"Make the thing we know we can make"
by Lepus Producer, Martin Atkinson
Listen to The Portal on all good podcast platforms
What do you do when all the venues close, that you were meant to be touring to, and most of the staff you had been working with in these venues are not able to work, are on furlough, or even worse, being let go? Yet the script is written, music composed, actors cast and people have carved time out of their lives to do their job.
We had to ask ourselves this question when making The Portal. The show was written, as an immersive theatre experience that culminated in connection and everyone hugging (yep the least covid friendly show possible) and was due to open at The Southbank Centre in London. All these plans soon disappeared once the first lockdown was announced – and like everyone else in the industry, we were scared.
As a producer, I always look at the Act of God clauses carefully (or force majeure, literally translated as “superior force”) – the bit that talks about flooding, epidemic, earthquakes, hurricanes and even acts of war – something that is “exclusively the consequence of natural causes” or "any other event beyond the reasonable control of a party.”
Did I ever think we’d meet our Act of God or Superior Force? Naively probably not – so when the pandemic arrived, and we finally did, we had to think very carefully about how we continue to do what we do in the face of superior forces. We finally came to the decision to make the thing we know we can make.
"watching people you truly admire succeed under that amount of pressure and that level of uncertainty is one of the most reaffirming things to witness."
Photograph: Sandy Butler
Like every other person in the UK, we were trying to second guess when we might be able to see our families again, meet loved ones or go to work again. This second guessing was driving us mad – we had to make a decision to make the thing we knew we could make. And I am so glad we did. It genuinely changed the way we all worked – and allowed us to discover more about the superstars and talented people we work with.
At a time when human interaction was at an all-time low, the Director, Writer, Actors, and Production team all met on zoom – every morning for 3 weeks at 9am to turn The Portal into a fictional podcast. The heroes that rode out the pandemic, the delivery drivers, delivered sound equipment to actor's houses and they were guided through the setup by the incredibly patient technical teams. Actors had setup their studios under stairs, in cots with a duvet over them and in bedrooms. They were confronting the unknown with incredible confidence whilst keeping their focus on performing.
Did we really know what we were doing was going to work? Not really, but we knew there wasn’t any other group of people we would rather be doing it with, so we didn’t really have much to lose. And I must say, watching people you truly admire succeed under that amount of pressure and that level of uncertainty is one of the most reaffirming things to witness. When your estimation of someone is that high, and they go above and beyond demonstrating to you just why – that is what saw me through lockdown.
I think this can be said about so many through lockdown; teachers, nurses, doctors, shop workers, delivery drivers and all other front line staff. As a nation we were inspired and so appreciative of their heroics and dedication. And for 3 weeks, at 9am, over Zoom – I was lucky enough to work alongside my own gang of heroes. An experience I will never forget.
The heroes that made The Portal are:
Martin Green, Wils Wilson, David Greig, Louis Blatherwick, Eloise Whitmore, Calum Malcolm, Cameron Malcolm, Tucker Martine, Yasaman Najmeddin, Radie Peat, James Holden, Brìghde Chaimbeul, Kate Young, Adrian Utley, Polly Thomas, Dylan Read, Alison Peebles, Anna Russell-Martin, Adam McNamara, Owen Whitelaw, Amanda Wilkin, Jessica Hardwick, Nadia Albina, Tam Dean Burn, Anna Dawson, Jon Calvert, Mikaela Atkins-Blake
Produced by Martin Atkinson for Lepus Productions in collaboration with Naked Productions.
Martin Atkinson is Executive Producer for Lepus, he's previously been a Producer at Brighton Festival, Leeds Playhouse, Manchester Collective and was part of the team that won The Stage's Producers of the Year Award for his contribution the Hull 2017, UK City of Culture. Martin works with numerous artists all over the UK, creating and touring award winning work nationally and internationally.