Wow! What a year! We have had to make a lot of changes at Loudmouth in 2020 to make sure that we can still deliver our work during the Coronavirus pandemic. Here , one of Loudmouth’s Directors, Chris Cowan looks back at 12 ways that Loudmouth has changed since Christmas 2019.

1. This Time It’s Virtual.

So let’s go straight in with the least for a theatre company! We have (temporarily) stopped delivering live theatre and workshops. As soon as the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, we became unable to perform our work live to groups of young people. This has brought about lots of changes and we spent March to October re-inventing the way we work. We have now created virtual versions of our programmes that can work safely with young people in schools whatever the situation.

We began delivering these virtual sessions in November and the great feedback and responses make all the hard work worthwhile. We are so pleased with how the changes have gone from making the booking process and technology simple for schools to use. All whilst maintaining the usual Loudmouth quality and approach in the pre-recorded drama and interactive virtual workshops. A massive thank you to our Actor / facilitators Alec, Aysha, Ellie, Jodi, Matt, Rupi, Shanice and Will for having to learn a whole new way of working virtually. You will find out more detail on the changes we have made throughout this blog or you can watch a video on how the virtual sessions work here.

2. The Loudmouth Studios!

Until this year our Birmingham offices were the company base where we administered all of the bookings, rehearsed and had meetings but yep…that’s changed too. Our meetings are pretty much all online now and the offices have been converted into a series of mini studios so that we can stream our work and deliver multiple sessions at a time. Matt, our Actor / Facilitator Manager has been hard at work so that the rooms are set up so that our staff can deliver great session and work safely with social distancing and keep to the safety guidelines.

3. Keeping The Team Together.

One of the hardest parts of lockdown was having to put some of our staff on to the government’s furlough scheme whilst we worked out how to move forward. For most of the year the company has run with only 3 of the usual 13 staff. Only myself, the other Director, Eleanor and our Company Manager, Louise have worked throughout.

The whole team did return, working at least a couple of days a week until the start of 2021 when Lockdown 3 and the closure of schools has meant a return to the furlough scheme. We have worked hard to stay connected though with catch ups and lots of Zoom socials (the picture above is from our recent company Zoom meeting!) and we appreciate everyone’s support so that we have been able to keep the Loudmouth family together.

4. Bye, bye live drama – Hello pre-recorded video.

With live performances off the cards we had to find another way to deliver the drama element of our work. We discussed trying to stream live performances to schools but we just didn’t think it would be impactful enough. Live theatre and filmed drama are very different mediums and we decided we needed to do more than just plonk a camera in front of a live performance to make it work. We decided to rework the dramas into approaches that would work on camera and we could film during lockdown. Part of my role is to write all of our scripts and so I reworked some of the plays into monologues as if being told by YouTubers or vloggers talking to camera or told via Zoom calls or text chats. That way we could get equipment to actors houses so that they could film themselves with video support from a Director. We had to work out how to film safely and minimise any times actors would be in close proximity (hard when a lot of our work is about relationships). Our actors have been amazing working on their own sometimes through the night and wrestling with unfamiliar technology to capture the performances that are used in our virtual sessions.

5. It’s Not Easy Being Green (Screened).

In the 8 months between March and October we wrote, filmed and edited 12 different live action dramas to be used in our programmes. Pretty good going considering we are not experienced film makers although there were a lot of costs and challenges. We had a lot of films to make and each of these needed their own settings and identity but we needed to minimise travel, keep the number of people our staff would be in contact with down and minimise spend on things like studio space. The Loudmouth offices became the most versatile space in the world as we dressed and furnished the different rooms to look like different locations. When our ingenuity ran out we had another idea -a green screen! As you probably know, green screens allow you to film against a green backdrop and then remove all of the green in the edit and replace it with any background you want. That way we could shoot in the office and voila...we replaced the green screen with a locker room, a safety workshop and even a superheroes’ secret HQ! This was a great solution...eventually. Lighting and smoothing a green screen is much, much harder than we expected. We’ve lost count of the hours of ironing a green screen cloth backdrop that we will never get back!!! We owe a lot to Joseph Potts who we worked with on the filming of all of the live drama and was able to get the green screen sections to work. We’re pretty chuffed with the results though. Check out the photo above for a before and after.

6. Experimentation with Animation.

Somehow Loudmouth now makes cartoons!!! Once we decided to turn our live work into filmed dramas we immediately hit a few challenges. Some parts of our live work for primary schools have scenes where our actors play characters of different ages, including children under 10. This can work in live drama where playing different parts is part of the fun and magic, especially when the actors are some distance away. The suspension of disbelief gets a bit harder though in close up on screen. We hit upon the idea of using animation for these scenes using our actor’s voices (and sometimes children’s voices). I took a crash course to learn animation software so we could create cartoon versions of some scenes. So far we have made 11 short animated scenes that fit into our primary school programmes. You can watch an example from our Helping Hands programme here.

7. Presenting a new programme – The Wellbeing Team!

Yep, in the middle of all the adapting, filming and animating we decided to create a brand new programme! Coronavirus and the impact of lockdown was likely to have a significant effect on children’s mental wellbeing. We decided to rework some of our existing material and create brand new scenes to make a completely new programme that could be delivered virtually to primary schools. You can read more about this programme here and learn how you could save £100 on bookings of this in January and February!

8. Free Lesson Plans!

One of the first things we did during Lockdown One was to do what we could to support schools during an impossibly difficult time for teachers. Staff were going to need to find activities that they could give students or run online. We have a store of over 130 lesson plans that are normally only available to schools that have booked our sessions. In March we made this available for free to all schools and will continue to do this until things settle back into some kind of normal. You can access the free lesson plans here.

9. Pets At Home (Working).

Another big change has been where we work. Eleanor, Chris and Louise have been working from home since March. It has been strange not being in the office together but our pets Dolly, George, Alfie and Violet have been happy to have us around more. Aside from the occasional woof or meow in video meetings they have been a great help in getting us through this year. Perhaps they are after a job? If so, we think they show great paw-tential (sorry).

10. Van-quished!

Our lovely vans are off the road at the moment (sniff). They are taking a well earned rest until this is all over (and whilst we are only delivering virtual sessions). These vans were where our Actor / Facilitators would usually spend many hours travelling from school to school...mind you, I don't think that they are missing the early starts to drive to schools for 8am. We will have to wean them off those extra hours in bed once we get back into schools! The vans will be back though as soon as we are allowed to deliver our work in schools again and so look out for them on a road near you sometime in 2021.

11. Tours, Tours ( and Mores).

2020 was set to be a big year for Loudmouth with lots of exciting tours set up with existing and new funders. We have been unable to run these tours as we had planned however we have worked hard to move these tours to virtual sessions, and thankfully all of our funders have been happy to take this change on board. Eleanor has been working closely with the funders alongside our Partnerships & Tour Manager, Caroline and our administrator Jenny.

12. Merry Quizz-mas (Again).

So that is a lot of changes since last Christmas and I am sure that there will be more to come. We will continue to do whatever we can to support schools and evolve our work so that we can continue to help children and young people to stay happy, healthy and safe.

Now, we love a good quiz at Loudmouth (it was a great way to stay in touch with each other during lockdown) and this time last year we sent out a quiz for schools to use with their colleagues. And we’ve done one again for you this year. So…maybe this is something that hasn’t changed, although the questions are all different. You can get your Christmas quiz here.

So thanks for reading and here’s wishing you Happy Holidays and a great New Year. Come on 2021, you can do better!