photos!