The making of The Women of Troy
Find out from students how they created a feature-length, filmed production during lockdown.
30 December 2020. Students and tutors were gearing up for the start of a busy term at LAMDA. Then days before we were due back in the building, another nationwide lockdown was announced, and we had to shift all our learning online. Creative practitioners went back to the drawing board to reimagine and adapt their projects. One such project was The Women of Troy…
Originally due to be staged during the spring term in our Sainsbury Theatre, The Woman of Troy team were faced with a creative and technical challenge. How could a play, originally written over 2000 years ago, be adapted for our digitised life in lockdown?
Instead of a stage show, acting, production & technical arts students and professional artists came together to collaborate on a new vision – a feature-length film, recorded from home, which would then be digitally screened to an invited audience.
With 15 cast members and over 30 production and creative team members, all scattered in different locations across the country, rehearsals and production meetings moved to Zoom.
Gusta Matthews, production & technical arts student and The Women of Troy production manager, explained, “ordinarily, I would have been in the theatre, in person, working with all the production team members, such as carpenters, lighting and sound, to get everything set up and working.”
Instead, each actor was sent a lighting and sound kit, and production & technical arts students had to remotely talk the actors through setting up their space.
“We were reliant on views through webcams and our own knowledge. We had to make sure that we explained everything very clearly, as the actors were having to set up and move things around between takes, and we didn’t want to overwhelm them with too much technical jargon. One of the most frustrating things was not being able to get our hands on the kit and fix it when things went wrong, so troubleshooting took longer than it normally would.”
Cast member and graduating actor Zoë Armer added, “having to get stuck into all the behind-the-scenes stuff – lighting, camera, sound, costume – was an incredible experience and I’ve gained so much respect for those people who do those behind-the-scenes jobs, because it’s not easy.”
When the time to start filming came, one obvious challenge is that none of the actors were in the same room.
“We had to completely reimagine what a Greek chorus looks like, with us all filming from home,” Zoë reflected. “The director, Gemma’s vision was to have all the characters in individual holding cells, so that they could hear each other but we couldn’t see each other.
“There’s this theme of isolation which I think is so prominent at the moment in our world, with the lockdown rules and Covid. And I think that’s something that we really wanted to lean into and draw parallels from this ancient text to our current situation.”
Everything was shot on iPhones, which could then be screen shared to Zoom.
“The entire technical team pretty quickly became well practiced at Zoom - breakout rooms, screen sharing, external mics, the works,” Gusta told us.
The creative team could then see what the shot would look like and ask the actor to move the camera or adjust exposure and Zoom as needed. WhatsApp was used to quickly check the takes and make sure the sound and visuals were correct. This gave a chance to fix any inconsistencies in filming.
“We had to try and get as even a sound across all of the rooms as possible, which meant using lots of blankets and pillows, so we didn’t get too much of an echo”, Gusta explained. “We used microphones that plugged directly into their phones, but we had to do lots of test takes to make sure that everything was as clear as we needed it to be.”
Once filming was completed, it was time to hand over to the editors to bring everything together. The eight-week project culminated in a digital screening on Wednesday 10 March to an invited audience of industry guests, friends and family.
Gusta concluded, “this was an incredibly rapid learning curve. I had worked in stage management at LAMDA before, but this was my first experience of production management, and to be doing it in unchartered territory meant that I constantly had to be on my toes and ready to anticipate and adjust to whatever might happen.
“Having now seen the final product and had feedback on it from others, it is pretty amazing to see what we were able to create under such stressful and extraordinary circumstances. I think that we are all incredibly proud of what we managed to achieve.”