September 17, 2016

Making Wallflower: Greg Akehurst – Production Manager and DJ

On Thursday I visited Norwich to look at enormous spaces for us to make and perform Quarantine’s Summer, Autumn, Winter. Spring – a sprawling quartet of work with 65 performers from all walks of life. I’ll figure out how to turn a massive space into a theatre and a cinema, a place where performance can happen.

On Tuesday I was on a site visit at Battersea Arts Centre to look at the Council Chamber where we will perform Wallflower – it’s a beautiful room, full of the history of an old building and its ingrained history of performance. It’s somewhere we’ll remember and share 150 or so memories and dances. It’s somewhere I’ll spend 2 days unloading a van and installing technical equipment, just like a 100 Production Managers have done before and will in the future.

I’ll then spend 90 minutes (for 2 nights) and 5hrs (on the Sunday) frantically hunting for music in a kind of unplanned DJ set with no rules, no planning and no record box – which is probably not something the other 100 Production Managers get to do.

This is what it’s like being Quarantine’s Production Manager – be it sprawling or intimate, the heart of the work is to make the space for storytelling, somewhere for a design to inhabit and for people to share their histories, memories, themselves.

It’s just that more often than not I’m part of the sharing.  In Susan & Darren I play an hour long DJ set at a kind of touring house party, in Make-believe I learned to play the drums, in Kitchen Project I ran a Chinese kitchen in a marquee, In Entitled I stood in front of audiences describing the birth of my little girl, something so personal that I’m struggling to type about it. Not your standard Production Manager’s job description.

Wallflower is, for me, one of the purest pieces of storytelling I’ve been a part of. There’s no pretence or characterisation, it’s just the people you see in front of you remembering and recounting the things that make them who they are: the moment when you split up with the love of your life, dance with your son when your team scores, when you just jump for the sheer hell of it because you can… The moments when you are with people, with no one, with yourself.

Sometimes these memories are brought to life with the music that played when they happened, and, if I can find it, I’m able to play it for us all to hear. Sometimes it needs to be loud and sometimes barely audible, sometimes I get the wrong track or it’s not available to play but it’s for me to create the soundtrack to a memory whilst you watch… which not many Production Managers get to do either I guess.

Sometimes the music choice is as clear as the memory, a piece that has a specific moment or a place. Sometimes less so, an exercise in negotiation with someone one stage – “You know the one Greg, it’s a grime band where the singer has a bucket on his head, everyone went mad for it in a club in Germany in 1998…

It’s always brilliant if I can find it.

You’ll recognise me, I’ll be the one hunched over a pile of equipment frantically wrestling with the internet.

Greg Akehurst is an organiser of theatre, a family, and occasionally himself.  Sometimes in front of an audience.

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