Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travel Fellowship, Part 1

July 9, 2014

I know we shouldn’t play favourites at work, but nonetheless I have to admit that two of the best bits of my job as Producer of Oxford Playhouse entail looking after artist development and producing new shows under our Playhouse Plays Out strand of work which respond to the idea of place, and which connect and resonate with local communities in a way which is special to that place – be that the city, the county, or the particular venue, environment or community within which we’re making each show. Recent highlights on that front have been STAND, made with the brilliant Chris Goode and 6 brave residents of Oxfordshire; Soapbox City, which saw 200 people have their say during 12 hours of continuous public address on May Day 2014; and The Story of the Four Minute Mile, which took place on the very same running track where Sir Roger Bannister made history 60-odd years ago.

So it’s something of a dream that I now find myself in Bolivia on the first leg of a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travel Fellowship during which I get to spend an extended period of time with some artists I particularly admire, thinking about how theatre making and ideas of place go hand in hand. I’m hoping that the time spent with these extraordinary international artists will feed in to our Playhouse Plays Out ambitions back in Oxford and inform or encourage the work I’ve recently started to have a go at making on a more modest scale all on my ownsome!

I write this in the middle of Week 2 of 3 that I’m spending with Teatro de los Andes, a wonderful company I first saw perform in New York, at the 2006 Under The Radar festival. In fact, anyone eagle-eyed will notice that I’ve been banging on about them on here for quite some while.  (They don’t yet have the profile in the UK which I think they deserve, but the folks at CASA festival are on a mission to change that, having succeeded in getting them over to London for the first time in 2013; fingers crossed they’ll be returning to UK stages before too long.)

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” 
― T.S. EliotFour Quartets

The WCMT’s mission is to support travel which enables you to learn best practice and to make a difference – quite a thing to live up to – although thankfully the learning part of it is, it seems, inevitable. There is definitely something about being elsewhere which makes you think about your own somewhere: the place you started your journey from, the place to which you’ll return at the end of the adventure, and the place which is in your blood and your instincts; the place which is the formative reason why you are how you are. The philosophical argument that the self is best defined through the other is well-trodden ground (I believe the likes of Rimbaud, Hegel, de Beauvoir and Sartre have had a lot to say on the subject), and I doubt I’m the first person to think that the same approach can be applied to ideas of place: we can best get to know the place we’re from by better understanding places where we’re a stranger. And of course I’m particularly interested in how theatre from different places can speak both of and across cultures.

On arrival in Bolivia’s second city, Santa Cruz, just over a week ago, after a long flight from Madrid and with time to kill on an overnight pit-stop before my final flight up to the Andes, it was wandering around the main plaza in a haze of jet-lag that these overly grand thoughts lodged in my head. Because of the benches. Not long before I left home, there were reports in the press about recent aggressive developments in the UK’s architecture of street furniture, which is increasingly being designed to dissuade people, in particular people who find themselves homeless, from making full and free use of our public spaces. In Santa Cruz’s 24 de Septiembre plaza there are at least 150 benches and a dozen free public chess tables (at which I was soundly thrashed all afternoon long by the old masters of the game).  The plaza was of course swarming all day and evening with people from all walks of life and all generations. It felt very much like the architecture of that space made an open invitation to its citizens to spend time there, however they chose, and, without wishing overly to romanticise a difference which I expect is accounted for by respective land and property values, I was saddened on the UK’s account at what our contrasting discouragement of residents’ use of our public spaces says about us. (Vancouver’s response to the UK approach also offers us pause for thought.)

So, the connection to theatre? For me it’s about how we make an invitation. All theatre is an invitation, of course, to share in stories and ideas, but the way in which we make that invitation – in particular the openness and the generosity with which theatre makers are able to make that invitation to audiences – has a profound effect on the audience experience. With Playhouse Plays Out, we talk about trying to open up a city which to many people can seem closed off by both literal and conceptual barriers; the audience experience I know we hope to foster has more akin with the thrumming metaphor of Santa Cruz’s plaza than the hostility of London’s spiked benches.

And so, 24 hours later, I found myself in the mountain village of Yotala, 20km south of the historic city of Sucre (the Bolivian constitution was signed here after Simon Bolivar and General Sucre finally defeated Spanish rule), at Teatro de los Andes’ base, observing rehearsals for their new show (working title, El Cuaderno de las OlasThe Book of the Waves).

Teatro de los Andes' base in Yotala, Bolivia

Teatro de los Andes’ base in Yotala, Bolivia

Appropriately enough, this new show is all about place, or rather, about a country’s understanding of its identity and capacity through its concept of place and territory. More than concept actually: through its ownership of and entitlement to place and territory. 135 years ago in the War of the Pacific, Bolivia lost its access to the sea to Chile. The loss of its coast – from Antofagasta north – is something Bolivia still feels keenly: it manifests itself both as a live political hot potato and in more trivial, though still heartfelt, ways, such as serving as the main reason why most Bolivianos have been ferociously supporting any South American country bar Chile in the current World Cup. The show takes the form of a metaphorical fable of an old woman (Bolivia) whose final wish, which her three children are committed to fulfilling, is to see the horizon and be plunged into the sea before her death.

Over the years I’ve seen three other Teatro de los Andes productions: En Un Sol Amarillo, about the aftermath of a 1998 earthquake in a small altiplano town; El Cyclope, inspired by the ancient Greek myth but recalibrated to modern day Bolivia and often performed for free in barrios on the edges of a city; and La Odisea, in which Odysseus is cast as an eternal global immigrant seeking asylum in the world. El Cuaderno de las Olas seems to pick up the baton of this repertoire very naturally, being deeply, intricately, emotionally connected to and informed by its place of creation. The specificity of its metaphor runs throughout the piece, including precise and detailed references to, for example, the violence which erupted in Sucre in May 2008. And yet, the reason I love this company’s work isn’t because it speaks to me in the way it clearly speaks to local audiences; despite the specificity of place which filters through it unapologetically, it speaks to me as a stranger from another world – a stranger who doesn’t know what it feels like to live in a landlocked country with only your great-grandparents’ memories of the sea for solace and who doesn’t know what inter-community violence on your doorstep feels like, but who does know about the sense of home, of belonging, of loss, of wasted potential, and of hope.

Theatre which is truly embedded in its place and authentically connected to its community can, this experience reminds me, also be universal. As a producer I’m often thinking about how best to contextualise a new piece of work: who is it for, where is it best presented, what context would give it its best life? And while I don’t for one second question the importance of that process or doubt the care I should continue to give to it, the last week has been an inspiring reminder that the universality of the best-made theatre will always speak far beyond its given context too.

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In for a penny, in for a pound

December 1, 2013

It’s the eve of the annual deadline for the Artist in Residence scheme I look after at the regional venue in which I work (Oxford Playhouse; views here obviously my own etc etc…), and I’ve just read this blog post by Amelia Bird suggesting venues abolish their artist development programmes in favour of paying higher fees for fully finished productions.

Here are a few thoughts on why I think differently.

Because it’s about value not cost.
We offer 3 artists £1,000 cash a year, plus access to the full resources of the Playhouse to use however they see fit. They don’t have to spend that cash on a production (though some choose to do so); they can spend it however they want to develop their practice – including train fares to go and see mentors, fees for taking part in masterclasses, coffee to make it all bearable, match funding to leverage other investment, subsistence costs to support themselves during R&D periods, whatever they want… The scheme has been deliberately and lovingly designed to be as un-top-down as possible; to be entirely and genuinely artist-led. We just invite artists to make a pitch to us encompassing what they’d like to do with that combination of time, cash and resources, and we let three of them do just that. And I know for sure that they, and our audiences, get a lot more than £3,000-worth of value for that cash investment. I also know that spending that £3,000 on marketing or paying 3 visiting artists an extra £1,000 on their fee wouldn’t yield anything like the same (tangible and intangible) return for any of us.

Because creative producing is about artists and audiences, not about one or the other.
Artist development is audience development in my book. Growing, developing and serving audiences includes doing our bit to grow, develop and serve artists. A few venues or producers are explicit about putting artists first (see David Jubb’s entry in The Producers for example), but for a lot of us, the two go hand in hand. They’re not mutually exclusive things, and our job is to bring them together as meaningfully and as congruently as we can. Investing in artists ensures we’re continuing to do our best for our audiences: sowing seeds, fledging ideas, starting up artistic romances which one day just might flourish into an extraordinary experience for our audiences.

Because it’s about the important rather than just the urgent.
About the future and not just the now.

Because it’s about being generous with what we have.
Mi casa su casa and all that. Because none of us has very much, or as much as we’d like, to do all the things we’d like to do. And because so often the exacting realities of the responsible stewardship of sizeable organisations mean we can’t muster up great big cheques free of strings. So what we do have, which we can offer generously and without strings, we should.

Because we have to be about breadth not depth.
Venues have a greater responsibility than artists to make an open invitation to a really broad cross-section of audiences. Artists have a responsibility to themselves and their work to focus in depth on their practice and on the materialisation of their ideas with as much integrity and authenticity as possible. Venues’ responsibility to offer a portfolio of experience includes seeking out a broad range of opportunities where a little can go a long way.

Because we need to take risks. And to manage those risks.
One of the most exciting things we do is to introduce a new artist to our audiences. But we can’t start at that point; we need to start somewhere long before that. We need to get to know an artist, and that artist who’s never had anybody invest anything in them needs someone to take a risk on them, by investing something which can start something more. Because if we only ever invest big bucks in artists we already know and trust, what happens to the artists nobody yet knows or trusts?

Because we should play a creative role in our place
Venues should have a sense of responsibility to the idea that a vibrant creative community should be able to thrive in their city, town, or region. If we don’t think that creative community is yet as fulsome and as productive and as supported as it might be, and as our city or town or region deserves it to be, then shouldn’t we, as a home to creativity in that place, do our bit to encourage more of it? To make more of something possible?

Because one size doesn’t fit all.
I’m thinking particularly about our Artist in Residence scheme this evening because that’s at the top of my inbox this coming week, but this is of course only one aspect of our artist development activity. It’s right for some artists; it’s not for others. There are other opportunities too, which suit other artists better. But just because this scheme isn’t right for everybody doesn’t mean it’s not really really right for somebody.

Because we want a relationship not a one-night stand.
And my best guess says that a lot of the 70 or so applications I’ll find from artists on my desk tomorrow morning will be saying the same thing.

Poacher turned Gamekeeper

November 4, 2013

There were a few late nights over a few bottles of wine with a friend.

There were a few conversations playing Fantasy Theatre in our home city, usually starting with “Wouldn’t it be great if there was…”, “I wonder why there aren’t more people making…”, “I’d love to see / hear / come across…”.

Until the light dawned on us all of a sudden that we could just give it a go ourselves. Freewheel it. Make something happen. Write it, produce it, birth it, publicise it. Without our job titles (much though we love them), without a 3 year plan, without a commissioning agenda, without grand ambitions or pretensions to being proper artists, or fear of not being proper artists. Actually there was a bit of fear, but we bullied each other on past it until it was too late to worry about it anymore.

And so we did it. We had an idea – a very small, simple idea – and over the last 9 months, we’ve made it happen. With a lot of favours and phone calls, a few late nights and one or two more bottles of wine along the way. And it’s been every bit as terrifying and all-consuming and exhilarating as the biggest project I’ve turned my hand to under the auspices of Real Work. And possibly that bit more fun, knowing that we’ve gone off piste.

It wasn’t a surprise that what I’ve learned in the last 10 years as a producer would more than see me through this playful busman’s adventure. What I didn’t expect was that the reverse would be true too. That by being a writer of a play I’d learn a lot about how I could be a better producer of one*. And that by going indie I’d learn a lot – or remember a lot – about how organisations and infrastructures could work better, could be more supportive, more creative, more enthused. That by taking care of every penny of our £1500 of funding (thank you kindly Oxford City Council), I’d find some new ideas for how to get the most creativity out of the £100,000s I look after each year.

Variations on this list of the stages of the Creative Process have been doing the rounds online recently:

The Creative Process:
1.This is awesome
2.This is tricky
3.This is shit
4.I am shit
5.This might be ok
6.This is awesome
7.I am awesome

I’ve definitely gone through 1 – 4 in orderly succession and, with funding secured, the recording of the audio play complete, and three weeks to go before it all comes shuddering into life, I reckon I’m fairly comfortably oscillating between stages 5 and 6 most days now. Stage 7 is probably a first-night-g&t-induced hallucination but I’m looking forward to it immensely.

 

And so here’s what we’ve made:

Image

 

*When you think you’re being really good to artists, be better. Be kinder. Be more indulgent. Big them up more. Let them worry about something with you. Don’t get exasperated when they’re not worrying, they’re just sharing. Even though it sounds really similar to worrying. Know how to tell them they’re not the best person for a particular task without them thinking you’re telling them they’re shit at everything and that you wish you weren’t working on their project. Make them let other people do stuff with their project. Show them that you love their project every bit as much as they do. If you don’t there’s no way of blagging this bit. Then you need to work with a different artist. Or they need to work on a different project. Allow time for over-thinking things, and use tough love effectively but sparingly. A team of a few loyal friends achieves way more, way more efficiently than anyone could on their own, but also more than an army of organisational departments could too (except if you’re talking about the Olympics opening ceremony). Small is beautiful. And it means something. And it matters.

The Challenge of Touring

January 8, 2011

It seems abundantly clear to me that small arts organisations are facing a real battle at the moment, by which I mean organisations small in terms of infrastructure, not in terms of ambition, profile or achievement. Organisations which aren’t building-based risk being less visible in the public consciousness, and we only need to look at the rationale of how local authorities are implementing their budget reductions to realise that it’s the organisations with smaller infrastructures which will suffer the greatest impact over the next few years. Having spent most of my career working in touring theatre on the small and middle scale, I’ve been turning my attention recently to the challenges touring is going to face over the coming year or so, and wondering if it might be time to think of some new ideas and experiment with some new models.

As far as the obvious challenge of finance and fundraising goes, suffice to say that of course there are vitally important conversations for every touring company to be having around the topical pressures which the UK’s mixed economy funding model is going to come under in our more straitened times. I think these conversations need to include the level of reliance on public subsidy; the concept and realities of philanthropy; and possibilities for diversifying income or embracing a spirit of entrepreneurialism that don’t threaten the primacy of the company’s artistic purpose. I’m sure each and every company worth their salt will be using the next year to interrogate these conversations thoroughly and honestly and to design a long-term strategy for securing their financial future beyond 2012 in the context of whatever Arts Council decisions are handed down at the end of March.

Easier said than done, no doubt, but while impossible to ignore, the challenge of money isn’t the only one touring companies are facing.

For me, the most important challenge for a touring company right now is simply: how do we remain brave and artistically adventurous?

Of course a large part of this will be down to the artistic choices the company makes, but I think there is scope for an organisation’s whole culture playing a part in rising to this challenge. As I see it, every decision a small arts organisation makes is made within a context of risk and in support of the artistic programme, and for me the real challenge for producers, general managers and executive directors is to cultivate a positive culture of ambitious risk-taking which doesn’t jeopardise the things rightly regarded as too precious to risk losing. Being able to decipher and articulate what those all-too-precious non-negotiables are feels like a crucial process for touring companies, whether it be the ability to have an artist-led infrastructure, for example, or the scope to commission work on an international platform. I certainly think that knowing what you’re not prepared to give up liberates you when it comes to reconsidering everything else. I know that I want to work in organisations which manage to achieve a congruence between the sense of bravery and spirit of adventure of the work on stage and the way they work as a team off-stage, and I think this is easier to achieve when there’s a collective understanding of what you’re protecting at all costs, and what you’re bold enough to re-examine.

The second challenge for me is about partnerships: how do we find the best partners and how do we best nurture our relationships with them?

I don’t think it’s at all contentious to suggest that one of the keys to success for arts organisations now and in the future will be the strength and authenticity of their partnerships. I think the conundrum about collaboration is how you reconcile inevitable challenges of ownership, voice and compromise as you go about the often tricky process of translating hopeful theory about partnership working into the reality of practice. The danger as I see it is that, as collaboration becomes as much a necessity as a choice, incipient relationships can be hurried along too enthusiastically for the sake of short term benefit, before a genuine symbiosis has established itself organically between the artists or organisations in question. That for me is both the risk and the challenge: of being open to new partnership opportunities but always allowing the demands of the work to remain the primary stimulus of those relationships, rather than the sheer convenience of what each partner can bring to the table.

The final challenge I’ve been thinking about is the challenge at the heart of touring: how do touring companies connect meaningfully with audiences?

All touring companies face the inevitable challenge of, by definition, being absent from most of their audience for most of the year. Unlike building-based organisations the focus of their attention is forever split: they both need to connect with their neighbouring communities in their year-round base, and also with their audiences distributed further afield. The challenge for a company with touring at its core is to be as open to engaging with those geographically distant audiences as it is with those in its immediate locality.

I think that the time is ripe to re-examine the status quo of the touring model, to look at different patterns of working both with artists and with theatres, and there’s a great opportunity for a bold company to lead the thinking in this area. Just as venues are teaming up with resident companies and sharing certain costs or functions, might there, for example, be scope for a squad of touring companies to team up and provide a selection of shows in repertoire, sharing subsistence and travel costs as they travel the country alongside each other…?

Touring will always be the best platform for sharing artists’ work and I believe it is crucial for the health of the sector as a whole, but I think it’s going to have to work harder and become more flexible and imaginative in its structures in order to continue to serve as the backbone of a healthy business model for small organisations.

IberoAmericano Festival de Teatro de Bogota

March 31, 2010

Something of a dream came true for me last week when I was able to attend the bi-ennial theatre festival in Bogota, Columbia. I had heard excited rumours about this festival for a while: South America’s Edinburgh, host to theatre companies from all over the Latin continent, started somewhat improbably in 1998 by the aging but much beloved Columbian soap star Fanny Mikey. This was the place I needed to be to continue pursuing the marriage of my personal passion for South America with my professional interest in theatre producing.

The 2010 festival was the first since the sad passing of its charismatic founder Fanny Mikey, and tributes to her larger-than-life presence were everywhere: theatres were named in her honour, her orange curls and wicked grin were plastered across billboards, and ebullient quotes from her life adorned theatre foyers, the most bullish of which read: “Everything in life is possible; the only thing impossible is war.”

Fanny Mikey, founder of the Bogota Theatre Festival

Clearly the international theatre world is beginning to take notice of this festival: about 50 international delegates from the professional theatre world attended the 2008 edition of the festival; this year, there were 100 of us, including 6 Brits – myself and 5 representatives of the newly established International Theatre Consortium. Bogota is an extraordinary and challenging place for a festival of this scale: at 2,640 metres above sea level, the city’s air is thinner than usual, and heavily polluted by the smog of traffic fumes that permanently clog the highways, enforcing strenuous aerobic exercise on us in our dashing from venue to venue. The city is immense, and the geographical layout of the grid system is frustratingly deceptive: streets called ‘carreras’ run in one direction and cross streets called ‘calles’ run at right angles. All are supposedly numbered, but given that absolutely no roadsigns exist, very few people, including taxi drivers, seem to know which street is which, with odd diagonal streets and occasional avenues adding to the confusion. Maps seemed to vary wildly in their accuracy, and taxis are almost always 40 minutes late, their passage constantly blocked by bumper-to-bumper traffic. Given that the festival included plenty of events at obscure venues – residential apartments, old crumbling theatres tucked away in courtyards up pedestrian sidestreets, school halls, parks, etc. – most delegates missed at least one show per day from their intended agenda, despite Columbian timekeeping meaning that most shows went up 30 minutes late, and waiting on the busy pavements of Bogota soon became a significant part of the experience.

Despite having to do battle with the city each day, it was an inspiring adventure, and on the occasions when we weren’t in a rush, a wander through the back streets offered up all sorts of surreal delights, from brightly coloured murals, to mountains of fresh strawberries sold by the scoop from a barrow, to dozens of tiny theatres hidden away between shops and houses.

I was of course delighted and secretly rather proud that Teatro de Los Andes’ new show – a South American version of The Odyssey – went down so well (rousing standing ovation from an almost full house) and am hoping that its warm reception might add momentum to my campaign to get this fabulous Bolivian company’s work to the UK (see my first ever blog post on the subject). Other highlights for me included work by Chilean company Teatro En El Blanco: they presented two shows in Bogota – Diciembre, which I didn’t manage to get to see but which is coming our way in the summer care of the Edinburgh International Festival, and Neva, a weirdly comic piece about the death of Anton Chekov. Los Santos Innocentes by Mapa Teatro was a powerful piece of work (using fantastic documentary film footage, two venerable marimba players and a team of actors) about the surreal annual festival in an isolated Columbian town in which King Herod’s slaughter of innocent children is commemorated by drag queens running through the streets whipping passing victims. The site-specific piece El Autor Intelectual from Colombian company La Maldita Vanidad was also worth a watch: we peered voyeuristically from an external courtyard through a living room window into an apartment where three siblings argued over whose turn it was to look after their ailing mother, with tragicomedy inevitably turning to tragedy as the stakes got higher and higher. And an honourable mention must be made of the enjoyably bonkers show A Dentro La Casa A Fuera from Colectivo Inedita: no one seemed to have much of an idea of what was going on in this piece but it certainly ticked the ‘memorable and delightfully bizarre’ box, and what attendance at a Latin American arts festival would be complete without just that?

I could have stayed twice as long and was sad to miss the Cien Dias trilogy in particular, in which three separate directors tackle the dystopian subject matter of a world in which no murders take place, except for the one assassination prescribed each 100 day period by the state, with the murderer and victim selected by public ballot. I have heard good things about part one of the trilogy from those lucky enough to have stayed a day or so longer than my schedule allowed.

As ever, I had to sit through my fair share of the bad during the week in return for the reward of the good – only a few theatrical frogs ever turn obligingly into princes upon kissing, I find – but I quite enjoy the gamble in pursuit of discovering something new and wonderful. I do admit, however, to being grateful for the occasional interval at which I could slip out discreetly in pursuit of a glass of Malbec when it all got too taxing.

So all in all, a stimulating, invigorating, delightful week; put it in your 2012 diaries now.

West Midlands theatrical goings on in 2010

January 1, 2010

I can’t claim credit for this brilliant picture – it was taken by a friend of mine on New Year’s Eve.

Following on from signing up to the West Midlands Theatre Pledge initiated by James Yarker from Stan’s Cafe (see earlier blog post), I have been thinking about what shows I’ll be attending in 2010 to fulfill this commitment. Turns out, it’s nothing like as hard as you’d think to find 12 regional shows that sound intriguing and exciting and I’ve been booking tickets like there’s no tomorrow. So, here’s what I’ll be showing up at over the coming months in the West Midlands area:

I kick off next week with the wacky sounding Ringside at Birmingham’s Town Hall, performed by Mem Morrison and presented by the brilliant triumverate of Fierce, Arts Admin and Birmingham Rep.

Following hard on its heels are two slightly alternative events: Foursight Theatre’s Education & Outreach department’s The Corner Shop Schools Project – a site-specific piece devised by Wolverhampton pupils and performed in their school; and a screening of You, The Living by a new arthouse and world cinema club in my home town of Worcester (not theatre, I know, but a cultural initiative I’m keen to support) at the city’s small subterranean Arts Workshop.

In late January I’ll be heading to Birmingham’s Custard Factory for a promenade performance of Measure for Measure by Rogue Play Theatre, a company I’ve been introduced to via the Stan’s Cafe’s blog. Never seen their work before so this one will be a first for me.

I then embark on a series of outings to Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre where I’m currently shadowing the Executive Director as part of my Clore fellowship. Their new season includes some promising shows, and on my hitlist is the trilogy of Neil LaBute plays in the studio, plus Medea (a Northern Broadsides production) and Behud on the main stage.

Also in Coventry, I’ll be heading down the road to the City Arcade shopping centre where Theatre Absolute are leaseholders of a streetside unit for the next year or so, in which they’ll be performing their new show Breathe in the spring.

My former colleagues at Foursight Theatre will be touring their co-production with the ever inventive and charismatic Talking Birds in the spring – a full tour list isn’t yet posted online anywhere that I can see, but I happen to know that West Midlands performances of the cabaret-style show, Forever In Your Debt, include outings at the Arena Theatre Wolverhampton, The Courtyard Hereford and Warwick Arts Centre, so I’ll definitely make it along to one of those.

Talking Birds have got a couple of other projects in the pipeline for 2010 which I’ve also made a note in my diary about: Project 42 at the soon-to-be-reopened mac looks great, as does We Love You City, their autumn show at the Belgrade Theatre about Coventry City Football Club’s winning of the FA Cup way back when.

At Warwick Arts Centre I’ll be taking in Filter’s production of The Three Sisters and attending the Bite Size Festival in March, at which I’m especially looking forward to the premiere of Untied Artists‘ show Al Bowlly’s Croon Manifesto.

Not strictly relevant to the pledge – as it’s taking place at London’s Hampstead Theatre – but care of the creative team at Stratford’s RSC, is the premiere of Dunsinane. Directed by another Clore fellow Roxana Silbert and written by David Greig, I’ll be going along to support.

Other highlights on my radar but slightly off-message as far as West Midlands’ work goes include Bristol Old Vic’s production Juliet and her Romeo, ENO’s production of Satyagraha, a brave and unusual collaboration with Improbable, and Trilogy at BAC, one of the hits of 2009’s Edinburgh Festival I didn’t manage to see.

So, that should keep me busy for a few months and get me started on fulfilling my pledge. Any other suggestions most welcome of course.

Taking the Pledge

December 3, 2009

Last week, at the invitation of the Arts Council West Midlands’ Theatre Officer, I attended an Open Space discussion entitled The Challenge of Change – How can we create a better future for theatre in the West Midlands? It was something of a call to arms for the sector in the region and demonstrated a very positive collective will from the 80 or so theatre makers who attended to address the challenges we all identified through a series of conversations over the two day event.

This morning I was visiting the Stan’s Cafe website to book my tickets for their latest show (The Just Price of Flowers – on until Saturday at their A.E.Harris factory site in Birmingham; well worth a look!) and I came across a blog post from their director James Yarker on his thoughts following the event. He has come up with a series of pledges that he’s encouraging all of us to take to ensure the conversation results in us all ‘doing’ as well as ‘talking’. I think he’s on to something so I’ve decided to join him and take up the pledge too. Do spread the word and, just maybe, this will begin to make a difference.

The West Midlands Theatre Pledge

1: Attend 12 theatre shows in the next 12 months, 4 by West Midlands writers/artists/companies you haven’t seen before, 1 in a West Midlands Venue you’ve never been to before.

2: Take 12 people who have never been, rarely go, or don’t ‘do’ Independent Theatre to a show. Share transport.

3: Host a meal/party for 8 people 4 of which you barely know.

4: Write 12 comments/reviews/blog entries about theatre on other people’s sites.

5: Attend 1 mid*point or return to the next Open Space event.