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In March 2020, in the middle of the tour of The Department of Distractions, we took what at the time seemed like a difficult decision to cancel the rest of the performances for that month. Difficult because cancelling shows is the opposite of what we exist for, and The Department of Distractions feels to us like a timely show that we are really proud of, and which has been connecting strongly with audiences in each venue it has travelled to.

But it felt wrong to put our cast in the position where they were going to have to continue to travel long distances on public transport, and we felt a social responsibility not to encourage people to gather in a theatre. So we made the decision, even though we were gutted that the show would not get to meet audiences in Manchester, Edinburgh and Cambridge. We’re sorry if you were hoping to see the show in one of those cities. It’s not the same of course, but the script is available here.

Sadly we also had to cancel the last two workshops of Future Makers ’20, which had been going brilliantly at Theatre Deli and Sheffield Hallam Uni in the previous weeks. After making these decisions, though, it became clear that much of the rest of our industry was thinking along similar lines, and very quickly more seasons and tours were being cancelled or postponed.

After making these announcements, we gathered all of our free-to-watch video work together in our Film Room, to make it easier for our audiences to access. We’ve also started getting these projects captioned – we’ll be adding more soon.

Since then we have also had to cancel the remaining performances of 600 People in May and October, and cancel the next planned outings of The Desire Paths in Rotherham and Bedford this summer and autumn. We hope that many of these gigs will be rescheduled for next year. We have paused work on the next touring show for theatres, originally planned for early 2021.

We’ve been taking stock, and planning for the immediate future. Our priorities for the rest of 2020 are:

  • to ensure that the company survives, and is able to continue to create artistic and participation projects in the future.
  • to support the emotional and physical welfare of our staff and their families.
  • taking the opportunities for learning.
  • supporting freelance artists and the wider Third Angel family.
  • planning activity in response to the new cultural and social landscape.

As a company fortunate enough to be in Arts Council England’s National Portfolio, and eligible for the government’s furlough scheme, we will be able to survive the year. By furloughing all salaried staff, at different times, during the spring and summer, we will be able to ensure that we have the resources to employ some of our freelance team on new projects in the autumn and at the start of 2021.

After some re-working, we are very pleased to still be running Arts Award, in collaboration with Growtheatre and Stacey Sampson.

We’re heavily involved in Making Room with other Sheffield companies, with the aim of supporting the wider community of Sheffield artists and freelancers.

Over the next few months the company will be fairly quiet, with only one or two of us at work most of the time. We’ll be back ready for new projects in autumn 2020 and spring 2021, and also thinking longer term about what performance and theatre can do to help in a post-Covid-19 world.

We’ll keep you posted on our plans here.

Thanks for reading, stay safe,

The Third Angel Team

Friday, 5 June 2020

Black Lives Matter

We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We are shocked and saddened by the violence against Black people that is prevalent in the UK, the USA, and across the world. We recognise that racism is systemic in our world, and white privilege is embedded in our sector and our society.

We hope that we use our platform to support Black artists through mentoring and collaboration. We have been fortunate to benefit and learn from their talent and creativity over many years. We recognise, too, that we can learn more and do more. We pledge to continue to support and employ Black and Brown artists and to amplify their voices.

This week there have been many excellent lists published of anti-racist resources to help educate ourselves, books by Black and Brown authors and links to support funds to contribute to. Here are just two of them:

Ibrahim X. Kendi in The New York Times

Sheffield Creative Guild

We are a theatre company. We encourage you to engage with the work of Black and Brown theatre makers, to listen to their stories. These are just a few of the artists and companies making important, moving and thrilling work:

Selina Thompson

Jamal Harewood

Yolanda Mercy

Pauline Mayers

Umar Butt

Nadia Emam

Utopia Theatre

Jamal Gerald

Zodwa Nyoni

Eclipse Theatre

Inua Ellams

Testament

Season Butler

Nouveau Riche

John Rwothomack

Tribe Arts

Although there is no live performance happening in theatres at the moment, many of these artists and companies have work to watch online, plays and books to buy and read, and other ways of supporting them on their websites.

Third Angel

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Staging The Wreckage

Chris Thorpe and I have a new article in the journal Performance Research: Staging The Wreckage. It’s a lovely volume, and includes contributions from friends and colleagues including Rhiannon Jones, Michael Pinchbeck and Bridget Escolme. Edited by Gianna Bouchard and Patrick Duggan, the volume explores ways of, and reasons for, staging different forms of wreckage.


As soon as I saw the call for contributions, I knew I wanted to submit something about Parts For Machines That Do Things, our 2008 show about air-crash investigation.

Chris and I had an email conversation about the fragmentary making process of the show, and then I assembled the six pages as a collage of model plane parts, our email conversation and extracts of Chris’ text for the show. The final version is published as “A Piece Of Metal: Parts Of Third Angel’s Parts Of Machines That Do Things”. I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. 

You can download a pdf of the article (for free for the first 50 people) here.

In making the pages we generated more material than we had space for, of course. Here are a couple of extra images that I liked that we didn’t use, along with a brief extract from mine and Chris’ email correspondence.


ALEX: I remember that we just talked a lot to start with. We made a long list of things that the show was about.

CHRIS: I remember I used to be terrified of flying. And then I read a book about air-crash investigation. And it cured me. I remember the terror switched to awe at the complexity of the planes and the global systems that operated them.


CHRIS: We knew the thing we were re/constructing was a show, but there was no original version of it (that had smashed into the ground, or landed on water, or suddenly and violently depressurised) to work towards. And we could always make new wreckage to fill any holes that appeared. 

ALEX: After a week in our studio in Sheffield, we did a couple of work-in-progress showings with BAC, in Edinburgh and London. Each time we presented a different selection and order, picking a different route through our constructed debris. 


Big thanks to Gianna and Patrick for commissioning the piece.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Inspiration Exchange at InDialogue

Inspiration Exchange: The Story of the Day
InDialogue at Nottingham Contemporary, 21 Nov 2019

This is the second time I’ve run an Inspiration Exchange in The SHED. The first time was in Derby in the summer. We had the Shed in its open configuration – as much outside as inside. Today, it’s autumn-almost-winter. The Shed is in its fully closed set-up and we have heaters inside. It is cosy in the afternoon, when we usually have five or six people in at any one time. For The Story of the Day summing up performance at the end of the day, there are at least 25 of us squeezed in around the table. Many of the people who shared a story have come back, and everyone else is a delegate at the InDialogue symposium which the Exchange is part of.

Once everyone is inside, we close the door and I welcome them all to the Exchange. And then I say something like this.

**

Before we start, I am thinking about coincidence.

This is a themed Inspiration Exchange. The Exchange has shifted shape many times over the last nine years: multiple artist/storytellers, a ‘closed-loop’ group of artists, even some phone / email exchanges in advance or as a follow up. But usually the format is this, me and a set of story cards.

My rule is that in each starting line-up there is at least one story given to me from every other iteration of these ‘solo’ Exchanges. But I have not done a themed version before. My good friend and sometime collaborator Hannah Nicklin did adapt the format for her own themed version of the Exchange, Games We Have Known And Loved, which I was really happy about (you can get Hannah’s Zine of it here.) But I’ve never done it myself before.

Today’s theme is Site Place and Location. So I have been back through the list of stories, all of the stories that have even been in the exchange and selected the ones that related to place in some way. Sometimes place is really significant, in others it is a more tangential element.

But in looking for stories of Place, something I notice is that the Exchange does like coincidence. In our recent show The Department of Distractions, Lockhart, the boss, says to new recruit, Daphne:

People love coincidences don’t they? They love to tell each other about them. They think they are clues. That they are evidence of something else. That they have meaning.

And so before we start, I’m thinking about that. About coincidence, about serendipity, about cause and effect. The right place at the right time. I am wondering, as I’ve already noticed it, if this will turn out to be another theme of the day.


I have prepared 28 story cards, but as you can see, only 24 cards fit on the table. This happens sometimes – changing the ratio of the grid means one or two cards don’t make it. I always feel bad for the stories on the table that don’t get chosen. But what of the story titles written but then left unused on the subs’ bench?

I leave
HOW THE CHURCH BELLS WORK
SEAGLASS
TEN POUND POM
and GOTCHA
off the table.

As it turns out, coincidence is not one of the themes that emerges particularly strongly. This is an Exchange that features phone boxes, love stories, the iconic versions of countries we know, particularly America and Scotland, and people, and the good things that they can do.

I swap 01369 870 212
for TEENAGE LOVE
Both of these are phonebox stories. In Teenage Love phoneboxes are windows to memories of travel, and love stories, even if they (phonebooks) do frequently smell of urine. In one scene that is particularly romantic to this UK audience, our storyteller arrives off the bus in Times Square (in the 1980s, I think) and has to find a phinebox to let her boyfriend know she has arrived in New York so he can come meet her.

However. Here’s a thing.

01369 870 212, the title of the starting story, is the phone number of this phonebox:


But I was back there this summer to find that the phone has been removed. It feels like the story title should be the number of a working phonebox, so on the way in to the Exchange this morning I found a new phonebox and prepared an extra card, 0115 950 6369. Which is the phone number of this phonebox on Lower Pavement in Nottingham:


I swapped DESIRE PATHS
For DESIRE BEFORE MOBILE PHONES
In which our narrator, a photographer, makes her own desire line across a crowded night club to ask her friend to introduce her to a beautiful guy she has had her eye on for a while. They make a date to meet up, choosing a field they both know, out of town. On the day, neither of them can find each other, and because they don’t have mobile phones yet, they cannot call to say where are you…?

I swapped THE WILD CEILIDH
For DOWN AND OUT IN EMBANKMENT
Another love story set in the days before mobile phones, and featuring lovers meeting at transport hubs, and one of them doing a chimpanzee impression on top of a phone box, and this is the moment they fall in love. Later a phonebox has to be found in order to call 999 for an ambulance, because of food poisoning so bad the husband cannot stand up.

I swapped “I’M GOING ANYWAY!”
For THEY LOOK LIKE UMBRELLAS
A story for her dad, because he rarely goes out, and does not get to tell people about this, but it is important to him. So our narrator chooses to tell this story for him.

Her dad likes fishing for pike. Not to kill or eat. He throws them back. He finds it relaxing. But what he has noticed over the last few years is that the population of pikes is decreasing, and the population of cormorants is growing, as their migration patterns change. People notice that there are more cormorants around, and they like it, but they don’t see the effect that has on the pike population. People should know, so his daughter is telling us.

“What does a cormorant look like?” someone asks.

“They look like umbrellas.”

I swap FOR THE LOVE OF SCAFFOLDING
For SKEG IS NOW A PLACE FOR US
People have put things done or said by other people into the Exchange before, but this is the first time, I think, that someone has specifically put another person in to the Exchange as the specific Inspiration.

The story to explain why this person is being put into the Exchange is the story of a proposal. A planned trip to the seaside, to look at the sea and recharge, which covers another plan for a marriage proposal in a message in a bottle, washed up on the beach at just the right time. 

This secret plan is almost sabotaged by the person who is meant to be finding the bottle becoming distracted by picking up litter that is going to get washed out to sea. The telling of this bit of the story involves the word ‘Wombling’.

**

In my retelling of the story in the packed Shed my use of the word Wombling prompts a conversation about regional specificity in language, cultural memory, story-telling and, obviously, Wombles, which then becomes a thread woven into the rest of the Exchange.

After this entirely appropriate distraction of the Wombling…

**

…and after the proposal has been found and accepted and mini bottles of prosecco have been produced from pockets and uncorked, the two fiancés sit looking happily out to sea.

“You do realise…” begins the proposee, “that this means that Skeg(ness) is now A Place for us?” 

I swap BARBERS CHANGE LIVES
Which is one of the amazing coincidence stories that I had noted earlier
For TUNNOCKS
A story of a caving expedition, sponsored by Tunnocks, who now get to sponsor the story. 

**

Cue more discussion about the cultural specificity of ‘Tunnocks’ and whether this translates to an international audience, and whether the wafers or teacakes are better, and do they really only make two things?

**

And this is also, another story that puts a person into the Exchange.

A sixteen hour caving expedition, visiting previously unmapped caves. A moment to think about the fact that humans had not been in these caves for hundreds of thousands of years – if ever. Twelve hours in, a friend is starting to struggle. By some people’s standards he is not ‘fit enough’ to undertake this challenge.

Back on the surface and one of the cavers is vocal in his criticisms and insults about the ill friend – slowing them down, putting himself at risk. And then the realisation. Listening to this tirade, our narrator is struck by “the dramatic contrast between what you are hearing and what you are knowing.” He knows that the angry caver is wrong. What the friend deserves is admiration and respect. Our narrator understands some of the challenges his friend faces, and that he will not be deterred. Whatever the challenges other people set for themselves, “it might take him longer, but he will still do it.”

I swap TAKE MY CAR
For HESITATION
A story of unexpected kindness and consideration from a stranger. The slip-road shunt is your fault, and will cost the other driver far more money. But instead of shouting at you through the window, as you are expecting, his main concern is that you are okay.

I swap EMPTY BENCHES
For THE SHOES
A story from a friend. A story about how we can’t always know the whole story. We can’t always know what happens next. A story about generosity and kindness. About how we can’t always know whether our acts of kindness will have a lasting effect. How we can’t always know our own motives for those acts of kindness. But how, in the end, the important thing is that we do them.

Finally, I was warned in advance that I might not get a story back,
but I still told “YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!” “I KNOW!”
And in keeping with the spirit of that story, I didn’t get a story back. Which meant that at the end of the day the table looked like this.


**

Huddled into The Shed for company and warmth, no one moves to leave. Conversation returns to stories and Wombles. 

Thanks everyone who came along.

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. 

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