I spoke to Molly Taylor, who is currently directing, writing and starring in her online show ‘Lagging’.
Lily Could you summarise the premise of ‘Lagging’ for us?
Molly ‘Lagging’ is basically a blatant rip off of Staged. I fell in love with Staged over the summer – it was the first online production I’d seen that felt really suited to the format. Lagging is a reality-based fiction about the cast of ‘5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche’ (the show we were going to do this term) who get cancelled and go to Zoom to do online rehearsals for their online production – we’re playing with the weirdness of online rehearsals as well as some classic student theatre character jokes. It’s quite fun to do something that’s so blatantly stereotypical and jokey, whilst finding some sort of sympathy for the characters. They’re all stuck at home, doing this as basically a bit of a favour, and no one’s really getting what they want out of it. But everyone’s still doing their best, which I think does summarise a lot of what Cambridge theatre has had to do.
Lily What was the thinking behind the decision to do it as a series of small episodes rather than a long production?
Molly Part of the impetus is that I was tired of doing three-month long rehearsals of something that was then cancelled. You can also do short musing, not entirely directed comedy much better in short episodes – people then have a lot more tolerance for stuff that isn’t plot heavy. But I was also really excited by the idea of being able to do something and seeing it come to life a week later. It’s amazing how quickly people got stuff together: my AD wrote an entire sea shanty in three days! We got an editor two days beforehand and he’s done an amazing job. A bit terrifying, but it’s fun doing something so immediate and kind of stressful after such a sedate year.
Lily How does the rehearsal process and filming work?
Molly Episodes are broadcast on Sunday, and we’re supposed to start writing the next episode the same day (I don’t know if we do). I really wanted to be collaborative with the writing so that anyone in the cast or production team who wanted to be involved with it could be. We have a writing gathering, an open Zoom call that anyone can come to for two hours, I gather everything together and then we have a sort of script by Tuesday. On Wednesday we do a rehearsal/read through and a staging of it. At this point, the script is still up for debate. But on Thursday we have to film, and it actually takes quite a while so at that point the script is a final product. It’s a tight turnaround and there’s a lot of room for people to make contributions if they want to, but not to openly devise, because otherwise things inevitably end up not getting done.
Lily With comic timing, doing it over Zoom obviously makes things very different to how they would be on stage. Do you record it with everyone on Zoom or do you record individual parts and then edit it together?
Molly That was the biggest challenge. We realised quite early on that you can’t really get an actor in a comedy to just sit down and record themselves reacting to jokes. So instead, we have this elaborate setup: everyone is on a Zoom call, but we use the Zoom option ‘Hide non video participants’ so that those not in the scene can’t be seen. When someone enters a scene, they’re already in the room and then they can enter on cue easily, because there’s a whole lot of late entries or people coming in at the wrong time (classic Zoom banter). You have the Assistant Director screen recording the grid, and everyone separately screen recording themselves so that you can cut between group and individual shots. For comic timing, it was crucial that they all were on the call together.
Lily You act in it as well as directing, which is a theme throughout with production team members making cameos. Is that something you’ve done before? And for those who were acting for the first time, how do you make someone feel comfortable?
Molly I think a lot of people who were willing and excited to do it had done acting before, and if not, there was very much a willingness to do it, as it doesn’t require incredible acting skills. I really considered casting someone to play myself, but it felt a bit strange to have everyone else play themselves plus this other person as I lurked in the back. And, you know, it’s quite fun. It creates more of a community as well because we all do really enjoy hanging out with each other, even if the script says otherwise!
Lily It’s nice that it’s something for you guys as much as it is for the audience. What themes are you keen to explore in the weeks coming forward?
Molly The future episodes see a lot more joking around with online theatre as a concept rather than Zoom. Each episode is based around a related issue. You’ve got an episode about getting the rights for online theatre, which is trickier than you might think. We’ve got one about intimacy direction on Zoom with a fun cameo from a Cambridge Theatre classic coming in to play the intimacy director. The cast in future episodes, especially two of them, also get closer – the sea shanty becomes more relevant! How you start friendships or relationships and maintain them remotely will definitely become increasingly relevant. I think those two are the emotional heart. I hate that phrase, but they’re certainly the avenue through which we explore relationships.
Lily What advice would you give to anyone else who’s playing with the idea of theatre during lockdown?
Molly There’s lots of funding available if you send forms to the right people and there are always people you can go to and ask for help – ADC online and the ADC are incredible at supporting online shows. But you don’t necessarily need them – we applied to ADC online with this show and didn’t get a slot, but I was so determined and so fed up with being cancelled that we decided to do it anyway. Use the fact that online theatre doesn’t need a budget because YouTube accounts are free. There are also so many people at the moment who are willing to give up their time to create something. And you don’t need to know people either – I put up the editor ad on Facebook and got loads of applications. The resources have almost never been easier to access, so use them! It’s a great way to flex directing and organising muscles, get to know people, and make theatre connections so that hopefully when theatre comes back in person, you’ll be a better, more experienced person for it. And we can all get on with making the theatre that we would ideally be making.
You can watch episodes 1 and 2 of ‘Lagging’ on Youtube here. Episode 3 is due to be released on Sunday 14th February.