Monthly Archives: January 2010

mid * point: How can we build a sustainable future – A Mid*Point Event

How Can We Build a Sustainable Future for Theatre in the West Midlands? New Partnerships, New Opportunities

A special one-day event for theatre companies and practitioners in the West Midlands
Tuesday February 16th 2010, from 1.30pm; Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham

Speakers: Nick Walker (Talking Birds); James Yarker (Stan’s Cafe); Kate Peden (SHM Productions); Lara Ratnaraja (Business Link)

Talks * Discussions * Wine & Food – and it’s all FREE!

Yascapi's Blog: Leadership: Continuous Personal Development

One of the things I’ve been increasingly thinking about recently, in part as a specific focus of some of my Clore Fellowship training, is the personal nature of leadership. When I was asked to talk about my leadership perspective for a presentation a little while back, my first instinct was to look for examples or instances from my professional life which had influenced my understanding of leadership. But I quickly realised that it was much more personal than that – my perspective on leadership had begun to be formed much earlier on in my life through more personal encounters. So I felt a consideration of this topic would be dishonest of me if I didn’t direct my reflections to much more personal influences, foremost of which had to be my Mum.

My Mum and Dad - taken about 5 years ago

Mum has worked for about 30 years for an officially sexually discriminative organisation, an organisation whose male leaders have always forbidden female employees from rising to leadership roles. Even today, this discrimination is still enforced at the highest levels of the organisation.

As a child, I saw Mum challenge that situation every day through her work, and watched her play a very active part in the long fight against this discrimination. Eventually this culminated in a landmark court case in 1994 that, despite vociferous resistance from many colleagues, enabled her and other women finally to assume positions of leadership in the middle ranks of her organisation.

So I suppose I have to admit that something of the feminist was awoken in me from an early age, having become accustomed to seeing women struggle to assert their suitability for roles of leadership against the dominant male powers that be.

[I also now have a rather complicated and dysfunctional relationship with the church as a result, but that’s neither here nor there...]

Observing Mum’s working life at close quarters gave me a bird’s eye view on a very particular, unusual kind of leadership, and that is the leadership of voluntary communities. The kind of leadership role I saw her adopt was, I imagine, a very different one to had she been the boss of a profit-making corporation. There was nothing powerful or overtly impressive about it. In fact, as a slightly stroppy teenager it seemed to me that leadership was basically a total hassle: it seemed to involve dealing with eccentric, egomaniac nutters on a daily basis, being stuck at social gatherings for hours on end because everyone wanted to witter on at you about something or other, and you always always ended up really upsetting someone.

Leadership as I saw it through Mum’s experiences was tricky – it was something that had to be constantly negotiated with the community you were leading. There was something very politically complicated I learned from her about how to assert leadership from a position of being the only professional amongst a community of willing – sometimes overly willing – volunteers. It was, in effect, an example of what Julia Middleton has famously called ‘leadership beyond authority’ – leading from a position that doesn’t comprise hiring and firing authority over those persuaded to follow you.

Violin masterclass with Hugh Bean

As a child, the most important element of my education came in the form of one-on-one instrumental tuition: I played the violin a lot growing up and so my violin teachers were pretty significant people in my life. In a way, they were my leaders.

But, because of the nature of that sort of tuition, because of the intimacy and more familial relationship you develop with a teacher of that sort, their leadership was primarily facilitative. Of course I had my fair share of those who were dogmatic and dictatorial and frankly pretty terrifying about scale practice (or the lack of it), but in the main, my experience of their role was as leaders whose job it was to bring out the best in their pupils, so it was first and foremost a role of encouragement and support.

Incidentally, the wisest thing one of them ever said to me, and which I’ve never forgotten, was: “Don’t be afraid to get worse in order to get better.”

So if the point I’m making is that leadership is personal, that, although clear boundaries between the personal and the professional are useful, the two spheres are inextricably linked, then why have I allowed my thoughts to turn to a very public figure with whom I have no personal connection who holds the most conventionally powerful leadership role in the Western world? This man I think represents so many astonishing things about contemporary leadership because he manages to conflate the personal and the professional so apparently effortlessly.  Until he came along, I didn’t think it was possible in this day and age to revere political leaders. There’s too much spin, and therefore too much cynicism. There’s too much media exposure and interrogation, revealing all the disappointing flaws and human hypocrisies that in a former age might have remained hidden. I’ve always thought of my elders who idolised President Kennedy or Winston Churchill as somewhat naive – I thought that sort of reverence and respect for political leaders was a thing of the less sophisticated past, before citizens considered themselves journalists, publishers and opinion formers. I have become accustomed, ironically, never to finding admirable leadership qualities in those who occupy the most stereotypical positions of leadership.

And so, given the aggressive, non-stop media exposure of our current era, it is astonishing to me that this man has succeeded in making so many people fall in love with him, like teenage fans smitten with a rock star.

So how does that feed into my perspective on leadership in general? I think it has taught me that leadership can be different to what you have become accustomed to expect.

And that the most important thing about it is that it is utterly devoid of pretence. Or at least that it comes across as being so.

Leadership is as much about the person as the job title, meaning that professional development is impossible without personal development.

Women & Theatre: Cervical Monologues on tour in Dudley, March 2010

W&T have been commissioned by Dudley PCT to take perennial favourite, The Cervical Monologues to Dudley this Spring.

Regular cervical screening is essential for all women, yet there is a low rate of take-up of screening services in the Black Country. By demystifying the screening process and encouraging women to talk about their feelings, The Cervical Monologues aims to ensure that women are informed about their own health needs and empowered to take up screening appointments.

With the support of Dudley PCT, Women & Theatre’s Janice Connolly and Melisa Harrison have performed additional research with GPs and community groups to explore issues around the take-up of cervical screening services. From the research, Janice will write four new monologues to incorporate into the existing script, and increase the local relevance and impact of the piece. With these new voices that really reflect the local opinions in Dudley, the tour will aim to spark discussions about overcoming real and perceived barriers to accessing cervical screening services for Dudley’s diverse communities.

This is a great example of how W&T’s flexible and in-depth scripts can be used and adapted within local contexts. If you’re interested in a similar project, whether with Cervical Monologues or any of our other plays, please do drop us a line.

Thursday 4th March, 12.45pm @ St Thomas’s Network, Beechwood Road, DY2 7AQ
Friday 5th March, 12.45pm @ Lye Community Centre, Cross Walks Road, DY9 8BH
Wednesday 10th March, 12.45pm @ St James Medical Practice, Malthouse Drive, DY1 2BY
Everyone living in Dudley is welcome, but please book for groups of 5 or more on 0121 440 4203.

Women & Theatre: The Creative & Media Diploma

Spring term sees W&T develop and deliver a new programme of work with Bishop Challoner Catholic College, forming part of the Level 3 Creative & Media Diploma curriculum.
Fulfilling the ‘Commission’ unit, W&T will set students a creative brief requiring them to develop their own drama-based alcohol awareness programme targeting young people. We will then work with students and share Women & Theatre’s trademark style and approaches to develop and pilot an effective interactive programme that is rooted in research and the stories of real people.

For details of this project or other ways that W&T can support the delivery of the Creative & Media Diploma, please contact us

Women & Theatre: Tuned In: Young People’s project for Spring 2010

Tuned In is an exciting new radio drama project, made possible with funding from Birmigham City Council’s Creative Futures. We will be working with young people from two schools in Birmingham – a group of year 9 students from St Alban’s school (in Highgate) and the whole of Priestley Smith school for the visually impaired (in Perry Barr).

The idea is to create a collection of 6 short radio plays – three from each school – which will be written and rehearsed by the young people from their own thoughts and ideas under the guidance of experienced writer Steph Dale, radio director Jenny Stephens and W&T’s associate director Terina Talbot. Once the play scripts have been written they will be ‘swapped’ with the other school and rehearsed in readiness for recorded performance at the BBC studios in The Mailbox. The young people will have opportunities to meet and work together and the project will culminate in a celebratory event which will include a recorded performance of each of the plays. We have already had an ‘ inspiration day’ with all staff, students and artists involved in the project – this was held at the Botanical Gardens and was a wonderful day!

We look forward to beginning work with students and getting the script work going …. watch this space … and stay ‘tuned in’ for more!!

Birmingham Hippodrome Blog: 365 Days of Panto! by Chilina Madon, Marketing Manager

So the end of 2009 heralded another successful year for Birmingham Hippodrome with record breaking sales for We Will Rock You, sell out performances of Rocky Horror and West Side Story to name but a few. Yet the ‘bread and butter’ of our theatre diary comes from the annual Christmas pantomime. Come rain (snow in our case) or shine, panto lies at the heart of Birmingham Hippodrome’s schedule with next year’s production going on sale the Christmas before. It really is a case of 365 days of panto as far as we are concerned. 365 days of planning, marketing, promoting, casting, scripting, rehearsing and selling – and we love every minute of it!

The appeal of it never ceases to amaze, with adults, children, couples, groups and families all booking well in advance to ensure that they secure their seats for what is to many their annual Christmas treat.  A lot of our most loyal patrons are very passionate about panto, sending us reviews, comments and compliments. Of course, we do receive the occasional complaint, but all our staff are trained to respond quickly and efficiently so we can put things right and learn for the future.  As I write this, over 18,000 people have already booked or reserved their seats for next year’s production, Dick Whittington which runs from 18 Dec 2010 to 30 Jan 2011.

In a year where most economic news has been full of doom and gloom, pantomime provides audiences with a guilt-free, fun experience.  It is okay to heckle, scream, shout or throw your head back and have a good belly laugh. I think that it is this, coupled with our really amazing special effects, costumes and casting that keeps audiences coming back year after year, and continuing the family tradition.

Unbelievably, it has been said that some people “look down their nose” at pantomime, but for many children this is their first entry into the world of theatre – an old-fashioned and welcome alternative to all the ‘virtual excitement’ they get in front of screens.  Yes, in places, panto has always been a bit commercial, but it never takes itself too seriously, there are no rules or dress codes to follow. It is pure fun and it has continued to survive, thrive and even outlive many other trends and gimmicks over the decades.

Over 100’000 people will have seen Joe Pasquale and Ray Quinn in Sleeping Beauty this year. Long may we continue to provide the people of the West Midlands with some light hearted, jolly good fun.

Tagged: audiences, Birmingham Hippodrome, Dick Whittington, Panto, Sleeping BEauty