My Theatre Matters – So Does Yours!

Earlier today I signed up to the #mytheatrematters campaign: http://www.mytheatrematters.com/

Why? Because I believe my theatre matters. And yours. And I believe our country would be immeasurably poorer (in every sense) without them.

My local theatre, as well as the city of Lancaster, serves a wide-spread rural community in a network of small towns and villages. It has a high quality and varied programme of live productions – classics, new writing, pantomime, live music, stand-up comedy, children’s shows, touring shows; it screens a wide range of films; it hosts and produces exhibitions and talks; it houses a cafe and bar; it supports new and emerging artists; it has a thriving youth theatre. Its audiences are good and demographically diverse and it aims to encourage this still further through schemes such as a Young People’s Pass. It undoubtedly adds to the local community’s life.

It should never have to justify its existence or fight for its survival. Nor should any of the great producing theatres in this country.

For a wider discussion of the role of theatre and culture in our society, please read my previous blog “My Case For Culture”, which was inspired by The Guardian’s Case For Culture: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/interactive/2012/dec/07/case-for-culture-100-voices?fb=nativeby

I hope that you – like me – will support our theatres. They need us – and we need them!

elaru xx

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My Case For Culture

The Guardian’s 100 Voices Case for Culture was published online yesterday. Here’s the link, in case you haven’t already seen it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/interactive/2012/dec/07/case-for-culture-100-voices?fb=native

Reading through the hundred quotes, looking at almost a hundred faces all putting forward essentially the same message, was an exciting and humbling experience; I was very proud to be one of them and my mind has been buzzing ever since – buzzing with the question: why do I feel so strongly about this and why am I compelled to make a case for culture?

In the current economic climate, I know that some people may feel the country faces bigger problems than a shrinking of arts provision, that culture is a luxury we can ill-afford, but, while admitting that there are a range of major problems facing us, and acknowledging that some tough choices do need to be made, I still feel that a case must be made for culture; it is not a luxury but a necessity for a healthy and forward-thinking society.

I was brought up in a small village in the north of England. My mother was a single parent and we lived with my grandmother in her house. I don’t mention this to win sympathy votes – my childhood, while, perhaps, not ideal, was far from deprived; I mention it to refute the idea that culture is  merely for the rich, the elite. Money was not plentiful in my upbringing, but the arts were. In my village there was a thriving choir, which I joined at the age of 9, and a fantastic drama group. Both organizations were (and still are) full of talented, committed people and I found myself singing a wide range of music – ancient and modern – on a weekly basis, and performing in plays by  Ibsen, Shakespeare, Miller etc several times a year. Through these activities I grew in confidence, creativity, discipline; I learned to work as part of a team and made a range of life-long friendships with people of all ages and backgrounds. Eye-opening and mind-broadening trips to theatre, cinema and concerts were also a regular part of my teenage life. Mum took me to all the events my school offered, whether or not I was in them, and we often attended theatre in the nearby city and, occasionally, but memorably, took trips to Manchester and even London. I know mum made sacrifices for these trips, but they couldn’t have been more important to me.

So my childhood – and later life path – was moulded and shaped by culture and I believe my life is hugely richer for it. I also believe that everyone’s experience can be enriched by exposure to the arts in any form. To give just one example: as a freelance theatre practitioner, I spent two years working part time in a Young Offenders’ prison, teaching literacy and running some drama workshops. It would be untrue to say the workshops were always wholly successful – anyone who has worked in this kind of environment will know how challenging the individuals can be – but when they did work, they were fantastic: the drama activities and devising processes we used unlocked emotions and experiences that the Young Offenders rarely talked about or explored and I watched them visibly grow in confidence, relate more effectively to each other, value themselves a little more and gradually begin to trust one another – something this group of individuals often find very hard to do. I truly believe there are very few activities – if any – other than arts ones, which would have allowed this to happen.

I could go on and on and on… and may do in a later post – perhaps in a more useful and systematic way than this personal rant. But for now, I want to finish with some of my favourite quotes from The Guardian’s interactive wall:

I value culture and the arts because…

“Without them, we are less. Less human. Less empathic. Less inspired. Less inventive. Less resourceful. Less fulfilled. Less creative. Less visionary. Less future-proof. Less socially aware. Less globally aware. Less economically viable. Without them we are less of a society.” Anita Holford, Freelance writer and comms practitioner Writing Services

“…This is all the more important at times of hardship and austerity – what one banker earns in a year would be enough to sustain hundreds of arts projects and livelihoods for artists.” Dorothy Ker, Lecturer, University of Sheffield

“The arts are essential to the formation of any culture; they are what define a culture. They are not negotiable, they are irreplaceable.” Jeremy Holloway, Director
Transient Theatre Ltd

“How dare we make drastic decisions that affect young people and kids who will never be able to undo the damage being done? Cuts might need to be made but they shouldn’t be rushed or dramatic. Implementing fees will only discourage those who can’t afford to go, adding fuel to the fire that culture is for the elite.” Mar Dixon, Audience development consultant

“Cutting art funds is going backwards as a civilised society.” Nicholas Smyrnios, Visual artist and designer

I hope you agree!

elaru xx

The Secret Library

What a strange experience this has been! On Monday at 6pm I met Andy the Litfest Artistic Director and a photographer from the local paper for the hand-over of the Mystery Launch theme. (I dread to think what the photo will look like – I had rushed to the meeting from the railway station and found myself posing by a headless statue just outside the priory…)

The theme was “The Secret Library”, which (after a quick Google to check I wasn’t missing anything specific) proved to be nice and broad. Between the hand-over and mid-afternoon Tuesday, a huge number of emails, phone calls, texts and tweets were exchanged between potential performers and me  and gradually a structure began to emerge – in my head at least – for the show. An hour’s meeting/rehearsal followed, where performance material was given out and where I talked way too much in an attempt to explain what I hoped would happen. My group of performers  left, slightly bewildered, I think, but still wonderfully willing!

And then there was Wednesday.

Wednesday included an interview on local radio (which I did in a complete blur), a manic shopping trip to spend the £33 budget on appropriate items, and a three and a half hour rehearsal in the theatre, complete with lighting technician and stage manager. Good will abounded and I think – hope – everyone had fun. Somehow, we walked through and then ran a complete hour’s show – with singers joining for the final hour of rehearsal to add some finishing touches. There were still sections we couldn’t fully rehearse – namely the two brief “interactive” segments  -where we hoped members of the audience would come onto the stage to return books given to them as they entered the theatre – and the finale – on which most of the budget had been spent and  which was something we could only really run once fully. So, at 5.30pm, a nervous, but focussed, cast took a brief break before the show began.

At 6.00 an good-sized and expectant audience sat  in The Round theatre space and  we began. The audience were very supportive and seemed to like what they saw: 12 performers (plus 6 singers) were on stage throughout, reading books as if in a library,while 3 librarians patrolled the stage and audience, and the show itself comprised a series of different stories and poems, including romances, adventures and ghost stories, told, and read by different cast members and linked by appropriate songs. Because I had confidence in the high quality of my performers, I was able to relax and enjoy much of what happened – especially as I could sense (I think!) that the audience was on our side.

As the finale drew near, though, I began to get nervous – really for the first time that day (not because I’m over-confident, but because I’d been too busy to worry!). The finale, you see, as I mentioned earlier, was where I’d spent the majority of the budget and I suddenly started to worry that I’d been too flippant – or surreal – and that it would fall flat. The finale was to be a “firework display” – every good opening event needs one! – and so I had bought loads of shiny tinsel, confetti and balloons and hidden them in the balcony of The Round for the the three librarians to pop (balloons) and shower over the audience (shiny things) while the singing group sang a piece of classical music and the cast shared chocolates with the audience. It worked in my head, but everyone I’d mentioned it to over the 48 hours – including the cast and singers – had nodded at me sympathetically and looked away.

Thankfully, however, the audience got into the spirit and really seemed to get – and enjoy – it (maybe it was the chocolates!), so I breathed a huge sigh of relief and enjoyed it too.

Phew!

Reader, we did it! Perfectly? Of course not! But energetically and to the best of our ability given all the constraints.

An enormous thanks to any performers – and crew – who are reading this – I was really proud of you all.

Here’s to the next challenge…

elaru xx

Becoming Real…

Yesterday I went shopping. I bought blue material (3 metres), dark green material (quarter of a metre), light green material (quarter of a metre), 2 broom handles, a black feathered eye mask, 4 plastic pint cups and a black marker pen. At the end of my shopping I felt satisfied, as I had completed the buying necessary for Noye’s Fludde, which is on at the end of next week.

While shopping, however, I couldn’t help thinking about the Litfest opening event, and the fact that I couldn’t do any shopping for it – couldn’t spend any of the £33 pound budget – because I still don’t know the theme! Thankfully, Monday evening is getting closer, as I’m at the stage now where I can’t wait to get going…

I have managed to do a couple of very useful things over the last two days, though. Yesterday morning I visited the venue – The Round at The Dukes. Although it’s a space I have been in many, many times as an audience member, it’s very different looking round with a “director’s head”. I only stayed about 30 minutes, but it was extremely useful – being able to visualise the backstage space, working out where various exits go, getting a copy of the floor plans, finding out a little about available props/furniture and where exactly the audience will sit. (There’s going to be an audience – a few tickets have already been booked – AARGH!)

Additionally, I have contacted all the performers who have (crazily, but wonderfully) agreed to take part and I have given them a rough rehearsal schedule. Rehearsals, obviously, will be extremely limited, so it’s important we all know where we’re supposed to be at a given time.

All these things make the event begin to seem real.

Wish us luck! And hope to see you there…

elaru xx

A Mystery…

As I’m just about to start my next set of projects, I thought I’d resume blogging. Autumn is here and as well as wind and rain (so not much different from summer, then), it has brought with it a range of new challenges, including Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (complete with cast of thousands – well nearly), some political theatre (for Theatre Uncut – very early stages with that) and a Mystery Launch Opening for Lancaster Litfest.

The Mystery Launch is the one that is mainly occupying my thoughts at the moment as it is the first event of all. It takes place at 6pm on October 17th at The Dukes Theatre (in The Round); it will involve quite a large number of performers (not certain how many as yet); it will involve music, story-telling, comedy and drama; it will last an hour; it will cost £33 exactly (that’s the budget, which reflects the number of years the Litfest has been running); it will be free entry for audience members, though they must book in advance; and, er… that’s all I know.

That’s all I know, and the event is in two and a half weeks.

This is because another name for the Mystery Launch Event is the Flax Challenge (Flax Publishers), and the challenge is that I only find out the theme for the event 48 hours before it is performed!

With this in mind, I’ve contacted performers to secure their good-will, time and talents, and I’ve been reading around Flax publications for potentially useful material, as well as thinking about how to feature the £33 budget. But that’s about all I can do.

In some ways this makes it one of the most relaxing run-ups to an event I’ve ever known – normally with this amount of time to go, life is chaotic to say the least – but in other ways, stress-levels are high…

…though probably nothing compared with the levels they’ll be on the 15th of October…!

Wish me luck!

elaru xx