Tag Archives: Barbican Theatre

Where’s the freelance community?

Down here in Plymouth we have the award winning Drum that programmes and co-produces with some of the hottest theatre companies around. And The Theatre Royal with its huge production and learning centre TR2 can offer companies time and space to rehearse and perform premieres of their work, hence we see the latest from Complicite, Frantic, Hofesh and Matthew Bourne way before anyone else. The people of the South West like their theatre, dance and musicals so you would think that amongst all this there would be a thriving freelance fraternity.

WRONG… In the decade that I have lived down here I have produced two shows that have played the Drum and I was extremely lucky to do that. I was fed up of constantly leaving my home city to make work and in 2008 I tried to do something about it. I co-produced an arts festival with the intention of using local professional writers, artists, technicians and directors, in the vain hope that once a community was established as being here, and of a standard that other cities seem to have on their doorsteps, then more opportunities would develop amongst a freelance sector and the organisations that can offer the work.

YET… five years later there are no opportunities for freelancers in this city. The Theatre Royal hoovers up any funding by the nature of its reputation, kudos and therefore, power. On top of that we have a council who seem apathetic to cultural offerings and have very little money to put into events other than those which have the reliability of regular funding behind them. In fact the job of arts officer seems to have all but disappeared from the council website, there is no visibility of any arts awards or pots of funding. Where five years ago I was able to co create something that needed substantial funding behind it, today I would be hard pressed to find match funding from this city council.

SO how do we start again and sustain a vibrant artistic community? We have lots to offer in the way of training from higher education courses at two universities and a college, to classes and workshops run by the Creative Learning department of the Theatre Royal and the Barbican Theatre – who have a long reputation for excellent work with young people. These establishments are currently offering opportunities for ’emerging’ artists but seem oblivious  to the wealth of people who have emerged, plied their trade (elsewhere) and have a wide range of talent between them to offer up. And once those ’emerging’ practitioners have been well and truly primed for the creative industries, where are the opportunities for them? Yet again another generation will have to leave and go elsewhere for the jobs.

Over the last couple of years practitioners who lived down here have moved away to more vibrant cities with cultural offers for freelancers. The ones who remain here are those who have no choice but to stay because their partner’s work is here, or have other family commitments. Some have had to leave their freelance status and take up teaching work, or have left the profession altogether.

At a recent open spacer, that the council initiated after Plymouth failed to get to round two of the city of culture bid, there were plenty of suggestions to create a vibrant cultural community. Maybe its time for the large institutions to open their doors to the freelancers so that there can be a conversation about culture beyond the corridors  of the main organisations and, for the council to listen to the feedback. At the end of November New Model Theatre will host the first scratch night in the new space at the Theatre Royal, the Lab. But we could be doing so much more, where are the lunchtime play readings, the experimental festivals, the work in progress. Its a myth that local actors, writers, designers etc are not as good as those from the bigger cities, but we need to share our work in order to mature as artists.

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Damnation Alley

As my last post suggested and as the findings from my previous performance concluded, the dramaturgy for sited performance most productively involves the collection of material from three main sources: its archive and repertoire and the creator’s phenomenological response to the space of performance. At the end of 2011 I created along with Derek Frood and sound designer Belinda Dixon, an audio walk that took you through streets of the old Barbican area in Plymouth. A twenty minute journey starting and ending at the Barbican Theatre in Castle Street, the audio can be downloaded onto an mp3 player and listened to as it guides you on a solo walk. The performance was  inspired by an archival 1851 Government paper into the living conditions in Plymouth. Entitled Damnation Alley that was the nickname for Castle Street, which was infamous in the nineteenth century for its amount of ale houses and brothels. 

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Sailors arriving on shore would make Castle Street their first port of call and over a hundred and fifty years ago these steps above would have been covered over, giving entry into the alley a sense of the unknown. Using the Government report alongside two real life characters, the Reverend Francis Barnes, vicar of Holy Trinity  church 1851-1904, and Mrs Cload, lifelong president of the Sutton Harbour Regatta and campaigner for the rights of Barbican tenants, we layered the archival stories we found and the oral history Belinda had worked on previously, with periods of sensory participation. The walk leads you into a hidden garden, where you are invited to pause the audio and listen to the twentieth century sounds of the streets and water below. The sound design on Damnation Alley not only gives the domestic everyday noises from the nineteenth century street but also ambient sound to help this phenomenological midway point in the garden.

14. Mouth of the Plym

Participating is the best way to engage with the audio but as a second choice Derek has made a film for those who couldn’t make the walk. Listening to the Rev Barnes as he roams Castle Street at night, breaking in on people in the beer houses and shaming them with his denunciations gives you a small flavour of the extent of the debauchery in 1851 Plymouth. You can watch the film here.

Books consulted (as well as The History of Teetotalism in Devonshire)

Gill, Crispin (1997) Sutton Harbour, Devon Books

Goodhall, Felicity (2009) Lost Plymouth, Birlinn Books

Robinson, Chris (2007)  Plymouth’s Historic Barbican, Pen & Ink Publishing

Low Profile

In August I went up to the Edinburgh fringe festival, it had been five years since I was last there as a performer and I was desperate to return. I also wanted to see work at the Forest Fringe venue but was sad to see they were not hosting one this year, instead they were publishing a book Paper Stages from which there would be pages of provocations for the reader to perform. I liked the idea of this, even more so, I liked the idea of receiving the book by doing one hours work at the Hunt and Darton cafe, so, I set out to find said cafe.

As you can see from the picture not so easy, with the scaffolding creating an extra layer from the street, but as I walked past, it was not the piles of Paper Stages books in the window or even the fact that it looked like a cafe, but some newpapers in the second window that made me look twice. There in black and white was the name of the city, where I live, in a cafe geographically hundreds of miles away – this is what made me stop in my tracks, the word Plymouth and then, when I looked closer, I saw the words Hunt and Darton Cafe.

I was really surprised to find a newspaper written by Plymouth based company Low Profile staring me in the face, but as a creature who believes in fate I felt it was a sign, so I went in, collected my copy of Low Profile’s newspaper and signed up for my one hour of work. I fully expected to be waiting tables or washing up but was more than happy when I was told to go and gather more things for the cafe, glasses, nice mugs, vinyl LP’s and teapots – all with a retro feel if possible. So for the next hour I trawled the charity shops of Edinburgh around the Royal Mile to collect my shopping list – happy to say I found everything and returned it to the cafe in return for my book. Since my return to Plymouth I’ve been looking at the Low Profile newspaper and saw that they want people to feed back to them if they had encountered their work. Looking through the paper I recognised the badges that were on sale in the B Bar at the Barbican Theatre, I remember they made me laugh especially the one that said PLYMOUTH NOT PORTSMOUTH. When we first moved down here 12 years ago my best friend drove down from London for the weekend and phoned to say “I’m just arriving in Portsmouth now, where do I go?” Of course I also saw the ‘survival shelf’ at the Hunt and Darton Cafe which made me smile and I was intrigued by the titles of the books. I think I only realised it was made by Low Profile when I saw the picture of it in the newspaper, but that was probably my bad eyesight (remember I didn’t spot the cafe even though there was a large sign on the scaffolding). I may even have some books that could be added to the shelf.  As instructed I am sending you this link for your response blog Have-You-Seen-Our-Work and hopefully I will now engage with your work in Plymouth rather than hundreds of miles away.