Having taken the stage comedy musical genre to the extreme with Dumped – The Musical, we set down a new path this April when we began filming Coping Strategies – a 30-minute surreal comedy about three flatmates with learning difficulties, their lives, their loves and their struggles to cope with the world.
Based at The Gate – Yarrow Housing’s activity centre in Shepherds Bush, west London – one of theatre company Moment by Moment’s working methods has been to mix service users and staff to enhance the way they understand one another.
So for the duration of the five-month rehearsal schedule the terms “staff” and “service user” are made irrelevant. They become equal cast members relying on each other to pull off a tight, funny and entertaining show.
Since our debut in 2001, all our productions have begun as improvisations, as these both help build the company’s confidence, and create shows that reflect their diversity and experiences.
Creating an original show rather than performing an established work helps us keep in touch with our audiences and we aim to make them enjoy the experience because it is funny, exciting, poignant and tight, rather than just worthy.
After Dumped – The Musical we decided we should do something completely different. We wanted to capture the essence of the theatre company – but on film. Again the early stages were spent in improvisation and a clear theme emerged: people with learning difficulties seem to have passed through the stage of establishing their rights and are now emerging on mainstream cultural and social scenes. With this freedom comes all sorts of possibilities and opportunities, but at the price of more vulnerability and responsibility.
With that in mind, Coping Strategies was created. The cast is drawn from talent we developed through our last four productions with the welcome addition of the actor Bill Nighy who plays a zealously right-on social worker.
Filming has been a very different experience from rehearsing and performing a live show. The rehearsal process of a stage production is extremely valuable, and to take part in a live event has to be up there as one of the most uplifting and lasting experiences a group of people can have.
Filming, often out of sequence, feels detached by comparison, and there is so much more detail to take into consideration. However, the advantage of a film is that the end-product will hopefully be enjoyed and understood by a much wider audience than a stage show could reach – and in so doing be a catalyst for many more dreams to fly and many more barriers to fall.
Adam Koronka is day service manager at The Gate, Yarrow Housing and artistic director of The Moment by Moment Theatre Company