Julia Head went from working Box Office at the Bristol Old Vic with her friend Marek to forming theatre company, Full Rogue. Now their show, Wild Swimming is on there. Here, she talks about how very special that is.

We’re sat in a big shiny box called Rehearsal Room One, here at Bristol Old Vic. Right now, it’s the last week of rehearsals for our first show Wild Swimming before we head to the Edinburgh Fringe. We were last in this room two years ago, messing around with some half-formed ideas that eventually became our show. If feels like we’ve come full circle. It feels significant. 

Back then all we had were some vague thoughts, a massive orange dress that we stole from the costume people (sorry costume people), and loads of dried mango (Marek likes mango). I’d like to say that we’ve come a long way, but we did just spend our entire lunchbreak shooting a picture of Boris Johnson’s face with nerf guns… so I guess things haven’t changed that much. Maybe we’ve regressed. Maybe… like the rest of this stupid country… we’ve just gone and totally regressed. 

Rehearsal Room One is a magnificent space. It’s got massive windows and proper shiny dance floor and it’s where all the big shows get rehearsed. To have simply been given it, for a whole week, feels like a huge privilege. It is this feeling of privilege, and whether it is warranted or not, that has got me thinking.

Space – finding it, using it, defending it – has always been important to me. This might be because I like big spaces for leaping and running and forward rolls. It might be because big spaces encourage big thoughts. It might be because space is becoming more private, more privatized, and that feels wrong.

I walk around the Bristol Old Vic in my socks, and I think that means this is my home. Homes are important when you’re young. They provide safety and shelter and they are where your family lives. Families are important because, in spite of everything, they will still be there, wanting the best for you. They will sit there whilst you have a tantrum, they will help you with the homework you decided to leave until Sunday evening, they will be there when you run away from home and when you come back. They will mark out your height on the kitchen door each year to see how much you’ve grown.

I joined Bristol Old Vic Young Company when I was 17. I did lots of shows with them that were given the same attention, respect and resources as a professional show. That was cool. Then I did a year-long course they run here called Made in Bristol where they give 12 young people a space of their own to play in for a year, with all the resources and people they might need. We became a company and we made a show. That was really cool. Then I was given a Leverhulme Scholarship from Emma (Ferment Producer Emma… now Ferment Producer Ben) to learn about how to be a director. That was, legit, so cool. 

Meanwhile, in another part of the building entirely, Marek was put on an amazing attachment scheme, through the literary department, called the Open Session. This was important to him because – in the intervening space between graduating university and getting that opportunity – the poor boy had gone quite, quite mad. James (Literary James) treated him as a serious writer. He got to try out his serious writer plays with amazing students from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, he got to talk seriously about his serious plays with serious people so that he could make them better and even more serious… He was a very serious young man.

Marek and I met each other, eventually, working on the Box Office at (you guessed it) Bristol Old Vic.  The building was being renovated at the time, which was great because it meant that nobody was paying us much attention. We were able to sit, and to chat about plays we like and recipes we wanted to cook and places we wanted to go and dream about all the plays we could make (sorry, Box Office people). We were given the chance to put some of that chatting into practice thanks to Lucy (Engagement Lucy) and in the end we were able to make FullRogue. We made our first show, Wild Swimming, and we got to exist in a space of our own. This is the coolest thing so far. 

Over the last two years we have demanded space. We have been gifted space. We have negotiated and persuaded and cajoled and bullied some of the best people we know into giving us all the space we need. We’ve sat in rooms, making our company and making our show, and we have sucked this building, and its people, and all their collective resources dry. We have taken liberty upon liberty and we have made countless mistakes, and we have taken up peoples’ time.  We have taken their space. They have let us call it home. That feels special, and rare and valuable. 

I don’t know if you could get all that in London. I don’t know if you could be held so tightly, and so warmly, by one organisation for four whole years, and be given so much space and time and support with no expectation or pressure to make anything good. I think you might have to go from space to space in London, never finding your way home. I think you might only be given one shot. I think you might live in fear of those spaces being taken away from you if you make something bad and that pains me because I don’t know if you can make good work out of fear. 

Basically what I am saying is that what Bristol Old Vic has given us feels special. I wish it didn’t. I wish it felt normal, but it is completely exceptional and rare and should be applauded.

Yes, it should be applauded.

Reader, I am now, at this moment, stood in Rehearsal Room One at the Bristol Old Vic, clapping at my laptop. 

Clap, clap, clap I go. Clap, clap, clap.

For more information on Julia, the show and the company, visit the Full Rogue website. Wild Swimming will play at Bristol Old Vic from Sept 10 – 21.