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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
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
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:

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…?

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!”
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.”

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?” 

Which is one of the amazing coincidence stories that I had noted earlier
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.”

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.

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.

A few months ago we were delighted to hear that our application to jointly host a PhD with Sheffield University was successful, and that Rob Fellman would be joining us to start his work on “Contemporary theatre-making and company longevity: technologies of creation, collaboration and remembering” this autumn. We’re looking forward to working with Rob, and very excited to see what he finds in our archive - both literally and analytically! So, slightly later than planned, we’d like to introduce him. Or rather, let him introduce himself…

By way of a brief introduction, my name is Rob and I am a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. I recently started working on something called a ‘collaborative doctoral award’. These ‘CDA’s’ (as they are more simply named) reflect changing approaches within Higher Education institutions and funding bodies alike, to enact a more integrated form of academic learning; positioning researchers alongside partner organisations to produce mutually beneficial outcomes.  

It all sounds rather formal put that way, but it essentially means that over the next three years I have the unique pleasure of working with Third Angel, as a collaborator of sorts. I will be beginning my journey by looking into the archived materials that Alex, Rachael and their past creative collaborators have produced during formative rehearsals, whilst also looking ahead to what might still be to come… There are many possibilities that can arise from the reflection and evaluation of the past, that might unearth an essence or ‘trace’ of what Third Angel contribute to the field of contemporary theatre (and indeed what importance they are still yet to play). I am intrigued to find out what relationships exist between the knowledge contained in Third Angel’s archive and the knowledge held by its members and collaborators. How might Third Angel’s approach to ‘collecting’ and ‘retelling’ be considered, especially in view of their company’s longevity (approaching 25 years in action)? 

The recent book launch of ‘There’s A Room’ (you can read the recent blog post on this here for a bit more context) marks a defining moment in Third Angel’s journey. Its release acts as a commitment. Just as their words are committed to paper, so too are they reaffirming a commitment to the sharing and openness that has characterised much of their creative practice to date. Third Angel are, by their very nature, a collaborative company and the texts of ‘There’s A Room’ are no exception. Alongside Rachael and Alex the likes of Jerry Killick, mala voadora and Chris Thorpe knowingly make their marks on its pages, whilst unnamed others may (or may not) have contributed in a multitude of different ways; in stories shared, in chance meetings, or in simply being in the wrong place at the right time… Third Angel are masters of observation, so anything could make it in!

What then of all the collaborators to come; readers and performers of these texts (you? Me?) through which the legacy of Third Angel can be breathed a lasting life; their stories once again re-told and re-imagined? My research hopes to engage with some of these (admittedly broad!) questions. I hope to find out how collaborative work impacts on the potential for longevity in the arts sector that Third Angel so wonderfully embody – is it true that there is a strength in numbers?  

I plan to keep you updated on this blog with some of my findings, both with attempts at answers to the questions posed above, as well as some exciting discoveries from the archive (we hope)! I look forward to sharing my journey with you. If you are interested in keeping a closer eye on what I am up to, you can find me on Twitter @Rob_Fellman so please do feel free to connect with me on there. Oh, and if you haven’t got your copy of ‘There’s A Room’ yet, you can grab yours here!  

Watch this space…

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

We’re looking for new trustees!

Could that be you..?

Third Angel has a brilliantly supportive board of trustees who keep a broad overview of our plans, support the team, champion the work and ensure we fulfil our charitable purpose. They also keep track of the balance of skills and representation on the board itself as members’ terms of service come to an end, and so we’re regularly looking for new trustees!

We’re at an exciting point in the company’s development as we approach our 25th anniversary in 2020, so it’s an excellent time to join as we celebrate achievements of the past, and think big in our planning for the future.

Daragh O’Reilly has been on our board for almost three years now, and this is his take on being a Third Angel trustee:

“A colleague drew my attention to Third Angel 3-4 years ago, and the fact that they were looking for board members. My own background was originally in sales and marketing, and more recently in arts marketing research and teaching. I checked out the company’s website and was impressed by their work and story.

“After an initial chat over coffee with Hilary Foster, currently Executive Producer at Third Angel, I submitted a short expression of interest form, and was invited along to a board meeting. It was exciting to have the opportunity to see how organisation works from the inside, and this confirmed my interest in wanting to contribute.

“Like with any new organisation, it took me a while to get a sense of the business cycle, and the specifics of the operating environment (cultural policy, funding, theatre/performance business practices). Because Third Angel is an extremely well organised company, this process was made relatively easy.

“During the time I have been on the board, I have seen the company become a charity, successfully renew its status as an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, and move premises to Harland Works. One of the most moving shows I have seen in my thirty years in Sheffield was Inherited Cities, a show devised and performed by Sheffield school pupils under the guidance and direction of the Third Angel team.

Inherited Cities group selfie

“There is always something going on at Third Angel, whether it is the touring, the development and presentation of new work, business planning, fundraising, profile raising, or reaching out to new funders, mentees, schools, and audiences. This means that there is always plenty of scope for a trustee to contribute from their own professional perspective and skill-set, and to help Third Angel become all that it wants to be.”

We welcome applications from everyone who feels that they can support, encourage and contribute, but we are particularly interested in applicants with the following skills and experience to complement the current membership of our board:

  • Human Resources (HR)
  • Entrepreneurship / enterprise / sales strategy
  • Public relations (PR)
  • Property and estate management
  • IT / digital

Department blood projection

Third Angel is committed to ensuring that our Board of Trustees is representative of the diversity of the UK population and would like to encourage applications from people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds as well as those who identify as D/deaf or disabled.

Closing date for applications is Friday 1st November 2019 – please download our application pack for more information here:

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!

*Edited in February 2023 to remove donation links, after announcement of closure*

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.

There's lots more information about making and touring Third Angel projects 2008-2017 on our original blog, and 2017-2023 on the blog on this site.