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Monday, 20 February 2017

Rules and options

I’m on the train on the way home from YOU, THE AUDIENCE at The Royal Exchange in Manchester.

It was a great day of provocations, conversations and performances – thinking out loud about our relationship – as artists, companies, buildings and institutions – with the people who come and see/watch/listen to/participate in the work – people who are often called ‘audience’, though today even that was up for question.

There were some great provocations – which I believe the Royal Exchange will be gathering together/posting at some point. I ran a session called INVITING ANSWERS, about some of the ways we (in Third Angel) have conversations with audiences and participants in order to hear and retell their stories, either in the process of making the shows, or in the performances themselves. I adapted The Chapters Game (which we invented as part of making The Lad Lit Project) into something that, instead of me running in a research or workshop context, a small group can play on their own, with a set of prompt cards. I think it went well – certainly people seemed to enjoy it.

At the end of one of the afternoon break out sessions a thought clarified itself for me, but too late to be able say it. (Though I did get to chat to Andy Smith and Annabel Turpin about it afterwards - both of whom also gave cracking provocations - thanks to both of them for listening to me think out loud). 

There had been some discussion of the rules or etiquette of theatre spaces and buildings, and how they can put people off coming – because they don’t know how they’re meant to behave. (I think this is pretty widely acknowledged now…).

But what if we think of it this way? They’re not The Rules. They’re a set of options that we give to audiences. Every time we create a show, every time the audience come (in) to a performance, we have created a set of options for them. The most common set of options might well be: sit in the dark, watch, listen, engage, think, but don’t verbally of physically join in. They are so common in fact that many people think of them as rules. But they’re not the ‘default option’ – we’ve still decided at some point in the making process (whether we noticed ourselves do it or not) that those were the ‘options’ that we were offering to the audience with this particular show.

So, when we decide on a different set of options (which may include all of those first possibilities, but might also include reading out some text when asked, contributing their own story, moving around the space to give themselves a different view point, making eye contact with performers or other audience members, sitting in a car and lighting the action with their own headlights, getting on a train with the performers…) we have to be sure that we communicate those options to the audience clearly. What they can do, and also whether or not they can “just” sit and watch, too (because as several people said today, some audience members are very happy with that). We might communicate those options on the publicity materials, out in the foyer when they arrive, or in the performance itself – whatever is appropriate.

Because if we do that, perhaps more audience members will be able to turn up to shows, not assuming there will necessarily be seats to sit on and that they will have to sit attentively but quietly in the dark, but wondering what options they will be offered tonight, what the layout will be, what their relationship with the performers will be.

Anyway. A good day. And that’s what I’m thinking about on the train home.

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 R. 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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