A word of support for David Byrne’s New Diorama mission, as detailed on A Younger Theatre earlier this week – and a word of qualification, too. We at Camden People’s Theatre (CPT) are right behind our friend and neighbour David’s mission to create a thriving “companies theatre”. But not because, as he claims, “there are no spaces dedicated to helping and mentoring [young companies]” – this isn’t the case. That help is freely available round the corner from David’s theatre, at CPT, which has been dedicated to supporting young artists and companies for more than 17 years. Me (Brian Logan) and Jenny Paton have just taken over as Co-Directors here, and one immediate pleasure has been realising how many amazing talents started life in this tiny dynamo of a theatre, and went on to do wonders here and elsewhere. We’re confident there will be many more.
Take the companies David name-checks: Idle Motion, which he’s rightly excited to be hosting next year, performed its show The Vanishing Horizon at CPT this spring, and its predecessor, Borges and I, at our 2010 Sprint Festival. Analogue previewed its one-on-one show Lecture Notes on a Death Scene at Sprint last March, and is bringing it back for a run next month. Dancing Brick staged its first show 21:13 here back in Dec 2008; we then gave them free rehearsal space and another run in September 2009. David’s other favourites, Plasticine Men, scratched its first show Keepers here in 2010, and youneedme performed its first show How It Ended at CPT in Jan 2008. From here, it proceeded to Edinburgh and great critical acclaim.
Those are just a few examples. Over the years that CPT has celebrated collaborative theatre-making – since a group of idealist young actors (hence our name!) set us up in 1994 – we’ve helped companies including Rotozaza, Shunt, my own company Cartoon de Salvo, Unlimited, Fevered Sleep and the Pacitti Company take their first steps (and often their second and third, too). We welcome back adventurous artists when they’re well-established, too – like the world-beating Improbable Theatre, which come to CPT when it has new ideas to play with (The Still, Sept 2011). But our core activity is supporting newer companies – such Daedalus Theatre, whose show A Place at the Table was developed here, named Time Out Critics’ Choice on its brief 2009 run, and returns on Tuesday for three-week stint.
At CPT, we have flexible support schemes, which help young artists and companies like Daedaulus get their ideas onstage, and to an audience. Our Starting Blocks programme invites peer-supported artists or companies to develop work over a ten-week period. Our TONIC (Training of Innovative New Companies) scheme offers free rehearsal space and production bursaries, marketing support and networking opportunities. Our Sprint festival gives these artists a high-profile showcase. We hold workshops – including Unlimited’s recent free session on setting up a new theatre company – that impart producing and admin, as well as artistic, skills. Our offer to young artists and companies is what it has always been: get in touch, let us help.
Jenny and I have arrived with a due sense of awe at this mission, and what it has achieved – and with heaps of ideas about the future. We want to support more artists, in response to their changing needs. We want to find a bigger audience for what they do. We want to present their work in eye-catching and imaginative ways. We want CPT to be a home and hub for Britain’s most exciting young theatre-makers. We want – need – to shout louder about CPT’s punch-above-its-weight pedigree, about the essential work we do giving new artists a leg-up when they need it most.
On that mission, we’ve found an ally in David. He’s 100% correct to say that there’s less provision for companies than for playwrights, and that our theatre culture favours individual artists over collaborators. We’re excited that he’s now setting out to address this. He’s right to identify that London theatre is in flux, and some venues that once showed and supported this work no longer do so – or do so differently.
At CPT, we’re talking to artists and producers about this every day, working out how we can help. We’ve spoken with David too, over one of those cups of tea he mentioned, about how CPT and the New Diorama can team up and complement one another. We wish his “companies theatre” well. Anything that creates more opportunities for young artists, that serves curious and engaged audiences (and brings them to our neck of the woods!), and anything that celebrates innovative, collaborative theatre-making – well, that’s what CPT has been doing for years, and we welcome anyone who wants to join in.
Brian Logan is Co-Director of Camden People’s Theatre with Jenny Paton. If you’d like to respond to this piece or to Brian directly please email firstname.lastname@example.org or Jenny at email@example.com. Image of Idle Motion’s Vanishing Horizons.