One week as an Intern with Pentabus
A blog post by Emily Morris
I knew I wanted to work in theatre but I just couldn’t get my foot in the door. As a student in London I was struggling to find any opportunities at the likes of the Old Vic, the Globe and the Royal Court or the countless West End theatres. While back at home in Shropshire for the holiday I stumbled across Pentabus, nestled away in the rural tranquillity of Bromfield. All thoughts of a glitzy West End placement were gone from my mind. Here was a company that was daring to and succeeding in producing topical pieces of drama on controversial themes. A month before I started I watched a (fantastic) production about fracking and during my time at Pentabus I worked on a series of plays about immigration, journeys and home. These were stories that attracted me far more than a singing green witch in an overpriced theatre in southwest London ever could.
So in June on the first day of rehearsals for the Pentabus Young Writers’ programme I walked, slightly nervously, into Pentabus HQ. With six professional actors, two directors and some of the young writers themselves floating in and out this promised to be an action packed week. We were all invited to sit in a circle on the floor in the rehearsal room to introduce ourselves and discuss the upcoming show. This very casual Monday morning welcome was a definite clue to how friendly, inclusive and caring the team would be. Having introduced myself to actors who had appeared in BBC dramas, radio plays and numerous stage performances I made my way into the office invited on the way to take part in the office Euro 2016 sweepstake.
Filled with a warm feeling of friendliness and with a mental note to find out if Poland were actually any good at football, I began ‘work’. I can’t really call it that though as I feel it was far too fun to warrant such a name. From editing programmes to researching audience demographics to making fake European passports (for the props department I hasten to add, this was all before the Brexit) I really feel like I had the chance to try every part of the theatre making process at Pentabus. I learned about so many areas of theatre including marketing, budgeting and artistic planning. Oh and that passports are incredibly difficult to replicate. You’ve really got to hand it to the smugglers. Should their illicit activities become less lucrative they certainly have a future in props design.
I would like to thank the entire team at Pentabus for an incredible week. Each member of the team gave me a significant amount of their day to explain the ins and outs of their particular role in the company. I learned more than I thought was possible in one week and was even given free rein to pursue some of my own particular interests within theatre. After reading one of the unsolicited scripts I had an immensely insightful feedback session with the Channel 4 Writer in Residence, discussing intricacies such as character depth, pacing and comedic timing (as well as my very poor grasp of Irish slang). A while later I observed rehearsals lead by the directors of Edinburgh Fringe and RSC shows. These kinds of opportunities are very rare, especially to experience in the same day so I am extremely grateful to Pentabus for making them happen. I will not forget what I have learned and am already plotting my return. During my week at Pentabus, every member of the team offered me specific guidance on how to continue with this career path.
In fact, as I write I am on a train to London to take part in a series of theatre workshops, brought to my attention by the wonderful Producer at Pentabus. How many other companies offer work experience where on day one the manager is more concerned with the intern’s professional development than making sure they know how she takes her tea?! (Note to potential applicants, tea-making skills are not required for this particular placement).
So what advice would I give to somebody considering an internship at Pentabus? I can’t tell you to brush up on your passport making skills or to make sure that your Irish slang is up to scratch as every day here is different. Be prepared for anything and to use your problem solving skills as much as possible. Whether that be to work out how to attract more people to attend shows on the Orkney Islands or how to manoeuvre a 3x2 m piece of wood around a tight corner and up a staircase (answer: with much shouting of ‘pivot’ à la Ross from Friends for hilarity if not actual advice). Far from being the clichéd and monotonous norm of a sedentary 9-5 internship, Pentabus offers an opportunity to gain an insight into several aspects of theatre in a fun and engaging way while being surrounded by a highly experienced and extremely supportive team.
"When I got an email from Elizabeth Freestone asking me if I would like to be Associate Artist I was shocked, slightly scared and happy. Yes, believe me - all at once! Having had the pleasure to be to be involved with the Young Writers group on a few occasions I have seen first-hand how much Pentabus has been able to help so many young people, not just in terms of being writers but also life skills; forging friendships and building confidence. In a time when so many funds are being cut in the arts I am honoured to be able to be part of such a wonderful theatre company offering valuable opportunities and support for young people to be successful in whatever direction they choose.
Whenever I have had the pleasure of being at Pentabus HQ I have been welcomed with such warmth from the team that I feel honoured to be the Associate Artist. When I was younger (many moons ago) I had the pleasure of going to an acting club called Anna Scher where I learnt not only to act, but I too learnt life skills and forged friendships which I still carry with me today. I look forward to working with Pentabus and helping them go from strength to strength."
- Michael Quartey, Associate Artist (from April 2016)
"This sounds like a terrible admission for a writer to make, but here we go: words cannot express how excited I am to be joining Pentabus for the year. I’ve had this big silly grin on my face ever since I got the news. Two months into the residency and my smile is going nowhere.
For a company with such a strong local base, Pentabus are renowned nationwide, and it’s well known that this theatre company has set the bar with new writers. Both Simon and Joe, previous Channel 4 writers for Pentabus, have been giving me lots of advice. They’re wonderful artists and they leave very big shoes to fill. We’ve got a great Young Writers group and I’m very pleased we’ll get to take their show to Latitude this summer.
I arrived at the Pentabus Christmas party last year with an incredibly gaudy jumper, and I was delighted to see the entire team wearing festive sweaters as garish as my own – a sign, if one were needed, that these are My Kind Of People. Since moving here I have curled up in the writers’ studio, drank my body weight in cups of tea and attempted to make soup in the kitchen (with varying degrees of success). Oh, and I’ve done some writing too, honest. This is going to be a very good year."
- Tim Foley, Writer in Residence 2016
"My year as the Pentabus Writer in Residence was, by far, the happiest of my career. I got the time and space to develop my writing, and the freedom to experiment with, and better understand, what sort of writer I am. I was surrounded by amazingly supportive people, who inspired me daily, shifted any shred of writers’ block, restrained themselves to not lunge for me during one of my 4pm whistling-wanders around the office.
After seeing the Pentabus Young Writers Festival in 2014, I knew this company thrived on an unrelenting enthusiasm to make brilliant, important work for and about rural communities, but I never quite understood how much Britain needs Pentabus until I was there. This company is truly remarkable. Their commitment to taking stories to places otherwise starved of new voices, big ideas, or the platform on which to hear them, is so refreshing, honest and infectious, that you can’t help but want to get into the van and go along with them.
The small teams’ work-ethic and focus is so strong and unrelenting that had they chosen other - more villainous - career paths, I’m sure they would have all conquered a part of the world by now. They’re like the Avengers of rural touring theatre (except all of them are green). Crayg is the happiest, most enthusiastic person I have ever met. He works tirelessly, and has unhuman reserves of energy and positivity - even after 10-hours of stand-still traffic on the drive to Latitude Festival for the young writers’ show in 2015. I don’t think I’ll ever get better notes than those from Elizabeth Freestone – the most incredible and fiercely intelligent dramaturg I’ve ever been lucky enough to have read my work – articulating, in seconds, that which I have been fumbling around in the dark with for weeks. The way she thinks about theatre, and what this country needs, is totally eye-opening, and I wish all artistic directors had an iota of her passion, loyalty and drive. Jenny puts all octopuses to shame, doing more work with two hands than they ever could with eight – the girl is non-stop, sorting tour-bookings, casts and creatives, marketing materials, and a whole host of other things too complicated for me to understand. She also stopped me going mad on a number of occasions, offering tea, or food, or a lift, or a kip on the most remarkable air-bed I’ve ever experienced (and it is an experience). Lynda, the bookkeeper - who is always lovely - basically runs the gaff, and knows Pentabus inside-out - and she’s a Brummy too, so that's ace. Fran (now on maternity leave with baby Audrey) was a light at the end of the tunnel of offices – brimming with enthusiasm for all things, but particularly food, rural arts, and how to get Pentabus out to more and more people. And she has the best dog in the world, whose face I sometimes see in clouds and things – I miss her that much. Kitty, who is covering Fran’s maternity leave and is equally enthusiastic, joyful and brilliant, has only one thing that Fran doesn't: Dizzee Rascal’s discarded hand-towels, which she brought in for our toilets. I’m not sure, however, that I’ll ever want to see the faces of her pugs in a cloud. Mike is a kind, committed and brilliant volunteer, who has done extensive work collating archives about Pentabus’s history. But that still doesn’t excuse the terrible secret Santa I got from him - I mean, who needs a pocket-sized rain-maker around Birmingham? Quick shout out to cleaner Lynn, who could never remember my name (it's Joe, by the way), and, lastly, who could forget the award-winning stage-manager Sam Eccles?
Basically, the team is incredible, they make Pentabus what it is, and I just wanted to thank them so much for having me. It was an honour to be there for a year. I miss it terribly. Do all you can to work with them.
Now go breathe on 'em Salop!"
- Joe White, 2015 Writer in Residence
Work Experience blog
by Alice Preece
The prospect of work experience can be quite frightening. When my school announced very suddenly everyone in my year group needed to find a work placement for the end of the school year I was frankly terrified.
I was a 15 year old girl who was told I had lots of ‘potential’ but had no idea what I wanted to do in life. Pressure was coming from all angles – GCSE’s next year, choosing what to study at sixth form, then on to University. To most people it might sound exciting, I have my whole life ahead of me, right? Well to me, it was all coming too quickly.
I started ringing up any place I could think of that might offer work experience that I thought I might find vaguely interesting. I pondered what my hobbies were and what I enjoyed to do. I liked reading and theatre.
So: I tried my library, they were full; Waterstones – full; WHSmiths – full; Local theatre – full for 2 years!
I’m sure you can guess that by this point, I was panicking. Luckily, a saviour came (in the form of my mum) who found a rural touring theatre company named Pentabus located near Ludlow. I read a blog of someone who’d done work experience with the company before and I was hooked.
Skip forward a couple of months and I’m sat here in Pentabus HQ on my final morning of work experience and in all honesty, it’s been better than I could’ve imagined. While my friends have been working in offices producing work that could potentially be scrapped as soon as they walk out the door, I’ve been working on social media, reading plays, designing emails and surveys, researching funding, working on databases, making cake boxes and painting chairs.
I’ve also met the most wonderful bunch of people (including Patti the PentaPup) who were all so welcoming from the minute I stepped through the door on Monday morning. They’ve talked me through everything Pentabus does and what they stand for. I was never patronised or treated like a baby which happens nearly every day at school. It became apparent that age wasn’t a factor that anybody considered to be of any importance – I was treated like an equal. I grew the confidence to put ideas forward, something I would not have dreamt of doing at the start of the week, “Discussing important things? With actual adults? And my opinion actually having meaning? You’re joking.” The team just made me feel so comfortable. I felt like I’d been at Pentabus for weeks, not just a couple of days.
Having seen ‘Milked’ at Theatre Severn a while before my work experience, I knew the work they produced was great and figured there must be some serious hard work that goes into it. I had no idea. The genuine passion each member of the Pentabus team has for their company is inspiring. The amount of effort that goes into, not only the shows they produce, but everything else that’s involved in running a theatre company from such a small group of people is incredible. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch another play from the same point of view ever again.
Pentabus offers a very unique opportunity for many young people, whether that’s through their young writers programme or through offering work experience for people like me. This week has taught me so many valuable skills and has given me an amazing insight into ‘the world of work’.
At the start of the week if someone was to ask me what I wanted to do when I was older I’d say I had absolutely no idea. Now, although I’m still not completely sure, more ideas are forming in my mind of the kind of routes I want to follow, and that all comes down to Pentabus.
The heart of it is that everyone at Pentabus is passionate about telling stories and making them accessible to everyone. Something not a lot of theatre companies are all that bothered about. That’s what makes this place special.
If you’re sat at home desperately researching somewhere to go for work experience like I was not all that long ago, all I can do is urge you to contact Pentabus.
When I leave today, I can only hope it’s not the last contact I have with the company and the wonderful people behind it. I always thought work experience was just something every child was forced to do at some point in their school life so they had at least something to put on their CV. Now, I realise the true worth of it.
At the moment, all I can do is thank everyone here profusely. Thank you so much for welcoming me into the Pentabus team with open arms and treating me like an equal. It’s an experience I will genuinely cherish and I know it will help me along my way whichever career path I end up following. This week has been invaluable and not something I will forget in a hurry.
Work Experience Week
by Jasmine Holland
From the 6th of July 2015, I have spent a week doing work experience at Pentabus Theatre Company, and time has flown by so fast.
I can honestly say I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had a great time and an amazing experience, because I have learned so much in just 5 days, and still thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Everyone here is so friendly and the atmosphere is so laid back because you instantly feel as if you fit in and can get work done without any pressure whatsoever. From the day we started (Tadhg and I), we got stuck in straight away, from script reading to software editing and research. It felt great to know we were helping out just by doing a few jobs here and there in preparation for this summer’s play ‘The Lone Pine Club’, which so far is pulling together nicely and looks so much fun.
Before I came to Pentabus, I hadn’t realised how much hard work, preparation and cooperation goes in to putting on a play, whether it’s practicing and performing or the team behind the scenes. From a work experience students point of view you get to see that and appreciate it all so much more.
This week we’ve got really stuck in, from doing research on schools, clubs and blogs, to editing clips for marketing, over to full hand on experience in making props, and every so often fixing them…
I really do hope that every single performance they put on throughout the summer goes fantastically, whether I manage to see it or not. I also hope they can put on many more shows around the UK just like this one, because they are so well thought out and are so enjoyable too.
I didn’t know about any of their plays before, but I was easily persuaded to go and watch one and I’m really excited to see ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ because it sounds amazing.
I’m really grateful that I was given this experience by the Pentabus team (and thank goodness they were all so easy to get along with), but also a big thank you goes to Crayg Ward for showing me how everything works and basically mentoring us through it.
It’s a shame this was over in just 5 days, but I do hope I see everyone again even if I live quite far away, but it is well worth the trip. So to anyone thinking of doing work experience here, I would recommend it in a heartbeat.
Thank you Pentabus for this fantastic week and good luck for the show,
Work Experience blog
by Tadhg Lewis
We started the week at Pentabus on the Monday the 6th July to Friday the 10th. The week started at 10am Monday morning, I was half asleep because I had just got back from a school trip to Iceland. Jasmin (another work experience student) and I started to read though the script of the play that was in production at the time (The Lone Pine Club). Later, we logged on to the computer and started to make a list of schools in the area of where they were preforming and edited images to use in marketing (wooden signs for each venue where they were preforming). A bit later we started doing some filming of the performers it was a relaxed day but it was still loads of fun.
In the morning I was expecting a relaxed working day like Monday, boy I was wrong. We arrived at 10 maybe a little earlier and we got started right away, we logged on and went on a video editing software called Movie Maker. We were editing some of the filming done the day before and having some fun as well listing to all the singing next door (the actors were rehearsing in the hall). After that I started making a giant cake box prop. When I finally finished drawing the box outline on card I realised that it had a mistake so I had to re draw it before I was able to put it all together. When we got back after lunch, it was time to make some sandwiches… and I mean cardboard sandwiches to use as props for the show. We needed to have 40 “slices of bread” to put together and wrap up. We then went on a 1 hour writing workshop, which was loads of fun. The writer who works with Pentabus discussed script writing for plays and films.
Wednesday half way through the week, we got there at 10 again and started buy wrapping up the sandwiches in grease proof paper. After that, we carried on adding to the schools lists as Jasmin made a draft letter to send to the schools. Then it was time for lunch after that we did a mail merge so that we only had to write the letter once and it would copy it for all the schools. Then we printed them off and posted them with 25 flyers for the show.
It was Thursday, in that morning we started to mend the chairs a task we were hearing about all week and it sounded like the job would take for ever but we were finished a lot quicker than expected and we even had time to give a hand with making some baskets not squeak during the performance. Then we scheduled posts on twitter and Facebook as part of the marketing strategy for the Lone Pine Club. Then we scheduled some more posts and after lunch we put together the risk assessment packs to give to the actors before the tour begins. We drafted emails to send to online mums blogs to advertise the Lone Pine Club. Toward the end of the day we got the chance to watch rehearsals!
Friday, the last day at Pentabus I felt I had worked hard but it was all definitely worth it and I would happily do another week with Pentabus. First we proofed and edited the mums blogs emails and made a contacts list to send the emails with ticket offers and details. We scheduled social media posts to be published over the weekend. Then we did some research to find jars of sweets for the cast to give to the children during the show. At the end of the day we wrote our own blogs to say what an amazing experience we had and here it is!
Working at Pentabus was so much fun I met loads of really interesting people and I learnt loads about theatre companies and how it all works. I would definitely recommend a work experience placement with them.
Thanks to all of the Pentabus team for a great experience.
Market Theatre, Ledbury, Wednesday 25th February 2015
In autumn 2013 I was amongst a select audience who saw one of the first two performances of Milked (in Ledbury). Although the play had been produced in a very short space of time (a month I believe) the actors got inside the skins of their characters and told a story all too familiar to me.
At this time I was working with young people in further education and recognised the language used, and lack of work opportunities, that many young people face in Herefordshire. Added to this, when my children were growing up we lived half a mile from Simon Longman’s home at Staplow, often walking along the very same canal path running through that tunnel of overhanging trees beside the dried up canal, which also ran behind the cottage where we I lived for 17 years.
While Paul and Snowy seem to be polar opposites in their home lives and educational prospects, their experience of making the transition from childhood to adulthood is equally stark. This mirrors the experience of both my children who, at aged 19, headed for the city lights, work, excitement and ‘life’. The ‘good life’ that many parents seek for their young children carries the risk of isolation and lack of opportunity as they grow towards adulthood. Simon captured this poignant transition perfectly as the characters unfolded.
Oliver and Adam’s capturing of the youth, language and anxieties of their characters was pitch perfect, the tension between humour and pathos keeping the audience on the edge of laughter and sadness. The gradual unravelling of Paul’s efforts to find work, any kind of work, while Snowy’s future was decided by his father, was painful to see and beautifully crafted. Once brash Snowy, with his awareness and love of nature, was movingly portrayed, as his dawning acceptance of the path chosen was spelled out to him. Herefordshire’s connection with the SAS was reflected in his parent’s back story.
The new set worked so well, minimalist, cleverly designed and deceptively simple. Each scene offered up craftily hidden props which were scattered around the stage as the story unfolded, eventually leaving it looking like many a young adult’s bedroom floor! Placing Sandy off stage was a stroke of genius because it included the audience into the narrative. We had no choice but to imagine what was happening to Sandy and I can say that looking down the barrel of a gun was an interesting experience! The denouement, whilst darkly comic, left a feeling of hope for both Paul and Snowy that they would find their separate ways in life.
Clearly Simon has made his way in the wider world but he has not forgotten his Herefordshire heritage and, for those left behind in this rural idyll, we thank him.
Last summer I completed the only marathon that matters – the final day of the Pentabus Young Writer’s Festival, where I saw the work of 8 young writers properly brought to life by a ridiculously talented creative team. I’d been a part of a few development schemes before, but I'd never experienced anything like this - 8 young writers had a proper week-long run, to proper audiences, with proper professionals... 8... I remember someone saying: ‘It’s been tough work, but we’re kind of all or nothing here – we strive to get stuff made’. And so I fell in love with Pentabus immediately – their ethos, camaraderie, enthusiasm and body of work is invigorating – and I wanted to be a part of it so much, I walked around begging people to let me sweep up or move a chair. I think most of them thought I was a local weirdo. What I'm trying to say is: Pentabus are do-ers, and their enthusiasm is infectious, and they completely inspire me, so I’m beyond chuffed to be the next Writer in Residence, and hugely proud to be part of this remarkable theatre’s next chapter. I think Simon Longman is one of the best writers in Britain, and I’m honoured to be following him into the role. I’m really looking forward to working with new writers, directors, actors and fellow do-ers, and, beyond everything else, I can’t wait to start writing a new play under open skies and in real country dark. I also can’t wait to move a chair as an official Pentabusian. Pentabus is an incredible company, and I feel very lucky and happy to be supported by them and Channel 4.
2015 Writer in Residence
I’m not the best at writing about myself and things like that. In fact this is the first blog type post I have ever tried to write. It is very difficult. So when Crayg asked me to write a goodbye type post it took me a while to work out what to say. I’ll try in some way. I’ll keep it simple and try and do justice to Pentabus, who are amazing.
To start with, that’s the most important thing to stress: they are amazing. They constantly ask questions of what theatre should be doing. Not just in the rural sense, but in terms of how it should be used to engage communities and tell new stories. They constantly want to be better. To be more open to more people. To include. My year as Writer in Residence with them helped me in so many ways. But thinking about it now, the main thing that I keep coming back to is the company itself, and what Pentabus are doing, because it is incredible.
I saw this first hand when they were developing the tour of Rory Mullarkey’s brilliant play, Each Slow Dusk. Although I had nothing to do with the planning of this tour (aside from floating around asking annoying questions like “how’s the booking going?” and “have you found the actors somewhere to live yet?”), watching Elizabeth, Rachael and Crayg put it all together kind of reaffirmed my faith in how important theatre is. I saw first hand Pentabus’ continued commitment to it. A commitment to packing up a play, putting it in a van and taking it to people who live in rural communities far away from big theatres and limited by rising costs of basic transportation.
Being sat in a room trying to write a play which isn’t an incoherent mess (still trying), it’s hard sometimes to see beyond what you’re trying to write. And, for me, why you’re even writing it at all. But seeing Pentabus work; seeing them piece together how to get plays out to new audiences; seeing them work out how to drive an entire production in a van from Norfolk to Cornwall in a day; seeing them listen to local people and how they welcome everyone into the building, all that was one of the most rewarding and inspiring things that being part of the team brought me. Seeing all that kind of makes you think that the frustration and self-confidence breakdowns that trying to write a play brings is actually worth it. Because people might see it. Especially people who, unfairly, don’t get to see new theatre as much because of something so basic as geography.
The Young Writers Festival was also a massive highlight. What other theatre company would make a promise to a group of 16 to 24 year olds of ‘Whatever you write we will produce’? Pentabus did that in the summer, which was amazing to be a part of. To see a sell-out audience watch those plays was, again, another reaffirmation of theatre as a way of trying to understand what we are doing with our lives, and how difficult they can be a huge amount of the time. Working with the young writers, organising and running the workshops was also hugely rewarding. In the end they probably taught me more about my own writing than I did to try and help them with theirs. But to be a part of bringing those plays to life was really inspiring.
There’s been loads of things this year that have made being with Pentabus so rewarding: going to Edinburgh with the gang; attempting to collect the complete World Cup Sticker collection with Elizabeth (the forever elusive France team sticker still haunts me); sitting in a room with everyone watching Raheem Sterling nearly score a screamer against Italy (weird that my only highlight/memory from England’s World Cup campaign was essentially a missed shot…); cheap beers in Ludlow pubs; a castle on my doorstep; cycling (very slowly) up Shropshire hills; fixing many, many punctures; writing.
And one of the best things about this whole year is that Pentabus have won the Channel 4 Bursary again to work with the wonderful Joe White, which is amazing. I’m sure when Joe is asked to do the same thing as me with this goodbye-type-post a year from now, he’ll struggle as much as I have to put it all into some kind of coherent context, because there’s kind of too much to say. I went back to the start of the year to try and think what to write. And found that when Elizabeth asked me to write a little paragraph at the start of the year about working with the company, I said that I hoped I could justify their faith in me and help them in some way to continue their commitment to bringing new stories to new audiences. I hope I’ve helped.
It’s odd that the year is over now. I got to ride my bike a lot and had a room to write in. I was very lucky. It went far too quick. But I guess that was the only way it could of gone, working with a company as supportive and beautiful and fun as Pentabus, to which I can only say the biggest thank you ever.
2014 Writer in Residence