Tag Archives: Beta Plymouth

Plymouth independent theatre makers Forge ahead!

In Arts Professional Adrian Vinken, the chief executive of the Theatre Royal Plymouth says that because of the arts funding imbalance between London and the regions ‘[t]he result is a continuous brain drain where talented new artists get a professional introduction in the regions, but are then obliged to head to London, like Dick Whittington, to gain access to the scale of budgets and creative opportunities that are simply unaffordable to regional companies’. This has been the case for as long as I have lived in the South West, around fifteen years. There are over 1,000 graduates in the arts coming out of Plymouth every year, as well as many other emerging performers being educated in their craft through arts organisations in the city. The majority move away, as there is no opportunity for them to make work here and make a small living. I have gone on about this on a couple of occasions here and here but there is a push by a small group of independent theatre makers to change the perception of this and they are making work although up until a few weeks ago they only had a couple of Devon festivals to show the work locally.

So, after the influx of these Plymouth theatre makers at Exeter’s Ignite festival last month the Theatre Royal Plymouth have created a small season called Forge to showcase the work, kicking off with Coffee with Vera. The Lab is the new space for experimental work within the Theatre Royal, created with an Arts Council Capital Grant for investment in theatre buildings. The space can easily seat fifty people and at the moment is adaptable to where the seating can be….except I don’t want to perform Vera in the Lab, it’s still too black boxy for this show. So I have asked if I can use the green room space alongside, a room where the performers can relax and make a drink and that’s exactly why I want to use it. I need to be able to give out tea and coffee and show off my homemade cakes, I need to be able to put my audience into a relaxed frame of mind and even introduce people to one another to start up new friendships because, Vera is a host beyond compare.

‘…via the character of Vera Jockleson, Chair of the Ladies’ Guild and consummate coffee morning hostess – Ruth fuses autobiography and history to create a subtly moving meditation on the nature of identity and heritage’. Belinda Dillon, Exeunt Magazine

Of course the downside is that I wont be able to get as many people into the Green Room so it’s a case of first come etc. It will be interesting to observe how the performance evolves from what was originally a piece of sited performance, and how that evolution progresses as Vera will be venturing out into rural Devon in the Autumn. I will be updating, of course, as this blog is supposed to be all about the research! Now that the Theatre Royal has an experimental space lets hope that funding starts to be distributed more evenly throughout the region therefore giving freelancers more opportunities. To be honest we don’t want a lot we only need a space.

Coffee with Vera is on at the Theatre Royal Plymouth as part of the Forge season on Saturday 5th July at 8pm.

Other shows within Forge are

  • Breakers by Rabblerouse Theatre on July 11/12
  • #BodyProblems by Alexandra Ogando on July 18th
  • Parliament Town by New Model Theatre on July 19th
  • Hardworking People by Junk Shop Theatre on July 25th
  • A Soldiers Sketchbook by Shiona Morton and Bill Wroath on July 26th
  • On Air by Blasted Fiction on Aug 1st
  • Beta 6 hosted by New Model Theatre an evening of work in progress



Getting feedback

‘… a person should learn how to accept any kind of feedback, analyze it in the most positive manner possible, and use it to further impact future decision making’      Folkman, Joseph R. (2006) The Power of Feedback. 1st ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

A really busy week mulling over, listening and throwing ideas into a pot started with a trip to Exeter to be part of an evaluation into a site specific event that happened at the end of summer. This City’s Centre was a multi disciplined, cross form piece that took us up into a building looking out over the centre of Exeter, whilst at the same time live streaming views from people’s windows across the same city. Five artists told us stories past and present and facilitated participatory  journeys into a cardboard city built up in front of us. I love this kind of work and I can turn a blind eye to little defects or mistakes especially when work is happening live that would normally be recorded and edited to perfection. So it was lovely to be able to re-visit it (and good to have a time lapse to process more clearly) with creatives, crew and audience members. When you have made work it’s important to get the feedback but this time it was just as interesting for an audience member to hear from another audience’s point of view what they saw and took from the performance. A really valuable exercise for me and good to tap into another creative stream in Devon.

A coffee midweek with other members of theatre collective ripple to talk further about the first thoughts of a potential piece that would need feedback from the start. By taking an audience on a silent journey and asking them what story they see emerging. Can’t say much more but a scratch outing is on the cards somewhere. The problem here is we all have other work and projects on and when away from each other our ripple ideas get pushed aside and yet when in a room together we run away with ourselves and our ideas. We need the luxury of time and resources to continue them, yes that old chestnut.

Hannah Silva’s The Disappearance of Sadie Jones came to Peninsula Arts this week and although I was late to arrive it was really good to see it in a different space to its first outing at the Bike Shed in Exeter. As theatre spaces go they are at opposite ends, one a small (50 seater) room with bare brick walls and old red velvet seats, which gives it an air of vintage mish mash -in a good way, against black staged openness  leading out to a swathe of very comfortable seating that rises up on a rake. Sadie Jones deals with big issues it has great lighting and set so it can work and mold into most venues, even a small room in a Leicester pub. It was good to see it work in two very different places. Silva has written about how difficult it is to get theatre critics to review shows and admitting that there is a wealth of online reviewers out there now wrote a blog to show her feedback from along the tour. We need to receive feedback it is most important, not because of vanity, because every person views a show differently and you need to hear those voices in order to move the work on.  As Silva herself  said ‘ audience members help us to see the work fresh, to see it from many perspectives, to witness that it is continuing to be written, every night’ (http://hannahsilva.wordpress.com/). The Disappearance of Sadie Jones plays the Pleasance, London next week and I recommend it to anyone who can make it.

At the end of the week I attended the first scratch night to happen in the new space, the Lab at the Theatre Royal. As with most scratch nights various performers show a small snippet of work in progress, or present an idea and the audience feedback. Again invaluable as part of the process. If you consider businesses and organisations trial new products or ideas at an early stage then it is exactly the same thing; it gives you an impetus to carry on, a thumbs up that you are on the right track. There was a real mix of work with song, dance, first readings and performance, each completely different. Every company or artist had asked a question of the audience and we had a feedback form to return at the end. It was exciting to see this get off the ground,  it is something that has been needed in this city for a long while, it was also satisfying to see that the performers were not all emerging but all at different stages of their careers. It gave me confidence that there is a community out there, that this is the kind of event to bring them together and to feel that there is support for freelance work. Speaking to friends afterwards it was also noted that it was really important that the work had happened at the Theatre Royal, it felt right that that organisation is supporting this work. The university have a monthly scratch night for students, the Barbican have their weekend scratch festival In the Flesh and now the Theatre Royal have a monthly scratch too, curated by New Model Theatre. After my rant the other week I am slowly starting to feel more confident that this can be the start of a visible creative presence.

Apart from the theatre related outings discussed above I also went with teenage son to hear the Trio of Men play the songs of Beck at the Bbar. A completely different experience made all the more enjoyable by a shared interest with teenage son, who chatted to the musicians in the break to ask questions about his ukelele and other more eclectic instruments that they were using. One of the highlights being audience participation on penny whistles which brought out the inner child in most of us. The best feedback I received was on the way back to our car when teenage son said ‘well that was really enjoyable’, wow, now that is praise indeed.