One of the few constants in this world is that it always seems to be changing. That’s certainly the case at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse this June where the Transform season will mark a complete departure from the ‘normal’ workings of the theatre. According to Associate Producer Amy Letman, Transform’s Curators Alan Lane and Kully Thiarai are creating “the first line in a conversation”, inspired by the changing nature of the theatre experience and the shifting boundaries of what it means to be a spectator. Everyone’s invited to join the discussion.
The big idea is to bring together new audiences and a wonderfully diverse and eclectic selection of artists to challenge how we relate to performance. The programme looks enticing, boasting pieces as different as The Soldier’s Song, an intimate screen karaoke encounter; 21 Writers, showcasing three-minute shorts from new writers who have taken the Playhouse’s free five-week course; and Open House, a piece that will be developed over a week in a collaboration between theatre-goers and a team of theatre-makers headed by Chris Goode. Letman promises there’ll be a real mix of pieces, from both established hands such as Goode and younger, less experienced theatre-makers.
It’s not only the nature of performance that will find itself all shook up. Installation artist Shanaz Gulzar is colonising the front of house space in Steamline 21, an intriguing mix of Steampunk (described in the programme as science-fiction inspired by Victorian technology) and Art Deco. She’s creating a setting in WYP’s café and bar for the grand finale, Smoke and Mirrors, a modern cabaret evening which will bring Transform to an exuberant close on the 18th of June. Including magic from Tim Sutton, performances from burlesque dancers The Wau Wau Sisters, Flick Ferdinando’s dark comedy Horse and surprise acts to be announced on the night, this “sexy, splendid and ever so slightly scandalous” finale sounds like a suitably unusual end to a season of change. Fancy dress is actively encouraged.
Transform is going to be big on interactive theatre. The idea is that you buy a wristband and this gets you a whole day out at the theatre - a WYP “experience day”. Opportunities range from adding your thoughts to The Book of Politics, which will then be sent to ‘the powers that be’; to a one-on-one live music performance in the world’s smallest venue, Folk in a Box; and Story Map: What I Heard About the World which invites theatre-goers to help “map the entire world, alphabetically, in a day”. On the 11th of June participation goes global with A Midsummer Night’s Stream. The events at WYP will be shared live through Pilot Theatre’s online streaming channel, allowing anyone, wherever they are, to get involved and interact.
There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in performance, too. Geraldine Pilgrim, Artistic Director of Corridor, is seeking “anybody that likes to dance – or just move” for Handbag, which will set the people of Leeds jiving around their bags. And Peepolykus is creating a different science-inspired piece each day for The Ionian Enchantment, performed, directed and written by anyone who is game enough to have a go. Interested individuals just have to send in a CV and are invited to attend a free workshop led by Stephen Canny, BBC Four’s Comedy Executive.
There’s a real youthful vibe to Transform. There is a sense that something is really happening here, something new and different for the Playhouse, something which feels genuinely exciting. Plus it seems Transform is just the beginning for innovation at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Set to launch in October, Leeds Furnace will see the Playhouse working with up-coming and mid-career theatre creators to launch new pieces, perhaps marking the continuation of the conversation Transform has started.
It’s certainly a necessary conversation. The arts are changing; what it means to be an audience is shifting. Going to the theatre is no longer just about taking your seat and passively observing, nor should it be. Transform promises to investigate what it is we actually want from a performance, how we can change the very nature of theatre. It’s a noble and worthy proposal, focusing on issues that really matter, and it will be interesting to see just what the ensuing discussions reveal.
The Transform season runs from the 6th to the 18th June at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Wristbands cost £15 (£10 concessions).
Main Image: Bourgeois & Maurice by Tom Jef