In a small room above a nineteenth century music hall in Hackney, a group of voguish twenty-somethings have gathered to discuss theatre. They come from across London and range widely in age and background. Some members of the group are studying at university, others are already working full time in the arts. What they have in common is a strong desire to play an active role in shaping the current theatrical scene. They are the Hoxton Select panel.
Hoxton Select is a relatively new scheme run by Hoxton Hall – the famous North London venue, known for showcasing some of the best in contemporary theatre, music and art. This young panel has been recruited and given the opportunity to produce one of Hoxton Hall’s spring seasons. Following a series of so called ‘scratch and pitch’ audition evenings (at which the panel view the work of prospective theatre companies), they must democratically select which artists will feature in the season, which runs throughout April and has been themed ‘Rebirth’.
The chosen performers will receive up to £1,500 towards their production, a 40% split in box office takings, and the chance to market themselves through Hoxton Hall’s PR streams – a pretty good gig for any up-and-coming company looking to break into the mainstream market.
But what makes a successful season? This is precisely what the panel have met to discuss. As I walk into the chilly upper rooms of the Hoxton Arts Centre, the panel are already deep in debate: “We’re looking for something new,” argues Joe, a writer and Web Designer for Ideas Tap. “We need to challenge the audience, we want to leave them feeling that they’ve experienced something here that they couldn’t have got anywhere else.”
“I agree,” says Dan, a young drama student. “But I think the most important thing is that our opening night feels like a party. We need acts that’ll break the barriers and get people up on their feet, enjoying themselves. That way they’ll keep coming back.”
The selection process is egalitarian; panel members throw their opinions onto an open floor. Ideally, they are looking to fill the season with experienced performers, who already have enough of an underground following to generate a certain amount of hype. However, they also want material that is raw and malleable. “We need companies that are open to new ideas,” says Jillian McKeague, the programme’s co-ordinator, who is chairing the discussion.“We want the panel to be as involved in the creative side of this process as possible.”
Clearly the standard of work auditioned at the scratch and pitch sessions was extremely high, and at several points during the evening the panel seem torn. Do they want material that is bold and unreserved, or classically thought-provoking? Broadly relevant, or youth orientated? Tried and tested, or new and risky? These are the issues that concern producers working at every level of the industry. The panel handle them with professionalism and scope.
In a break between negotiations, I ask a couple of the members what drew them to participate in Hoxton Select. “I study at Goldsmiths,” explains Natasha, also a drama student. “It’s fantastic, but, being in London, all you want to do is get out there and start working on the real stuff. There’s so much great theatre going on in this city, it’s impossible to stay in a university bubble. “It’s great experience,” adds Pamela, who is studying for a Masters in Theatre Management. “The companies we auditioned covered a broad range of styles and techniques. It’s important to get an accurate view of the kind of theatre that’s being made at the moment, and to work first hand with up-and-coming artists.”
By the end of the meeting everyone looks like they need a drink, but they also seem confident that they have made the right choices. “Everyone happy?” asks Jillian. “Great! That’s the hard part over.” She grins sardonically.
Encompassing a variety of different genres, from cabaret theatre to indie folk music, Rebirth will have an open, festival feel to it. Audiences who visit Hoxton Hall in April are certain to be drawn into the fresh atmosphere of the season. And which artists were eventually chosen? I’m afraid I’m sworn to secrecy. But watch this space, A Younger Theatre will report back as soon as Hoxton Hall’s Rebirth season is officially announced.