Independent Theatre Consultancy
And so to the last entry for Year Two. It is now two years to the date that I left Oldham Coliseum and moved on to pastures new. Ironic really, as I am going back into the Coliseum tomorrow to do some freelance work for them!
It's been an interesting and varied year: I've helped to formulate cultural policy for a Unitary Authority; I've helped made artistic activity in prisons more visible; I've been on tour across, Britain with a new play, lit an art installation/performance piece in Hull; raised a quarter of a million pounds for participatory cultural production; and even been responsible for boxing and tribute bands in a metropolitan borough! I've had a very good time doing it all.
What on Earth (apart from the tax bill) will year three bring?
Very exciting news today. An arts organisation that I have been working with as a fundraiser have just been awarded just under a quarter of a million pounds from a significant Foundation to engage in a new participatory programme. I'm really proud of this work.
A very interesting night. Saw an outdoor performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar set against the Roman walls of Augsberg, a Baverian city founded by the Emperor Augustus round about 50BCE. I had a fantastic time - it was sung in German, with a lavish and enormous set and took full advantage of the magic of twilight, when the sun fades and lighting design really kicks in.
I've never really thought of myself as a fan of Lloyd Webber and Rice, and I think this is the first piece of their work that I've seen in 30 years. I really felt it worked extremely well - it's fast-moving, entertaining and musically interesting. And whoever thought of putting King Herod in a bath, surrounded by scantily-dressed courtiers for a spectacular dance number really gets my vote! It was both camp and funny.
Augsburg is about the size of Warrington, but boasts an extensive cultural programme with Stadt Theatre Augsburg working over four venues. The production values of the show were extremely high and the performers sang beautifully, backed by a full orchestra.
You can see where this is going....
The German State and its municipalities really value the arts and the place-making that goes with it. Superstar is playing an outside auditorium that seats about 800 people for four weeks, six times a week during July. Today the show was packed. They earn income and produce excellent work - they also receive generous investment from the state that acknowledges how crucial cultural production is.
Here endeth the lesson!
I've been asked by LipService to do an independent evaluation of Strangers on a Train Set - their latest full-length show and today I drove over to Grantham to see a performance of the finished work. I'd previously evaluated the work-in-progress version and I was really keen to see how the show had developed.
It's bonkers and brilliant! It combines the unique performance style of Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding - once again playing multiple roles with the technical brilliance of Connoll Pavey Martin, who has integrated Sue and Maggie's performances directly into the world of model railways in some excellent video sequences. It's really interesting cross-generational work, with Sue and Maggie now exploring the virtual world and learning a lot from it and Connoll being introduced to live theatre work - everybody seems to have gained.
The show is out again during the autumn - at Oldham Coliseum Theatre in September and again at Bury Met in October as part of a full national tour - catch it if you can, it's priceless!
It's a funny old world...
Today I find myself in Plymouth, writing an Expression of Interest for Arts Council 'Elevate' funding for a client, whilst also working on the final week of the Let Me Look At You tour at The Drum, Plymouth Theatre Royal. I'm sitting in my hotel bedroom and every time my brain fogs up through writing, I wander off onto Plymouth Hoe, for a look at the fantastic view over the bay and for an ice cream.
It could be a lot worse!
Off to Charlottesville VA tomorrow to visit both my niece and my old university haunt....
So straight from prison to the Royal Exchange Theatre!
Tonight was Press Night for Sarah Frankcom's production of West Side Story. Her first shot at a musical and, sadly one of the last productions that she will make at the theatre. It was superb and I happily sobbed my way through most of the evening; the band were fantastic and performances excellent. I was told that, as of this morning, there were only nine single seats left for the the entire run of the show. Needless to say, that by the time the show started this evening, it was completely sold out. This is now the hottest ticket in town...
I have heard that the show will be returning to the theatre in Spring 2020...
I've never been in prison before...
However, this was a visit to Thorn Cross YOI, just outside of Warrington to attend a symposium run by TiPP (Theatre in Prisons and Probation) to mark the end of their Changing Stories project. Thorn Cross is one of the key locations where they have been working, and the symposium was an opportunity for some of the men who have been working on the project and the artists involved to tell us about their experiences and share some of their work.
Changing Stories saw TiPP working with men and women in four different secure settings, equipping participants with the skills to write, create theatre, and perform music that tell the stories that shape who they are. Each Changing Stories rprogramme culminated in an intensive, week long residency that concluded with a performance of the participants' work. The workshops develop participants’ theatre improvisation and devising skills, creative writing skills, acting skills, they learned to play instruments, compose original music, write lyrics and perform live together as an ensemble.
Changing Stories is a practical articulation of TiPP’s mission to provide opportunities for some of the country’s most disadvantaged groups to benefit from high quality participatory arts. The project was designed to equip participants with the language of the creative arts so that they can legitimately speak about the life experiences that define who they are.
The afternoon was joyful, informative and immersive - I came out of it having brushed up my skills in portraiture and playing the ukulele, as we were all expected to join in. TiPP's participatory work is of a very high quality and very important to the people who participate. Long may it continue.
I've spent four very happy days in Hull working as a lighting designer - a principal occupation of mine until I became embroiled in managing and supporting arts organisations. It's good to re-visit the activities and passions that you found so exciting earlier in your career, and this was an opportunity to re-connect with the process of actually making a performance. A benefit of freelance life is that it does give you the opportunity to diversify your activities and take up work that is - well - different!
So four days working with visual artist (and husband) Jez Dolan and Icelandic composer Ingibjörg Yr Skarphéthinsdóttir on a new piece Is He on the Line...!. This work was developed from research and interviews undertaken as part of Jez's Icelandic residency. It is scored for four male voices & three overhead projectors. The piece premiered at the Heads Up Festival in Hull at Kardomah94 - possibly one of the friendliest and supportive venues I've ever worked with!
Jez had been invited by Einkofi Productions, Iceland to undertake a residency in Reykjavik, to examine how cultural heritage has left out queer culture and stories, as part of NATUR: a project which connects the cultural heritage and creativity of the North Atlantic and North Sea. The collaboration between Ingibjörg and Jez was brokered during the residency and was further developed in Hull. NATUR is produced by Curated Place in the UK and Einkofi Productions in Iceland, and is supported by the UK Embassy in Iceland.
I strongly believe that this work has a future and I do hope that we get the opportunity to do it again; besides I really do like to visit Iceland...
I had some very exciting news today. An organisation from the West Midlands approached me last summer and asked if I'd do some fundraising for them. We met and worked out way the best fit was between the client and the priorities of a range of private philanthropic trusts. We found out today that one of these trusts has awarded us an unrestricted grant of £80,000 over three years. I'm delighted! The client works with a range of marginalised communities, supporting people's personal development through projects that are predominantly arts-based. It's good work and there will now be more of it.
Another leaving party! This time it was Cilla Baynes, the passionate and indefatigable Creative Director of Community Arts North West, who is stepping down, but in no way is retiring! CAN has a reputation for producing very high quality socially-engaged participatory arts and worked extensively with refugees and asylum-seekers when I was its General Manager. CAN facilitates cultural expression and visibility with the many diverse communities that make up Greater Manchester, working with people from a range of ages, cultural heritages and art form interests including performing, visual and new media arts. Cilla's contribution to the arts in the city-region is greatly appreciated.
An infrequent return visit to Oldham Coliseum Theatre. This time not to see a show, but to say farewell to Kevin Shaw, who is leaving after many years' service as Artistic Director and Chief Executive. It was a very joyous event on one hand, reminding me of what a regional repertory theatre can be when it is working to its strengths. Many people were there with whom I had collaborated when I was there as Executive Director, and with whom I had been privileged to create some spectacularly good work.
At the same time I was conscious that now is a difficult time to be producing theatre in England and I do believe that this feeling was shared by many people in the room, from a range of practices and different organisations. I can't help but notice that many theatres and other arts organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver in the current climate. We make world-renowned theatre here in the UK and its sad to see so many organisations barely surviving, rather than thriving. However, I do wish Kevin well as he pursues a new career as a freelance director and I do hope to see some of his work soon.
I'm afraid this says it all really....
Not work, but Art-related.
The Sunday Boys - that male-voice singing sensation, with whom I have the honour of singing performed A VERY Queer Christmas this evening in Didsbury. Our take on the traditional nine lessons and carols service, performed in St James & Emmanuel Church. A mixture of reflections on the world and some songs - decidedly queer and unexpectedly spiritual as well. Very interesting contribution from Sister Judy De Ryder, from the Manchester House of the International Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence for her contribution - Grandpa Terry by Toby Campion. I found myself strangely uplifted and very proud to have been there.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, they are an international order of gay male nuns, formed in San Francisco in 1979; their mission: to promulgate Universal Joy and expiate Stigmatic Guilt. Since the beginning of the AIDs crisis, the SPI have been at the forefront of promoting safer sex and of supporting people with HIV and AIDs. They have been active in Manchester for 21 years and work in association with HIV charities; they "fight the good fight, raise money for good causes, giving hugs to everyone and spread masses of joy".
Off to the Royal Exchange Theatre today to see the absolutely fantastic production of Mel Brooks' The Producers. It's one of the best things that I've seen for this entire year. It's slick, it's funny; this singing and dancing are superb and the timing....
This show is an absolute must see. We're going again in January! (and we did - it was just as good the second time round....)
At Birmingham Rep today to see imitating the dog's new production of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness in a new version from Andrew Quick. Examines both race and colonialism, but flips the setting from Darkest Africa to Even Darker Europe with Marlow taking a road journey through the continent to end up in London. Fascinating! I must admit that I have never read the novel, but I found ways into the story and into Conrad in this highly accessible, but thought-provoking stage adaptation. Beautifully performed and realised and as ever the visuals were stunning.
Really pleased to be working with the Manchester Producing Theatres' Group again on an initiative to support and develop collaboration and coordination of activity in the city region.
David Byrne's American Utopia tour and the Manchester Arena. Bloody brilliant! Well I did miss Stop Making Sense in the early 'eighties...
Well, we did it! Let Me Look At You opened at the New Wolsey Theatre this evening and we're now officially on tour. The theatre gave us a wonderful welcome and the staff went out of their way to help us as we got-in, teched, dressed and opened all in one day. Audience were attentive, amused and asked some penetrating questions after the show; it was particularly gratifying to see so many young people there. Onwards and upwards; next stop Manchester.
Packing my bags - off to London and Ipswich next week to open the tour of Let Me Look At You; a project a couple of years in the making that comes to fruition on Thursday of next week.
I'm currently evaluating Strangers on a Train Set by LipService for Arts Council England. The company have been working alongside model railway enthusiasts and part of my job has been to visit various societies and meet the members. I recently had the joy of going to Heywood in Lancashire and visiting the Heywood Model Railway Group, who showed me around their extensive club house. This is not something I've every had to do before as an arts practitioner, but I really enjoyed it! The joys of working freelance - you have absolutely no idea what is coming next!
Nice bit of feedback...
Today marks the first day of my second year working as an Independent Theatre Consultant. There's a lot of work in place already and its really diverse in both its scope and its scale. All pretty exciting...