Meet the special people who make The Bear Pit the community venue it has become since it opened in 2008.
We join Bear Pit Associate Artist, Margot McCleary, who shares with us her thoughts about our ‘little’ theatre company and discusses how she has spent her days during these challenging times.
How I got involved with The Bearpit
I always have loved drama ever since school days, both watching and participating. When I first moved to the area, I always enjoyed shows at The Bear Pit (particularly The Bear Pit’s own productions), but had a job where travel prevented me from taking part since I should have been unable to meet rehearsal schedules. As soon as I semi-retired, hooray! I could audition for roles and (if lucky enough to be cast) I could get involved on stage.
Favourite Bear Pit shows
The short answer – everything which is a The Bear Pit production is guaranteed to be gold standard!
Specific shows include (and this isn’t exhaustive): The Christmastime family shows, particularly “Toad of Toad Hall”, “Goodnight, Mr Tom”, “The Witches”. And then some of the classic “silver” shows (ie appealing perhaps especially to over 60s) “Ladies in Lavender”, “Quartet”. And then “On Golden Pond” and “The Ladykillers” (both of which starred the most admirable and lovely Pam Hickson).
The play about the Landgirls, “Lilies on the Land” directed very creatively by Lindsay was great too.
As a footnote, one also gains a great deal of insight into a play if one is actually in it; to understand it, and to appreciate the effort that goes into putting on high standard work (both on and offstage). I always enjoyed working with Vanessa as a director (in a couple of Noel Cowerds and an early Alan Bennett). And years ago now, I loved doing “Talking Heads” with Artistic Director, David Mears.
Why is The Bearpit Important to Me
The Bear Pit takes its productions to the highest possible amateur (ie unpaid) standards before we get into professional (ie paid) theatre work. (These days, the terms ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ are too often used to imply ‘poorly performed’ or ‘well performed’ – of course, that is not the distinction at all.)
Active participation in theatre is a leisure pursuit (ie amateur) for me, just as bridge, patchwork, gardening or rugby might be for someone else. When you have a hobby, you can choose to take it easy and just have a good time primarily , which is fine (my mother always said she preferred “chatty” bridge); or you might want to take it more seriously, work harder and be the best you can possibly be (and this can still be enjoyable and fun; indeed it can be frustrating to be cast in a play where the group culture is too “easygoing” for you. )
As far as watching or participating in amateur theatre goes, I go for the second option, and that’s what I enjoy and appreciate about The Bear Pit productions, whether I’m in them or whether I attend as audience.
Why is The Bearpit Important to our Community
In Stratford we are of course very conscious of being the home of Shakespeare, and very fortunate in having the wonderful RSC on our doorstep. We also have a number of amateur theatre groups in the town.
But as a Commumity Theatre, The Bear Pit bridges the gap. We can see very high standard productions at prices a fraction of what we pay for the big names and high-tech productions at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or Swan; and also, we luvvies get a chance sometimes to perform!
Where am I Spending Lockdown and Who With?
Short answer, home alone! I am not concerned personally about Covid (I do think the Media present the actual statistics very inadequately, but perhaps on purpose to ensure more compliance with the rules!). But I do practise social distancing, masks and all the other restrictions, because there is no doubt we need to ease pressure on the NHS and non-contact seems the only way to guarantee this.
How Am I Staying Connected?
I have a handful of key friends: one is my “bubble mate” so we do see each other for coffees, chats, meals at each others’ homes; another I chat to regularly via Zoom or WhatsApp (I also FaceTime my son and grandchildren in Washington DC).There are two other friends whom I meet for doggy walks – their dogs, not mine – we stay outside and observe the 2 metre rule!
I am desperately starved of drama (both watching and participating), but enjoyed the five star “Uncle Vanya” with Toby Jones and all fantastic cast (watch that Sonia – she’s fab!) recently on TV. There have also been some great films (“Kaleidoscope” – also Toby Jones and written/directed by his brother; “Frantz”, “Suite Française”, “Night Train to Lisbon” (Tom Courtney is unbelievably good), but I am not sure – do films count as drama?
I’m also involved as an actor in “Murder in the Cathedral” to be performed (eventually?!) in Holy Trinity to mark the 850th anniversary (in 2021, it should have been), of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. We’ve been rehearsing on Zoom, and will resume properly when we have a firm production date (God willing, end of April). And I’ve performed a local writer’s lovely monologue “A Box of Caramels” as a rehearsed reading on Zoom; that too has been interesting to rehearse and practise with the director (via Zoom), although I missed the contact with other cast/crew members.
Upsides and Downsides of Lockdown
Everyone knows and is suffering the Downsides. Me? Well, I don’t miss live football or horse racing at all – I was behind the door when they gave out the genes for sport! I do miss live theatre, of course, both watching as audience and participating as cast. Even live-streamed productions viewed at home on a laptop or TV screen don’t hit the spot for me. I think a show produced for the small screen needs to be quite differently conceived and presented than a show designed for the live stage.
Upsides of Lockdown? We have all learned to Zoom! Most of us have had a good turf out of the spare room/loft/cellar! More of us have recognised the need to plan in exercise as part of our day (Let’s hope this one lasts!). I have learned how to make strawberry vodka (easy), and have developed a project to knit dolls from the fairy stories (Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel – great hair!, Hansel and Gretel etc, to present to Good Causes to raffle one day!)
What Help for the Arts?
In honesty, it’s hard to justify the Arts as a priority for financial support in these straitened times, much as I would like to (and I would say the same about sport, by the way). Yes, I believe both the Arts and sport are important for our mental, emotional and perhaps social wellbeing. At the end of the day, I suspect decisions about where the help goes will be economic and/or political.
What I’d like to see is theatre companies brainstorming and focusing on ways to help themselves, as soon as the green shoots start to appear. I think this might prove a quicker and more reliable source of support, perhaps?
What Lessons Have We Learned?
Speaking for The Bear Pit, do you mean? Well, I suppose for a Community Theatre like ours, the word that springs to mind is Resilience: how do we protect ourselves in future in similar circumstances? The problem is that resilience would mean such different things, depending on the kind of disaster which arose. Resilience in case of flooding would mean different protective measures than resilience in the case of computer fraud or in the case of another pandemic.
If we’re talking a pandemic, then it might be interesting to create contacts with local TV and Radio? Might we create more small scale shows (ie involving fewer people live together in a studio or onstage)? Maybe it’s worth looking at the hire or purchase of high standard recording or transmission equipment, and developing the expertise to go with it?). Just thoughts – there are other The Bear Pit Associates who will have more and better ideas!
The Bear Pit Theatre is a registered charity and a voluntary organisation. If you would like to make charitable donation, it would be gratefully received. The easiest way to donate is via our JustGiving page.
The Bear Pit Theatre Limited is a not-for-profit company and a registered charity no: 1156259.