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Blog: BBC Performing Arts Fellowship

Posted on 21 March 2014 by Hannah Butterfield

I’ve been on a real adventure for the past three weeks. I’m a Triangular Nomad, dashing via railway between Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield, making excellent use of my Young Person’s Railcard (because as of 29 July I will apparently have expired in terms of ‘youth’, at the grand old age of 25).

So, I’ve been trying to find a concise way to explain my Fellowship with Third Angel through the BBC Performing Arts Fund. It’s predominantly about making my new solo theatre show 21,000 Miles of Rail (working title) which I aim to premiere in the summer. It’s also about me answering questions about being an emerging artist and maker. Often I wonder: is ‘emerging’ the best term? It has connotations of coming from obscurity or concealment, which seems a little daunting. Maybe it’s more like ‘flowering’ or ‘transitioning’? Not sold? Me neither. Suggestions welcome below!

Anyway… (tangent?!)… The Leeds-Manchester-Sheffield existence is becoming increasingly inter-woven in that I am drawing links between people and venues more frequently, which provides a sense of right-time-right-place-ness that is comforting. This opportunity feels really exciting, but it is also one I won’t have again, so the pressure to really make the very best of the time I’m spending with Third Angel and their contacts is niggling at me. Time is really on my mind recently, and I wondered if I might share with you an example of what I’ve been doing with mine:

Monday 3 March
I’m leading a Performance as Research workshop for foundation degree Contemporary Theatre Practice students at The Arden Theatre School (Manchester). We’re all getting excited about the initial ideas and throwing in lots of “How about…” or “It reminds me of…” or “That is a BRILLIANT idea…”

Tuesday 4 March
I spent the day in a rehearsal space at Sheffield Theatres with Rachael Walton, deciding that a show about trains is going to be far more interesting than it sounds! Did you know you can’t travel by train between Penzance (farthest South UK station and Thurso (farthest North UK station) in under 23 hours?

Wednesday 5 March
Manchester Teaching

Thursday 6 March
Ditto but with lots of internal line-running for tomorrow night (see Friday 7)

Friday 7 March
I performed in The Animal Was Upon Him by Oliver Bray for Juncture at Yorkshire Dance programmed by Wendy Houstoun. Oliver and I have decided it is a Word Dance. Link to review below.

Saturday 8 March
I seriously LOVE Saturday mornings. I set up Birkenshaw Children’s Choir at Applause Theatre School (in between Leeds and Bradford) a few years ago and we sing together once a week.

Sunday 9 March
At home in Leeds doing lots of boring things like laundry and cooking.

Monday 10 March
I spent the afternoon with David Edmunds at DepArts discussing the role of the producer, tour booking and marketing. I learnt an enormous amount. David is so passionate about his company and a producing superhero.

So there’s my week. And I had better be off now because I’m just pulling into Manchester Piccadilly.

Watch this space…


Hannah Butterfield

Hannah Butterfield

Hannah Butterfield is a theatre maker and facilitator based in Leeds. She is interested in ensemble and multi-disciplinary performance work, and has recently been awarded a BBC Performing Arts Fund grant working with Third Angel.

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Blog: BBC Performing Arts Fund Fellowship

Posted on 19 February 2014 by Hannah Butterfield


I’m a few months into my BBC Performing Arts Fund Fellowship with Third Angel now, and I’m in a sort of whirlwind of making, thinking, learning, watching, meeting and talking to new people (who know their stuff!), and making decisions about what kind of theatre I want to make. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am experiencing an on-going, long-running professional identity crisis because actually, the Choreographer Hat fits just as well as the Singer Hat. And not forgetting the Lecturer Hat. And the Ensemble-Based Multi-disciplinary Contemporary Theatre Maker one (but this doesn’t fit on a business card very well).

I initially wondered if this project was going to help me figure this out, but I think I’ve discovered that I don’t need or want to. I love theatre, I make theatre and I want to find as many different ways of doing this as possible. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the endless ways in which a performer can communicate with an audience. Is there a ‘best’ way? And how might we measure the success of these communicative devices? Does it matter?

On Saturday 25 January I saw Third Angel’s most recent work, The Life and Loves of a Nobody, a co-production with Sheffield Theatres at The Crucible Studio Theatre. It appears to be the story of a woman called Rachael, but as I sit trying to understand who this woman is through the narration of the two performers, I eventually give up. I’m not giving up because I have lost interest or because I don’t relate to this woman, but because I have decided she isn’t a woman at all. She is humanity. She could be the woman sitting next to me, or the man behind her, or me. The piece is set in traverse so I also have a backdrop of dimly lit fellow audience faces behind the unfolding narrative.

The series of events of ‘Rachael’s’ life are presented chronologically, though the subtle shifts in performative devices allow the sections of narrative to become fragmented and sometimes contradictory. I experienced a kind of comfortable anticipation for what might happen to her next, with a lingering, underlying sense of menace that I couldn’t quite place. There is great pleasure to be found in the low-tech evocative images that are presented throughout. In a few moments, a block of high-rise Sheffield flats emerged; the flickering light of a little girl watching television can be seen, with the lights of the street lamps reflected in the canal below.

The materials for this image consist of grey wooden blocks, a small torch, and some fairy lights on a simple string pulley system. This is my favourite kind of theatre. The same thing is never said or shown twice, but the creative form is ever shifting, each picture or moment contributing to the wider picture of the show. It is simple and meaningful and a little bit magical.

As I move further into the making process of my new show (yet to be officially titled!), I’m working predominantly with the concept of a one-woman ensemble show that critiques the world in which I live, and hopefully the world in which you live too. I’m very eager to put my one-woman choir in front of an audience! Watch this space…

Photo by Flickr user Thunderchild7 under a Creative Commons Licence. 

Hannah Butterfield

Hannah Butterfield

Hannah Butterfield is a theatre maker and facilitator based in Leeds. She is interested in ensemble and multi-disciplinary performance work, and has recently been awarded a BBC Performing Arts Fund grant working with Third Angel.

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Blog: Checking in with Third Angel

Posted on 06 January 2014 by Hannah Butterfield


My name is Hannah Butterfield. I am a theatre maker and facilitator based in Leeds. Sometimes I am Hannah Butterfield, choreographer. And workshop leader. Sometimes I’ll be a vocal coach, and sometimes a writer. Occasionally I am a musician. Quite frequently I am one third of The Souvenirs Theatre. I am an explorer.

Recently, I became one of 19 emerging theatre artists to be awarded the BBC Performing Arts Fund grant for a Theatre Fellowship with Sheffield-based Third Angel for 2013/2014. I have followed its work for the past six years and have been increasingly excited by the theatre work that it makes. Third Angel also has a wonderful reputation for supporting the up-and-coming faces of contemporary theatre, and has been extremely generous in its facilitation of the emerging creative work of individuals and companies across the country. I have a million and one questions to ask, and I am currently reminding myself I have six months to soak up as much experience as possible.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this project for me is that I am going to be supported in the development of a new solo theatre piece of my own, the idea for which was submitted as part of the selection process. At the end of my six-month fellowship, I will be performing this piece at venues in both Sheffield and Leeds. This work is the result of a slightly unusual experiment. I spent a working day ‘at work’ in the world, sitting in Leeds train station imagining, observing and remembering. I thought a lot about travel, about saying hello and saying goodbye, and for hours I considered the effect of modern ticket barriers on ideas of romance. I went on to write a performance score that I have been desperate to use! It’s part performance text, part choreography, part song. I am a multi-disciplinary theatre maker and I am fascinated by the endless ways in which a performer can communicate with an audience. It is my hope that this piece will explore this relationship, because, basically, people are really, really interesting.

Spending a ‘working day’ at Leeds City Train Station wasn’t as romantic as I had hoped. I did not see many painful goodbyes or joyful hellos. But I kept tally charts for a many number of human occurrences that have resulted in the performance score I have written for live theatre space. By the end of the day, I had achieved what I had come for. I had been witness to a whole variety of warm greetings, introductions and goodbyes. I’d even been part of one myself. I guess, if you think about it, if you sit somewhere public, somewhere nearby to a place you know, you are bound to bump into someone you know. Not very romantic, no. Comforting? I think so.

I’m right at the beginning of this journey, I hope you find it interesting. A huge thank you to Third Angel and The BBC Performing Arts Fund for this opportunity. Watch this space…

Photo by Flickr user Richard North under a Creative Commons licence.




Hannah Butterfield

Hannah Butterfield

Hannah Butterfield is a theatre maker and facilitator based in Leeds. She is interested in ensemble and multi-disciplinary performance work, and has recently been awarded a BBC Performing Arts Fund grant working with Third Angel.

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Devil’s Advocate: What’s the point of music?

Posted on 11 April 2013 by Emma Jane Denly


This month Emma Jane Denly speaks to Tom Penn of Little Bulb Theatre, who are currently in residence at the Battersea Arts Centre. She plays devil‘s advocate with the question of music’s purpose in theatre…

TPMusic is one of the most powerful means of communication we possess. It has the power to overwhelm and to be delicate, to sentimentalise and to be ironic. When used with due care and attention, it has the faculty to transcend immediate thought, and access a deeper, often surprisingly emotional, response. An enormous amount of my time is spent accompanied by music, be it the ‘soundtrack to my life’ that happens to be buzzing around inside my head at the time, or the more tangible mp3 player, squeezing the same old songs into my ears as I board the 345 to Peckham. Why? Because I enjoy my life more when there is music playing. Subsequently I find it difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine a reason I would have for not including music in my work in theatre.

EJD: Perhaps there’s a case for arguing that music has the power to distract as well as complement, in both your own life and indeed in theatrical productions. Pick the wrong song and the effect can be as small as creating a slightly jarring scene on-stage that doesn’t fit with the rest of the show or as large as being totally alienating for an audience. You wake up and accidentally play one of Enya’s less upbeat tracks through your headphones: rest of the day is then potentially overshadowed by a sense of depressive doom (no offence intended to Enya). Play a rock song in the middle of a show, and all delicacy is sent crashing to the floor. If these effects are intended, then fair enough, but isn’t all music subjective? How can you make an entire audience react in the same way?

TPI’m not sure that you can, but I certainly don’t see that as a consideration to be taken only with music. I would suggest that any aspect of any theatre show will be viewed subjectively, and therefore it is the theatre-maker’s responsibility to understand and appreciate this, whilst using everything they have at their disposal in order to best serve the moment. When approaching a new piece of work, you come armed with your full toolkit, and you try your best to use those tools wisely. Music is just one of the means we have with which to communicate, and is as valuable to the process as any other. It comes hand in hand with the text, or the movement, or the design – there is no reason one should be separated of given greater significance than the others. If given careful thought and artistically driven, the music will form as vital part of any narrative or atmosphere as any other discipline.

EJDDo you think then that this kind of music is different to the “conventional” type – and I use this phrase carefully, meaning only music that is not intended for narrative effect – or whether it is the same as something that we can buy or listen to on its own terms? It’s almost as though you are implying that music in theatre is a precise and exact science (the same way perhaps lighting or choreography can be viewed as such), which could make it seem artificial – or failing that then at least oppressed in some way. Do you think that theatre-music is its own art-form – or could it be listened to in the same way as Queen, Fairport Convention or – yes, I’m going there – Enya?

TPI don’t think that an exact science exists for making music or any kind of theatre. I think there are guidelines available if you want them, but once you get past a certain point, you’re out there on your own. You try something different, something new, in the hope that it will be what you want it to be, and then as long as you learn a little bit each time, you’ll be ready to have another go soon enough. As for whether theatre music is its own art form, I’m not so certain that it can be categorised that neatly. Yes, when used for a specific purpose in a piece of theatre, that music must be precisely what was asked for and needed in that moment, whether newly composed or a well-known classic. But that’s not to say it doesn’t retain individual worth when removed from context. Take Kneehigh‘s ‘Don John’ Soundtrack – I can’t get enough of those tracks still, however many years later. I know the scores and soundtracks to countless films and shows I haven’t seen. I adore the music, and that’s it. Ultimately, in the context of the show or film itself, if that music does not serve the very moment for which it was intended, then it hasn’t fulfilled its purpose, and the final product was probably weaker for it. But there’s nothing to stop me from enjoying it separately – much like I can be satisfied, impressed and even moved by the way natural lighting occurs within a particular environment at any point in my day, music serves a multitude of purposes. Its use in theatre should be treated with the same thought and precision as every other aspect of the production, and when it works, it has the ability to colour and to lift that moment to an altogether new height. The rest of the time, it should just be worth listening to.

EJDSo theatre-music is perhaps just made to fit its definition by the selection process: the artistry lies in the ability of the theatre-maker to select and refine a piece of music for a particular theatrical moment that is utterly appropriate. I’m sure the wave of other companies who take music in theatre very seriously – Kneehigh, RashDash, Third Angel – would be inclined to agree.

Little Bulb Theatre’s Orpheus runs at BAC from 16 April – 11 May, and Tom is performing his solo work at Cambridge Junction’s SAMPLED Festival on Sunday 5 May.

Image: Headphone Throw Pillow

Emma Jane Denly

Emma Jane Denly

I'm a freelance writer, blogger and actress. I've been writing about theatre for the last three years and am interested what it can do, and how it does it. I've just moved to London and can be found moaning about Oyster cards and tripping over paving stones that definitely weren't there before whenever I'm not in a theatre.

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