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Letters to Emma – A Final-Year Drama Production

11 June 2021

6 mins

By Ellie Blake

With online teaching and Zoom calls being the new norm for the past year, an in-person final production seemed off the cards for us Drama finalists at Loughborough. When a socially distanced performance became feasible, we jumped at the opportunity to produce a final show before graduation and celebrate the return of live theatre.

 An original play, written by our talented module leader Dr Carolyn Scott-Jeffs, presented a unique opportunity to explore topical themes of social media and mental health as a small theatre company. This contemporary psychological drama, directed by Neve Lawler and Erin Windmill, has been creatively contemporised and delves into the pressures of modern-day life from a student perspective. With a cast and crew of 22 students, professionally producing a show has been a challenging yet equally exciting process and we have created a piece of theatre we are proud of.

The cast and crew of Letters to Emma

Starring Cody Stanley and Tabitha Cuddeford, alongside Ciara Gaughan and Maia Badenjiki, as alternating leads, we have artistically explored the contrasting worlds of Emma Dear and Anna Seward. Emma is a final year University student, researching the work and life of 18th century poet Anna Seward as the subject of her dissertation. She has been ‘ghosted’ by her boyfriend, her parents are a nightmare, her nan has more fun than she does, and she never actually sees any of her friends. Overwhelmed by cyberspace, our protagonist battles with concepts of time and history as her and Anna’s parallel lives unfold. Influenced by Black Mirror, Doctor Who, Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death as well as mainstream cancel-culture, we believe this play is one that will resonate with many young people and investigate the effects of our contemporary culture. Our talented team of writers have modernised the script even further, adding new scenes that centre on modern day dating apps and important women of history. The writers, in collaboration with the directors, felt it was crucial to shine focus on the play’s feminist themes and important conversations on young people’s mental health.

Given our module’s title, ‘Theatre Practice’, it was essential that as a cohort we organised ourselves as a small theatre company. This offered an array of roles for students to choose from, including producing and directing to set design and acting. Our gifted pool of actors have worked tirelessly in less than desirable circumstances over a span of 10 weeks. Consistent energy and commitment in rehearsals has helped to form a fun and light-hearted space where creative ideas can flow.

When talking to one of the lead actors, Cody Stanley, she described the process as a ‘valuable learning experience’, praising her fellow cast members for the amount of hard work put into making the show a success. She described her key methodologies in the development of Emma’s character, which she said had stemmed from Stanislavski’s acting techniques. For those unfamiliar with this practitioner, his methods focus on creating realism and a sense of truth within an actor’s performance. In applying this to her work, Cody has found it useful to imagine Emma in a series of ‘given circumstances’ relating to the play, considering how her character would react to situations as opposed to how Cody herself would. As the play focuses heavily on social media, creating an Instagram account for Emma and considering her interactions and posts on the platform was crucial in creating an authentic character.

Creating a sense of realism was equally as important for the other lead protagonist, Anna Seward, as her character is based on a real-life historical figure. The original play was in fact written specifically for the Lichfield Garrick to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of David Garrick himself. Therefore, much of the process of creating Anna’s character was founded on research into her real-life, thereby endeavouring to maintain a sense of authenticity.

Being a lead actor in a final year production comes with undoubtable pressure, heightened even more so in the current climate where face masks, protective gear and social distancing are the norm. Nonetheless, Cody states how her role has helped to shape her as an actor, and she has relished in the real-world experience of being on stage. She hopes to attend a Drama school next year, where her talent can shine even further.

For those with an interest in the technical side, lighting, sound and comparable roles offered a great opportunity to help bring this multi-media play to life. The focus on social media and the anxieties of modern-day society has led to a production full of cameras, projections and voiceovers, artistically inspired by Katie Mitchell’s theatre. As we come closer to the end of our drama studies at Loughborough, we have striven to be bold in our artistic decisions. We have therefore chosen to avoid traditional proscenium staging and opted for a thrust stage instead, offering a more immersive experience for our audience. Our set designer, Evan Searle, has worked diligently to merge the two protagonists’ worlds together, combining an 18th century-style desk and a modern bedroom setting onto a single raised stage. Inspired by Frantic Assembly’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, we hope our creation will pull spectators headlong into the universe of the play.

Delivering a full-scale production is undoubtedly a lot of work, stress and unforeseen obstacles, but at a time where theatre has been facing an uncertain future, it has been a thrilling and rewarding process. Theatre can offer a respite from the real world and, despite these particularly dark themes, it shares and reflects the confusion and chaos that engulfs us in the modern day. Theatre helps us ask questions, explore the world we are in, and remind us that we are not alone. We could not think of a more fitting end to our studies at Loughborough University than collaboratively creating this final piece.

Letters to Emma will be performed at the Martin Hall Building at Loughborough University from the 16th to 18th June 2021. With the collective effort of a talented cast and crew, we have created a performance we are extremely proud of and can’t wait to share it with a live audience. You can book tickets here and follow us on Instagram @letterstoemma_.

I’m Ellie Blake, a final year English and Drama student at Loughborough. I have a huge interest in journalism and hope to pursue a career within this industry, be it investigative and environmental journalism or documentary filmmaking. It may not come as a surprise that I enjoy writing, but I am also passionate about travelling and volunteering and I hope to be able to do more of this after my graduation. 

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