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Tag Archive | "touring"

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Blog: The Wicked Stage – Have I fallen out of love with musicals?

Posted on 04 February 2014 by Sarah Green

I was initially going to write a blog about how I have fallen out of love with musicals, hence my absence in blogging recently. However, I then realised that isn’t true and what I actually mean is due to location and lack of funds I have not seen any musical theatre. However, that probably isn’t true either and it all comes down to definition.

The term ‘musical theatre’ means, for me at least, the musicals going on in theatre buildings; so by that definition, no, I have not seen much to blog about. However, the broader term ‘musical’ opens up all the movie musicals (which I watched a lot of over Christmas) from the classics such as Singing in the Rain to the more recent Frozen. To an extent, this can also include me belting the Wicked soundtrack in my room whenever I’m home alone – personally I think I do a killer rendition of ‘Popular’. You have the same issues with what is the definition of ‘drama’ next to ‘theatre’ and when does a play become a musical? War Horse contains original songs but does that make it a musical or a musical play? This is in turn complicated when book writers such as Oscar Hammerstein called their integrated musicals a musical play. A tangled web of different terms and opinions but, as I say, this is why I love the genre.

To return to why I think movie musicals are important, it is because of accessibility. I live in rural North Devon where my nearest big city is Exeter (an hour away) which has amazing venues, which, like my local theatres, are too small for the massive touring musicals; this is why projects such as National Theatre Live! are so important, but sadly there aren’t that many musicals for it to show. Therefore going to the local cinema and seeing a film musical is amazing. From a performer’s point of view, it is also another area of work and a chance to hone voice skills; most of the key cast of Frozen are Broadway vets: Idina Menzel (Wicked), Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening), Santino Fontana (Cinderella), Josh Gad (Book of Mormon) and, although more known for her TV and film work, Kristen Bell trained in musical theatre.

From a younger perspective, films such as The Lion King and Frozen or even TV shows such as Glee are an introduction to musical theatre; I had never heard Rose’s Turn from Gypsy until a character sang it on the show. Of course, many movie musicals now start as a stage show or become one at some point. Frozen has only been in cinemas a few months and there are already plans for a movie sequel and a stage show.

So to re-think, no I have not fallen out of love with musicals and I’m not sure I ever can really; my issues are all monetary based. But every time I channel my inner Glinda, watch a YouTube video/musical or reblog something on Tumblr then I am indulging in musical theatre, and the mobility and community is yet another reason why I continue to love it.

 

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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Dispatch from the Future of Small Scale Touring Symposium hosted by Paines Plough at Manchester’s Royal Exchange.

Posted on 31 January 2014 by A Younger Theatre

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Two things quickly became clear at Paines Plough’s symposium on the Future of Small Scale Touring, which drew a congregation of producers, programmers, venues, artists and companies from across the UK to Manchester this week:

1) ‘Small scale’ covered a huge range of work from National Portfolio Organisations to artists struggling on a pound an hour, work taking place in theatres, schools, chip shops and vans.

2) Discussing ‘the future’ would have to include taking stock of the present, with most arts funding at best plateauing and at worst plummeting.

The day began with Louise Blackwell and Kate Mcgrath from producing organisation Fuel talking about its New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood scheme, which asks communities what they would like to see and uses a network of volunteer ‘Theatre Adventurers’ to promote the work locally. This kicked of a theme of the importance of having feet on the ground in the communities we want to take work to. Sophie Eustace of Fevered Sleep echoed this need for “local ambassadors” and Neil Murray spoke about talking to audiences as the cornerstone of the National Theatre of Scotland’s rural touring success, allowing it to address very practical audience concerns like the need for raked seating to make work translate from venues like Edinburgh’s Traverse to village halls. Mat Fenton of Manchester’s Contact Theatre took this approach one step further, by giving the communities it works with a hand in programming, Contact attracts a diverse, young (70% under 35!) audience with a genuine investment in the work.

There were some innovative approaches to tackling the logistical challenges of touring. Tourbook, presented by Sam Eccles of The Touring Network, is a Facebook-style tool connecting rural promoters in the Highlands with each other and with performers (it might ultimately be used by audiences as well). The Roundabout, a 138 seat portable flat-pack theatre developed by Paines Plough for touring, certainly seems like an exciting solution to keeping work consistent, but with £200,000 invested, it was a bit of a leap from my personal sense of ‘small scale’.

The second session of the day on Data and Audiences raised questions about the gap between small scale NPOs and very small scale producers and artists. There were some interesting ideas from Nick Bareham from AU Insights about engaging with audiences online and from Jo Taylor from Morris Hargreaves McIntyre about thinking of audiences in terms of their values and attitudes rather than cold box office data. But for some, like Gloria Lindh of theatre company Little Mighty, barely covering the basic costs of touring, this all felt a bit too abstract, an evasion of the elephant in the room of diminished arts funding.

Sholeh Johnston’s presentation was a refreshing departure, focusing on the environmental impact of small scale touring. Bike tours won’t work for everyone, but Johnston (from Julie’s Bicycle) made a compelling case for environmentally-minded touring, for example pointing out that people’s homes are less energy intensive than hotels, but also cheaper and offer valuable connections with the communities you want to sell tickets to.

For me, the most relevant part of the day came at the end with a session on working in partnership. Mat Burman from Warwick Arts Centre spoke about its approach to working with artists, offering commissions and development time and space. R&D by the Sea at the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis also offers artists space and a platform to share their work with venues in the Dorset region. The PANDA Mentoring Scheme and New Directions at York Theatre Royal both provide roots into touring and there’s a good list of similar opportunities on the National Rural Touring Forum’s website. Working in partnership is also about venues developing relationships with each other as well as with artists, represented by House in the East and South East and BAC’s Collaborative Touring Network.

The reliably emotive issue of funding found a strong voice towards the end of the day, with Charlotte Jones from ITC stating the case for subsidy as the only sustainable model for touring, imploring the arts councils to create a more level playing field, redistributing some of the returns from huge productions like War Horse and Matilda to small scale work. Julia Samuels from Liverpool-based company 20 Stories High raised concerns about the kind of elitism that will flourish in theatre without subsidy.

The absence of artist speakers felt like a missed opportunity and more inclusion of the I’ll Show You Mine debate (Mat Fenton got a cheer just for mentioning it) could have helped us probe the financial viability of touring and perhaps question distribution of funding between organisations and artists. Charlotte Jones and Mark Makin did at least raise the importance of venues shouldering some of the risk of touring to make it more viable for artists.

Vikki Heywood had opened the event saying we should probably all come away with a few good ideas and feeling a bit angry. Some left angrier than others and I boarded the train back to London equally excited about the new networks for touring and concerned about whether it can ever add up without decent subsidy. But I’m just not ready to believe that ‘touring is dead’, so I’m off to talk to some programmers and pump up the tyres on my bike.

Anna Beecher is a live artist and writer and co-founder of FAT CONTENT Theatre and Cabaret. Her new piece, Living Things, will preview at Battersea Arts Centre, 20-22 March.

 

 

 

 

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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Filskit blog: Can you afford to be an artist?

Posted on 26 November 2013 by Filskit Theatre

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Every now and then something comes along on Twitter that gets everyone talking – and we’re not referring to Miley Cyrus and her infamous twerking abilities! We’re talking about Bryony Kimmings’s latest blog. If you haven’t read it yet, we advise you to. Heard of Kimmings? She’s the award-winning, well respected and successful artist who’s brought us acclaimed pieces such as Sex Idiot and Credible, Likeable Superstar Role Model. She even has her own Wikipedia page. Yet despite all this perceived success, she has got everyone listening by talking very honestly and openly about that very familiar and uncomfortable topic – money.

Making a living as an artist is tough. Whether it is the constant struggle for funding or working ridiculous hours, we all have our tales of woe. There’s a reason that phrases like “struggling actor” and “impoverished artist” exist. It’s bloody hard work being all creative! When we Filskit ladies first started out we would perform for free and go to any venue that would let us in the door, however unsuitable. When you’re a young graduate with boundless energy and enthusiasm you’re eager to grab any opportunity that comes along with both hands – because you love creating work and performing, and will do anything to keep the dream alive. But you quickly realise that this is not a sustainable way of living, especially if you want to grow and be perceived as a professional theatre maker. That means that at some point you will expect to be paid for the work that you’re doing.

It’s taken several years but we’re finally at the point where we’re paid a fixed fee by venues for the shows that we do. Occasionally there will be some haggling or the very occasional box-office split but this is something most artists long to avoid. Whether they like it or not, venues are the ones with the local audiences and the stronger marketing power that smaller companies are unable to match. So getting you to do all the leg work to sell your show can seem grossly unfair, particularly if you are touring to a region that you are not familiar with or that is miles away from where you actually live. What’s worse is when you hear the horror stories of companies who actually make a loss by performing as they’ve had to shell out for PR costs and the hiring of equipment, for example.

We all know that venues aren’t all raking in the cash so it is not right to paint them as the villains in this scenario, especially as we have had many positive experiences when organising our current tour, but it is also unfair to squeeze artists so hard that they have no choice but to buckle – the very people who are performing the work in the first place! As Kimmings puts it, “I am constantly asked to de-value my art work by venues, education establishments, independent producers and sometimes even funders.” If venues are being squeezed that tightly then this is something that needs to be addressed further up the food chain, otherwise we risk missing out on high quality work that just doesn’t get seen, in a bidding war. Why is it assumed that Arts Council England will sweep in and save the day? For anyone who has ever applied for funding and failed you’ll know this really isn’t always a viable option. Surely we shouldn’t need to lean on an organisation so strongly in order to subsidise our art and our very existence? So why is there still an underlying assumption that this is just ‘the way it is’ in the creative sector?

Thank God that Kimmings has written her blog. Isn’t it time that there was more visibility about how the industry is actually working? For the younger, ‘emerging’ artists isn’t it disheartening and surprising to see that even people considered ‘top billing acts’ are still struggling to make ends meet? It certainly doesn’t inspire you to march in on Monday morning and give up the day job. We ladies are teetering on the brink of making Filskit our full time job. However we keep coming back to the harsh reality that it would mean we’d be working full-time for the company but couldn’t expect to be paid a full time wage. For 2014 we’ve secured a strong list of tour dates that we’re really proud of at venues we love, including the Polka and the Lyric Hammersmith, yet as a company of three with marketing costs, website fees and the hiring of extra cast members, we’re still sadly unable to stop doing our other jobs just yet (as much as we’re dying to!). Without the guarantee of regular funding we need to make sure we can somehow afford to pay our musician and then ourselves (plus hope for a buffer if any of our micro projectors die, which can happen).

For our current small scale show The Feather Catcher we charge £450 per day for one performance and £750 per day for two, and thankfully most venues are happy with this figure. But when we are only performing one day per week we still need to work hard to gain some extra income.

Isn’t it refreshing to see someone like Kimmings so honestly break down the figures and show that actually art, even for the highly established, can be too much of a shaky career choice? With the lure of other more profitable avenues beckoning, wouldn’t it be a crying shame to lose exciting, quality artists like Bryony Kimmings for the sake of needing to pay the bills?

Get involved with the conversations online using the #illshowyoumine or follow @BryonyKimmings

Photo courtesy Bryony Kimmings and (c) Christa Holka.

 

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre are an all-female ensemble with a passion for micro-projection. The company, Sarah Gee, Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson, have been making work together since 2008. As graduates of the European Theatre Arts course at Rose Bruford they were brought together by their shared love of projection and cake.

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Feature: Curve Theatre’s fifth birthday – Leicester’s artistic heart

Posted on 14 November 2013 by Jessica Wilson

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Leicester’s Curve theatre is celebrating its fifth birthday. As one of the UK’s leading producing theatres, Curve has hosted a wide range of productions and has been perhaps best known for producing musical theatre. As Fiona Allan, CEO of Curve, states, it did not set out to be known for programming musicals, as the Leicester Theatre Trust already had a fantastic reputation for producing these at the Haymarket, under Artistic Director Paul Kerryson, undoubtedly one of the leading directors of musical theatre in the country. It was a natural progression to produce musicals at the Curve; with the deadly murder-musical Chicago about to land on the Leicester stage, the theatre has previously programmed numerous hits such as West Side Story, Godspell, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Carousel, Hot Stuff and numerous works by Stephen Sondheim.

Musical theatre is not for every audience, meaning Curve also produces and co-produces a range of other genres, from dark contemporary drama such as The Pillowman, to classic and comedic drama such as Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn, contemporary dance such as the Akram Khan Company – led by Khan who, incidentally, studied at Leicester’s De Montfort University – and children’s theatre, such as The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo. In a turn towards the more controversial, Allan recalls the decision to present the Batsheva Ensemble in 2012, a group of young dancers from Israel performing a production which was picketed by various anti-Israeli lobby groups. Protesters were planted inside the theatre to disrupt the performance yet the Batsheva tour went on to be nominated for a UK Theatre Award for Best Tour of 2012.

In an additional strand of Curve’s programme, regular work with the local community is both enjoyed and encouraged, focused on the annual community production which encompasses actors, technicians and the audience in developing skills, community spirit and an understanding of the role the arts play in society. In a big milestone for Curve, the team won the Visit England Gold Award for Access in 2011. As a national recognition for accessibility in its broadest sense, for the physical accessibility of the building and the accessibility of ticket prices, Allan was particularly proud to lead this. From just £2 to see a public dress rehearsal, a visit to Curve is affordable for all, and the extent of the community and education programmes ensures that Curve is reaching out and making theatre accessible to all of Leicester’s diverse communities. Programming new talent does not come easy, yet Allan’s team works hard to ensure they deliver. They are constantly looking out for potential cast members, new companies, emerging artists, with lots of studio programming coming from Edinburgh festival performances; a flat is usually hired during the Fringe meaning the team – including Allan! – can see six or seven shows a day.

The artistic team is led by Kerryson, who works to plan, develop and sometimes direct productions. Next up in terms of directing for Kerryson is a brand new production of musical Hairspray next year, a welcome production for the theatre and Leicester’s audiences. Working alongside Lee Proud as choreographer and Ben Atkinson as musical director, the show will run from late February to early April. Kerryson’s credits include the forthcoming production of Chicago and Hello, Dolly!, for which Janie Dee was recently named best performer at the UK Theatre Awards, a testament to the theatre and the artistic team. As a result of such rich theatre on offer, Curve has welcomed more than one million people through its doors in these past five years. Strong relationships have been established within the city and county, and are helping to grow Curve’s national reputation year on year. Allan likes to think of Curve as a showcase for the city and region’s talent, a symbol of diversity and potential. Studies have shown a real economic impact on the city by the theatre, with the Curve’s shows attracting many visitors to Leicester.

The wide programme of events and productions places the theatre at the heart of Leicester, providing something for everyone on a local, national and international scale. Not only are audiences benefitting from the richness of Curve, but so, too, are theatre practitioners: as part of the Curve’s on-going commitment to supporting and developing talent within the East Midlands, the first Associate Artists have been appointed – Aakash Odedra Company, New Art Club and METRO-BOULOT-DODO.

There have been so many major achievements of the Curve, Allan is unable to single one out. Looking back over the Curve’s five years, Allan identifies a huge turning point for the organisation with the great success of The King and I, which Kerryson directed at Christmas in 2010. It was a sell-out, so much so that it was picked up to transfer to Edinburgh Festival Theatre for the 2011 Christmas show and to go on to tour across the UK in 2012. In total, the production was seen by more than 200,000 people around the country, and marked the point at which people in Leicester, and nationally, sat up and took notice of the fantastic shows Curve produces.

Photo by Flickr user Kilian Seifried under a Creative Commonc licence.

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