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Looking back at 2020: Maybe You Like It’s first full year

by our Artistic Director Caleb Barron (CB), and our Executive Director, Jake Rich (JR)

CB: I began the year fervently finishing the script for our second stage show ‘Pleading Stupidity’. Only days before, Jake had given me the title for it. It's a goofy tale about some silly boys that don’t quite get the comeuppance they deserve.

JR: And we were so excited to work on it! We spent ages thinking of a title - at one point it was the unwieldly 'Ice Ice Bandits: Chad and Brad V. The State of Colorado'. In the end, the title had been a line in the script all along!

CB: Through January and February, we rehearsed ‘Pleading Stupidity’ in Oxford whilst I finished my remaining coursework and my dissertation. Alongside rehearsals we were putting out our first “season” of the Maybe You Like It podcast, staging films and old plays that had never been staged before or were never likely to be staged again. It was an incredibly hopeful start to the year. It felt like we had such a great team on our production, cast and crew, and, though there were moments of stress, it was always such a fun rehearsal room to be in.

It was also the first play I’d written completely alone and being able to work on it with my patient cast and incredibly supportive assistant directors was such a pleasure.

The podcast was being listened to and appreciated, which is all I was ever going to ask of it. It was also an opportunity for Jake and me to grow stronger together as a creative partnership and it really felt like that was happening.

We managed to secure a place with ZOO venues at the Fringe for the summer before our preview run. It really felt as though we were building in confidence as a production company ready to take a step out from being a student company into the professional world.

JR: Oh, the spring, so full of hope! Maggie and Lauren, our brilliant assistant directors, were fantastic. And we also got to work with incredible designers like Rhi Ogden-Jones, Arthur Morris, and Leeya Patel, as well as my dear friend Will Hayman, who, as well as being a lighting genius, I will forever admire for his strength this year.

The podcast, despite its spluttering start, has been such a joy. We've had such a variety of conversations, from very serious character discussions to ridiculous and hilarious sabotage, and everything in between. We've got some really exciting guests coming up too so keep your eyes peeled...

CB: Our run of previews for ‘Pleading Stupidity’ in the Burton-Taylor studio were a great success. Reviews and responses were generally positive. The changes to make prior to the Fringe were clear but overall people had found the play funny and entertaining (the two most important things for that kind of show). We had really treated the run as previews, so each performance felt like the next step towards performing the show in Edinburgh in the summer rather than a last chance to perform this show.

What I remember distinctly was how close we felt as a company, and how ready for a summer of performing the show we were.

A couple of weeks after our previews, the national lockdown began. At first, as I prepared for exams, I held onto a belief that we might beat this thing in a few months and be able to go about our summer as expected. However, it wasn’t long before the Fringe was cancelled, and it was becoming obvious that the Coronavirus was here to stay. We tried to get started with the podcast again (having stopped in March) but it was a period of the year where making anything seemed impossible. I wrote a few poems from April through to the beginning of July but produced little else beyond my exams. For the month of July, I wrote nothing. For me, at least, it seemed that Maybe You Like It could do nothing and that I could do nothing. Not the summer we hoped for.

JR: My whole summer revolved around Edinburgh. Finishing my undergraduate degree, it felt like I had fallen off the end of a conveyer belt - each thing seeming to lead onto an obvious 'next', until, suddenly, it wasn't clear at all anymore. But, as Caleb explains, we realised we knew other ways to create...

CB: One of the episodes of the podcast we did manage to make in the first lockdown was on the little-known George Bernard Shaw one-act play ‘Press Cuttings’. I’d studied Shaw as part of my dissertation, and I found this suffragette farce to have as much comedy to offer today as it did a century ago when it was first staged.

We discussed on the podcast producing it as a radio play ourselves but a couple of weeks after that it seemed it could be a possibility. We didn’t require any rights, we didn’t need a budget, we could just produce it from home.

We gathered a cast and rehearsed and performed the play entirely over Zoom. Jake and I shared the editing (Jake did almost all the editing) and we released it in September.

It was an incredibly frustrating and slow process for what was a quite simple hour-long play, but this was our first attempt at a radio play, and we wanted to do it right. I spent a long time with the cast working on character and voice and looking into the history of the play together. It felt like we were doing it right. It was no Edinburgh but given the circumstances it was a really good feeling to make something, and something that I remain proud of as a final product.

JR: I am so proud of Press Cuttings. From some awesome performances, recorded in bedrooms (I also participated), I was able to really dig into creating an auditory experience. We made the play in 3D stereoscopic sound by Caleb physically blocking the space in his head, and writing it down in time codes for me to use with the audio. You really can hear the characters walking around the room. The final project contained around 30 tracks of voices, ambience and sound effects. I even had to take overlapping speech and make it sound like only one voice was coming down a telephone! I think by frustration Caleb really means excitement, he just wanted to get it out! If anything I wanted to spend longer on it!

CB: Over the summer the podcast had resumed, and we managed to get a broad spectrum of guests and work out how to make it all work over Zoom. I also started a second podcast, ‘Do Try This At Home’, with Harrison Gale that focused on screenplay writing and fixing films that were mediocre or worse. These were great ways to keep creatively engaged as I toyed around with what I could write next and procrastinated over edits to the ‘Pleading Stupidity’ script. The podcasts, with a very small but dedicated listenership, have certainly been more for me and Jake than for any real commercial growth but they’ve helped us to keep making at a time when there’s nothing for us, as a theatre company, to produce for the stage.

Whilst recording ‘Do Try This At Home’, Harrison mentioned to me that she’d been thinking about how much fun it’d be to make an audio sketch show for the festive season in the style of old-timey radio shows when everyone in the household would gather ‘round the wireless. She invited us to produce it and we got together the team of Harrison, Jake, James Akka and myself to devise and perform the whole thing. It wasn’t until the end of October that we actually got started putting together a few sketch ideas over Zoom and writing some of them up. We decided we wanted to produce and put out the whole thing for free, but we did want to partner with a charity to encourage listeners to donate to. Having all met and worked together in Oxford, we soon partnered with the Gatehouse that work with people in Oxford experiencing homelessness and that are vulnerably housed. They were extremely accommodating of our goofiness and absurdity.

The release date was set for 27th December and we got stuck into writing, recording and editing a weird and wonderful show that I am extremely proud of. The night we released it we encouraged people to treat it like those old-timey radio shows and listen live with us, with live commenting on YouTube. It made for a real event that felt live and felt like it had the excitement of an opening night in a theatre, a feeling I had missed dearly in the ten months since ‘Pleading Stupidity’.

JR: Yeesh, why did I sign up to work over Xmas again? Seriously, it was an honour to work with such funny people on their first sketch project! And you know what, for a first stab, with no audience to test things out on or play off, it was pretty damn good! It was a stressful time, writing, recording, editing, and releasing the whole thing in just a few weeks, and with no marketing budget to speak of it felt a little thankless at times. But the end result is lots of fun and I'm very glad we did it: Here's to next year!

Thanks to David Kay and the Gatehouse team for being so supportive. By my calculations, we've raised around £350 so far, with donations still open!

And yes, those opening night nerves! How I'd missed them... sort of.

CB: Overall, it’s a funny old year to reflect upon. I haven’t seen Jake in person since March, and yet we have produced a play, a sketch show, and a podcast together to a high standard. We’re now beginning to really come together as a company, with a broad group of associates that we love working with and that (I think) love working with us. It’s our first full year as a company and almost nothing has gone to plan but it’s been exciting to work it out together and to keep working as collaboratively as we possibly can. Having started the year writing alone to finish a stage play, I ended the year writing in a sort of online writers’ room with three others each inputting our own voice and ideas into an audio production. I want to end the year thanking everyone that has listened to, or engaged in, anything we’ve made over the past year. I want to thank my family for their patience as I hide away for hours at a time editing podcasts in audacity. I want to thank friends for the continual support and for not getting mad every time I clog up the social media feeds. And I want to thank Jake, and everyone that Maybe You Like It has worked with this year. Though I haven’t seen almost all of you in ten months, we have been able to make stuff, to create, together and that is the most exciting thing that can be done.

JR: Couldn't have put it better myself. Especially the social media point. Please, you can unmute me now. Thanks to Caleb and everyone we've worked with this year for all your hard work and the fantastic stuff you've created. And thanks to my tutors and coursemates at Central, for teaching me so much in so little time. As I often say, most things humans take pleasure from, if you boil them down, are stories - telling them, hearing them, reading about them, seeing them. Here's to continuing this story in 2021. Maybe You'll like It, Maybe You Won't.

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