Working With Frantic Assembly in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child.
Frantic Assembly is one of our much loved theatre companies here in the UK. It's success comes from making theatre that is not only new and exciting but bold and brave. It's ethos as a company is to be ‘terrified and fearless’ and if you have seen any of their productions you will know just how much they convey this in the unique way they tell their stories.
Frantic has been on my radar since 2010 when I saw their production of Stockholm at the Lyric Hamermesh and it blew my Socks off. The movement was exciting, the story telling beautiful and the actors felt weightless and in complete control of the audience. Sitting there I vowed that one day I would join the alumni of Frantic actors.
Fast-forward seven years and my phone rings, it's my agent, and he tells me I’ve got a first round audition for Harry Potter And The Cursed child, it's a movement workshop and it's led by Neil Bettles, associate director of Frantic Assembly. I couldn’t believe it but the feeling of excitement soon crashed to earth as I realized that Harry potter has dances in it, and for all I am - I am not a dancer.
The audition was a few days away, so not nearly enough time to get myself down to pineapple studios and recieve a crash course in musical theatre. I was going to have to wing it. And that is exactly what I did.
The day of the workshop, I kept reminding myself of how I felt watching Stockholm all those years ago, how the actors worked seamlessly together to tell a story. So this was my plan, I am going to tell one hell of a story. The Piece we were given to learn was a fast paced , 9 count per bar, larger than life dance. We were playing young witches and wizards using their wands for the first time. It was Chaos, it was rapid and I'm pretty sure I gave myself whip Lash. But despite the shooting pains in my neck, I asked questions about the characters, hoping my acting could pull me through. I used the break to keep going through the moves, I asked some of the more skillful auditionees how they made that turns so smooth or what the exact foot work was.
Basically my goal was to show how hard I can work and how enthusiastic I can throw myself around a room with a wand.
I got the call the next day, I was through to the acting stages, and a few weeks later I got the job.
Feeling like I fooled everyone, I was terrified that they would find out that I had no formal dance training or much grace to my limbs. But, I had a few months until rehearsals were due to start, so I crammed in as many different types of dance classes as possible. I went to Pineapple dance Studios, Base, Husky Studios and Dance Attic. Although this did gave me more insight into what might be expected of me it also made me realize just how much training I was missing.
The first day of rehearsal came around and I gave myself my usual talking to: “happy to be there and easy to work with” replayed over and over in my mind. A piece of advice given to me on my first ever job.
After a read through we went straight in to an hours work out, then into the dance calls. This was to be my life for the next eight weeks. Neil took us himself, the workouts were brutal, “it's a big show” he would tell us “your fitness levels have be strong”. So we ran, did pushups, sit ups, held planks and jumped around… a lot. I hurt in places I never knew existed. But, at some point during these weeks, some magical point I can't quite remember, it somehow got easier. I knew that I wasn’t going in as strong as some of the other cast so I grinned a bared this training until the planks were easy and my lungs were able to endure the endless running and then some.
Thinking back to the Frantic pieces I've seen, I knew the actors looked effortless, but I never realized it was because of all the grueling work put in off stage, you need to be strong, in control of every little muscle and have the ability to carry yourself through eight shows a week.
To add to the sore muscles from training every morning we also had our movement calls. The dances really are magical. Imogen Heap composed the music and the movement blends perfectly into the charm and mischief of her songs. I filmed the routines and practiced them in most breaks and then again when I got home. I went through the moves in my mind on the train to rehearsals and was always upfront with questions I had about footwork or just how to move more gracefully - “ you’re giving me gymnast” Neil would say “ I want ballerina” ( a comment that still makes me cringe to this day)
The routine used in our audition is called ‘The Wand Dance’ and is by far the hardest in the show, we learnt this first. The rest of the routines that followed were more regular with the usual eight count bars and felt it like there was a bit more time to think and more importantly – breath.
I watched other dancers who were nailing it and tried to break down what they were getting so right, sometimes that was posture, sometimes it would be a shift in weight, sometimes it was their acting through the dance, and I would try to hone that within myself.
Once we had the routines learnt it was hours of drilling, and once we drilled we added costume. This is where we all tripped up. Literally. Twenty dancers tripping on Cloaks and loosing themselves to folds of material on the floor. Cloaks, it turns out, are an extremely inconvenient fashion accessory. But, J K Rowling was very clear on what witches and wizards wore on the regular so… with bodies and egos bruised we learnt to control these untamable layers of material as best we could. Some better than others.
Even years into the contract there would be the odd “head cloak” as we called it; where a dancers cloak would fly up, over their head, cover their face and would then have to keep dancing blind until they were freed.
I loved every minute. I really was “happy to be there’ as I told myself on that first day. I also tried my best to help anyone who seemed to be struggling with a part that I had down, or, would figure it out with them. And in the breaks I would always try to keep the moral up by telling everyone this was our ‘Rocky Montage’ and we were all going to be heavy weight champions by the end.
I guess this fulfilled my “easy to work with” pledge too. And this didn’t go unnoticed as, when I decided to stay for the second year, I was asked to become Dance Captain.
I, a girl who believed she was unqualified to even audition, through sheer determination and a want for everyone on the team to succeed not only got to dance for her favorite company but also got to be a member for a while.
What I hope for this article is that you, the reader, realizes that you do have the ability to go further than you think, that with some perserverance, preparation, confidence to ask questions and some willingness to keep learning, no room should be closed to you.
What I am not saying is that it is easy or always accessible, a dancer was kicked out of one of the routines during tech and replaced by someone who had an hour to learn the piece and then dance in front of our producer. It's tough and sometimes savage. But what I really believe is that attitude is key, attitude and possibly and high tolerance for moderate whiplash.
If you want to see Frantic Assembly's next show, or explore more about the company click the link below;
For Harry Potter And The Cursed Child;
By Lynn Beaumont