Tag Archives: Plymouth Theatre scene

the art of good conversation

I am getting to that point in my life where sometimes I struggle to find the word in a conversation, sometimes a small everyday kind of word that normally you don’t have to even think about. This doesn’t matter when you are with a group of friends, people who know you, who understand because they are experiencing the same thing, or younger people who think ‘oh it’s just Ruth!!!’

But sometimes you need to put your point across concisely, with clarity so that hopefully people will listen. As a performer I believe I think instinctively, I am used to being in a rehearsal situation where I need to be able to jump up and improvise a situation, not to think about it but just see what happens. In terms of my conversations they tend to be similar, I am not strategic and I certainly don’t think before I speak, which I know has got me into a pickle before now. As I talk I have often focused on people mid sentence to see them staring back at me as if I am speaking an alien language. My usual problem is that if I am talking about something I know about or have created, lets say a performance or cultural event idea, then I talk as if the person listening knows about it as well as I do, I forget to come at it from their point of view. For example I have just created a performance about baseball and when talking to the other creatives working on it, who don’t know the game as well as I do,  I expect them to understand  and therefore I have to repeat myself, with explanations along the way.

Last night a few individual theatre makers within Plymouth all came together to talk about the ever growing Plymouth Theatre scene, a term that has grown to acknowledge an alternative to the Arts Council funded large organisations with the big buildings and resources. Here were graduates at the start of their cultural journey alongside actors and theatre makers who have been in the business for a couple of decades as well as those inbetweeners. From our conversation we realized that no matter what step you are at on your journey you would always be learning, and the one thing to keep us all going and to keep an alternative theatre scene was to communicate with each other, to know we are all in one group and that we can help one another. What was vitally important to everyone was to keep the conversation going.

Which brings me to a new ebook by Karl James, he is the director of the Dialogue Project and conversation is his main tool. I heard A Different Kind of Justice on radio 4 recorded by Karl about restorative justice and it was one of the best radio conversations I have heard. He also works in my world, the theatre world, as a co-director for Tim Crouch, (Adler & Gibb, What Happens to Hope at the end of the Evening, The Author) and his recording of children’s conversations created the fabulous Monkey Bars for Chris Goode and Company which we saw play the Theatre Royal (Drum) in 2012.

The book is called Say it and Solve it and it comes at communication from a business point of view; those work conversations that are going to be difficult, that you are not looking forward to, where the stakes are high. Karl creates a toolkit that takes you through the process from the absolute beginning. Checklists of the time and the space, i.e making the time and creating the space, to navigating your way through the conversation. I don’t belong in the business world of the suit and tie, the nine to five, the conversation at the water cooler but I can see how this book could help me find my way through countless different situations. Talking to an Arts Council advisor, talking to the keyholder of the building I want to use for a performance, talking to students who are all going to be the ‘next big thing’ in the arts.                                                  We all need to re-check our conversation techniques and this looks like a great resource. I wonder if it will help me with short term memory loss, I reckon it will have some tips.

For a free download of the first chapter click on this link.

Look out for What Happens to Hope at the End of the Evening coming to the Theatre Royal (Drum) next Spring.

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



Working from home

For a decade now I’ve been trying to make work happen in my home town yet now that I’ve started to concentrate on the ‘performer’ again, rather than the facilitator and producer, I find I am leaving, yet again, to show my work. This year I shall be in Bristol, North Devon and Exeter, at least it’s the South West but, still no space (and by that I mean bricks and mortar) for an alternative theatre scene in Plymouth, my home town and, sorry Bristol, but the real South West.

When we first started to exchange ideas for ‘making something happen’ in the city in which we lived, we were influenced by our backgrounds as performers, theatre makers and culture seekers in other cities across the world. What we found to be lacking in Plymouth were opportunities for the talented emergent and established artists of the city and region to develop their work, work together (or even discover each other‘s existence), and to have their work showcased locally. How could the city’s cultural community grow and flourish if so many of its artists left, or felt the need to make work elsewhere, once it reached a certain level of development? 

The Hidden City Handbook by Rachel Aspinwall, Ruth Mitchell & Phil Smith

These words were written in 2008 and six years on it seems there is still a need to make a vibrant theatre community in Plymouth, even more so since a new generation of theatre students have arrived in the city. Frustratingly many have attempted the challenge only to give up and leave for more cultural places and communities. Up the line in Bristol there are a handful of performer collectives, working from spaces that have been given to them, possibly by a sympathetic council officer who understands their needs. Plymouth?

Regular readers, I apologize for the almost identical grumblings here, which are similar to a past post. Previously I was going on about a freelance community and slowly but surely we are coming out of our corners and making ourselves known to one another. Now we need space to make or, be visible enough so that the new Plymouth Theatre Scene are on the radar and those keyholders will offer to open the door.

BUT hope is in sight, not just because there are people who want to make this happen but a new theatre space is being built on the University campus with two studio theatres and space to experiment. I am keeping my fingers well and truly crossed that it will open its doors to the established theatre makers in Plymouth, so that we can start to be visible and create a cultural buzz but, just as importantly, so that it will make theatre and performance students stay and be part of an emerging scene. Students learn just as much, or more, by watching other work and doing. It’s taken its time but there could be a light… watch this space.