Independent Theatre Consultancy
Today marks the end of my first year working independently; I left Oldham Coliseum Theatre for the last time as its Executive Director on 14 July 2017. It's been a really exciting year and I am delighted to have worked with so many different people on so many interesting projects.
The work has been really diverse and a selection of the many projects that I have been involved in can be seen on this website. I'm really indebted to the people who have put their faith in my abilities and have given me the opportunity to develop my practice. I'm also really excited to be working on such a diverse range of projects at the start of my second year!
Excellent article about the 30-year relationship between Godfrey Hamilton and Mark Pinkosh of Starving Artists with whom I am very proud to be working!
Here is the first teaser trailer for Let Me Look At You by Starving Artists, which we'll be touring from September this year. Performer, Mark Pinkosh, video Andonis Anthony
Really sorry to hear (albeit several days ago) that Lyn Gardner's contract with The Guardian is not being renewed, bit also pleased to hear that many people in our industry have written an open letter to protest against this bizarre decision. Lyn is always to be found reviewing work right around the country and is a powerful advocate for work made and shown outside of London. It is essential that such work is visible and critiqued and regional companies are finding it increasingly difficult to attract reviewers from the national press. The Guardian's decision here makes this a little more difficult.
A visit to The Young Vic on two consecutive evenings to see Stephen Daldry's production of The Inheritance by New York playwright Matthew Lopez, performed by a highly skilled American and British cast. Highly moving, if sometimes a little wandering, the play deals with many themes: the relationships between older and younger men, the aftermath of AIDS, and the need for security and home., It's over seven hours long, but was totally engaging and absorbing. It closes soon, but it will be going to the West End in the autumn. Don't miss it!
An interesting What Next meeting at HOME this morning. A very frank discussion about how visual artists work in the city-region and the difficulties that they face. Artists are regularly losing their studios to developers and generally are extremely poorly remunerated for their work. At one point a speaker representing Manchester City Council commented on how amazingly resilient artists are, which to me somewhat missed the point. As one artist expressed it after the meeting "I'm sick and tired of being resilient, it doesn't help me pay the rent, or put food on the table."
If the city-region's authorities really want to help, it would be to ensure that the new developments that are going up all over the place make some provision for creative working space as well as luxury apartments as part of their planning consent. At the moment we're seeing an exodus of artists from the city, as the cost of living and working here increases exponentially; ultimately this will make Greater Manchester a poorer place to live.
Had some excellent birthday news today whilst on holiday in Berlin. I was absolutely delighted to find out this morning that the application that I made to Arts Council England for investment in Starving Artists' tour of Let Me Look At You was successful. It's now full steam ahead to complete the booking of the tour and contract the existing partner venues. I'll now be working closely with Mark Pinkosh to ensure that it all happens.
My friends at Community Arts North West are looking for a full-time Executive PA.
Looking forward to the script reading of imitating the dog's new show, which is based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness in just under a month's time. You can catch the preview here.
This post doesn't really have a lot to do with work, but it was a magnificent experience.
When I'm not at work I do like to sing; I've done so for all of my life and the current manifestation of this is The Sunday Boys - a predominantly gay male voice choir which has been going for the last couple of years. Here we are in Iceland, performing a couple of concerts and premiering work by Anna Appleby and Michael Betteridge, the latter being our founding Musical Director and Conductor. What an extraordinary few days! Two concerts, two opportunities to swim outdoors in naturally-heated springs, excellent comradeship, perhaps a little too much conviviality, AND WE GOT TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!
This photograph was taken by one of our party (Daniel Jarvis) at about midnight on Friday 16 March: the only night where there was a clear sky. I suspect that seeing this extraordinary, indeed unworldly phenomenon was probably one of those once in a lifetime experiences. It's vibrant, ephemeral, beautiful, and difficult to either describe or capture in a photograph. You'll just have to go and see it yourself.
Ken Dodd has died. My sympathies and love go to his long-time partner and lately wife Ann Jones. I had the great pleasure of working with Ken at Oldham Coliseum Theatre many times during the past eight years. On stage he was witty, wild and well, wonderful! He always sold out and it was, as many others will testify, almost impossible to get him off stage - his performances were truly marathon.
In January 2011 I asked Ken if he would bring his act to Oldham for the final performance at the Coliseum prior to the theatre's major refurbishment and refit. As ever I negotiated with Ann, who was his manager. "Given the special nature of the event, could Ken stay onstage until one o'clock?", asks Ann. I agreed that as it was a very significant and special occasion, Ken of course could go on until one o'clock. "Well, do you mind if we also start a little earlier, then we'll be able to fit more in?" I agreed to an earlier start time and Ken, who was at that point well into his eighties entertained a packed house for six hours.
Onstage he was a legend - offstage he was a gentleman. I was honoured that our paths crossed, although his visits to the Coliseum were not always without some misadventure. On one occasion I was arriving for work the day after Ken's appearance. I met Kev Leach, our Technician at the back door to the theatre. He asked me why I hadn't told him about the Magician's birds. I said "What Magician's birds - I don't know anything about this!" Kev told me that Ken Dodd had arrived with a Spesh Act - a magician who could make birds vanish. The trouble was that they vanished into the scene dock and spent a considerable time flying around the rafters whilst everyone else was trying to go home.
We're now one month away from the formation of the new National Portfolio for Arts Council England, which is a project I've been involved in on many levels, from writing the proposal to remain within the Portfolio for Oldham Coliseum Theatre, through to working on five distinct business plans from five very different companies during the latter part of 2017. I'm now closely involved in two companies as they are in the final stages of their plans to join the portfolio for the first time, which seems to involve a lot of meetings with Arts Council.
It is a massive opportunity for these players, offering the chance to concentrate on developing and extending their artistic practice over four years. If offers stability during this very volatile time and allows them to substantially increase the scope and scale of their work, without having to concentrate on, and be distracted by the day-to-day matters of survival. It is truly an exciting time to be working with them and a privilege to be associated with and involved in their plans.
Today I saw The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver, directed by Katy Rudd at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre. Kendall is a Bruntwood Prize winner, which guarantees that your work is given a run at the Exchange, and what a play it is! A story of a young woman who has a history of severe mental illness trying to take control of her life - it's moving, it's informative, it's compelling, it's utterly brilliant! Again a fine example of the brave new work coming out of the Exchange.
We went to see the relaxed performance, which I felt added something new to the production. A relaxed performance is there to improve access to the theatre for those people who may not otherwise come; it gives the audience the opportunity to come in and out of the performance as they see fit, people who make make involuntary noise are made welcome - it is more relaxed! To facilitate access the house lights are left on throughout, which means at the Royal Exchange, in the round, you get to see a lot more of the people who are witnessing the show with you and the audience's response to the play adds to its emotional intensity. Catch this show if you can.
Another visit to the Coliseum - this time in London, rather than Oldham! Philip Glass' excellent opera Satyagraha performed by English National Opera in a production directed by Phelim McDermott, designed by the excellent Julian Crouch and originally produced in 2007. It's very contemplative, exploring how an idea leads to the formation of a movement that ultimately leads to the formation of a state.
Julian Crouch is someone I had the pleasure of working with at Welfare State International at a more formative time in both our careers. Indeed I remember working as part of the same design team with him, Mary Robson and Rachel Ashton on a production called Wheeley a Bit Bop in the main hall of the junior school on Walney Island, just off the coast of Cumbria near Barrow-in-Furness. We were all part of a team embedded in the community of Barrow and part of a three-year festival The Feast of Furness way back in the early 'nineties.
We were very privileged to see Follies by Stephen Sondheim at the National Theatre today. Excellent work, beautifully accomplished; I'm afraid I cried through most of the performance. A fascinating observation of ageing, of regret, of bitterness and of love. I am a strong advocate of a well-resourced national theatre that produces the best possible work, as I am of highly innovative and daring work made out of London. The creative industries in the UK have much to be proud of and have a great deal of offer. They contribute to the better part of our national profile, to our sense of well-being and pride of place, and they also create wealth. We starve them at our peril.
To the Stoller Hall today, a fantastic new concert hall at Chetham's School of Music to see the marvellous Unthanks appear in concert with the incredible Army Of Generals conducted by Charles Hazlewood. The Unthanks' work beautifully and sensitively fused with Hazlewood's accomplished classical musicians. High spot of the evening - the encore of Starless by Robert Fripp.
Here in Venice for the last week of the Biennale and off to see some art! However, before we left I was honoured to be elected as the Chair of imitating the dog, whose national and international touring work I greatly admire. So its my job now to work with the three artistic directors and the new executive director to steer this excellent company through their new role as members of Arts Council England's National Portfolio. Exciting times ahead!
Saw Mark Bradford's amazing installation in the United States' Pavilion at the Giardini today. An amazing body of work from this Gay, African American artist based in Los Angeles. Seated within a building that reflects both Montecello and the University of Virginia, Bradford has used this symbol of American power to explore the growing number of people on the margins. Beautiful and resonant.
Work on display in the Russian Pavilion
The absolute treat of the Biennale was the Faust, created by Anne Imhoff in the German Pavilion, which won the Golden Lion. This was a four-hour long durational piece performed by an ensemble of young performers within a designed environment replete with a glass floor beneath which some of the activity took place. We queued for two hours to get in and saw about an hour and a half of an utterly transfixing show. Part improvised, but carefully structured the whole piece made me think of caged animals going about their lives in a zoo. Disturbing and mesmerising.
Image from Anne Imhof's Faust in the German Pavilion
Tonight I saw the excellent Jubilee by Chris Goode and Company in a co-production with the Royal Exchange Theatre. This is an new play based on Derek Jarman’s iconic film where Queen Elizabeth and Doctor Dee witness punk at its giddy height: a riot of music, DIY fashion, and every kind of sex; it’s a story of what happens when creativity and nihilism collide. Very exciting and very much worth seeing.
I was very lucky to get last minute tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace in Cambridge Circus. It was an extraordinary experience on several levels. I was struck by the sheer ingenuity and creativity of the stage craft that was delivered impeccably. With many others who go and see the show, I was unable to work out how they 'did' the vast majority of the magic on-stage. It was really enjoyable, but utterly perplexing. The script races along, although it is inclined to clunk at times- a big thanks to Jordan Hunter for inviting me along.
Today I was invited to my first board meeting of imitating the dog to serve as a director of the company. It was a very upbeat occasion, as the company is about to embark on its first four years as a member of Arts Council England's National Portfolio. A time of great change for imitating the dog that I feel very privileged to be a part of. Interesting times ahead!
Image from The Hound of the Baskervilles a co-venture between Oldham Coliseum Theatre and imitating the dog.
Last night was the first performance of Forest of Dreams presented by B Arts. This show-cum-meal was to be found in the Spode Ceramic works in Stoke, one of the six towns that makes up the City of Stoke-on-Trent. It is an extraordinary event. The audience sit at tables that all look in to the central performance area and are invited to participate in as well as witness the performance, whilst being fed, and indeed contributing to making a three course meal.
The perils and stories of the forest, from the earliest tales you may know right through to the plight of people seeking sanctuary today unfold in front of your eyes. Of particular note, indeed notoriety is Susan Clarke's rendition of a very familiar tale, delivered whilst preparing the first course, wielding a very sharp knife and really taking it out on an innocent tomato. It's funny, moving surprising and delightful and well worth the trip to Stoke. The story telling and the food are excellent; the music, delivered by Mary Keith and the women's community choir of Keele is fabulous.
The show is running after hours at the British Ceramics Biennial in the amazing setting of the China Hall at Spode in Stoke until Saturday November 4th. Tickets are £18.00, including the meal. This is one of the must-see shows of the year.
Saw the Press Night of For Love or Money at The Viaduct Theatre in Dean Clough, Halifax, which may be Barrie Rutter's last performance with Northern Broadsides on his own turf. An extraordinary experience; the theatre is built into the bowels of the Mill and you know when it's raining outside, because the floor gets wet. Having said that, it's comfortable and well-heated, partly due to recent capital outlay by Northern Broadsides; Rutter himself greets everybody who comes personally, very much in the style of the Actor Manager. The show, billed as "A Daft Comedy About Greed" is based on Alain-Rene Lesage's farce Turcaret, written in 1709 and newly adapted by Blake Morrison. Michael Billington gave the show a four star review in The Guardian the following day. It's on tour until early December and is worth a visit, both for the fast pace and wit of the adaptation and for Rutter's performance. Bumped into Alan Dix again....
The first What Next meeting of the new term. A good turn out and detailed consideration of the role of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in the cultural agenda of the city-region. This was followed by a consultation meeting with the Authority on how they might invest in diverse art forms and artists across the city-region.
Three days in Edinburgh and the joy of an expensive Travelodge - well the market value a bed is greatly inflated during the Festival. Spent a lot of time with Mark Pinkosh and saw Let Me Look At You for the first time since the preview in Bristol. The show has been well-received and we'll be moving towards finding expressions of interest in a Autumn 2018 tour in the near future.
I did see other shows when I was there and the one that has really made an impression was Jo Clifford's production of Eve for the National Theatre of Scotland at the Traverse. Jo describes herself as a playwright, performer, father and grandmother. The play, written by Jo and Chris Goode, is the story of Jo growing up as a boy, her adult life, her long marriage and ultimately her transition. It was beautiful and courageous; Jo showed us her vulnerability and through that her strength. I really recommend the show, which can be seen with its companion piece Adam at The Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow on the 15 & 16 September.
On a lighter note, I was visiting Andrew Dixon at his home in Edinburgh, who was having a few people around for a drink. The first person that I bumped into was Al Dix, a long-time colleague of mine from Major Road and Theatre-in-the-Mill days in Bradford. The only reason I mention this is because I've long harboured the belief that I bump into Al in the most unlikely places and that he seems to know a lot of people. It was very good to see him and I wish him well on his large-scale project with older men, that comes to fruition in the very near future. This piece of work is Sing & Louder Sing and includes a one-act play written by Mike Kenny with music by James Frewer, directed by Alan Dix, and a book, featuring testimony from older men in the Leeds and Bradford district with photos by Shanaz Gulzar. There's more on the website, although you'll need to contact the company - 509 Arts - for the latest performance details.
I've finalised my plans for my visit to Edinburgh next week to see shows at the Festival and to meet friends and colleagues. As well as catching up with Starving Artists again, I'm particularly keen to see imitating the dog's new show Nocturnes at Zoo Venues on Wednesday. The show is written and directed by Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, with video design by Simon Wainwright and lighting design by Andrew Crofts. I'm a great fan of the company's work and really looking forward to it! itd are in Edinburgh as part of the British Council Showcase and the show is touring the UK in September and October.
On a more mundane note, my business cards arrived today, which actually made me a little giddy!
Had the great pleasure today of going down to Bristol to visit The Wardrobe Theatre, which is in the Old Market Assembly. It’s a small arts centre with a corner stage and is really intimate. I was there to see the first public performance of Los Angeles-based writer Godfrey Hamilton’s new play Let Me Look At You, performed by Mark Pinkosh, prior to its Edinburgh run at The Pleasance during August.
Pinkosh and Hamilton make up Starving Artists Theatre Company, based in London, Los Angeles and Honolulu! They’ve been both professional and life partners for 29 years creating a unique Anglo-American collaboration – Godfrey hails from England and Mark grew up in Hawaii. I’ve been aware of their work through their association with both the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and the Queer Up North Festival.
I met Mark after the show who introduced me to its director David Prescott and dramaturg Ruth Mitchell, both of whom are long-time collaborators with Starving Artists. It was also good to touch base with Douglas Kuhrt, who lit the show, who I first met during his work at Oldham Coliseum Theatre.
I’m really excited to be working on this project and I’m now working closely with both Mark and David to explore how the show might tour nationally next year.