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Tuesday, 1 October 2019

THERE’S A ROOM Book Launch

This month, which marks the 24th anniversary of our first performance, Testcard, we are delighted to be publishing There’s A Room: Three Performance Texts by Third Angel with the brilliant folk at Oberon Books.

Early on in our career we talked more about writing down than about writing. The durational and installation works were represented as lists of instructions – if they were written down at all. Texts for the theatre pieces were assembled from improvisations, transcriptions of film dialogue found texts and conversations with audiences. We didn’t really think of them as scripts, or about other people performing them.

That probably changed with Where From Here, which we made with Jerry Killick in 2000. We’ve talked in the past about this show being a ‘coming of age’ show for Third Angel, and certainly it toured more extensively than anything we had made before. Several times in the touring life of the show Alex stepped in for Jerry when he wasn’t available. Even though the show was made and presented using a substantial amount of autobiographical improvisation, we found that Alex borrowed most of Jerry’s material and only added his own material in the final scene. At some point there was a conversation about other people performing it, and after the touring was finished, Rachael and Jerry wrote down their improvised sections (the rooms and the stories in them, if you know the show) and we added in the written speeches and made a script. There were a couple of conversations about publishing it, but it never quite happened.

Since then writing has become a more deliberate aspect of our process, and even in the more devised shows, printed scripts/texts are created for dramaturgical and technical purposes – for cueing the shows and for surtitling international gigs.

From the Introduction: There’s A Room
“Who’s in the room?” This is the question we ask ourselves about each project. It means, who is making this show? Who is in the room in which the work is getting made? Whose voices, whose expertise, whose experience is being brought together to tell this story with us?

When we started talking to Oberon about publishing some of the shows, a couple of years ago, we realised that a ‘complete works’ volume was not financially viable, and that we had to make a first choice of what we want to publish in this collection. We were interested in collecting shows that were created through exploratory, collaborative devising processes, and had resulted in scripts that could be performed by other artists and companies. With that in mind it was clear that the other two texts should be Presumption, made with Chris Thorpe, and What I Heard About the World, made with Chris and our Portuguese friends at mala voadora. These are the shows that have either been performed by another company (Presumption, The ECC, Brussels, 2012/13) or people have asked about the performance rights.

So we’ve gone back to the touring scripts, updated whilst on the road as the shows evolved, and added in some stage directions on top of the Stage Management notes, expanded some of our performer short-hand to make a few things clearer. We’ve written new introductory essays to explain the devising process of each show, and some more background about the company. We’re looking forward to it being out in the world.

The title of this collection also refers to the situation of each show, and the concerns of the work. Each takes place in a particular room – in which the audience are acknowledged to a greater or lesser extent. In each piece the lives of the people in the room together are affected by events in the world beyond its walls. Events they have taken part in, events they have heard about, events they have imagined. Taken chronologically, the three shows turn their attention outward, from the intensity of personal relationships and our domestic lives, to the overwhelming number of stories and events taking place in the world beyond.

We’re launching the book on 14th October 2019 at the Off The Shelf Festival in Sheffield, at 7pm, at Sheffield Hallam University’s Performance Lab on Arundel Gate. Rachael and Alex will be in conversation with writer and critic Lyn Gardner*, and we’ll be reading a few selections from each show. We’d love you to join us – tickets are available here.

After the launch There’s A Room will be available to buy from Oberon Books or directly from us.


Thanks to everyone at Oberon for pulling this together. Cover design above by Konstantinos Vasdekis. Photograph of Rachael Walton in Where From Here by Rob Hardy. Publication supported by Leeds Beckett University.

*Update: we’re sorry to learn that Lyn has had to clear her diary to deal with a family emergency. Chris Thorpe was scheduled to be with us for the event anyway, and will now help lead discussions. We wish Lyn the very best and thank Chris for stepping up. 

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Help us do more, for more people!

After a long and rigorous application process, we are over the moon that Third Angel is now formally recognised as a charity, and this opens up lots of new ways for people to support our work.

Inherited Cities. Photographer Joseph Priestley

During 2019-20, we are aiming to raise £16,000 from individual donations, grants and sponsorship to ensure that we can deliver our full programme of activity.

These funds will mean that we are able to:

·       Make time to research and develop new shows;

·       Explore new ways for people to experience theatre, especially for those who can’t get out and about;

·       Encourage young people aged 14-19 to find their voice and raise their aspirations by getting involved in the arts (Future Makers) and gaining qualifications outside of school (Arts Award);

·       Make development opportunities for artists / companies accessible to all by paying artists for their time and offering free training (BOOST);

·       Nurture diversity in the arts and encourage a wider range of voices to be heard.

Can you help us to achieve our goal?

There are a number of ways in which you can support Third Angel’s work:

The Desire Paths. Photo Craig Malone

DONATE! Make a donation through Wonderful. The wonderful thing about Wonderful is that they pass on EVERY penny that you donate, plus 100% of the Gift Aid, direct to us, no fees or charges.

SHOP! Raise money for Third Angel when you do your online shopping without spending an extra penny:

o   Easyfundraising gathers donations for Third Angel from over 3,600 online retailers when you shop with them.

o   Nominate Third Angel as your favourite charity on eBay and you can donate at checkout or nominate us to receive a donation when you sell an item.

CONNECT! Do you have contacts in local or national businesses that might be interested in supporting our work or sponsoring our Future Makers programme of workshops for 14-19 year olds? Connect us up!

And most importantly of all, SPREAD THE WORD! If you know someone who has been touched by Third Angel’s work, has received support from our team or has benefitted from our programmes, please pass this on.

Future Makers Behind The Camera workshop 2019

Every penny we receive will help us to continue to create and tour high quality artistic work, and help others to achieve their potential and broaden horizons through participation in the arts.

Thank you!


General Manager

Tuesday, 6 August 2019


We are delighted to be able to announce the artists and companies we will be mentoring through this year’s BOOST Your Artistic Practice scheme, in collaboration with Sheffield Theatres.

As ever, it was incredibly difficult to choose which artists and projects to select, and we could have happily supported far more than the four we have chosen. Thank you to everyone who applied - it is inspiring to hear about so many exciting projects in development.

We’re really excited to start working with this year’s Mentees:


gobscure’s squarepegs into roundholes. © 2018 chris bishop

we will work with gobscure to develop their new show provoked to madness by the brutality of wealth weaving live-art and text-art into playful creative resistances that are urgent, but will also hope to offer a hard-won hopefulness, too.

Emergency Chorus

Emergency Chorus. Photo: The Other Richard.

We will support Emergency Chorus to play, experiment and generate material towards their new show, Something in Your Voice, working with an expanded group of deviser performers.

The Six Twenty

The Six Twenty: BUSY

The endless hurrying between meetings. Racing for trains. Not enough time for lunch. And somehow getting the kids out the door with only seconds to spare… The Six Twenty will spend a week with us exploring why we are all so BUSY for their new immersive and interactive show.

Tommi Bryson

Tommi Bryson performing at Queer Scratch Night at The Cellar Theatre (photo courtesy of The Cellar theatre)

We will work with performer and composer Tommi Bryson to develop a full length version of her solo, Disney-inspired musical, A Princess Could Work.

Big thanks to Sheffield Theatres for supporting the scheme and to Umar Butt and Ruby Clarke for their help with the very difficult task of selecting these exciting artists and companies. We’ll be working with them in the Crucible and Lyceum Theatre Rehearsal Rooms between September 2019 and February 2020. We’re really looking forward to getting started.

I set up the Inspiration Exchange at Derby Theatre and In Good Company’s Departure Lounge festival, with our friends at S.H.E.D. The SHED was set up outside in ‘Derbados’, behind the theatre itself, near the entrance to the Studio.

We varied the format for this run of the Exchange, and people could book in to half-hour slots, as well as just dropping in, with the plan for me to do five of these 30 minute cycles, with a 15 minute Story Of The Day summing-up performance at the end.

We set up the table with ten official, book-able chairs for audience members, plus another layer of SHED-provided tyre-stools and benches. This meant the Exchange ran more as a show for a small audience, rather than as a one-to-one as it sometimes does, and this felt entirely right for the day.

We even had some intro music.

Although it was only a short Exchange, it was one of the busiest and we swapped some great stories. My initial temptation was just to write up all of the stories I was told in as much detail as I can remember and post them here as the Story of the Day.

But that’s not the deal. 

I know from experience that some people tell a particular story in the Inspiration Exchange because it is not recorded – because it is oral history. It is conversation. They tell the story to me, and other audience members, knowing it might get re-told that day or another day. But that is different to putting a full written version online. So when I’ve done that previously I’ve tried to check with the story-sharers that that’s okay.

Occasionally people ask me what I’m going to do with all the stories collected – will there be a publication…? I understand this question – many of our projects have collected stories towards a ‘final’ show. But for me the Inspiration Exchange is a growing collection of stories that are re-told in conversation. At the same time, I like there to be a trace, a record of each day, an acknowledgement of the generosity of the people who shared stories with me. So, here is an attempt to strike a balance.

This first swap seemed to establish one of the themes for the day – looking back at chapters of our lives, realising that something good can come from not always great experiences. In this case, a disastrous outdoor dance performance, cancelled at the last minute, meant that two of the audience of 700 who were sent away, went back to their hotel room and made a baby!

Also, however stressful it was at the time, in the immediate aftermath of the cancellation, a friend of one of the organisers pointed out to him that eventually it would be a good story to tell: “One day you’ll write a blogpost about this.” 

Continuing the chapters theme,
A story about a new job and a new chapter. And about definitions. 

A new chapter deserves a new car. A silver VW Golf GTTDI Red Eye. A great car, by all accounts. But the job? Not so great. 70 hour weeks, hard work. After three years it was time to move on again, start a new chapter, sell the Golf, buy a Camper Van, hit the road.

Selling the Golf was more drawn out than expected, and culminated with the Golf and the would-be buyer’s beat up Honda Civic lined up on a stretch of disused road ready for an an illegal race – sorry, a ‘test to see which was fastest’.

A story of discovery. Sometimes your travel agents aren’t quite as Shit At Travel Arrangements as they appear. Sometimes it might be the lack of a forwarding address that means your tickets haven’t arrived.

But sometimes, lying on the floor and crying means they will let you on the plane. In fact, this is so effective, you might use it more than once.

A story that begins with the end of another chapter, and introduced a run of stories about parents.

A Dad passes away leaving a Mum, a Brother and a Sister. Mum decides that she will try to find the positive in this, try to treat it as a new beginning. She will start doing some things she has never done before. 

She takes the children travelling around Vietnam. Whilst on this trip, the Brother and Sister, young adults, both notice a shift. They both notice themselves becoming the parents, their Mum becoming the child.

They get home from Vietnam. Life carries on. Mum continues to try new things.

Because of his work, the Brother is used to being asked about the effects of psychedelic substances on the brain. What actually happens physiologically when you take X? What would happen if you took Y and Z at the same time? But he is still surprised when he gets a message from Mum asking how she would go about taking ecstasy?

He acquires some for her, and she and a friend give it a try. They have a great time. This becomes Mum’s thing. Taking the occasional e with friends.

Recently to the telling of this story, the Mum, Brother and Sister all went to see a concert by The Jacksons, one of Dad’s favourite bands. Dad’s name was Mahtab, which means ‘moonlight’, or ‘full moon’. The Jacksons concert was outdoors, on the night of a full moon. The Mum, the Brother, the Sister all took an e, and they danced to Dad’s favourite music beneath the full moon, and it was joyous.

But L. needed a bit longer to think about it before she gave me a story back.

The weird experience of getting to the pub at 7am in order to watch England play in the Rugby World Cup, taking place on the other side of the world.

The tension when it was still a draw after 80 minutes.

The feeling when Johnny Wilkinson scored that drop kick in the final moments.

L. decided to tell me one of her Dad’s stories. 

A bunch of lads doing up a rural shed*. An old one, big enough to fit a few bunk beds in. Some laddish pranks involving A Spider As Big As A Fist**. But the prank backfires slightly when the lads realise they have lost track of the enormous spider, and so have to retreat to the pub.

*Back in the 70s it was not unknown to ask a farmer if you could build a shed in the corner of one of their fields, to use as a base for your outdoor activities – trekking, rambling, scouting and so on.

**L. admits that her Dad may have exaggerated this detail.

A story in the wrong time. Spooky noises from the attic, a mystery unsolved. But it doesn’t happen at night, having just moved in to the house, it happens in the middle of the afternoon, two years later.

In the Exchange we talk about the things you say in these weird situations, when you are (almost definitely) alone, but call out to people who (almost definitely) aren’t there. 

A story of surprising generosity, set in the almost mythical New York of the mid-1990s. The Bronx. Queens. Harlem. Central Park. Lexington Avenue. A story that includes lessons on the need to ‘look hard’ and how we can mis-judge the times we need to do that.

On the day that the only non-American team taking part in the ‘World Series, the Toronto Bluejays, had indeed won the ‘World’ Series, two Brits win a lot of money from their new American friends at a Poker Party.

Unsure how they’re going to get home after the trains have stopped – a stranger offers them his car. More adventures lost in night-time New York… but eventually they get home safe. Drop the car off, leave the keys, never see their benefactor again.

A story about a Mum swapped for a story about a Dad, and about a Mum.

A skiing accident leaves S.’s Dad more accident prone and clumsy. A second visit to the hospital back home reveals that he had been having a slow brain haemorrhage since the accident.

The hospital kept him in, and what S. now knows, but didn’t at the time, was that the hospital told her Mum that her Dad wouldn’t make it. Her Mum protected her from this.

They waited. And the hospital were wrong. Her Dad made it. And he came round as a new person, with a new perspective on what was important. “S.,” he would say, “you do you.” And if she was ever having boy trouble, for example, his advice would be, “Just get rid.” Be yourself, he seemed to understand now, and don’t waste time on stuff that causes you stress.

I swapped YOU DO YOU
A story about being in a bad situation. A situation where you are under-trained, and under-prepared. Where you don’t know what the ‘correct’ thing to do is, and you have to make an instinctive choice of what action to take. A story about choosing to help.

A story of how making a good choice in a bad situation can stay with you and how you can continue to learn from that choice and that experience, years later.

I swapped FULL MOON
A story with its own special dance.

The story of a 10th birthday adventure, out on bikes at night, speeding along winding country lanes. Fun-scary. The thrill of your Mum and Dad not knowing – everyone told their parents they were going to someone else’s house. And at the top of the hill, a lovely view.

Yes, you get caught. Yes, everyone is in trouble. Yes, your Mum is furious. But, bundled into the car on the way home you realise: if there’s something you really want to do, if you’re clever enough, you can find a way of doing it.

Years ago now. Talking to a friend, a few months after the events in question, you both realise that you wore very similar tops on the nights you lost your virginity. Tops that you had thought about, had chosen specially. But the boys didn’t seem very interested in those tops. They just wanted to get them off.

A revenge ritual is decided upon. You take the tops out with you, and go to the houses that each boy lives in with their parents. You hang the tops on their garden gates, entwined with the bars, arms outstretched. Making them see the tops.

What, you wonder later, did their parents think?

A pub crawl around Liverpool with your Mum. In the Cavern Club she volunteers to sing Let It Be onstage. It isn’t good. In fact, it’s bad.

But it’s the first time you realise that she is brave, she has courage. She wanted to get up and sing - so she did.

And this moment changes her, too. She quits her job as a Carer and becomes a Hairdresser, like she’s always wanted to do. She’s still doing it. You get her some business cards made for her birthday.

At the end of the afternoon, during the Story of the Day performance, I ran out of time. So I didn’t get to tell the last five stories. But I did show everyone the I’m Still Standing dance.

Thanks to everyone at Derby Theatre, In Good Company and the S.H.E.D. team for their support, and of course special thanks to the brilliant audiences and story-tellers - here’s hoping I got the balance right.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Mechanisms for Storytelling

This month I’m taking the Inspiration Exchange to Derby, to be part of the brilliant Departure Lounge, in the pretty amazing looking S.H.E.D. I’m already thinking about what stories I might select to tell on the day, and looking forward to discovering what stories I will be told in return. One of the things I love about Inspiration Exchange is that usually people do not know what story they are going to tell in advance. They choose in the moment, and often I have the privilege of watching people remember the story as they tell it.

[If you’re coming to Departure Lounge, you can book a slot for Inspiration Exchange, or just drop in on the day – details here, and, er, later in this blogpost.]

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the third annual conference of the Memory Studies Association in Madrid, through my role at Leeds Beckett University. The conference was probably the biggest I’ve been to, with over 1,500 delegates – demonstrating how interest in the field of Memory Studies has grown massively in recent years.

I was there to run a workshop that I called Mechanisms For Remembering, as part of the Performance & Memory Working Group, and to attend other panels and sessions. It was really interesting to be at a conference that was not primarily concerned with performance, and I got to hear papers about research into how memory works for live translators, how humans ‘attach’ memories to objects and the distinctions between individual and societal memory and the political implications of this – which inevitably made me think about what The Department of Distractions are up to. 

Of course there was a lot about story-telling, too. Indeed, the overriding thought I came away with was about how human beings/societies spend a lot of time, energy and intellect just trying to understand what we have done/built… but our knowledge of what we’ve done - the civilisations and societies and cultures we have constructed – our knowledge is all from imperfect and contradictory memories. Which might make it sound like the conference was rather bleak, but it didn’t feel like it. It was a few days of really interesting conversations and connections. 

In my workshop I ran two exercises that might be familiar to you if you’ve been taught by Rachael or I over the last few years: ‘Eyes-closed Room Drawing’ which we developed to make both Senseless and Where From Here, and ‘The Chapters Game’ which was the main making-engine for The Lad Lit Project. Sometimes it feels like you have exactly the right people in a workshop and this was one of those occasions – with everyone picking up the prompts of the exercises in their own way and the conversations flowing. 

Whilst running the session, I was reminded how creating workshop exercises is very similar to devising and creating shows. Through repeated delivery of exercises/games, I find that I hone the way I phrase the instructions, refine what order to give the participants the information they need, at what point I hand the game over to them. Many exercises have specific phrases I always use, or stories that always accompany them, as I have discovered that these help people to understand the invitation of the game – or where the material it generates might go in terms of telling a story or making a show. 

In Third Angel’s interactive/conversational work, the distinction between performance or workshop exercise can often feel blurred. This is partly because when we’re making a new show we will often come up with new games to help us generate stories/material for it – and then we take those exercises out of the rehearsal room and into public contexts. I’ve said/written before that in these projects what we’re usually trying to find is a mechanism that will allow people (participants and/or performers) to discover that there is a story they would like to tell, in that moment. These devising exercises aim to give people prompts to remember a story that they want to tell, and then to give them a format to fit the story into (if they like): following the rules of the game, telling the story in a prescribed way - just answering the question - takes the pressure off having to ‘make it good’ or ‘interesting’. And, apart from the very rare exception, people always find that they do have (at least one) interesting story to tell.

Inspiration Exchange worked the opposite way round. It was originally devised as a workshop exercise for a Café Scientifique event about where ideas come from. The brief was to come up with an activity that people could drop in on, rather than having to attend an hour long session. Since that first incarnation, different versions of the Inspiration Exchange have been presented across the UK and internationally – usually as a show, but sometimes as a sharing mechanism for artists/companies. But the essential exchange is always the same. We have a collection of story titles – stories of things, people, ideas, events, that have inspired someone. You choose a story title that you like the sound of, and then after hearing it, you offer a story back to the Exchange to swap in.

As mentioned earlier, and in keeping with the evolving nature of the project, we’re varying the format slightly at Departure Lounge. Firstly the Exchange will be part of the programme in The S.H.E.D. – an innovative new multi-purpose mobile arts and performance space led by our friend and collaborator Rhiannon Jones of In Dialogue. (The S.H.E.D. will also host Jake Bowen’s remarkable Plea Bargain the next day – a must see).

Secondly, you can book a slot in to Inspiration Exchange in advance. The show is free to Festival-pass-holders, and you can book in to a particular half hour slot when you get your pass, or you can just drop in on the day. Hopefully this will even the audience out across the duration of the Exchange (sometimes the first hour can be a bit quiet). If you’re going to be at Departure Lounge, I hope you can drop in.


Thanks to Kirsty Surgey for letting me photograph her room drawing.

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