There are lots of moments where I find the label ‘emerging company’ very confusing, mostly because of the lack of definition surrounding it. Emerging is defined in the dictionary as becoming apparent or prominent which I feel is a good description, however the emerging label in the theatre world often is blurred with how long a company has been making work, how many shows they have produced and to what degree of success. Taking risks as an ‘emerging company’ is also actively encouraged but there are very few outlets that allow this to happen without it feeling terrifyingly daunting – and yes, although Smoking Apples have been producing work for the last five years, we still consider ourselves to be both emerging and engage in new levels of fear with every new show we make.
But I do wonder without this label and without this fear, if we would have ever made the type of work we do and those few outlets, that are like a cuddle and warm cup of tea in the midst of the theatre storm, really do make the world of difference. Incoming Festival is one said outlet and one that we have grown very fond of over the past few years. Smoking Apples’ relationship with Incoming Festival and the New Diorama started back in 2014 when we applied with CELL, our collaboration with Dogfish Theatre. At the time, CELL was undertaking a series of premieres across London with our slot at Incoming one of them.
Now, by the time you get to the premiere stage, you would hope that the fear would have started to subside but no such luck for us. Everything about CELL was new for us. The process, the collaboration, the form, it was all completely different to how we had worked before and let’s be honest, making a show about a man being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease was also going to be a daunting process (see what I mean about the fear being needed? – thanks brain). And that’s just the creative stuff, then there’s all the marketing, press, logistics and ticket sales to think and worry about. The team at Incoming Festival just took us right under their wing (and it is a very big wing as there are lots of companies who all get the same brilliant support) and for the first time during our premieres of CELL, made me feel really excited about the show, really excited about what we had achieved and letting everyone see it. They made me feel brave and for friends and colleagues who know my pre-show stress routine well, that is quite an accomplishment.
The following year, 2015, we brought a full length work in progress version of our new show In Our Hands, a story about trawler fisherman Alf, coping and dealing with the changes in the current fishing industry. Performing a work in progress was a whole new kettle of fish (sorry – couldn’t resist) and with Cell having been so well received the previous year, there was a definite feeling of the tricky second album. But Incoming Festival and it’s audience felt like the right place to do this, the right place to take the risk. We felt more comfortable so we decided to go back a step if that make sense, from CELL premiere to In Our Hands work in progress. It’s no secret that at this stage, In Our Hands needed a lot of spit and polish but again, we were hugely supported by the festival, the audience and the other brilliant companies involved, all who took the time to have honest conversations with us and tell us what worked and what didn’t. Incoming provides something quite rare in that it’s a festival of people who are all in the same boat so it really is a great opportunity to be among fellows who share the fear just as much as you do! This is wonderful because ultimately it’s nice to know you’re not a neurotic weirdo.
So, my advice to anyone reading this blog is to own the fear that making theatre induces. Fear, for me, shows that you care, shows that blood, sweat and tears have gone into making the work, shows that you will not rest on your laurels and you will strive to constantly improve and grow. It also shows that despite being always a little bit afraid, you are willing to take that jump and with brilliant things like Incoming Festival waiting to catch you at the bottom, there’s nothing to lose.
Smoking Apples are back at the New Diorama Theatre for two nights only with In Our Hands (fully spit and polished) on Sun 10 & Mon 11 April.
They are also touring CELL around the UK this Spring.
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport 2016