“Completely inspiring two days […] I feel energised and excited about my own paths.” Participant
Last week saw the first 2 days of Advancing Artists in Surrey: Working In A Social Context. Sixteen established Surrey-based artists (of a multitude of disciplines) came together to discuss and discover the world of creating art in social contexts. The course was guided by arts consultant and creative director Chris Fogg who created a warm and engaging atmosphere.
On day 1, there were sessions lead by guest speakers Maya Twardzicki, the Public Health Lead for Surrey County Council; Diane Amans, an Independent Performing Arts Professional who works predominantly with movement and older people; and Lucy Cash, an Artist and Moving-Image Maker.
Day 2 began with a practical demonstration with Digital Media Artist Richard Tomlinson and his ‘carrot piano’. Caroline Barnes, a Hospital Art Coordinator in Yeovil, and Viv Gordon, Artistic Director, Independent Artist and advocate of mental health awareness, demonstrated very different approaches to working with health and wellbeing. Ali Clarke, of Surrey Hills Arts, finished day 2 with a session about her experiences of commissioning and receiving proposals.
The participants got the opportunity to meet representatives of Watts Gallery, Ruth Williams, and Prospero Theatre’s Artistic Director Beth Wood, whose contributions as Surrey-based organisations were valued greatly.
The final day of the course will take place in June and will be a chance for the artists to reflect on their learning and network with local arts organisations.
Advancing Artists in Surrey was delivered by Arts Partnership Surrey and Farnham Maltings.
One of the highlights of 2016 was Jess and Joe Forever, a co-production with the Orange Tree Theatre which also toured to (most rural) UK venues. Recently we caught up with Jess Daniels, the Assistant Director (a role which was supported by Old Vic New Voices), and she told us about how she found the directing process and life on the road.
Jess & Joe Forever
I’ve just discovered it’s 12 weeks to the day since our final touring performance of Jess & Joe Forever – which I can’t really believe! It was such an excellent and exciting project to be part of. I was assistant director on the show, a role that meant that I got to be part of the rehearsals for the Orange Tree run, and then I went with the show as it toured theatres in the South East.
I happened to see the read through of Jess & Joe when it was at the Old Vic New Voices festival back in 2015 – and I loved it. I loved the story and the characters but I particularly liked the style in which Zoe had written the play. I’m a big fan of audience-inclusive work – in particular direct address. So when the assistant director role came up it felt like my perfect job!
My experience so far of being an assistant director is that it’s very hard to predict in what way you’ll be most useful to the production and that (inevitably) the role varies massively with each production and director that you work with. For the Orange Tree, the show was in the round and so often my job was to sit on the opposite side of the room to Derek (Bond, director) and keep an eye on the sightlines so that no part of the audience would feel neglected at any point. Sometimes it also included keeping lists of sections we needed to revisit, or generally helping make sure the story was clear. We spent a lot of rehearsals swapping stories about being teenagers & tweenagers, helping to build the world of Jess & Joe.
The show ran at the Orange Tree for a month and during that time I visited roughly once a week to watch the show and pass on any notes as necessary.
Then we went back into the rehearsal room for three days to restage the play as an end-on production in order to take it on tour. At times this was quite a challenge as having spent a month performing the show in the round, it could feel pretty confusing trying to work out how to achieve the same feel for the show but in a very different situation. But we got there, and at 7.30am on 13th October we set off for Havant Spring Arts Centre for the first show of the tour.
I’ve never gone with a show on tour, in the same way that I did for Jess & Joe – it was definitely eye opening! We were doing mostly single performances in each venue so often our days consisted of a 10am get-in that everyone helped with, then the actors would set up their dressing rooms & sort props while Lisa, our stage manager, and I focused lights. Well, I should say Lisa focused lights – I just stood in different places around the stage so she had something to focus them to! We’d aim for a 3pm dress run, which would normally happen around 4pm by the time everything was ready. Then as long as everything ran according to plan we’d be able to grab some food before getting ready for the show. On days where we just did one performance, as soon as the audience had cleared out we would begin to sort the props in order to start the get-out. Each venue had amazing technicians that made this job much easier than it would otherwise have been – helping clear gels from the lights, lift pieces of the floor and generally being super.
On tour my job changed all the time – in some venues it involved helping put colour into gel frames and rigging lights, and in others I would work with the actors to re-block scenes as necessary for each venue. Although we had restaged it for end-on performances, which worked in the majority of theatres we visited, there were a couple of places that needed slight adjustments so that the show would look its best. Similarly with lighting and sound, often the nature of the changing venues would mean Lisa and I would make decisions on small adjustments to the show in order for it to work the best in each of the venues that we were in.
I think it’s quite unusual for an assistant director to go with a show for the whole tour – I was really glad of the experience and I think it was so useful for my work as a director. It was good to see the ins and outs of what is needed to take a show on tour as well as how the actors keep the show fresh even after a 10 hour day. I’m looking to tour a show of my own later this year and it was certainly good to know the reality of what that means.
What I found particularly brilliant was seeing how each different audience reacted. In London, you could predict where people would laugh and where there might be some knowing looks. But the tour went to all sorts of places – from Live Theatre right in the centre of Newcastle to Little Theatre in Sheringham, a tiny Norfolk town. I have always loved how the play develops and the audience begins to realize there is more to Jess & Joe than is immediately obvious. It was fascinating seeing how in each different place the audiences would be absorbed by the story but in very different ways and in very different parts. By the end, Nicola & Rhys (Jess & Joe) would have every audience in the palm of their hands, and you could feel how the final scene had people gripped.
A couple of things I learnt on tour that I didn’t know before…
- Tension Wire; a tight grid of rope above the stage but below the lighting rig. Very useful for quickly adjusting the focus of a light or changing a lighting gel, without having to climb up and down a ladder. Not so good if you want to hang a ceiling piece…
- Take spare EVERYTHING. Lisa (stage manager) had boxes and toolkits full of things that at the start I didn’t think we needed and by the end we had used everything in some variety. Each venue was different to the last and so what had worked in one wouldn’t work in another, and when you thought you’d encountered all the possible ‘on-tour’ problems, something unexpected would turn up! Having spare everything helped solve lots of things.
- Never underestimate the power of a great breakfast. (To be honest I did know this before, but a good breakfast was definitely fundamental to the tour!)
Next, Jess is directing The Many Crimes of Hector Cartwright at VAULT Festival 1st March – 5th March 2017.
Jess and Joe Forever, a recent co-production between Farnham Maltings and Orange Tree Theatre, is currently on tour. When the company was in Richmond, Orange Tree Theatre’s Literary Associate Guy Jones talked with writer, Zoe Cooper, and director, Derek Bond, about romcoms, Ovid and the magic of being a teenager.
Guy Jones: Zoe, could you tell me a bit about why you wanted to tell this story?
Zoe Cooper: I was really interested in Ovid and magic and the power to transform. In Ovid women turn into birds, and trees; people shapeshift. At times he employs a mode of writing called free indirect speech, which he uses for female voices. Women and queer characters (although he wouldn’t have called them queer) don’t get a voice in work by his contemporaries. And then I was thinking about Norfolk, and that there would be something great about creating magic in landscape that was very flat, and grey, and isn’t cute or dramatic. And finally there was the magic of teenage-hood – the edge place, the last time you can really believe in magic.
Derek Bond: Also that’s when magic happens. Anyone who’s ever been a teenager knows that the transition from child to adult is seismic. Your body changes, your perspective, the loss of innocence. You become aware of your body in a way that’s about fitting in and social norms, and people feel a growing anxiety about how their bodies are different to other people’s bodies. A lot of times it’s horrible and upsetting, but it could be magical.
GJ: As well as being about moments of change and transition, it also feels to me like you’re exploring what it is to be on the fringes of things in so many ways – in terms of your class, or geography, or sexual identity.
ZC: One of the things I wanted to do was write absolutely in my own voice. I live in Newcastle and I love writing for those theatres and those audiences. But with this play I wanted write a character that had my accent and was from my part of the world, which is Twickenham. Jess arrives in the play with a sense of her own superiority as a sophisticated London child but as she’s launched into this world in Norfolk she has to face up to the fact that she doesn’t know everything, and that in many ways she has had a very sheltered middle class upbringing. In a way Joe has a lot of authority – he knows how the countryside works. But in another way – because of his identity – he’s definitely on the fringes.
GJ: And for this play to have come to life and have a long run in London, followed by a regional tour – does that feel curiously appropriate for a play which explores the relationship between the centre and edge?
ZC: We talked about the Orange Tree from the start. We felt that it would be great for this.
DB: And we also said wouldn’t it be great to take it to rural communities. I grew up in a tiny village in Worcestershire. The idea that there are venues now which thanks to organisations like house and Farnham Maltings, can get theatre like this, is really exciting. We can take the play to places which wouldn’t normally get new writing.
ZC: It’s not just about good quality work. It’s about work which honours the fact that rural communities are not necessarily conservative.
GJ: The mode of storytelling in the play is distinctive. Where did that come from?
ZC: Jess and Joe was commissioned by Old Vic New Voices originally, and they had quite a clear brief for it: they wanted it to be an hour long or a bit over, and they wanted it to be for a younger audience. It coincided with what I wanted to do next. I’d started to employ direct address in my plays because I was a bit bored with the fourth wall and this felt like a play where the characters absolutely had to tell their story themselves.
DB: I’ve also become a bit bored of the fourth wall. I’m doing three shows this year, and they’re all in the round. I’ve found myself finding ways to break the fourth wall in all of them.
GJ: What is that a response to?
ZC: I wanted to write plays that acknowledged the audience. Because I don’t live in London, and a lot of my friends don’t work in theatre – or necessarily go to the theatre as much – I am always particularly interested to hear what they think of the plays we see together. One of the things they always seem to comment on is how strange and old fashioned it seems to perform whole plays without ever allowing the characters to acknowledge that they are being watched. I was also really encouraged by the work of other writers that have broken the fourth wall, like Caroline Horton, Charlotte Josephine and Lucy Kirkwood.
GJ: What were the challenges of this kind of writing?
ZC: Trying to create drama. With the direct address you have to make sure they don’t just say all their feelings. How do you create unreliable narrators in a way that’s interesting? I’ve wanted to write queer characters for a really long time, but the plays that I’ve seen are issue-driven plays – you have the monologue where a character says ‘I feel so alone, I just want to come out, transition’. I hate that, but with direct address you can very easily back yourself into that corner.
DB: What I love about a play where there’s direct address is that it makes the audience a character. They’re an actual part of the experience, a participant in what’s going on, not just a spectator. It makes me think of Daniel Kitson, who went from a world of stand up where you’re directly addressing an audience, to the work he’s been doing recently where he blurs the line between standup and theatre. There’s something really very pure about someone standing on a stage and telling you a story.
GJ: You mentioned romcoms. How much are each of you aware of genre when you work?
ZC: There’s something familiar about genre: the coming of age genre. Poets have it easy because they have, say, a sonnet, and that’s the shape of the poem. They can pour everything into it but there are limits. Young writers really need those limits. But in theatre we’re not always great at putting limits on things because we don’t do genre. Lots of writers have got rid of the three-act structure, but it’s really useful to have that shape.
DB: It’s useful to identify the form of the story: it’s a mystery. There is something that these characters are not telling us, and as the play goes on we get closer and closer to finding out what that might be. So it’s a murder mystery, but with something in the will-they-won’t they of a romcom.
ZC: I had felt that I wanted to be taken seriously and so I shouldn’t write jokes. But I like romcoms more than I like any other kind of film. There was a chasm between that and the kind of things that I was writing. So I was creating work, not that I wouldn’t choose to go and see, but that wouldn’t necessarily make me go ‘Oh brilliant’.
DB: I think there’s a similar thing with directors. Up until a few years ago I was doing a lot of new plays in which dead children featured largely – abuse, grief. And then when I started to do some comedy, I found that I really enjoyed it. I realised that was okay. It didn’t make you less of a director if you didn’t reduce everyone to tears.
Bucket Club, emerging theatre company and the inaugural recipients of the Farnham Maltings Fellowship Award, are currently working on their newest show: Launch Party. We’ve loved having the Buckets in the building over recent weeks, so had a chat to writer, director and founder-member Nel Crouch in advance of next week’s.
It’s clear that you all love making theatre and performing together; but how did Bucket Club come to be a theatre company?
Bucket Club met at Bristol University where we all worked together on theatre and comedy, but never as a company. After graduating we all knew we wanted to make theatre, but weren’t sure where to start. We applied for an emerging artist’s residency at the Lyric Hammersmith, where we were able to start work on our first show, Lorraine & Alan.
It was through making that first show that we met Farnham Maltings, when pitching for their No Strings Attached fund for early career theatre makers. Amazingly, they made us an associate company and have steered us through making our other two shows – Fossils, which was at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, and now Launch Party.
Alongside Bucket Club, we all work with other companies and theatres as individual artists – I’ve just finished up a BBC Performing Arts Fund fellowship at Tobacco Factory Theatres in Bristol, and certainly wouldn’t have had that opportunity without the work I’ve made with the company. But it’s always my favourite thing to come back and make stuff with the Buckets.
What style of theatre would you say Bucket Club specialises in?
Bucket Club’s work is all about storytelling. We use a lot of narration, which allows us to talk directly to our audiences and play with different ways of telling a story. It lets us use a lot of comedy but also to create really beautiful images and have moments of poetry.
Music is also really important to how we work. Our composer, David Ridley, who also performs in our shows writes beautiful original songs and uses innovative technology to build up soundscapes and music that respond to and support our stories. Expect a lot of singing in Launch Party!
Why did you decide to base your new show, Launch Party, all around space exploration?
When we were coming up with ideas, our friend Emily taught us about the 1970s Voyager 1 craft. Launched by NASA, it’s a spacecraft traveling indefinitely through interstellar space – it left the solar system a few years ago. When it was being made, the scientists working on it realised that, if it was going to go through space for potentially billions of years, there was a chance it might be found by alien life. They decided to tell those aliens something about Earth.
A gold-plated record was attached to the craft, containing sounds from earth including greetings, whale song and music – from ancient tribal singing to Chuck Berry. On the record was written “to the makers of music – all worlds, all times”. We thought this was a lovely leap of imagination, and an interesting idea to explore as a company that works with music. Once we were thinking about space, it started popping up everywhere – at the time there was a lot in the news about the proposed Mars One mission. With all this in mind, we started cooking up a story.
After performing at the Maltings, Launch Party’s touring to rural venues. Why were you interested in making a show for rural touring?
We’ve never made work for rural touring before! It’s great to be working with Farnham Maltings who have so much expertise in this area, as booking and organising a tour is a huge puzzle. Whenever we’ve told people about Launch Party they’ve said how rural touring audiences are always their favourite, so we’re really looking forward to it. We’re also excited to visit some really beautiful parts of the country, and getting to know lots of different communities.
Launch Party opens in the Tindle Studio on Thursday 13 October, before touring to rural venues in the UK throughout October & November.
Take On Me has been created by Dante or Die, a company who make theatre in unusual spaces, working with writer Andrew Muir. The piece came about through a commission by Arts Partnership Surrey and Farnham Maltings, called ‘not for the likes of me’, to enable a performance for people who might not normally go to the theatre. We caught up with co-creator and Take On Me lifeguard, Terry O’Donovan to find out more.
What originally drew you to the idea of working with local authorities across Surrey?
We had been dreaming of a show in sports & leisure centres since visiting one that was about to be demolished. We were excited about the very fact that these buildings are places where everyone ends up at some point in their life – from children learning to swim, to gym buffs, to older people in rehabilitation. When Arts Partnership Surrey put their call out for ‘not for the likes of me’ commission we immediately recognised that their ambitions for the project fit perfectly with our ideas to create a theatre project that would allow people to bump into a show – or the creation of a show – somewhere unexpected.
So, what’s the play about?
At the heart of the play it’s about self-esteem, body image and how that connects to our psyche; as well as human connection. The story itself is modelled on 80s film plots – with lots of references to movies like The Karate Kid, Dirty Dancing and Top Gun – the underdog going on an inner journey to success! We follow a lifeguard who has never saved anyone and a woman in her 50s who is grieving. Their stories intertwine over the 70 minutes via encounters in the changing rooms, the gym, a Jane Fonda-inspired aerobics class and the pool.
Your productions tend to treat the audience as a fly-on-the-wall, so what should people coming to see the show expect?
You get up close-and-personal to the actors in our shows – it’s always exciting to us to create very intimate situations so that you feel like you’re literally in the world of the characters. But as you said, you’re a fly-on-the-wall, so you’re safe in the knowledge that you can be right next to the actor at a very personal moment but you’re a voyeur. Which is a lot of fun!
For this show we have two incredibly talented musicians who lead you on the journey from one space to another – you’re in safe hands with them. We’ve re-interpreted some classic pop hits like Flashdance, Faith and of course Take On Me so as you’re wandering the corridors of the leisure centre you’ll hopefully hear the lyrics and the emotional drive behind these songs in new ways.
You’re not only performing in leisure centres, but also did most of the writing, creating and rehearsing in them; I imagine that’s been great fun, but not without its challenges. How have you found working in such an unconventional space?
It has been a huge challenge. We’ve made shows in working hotels and self-storage buildings before but most of the time that’s meant we’re in spaces to ourselves. Rehearsing this show has meant trying to create it around people working out and having showers. The trickiest things have been trying to create the scenes in changing rooms – the director, Daphna, is female, and one of the musicians in the male changing room scene is a woman. So it was like guerilla theatre-making. I’d jump in, check there were no men and say GO! We’d rehearse for 5 minutes and then a guy would come in and need to get changed so we’d have to leave. Although some guys didn’t mind – we did a whole scene with The Karate Kid popping up and Ellie singing and playing her keytar as an older gent had his shower and got dressed around us. It was brilliant.
Alongside the professional actors, musicians and directors, you’ve also got community cast from Surrey. How did you get different groups involved and how does the piece benefit from having them involved?
Our participation cast are amazing. We ran workshops at all of the partner leisure centres inviting people to learn about the show and the different ways to be involved – a core participation cast rehearsed with us and perform at every venue. We also have different people from each centre in the aerobics scene every week and members of a choir that change weekly as well. We worked with Farnham Maltings’ associate producer Christine Lee to get word out to as many people as possible, popped into Legs, Bums and Tums groups – I ended up doing a Clubercise class in de Stafford Sports Centre (Caterham) having chatted to the ladies about the show.
The show has always been inspired the community aspect of leisure centres – unexpected friendships growing. When we finished our first performance and almost 30 people took a bow together – a choir, some aerobics members we’d only met the day before, and the cast of people who had invested in our crazy idea it really did feel like a celebration of taking a leap into the unknown. It’s what the show is all about.
We’re pleased to announce that theatre company Up In Arms have joined the cohort of artists produced by the team at Farnham Maltings. Up In Arms was founded by the director Alice Hamilton and the writer Barney Norris, who grew up together making theatre in Wiltshire. Their plays have been seen in woods, schools, hospices, village halls and many of the UK’s leading theatres.
On talking about the new collaboration, Barney Norris noted ‘We’re delighted to strike up this new relationship with Farnham Maltings. After years of envying the producing relationship some of the UK’s most exciting theatre companies have enjoyed with this organisation, it’s a coup to be joining their family. This new partnership will give Up In Arms access to networks and expertise that can exponentially develop our work, and ground us in best practice that will help us transition towards a sustainable, thriving business model. We’ve committed ourselves to telling and touring the stories of life on these islands, and finding a way to root ourselves in a region with so many stories to tell and so many audiences to speak to will galvanise our work, onstage and off.’
Up In Arms has featured in Theatre of the Year lists in the Times, the Guardian, the Evening Standard and many others, winning awards and international acclaim for their work. You can learn more about the company by visiting their website.
We are looking to appoint a passionate Assistant Director to support Derek Bond through the rehearsals and premier and regional tour of Jess and Joe Forever by Zoe Cooper. Present for rehearsals, technical performances, press night and the subsequent tour the role of Assistant Director will be to manage the smooth transition of the production for touring, and ensure the quality and energy of each touring performance.
We are looking for directors with some experience and interest in regional touring, who are collaborative, team players, and would benefit from the experience as well as being able to undertake all the duties required. Please apply with a CV and covering letter explaining why assisting Derek on a tour of this scale would be helpful to you at this stage of your career.
Rehearsals begin: Monday 15th August
Production week w/c Monday 5th September
First preview: Thursday 8th September
Press night: Monday 12th September
Run Ends: Saturday 8th October
Tour rehearsals: Monday 10th October
Tour begins: Thursday 13th October
Tour ends: Sunday 6th November
Please note that a specific schedule of dates required will be created in partnership with the appointed Assistant Director.
£2,100 (plus an allowance for travel and accommodation on tour)
Making an application:
Please send your CV (no more than two pages) and a covering letter (no more than one page) by email to Sarah Wilson at email@example.com
Deadline for submissions – 12 noon on Wednesday 3rd August 2016
Interviews – Monday 8th August 2016
The premiere of Jess and Joe Forever will take place at Orange Tree Theatre in a co-production with Farnham Maltings. Jess and Joe Forever was originally commissioned by Old Vic New Voices.
The Iranian Feast, written by Kevin Dyer, closed on 24 April having toured to 30 rural village halls and arts centres up and down the country. The play originally toured in 2013 and was remounted this year due to the feedback from those audiences, promoter demand and its continued relevance of subject matter in today’s world. The Aash-e- Reshte (the delicious, velvety Persian soup served to audience members) is worth a revival alone. A play text of the script has been published and can be purchased online.
We received positive feedback from audiences, who were able to enjoy this unique experience with their neighbours, keeping alive a community spirit:
Following on from the latest A Nation’s Theatre live debate (held here last week), guest writer Thomas Thomasson shares the key points of the discussion in his first blog for Farnham Maltings.
Thomas is a freelance performer, previously working with The Graeae Theatre Company and StopGap Dance Company. He is a newly appointed associate artist for the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. He is currently developing his first play Tent in collaboration with Helen Bendell from StopGap.
‘I liked it but I couldn’t book it’ – an afternoon conversation about the future of contemporary theatre in rural England was held at Farnham Maltings on 03 March, presented by Battersea Arts Centre and the Guardian.
This work may not include radishes (or tractors)
If you were to wake up tomorrow as the producer of a great new rural show: Seven sonnets in six and a half supermarkets (yes, I made the title up), what would you need to consider to ensure that your excellent production continues to be seen? Last week’s conversation held at Farnham Maltings offered a host of valuable questions for producers, directors, artists and promoters alike. These questions all stemmed from a central one:
How can we ensure that the very best theatre is being made and shown across the country?