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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Birth Plans: Partus and me

I’m really pleased to be able to share this guest blogpost from Stacey Sampson, who we’ve had the pleasure of working with for a few years now, as deviser, performer, writer and facilitator. We talked a while ago about Stacey writing something about her role in making Partus, and the impact the project has had on her. 

Big thanks to Stacey for sending this over. You can find her on Twitter at @OurStace. Partus is on tour at the moment - dates are here.

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When Alex and I first discussed writing this blog we vaguely mentioned it might touch on what being part of this show has meant to me… Snap forward a few months as I actually come to put fingers to keys and that feels like a huge task. This show, sorry to pun so early, is truly Part Us – All those who’ve been involved in the making process have poured their heart into it, sharing the most personal of views and experiences as well as immersing themselves in the views and experiences of all the contributing interviewees and spending many hours trawling articles, research, statistics, reports, images… It was never going to be ‘just an acting job’ but I couldn’t have anticipated what a truly significant impact it would have.

PARTUS rehearsal photos Helena Fletcher 

In 2013 I had just had a baby – My first son Billy – Having put all my eggs in the positive birth, hypnotherapy, natural as a fox in a field basket, I was shocked to end up with an emergency caesarean and a lot of residual health problems after a painful and dramatic labour. Birth wasn’t how I’d imagined it at all. When Billy was a few weeks old a friend posted on Facebook that Derby University was commissioning a nationwide piece of research into traumatic birth. There were various aspects but as part of it they hoped to provide art therapy sessions for a small group of women to see if it might help them process their experiences. I applied and spent 12 weeks in brilliant company surrounded by every art material you could think of – We cut, stuck, sketched, painted and sculpted our way through various prompts and I started to unpick what had happened. During that time Rachael visited us to explain that as another strand of the programme Third Angel would be making a show in response to some of the collected research. We started talking… I’m an actor, based in Sheffield, my own traumatic birth experience and those of the women in my therapy group were fresh in my mind. It seemed like a good fit.

The first incarnation of the show, Labour Intensive, was shown at Derby Theatre in April 2015. By this point I was absolutely hooked on the material. Rachael had already conducted several interviews with mothers, fathers, midwives and consultants – I started to collect stories too. Some informally from friends, others from groups we had specifically targeted like families with multiples and those who’d experienced premature labour and mental health issues around birth. It became a collection of verbatim material interspersed with facts, told by four people of mixed ages. A young boy and girl, a man and a woman (me.) It was only on for one night and we all felt that hadn’t done the subject justice. We were fascinated by the stories and decided to collect more. It felt like there was another show waiting to be shaped from the old – One that viewed birth not just through the trauma lens, but tried to capture the whole crazy miraculous diversity of it.

We went back to the rehearsal room in December 2015 and whilst making this second version of the show I got pregnant again. Birth had been bloody scary the first time around so I felt a real mixed bag of emotions knowing I’d need to go through it again but being in a room completely devoted to that very topic every day helped to balance that out somehow. As part of the extended research I started leading sessions with a group of mothers at the Young Women’s Housing Project - a local organisation which supports and provides accommodation for those at risk of, or with experience of, emotional and/or sexual abuse. The women were incredible and we were privileged to hear their birth stories, many of which they said had never been told. The workshops became the highlight of my week.

A fortnight into our making process, I miscarried. I spent Christmas eve in hospital having a procedure to remove the remains. We had a couple of weeks break over the festive period and came back to rehearsals in January and I felt weirdly serene about it. In opening the conversation about birth with such a variety of people we often heard about experiences of miscarriage too, it was part of the journey for many people. I talked about it openly with friends, and strangers actually. It felt right to do that and it felt okay that it had happened.

On 15th January 2016 we opened the new version of the show – Partus. This time there were songs, balloons, dancing, party poppers and cups of tea punctuating the verbatim stories. It felt more representative of the varied landscape that is birth. It also had some political bite as we all got increasingly angry about the compromises being forced on our maternity services and the impact it’s having on both the staff and the three quarters of a million families relying on it every year. It was an emotional week of shows for us all. A highlight was being hugged into the bosom of my fellow performer Denise as she sang a gospel song, ‘He will take the pain away’ whilst me and Laura cried with a mix of exhaustion and elation. Birth was big and small, universal and personal, messy and tough. But oh so worthwhile.

And the story wasn’t over yet… Partus was set to tour in the spring. Knowing this I conveniently got pregnant with a due date just weeks before we planned to go on the road. This time the pregnancy went okay and, in a funny, lovely, circular twist of fate, my second little boy Sam was born on the 15th January 2017. A year to the day, in fact almost to the minute, after we’d opened Partus in 2016. The show evolved again. We had a new cast member, updated research and more brilliant music from our composer & sound designer Heather. I also had a new birth story to add into the mix. But it wasn’t just a case of my story influencing the show, the show had influenced my birth story. I went into labour with Sam ten days late. He was back to back so there was more pain, a failed induction and an emergency C-Section – Not dissimilar to last time. But after three years of soaking up the complexity and unpredictability of birth I had a completely different mindset. Last time I’d come out battered and bruised, physically and mentally. This time, I felt acceptance about how things played out. Last time I couldn’t even hold my baby because I was in too much distress. This time, they placed Sam on my chest the moment he was born. Last time, I was knocked for six by the vast gap between my expectations and reality. This time, I knew the only thing you can be sure of is that you can’t be sure of anything.

Partus has bookended my experience of childbirth and it has revolutionised my approach to and understanding of it. For that reason, I knew I had to be part of the tour, even though my baby arrived only three weeks before rehearsal started. So, here I am…on my way to our next show. Sam is with me. He came into rehearsals every day too. In fact, during our opening shows in Stockton, I actually breastfed him during the play. There’s a lot of debate around how to support women in the arts to create whilst raising a family – I’d say just ask Third Angel. The whole company have made it seem like a walk in the park for me to be here with a new born. I’m very grateful. Not only for that but for giving me one of the richest, most profound experiences of my life. In the past three years I’ve made three things I’m very proud of – Two little boys and this show. 


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Third Angel 2017

We have a really exciting 2017 coming up, and I’m pleased to be able to announce some of the projects we’re doing here. Read on to see what we’re doing in the first half of the year.

PARTUS on tour
We’re currently back in the rehearsal room, revising and updating Partus. Updating because after a year’s break it’s normal to reflect on a show and rework it, but also because the personal circumstances of the team, and our relationship to the material, has of course changed. Check out the new trailer:

Partus is inspired by the everyday-amazing stories we’ve heard about people’s experiences of birth: mums, dads, midwives, obstetricians. The audience response in Sheffield last year was incredibly moving, so we are really looking forward to taking it out on the road again. 

Brilliant – best theatre I’ve been to. •  I chose to come to the baby-friendly performance which added an amazing atmosphere •  Wonderful. A must see. • Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!  I love that you talk about women’s stories, that they matter.

We open at ARC, Stockton before heading to Prema in Uley, South Street in Reading, Colchester Arts Centre and Barnsley Civic. (All our tour dates are on the new Calendar page). In all venues we are doing daytime and/or baby friendly performances. These were such a success when we did them as part of the Sheffield run, so we’re really looking forward to running them again.

Partus is touring again in autumn 2017 - get in touch if you’d like to book it!

600 PEOPLE on tour
We’re back out on the road with 600 People, our simple show about big ideas. “A love letter to the wonders of the Universe” said The List.

600 People. Photo by Ed Collier.

We’re at The ShowRoom in Chichester next (9 March), and then at MAC in Birmingham on 29 April.

Wish I had come yesterday so I could come again tonight and see it twice Absolutely incredible. Fascinating. Mind blowing. Emotional. Pure talent and fantastically performed. Can’t even contain its effect in the words! Thank you. A brilliant show. Awe inspiring and mind blowing. I loved it!

600 People is touring throughout 2017 and into 2018 - do get in touch if you’d like to book it!

FUTURE MAKERS
We’re already running year one of Future Makers our new free workshops for 14-19 years olds, introducing them to routes into the theatre and film industries. This week we have workshops in Stage Design & Art Direction and Adventures in Sound, with more to come at Easter and spring half term. All the information is here.

MENTORING
We will be running the Third Angel Mentoring Scheme again in 2017. The call for applications will go out in March or April - check back here and/or follow us on Twitter/Facebook for the fastest news.

In the meantime, many of our current and recent TAMS mentees are out on the road at in the coming months. Do check them out:

Yolanda Mercy
Luca Rutherford
Chella Quint
Joely Fielding
Jack Dean
John Wilkinson
Louisa Claughton
Charlotte Blackburn & Tim Norwood
Pauline Mayers

FESTIVALS
Inspiration Exchange will be part of the fantastic looking ReRooted Weekend in Hull on 25 March, and we’re also in the process of confirming visits to a couple of other great festivals with new durational work - to be announced very soon!


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

That was 2016 - an anniversary year

Partus
Partus. Photo by Helena Fletcher.

This was meant to be our New Year’s Eve post, but for various reasons, that didn’t happen. But here we are.

Usually for New Year’s Eve we post something from the previous year - a bit of text created for a show, an out-take or an extra, as it were. But 2016 has been so busy, it feels more appropriate to look at it all - or most of it, anyway - and say, well, that was a good year. An annual review, if you like. An annual review of a year that was a two decade review.

We started the year opening PARTUS with a week’s run at The Crucible Studio in Sheffield. We tried out baby and breast-feeding friendly audiences for the first time, which were a great success, over 30 and 50 babies at the two daytime performances.

Partus

Partus. Photo by Helena Fletcher.

Sheffield blogger Katie Hilton wrote:
“Partus is about births. Funny ones (and it really was funny in places), scary ones, multiple ones, sad ones, young ones, and exhausting ones but all of them real ones. It was born out of a research project and included real life experiences of mums, dads, doulas and midwives. I have no idea how you would begin to decide which stories to highlight out of the hundreds they heard but Third Angel chose well, I think, setting the balance of humour and emotion.”

And other audience members wrote:

Brilliant – best theatre I’ve been to. •  I chose to come to the baby-friendly performance which added an amazing atmosphere •  Wonderful. A must see. • Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!  I love that you talk about women’s stories, that they matter.

Alongside making the show, and feeding in to it, we ran The Young Mums Project, in collaboration with the brilliant, and important, Young Women’s Housing Project.

Partus is on tour in spring 2017 - check the tour calendar for dates. If you’d like to book Partus for the autumn, do get in touch.

2016 was our 21st Anniversary year - which actually kicked off in October 2015 with a revival of PRESUMPTION, performed by Lucy Ellinson and Chris Thorpe - who toured the show from 2007 to 2010 (I wrote about that here.) In February 2016, we revisited Presumption again, with performances at Northern Stage, this time with Rachael performing the show for the first time since 2006. (And I wrote about that, here.)

Rachael in Presumption 2016. Photo by Martin Fuller.

Rachael in Presumption 2016. Photo by Martin Fuller.

It was a joy to return to again. We had made a deliberate decision that reviving Presumption for the 20th Anniversary would be a remount of the existing show (we have thoughts about re-interpretations of a couple of other early shows), and in rehearsal we talked quite a lot about a couple of lines that we wouldn’t have written now. We did make one or two tweaks, and of course some later sections are partly improvised. But this is a couple who live together but who appear not to have mobile phones… in the light of that, Megan Vaughan wrote a really interesting response to the piece, here.

Shortly after that, we were back out on the road with 6OO PEOPLE, which we were lucky enough to tour to a host of brilliant Festivals: Castaway in Goole, Pulse in Ipswich, The NRTS Showcase in Falmouth, the Edinburgh Fringe with Northern Stage at Summerhall, Greenbelt Festival, Festival of the Mind and Off The Shelf in Sheffield (in a Spiegeltent and the Crucible Studio, respectively), Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival and the Sidewalks Festival in Beirut. Amidst a tour of brilliant gigs, the first night at Sidewalks stands out as one of my favourite performances ever.

600 People at Crucible Studio

Audiences have been brilliant for 600 People, and I’ve had some fascinating conversations after performances. We also had the show Peer Reviewed, by research scientist Dr Nathan Adams, who said that the show’s explanation of CRISPR (*happy science geek klaxon*) was “almost perfect” - and reminded me of the precise detail needed to improve it. He concluded: “Overall a wonderful piece of work.”

In May we brought two well toured pieces back to Sheffield for the beautiful WROUGHT Festival. We had two lovely gigs of CAPE WRATH:


And it was great to bring INSPIRATION EXCHANGE home to Sheffield (as it was created for a workshop at The Showroom in 2010) for presentations at both Wrought and at the first Hillsfest in the summer.Inspiration Exchange

Inspiration Exchange. Photo by Joseph Priestly.

Throughout the year we’ve been running TAMS - the Third Angel Mentoring Scheme - through which it has been a pleasure to support:

Yolanda Mercy
Luca Rutherford
Chella Quint
Joely Fielding
Jack Dean
John Wilkinson
Louisa Claughton
Charlotte Blackburn & Tim Norwood
and Pauline Mayers

Through Theatre Delicatessen’s great Departure Point scheme we also got to support: 

Tribe Arts
The52
Buglight Theatre
My Big Phat Writers Group
The Travelling Shadow Theatre

We also got to start or carry on mentoring conversations with:

Action Hero
Flickbook Theatre
Daniel Bye
Paige Stillwell
Ellie Harrison
Holly Gallagher

and Hannah Nicklin, who was on tour with EQUATIONS FOR A MOVING BODY, made in collaboration with me, including a three week run at the Edinburgh Fringe - again with Northern Stage at Summerhall. There were loads of really lovely responses to the show online and in person (it made the BBC sports pages), but this from Rosie Curtis was probably my favourite.

Equations For A Moving Body. Photo by Niall Coffey.

Hannah Nicklin’s Equations For A Moving Body. Photo by Niall Coffey.

We’ve had a long relationship with brilliant theatre maker and friend of the company, Michael Pinchbeck, and this year that was more apparent than ever. Rachael was a guest performer in Michael’s show The man who flew into space from his apartment at Wrought, and then also worked as a dramaturg, with Ollie Smith, on Michael’s new show Concerto (touring this year). 

Concerto by Michael Pinchbeck.

Concerto by Michael Pinchbeck.

Back in Sheffield in October we realised the long held ambition to make the full version of THE DESIRE PATHS. Originally conceived for Northern Stage’s Make. Do. And Mend. event in Edinburgh 2013, The Desire Paths was created in full for Sheffield’s Year of Making, October 2016. 

The Desire Paths, Sheffield. Photo by Joseph Priestly.

The Desire Paths, Sheffield. Photo by Joseph Priestly.

We chalked out the city centre street map from the Sheffield A-Z, and asked the public to rename the streets - not after some past event, but to commemorate a hope or a dream for the future: personal or political, serious or lighthearted. We heard so many stories, of first jobs, chance meetings, lost loves. A moving, brilliant day, and a chance to work with some regular collaborators, and some who we’ve been wanting to work with for a long time.

We’re currently compiling and editing all of the documentation of the day, and that will all go up on this site soon. In the meantime, if you’d like us to come and remake The Desire Paths for your town or city, do get in touch.

In the autumn we also launched FUTURE MAKERS, our new free workshops for 14-19 years olds, introducing them to routes into the theatre and film industries. The project carries on in school holidays in 2017 - all the information is here.



Our good friends at mala voadora invited us back to Porto for the second incarnation of Uma Famillia Inglessa. When we first met Jorge in in Lisbon in 2004, we were making the show that would become THE LAD LIT PROJECT. So if felt fitting to revisit and revive that show, to present with them, in their amazing space in Porto.


I’ve been performing The Lad Lit Project for 12 years now (though this performance ended a three year hiatus). I was worried that it would feel dated, but in the end, the only section that needed an ‘update’ is the Friends Map, which is much more complicated than it was in 2005, due to social media and being a parent.

In November 2016, to close our anniversary year, Leeds Beckett University and Compass Festival of Live Art hosted the symposium WHERE FROM HERE: 21 Years of Third Angel, convened by Alex, Michael Pinchbeck, Oliver Bray and Hannah Nicklin. Third Angel artists were joined by other friends, colleagues, artists and academics from around the country, who gave performances, papers and presentations either directly about our work, or their own work which explores a similar territory, or, most often, a combination of the two.


The (free) event was sold out, and it was great to present it in collaboration with long time partners Compass and Leeds Beckett University. We’ll be putting documentation of many of the talks and performances up online in the near future. As well as ‘our own’ symposium this year, we also presented papers about our work at the TaPRA Interim event, Training To Give Evidence, at Northumbria University (‘Telling Other People’s Stories’), and at the Staging Loss symposium at the University of Lincoln (‘Cheers Grandad!: Third Angel’s The Lad Lit Project and Cape Wrath as Acts of Remembrance’).

Where From Here was also the first public screening of THE SMALL CELEBRATIONS, a series of five short films - one by us, the other four commissioned from artists who we have mentored in some capacity over the last few years. After a second public screening at The Showroom/Workstation in Sheffield (where Third Angel was born in 1995), we put all of the films on line. You can watch them all for free:

Action Hero: THE THIRD ANGEL ANNEXE:


Hannah Butterfield: OENOMEL


Massive Owl: THE DOLPHIN HOTEL

RashDash: THERE WERE GODDESSES


And from us, POPCORN, made with long-time collaborator Christopher Hall:


Mixed in with all that there was of course more education work, and research and development on five or more other shows and projects. About some of which, more soon.

So that was 2016. Thanks for joining us for some of it.

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