Ollie answers call to aid his ex-drama tutor
By Stuart Laundy - Senior Reporter
A FORMER dale drama teacher called on one of her ex-students to ensure an ambitious school production performed to an empty auditorium could be seen by all fans of live theatre.
Liz Moss taught at Teesdale School for four years in the early 2000s and among her students was Oliver Smith, who has since gone on to carve out a career in film production.
Ms Moss is now head of academic theatre studies at Glenalmond College, an independent school near Perth, in Scotland.
Despite the Covid-19 crisis, she set about staging Epicene, a 1609 Renaissance comedy by Ben Johnson first performed in London after the great plague.
The script, acting and backstage ways of working were adapted to meet social distancing constraints such as strict limits on the number of performers on the stage at any one time and to ensure Covid-safe year group bubbles were kept physically apart at all times.
However, when it came to performing the show, which was updated and set in the New Romantic days of the 1980s, there was no question of an audience taking their seats. So Ms Moss called on Mr Smith to film the play over four nights. The completed version was premiered on YouTube last week and has since been viewed more than 1,000 times.
“Knowing I was going to be directing something in lockdown, which was going to be a risk, I thought who better to call on than my old student Ollie,” she said.
“He had to go through a proper procurement procedure and he won the contract, which I was so pleased about.
“He was a one-person crew and filmed it over four nights plus a day time session for close-ups. What he has done is astounding.
“It is much more than just an archive capture of a performance, which is what parents were expecting.”
Ms Moss said Mr Smith had also filmed material for a behind-the-scenes documentary looking at the trials and tribulations of staging a play with large cast of young actors in such difficult circumstances.
“I still have contact with my alumni and it was really nice to see my current students chatting to Ollie,” she added.
Mr Smith said filming the show had been an ambitious challenge.
“I am really happy with it. The guys were not professional actors but the cast did a fantastic job of conjuring up the enthusiasm to pull off the performance four times without an audience in the building.
“It was not completely unusual for me to get the call from Liz. We have kept in touch over the years and I have filmed for her before.
“It was a lot of fun to go up there and see her latest cohort of students.”
Mr Smith’s other recent projects include a documentary for Northern Heartlands recording people’s experiences during the pandemic and filming scenes for the Christmas Eve service at St Mary’s Parish Church, Barnard Castle, which was broadcast online due to the Covid restrictions.
To watch Epicene, search for the Glenalmond College YouTube channel.