Dress Rehearsal in a Make-shift Cathedral in Amiens

In recent months we’ve been gathering memories from WildWorkers across many of our past projects. Teamed with stunning images from our photographic archive, this has become our regular Instagram feature known as #waybackwhensday.

One of our latest contributors has been long time WildWorker and collaborator Steve Jacobs. Steve has worked with us since the very beginning and we wanted to share with you an extended version of his recollections of a dramatic Souterrain rehearsal in Amiens, France, back in 2006.

All of the previous contributions for #waybackwhensday can be found over on our Instagram profile. Get yourselves a cuppa, sit back and enjoy!

Dress Rehearsal in a make-shift Cathedral in Amiens.

‘Working with WildWorks for so many years has gifted me many magical experiences in a variety of contrasting landscapes. One of the many beauties of the first Souterrain tour was that we played out the heart rending story of Eurydice and Orpheus in seven completely different sites. The contrast was extreme from the interior of a derelict department store, Keddies, in Colchester, to an abandoned tin mine at Dolcoath in Cornwall. We also played in three places in France, one of which was in the Napoleonic Citadel in Amiens, steeped in history of the First World War and dating back to the 1550s. It had also been used as a Gestapo prison and as a reception centre for Algerians coming to France as a result of the Algerian war. The emotional memories within these walls were powerful. We were excited to be working at this site. The show had gone brilliantly in Brighton where it had opened, and we were feeling confident.

Weather always plays a big part in our work as we mainly work outdoors. In Amiens it was very hot but this can be a double edged sword.  It was heavy work as the piece was very physical and we were rehearsing in military costume so we had to take regular shade breaks. The site was extraordinary and offered us all kinds of visual possibilities. We had a superb group of community performers, a brilliant group of musicians and a Gospel choir to die for. The excitement was cranking up as we got close to opening.

It was the eve of the dress rehearsal day when the weather broke in dramatic style. The skies darkened and the heavens opened with a torrential downpour, thunder, lightning, the full works. Normally, weather does not stop us, whatever it throws at us. This however was impossible to work in. Bill called for an emergency meeting. It was crucial that we did a dress run. We hadn’t as yet done a run of all the scenes together. We hadn’t been using full costumes and there were many unresolved issues, performance and technical, that needed ‘trying out’ before we had an audience.

It was decided that we would run the dress in a huge old derelict barn that at one time was used as an ammunition store. There had been a power cut so there was no electricity so we collected together as many candles &  fire pots as we could. At least now we would be able to see what we were doing. The big question was how would we do this? We were going to be telling this story across a vast site in which the audience would travel some distance. Now we were in one room. Time was running out and we had to get started.

The candles were lit and suddenly the space looked beautiful, like a medieval cathedral. There were probably over a hundred of us in that room, cast choir, band and crew, and when we weren’t performing, we were audience in the shadows around the space. You could have heard a pin drop before we began…. and then the choir started singing. It was riveting. Normally outside vocally we have to be as loud as we can. We didn’t at this point use radio microphones. Here, everyone could speak and sing quietly, but you could hear everything. It started a little uncomfortably as we all had to think on our feet, playing one scene here in this space, another in the corner over there, but it soon relaxed, and everyone became totally present and in the moment. Due to nature of this work you can be in it and get to the end of the run, and there will be large sections of the piece that you have never seen. Now we were all able to see the whole piece for the first time.

It was so beautiful in the glow of that makeshift Cathedral. The words, the music, the moments resonated in a completely compelling way. At that point we definitely knew that we had a show for Amiens.’


Steve Jacobs – Actor

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