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Tag Archive | "community theatre"

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Guest blog: The people’s theatre stars the people

Posted on 17 August 2013 by A Younger Theatre

Alan LaneA few weeks ago an Indian company called Jana Natya Manch came to visit Slung Low’s home, the HUB. They are this fierce, rather brilliant agit-prop theatre company who were going around the country on a trade union organised tour. They called into our rather tatty, very precious five railway arches in South Leeds to show us one of their pieces and have dinner with us. I rather fell in love with them.

They make theatre on the steps of factories, and places where people work and eat, discussing issues and educating about things that will make an absolute difference to people today, this very moment. They are brave in their theatrical styles (they go toe-to-toe with Delhi traffic without amplification) and with their bodies – one of their members was beaten to death during a performance a few years ago – a type of courage that mercifully we don’t have to contemplate here. So, they are ideal role models for a theatre director hurtling towards middle age and looking for heroes who don’t care what a KPI is. At the HUB they performed in front of their banner, on which the words “The People’s Theatre Stars the People” were written.

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I’ve been thinking about that a lot whilst I’ve been working on Blood and Chocolate, Mike Kenny’s first world war epic about chocolate workers in York. For the past couple of years, ever since there were conferences declaring we were Stronger Together, there has been talk from all sorts of quarters in all sorts of language about how we need to make changes in the face of a Government who often appear to not give a shit, and who look increasingly likely to continue to reduce the amount of money invested in the arts. The theme running through all these declarations – no matter the personal politics of the declarer – has been Make People Care More. Make people care enough to write to their MP, make people care enough to leave you something in their will, or in Slung Low’s slightly banditry way, enough to pay to name your toilet. But make people care. Matter to them. And their caring might be enough to save us from those who think we’re irrelevant.

The different ways in which the sector has responded to this realisation has been inspiring. Apart from the organisations which decided to simply just do what they had always been doing but perhaps a little more cost efficiently – those people are a drag on the ticket and the race is too tight to carry them any longer. The different ways in which we’ve changed tack, upscaled, reorganised is no more than you’d expect from a community that does what we do.

Blood and Chocolate is not an easy project to bring to life. Three organisations with a more different outlook on things you really could not imagine. The HUB is five railway arches where we grow vegetables in discarded bath tubs, which young artists can weed in return for rehearsal space; York Theatre Royal has transformed its garden into a grill cooking burgers to sell to families in the interval of its summer smash hit King Arthur; there are many many differences between the theatre company that works out of a metal box for an office and the organisation that runs the successful tech and arts conference Shift Happens. And yet we begin rehearsals in two weeks and we stand completely united in our collective endeavour. And it was whilst thinking about the Indian company that I realised what that endeavour was; it’s that we all, for this moment together, believe: that The People’s Theatre Stars The People.

Blood and Chocolate

There are many ways that can be done, from You Me Bum Bum Train to the shows of Red Ladder to Chris Goode’s 9 and much much else between. Blood and Chocolate attempts to do all of them at once. To tell the story of the people of a town, have it performed by the people of that town and then perform it slap bang in the middle of that town.

I don’t pretend that we are inventing anything new here. We’ve come full circle, returned to important roots in our search for something that matters. And for me it has been as great a revelation as the visiting Indian company. The company matters – the stars of the people’s theatre are the people. In this instance, 180 volunteers who signed up six months ago to take part in a show that I could not describe to them when they auditioned for it, because we hadn’t finished it yet. Many of them have only traditional forms of theatre by way of context. All of them have given an unbelievable amount of time already just for the training workshops to prepare them for rehearsals.

This collection of volunteers will perform for 21 consecutive performances and bake cakes each week to sell in rehearsals to raise funds for the production budget. There are volunteer costume makers, stage managers, mic runners: the entire project is balanced and built from the care felt by an increasing army of volunteers working tirelessly alongside the creative team. We talk about diversity in theatre all the time, wringing our hands about training and audience expectation: the all shapes and sizes and types that make up the determined company of Blood and Chocolate is a diversity I have never seen before, and I believe may well be the saving of us.

For all the talent of Mike Kenny’s script, for all the investment from Pilot and for all the admiration and awe in which I hold my fellow Slung Low creatives, the real vitality of Blood and Chocolate is that company. The thing that matters in this epic, sprawling mess is them. The star of the people’s theatre. The reason three such disparate organisations have come together is the simple realisation that separately we can’t do it, we can’t achieve what the company demands and deserves – the story of the people, told by the people in the people’s places.

It turns out that it’s not just agit-prop Indian theatre companies who make suitable heroes for theatre directors rapidly hurtling towards middle age. The company of Blood and Chocolate are my heroes and they made me realise that if you want to make a relationship vital it’s good to let those you need speak once in a while.

Alan Lane is Artistic Director of Slung Low. You can follow him on Twitter or visit Slung Low’s website.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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Review: The Good Neighbour

Posted on 27 October 2012 by Ryan Ahern

Battersea Arts Centre and Uninvited Guests’s The Good Neighbour chills and excites as the audience simultaneously enters the world of Clapham Junction during the fire of 1909 and the London Riots of 2011.  This promenade production, which has the audience traveling throughout the streets and cafes of Clapham Junction, is especially engaging and brings a very real, human touch to events that shaped and changed this area of London.

Although slightly too long and a bit too convoluted at times, this is an extremely strong piece that resonates deeply within and brings wave after wave of understanding. The actor/guides slip between a world of storytelling and acting in a more heightened manner that creates a strong connection with your surroundings as opposed to the actors themselves.  The script, which uses quotes and experiences from local residents, is utterly touching when used in conjunction with the spaces and buildings that are talked about.

Uninvited Guests has found a clear way of alternating between the two stories without making it difficult or aggravating to follow for the audience. Whilst I found the parts based on the London Riots to be particularly touching and really quite emotional, I found myself surprisingly gripped by the story of George Neighbour and the 1909 fire in Arding and Hobbs. Whilst there wasn’t much discussion amongst the participants in our goup, there was an obvious camaraderie developed through going into this process together. Moments from the London Riots which had seemed distant and yet had an impact on me from news coverage became all the more real and effective throughout the piece.

Music, and a brilliantly engaging and very well crafted soundscape, are involved in the piece with speakers placed in modified musical instruments that participants carry with them during the tour. This is an extremely effective and well-thought-through technique that instantly helps you picture the images and scenes talked about and, frankly, just looks quite beautiful (although as someone who carried a drum for most of the piece, I suggest you try and steer clear of that one).

The Good Neighbour is an exceptionally strong community piece that easily engages people from other areas of not only London but the world. The story and premise of the piece were easy to engage with, and you often found yourself sucked into the story or experience at hand. This has to be one of the strongest community theatre pieces that I have encountered and, even in the rain, it cast a spell on me.

The Good Neighbour is running until 4 November at the Battersea Arts Centre. For more information and tickets, visit the Battersea Arts Centre’s website.

 

Ryan Ahern

Ryan Ahern

Ryan trained as an actor at Central School of Speech and Drama and writes for AYT and The Stage. Although mainly an actor, Ryan also works as a director and in musical theatre and dance. He writes about politics, young people in the arts and has recently turned his hand to fiction.

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AYT USA: An actor must learn the importance of being earnest

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Lauren Twombly

What do you do when you want to act? You quit school, pack your bags and move to L.A., right? Well, I decided to work a nine to five while doing theatre on the side post-graduation. Although I am ultimately pursuing an impractical career, I am taking the practical approach of saving up money while figuring out what my next step is. And all the while I am wondering (1), how long will I have to wait to do what it is I am truly passionate about, and (2), what in the world are the benefits of community theatre.

When I started doing research on community theatre, I mostly found information about how it fosters and nurtures a community. But what I really wanted to find was some success story about a famous actress who was discovered doing community theatre in a small town of South Dakota – and this is where I become fixated on what the world deems “success” and lose sight of why I want to do theatre in the first place. Back when I knew nothing about theatre and decided to study it in college, I was asked why by my high school choir director. All I could manage was a timid “because I like it.” This still holds true for me today, and I’m finally understanding exactly why.

Theatre is an inspiring and often thought-provoking storytelling art. And a local community production has the potential to have the same impact on a person as a Broadway show (without costing half a paycheck). This is ultimately up to the actors and collaborators giving their best efforts – not doing it half-heartedly because it is “only” community theatre. Monica Reida makes a very insightful comment on her blog, Fragments: “not everyone on the stage in a community theater production is someone with a theater degree. But ultimately they’re hard-working people that want to make a production that people will love, enjoy, and remember.” And according to the AACT website, community theatre blossomed in the United States as a result of The European Art Theatre Movement around the turn of the 20th century. A group of actors called the Irish Players made community theatre a form of protest against commercial theatre.  It seems that they thought they could do just as well or better, despite the fact that they probably weren’t making any money off of their productions. It is about “the art of making art.” It is about “putting it together.”

There are many more opportunities to develop as an artist for those who are able to look past the negative stereotype of community theatre. At this point in my life, it’s not about how prestigious the theatre I am working with is. It’s learning the persistence of putting yourself out there, experiencing auditioning, and getting to do what you love, even if it is only an audition. Yes, the director may not be working on anything going to Broadway, but by doing an audition, more people are exposed to your talents, your personality, and your capabilities. And in turn, you get to learn about yourself as a person and performer, as well as experiencr working with a variety of personalities.

So at the end of the day, researching the “top 10 reasons budding professionals should participate in community theatre” will not make you feel better about choosing to sit at a desk for eight hours a day instead of suffering like a “true” artist should. The most reassuring idea is the logic that you, as a true performer and artist, already know and are sick of hearing all of the time. It really is about the experience – the experience of auditioning, performing, and developing your craft. It’s all about what you put into the performance. That is the only way you can grow. And this concept does not change in the professional world. Theatre is theatre is theatre.

Already I have heard so many people talk about how they stopped pursuing a career as a performer simply because they just didn’t want to deal with the rejection anymore. If I can learn to press on despite that, and become a better performer because I took advantage of opportunities that others would not, I will have already taken a huge step.

Image via Grit.com

If you are an American reader of A Younger Theatre and would like to contribute to the AYT USA blog series, please contact blogs[at]ayoungertheatre.com.

Lauren Twombly

Lauren Twombly

Lauren is an actress who aspires to use her unique journey to encourage and inspire her fellow artists. Her favorite things are watching Broadway musicals, performing complex and dramatic theatre roles and singing the music of Sara Bareilles. She grew up in New Jersey, attended college in a small southern town of Tennessee, and is now working as an administrative assistant while doing community theatre and trying to figure out how to pursue a career she is truly passionate about.

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Theatre’s double helix of drama and learning

Posted on 07 February 2012 by A Younger Theatre


From Christmas pantomimes to the musicals of the West End, theatre has long been part of our culture and national identity for children and parents alike. But what of young adults who crave something different to the delights of High School Musical? What kind of plays are written for them to keep them coming back to the theatre, or even to get them there in the first place?

First performed at the National Theatre in 2007, Dennis Kelly’s DNA deals with issues of conflict, peer pressure and guilt relevant to contemporary, younger audiences. Whilst its award-winning author is perhaps now best known for penning Matilda the Musical, his adolescent drama has gained recognition throughout England and the play is now a core-text on the GCSE English syllabus, studied by up to 400,000 students throughout the year. Now embarking on a national tour, Hull Truck Theatre’s new production is set to visit theatres up and down the country.

A coming-of-age story, DNA explores the ramifications of a serious accident committed by a group of 14-year-olds. Unable to confess to the truth, they cover up what they’ve done. As suspicion and distrust become rife within the group, will the teenagers be able to face up to their crime? With echoes of The Lord of the Flies, the play uses a young cast to introduce key questions concerning ethics and responsibility to the younger generation. Directed and designed by the National Theatre‘s Anthony Banks, Hull Truck’s production sets an original musical soundtrack against a contemporary urban backdrop to investigate how we react in the face of moral dilemmas.

For a play on the GCSE curriculum, Hull Truck’s national tour brings DNA to students and audiences across the UK in the form it was meant to be experienced: live on stage. Actress Leah Brotherhead is currently appearing in the production and notes, “plays are written to be performed. You’re not meant to be sitting in a classroom.” Witnessing the action breeds a deeper understanding of the text and its core themes, not to mention the better sense of character that is created through watching individual performances. On the road for a four-month tour, DNA will visit 19 cities from Plymouth to Crewe and, as Brotherhead adds, “I think a lot of teachers are really happy that it’s going on tour,” as the production becomes geographically accessible to students up and down the UK.

This isn’t just a new experience for young audiences; touring offers a whole range of challenges and benefits for the creative team. “We’re going to so many different venues, maybe places you wouldn’t normally visit and meeting new people all the time, constantly adjusting the set.” A team effort for the cast and crew creates “a really fun atmosphere, and it’s nice to work with a completely different group of people. It makes the work more interesting, too.”

Touring can also have a major impact on the production of a show itself. In adapting to new stages, venues and audiences, plays evolve along with their cast and crew. So while theatre can of course be entertaining, it is also an enlivening and enriching form of education, for audience and players alike. As a literary world is transformed into a reality on stage, young audiences can gain a greater grasp of a play and develop an appreciation for other aspects of the production, be they staging, lighting, sound, costume or design. With the Hull Truck’s focus on education, DNA is just one of many projects that seeks a younger cast and attracts a younger audience. Brotherhead sums this up: “you always want to encourage younger people to come and take an interest in the arts”.

Exposure to the arts at a young age can undoubtedly have an impact on young people’s attitudes and approaches to every day life. Projecting drama, whether realistic or fantastical, onto a stage and experiencing another world, separate from everyday existence, can be both comforting and inspirational. Why shouldn’t education be escapist? Watching and enjoying theatrical performances can encourage involvement: many actors start their career in local community or school productions. This was Brotherhead’s experience: “I never set out to become an actress as such. It just kind of happens when you’re surrounded by that atmosphere.” It becomes, however, an excellent outlet for creative energy, and a way to make friends and boost confidence for young people.

As well as being educational for the audience, every play acts as a learning curve for the cast involved. Portraying a variety of roles helps actors to pick out certain methods of acting, employ certain traits over others and make each character they play develop realistically with the unfolding story. For Brotherhead, stripping each new character back and starting with a blank canvas works best when getting to know a new role. “I think mostly when I start a play, I kind of start with me – how would I react? And then from that I find different things to add in. That fusion helps me to work out what would be best suited to the character.”

This is a process of comprehending each character’s purpose within a play. Is it to instigate action?  To react to others?  To reflect on circumstances?  With reference to DNA, Brotherhead remarks that the play doesn’t necessarily set out to create separate, individual characters, or to mimic people in reality. Rather, the play considers “what kind of human being you are. [It is] a question of ‘what would you do in that situation?’ I don’t think it’s particularly got a moral message. It’s more inspirational than that. My character, if anything, is more of the conscience of the play: the character that reflects.” Brotherhead’s character allows and encourages the audience too to reflect on what has happened and why the young people in the play find themselves in such extreme circumstances.

Contemporary drama has a knack for hitting the topical-relevancy mark when it comes to themes and content. Whilst the incident that happens in DNA is extreme, it is not unrealistic and the teenagers’ reactions tap into human nature itself. With DNA, Kelly has created a piece of theatre that offers young audiences the chance to investigate and question what their own decision might be if faced with a similar dilemma. With a range of recognisable characters and a dynamic staging that makes the play’s setting relevant to any urban environment, DNA captures the spirit of a touring production. Exposing the play to audiences of all ages and backgrounds, all audiences are encouraged to be entertained but not to ignore the play’s grounding in reality. As Brotherhead  remarks, DNA makes you question, “Where do you fit?  What’s your place?” And there’s nothing idle about that kind of escapism.

DNA is currently on tour across the UK until 25 May 2012. For more information and booking details, visit Hull Truck Theatre’s website.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

More Posts - Website

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