Hear from Breach, design mentor Anna Reid and our Production Arts students on how they created Jackal Run.
Jackal Run is new piece of theatre, created by Breach together with Guildhall School students, directed by Billy Barratt and co-written by Billy Barratt and Ellice Stevens. It was devised over an intensive five-week period – with two weeks over zoom in lockdown, two weeks devising in person, and a few days of filming – and created in collaboration between professional and student creatives and crew.
In this Q&A, we spoke to the project’s Design Mentor Anna Reid and Producer Ellie Claughton, and to Guildhall production artists Chloe Rushbrook (design realisation collaborator, construction & paint), Imogen Leather (costume designer) and Adi Currie (sound designer) to find out more about the Production Arts process behind creating this new piece of theatre.
Where did the initial design concepts come from? How did that process work?
Chloe Rushbrook: We started off with a lot of mood boards, and research from the original stories really developed that. In terms of the designing of the set, at the start we weren't really sure how much we were actually going to be able to do. From a design point of view, we usually take about three weeks to make a full set for a production, but this time we only had three weeks actually in the building, and there were also tech rehearsals during that time. So there were lots of ideas bouncing back and forth about how minimal we should make the set if we get back into the building, or whether it was just going to be a purely video production – in which case, we could design it as elaborately as we wanted.
Imogen Leather: There weren’t really initial design concepts when it was introduced to us – we started with a blank slate and then the costume designs came from a very intense research period: research into the actual subject matter, then into thematic research, and then time period research.
Adi Currie: In terms of sound, initially I was thinking it would be more of a normal theatre design: some doorbell noises and that sort of thing! It wasn't really until we were back in the School in person that we realised it would be closer to somewhere between a soundscape and a film score. So at that point I started doing research into 80s music and dance. The brief was a Twin Peaks type vibe, and so I did some research into that. Copyright restrictions made things quite difficult, so I did a lot of research into copyright-free music, and music that people use for YouTube videos, and all that sort of thing, which was quite interesting.
Anna, when did your role come into play? How did you mentor all of these design elements?
Anna Reid: My role was originally quite up in the air, because running a devising process from the Production Arts side of things, especially on a short lead-in time like this, was new for all of us. At the start we weren't sure if we were designing for a theoretical video production, or whether it was going to be an actual video production, or a physical production. But everyone was really up for taking on board the design of the show themselves as a team, rather than falling back on me and my ideas. So, really, for this production my role was very much about guiding the process through the changes in form, rather than actually expressly designing any set or costume.
Ellie, how did your role as Producer work within this creative process?
Ellie Claughton: My role requires a great deal of flexibility and clear communication, so a lot of my time was spent working directly with Anna and the Production Management team to work out how we could make everyone’s vision happen in the time we had available to us (and within the budget), and that everyone is on the same page. Initially, I will spend a few weeks digesting the creatives' vision before thinking about logistics but everything during this process had to move forward at 100mph. So logistics and vision had to run in tandem, which can feel quite restrictive. Luckily the brilliant Production Arts students, guided by Anna, were up to task and we were able to move through the process in a quick but smooth way.
How did those changes in form impact all of you? How did you manage with the short time period to put the show together, and adapt when you got the news about going back into the building?
Imogen Leather: With costume, we didn't really have a plan at all, because we didn't have characters to design for until just before we went in. Before that, we were thinking things like “are we even budgeting for shoes? Are shoes going to be seen?” and that kind of thing. And then suddenly we're in the building, and it was a very big change, going from “let's do some research” to “we need costumes now!”
We made mood boards for the characters on the first few days, and then went to the store and just literally pulled everything that we could find that could possibly fit! Then did an absolute load of shopping, and had to do an absolute load of returns at the end of the process. It was just about making sure lots of options were available, and knowing that in fittings there would be a lot of mixing and matching.
Chloe Rushbrook: Going back into the building was really going to affect what we could actually do with the set. Luckily, Anna was very understanding with what time we had. We were able to collaborate a lot with the people who were working on All Your Houses during the prep, and in the end it just became one massive design realisation team of everybody working on just whatever we could to make sure that the two productions could get done. It was fun, but also a bit stressful at the beginning because, as a Design Realisation student, we’re so used to the designs being done already – having all the CAD plans, all the measurements and a really clear understanding of what's going to happen. This was obviously slightly different and a bit out of our comfort zone! But it was a really fun experience, and I'm glad we had it.
Ellie Claughton: Going back into the building was a HUGE shift for us. We were going from creating a piece of work online and having this filmed by the students in their bedrooms, to making in the room and essentially creating a film set for the final week. As soon as we knew we would be back in the building, we began to treat the project like a film which meant hiring Cinematographers, creating shoot schedules and thinking really precisely about how something would be seen on a screen. I really loved that process, it’s definitely completely different to my usual producing practice but I valued the learning. I also really valued the opportunity to be making something in a space, with my colleagues for the first time in a year – that was magic.
Adi, how did you tackle those challenges of moving the soundworld from an online film into in person work?
Adi Currie: It was quite busy at times! We went from “Oh, people will have their laptops and we can just record on Zoom” into “Right – we need to set up a sound system for a whole theatre, with radio mics and speakers and all these things”. So having to do the tech side of it in three weeks was quite a lot, especially because I was being taught it all as we were setting it up. It was a really good process, and definitely a learning curve, getting chucked in at the deep end!
It was a challenge to get the design more finalised whilst also trying to come up with things to present and play in the rehearsal room – that was interesting, juggling those two things simultaneously. But I think it turned out alright, and Billy (director and co-writer) Ellice (co-writer) and Dorothy (dramaturg and video director) were very positive with everything that I was presenting – it was easy to get things finalised, which was quite nice.
Are there elements in the final production that you're particularly proud of?
Chloe Rushbrook: I'm happy with the end result of how the set ended up on the show. It was moved around in quite an interesting way, which we hadn't originally thought could happen. We created two separate areas, a more industrial area and a more domestic area, and then those were melded together. In the end it looked interesting, and it allowed the production be to filmed from really cool angles.
Adi Currie: I think that a lot of the music did work quite well, so I was quite happy with that. It helped the mood of the show, which is a really nice result.
Anna Reid: There’s always that thing where you're putting together a really challenging show, and you want the audience to know the situations under which you’re working. (A Project Manager friend of mine once said “I wish we could put the show’s budget on the door as the audience come in, so they know how much work we've done!”).
There were two separate challenges with this production: the fact that the form of it changed about three times from the meet-and-greets to the final product, and that it was a devised work. So both of those things combined led to a very nimble, quick-on-our-feet process. And I think, looking at the final product, you don't know how many different iterations there have been, and the fact that most of those ideas were imagined, designed and then made real within about ten days. I don't think that shows at all – it looks like a fully-fledged piece which has had a normal development process where you go through several different design iterations. So I think the part I'm most proud about – which proves how successful everyone's work on it has been – was that you can't tell what extraordinary circumstances Jackal Run was made under. In terms of quality, it stands on its own as a piece.
Anna, Ellie, what did you enjoy about working with Production Arts students on the project? It’s one of the first times that all of the design has been done in a devised way – what did you take away from it?
Anna Reid: The thing about Guildhall Production Arts students is that everyone works so hard, and takes their job really seriously. When we were first looking at the production deadlines, I thought “these are going to be tight, but we've got the work ethic here to make it happen.” What I didn't know was how well people would respond to the devising process and to the creative design aspect. When we set that first mood board task, I was just hoping that people would vibe with it and give me something back. And it was amazing – as soon as I got the boards back, I thought “Oh, it's going to be fine! We've got so much stuff to work with.” I was so impressed by the wealth of visual information, and how creatively people were willing to think from the very start. That was what I didn't have experience of before: of working with these guys as co-creators. Everyone really rose to the challenge and came together to collaborate across departments in ways that I hadn't seen before.
Ellie Claughton: Strongly agree with Anna, the students are so unbelievably dedicated and hard-working that anyone would be lucky to have them as part of their process. From Design Realisation to Stage Management, everyone threw themselves into the process and were fully on board with the ‘ok, this is new but we are all in this together’ vibe of the process. I really loved that, and it felt like a real example of what can happen when everyone puts their all into a project.
And Imogen, Chloe and Adi, how was it for you to be able to flex your design muscles on this project, and work with Anna and the Breach team to put the show together?
Chloe Rushbrook: It was really fun and it's not something that we usually do as part of our course. Any opportunity to design stuff and get a bit more involved in the creative aspects of things is something that I've always been very interested in. It was very helpful to have Anna there as a mentor to teach us along the way, and it was great to have this as one of my first professional experiences in actually designing something.
Imogen Leather: Yeah, it was really fun, but very intense as it was a very quick turnaround! And I'll admit I'm not a designer at heart – there's a reason I'm doing costume supervision, not a design and making course! But I did really enjoy having that experience, especially doing a devised show because it is just such a unique experience and different to the other opportunities that we have at Guildhall. I definitely learned a lot as a supervisor from having had an opportunity to be a designer and to see what it's like for them on that side of the boat. That experience allows you to make more informed decisions, and have more empathy – because it's very stressful making all the decisions!
Adi Currie: Yes, similarly, I'm not a sound designer, that's not something that I ever thought I would end up doing. I was quite nervous about it, but I actually really enjoyed it. Sometimes, going into the rehearsal room, I hadn't seen all of a scene that they were running, but after plugging in the laptop and playing something, the actors responded to it really well. That was nice to see. I wanted the actors to be involved with the sound as well because, obviously, it was a collaborative piece, and they're the ones performing to it. So having that feedback from them was really good.
Jackal Run is live on our website now! What are you hoping that the audiences get from the final piece, how are you hoping they'll react to it?
Adi Currie: It’s a really heavy piece and deals with some important things that I know even people who are quite politically engaged aren't really aware of. It would be good to get people involved and talking about it – maybe going from watching Jackal Run into doing their own research on the real-life events it’s inspired by, or even just having a conversation about it. Not just because of the show, but the actual stories that we're trying to share, and shine some light on.
Imogen Leather: What these women went through is really awful, and I think it’s an important story to tell. Even in filming, and during our sharing sessions, I responded quite emotionally to it. I really hope viewers will be getting that same reaction. I got chills during the Power to the People singing scene – that scene always got me even during filming, after seeing it five or six times on repeat. I hope that other people get that same response and feel the same emotional and political engagement that we did through researching the stories.
Chloe Rushbrook: I hope the audience can take away how much effort was put into it from the production team. Because we're happy with the end result, and we worked really hard on it, so hopefully the audience will be able to see that.
Anna Reid: Everyone engaged really strongly with the piece, I think because there was this very empathic connection from everyone straightaway. Everyone really cared about the source material. I certainly was shocked that I didn't know more about the real events which this piece is inspired by. I hope that the emotional connection that everyone did bring to the piece, which allowed us to push through the process in the way that we had to, is passed on to the audience, and hopefully energises people about the issues explored.
Ellie Claughton: Just to echo everyone else, I’m hoping that audiences will see how connected everyone working on this piece was to the story. You can see that every element is handled with care and precision, that the women whose stories we explored are at the centre of everyone’s thinking. It’s insane to think how under the radar this story has been, despite the ongoing battle the women have faced to have their voices heard.
Jackal Run is available to watch on demand until midnight on Friday 30 April.