By Milan Perera, Arts Critic Columnist
Working Mind Studios is the creative partnership of two University of Bristol students whose collaborative input behind various productions within and without the university garnered them recognition over the last couple of years. Spring Term 2023 marks a significant milestone for Working Mind Studios as they are preparing to stage their debut theatre production, Dear Emily.
Epigram went to meet co-creators Bobby Joynes and Becky Coster, and co-director Jesse Prince, ahead of their much-awaited debut. Working Mind Studios was founded in 2020 on the back of the long nationwide lockdown, before Joynes and Coster had met; they are now both co-creators and partners in life.
Working Mind Studios is a three-pronged instrument which specialises in film production, photography and theatre. They have collaborated with many productions by the two main University based theatre groups: DramSoc and Bristol Spotlights. Their most recent creative collaboration was with the all-female theatre collective, Daily Bread, in their production of Flower Shop; Bobby Joynes worked as the head graphic designer for the project and he could not be any happier on the reception of the production. They plan to also collaborate with Bristol Spotlights Fringe show.
Before Joynes embarked on his creative journey as the co-creator of Working Mind Studios, he came equipped with both the theoretical knowledge and experience in filmmaking, photography, product design, theatre and media production and was looking for a creative outlet to make use of all these skills, instead of focusing solely on theatre. Before joining forces with Joynes, Becky Coster was involved with performance arts, especially musical theatre, with a clear overview of all aspects pertaining to theatre.
Their theatre debut aims to provide a fresh perspective on forming relationships and falling in love during your university years. Bobby Joynes feels that many portrayals of university love stories in film and television tend to over-romanticise these formative relationships at the expense of honesty and complexity. He reiterated that: ‘Dear Emily is a realistic take on university relationships and finding love in your early twenties. We wanted to tell a story where the characters aren’t neatly characterised as either good or bad. It’s real life. There’s a gray scale to these stories.’
The 45-minute play features the thespian skills of Rory Stroud and the writer Becky Coster, who respectively play Christopher and Emily. In the direction, Bobby Joynes is teamed up with Jesse Prince who explained to us both the challenge and the reward of working with just two people as the cast: ‘There’s something exciting about working with a cast of two. It’s not often you get to do that. To craft the relationship between two people is a really delicate affair. To see that dynamic develops is definitely the highlight for me.’
He confessed that in the first reading of the script he did not fully grasp its essence but in subsequent readings he understood how flawed each character is. ‘It’s part of the challenge for us as a team to bring about those subtle hints of the script and project it on to the stage to make those flaws more visible’, Prince added.
Rory Stroud, who plays Christopher, is no stranger to the Bristol theatre scene, where he rendered a critically-acclaimed performance as Jim in Flower Shop by Daily Bread Theatre in autumn.
When asked to describe Emily, the Coster pointed out that ‘Emily is complex. When I started writing it I was probably trying to make her sort of the ‘Bad Guy’, but it developed into its present shape where she wants people to listen to her. She’s a bit loud. She drinks and she’s a bit grating against Christopher of whom she’s really fond of.’
The original inspiration for the project came from a series of photographs called ‘There Are So Many Ghosts at My Spot’ by the Russian photographer Karmen Verdi, which features one real person interacting with a projection. Coster jokingly added that: ‘I was given one photo and four days to write a script. I wrote about ten drafts and it was a bit of a challenge but I’m glad we did it.’
I bid them farewell as they were preparing for another session of intense rehearsals to get every minor detail as refined as possible.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Working Mind Studios
Have you got your tickets for Dear Emily?