Author Archives: Gareth

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Beth Shouler

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

Beth Shouler is Nottingham Playhouse’s recently appointed Artist Development Co-ordinator and she’ll be heading up Ampilfy, the Playhouse’s new programme of work which reimagines the resources and opportunities being made available to local theatre-makers.

We checked in with Beth to ask about what she and the Playhouse have in the pipeline, to find out how her background as a maker will influence what she plans to do in her new post, and to reflect on the collapse of Nottingham’s bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

You can find out more about Nottingham Playhouse’s Amplify here.


Gareth: Congratulations on being appointed as Artist Development Co-Ordinator at Nottingham Playhouse, where you’ll be leading Amplify, the venue’s new artist development scheme! Can you tell us a bit more about the scheme and the ways in which local artists can get involved?

Beth: Thank you! It’s a really exciting time at Nottingham Playhouse as we begin a fresh chapter under the new artistic leadership of Adam Penford. Our region is full of talented artists and we want to help them flourish.

The scheme is in its early days but there are various things in the diary. There are Plug Ins which are opportunities to meet Adam Penford (Artistic Director) and Fiona Buffini (Associate Director) before a show. There are scratch nights to try out new work, ideas submission windows (there’s one currently open at the moment) where you can submit a script or proposal for a show, and surgeries around the business side of things. There are all sorts of plans on the horizon and it’s important to us that what we offer is genuinely helpful and not tokenistic. So the programme will evolve as we go along and find out what is needed to invest in local producers, designers, directors, theatre-makers, performers and writers.

To join, have a look at the information of our website which tells you what to do if you’re an individual artist or a company. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll also get access to discounted tickets and 25% off food and drink in the Playhouse Bar and Kitchen. Basically, all I need is a current CV and a brief letter telling me about yourself.

I think it’s important that we engage with people who haven’t just been shaped artistically by London and who have a passion and understanding of regional theatre-making ecology.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you bring in to Amplify to run a workshop?

Beth: If I had an unlimited budget, there are various artists I’d love to bring here, partly in recognition of the broad range of artists in the region. Sally Cookson would be high on my list as a director and deviser, someone whose career is extraordinary and who came up through the regions. I’d love Kully Thiarai to do some training on visionary leadership and making things happen – she’s so inspiring. When I did the Royal Court Writers Course, Chloe Lamford came to talk about her role and completely shifted the way I think about design. I think it’s important that we engage with people who haven’t just been shaped artistically by London and who have a passion and understanding of regional theatre-making ecology.

Gareth: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Beth: I remember watching A Clockwork Orange by Northern Stage at Derby Playhouse in the late nineties when I was in sixth form. I’d never seen any physical theatre or something with such a strong aesthetic, so that was a defining moment when I knew I wanted to work in theatre professionally. It was visceral and got under my skin and made me feel things. Probably the first moment I felt politically engaged. I remember not sleeping afterwards as my brain pondered so many big questions about the world.

De La Guarda at the Roundhouse changed the way I thought about narrative and the audience experience. Who knew that being drenched with water in January would be such a thrilling, nonsensical and ultimately amazing experience? The sense of theatre being a party the audience was invited to has stayed with me. I love the way that theatre brings a cross-section of people together in a shared memory. I get frustrated when the experience is elitist or requires insider knowledge or is just dull. Dullness will be the death of theatre.

Boy by Leo Butler is one of my favourite plays of all time. I’ve worked with a lot of young people over the years and this is one of the most sophisticated and subtle expressions of youth. Throughout my career, I’ve moved increasingly towards working with writers and developing voices and I’ve always had a real passion for ensemble plays with large casts. This exemplifies all that is good about writing in theatre. Sacha Wares’ production at the Almeida was stunning. I suppose this also illustrates my passion for stories about young people that don’t just perpetuate lazy stereotypes.

Gareth: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing independent artists and companies at the moment — both in the Midlands, and in general? How would you like to see the sector develop over the next ten years?

Beth: Theatre is expensive to make and the legacy of austerity is that everyone — from organisations to audiences — is strapped for cash. The other real problem is how the arts are being side-lined out of the national curriculum, so increasingly young people have no access to theatre unless their family values it. This is a real challenge if we don’t want theatres to be perpetually dominated by one type of voice. We need to find ways to get rid of invisible barriers and not let privilege be the deciding factor in who gets to make theatre.

The arts are being side-lined out of the national curriculum, so increasingly young people have no access to theatre unless their family values it. This is a real challenge if we don’t want theatres to be perpetually dominated by one type of voice.

We’re going to have to get creative about building interesting partnerships and opportunities that think outside traditional structures. The growth of digital technology offers new ways to engage and interact with audiences and potentially offers new ways of working that we’ve not thought of before.

As the world increasingly becomes less personal, with fewer opportunities for people to come together in a space to tell stories, there is something incredibly profound about the theatre experience that no other art form quite replicates. That USP is something we can really promote. I grew up in a family where hospitality was a key component of our values and, as people are increasingly hungry for human connection in actual time and space, theatre can grow community in a new way where hospitality and relationships are key, rather than something that is transactional. It’s about the experience.

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. What challenges do venues in particular face in offering support to local artists?

Beth: There are general challenges we all face such as limited funding and a risk-averse climate. Specifically at the Playhouse we have a 90-seater studio and then a 750-seater main house so finding opportunities for artists who are ready to make work for a space that is bigger than a studio but aren’t quite ready for a 750-seater is something I’m aware of. Sometimes the decisions a venue makes can seem baffling to those outside, so trying to make processes and decisions that affect freelancers clear and manage expectations are priorities for me. The other side is I get to advocate for freelancers in our building and to other organisations which is great.

Gareth: A lot of your work to date has been around developing new writing. Which writers should we look out for who you think are currently producing the most interesting new writing, and what is it about their work that excites you?

Beth: Mufaro Mukabika and Jane Upton are two local writers whose work is incredible. Both just won major awards and I am so proud as I’ve known them since they were starting out and watching the way they’ve developed their process has been fascinating. Their stories make me feel things. I respond to some writers quite cerebrally but their work always punches me in the gut. I’m looking forward to reading more scripts and championing new talent from this region. I’m bored of UK culture being defined by the North / South divide. There’s a distinctive Midlands voice to be heard.

Gareth: You grew up in Nottingham and have been visiting the Playhouse since you were a child. Tell us about the most memorable experience you’ve had there.

Beth: The first piece of theatre I ever saw was the Panto when I was two. We went every year and I desperately wanted to be one of the dancers. I was so jealous of those being ‘on the inside’. My first assistant directing job was on A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and I specifically remember this feeling of butterflies and excitement the day we started tech and I was sat in the empty auditorium as it all came together, feeling like I belonged.

Gareth: Brexit has meant that Nottingham’s bid to be the 2023 European Capital of Culture has been stopped in its tracks. What would being Capital of Culture have meant for Nottingham — and what would it have meant to you, personally?

Beth: Oh, it’s just frustrating and sad. It would have been an amazing opportunity for Nottingham. There’s so much potential in this city. It’s vibrant and exciting and full of creatives plotting and doing amazing things.

The first piece of theatre I ever saw was the Panto when I was two. We went every year and I desperately wanted to be one of the dancers. I was so jealous of those being ‘on the inside’.

Gareth: Throughout your career, you’ve worked a lot with youth groups and children, as well as with professional artists. Are there any ways in which your work with one group has influenced your work with the other group, and vice versa?

Beth: In a practical way, it started out as a way for me to make theatre and climb the ladder in a city where very few directing opportunities existed. I found out very quickly that I really love working with young people. There’s a fearlessness in the creative process I find inspiring. They assume you know what you’re doing and embrace risk with real enthusiasm – I’ve flooded rehearsal rooms, created food fights on stage, worked in the dark, set up all sorts of mess and chaos and they’ve brilliantly just gone with it. They’ve shaped me as much as I’ve shaped them.

Increasingly, there are a number of artists like myself who make professional work with young people and are blurring the boundaries of what can be made. This has allowed me to work on a much bigger scale earlier in my career and create a different kind of experience for the audience. I remember watching the first performance of Girls Like That by Evan Placey down at Theatre Royal Plymouth and the energy of the 20 in the cast was something else. It made the hairs on your neck stand up. They had 5 performances to get across this story that really mattered to them and they went for it. However, there are limitations in terms of content, rehearsal time and ability when working with younger actors.

Working with professional actors allows you to find real depth in the performance and you can really riff off the other creative expertise in the room in a totally different way – it isn’t all on you to hold it together. I also get to be a director and not have to do at least 3 other roles in the room alongside. And usually you don’t have to ask people to give the flirting a rest mid-rehearsal! Professional actors don’t leave learning their lines to the last minute either. I worked on one really physical show and one of the actors turned up on Day One with their lines basically learnt so we had real freedom to find the physical shape of that show and that was a real treat. You have the luxury of time to explore the possibilities of the play and to push everything. Actors come back in each day having worked on things at home so you’re constantly moving forward and striving for brilliance. You also get to stay in the world of the play for an extended period of time which changes your relationship with it and gives it focus.

It’s important for me to work on both. One encourages me to be risky and playful, the other pushes me for artistic excellence and depth.

Gareth: Many of our blog subscribers are performance students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?

Don’t wait for permission. Make things happen as best you can with the limited resources around you.

Beth: Don’t wait for permission. Make things happen as best you can with the limited resources around you. Take initiative (especially if you are a woman, as often we apologise for our existence). Buildings want to know you are a leader and can be trusted. I am part of collectives in Plymouth and Nottingham where we began to do interesting things and the buildings came on board to support us because we showed we were bold, resourceful and competent with what we had.

Don’t bitch about anyone – this industry is tiny, your paths will cross. Don’t be entitled but at the same time don’t be afraid to ask for help: artists are really generous towards each other.

I wish women were less self-deprecating. I get far more men emailing me about their work or things they need. Women are too scared of getting it wrong or making some sort of faux pas. Take unnecessary apologies and the word ‘just’ out of your emails.

Do something each week that is nothing to do with theatre – the bubble is not always helpful.

Sorry that was more than one!

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… Beth Shouler appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 4

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week three below.

You can also read about what happened during week one of rehearsals here, week two here, week three here, and book tickets for the show online here.

Jordan Farrag
Monday 29th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi! Jordan here again…

Time felt like it was quickly speeding up as we moved into the penultimate week of the process. Bright and early on Monday morning the dream team (aka Team Gingerbread) were straight into George Cadbury Hall ready to go, fuelled by the breakfast of champions: copious amounts of coffee and what I like to call on-the-go toast (several slices of course).

Gareth doesn’t want us to fix blocking for the scene so that we can move around the stage instinctively. This decision really allowed our performances to have a lot more freedom and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next week because it could be different each night!

We started off the rehearsal with the usual ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ to get the blood pumping and then went onto a couple of rounds of Tag to continue the wake-up cycle. This rehearsal was our last opportunity to refine our work on the Hansel and Gretel scene. We ensured that we all maintained our ‘wants’, remembering the work we did with ‘filters’ to help emphasise key moments and relationships. Gareth doesn’t want us to fix blocking for the scene so that we can move around the stage instinctively. This decision really allowed our performances to have a lot more freedom and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next week because it could be different each night!

I can’t wait to show audiences what we have created because I think the whole cast and team have been inspired by the project and are really looking forward to performing!

Bethany Hartland
Monday 29th January, 2pm – 6pm

Hi! It’s Beth…

Our final Monday afternoon before Production Week! When the session starts with “this will be the last time you will look at this scene in detail”, the rehearsal session ahead of us started to feel a bit daunting! But when we began going through the final scenes in the theatre space, Little Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin, I realised that as a cast we really were nearly at the point of a completed and ready show. We used the rehearsal to home in on our characters’ ‘wants’ at every moment and every line, making sure everything we did was done with a purpose and was as bold as it could be.

We have started to learn that if we courageously follow our ‘wants’ and listen to the offers that our scene partners give us, then, although the scene might not necessarily be exactly the same every single night, there will always be clarity and excitement in the telling of the story. In addition to this, we went over the logistical side of the scenes, so that we were not worried about those specific elements because if we are, it has a tendency to influence how boldly and clearly we pursue the ‘wants’ of our characters.

We have started to learn that if we courageously follow our ‘wants’ and listen to the offers that our scene partners give us, then, although the scene might not necessarily be exactly the same every single night, there will always be clarity and excitement in the telling of the story.

We have come such a long way in the past four weeks and everyone involved has put in so much work to make this production the best it can be. I hope everyone who comes to see it loves it as much as we have loved working on it and bringing it to life.

#QuakeGrimm

Scott Wilson
Tuesday 30th January, 9am – 1pm

Such a fantastic rehearsal today! Starting with a full cast discussion about vocal projection and the correct way to support our voices to avoid damaging them throughout the run of the show. We focused on engaging our diaphragm to support our voice by pushing hard against a wall while releasing an ‘Aah’ sound. This really helped me develop my understanding of my technique whilst performing and as I can be quite loud during the show, and life in general, looking at the correct way to project without straining has been really beneficial for me.

The rest of the rehearsal was dedicated to focusing on the scenes between the Grimm Brothers and personally this was one of my favourite rehearsals of the whole process. Having done a full run of the show a couple of times already has allowed me and George to discover the broad spectrum of approaches to our characters and the various routes our scenes could take. I really enjoy the fact that each time we play the scenes, it is never the same, and this whole process has really opened my eyes to the liveness of performance, and I really love being able to experiment and explore the play together with my scene partners.

I really enjoy the fact that each time we play the scenes, it is never the same, and this whole process has really opened my eyes to the liveness of performance, and I really love being able to experiment and explore the play together with my scene partners.

However, hearing the immortal words of Gareth to “Be Bold” really brought something great out of me and George and we both found ourselves responding to the offers we made to each other. This resulted in the scenes all becoming so much fun to be in, as an actor, as we were focusing on each other and building on what we offered one another. For me, that’s what acting is all about.

Everyone is really starting to come into their own and it has been amazing watching this already fantastic play become something truly magical and I cannot explain how glad I am that I’ve been able to be part of this amazing production.

#QuakeGrimm #TeamJake

William Melhuish
Wednesday 31st January, 9am – 1pm

‘The Calm before the Storm’

This week was the first week where the entirety of our rehearsals were based in George Cadbury Hall. Being in this space has certainly brought its challenges to us all as actors. Many of us have had little experience performing in a theatre such as this one with a large set such as ours. Therefore, it is safe to say that this week has been the hardest by far.

As the countdown for production day closes in, removing uncertainties about our characters’ desires become more of a priority.

Being in this larger space poses a huge challenge as an actor – VOICE!!! Time after time during rehearsals I have found my voice fall into a theatrical vacuum which has made my lines inaudible even for the first row. Therefore, by Wednesday’s full run-through, I knew that I had to prove myself in the space.

Alas, things went very differently! Being in this space has meant that facial and vocal expression needs to be heightened, and that’s exactly not what happened on Wednesday. It is frustrating as an actor when such a great script and its story cannot be told clearly because of our own faults on stage. Gareth’s development of us as actors almost goes to waste when we cannot reflect that to the audience because of volume issues and vague ‘wants’ on stage. All we need to do is trust ourselves as performers and make sure that we are offering each other and the audience a clear vision of character wants instead of playing the emotion. As the countdown for production day closes in, removing uncertainties about our characters’ desires become more of a priority.

Georgiana Poteiciuc
Thursday 1st February, 1pm – 5pm

It’s Thursday and we’re back in the rehearsal room after the run-through in the theatre on Wednesday. Today has been the most intense rehearsal since the beginning. It was all about pushing our limits and overcoming any obstacles that were keeping us from fully engaging with our characters’ ‘wants’. For this session we focused on Act One and the results were amazing. I felt more focused then ever and the connection between us felt a lot clearer. It was like we were really helping each other because our energies were combining together, pushing us to be bolder and bolder with each line. I feel a lot more confident after this rehearsal as my character’s actions seem natural and well defined now and the scene as a whole makes perfect sense. We all discovered parts of ourselves that we may have not known we had and it is amazing to actually feel that you are 100% involved, committed and really doing your best.

Today has been the most intense rehearsal since the beginning. It was all about pushing our limits and overcoming any obstacles that were keeping us from fully engaging with our characters’ ‘wants’.

This session showed us that if we find the courage to be bold enough, nothing will stand in the way of us giving our best performance.

Katie Webster
Thursday 1st February, 6pm – 10pm

Never again will I be able to hear the words ‘be bold’ and not think of today’s rehearsal. We continued this evening to work on running scenes without logistics or props but instead really focusing on the acting, our characters’ ‘wants’, and being BOLD.

We began with Little Red Riding Hood in this session. There is such a varying dynamic between my character, Melinda, and Louie, played by Will, so establishing a playful and BOLD relationship has sometimes been tricky. However, today, after quite a bit of stopping to really discuss what we wanted, something has clicked. It’s incredible how now the scene feels completely new, even in Week 4 – it feels like anything could happen and that’s amazing to work with as an actor. It’s really interesting how the concepts of wants, offers and being BOLD often lend themselves to the more comedic scenes, in my mind anyway. However (no spoilers, but this isn’t a funny scene), this dramatic and complex relationship between Melinda and Louie flourished when we had space to play. I’m really excited and just as hopeful that when it comes to performing in front of an audience, all the work we did today comes across.

It’s incredible how now the scene feels completely new, even in Week 4 – it feels like anything could happen and that’s amazing to work with as an actor.

Finally, we moved to the final scene. The joy Gareth has when calling us Twats in such a casual manner is something I know I’ll miss in the weeks after the show. Again, we were BOLD in our twattiness, and poor ol’ Valentina gets herself into a right pickle. This scene is incredibly fun. It’s an excellent example of how we, as actors and a company, can work together to make it fun and different every time. I feel we all have the tools and the confidence to go out on opening night and try something new to see what happens. It’s exciting. A tad scary, but mostly completely and utterly exciting.

I can’t believe we open soon. Please come and see this incredible show! You’ll definitely be missing out on some top-quality twattiness if you do.

#QuakeGrimm

The post Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 4 appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 3

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week three below.

You can also read about what happened during week one of rehearsals here, week two of rehearsals here, and book tickets for the show online here.

Jordan Farrag
Monday 22nd January, 9am – 1pm

Hi! It’s Jordan…

And we are back to the third week of our rehearsals. I’m starting to feel nostalgic for the end of the show already and we haven’t even performed yet! I’m enjoying the process so much I don’t know how I’ll spend my time after the show finishes.

An early start today proved very useful as we began to shake off our weekend cobwebs with a quick game of ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’, followed by a frantic and chaotic cast attempting to chase one another in ‘Chaos Tag’. Subsequently, the cast were well and truly warmed up in their bodies but our minds could still do with a wake-up call. We began playing a game called ‘My Love / Your Love’ which seemed to distinguish who the future poet laureates are in the cast and who should probably steer clear of poetry altogether. I was definitely in the latter group.

I’m starting to feel nostalgic for the end of the show already and we haven’t even performed yet!

After warming up, we continued to develop some more fox and Office Twat sequences which we are thinking of including in the show. At first, I felt a little silly whilst trying to be creative and develop a fox twitch, but seeing everyone else around me giving 100% and not even thinking about their inhibitions massively spurred me on to do the same. And by the end of the session, we had all worked well together, laughed with each other and developed two sequences. I am so happy with the progress we are making in this show and I can’t wait for my friends and family to see what we have been up to.

Bethany Hartland
Monday 22nd January, 2pm – 6pm

Hi! It’s Beth, again…

Third week already! Where is the time going?!

Our Monday afternoon session consisted of working on the scene transitions for the whole performance. The process involved sorting out which props/furniture needed to be already set on the stage, which props needed to be brought on from the correct prop tables, and making sure that each prop had a designated cast member who was going to make sure everything was in the right place for the upcoming scene. Although it might not seem the most interesting of procedures, there’s a surprising amount of pressure to make sure that it’s all done in the limited transition time that is set. When you actually think about all the props used in each scene, they amount to quite a few (Gareth is going to mime them all next year, apparently!). The last thing you want to do is forget to move something for a certain scene and cause confusion for the cast members who are on stage for that moment. This pressure will undoubtedly mean that in the actual performances I will not be enthusiastically singing Little Mix’s Black Magic in the wings prior to my scene.

I had butterflies leaving the rehearsal, and although it was definitely because I felt a mixture of fear and excitement, I really cannot wait for it all to fall into place.

When you start going through these preparation elements for the play, it starts to sink in a bit more — that in just over two weeks, it will be our performances. This realisation meant I had butterflies leaving the rehearsal, and although it was definitely because I felt a mixture of fear and excitement, I really cannot wait for it all to fall into place. The final product I know is going to be amazing.

You’ll just have to wait and see! #QuakeGrimm

Georgiana Poteiciuc
Tuesday 23rd January, 9am – 1pm

I can’t believe that we are already in the third week of rehearsals. Time passes so fast when you enjoy your activities and today it passed even faster.

This Tuesday was different than all the other days, because it was the first rehearsal in George Cadbury Hall, on the very stage we are going to perform. Part of the set was already there and we were all amazed by it.

During the warm-up, Gareth asked us to get in our Friendship Circles (different group circles where we stand between different people in each circle) and we all had a surprise. Suddenly we were not able to form the circles properly anymore, it was like we had completely forgotten our places. Apparently, this happened because we changed the space. We were relying on our position in the rehearsal room to form the circles rather than the people around us, which was a mistake.

This Tuesday was different than all the other days, because it was the first rehearsal in George Cadbury Hall, on the very stage we are going to perform.

Once we finally succeeded, Gareth asked us to walk around the stage in order to familiarise ourselves with the space, the set and the props. Starting to touch everything around me made me establish some kind of connection with it and I remember thinking “This is our character’s home, therefore our new home for a while.” I believe that connecting with the objects on set is extremely important because they send me energy. They will help me if I let them instead of standing in my way as an obstacle.

The rest of the rehearsal focused on the Rumpelstiltskin scene. We were all given secret information and tasks (Gareth calls these ‘filters’) for our characters to see how this would influence the scene and the way we feel about other characters in it. I was supposed to hate Valentina and I discovered that by hating her, I was starting to hate everyone else for liking her. The change really worked for me and I believe it brings originality and purpose to my character, which is the most important thing. A character without purpose (or a want) simply doesn’t work. I am looking forward for what comes next because I am in love with this show.

Katie Webster
Wednesday 24th January, 2pm – 6pm

Today marks the halfway point!

As is standard for Production Module in the department, the Wednesday of Week 3 brings us to a stagger-through, an informal showing to the rest of the production team. This was also the first time we’d done a full run in George Cadbury Hall, and I think it is safe to say we felt a little nervous but mainly excited. We’re beginning to face the challenges of the space, mainly being how vast it is compared to the studio we’ve worked in before. I’m sure by the time you see the show (8th — 10th February, by the way…) you’ll be able to hear us loud and clear, but today the space’s acoustics got the better of us many times! I’m looking forward to working on this with Gareth, learning the correct way to support and project my voice in the space.

Overall, today’s run was very fun. A personal highlight was when Beth stood slightly too close to the door in one section and was nearly taken out by Jordan’s flamboyant entrance. We recovered and managed to push past the giggles, but that will certainly stay in my mind for many runs to come! I’m excited to build on what we’ve done so far and really explore our characters further now we’re accustomed to the space.

Who wants to know exactly what’s going to happen on stage every night!? That’s so boring… I’m loving the feeling of not knowing what could happen and not being able to anticipate each character’s reactions.

I can’t believe how far we’ve all come in two and a half weeks, not only through the production of the show itself, but how much I’ve learnt from Gareth, Phil, and the rest of the very talented cast. I’ve learnt a lot about acting, performing, experimentation and fun! Who wants to know exactly what’s going to happen on stage every night!? That’s so boring… I’m loving the feeling of not knowing what could happen and not being able to anticipate each character’s reactions. Variety is indeed the spice of my Grimm Tales Retold life.

George Bandy
Thursday 25th January, 1pm – 5pm

Grimm Tales Retold is a play that consists of a series of shorter stories, within the framework of one larger narrative, between the two Brothers Grimm, Jake and Will. Up until now, we had been looking primarily at the play in isolated scenes, with each rehearsal (for the most part) being focused upon either a specific short story, or upon a single one of the bridging scenes featuring the brothers. The narrative of the whole play, however, tells of a single night in the life of these brothers (albeit a pivotal night), with the events of their scenes actually occurring one after the other. To aid in the portrayal of this singular through-line, we today rehearsed every single scene featuring the two brothers together, and indeed ran them on from one another.

At the beginning of looking at each segment, Scott and I (playing Jake and Will respectively), were instructed to do speed-runs of our lines. This was nothing new to us, but following this were speed-runs at opposite ends of the theatre, and finally speed-runs, projecting our lines, whilst running around the theatre. By the end we were exhausted, but had realised that there was definitely far more pace and energy to be injected into every line, and whilst we wouldn’t be running on stage (or at least not constantly!), our lines would certainly benefit from the impetus that running would provide.

After speed-runs of the lines, we dived into each scene, with Gareth giving each of us secret information (such as: ‘In this scene, everything that Jake does annoys you’, or ‘Act this scene as if constantly worried that somebody is out to get you’). Not only did this hidden (from each other) agenda bring about new ideas and ways to perform each line, but it meant that we were constantly on guard for how the other actor would change their performance with their secret information, meaning that we were fully listening and engaged with the other person, as opposed to merely working on our own performance. We ran each scene multiple times to experiment with different ideas, both suggested by Gareth and some of our own, until we had settled on our final ‘filter’, as Gareth describes it, or combination thereof, to filter our ‘wants’ within the scene.

Not only did this hidden agenda bring about new ideas, it also meant that we were fully listening and engaged with the other person, as opposed to merely working on our own performance.

What was particularly useful, then, was running each scene into the next scene with the brothers, cutting out the story in the middle, so that we could experiment with maintaining the same filter from the end of one segment to the beginning of the next. This ultimately helped us to create more coherence between them, as opposed to each scene of the brothers being a sort of ‘story’ itself, and was massively useful in cementing the actual narrative progression of the play. It threw up new things, but also helped us to remember old things; Gareth picked out certain lines in the text, such as, “You’re such an oaf – Leave yourself alone!” [Will addressing Jake], to inspire the filter for Scott: “In these scene, be as gross and disgusting as possible”. It meant that we found more ways to perform each scene that made our lines feel a lot more logical and justified.

I found the rehearsal extremely useful, both in terms of securing my personal journey throughout the play, but additionally in working on the relationship with Scott, my partner for most of the play, and I can’t wait to see how that is polished to perfection in our final week of rehearsals!

#TeamWill

Lydia Sirovica
Thursday 25th January, 6pm -10pm

I think these rehearsals are slowly starting to catch up to me… we’re all knackered, but the work continues! In today’s session, we started by doing a speed run of Cinderella – and if I’m honest my brain really struggled to function that quickly. It was quite a tense exercise to take part in because your brain feels like it is working at ten thousand miles an hour trying to grasp for the lines accurately and come in at the right moments quick enough. I definitely think this will help me to know my lines inside out and I will be grabbing other cast members to give it a go outside of rehearsal time!

I am excited with where our performance is going now that we are able to rehearse in the theatre space whilst exploring the set and props – I can really see it piecing together day by day!

We then tried out different ‘filters’ for the scene, and for my character Georgia, I was given the filter of being terrified of Cassie and not wanting to do her any wrong. This is really fun to play around with and I tried to be as bold as possible in order to test whether any moments between our two characters could be carried through to the performance. In this case I have found some examples where I can do this. I also began to explore my relationship with Assista by using different filters, and from my discoveries today I think it’s safe to say Georgia will not be warming to her. After what felt like an average first stagger-through for me, I am excited with where our performance is going now that we are able to rehearse in the theatre space whilst exploring the set and props – I can really see it piecing together day by day!

Charlotte Biggs
Friday 26th January, 3pm – 7pm

As rehearsals for Week Three have drawn to a close, none of us can quite believe that we are already over halfway through this process! It’s honestly been such a fantastic journey full of excitement in every rehearsal, and I can already tell I am going to miss doing ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ everyday!

For this rehearsal, Gareth got Georgiana, Jordan and myself to complete a speed run of all of our lines in Scene 2. This involved us saying our lines as quickly as possible, with the fastest pace possible. By doing this, it allowed us in rehearsals (when speaking at a normal pace) to not have the dreaded, ‘what’s my cue line?’ or ‘what’s my line now?’ at the forefront of our minds, so we could focus more on our ‘wants’ and the boldness of the scenes. After this speed run, Gareth then gave all of us individual ‘filters’ for the scene. This allowed us to explore the scene through new lenses and for us to be bolder with our ‘wants’. It definitely gave way for some extremely hilarious moments as well as brilliant new discoveries that we had never encountered before.

‘Filters’ allowed us to explore the scene through new lenses and for us to be bolder with our ‘wants’. It definitely gave way for some extremely hilarious moments as well as brilliant new discoveries that we had never encountered before.

After we had completed Scene 2, the full cast was in to run through the penultimate scene, where the same process of speed run and filters was used. Again, this made for some extremely funny discoveries that left us all in fits of laughter, as well as discovering new ways of being bold with our characters.

So, what night have you booked your tickets for? Grimm Tales Retold is a show you do not want to miss. I am so proud of the work that has already been created and rehearsals haven’t even finished yet. #QuakeGrimm

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Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 2

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week two below.

You can also read about what happened during week one of rehearsals here, and book tickets for the show online here.

Bethany Hartland
Monday 15th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi, it’s Beth!

After the usual warm-up of Tag and Bananas Of The World, Unite!, a futile attempt at Quad (sorry, Gareth!) and unsuccessfully moving into our right positions for the A B C and D Friendship Circles (to be fair, a couple of the cast weren’t in rehearsal today) – we finally started our Monday the way all Mondays should start: by pretending to be foxes.

I don’t know about you but I admit my knowledge on the ol’ fox proved to be very little. However, our three years of Drama training at university meant that merely putting a bit of Little Mix on full blast resulted in many an inner fox rising to the surface. In pairs we created various fox sequences – the ‘Peeping Fox’ had to be one of my favourites, though the leg bounce and glide that accompanied it was surprisingly complex. After learning one another’s sequences and filming them for future use, we moved onto fox tics and I have to say I have the ‘itchy fox with a leg twinge’ down! Although it all sounds rather bizarre, the foxes will actually have a clever purpose, I promise.

I’m looking forward to doing more work with the Office Twats and their characters; I think they are going to be a really fun addition to the play.

We then moved onto developing a sequence involving the Office Twats from the final scene. Although it took FAR too long for seven people to work out that we needed to fill four beats each for the sequence to work, once we had all the folders successfully moving down the line, it looked pretty damn good. Having the remixed Muppet music playing alongside the gestures makes it feel incredibly slick and cool, and because of that I don’t even care that the tune was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I’m looking forward to doing more work with the Office Twats and their characters; I think they are going to be a really fun addition to the play.

I can’t wait for people to see it all!

#QuakeGrimm

Scott Wilson
Monday 15th January, 2pm – 6pm

It’s logistics week!!! We worked through the Cinderella scene and the first couple of scenes with me and my loving brother Will. It’s great seeing the show take shape as we start to add props into the mix. A particular favourite prop of mine is the gingerbread house that I am not allowed to eat, but we’ll see how long that lasts once we get into show week! It’s also been great being able to rehearse with the stage dimensions marked up in the rehearsal room and getting to grips with the stage space we have.

We also looked at the moment of my onstage costume change – calm yourselves!! Let’s just say thank goodness there’s a sofa to hide behind!

I’m absolutely loving getting to develop my character further and finding all the different sides to him. It turns out he’s got an emotional side too, who knew?!

I’m absolutely loving getting to develop my character further and finding all the different sides to him. It turns out he’s got an emotional side too, who knew?! We’ve got a full improvised run of the show at the end of this week and I’m so excited to see the whole production come together. Everybody is working so hard and it really is paying off. This is definitely a show that you don’t want to miss!

#QuakeGrimm #TeamJake

Georgiana Poteiciuc
Tuesday 16th January, 9am-1pm

Every rehearsal brings a new idea, a new perspective, and a new detail.

This Tuesday we have been focusing on the Hansel and Gretel scene. We started, as usual, with a few physical and vocal exercises in order to prepare our bodies for performing. During the first few rehearsals I remember wondering why we were going to need to go through the same scene so many times. It is amazing, however, to see how a specific moment, even a few lines, can develop and grow in complexity and become well defined once explored in different ways. Every rehearsal brings a new idea, a new perspective, a new detail that would have never been discovered without practice. This was also the case with Hansel and Gretel. We had been focusing on what each character wants most at each moment, without worrying about movements, set and logistics. It was now time to think a little more about these elements.

With the scripts in our hands for the first time we explored how our wants affected the way we moved in the space. I particularly like the way Jake and Will fit in the scene at the beginning and interact with us without us actually seeing them. Overall it has been a really productive rehearsal which made me understand better both the characters and the scene and I am looking forward to what is yet to come.

Lydia Sirovica
Wednesday 17th January, 2pm – 6pm

We are well and truly on our way to an almost completed show. It’s really starting to come together now and it is such an exciting process!

In today’s rehearsal we took a first look at the final sections of the play where I play Valentina. I have to admit this is one of my favourite parts of the play. I was told today to ‘BE BOLD’ and really ‘think about what I want.’ I think I did both of these techniques quite well and it helped me discover that actually Valentina is a bit of a manipulative character in the end… which is very fun to play! I feel as though these last few scenes are the crescendo of the play, with all of us on stage as a full cast performing. The ‘Office Twats’ are the absolute highlight of my rehearsals at the moment and if I wasn’t playing Valentina, I would definitely have enjoyed being a Twat! Grimm Tales Retold is certainly now on its feet and really starting to take its shape.

I feel as though these last few scenes are the crescendo of the play, with all of us on stage as a full cast performing.

Thursday 18th January, 1pm – 5pm
William Melhuish

‘Fairy-tale rehearsal process?’

After last week, it was clear to see that morale was high going into Monday morning’s rehearsal. After working on wants and improvisation last week, there was a certain confidence in the shape of the play and our abilities as actors. This week was a bit more intense; scenes were explored logistically and it was clear to see that people had already started to work on their scripts. As a result, we were all keen to show the potential that we had as actors going into a professional environment. After last week, Gareth promised us a more hands-on dissection of each of the scenes and boy did he mean it!

After last week, Gareth promised us a more hands-on dissection of each of the scenes and boy did he mean it!

Thursday’s rehearsal was focused around my scene in particular (Little Red Riding Hood), and it gave me a chance to explore my relationships with the space and also the other characters. As we began to develop the scene, a certain chill of homicidal eloquence slowly appeared within my character. It was so enjoyable seeing my character change as we explored his ‘wants’ and his relationships to the individual characters. Gareth is so effective in the way that he discourages the old cliché acting techniques of the tongue-in-cheek Bond villain. Instead, he asked me to explore the character with a disturbing calmness which seems to give nothing away to the audience (which I can only say, drastically improves the scene).

Bring on next week!

George Bandy
Thursday 18th January, 6-10pm

Thursday evening’s rehearsal was daunting, as it carried with it the prospect of a full run of the show, without scripts, the next day. It was our last chance to approach not just any scene, but possibly the most logistically confusing and intense scene in the play. The Rumpelstiltskin scene, without giving too much away, brings with it a vast number of unique props for every single actor in the show, which are all moved about the stage, exchanged, brought on and off, and are generally a pain. Additionally, the scene requires very sensitive performances, touching on potentially troubling themes, and utilising everything from extremely intimate moments, to slapstick ones.

Approaching the scene having already explored it using the ‘wants’ process that Gareth, our director, uses, it became a lot easier to then cover the logistics of the scene without worrying about filling them in later. It meant that we were able to structure the scene around performance, rather than performance around the logistical aspects, which was enormously helpful for us as performers.

Working in this way meant that we were able to structure the scene around performance, rather than performance around the logistical aspects of the production.

Additionally, it meant that we were already very aware of the challenges of the scene, and had had time to process them in advance, rather than being surprised by them. Right from the beginning of this second ‘logistical’ look at the scene, Gareth ensured that each actor was keeping track of the number of props that they moved, used, exchanged, etc., which meant that we were able to be very efficient in working through the scene, rather than having to wait whilst one member of the stage management team logged each individual instance. Furthermore, it meant that every actor had a better understanding of the backstage preparations that they would have to undertake.

Finally, having already explored our ‘wants’ for the scene, we were far more comfortable when it came to working out the logistics. My character, especially, has a large emotional journey in this scene, and I found it very useful to cover the aspects in this order.

Unfortunately, due to the duration of the scene, we found ourselves left without enough time to fully complete the work on the evening, but this is something that time was left for before the run-through the following day, and meant we would be more careful of timescale in the future.

Charlotte Biggs
Friday 19th January, 2pm – 6pm

This production is full to the brim with laughs, tears and some very surprising moments. The process has really allowed me to push myself further as an actor.

Hi! It’s Charlotte again.

This blog post is about our final rehearsal of Week 2. I cannot believe how quickly the whole process is going! In this rehearsal, we did a full, improvised run through of Grimm Tales Retold, and it was fantastic! Considering we only started to work with the scripts two weeks ago, I cannot believe how far we have come.

This production is full to the brim with laughs, tears and some very surprising moments. I have never performed in a production like this before, and it’s been such a fantastic experience. The process has really allowed me to push myself further as an actor, especially with this run through, which was improvised without scripts. You really are going to be kicking yourself if you miss this show, so get your tickets now!

#QuakeGrimm #TeamSukie

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Little Earthquake: 1% Pledge Update – Sarah-Jane Watkinson

At our East Meets West Symposium in July 2017, we invited the delegates to make a 1% Pledge, a promise to do something that would improve the way we all work together in the independent theatre sector, and ultimately, increase the quality of what we put in front of audiences. We asked some of those who made a pledge to give us an update on how it’s all going.

Below, proud Eastie and honorary Westie Sarah-Jane Watkinson, an Independent Producer from Birmingham, explains what inspired her pledge and the difference it has made so far.

You can connect directly with SJ (as everyone calls her) on Twitter, and find out more about her work at www.outercirclearts.co.uk. She is currently producing The Death Show which begins touring this month – more details here.

You can download a full list of the 1% Pledges that were made here. If you made a pledge and would like to give us an update, please get in touch!

Sarah-Jane writes:

“My 1% pledge – “To build a training / mentoring opportunity for a new producer into one of my projects.”

First of all, a confession. I made my pledge not entirely for altruistic reasons. I am absolutely flat out with work and have had to turn down several fantastic projects recently because I simply didn’t have the capacity. On each of those occasions, I could have taken them on if I’d had someone I could share the workload with. Not only was it incredibly frustrating as a freelancer to turn down work, but I really wanted to see these projects on the stage. I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to take some responsibility myself to address this.

There is a shortage of producers with the broad range of skills and experience necessary for small scale touring, which includes tour booking, fundraising, finance, marketing and legal stuff, as well as a working knowledge of technical matters, nerves of steel, the patience of a saint and UN level negotiating skills. Not to mention flapjack baking, van driving, pastoral care and buying the essential post show round of drinks.

Whilst several theatres across the region have schemes to support emerging artists and companies, there is very little out there for budding producers. All too often, it’s a skill that isn’t even recognised as a thing in its own right; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been invited for coffee so that I can pass on my skills. I can forgive young people who are starting out fresh for this, but not those who’ve been at it for a while; producing is difficult, takes time and is my livelihood, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be valued and remunerated.

I’ve begun to fulfil my pledge in a number of ways. I built in small roles into two forthcoming projects, both with GforA funding. Sammy Gooch is working with Leeds based Uncanny Theatre on a national tour of their new show Outrage, and Cat Butler is working with Birmingham based artists Antonia Beck and Lucy Nicholls on The Death Show, ready for a preview tour in spring 2018.

Both of these roles will mainly be about marketing and press support this time around, but with the opportunity for Sammy and Cat to gain a grasp of the wider role of producer. I would have liked these to have been bigger roles with a more structured mentoring process, but was limited by timescale and budgetary constraints. The aim is for us to continue to work together in future, to build on these first steps so that they, the artists and myself can develop the kind of trusted working partnership that is essential in this work.

I’ve also been thinking about other ways to make various small contributions to people who are starting out. In my role as General Manager at The Play House, I’m working with our intern Naomi Cooper to introduce her to the work of producer and company manager. I’ve also spoken at several events and been on panels for students and graduates. I’m hoping that this can be something that is useful over the longer term and not just someone’s quick fix for the price of an espresso.”

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Little Earthquake: We’re Itching to Talk About… Hannah Barker

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

Hannah Barker is the Belgrade Theatre’s brilliant new Creative Producer, as well as being the co-Artistic Director of theatre company Analogue. We caught up with her to find out more about what lies in store for audiences and artists in Coventry, not least since the recent exciting result of a certain City of Culture bid…!


Gareth: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Hannah: Complicite’s Mnemonic, Robert Lepage’s The Far Side of the Moon and 887, and Yael Farber’s Nirbaya.

All of these shows (and theatre-makers generally) have challenged what I thought theatre was capable of and the power and impact it can have. Each is a call to arms, demanding of their audience something active, and challenging the most seasoned theatre-goer to think differently about the world and how we talk about it. They have all been integral at pioneering new approaches to form, style and content on stage, refusing to be lazy. A good concept, much like a beautiful digital design, isn’t enough: everything must come together to best serve the story and get the audience as close to that story as possible. I encountered each of these shows at different points in my career and each of them left me breathless and wanting to make better work.

I hope I can bring new perspectives that continue to challenge the way we work, offer new creative approaches and explore exciting emerging and emerged theatre-makers from across the region and beyond.

Gareth: Now that Coventry (and the world!) is your oyster, tell us about your vision for your work at the Belgrade and the impact you’d like to make.

Hannah: Ha! Not sure about that, but OK yeah… I think a big part of why I applied for this role was because I shared a similar vision to the Belgrade in that I believe that arts have the power to change people’s lives but only if it is available to everyone. I hope to contribute to and support the ongoing work of the team to grow diversity in theatre – not just in Coventry but across the world! I want to challenge audiences to think differently about what community and young companies can create by encouraging excellent, exciting work that leaves people breathless. Armed with different experiences and a background of making work independently, I hope I can bring new perspectives that continue to challenge the way we work, offer new creative approaches and explore exciting emerging and emerged theatre-makers from across the region and beyond.

Images: Production images from Analogue.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you bring to the Belgrade?

Hannah: Yael Farber or Robert Lepage. Imagine how exciting it would be for Belgrade participants and Midlands emerging theatre makers to work with and amongst these artists!

Gareth: Coventry has recently been crowned as UK City of Culture 2021. What are you allowed to tell us about how the Belgrade fits into the city’s grand plan?

Hannah: Watch this space (as I am!) but I very much hope it has a lot to do with community, diversity, the ‘Youthquake’ phenomenon, powerful and imaginative arts!

Gareth: Back in the 1960s, the Belgrade was a pioneer of the Theatre in Education (TiE) movement. Can you tell us a bit about how the Belgrade continues to engage young people today?

Hannah: Oooh, how long do you have?! The Belgrade offers a huge range of engagement opportunities, with free sessions to young people (and 50+ groups with our pioneering Arts Gym programme!) from all walks of life both at the Belgrade and out in the community, and we hope to work with brilliant partners including Positive Youth Foundation to reach more. We have drama sessions for everyone including specific groups celebrating minority voices like Black or Asian Youth Theatre, and a programmes for at-risk young people or hard to reach communities.

In the short time I have been at the Belgrade, I’m beginning to see how important these groups are for young people. For some it might be about becoming the next Adrian Lester or Maxine Peake, but for many it is the opportunity to explore who they are, experiment creatively, grow confidence and develop a broader understanding of the world. For some it is a lifeline. We want to find more ways to engage young people across the city, and offer opportunities to be part of a creative team and make brilliant work, so where possible we work with excellent local and national artists to create something spectacular. By being part of an ensemble, working professionally and creatively to make something – often from scratch – these participants gain so much, and they can begin to think positively about their futures.

All our groups are currently involved in a huge site-specific project – a theatre takeover in the old Coventry Evening Telegraph building coming in July 2018. Come and see them all do brilliant things!

(It’s also worth saying that TiE continues to wield its influence, there’s a reason why it became a movement!)

Image: Early TiE work from the Belgrade Theatre archive. Photo credit: Tony Baker.

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. How important is it for you to support and showcase regionally produced work?

Hannah: As someone who comes from being a theatre-maker, I understand the need to break down barriers. As an independent artist, I would often find myself perpetuating the idea of barriers (usually when working independently felt particularly vulnerable), referring to venues as ‘them’. When, however, I started working more closely with venues, I began to realise just how many hurdles they face too… financially, operationally, in terms of capacity. It’s great that East Meets West is challenging these barriers.

For me, it comes down to how somewhere like the Belgrade can genuinely represent, reflect and cater to the community it serves, across its audiences, participants and artists alike.

Now is not the time to put up barriers (we’ve done enough of that with Brexit!) so I am in favour of working with the entire region where we can. Graeae’s amazing Write To Play scheme in 2017, supporting deaf and disabled writers across the Midlands, shows just how successful it can be to work that way! For me, it comes down to community, and how somewhere like the Belgrade can genuinely represent, reflect and cater to the community it serves, across its audiences, participants and artists alike.

Image: Analogue’s Living Film Set.

Gareth: Between them, Coventry University and the University of Warwick have produced some outstanding theatre makers – but when they graduate, many of them leave the region to create work elsewhere. [We wrote an article about this here]. What do you think can be done to help the region hang on to all this talent that’s being nurtured here?

Hannah: More, more, more opportunities! The Springboard scheme run at the Belgrade is a good example of how we can offer opportunities to graduating companies and emerging artists, but we can only do so many of those at a time (if we want it to have depth and impact). However, I am really interested in how we can develop new talent development platforms for those in the early part of their career (whether those are graduates or those opting for alternative approaches to learning)… I cut my teeth doing scratch shows, work-in-progress showings, work shadowing, placements etc. Some of these are offered at the Belgrade, but a big part of my role – and that of the new Tamasha Sustained Producer Placement, Lian Wilkinson – is about growing those opportunities. In particular, we are looking at talks and platforms, scratch nights, producer and production manager development schemes, hopefully finding partners to join us on this journey!

If theatre-makers – both emerging and emerged – feel they are where the magic is, they will stay.

I think too, if theatre-makers – both emerging and emerged – feel they are where the magic is, they will stay. City of Culture 2021 will play a big part in that, as will touring fantastic work made in the building around the UK. Also, all of us who go and sow our creative oats nationally and internationally have a part to play in being an ambassador for the city and the Midlands generally so that it becomes a place where people want to go/be when they are starting out on their creative journey.

Gareth: As well as being Creative Producer at the Belgrade, you’re also Co-Artistic Director of Analogue, which creates theatre inspired by real stories and contemporary ethical questions. Which real stories and ethical questions do you think theatre (your own and other people’s) should be paying attention to right now?

Hannah: You don’t need to look very far to see real stories and ethical dilemmas happening right now. So many injustices, inventions, discoveries, and movements happening every day all over the world in response to local and global events. The art is finding the way into it: the little story of one person, place, act or thing that let’s an audience in, gives them a chance to understand the human behind the strapline, and leaves them thinking, laughing, brimming with energy and a sense of activism.

[Theatre] is about how we can find creative, imaginative, personal ways to reach people where newspapers, documentaries and even social media can’t.

There are always the big statements: How do we reconcile our living in the world with our impact on it? (Environmentally, socially, economically, morally.) How do you challenge power if you happen to come from the wrong side of it? What does it take for us to stop repeating our devastating mistakes? But theatre’s challenge – through evolving form, liveness, challenging old and pioneering new approaches, collaboration, knocking down the fourth wall and building it back up again – is about how we can find creative, imaginative, personal ways to reach people where newspapers, documentaries and even social media can’t.

Gareth: Inspired by your 2011 show, 2401 Objects, if you had to choose just three objects to preserve as a record of your career so far, what would they be?

Hannah: A published copy of 2401 Objects. A card from a young company I mentored. A Coventry 2021 Back the Bid badge.

Gareth: Since this is our January newsletter, we’ve got to ask: what’s your new year’s resolution?

Hannah: To lessen my impact on the environment and to laugh as much as I can.


Visit the Belrade Theatre’s website here, and Analogue’s website here. Find out more about Coventry City of Culture 2021 here.

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Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Jo Carr

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant things our theatre-making friends are doing across the region and further afield.

mac birmingham has very recently welcomed a new addition to its Arts Team — the wonderful Jo Carr, who joins mac as Performances Programmer. Jo is no stranger to Birmingham’s arts scene — she’s a familiar face through her work with Untied Artists and as a producer, tour booker and project manager for companies across the region.

We checked in with Jo (sadly, not over a plate of mac’s cheese on toast, still officially the best in the city) to ask her about her new role and what exciting things lie ahead.


Gareth: Tell us about three pieces of theatre which have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Jo: That’s a tough one and there are far more than three that have made a big impression, but I’ll go with…

The Street Of Crocodiles by Theatre de Complicite (as they were called then) at The National Theatre. I went with my Uncle Graham who was Head of Drama at Fern Hill Secondary School and his sixth form drama students. I think I was about 14 and it was all very exciting. We got a coach to London and I fell in love with the Southbank Centre and that whole brutalist concrete cathedral to the Arts. And then I saw this show where people were climbing up walls of books and dancing with chairs. And there didn’t seem to be a beginning, a middle, and end. And then I learnt that this whole production was based on a series of short stories! What? How does that work? I thought this was a play!

This was the first time I got a glimpse that theatre didn’t have to be people just speaking to one another in a suburban living room and walking around furniture.

This was the first time I got a glimpse that theatre didn’t have to be people just speaking to one another in a suburban living room and walking around furniture. Or doing Shakespeare! Performers could dance, or they could communicate pages of text just by using movement, or they could invent their own vocabulary, or speak foreign languages with no translations or apologies. It completely blew my mind. This would have been about 1986 so we hadn’t got to the point yet where we couldn’t leave the house without falling over another “Physical Theatre Ensemble”. It felt like proper exotic stuff that belonged in Belgium or Czechoslovakia, not right there in front of little ol’ me!

Second is A Woman In Waiting, written and performed by Thembi Mtshali Jones, and directed by Yael Farber. This was an engrossing and beautifully performed one-woman show by a Zulu woman about her childhood and upbringing in South Africa. It explored Thembi’s need to understand her mother’s decision to leave her in the care of an auntie, whilst her mother went to work as a wet-nurse for a white woman in another town – just so that she could earn enough to feed and school her own children.

I was project managing this show in Edinburgh in 2000 and it was really the first time I got to know a performer from another continent. Thembi was so generous with her personal experiences both on and off stage. At the end of each show, members of the audience would be waiting to hug her and to tell her how sorry they were for the devastating impact the actions of the Apartheid authorities had had on her life. We would all just stand around crying and smiling and nodding at each other – before having to do the 15-minute get-out!

Finally, Intimate History by Jake Oldershaw. I can’t not mention this piece of theatre because it was the first time Jake (now my partner) and I worked together collaboratively, and it was also my first experience of one-to-one theatre where a show is designed just for one audience member at a time. This piece did that so sensitively. It was just gorgeous! Jake and Craig Stephens wrote six individual pieces of music theatre inspired by Theodore Zeldin’s book An Intimate History of Humanity. Each mini-show was accompanied by original music from the brilliant Derek Nisbet on grand piano, and placed the solo audience member at the very heart of the story. Themes ranged from love, travel, loneliness and anxiety, and they all featured Jake’s incredible singing.

We did a run at Battersea Arts Centre during a festival there and the audiences loved it and kept coming back and choosing another one of the six shows that were on offer. It went to the British Council Showcase and caused much emotional kerfuffle between both male and female delegates from various corners of the world!

Image: Jake Oldershaw in Untied Artist’s Intimate History.

Gareth: What is your favourite memory of mac?

Jo: I have two…

Firstly, coming here on the very last day before it closed for the refurbishment in 2008. The building was full of people, the sun was shining, Talking Birds were performing The Whale outside, and I had only recently moved to Birmingham from London. I felt very much a part of a friendly, vibrant arts community here.

Secondly, coming back here as a mum with a small child and feeling that it was a safe, bright, welcoming place that would not judge me in my snot-smeared, baggy jumper, baggy-eyed state. There was always something on at the flicks, or in a theatre, foyer or gallery that we could be part of, have a conversation about, and be saved from the many black holes of a 15 hour day trying to educate/entertain/feed a child!

[I plan on] championing regional theatre makers, musicians and artists who are creating high quality work that has something to say and has considered its audience as part of its process.

Gareth: What are some of the elements of your vision for the performing arts programme at mac birmingham over the next three years, and how would you like to use the different performance spaces available?

Jo: OK, well…

Early years and children’s work. Developing and diversifying the offer we have and making certain that families in the region think of mac first when they are looking for a theatre or arts experience for the young people in their care.

Championing regional theatre makers, musicians and artists who are creating high quality work that has something to say and has considered its audience as part of its process.

Funking up the music programme a little. And I don’t just mean by booking funk bands – I mean broadening the offer and possibly working with other music promoters in Birmingham to do that carefully.

Looking at how we can use the park and outdoor spaces more creatively in our programme.

Thinking more about how older audiences are reflected and catered for in the work that we present and collaborate on.

Trying to work out how we can offer longer runs or regular slots to some companies where the work has that potential.

And finally, to try really hard not to eat the cheese on toast here more than once every two months!

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. How important is it for you to support and showcase regionally produced work?

Jo: It’s really important, which is why it’s part of my plans here. We want to be flag-wavers for the excellence in, and development of, our local arts ecology. The East Meets West Symposium was a great idea by the way – you must do it again!

Gareth: What advice would you give somebody who wanted you to programme their work at mac?

Jo: OK… Don’t ring me up with a 15 minute spiel about your last / current piece of work that I can’t actually go and see anywhere. Do introduce yourself and your work in a short email and follow that up with a well considered email that shows that you know something about the venue, spaces, programme, and audiences here at mac. Include a one-page summary of the company / show, including who the creatives are, what they do, what they’ve already done and what your ethos is, and tell me a bit about what you’re trying to achieve with this one piece of work that you have to get on somehow. Send me images, short promos or films of the piece, and send me dates of where I can see the show or the work that you have on now. Also send me details of when you want to tour it. Don’t be vague, be bold!

We want to be flag-wavers for the excellence in, and development of, our local arts ecology.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you like to bring to mac?

Jo: Oooh, it wouldn’t be just one…

Kate Bush, Nick Cave, David Byrne, Robert Lepage. Nina – Josette Bushell Mingo’s exploration of Nina Simone’s career and how it impacted on her own life. A premiere of a new Mike Leigh play. The Specials. Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.

I would get James Brown’s best backing band of all time back together and book them with a different vocalist each night. For a week!

I’d also commission a new piece of work for children and programme it here for a month and then send it on a national tour. Lastly I’d have a Birmingham version of Meltdown curated by and featuring a host of brilliant Midlands artists and performers spilling out into the park and our outdoor theatre.

Gareth: As well as being a Programmer, you’ve also worked as a Producer (mainly for the wonderful Untied Artists.) How do you think your independent producing experience will influence your venue programming work?

Jo: Prior to being an independent producer and one half of Untied Artists, I was Creative Producer for an NPO company for 6 years, and before that was a tour booker / project manager for UK Arts International working with children’s theatre, performance artists, dancers, mid-scale theatre and everything else in between. So I suppose I could say I have a very broad understanding of what it takes to try and exist and develop and get booked as an artist or company – and it’s bloody hard! I also like to think I have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t for a venue, and why. And finally I’d like to think I can say, “No thank you, that’s not for us” in a way that’s clear but not too brutal.

Gareth: Who has had the biggest influence on your career to date, and why?

Jo: All the artists I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with.

Gareth: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the independent performing arts sector at the moment, and how do you think we can overcome it?

Jo: Hmmm… Where does one start?

Funding and a lack of understanding of how a little money can go a really long way.

TV – there’s soooo much of it.

I question the validity of work that is either too derivative or too self referential.

And possibly most importantly the fact that we’ve been drip-fed a dangerously right-wing notion of what is normal and what is “good” and “bad” for us as a society by the media and the government for so long.

I question the validity of work that is either too derivative or too self referential; work that doesn’t have a story, engaging enough performances or a driving narrative at its heart; work that isn’t simply breath-taking enough in its own right to leave us astounded and / or delighted. Having said that I also like a good laugh. Honest!

Image: Pin And Needles’ production of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas.

Gareth: Amid the wealth of Christmas shows that Birmingham has to offer, mac is establishing itself as the venue in the city that caters for early years audiences and their families. Tell us about what we can look forward to at mac this Christmas.

Jo: From 30th November until 30th December, we present our main house show: Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas. Merry Bloomin’ Christmas! – in his own words.

Father Christmas is a Pins and Needles and Lyric Hammersmith co-production that is beautifully performed by an ensemble made up of an actor, puppeteer and musician. The design is exquisite and very true to the original book, and the narrative is accompanied by a live Foley soundtrack — which in itself is great fun to watch.

Tickets for the show are selling fast so hurry up and get yours quick! Oh, and we’re also doing pyjama galas where you can come in your pjs for the 6 o’clock shows, have milk and cookies while you watch it, and then head home all ready to be tucked up for a cosy night’s sleep. Brilliant! [For more information about Father Christmas, visit mac’s website]

Besides those two corkers we also have Barbara Nice’s Christmas Cracker, an absolute must for one of the best nights out during the festive season — even the most humbuggy amongst you will enjoy it. It usually involves messy mince pie eating races, dancing in the aisles with strangers, a mass competition between two halves of the audience, and the best/worst raffle prizes known to humanity.

For a musical treat you can enjoy The Albion Band’s annual Christmas Show — fine folk indeed! And in the cinema we will have the much-anticipated arrival (in my house at least) of everybody’s favourite old brown bear… Paddington 2.

Gareth: We passionately believe that mac’s cheese on toast should be officially recognised as the best in the city. Are you as much of a fan as we are? Or is there something else on the menu you are most drawn to?

Jo: Please refer to my aforementioned comment relating to this culinary dilemma.

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… Jo Carr appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Paul O’Donnell & We’ve Got Each Other

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

This month, we chatted to Paul O’Donnell, the theatre-maker and producer who’s a man on a mission to fly the flag for his beloved Coventry. We caught up with him during the initial tour of his latest project, We’ve Got Each Other, to talk about solo shows, Jon Bon Jovi and some grand plans for the UK City of Culture.

You can find out more about Paul’s own work here, and upcoming tour dates for We’ve Got Each Other here.


Gareth: How would you describe We’ve Got Each Other for anyone hearing about it for the first time?

Paul: We’ve Got Each Other is a full scale, no expenses spared, Bon Jovi musical… that is almost entirely imagined by the audience.

With the modern jukebox musical traditionally comes a multi-talented cast, a live band (or orchestra if you are lucky), opulent sets and decadent costumes, extravagant dance routines, dramatic key changes and the odd hydraulic lift or two. We’ve Got Each Other has none of these things (they cost a lot of money that independent solo artist Paul O’Donnell doesn’t have), but I still try to create this all singing, all dancing spectacle drawing upon the powers of your imagination to fill the voids.

People have described it before as an ‘austerity’ musical. That link wasn’t really intentional but I guess it does sum it up in a way.

Despite all its flaws, and its empty presentation, you still should leave We’ve Got Each Other with the sense that you ‘have’ experienced a full Bon Jovi musical show. And that is the magic of the show; you still fall in love with our principal characters Tommy and Gina, you are still blown away by the spectacle of it all, and if nothing else you certainly leave with a catchy song stuck firmly in your head. It creates the whole musical experience… on pretty much nothing.

People have described it before as an ‘austerity’ musical. That link wasn’t really intentional but I guess it does sum it up in a way.

Gareth: What is your favourite Bon Jovi lyric, and why?

Paul: “Now he’s holdin’ in what he used to make it talk, so tough, it’s tough.”

I went for this line from Livin on a Prayer (of course), because… well… it doesn’t even make sense does it? And that’s what I absolutely love about it.

You get completely swept up in the magic of this classic hit that it no longer matters that Jon isn’t even speaking English anymore. It doesn’t matter because you’re too focused on belting out whatever you’ve guessed those lyrics were at the very top of your voices.

In the same way I think We’ve Got Each Other has a similar effect. It is equally as nonsensical, and empty, and flawed, but somehow it completely doesn’t matter because you’re too busy sweeping yourself up in the magic of the full ‘musical theatre’ experience.

Paul O'Donnell

Gareth: We’ve Got Each Other was partly developed through China Plate’s First Bite and Bite Size process. How do you think that process has helped, influenced and shaped the piece?

Paul: First Bite and Bite Size were incredibly important towards the development of this piece, and also my career as an artist over the past year, particularly the guidance and advice that China Plate have offered.

I think it’s important to say here that First Bite is what I’d describe as a *meaningful* Scratch event. I sometimes get frustrated when venues or organisations offer ‘artist opportunities’ in the form of scratch nights, which essentially translates into “we offer you a spot to perform in”. That to me has a use, but is in no way meaningful or really useful in ensuring a future for the work beyond that event. First Bite goes beyond this; among other things it offers documentation in the form of photographs (to use as marketing materials), introduces you to a number of new venues (for me, Leicester’s Attenborough Arts Centre which is where I performed), and brought a collective of programmers and potential partners to see the work (many of whom have helped shape this tour). These are all things that support a future for this show beyond just that ‘scratch night’. First Bite also offered three of the eighteen First Bite artists a commission and support leading towards Bite Size Festival…

The project certainly wouldn’t be what it is today without this support from China Plate.

I just happened to be one of the artists to be given a Bite Size Festival commission, and this has meant that China Plate has supported me in a number of ways: financially offering a commission; producer-ly advice in that whenever I faced problems I could talk it through with folk who are a lot more experienced than I; and also with their range of contacts, helping to structure the tour and build a strong team around the show. For a start they put me in touch with Nick Walker for dramaturgical support (who I already knew but in other capacities) and lighting designer Arnim Friess, who have formed the team for this project and have enhanced the quality of what I have presented. They’ve helped me do what I’ve been doing for some time… but a lot better.

The project certainly wouldn’t be what it is today without this support from China Plate… at a guess, right now I’d probably still be scrambling for funding to support the show.

Gareth: Beyond these initial tour dates for We’ve Got Each Other, what are your plans for the show?

Paul: This is the initial tour of the show, which I hope will lead into further touring. At BE Festival this year I won the Early Ideas Award for the show, voted for by the audience, which means I get to return to perform a fuller extract of the show at 2018’s BE Festival. I am looking forward to that, and hoping I can create some international interest in my work. At BE Festival this year I was surprised to find that international audiences also really responded to the show (I think because of the Spanish references throughout it). It was a surprise to find that the musical theatre experience I’ve come to know and love is also highly recognisable across Europe.

Beyond that, I am also in conversation with Battersea Arts Centre who saw the show at Bite-Size festival and are really keen to bring the show back in Autumn 2018. I am also looking into other venues to see what future I can create for it.

I am also planning to make my first venture up to Edinburgh with the show in 2018. A scary new world, but people have said “it will do really well in Edinburgh”. I guess lets find out if that’s true or not.

I hope the show continues to tour, I really look forward to performing it. It’s a difficult show (one man on stage throughout with a lot of text to remember) but is packed with fun and energy and what feels like a real community with the audience throughout.

Gareth: Much of the work you have created so far in your career has been for you as a solo performer. Can you tell us a bit about how your work develops from initial idea to presentation? Does most of that work happen alone, or do you bring in collaborators?

Paul: Mainly… from my bedroom desk… or, The Paul O’Donnell studio (AKA: the kitchen).

I tend to start with a concept, for We’ve Got Each Other, as an example, it was the aim to create a ‘beautiful’ performance with no performers, or anything to look at, in it. I was interested in that conflict. Somehow, along the way, it transformed into an imaginary Bon Jovi musical… even I’m unsure as to exactly how. But that’s where it all began.

The audience are my final, and perhaps most crucial, collaborators. The show is made for them after-all.

A lot of the time I work alone, and often in my own head, thinking it through in the shower, on the bus, sipping a coffee or when I really should be sleeping.

However I always like to talk the work through with collaborators. I always value a dramaturgical role assisting my work. In this process it has been Nick Walker who has been incredibly useful in developing We’ve Got Each Other. In talking through stupid ideas to work out why they’re not so stupid, or talking through what might bridge the gap between this scene and that scene and so on, or helping me to cut out 45 minutes to meet festival time limits. All that has been really useful to me.

I’ve also valued the expertise of Arnim Friess (Lighting Designer) who has certainly filled a void that I simply wouldn’t have been able to fill myself. His experience in this area, especially the practicalities of touring the show (from small venues like Camden Peoples Theatre, to huge venues like Contact Theatre’s main stage) is invaluable. I really would have no clue how to make a success of this lighting-wise without Arnim’s collaboration.

Finally, every time I perform the show I learn more about how it works and what doesn’t work from the audience, and edit after every show I do. The audience are my final, and perhaps most crucial, collaborators. The show is made for them after-all.

Gareth: I remember seeing an early version of One Thing On His Mime at a Pilot Nights event a few years ago. I was struck then by how your work encourages the audience to actively engage their own imaginations to help tell the story. The same is true in We’ve Got Each Other. How conscious of this are you when making a new piece?

Paul: I refer back to your speech at the beginning of The East Meets West Symposium when you said that we should aim to put ‘audiences on top’ [you can read that speech here]. I am, and have been, very conscious of this for some time, but hearing you say it out loud refreshed it in my mind.

In We’ve Got Each Other more than any of my other shows the audience play as much, if not more, of a key role in the performance as myself.

In my shows it is not just a case of asking the audience to indulge me for an hour, but to engage their imaginations and invest themselves in the show as a ‘collaborator’ of sorts, alongside me. They not only imagine much of my work (encouraging them to be incredibly creative within the show) but also willingly block out, and accept, my shows for all their flaws, because they really invest themselves in making the show ‘a success’. They made part of it happen after all.

In We’ve Got Each Other more than any of my other shows the audience play as much, if not more, of a key role in the performance as myself. My relationship with them, and their relationship to the show, requires them to invest in it fully and believe in it, otherwise it will honestly ‘fall on its arse’.

Without you, the audience, the show would (quite literally) be nothing. And if that isn’t putting ‘audiences on top’ then I guess I don’t know what is!

“We’ve got each other, and that’s a lot for love”

Gareth: Which three artists have had the biggest influence on your work to date?

Paul: I feel like in response to this question I should reel off some really prestigious and important artists like Marina Abramovic, Robert Wilson and Pina Bausch.

But inspiration surprises you, and in actual fact, as much as the above do influence my work in their own special ways, they don’t influence it half as much as:

RuPaul’s Drag Race: The costumes, the spectacle, the sassy performance style. The moments in which the acts get the audience/judges going wild.

Musical Theatre shows: Musical Theatre, despite all its flaws (I’m aware of them), does successfully manage to get across ‘important messages’ in an incredibly accessible, entertaining and heart thumping way. I love the way it creates that goose-bumpy effect via high notes and overacted passion, and that underneath it all it has a message to carry with you. Of course I don’t have the budgets to do this in the same way, but I like to explore ways in which I might be able to create these effects on my own scale. Often, as touched upon before, calling upon the audiences imaginations.

Crap shows: I love working out why a show absolutely doesn’t work for me, and why I should never, ever, do ‘that thing’ in my show. I think that’s really, really important. As much as it’s important to see really damn good work, it’s great to see some really awful stuff too and I find I get inspired by trying to do the opposite of that bad thing.

I feel that inspiration always surprises me and I can never really understand when it might creep up on me.

These are just three examples that spring to mind, but I feel that inspiration always surprises me and I can never really understand when it might creep up on me. I think my work feels ‘new’ to audiences because it often blends contemporary and radical techniques, inspired by Marina and co, with incredibly accessible and spectacular pleasantries, inspired by RuPaul and co., and somehow I make that work.

Gareth: You’re the Co-Founder and Producer of Shoot, a festival that provides a platform for the best of Coventry and Warwickshire’s up and coming talent. How did Shoot come about?

Paul: Shoot Festival started because there wasn’t anything like it in Coventry. At the time, I had just finished university and returned to Coventry to find that I was quite often travelling up to Manchester, or down to London to showcase my work. I guess in a way I was frustrated that I didn’t have a chance to show my work in my own city, to my own people, as was my partner in crime Jen Davis.

Together, with a great amount of support from Tessa Walker (Associate Director at The Birmingham Rep) and Chris and Julia (Theatre Absolute), we decided to stop just moaning about it, and do something about it. So initially it was intended to be a night for local artists to platform, and network, and perform. But we foolishly kept on applying for funding and finding support, and in our first year we somehow managed to get Coventry City Council and Arts Council England behind it, so immediately and quite violently, the festival grew for us, and still continues to.

We are the starting point for artists in Coventry and Warwickshire, and through our connections we can open doors for early career artists to a number of opportunities across the city and beyond.

It has been incredibly embraced by the community around Coventry and continues to grow with an amazing amount of support in kind from Theatre Absolute, Belgrade Theatre, Tin Music and Arts, and Birmingham Rep to name but a few. We support up and coming artists (I would proudly call us ‘emerging artists’, believing if you’re not still ‘emerging’ you’re probably not testing yourself enough… but understand that this is a contentious term) in any way we are able to, understanding their problems by having experienced many of them ourselves.

We really believe we are the starting point for artists in Coventry and Warwickshire, and that through our connections we can open doors for early career artists to a number of opportunities across the city and beyond.

Paul O'Donnell

Gareth: As the Producer of Shoot, how important do you think it is for Theatre Makers to make opportunities available for other Theatre Makers?

Paul: Well, we’ve seen an amazing success rate in the artists that have come through Shoot Festival. We have supported many artists in applications to Arts Council England which have been successful, a number of our artists have gone on to earn places on Birmingham Rep’s Foundry scheme, and many have picked up commissions and opportunities from the arts community across Coventry.

Traum by Theatre Absolute was a show that happened because Chris and Julia, of Theatre Absolute, saw a performance that merged Bboying with storytelling at Shoot Festival 2016. On top of this, a show which we commissioned this year, Beat by Ben Morley, is programmed into a run at a venue in London this month.

Right now there are also two shows which have been commissioned by Birmingham Rep that might not have happened had Shoot Festival not brokered that initial introduction: Sorry by Susie Sillett and Baby Daddy by Elinor Coleman (which won our Artist Development Award in 2016). The Death Show (which won our Artist Development Award in 2017) is also programmed into the Rep in 2018. We are a little key (constantly scrambling for funding) that hopes to open up opportunities for our fellow theatre makers in the city.

We think one of the most important things about us being Theatre Makers supporting other Theatre Makers is the fact that we understand some of the problems they face because we have faced them too, and therefore can think practically about how we might sort those out. Producers or venues, who have never themselves ‘made theatre’ might not be able to understand these as well as we (the Theatre Makers) could. From something simple like the importance of offering a small fee for ‘scratch’ work, through to supporting them meaningfully through the tech time and lead up to ensure that they have all the information they need to make the best possible work. I think that’s where Theatre Makers creating events for Theatre Makers is important – we have been through ‘that’ process, so understand the complexities of showcasing our own work first hand. An hour long tech time might suit most groups, but also might be a manic mad rush for this particular show. At Shoot Festival we try and support artists as best we can for their particular needs. Theatre Makers are aware that one size rarely fits all. That’s why it’s important we keep making things happen for one another, as only we can identify the problems we are facing in order to solve them. (“We’ve got each other… and that’s a lot for love”).

If we don’t support each other and lead each other towards opportunity, who the heck will?

Shoot Festival is one step in solving what used to be a lack in Coventry… now we alone have 37 acts under our umbrella, and many more artists who have applied, and I am sure many more who will apply in the future. The community around Coventry is paying attention to the artists that come through us and offering them opportunities too. If we don’t support each other and lead each other towards opportunity, who the heck will?

Gareth: You’re a big advocate for Coventry’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021. What impact do you think having a successful bid could have on the independent theatre-making ecology within Coventry?

Paul: Coventry already has a strong independent theatre-making ecology, with companies such as Theatre Absolute and Talking Birds placing themselves in the city. It also has some great venues for supporting the sector, Belgrade Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre, The Shop Front Theatre, Ego etc. It still certainly has gaps to fill, of course.

I cannot fathom what opportunity winning UK City of Culture in 2021 might mean… I get emotional at least twice a week about the prospect of it all, but I know it will only mean good things. And really, not just for Coventry, but for the whole region. It opens opportunities to people who are all across the West Midlands and beyond, we (Coventry) certainly can’t do this all on our own (it’s bloody huge) and will need input from creatives across the whole region. What I think is amazing is that suddenly artists from outside of Coventry might invest their time in little old Cov and realise that it’s a place where really amazing culture can happen (I’ve seen some pretty incredible work here). Which is why I would of course heavily encourage you to back the bid. [You can find out more about Coventry’s bid here and on Twitter.]

I cannot fathom what opportunity winning UK City of Culture in 2021 might mean… I get emotional at least twice a week about the prospect of it all.

Already, through the bidding process, I myself have been encouraged to think more ambitiously about the work I create both as a producer or artist. It’s very easy to get complacent as an artist and be comfortable in just getting by. What the bidding process has done for me, and you can feel it in the other organisations in the city, is it has asked ‘what more can you be doing?’, ‘How can you achieve that?’ and ‘How is that sustainable?’. It has certainly upped my ambition, and that’s only with bidding. Imagine what might happen if we actually win!

And really, that comes not just from the bid, but also from Coventry City Council’s 10 Year Cultural Strategy that has set bold aims as to what we as a city want to do culturally over the next ten years. I am sure that, whether we win City of Culture or not (I really hope we do though), I have no doubt that the ecology of Coventry in 2018 onwards is going to be incredibly different to what it is right now. For you, the only advice I can offer is… be a part of it!

Gareth: If money were no object, what amazing and ambitious project would you create for Coventry in 2021?

Paul: I’ve been thinking of a project for a while that feels a million miles away. It’s called Symphony. It would be me on stage telling you my anti-climactic completely non-eventful life story… but… backed up by a full live orchestra. A sort of concerto in which my life story is the final/main instrument. It’s not as self indulgent as it sounds, as hopefully it’s a story that speaks about a human want to feel important that we can all relate to. A piece that celebrates the ordinary, and mundane, and dull, and somehow makes it all rather incredible… with the help of a full orchestra.

I’m not sure if this is created ‘for Coventry’ per se, or just an idea in my head that I keep thinking about when I should really be thinking about the performance I’m doing right now. Somehow though it would celebrate what it means to grow up and live as a Coventrian whilst merging a one man performance with a thirty-five piece orchestra.

A man can dream right?

Gareth: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?

Paul: Learn how to produce. Many people think ‘to be a star I must have a producer who does all the work for me’ (I certainly thought that). I would argue that a producer might be great, but it is equally as important to understand how one produces before thinking getting yourself a producer is necessarily the answer. There’s no real training for producing. It’s very much learnt on the job as you go, out of necessity. But understanding the nature of the beast you’re working in is incredibly important.

You can’t be creative without knowing the limitations of your creativity, practically.

For example: You can’t really create work sustainably without knowing what funders or programmers are looking for and building those relationships with venues and partners yourself. You can’t be ambitious without knowing the logistics of such ambition. You can’t be creative without knowing the limitations of your creativity, practically. As dull and paperwork-y and budget-y and logistic-y as producing may be, the only creatives I know who are still going and are successful, are those who understand what it means to make their own work happen and manage it as it is happening.

Don’t be afraid of it; just keep winging it till you work it out. I am.

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… Paul O’Donnell & We’ve Got Each Other appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: The Aggregation Of Marginal Gains (or The 1% Pledge)

Throughout The East Meets West Symposium 2017, Little Earthquake invited delegates to make a small personal pledge to do something that would improve the way we all work together and, ultimately, increase the quality of what we are doing for audiences in the region.

They were asked to improve something by just 1%. Why only 1%? Find out below.

If you’re a Theatre Maker, chances are you’ve been to your fair share of theatre conferences and Open Space events. We leave feeling excited and inspired by what has been discussed, and determined to make changes for the better. But, after a few days, that determination gets put on the back burner. And who can blame us? That funding application isn’t going to write itself. Those tour bookings aren’t going to magically appear on our schedule. It feels like too much of a commitment to start changing the world today. Maybe next year?

At our recent East Meets West Symposium we really wanted to avoid this scenario, and so we proposed a plan to help start turning talk into action. And the best thing about this plan was that nobody needed to do very much at all…

Perhaps surprisingly for a theatre conference, the idea we pitched is borrowed from the world of sport.

In 2010, Sir David Brailsford was appointed as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky. He had the unenviable task of improving the floundering fortunes of professional British cycling. He predicted that if the team changed their overall training philosophy, a British cyclist could win the Tour de France within five years. So successful was his plan, Sir Bradley Wiggins won it in just under three years.

Brailsford called his philosophy “the aggregation of marginal gains”, and it’s much easier to implement than its intimidating name suggests. All Team Sky did was look for things they could improve by just 1%. They started in the obvious places: the riders’ nutrition and the ergonomics of the saddle. But like a man possessed, Brailsford started to look beyond these obvious things to areas that could have a subtler or less direct impact: finding the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels; testing for the most effective type of massage gel; teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection.

Over a short time, these tiny changes which seemed insignificant in themselves started to build and resulted in an overall improvement far greater than the sum of its parts: the aggregation of marginal gains.

I first stumbled across this idea over on James Clear’s blog, which you should definitely read to get the full scoop on this concept. I particularly like James’ thoughts on how the aggregation of marginal changes can work in reverse.

By the end of The East Meets West Symposium 2017, we asked all of the delegates to make personal 1% pledges about what they were going to do help improve the way we all work together and, ultimately, to help put audiences in the region on top. It didn’t need to be anything huge or monumental. They just needed to improve something by 1%. With 110 delegates in attendance, we should, in theory, see a 110% improvement over time if everyone carries out their pledge.

We’ve published all of the pledges online which you can access here. There’s nothing like a bit of accountability to keep things on track! We’ve also asked some of the delegates to keep a record of how their pledges go and we’ll report back later in the year.

If you work within the Midlands theatre sector and would like to make your own 1% Pledge, you can do so over on the East Meets West section of this website. After you make your pledge we’ll be sure to add it to the list.

The post The Aggregation Of Marginal Gains (or The 1% Pledge) appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: Put Audiences On Top

To open The East Meets West Symposium 2017, Little Earthquake’s Co-Director Gareth Nicholls gave a speech aimed at provoking a shared goal among theatre makers within the Midlands. The full transcript of the provocation, including images used during the keynote, is below.

Has anybody seen the brilliant episode of South Park that features The Underpants Gnomes? They’re tiny creatures who go into people’s bedrooms at night and steal their pants. The South Park boys have to do a school project about economics and business, so they visit The Underpants Gnomes for advice. That’s when the Gnomes share their strategic master plan. It goes like this:

[Here, Gareth played a short clip of The Underpants Gnomes’ plan. You can find a version of this on Vimeo]

In the independent theatre sector, we can relate to The Underpants Gnomes more than we’d like to admit. We all have interesting work we want to make. This is Phase 1: Our Commodity. The Gnomes have underpants; we have theatre.

And like the Gnomes, we can all see where we want to end up. This is Phase 3: The Return On That Commodity. The Gnomes want profit. I imagine a more sustainable and resilient ecology is what we would all aim for.

It’s that middle bit we seem to struggle with. But without defining Phase 2, we’re a little bit screwed.

Back in 2010, Phil and I felt a little bit screwed. We were both struggling to find any joy from running Little Earthquake. We’d had some success. Those who saw our worked really enjoyed it, and Arts Council England had been very kind to us. But no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t book any tours, we were still living with our parents, and desperately running out of tactics to stall those inevitable conversations about getting proper jobs. So, after eight long years of trying to make a go of it, we did what felt most rational at the time: we ran away to the other side of the world.

And there, in Melbourne Australia, I met Nick Nickolas.

Nick is one of eight magicians who busk on the Southbank of the Yarra River. Every day, rain or shine, they take it in turns to perform their 45-minute acts. Nick’s act begins with him approaching one or two people who are passing by and performing a simple coin trick for them. Within 15 minutes, he has usually attracted crowds of 500 people or more.

At the end of each performance Nick shows his empty hat to the crowd and says: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve had as much fun as I have today, can I ask that you show your appreciation by throwing some money in the hat. You see, the government don’t pay us to be here… You do. If I’ve made you smile, pop in $5, if I’ve made you laugh, put in ten. If you have any constructive criticism you’d like to make, write it on the back of a $20 bill and leave it with me”.

Those magicians worked on this “pay what you think it’s worth” model for every single show. No-one was obliged to pay anything. Audience members could simple walk away if they wanted. And of course some did. But usually the magicians’ hats were overflowing with 5, 10, 20 and even $50 notes.

I spent far too much time during our year Down Under studying those magicians. They even invited me to attempt my own street show. I drew a crowd of seven people and made $16. Clearly I had a lot to learn from this group of artists. Without the support of a venue, a marketing team, or government subsidy, they had achieved our Phase 3: a sustainable and resilient ecology for themselves.

And they achieved it by clearly defining what their Phase 2 would be:

Put Audiences On Top. That’s what those magicians focused on day after day and show after show. They knew if they all shared the same goal of putting their audiences’ experience above all else, Phase 3 would look after itself.

Now, nobody can say being audience focused is a radical idea. We all know that without an audience of some kind, theatre ceases to exist. Putting stuff on for other people to watch, or facilitating events for people to participate in, is our reason for being. And yet, I wonder how many of us really think deeply and consistently enough about audiences during every single decision we make. We may use phrases like “audience focused”, or “engaging hard to reach audiences” in funding applications (although, in my book, that second one should never be used) — but are we doing enough to follow through on these vague promises? I don’t think we can be.

Every year Little Earthquake works with over 150 students at Birmingham Conservatoire and at the University of Birmingham. At the start of every module, we ask how many of the students have seen a piece of theatre within the last six months — excluding shows that their mates are in. Usually, only one or two students raise their hands. When we prod a bit further and ask why they haven’t been to see anything, the reason is always the same: most of the theatre they’re exposed to is boring.

We’ve all sat through dull, self-indulgent work that makes us want to gouge our own eyeballs out with the spoon from our interval ice cream.

We all make or help to make theatre — and yet we totally know where they’re coming from. It’s like being stuck on a motorway, complaining about how bad the traffic is when you are the traffic! I’m bored by a good 75% of the theatre I see. We’ve all regretted sitting in the middle of a row and being unable to make a subtle retreat to the bar 45 minutes in. We’ve all sat through dull, self-indulgent work — often autobiographical — that makes us want to gouge our own eyeballs out with the spoon from our interval ice cream.

Being told that most theatre is boring by students paying to do a theatre degree should be a warning we all listen to. We can believe that theatre is great and important and should be publicly funded, but deep down we also know most of it genuinely isn’t good enough. And if we think that, how can we expect audiences to think any different?

The magicians in Melbourne were always given very clear signals if they weren’t putting their audience’s experience first. People would leave. In my case, they left in droves. But actually, how utterly brilliant is that? It’s the most useful feedback any artist can get. Every theatre in the world should have a sign above the door: “If you’re bored, you have our permission to leave during the performance as loudly as you can”. Let’s find ways of empowering our audiences to hold us to account a bit more. Feedback forms don’t cut it: after the performance, the damage is already done. Bring back throwing rotten vegetables, and we’d soon up our game.

Speculating on why young people will spend a fortune on trainers and not on going to the theatre, Peter Brook came to the conclusion that theatre has let a lot of people down over the years, and trainers haven’t. If we are to build a more sustainable and resilient future for our sector, we have to stop disappointing our audiences. They need to feel confident that the odds are stacked in favour of them having a great night out.

If we are to build a more sustainable and resilient future for our sector, we have to stop disappointing our audiences. They need to feel confident that the odds are stacked in favour of them having a great night out.

I’m sure some of you are thinking this is all well and good, but deep down, you believe we have a responsibility to create work with higher aspirations than simply entertaining people. I agree. But those two aspirations aren’t mutually exclusive. Empower the people you put your work in front of if you want to. Represent them. Challenge them. Infuriate them. Expose their hypocrisies. Involve them. Debate with them. Make them run from the room wanting to change the world. Do all of these things, but above all, do not bore them. And the easiest way to avoid boring them is to put the audience at the centre of the whole experience. Our art is for them, and them alone. I hope I don’t offend anyone when I say this, but a lot of artists today spend too much time masturbating on stage. No audience should be expected to give up their time and money to just watch you pleasing yourself.

But artists aren’t the only ones who have this crucial responsibility towards audiences. Every single person who helps an artist to put their work in front of other people must assess each and every decision they make against one simple criterion: is this putting our audience on top?

I hope I don’t offend anyone when I say this, but a lot of artists today spend too much time masturbating on stage. No audience should be expected to give up their time and money to just watch you pleasing yourself.

Is your programing team really serving your audiences, or are they really just serving their own tastes? And are you protecting your programmer’s time so they can do their job properly? Let them leave their desk, see as much work as possible, and talk face-to-face with artists. And when they are at their desk, are you making sure they reply to every single artist who emails them? I know this is a full time job in itself (hence why their time needs protecting) — but artists need programmers to engage with them and give honest feedback so they can grow and make better work for audiences.

If you don’t think their work is suitable for your venue, tell them, kindly but honestly, why you think that’s the case. Ignoring emails from a key stakeholder (and artists are stakeholders, too) wouldn’t be tolerated in any other sector, so why is it the norm in ours? It does nothing to build community or trust between artists and venues — and ultimately does nothing to serve audiences.

Are we sure that putting this work on this stage is the best place for audiences to see it? Maybe the local park would be better. Or the school up the road. If you make work for an audience on their terms, or their turf as it were, they might be more willing to start a dialogue with you. Eventually, they might even be willing to pay you a visit on your turf. As one young person in Manchester said to the wonderful Ruth Ibegbuna: “I’m not hard to reach: you just get on the number 11 bus”.

Are we investing too much money in developing new “emerging” talent rather than investing in so-called “mid career” artists, who (if you haven’t noticed) are a dying breed? Or, if you want to look at it another way, should we be nurturing Best Practice a bit more rather then Next Practice?

Are we sure our marketing campaigns are reaching the people we want to reach? The New Vic in Stoke discovered that grandparents, rather than parents, are more likely to introduce young people to theatre. But research also shows that many older people prefer not to be out after dark. So shouldn’t we rethink our traditional 7:30 evening starts to serve this audience better? This kind of understanding could transform an entire theatre culture, let alone a single marketing campaign.

These questions are just the tip of a very big iceberg, but they serve to illustrate the point. Everyday, when we sit down at our desks, or enter our rehearsal rooms, we need to ask, consciously and consistently: if we do this, is it putting our audience on top?

Public subsidy is amazing, isn’t it? We could always use more, but it’s important to remember that we’ve actually got it pretty good — Grantium aside. This funding can be our greatest ally in serving audiences, but it can also be a safety net we rely on far too often. The magicians in Melbourne had no subsidy whatsoever. They couldn’t survive more than a few weeks if audiences walked away without paying. But the lack of any safety net for them ensured they continually focused on the impact they were having on their audiences.

I’m not saying for one moment that we should get rid of — or give back — our funding to shock us into serving audiences better. But it’s worth considering how our attitude towards audiences might change if we didn’t have that money to cushion us quite so much.

It’s worth considering how our attitude towards audiences might change if we didn’t have [public subsidy] to cushion us quite so much.

On average, each of the eight busking magicians would perform their 45-minute act twice a day. When they weren’t performing themselves, they would go out and stand discreetly amongst the crowds watching the other magicians. They did this so that after the show they could feedback to those performers about the dynamics of their audience: the moments when they were most engaged, when kids got restless and pestered their parents to move on, the quiet comments between friends that the performer would otherwise never hear. The magicians would spent a good 75% of their day helping each other in this way. It was hugely generous, but ultimately it came down to self-preservation. They understood that by helping another performer create a better experience for their audience, it would ultimately result in that audience being more likely to return to see another performer on a different day. If that first act was poor, then the chances of someone from that audience coming back would be very low. It now makes total sense why they only let me perform one show on their pitch.

This philosophy of sharing responsibility for the impact we have on audiences is simple, and in relation to the independent theatre sector, very refreshing. It’s important to realise that when an artist puts their own ego above the experience of the audience, they aren’t only failing that audience, they are also failing the rest of us as well. It only takes one bad experience to put a first-time theatregoer off for life. Whenever we present work, we need to start looking a little further than the room we’re performing in to judge its true impact.

It only takes one bad experience to put a first-time theatregoer off for life. Whenever we present work, we need to start looking a little further than the room we’re performing in to judge its true impact.

There is one last lesson I’d like to share with you from those magicians. One last trick they had up their sleeve.

The conjurers working on that pitch had been doing magic for anywhere between six months and two decades. There was an unspoken rule among them that, when it came to putting audiences on top, everyone was equal. It might surprise you given his chosen career path as a busker, but Nick Nicholas is one of the most respected magicians in the world, and I was amazed to see an eighteen-year-old newbie giving him feedback on his performance from an audience’s perspective. I was even more amazed to see Nick’s eagerness to put that feedback into action during his next show.

As a sector, we collectively permit a massive imbalance of power. Today, we have a room filled with artists, producers, programmers, artistic directors, funders, and many others. I’m willing to bet that most, if not all, of the artists in the room feel that they have the least amount of power here.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, so it’s worth taking a moment to consider what your vision of a Scale of Power would look like. Incidentally, some of you might be surprised that I haven’t put funders on top. It feels to me that venues hold the greatest power, because without them being prepared to take or support our work, our prospects of being supported or funded anywhere else are zilch.

I’m an artist, so I’m biased: but this makes no sense to me whatsoever. Going back to our three-phase business model, if theatre is our commodity, and the artists are the ones who make that theatre, surely artists should feel the most empowered?

If artists want to redress the power balance with the gatekeepers in our sector, that must begin with holding them to account and keeping them honest.

But artists are really good at encouraging this power imbalance. It’s almost masochistic. We want to be liked and we want our work to be programmed. So rather than rock the boat in public, we cling to each other and rant in private. But ranting only brings short relief. Artists should be supporting one another to lobby for a more equal slice of the power pie. Let’s call out the programmers who blank us in the street because they think we’re going to pester them about putting our work on, or the Artistic Director who emails to cancel our meeting with them an hour before it is due to happen. Our time is precious too and we’ve probably given up paid work to honor that meeting. Let’s bang on the door of our flagship venues and tell them that a lot of the work on their stages is financially wasteful, lacks imagination — and is boring. Let’s share knowledge about the touring venue far away who wants to cancel your show because they have only sold six tickets while your costly box of print is still sitting in their marketing cupboard. If artists want to redress the power balance with the gatekeepers in our sector, that must begin with holding them to account and keeping them honest when they’re not on the same page as us and not putting audiences on top.

But it cuts both ways. Us artists need to suck it up and be willing to hear the truth when our work is self-indulgent, too long, too slow — or just plain boring. We need to be braver in inviting genuine criticism from those gatekeepers, from our industry colleagues, and most importantly, our audiences. And here’s a thing: other theatre makers do not constitute a real audience. If we don’t stop performing to audiences largely made up of our mates and our peers, we’re going to implode.

And here’s a thing: other theatre makers do not constitute a real audience. If we don’t stop performing to audiences largely made up of our mates and our peers, we’re going to implode.

Things will only get better when every single one of us is more committed to change than we are to the way things operate now. At the moment, we’re in danger of reaching an impasse before we’ve figured out a solution.

But with our shared goal in place, the power balance could look more like this.

And as a potential missing jigsaw piece in The Underpants Gnomes’ three-phase business model, putting audiences on top feels like a very good one.

And if we can all commit to that, maybe we can pull off the greatest magic trick of all, and bring about the more sustainable and resilient ecology we all so desperately need.

Thank you.

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