Rambles in a new landscape

by Maddy Costa

I’ve been quiet on this blog of late while I’ve been focusing on a new project: working with LIFT to create a 60-page magazine introducing their 2014 programme. Half of it contains the kind of information you’d expect from a season brochure – brief descriptions of the work plus venue and ticket details – but the other half is like an issue of G2 dedicated to theatre, full of interviews with people bringing their work to LIFT, prose and poetry inspired by the programme, unusual presentations of the ideas behind some of the work, and more.

LIFT’s artistic director, Mark Ball, recently posted a blog on their website that, between the lines, communicates the impetus behind the magazine-format brochure: a never-sated desire to develop new audiences, to encourage people to take a risk on adventurous theatre and performance work, then talk about it and forge a relationship with it. “My career has been built around a belief that radical, innovative performance practices can reach beyond a small and often professional interest group to appeal to large and diverse audiences,” he writes. People who “are curious, [who] desire and demand involvement, conversation and participation”. It’s the same ethos that drives New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood.

Mark wrote his blog in response to a piece by Lyn Gardner on the Guardian’s website, which argues how important it is for theatre festivals and companies to speak not only to a dedicated audience but a wider demographic. Quoting Mark, she makes the point that a healthy cultural democracy is one in which everyone, not just the few, have access to live performance. The best aspect of NTiYN for me is the opportunity it gives me to have conversations with people who aren’t regular theatre-goers about Fuel’s work. Their experience of it undoubtedly enhances mine. Getting more people to come to the theatre isn’t just about boosting the economy: it’s about nourishing the ecology, ensuring that the many, not just the few, get to be seen and heard.

A comment at the end of Lyn’s piece led me to Kneehigh‘s website, and to an aspect of their audience development work that I somehow hadn’t registered before: the Rambles Programme, in which people are invited to take part in workshops at Kneehigh’s magical home, an isolated barn surrounded by sea and cows, and go on walks with regular Kneehigh collaborators. Not for the first time, I found myself wishing I lived in Cornwall, just to be part of the fun.

Maybe the house network are feeling jealous, too: based in the South-East, it’s now reaching out across the South-West. The house model is a brilliant one: it creates and feeds relationships between theatres that currently operate in isolation, assists these groups to take the risk on less conventional work, and encourages audience development. The wider this network reaches, surely the better for theatres and their neighbours alike. The South-West already has a terrific network in Theatre Bristol, which I particularly love because its writers-in-residence programme is creating a fantastic new space for people to experiment with how theatre is written and talked about – not just by critics, but audiences, too. The entire theatre landscape feels richer for its existence.

Advertisements

The lion, the wytch and the wardrobe

by Sylvia Mercuriali

Lost in the Darkness 

I arrive at Malvern at 9pm.

Beyond the lights of the station building I am surrounded by darkness.

It is cold and I need to find my way to the hotel. I Imagine that Malvern is small enough to walk around , so I set off on foot.

I ask somebody for directions and before I know it I am sitting in a warm car, with the heating on full and an expert driver at the wheel. Sue, has very generously offered to give me a lift.

She lives in exactly the opposite direction to where I am going, but in a very friendly spirit that I will learn is quite common around here, she goes out of her way to help me out.

Having dropped my bag at the Hotel, I set off to find a place to eat, soon finding my way to ‘The Flute’, a very good little Indian restaurant owned by a man who lives in Birmingham.

There is a big party of friends celebrating a birthday at the restaurant and as I eavesdrop on their strange conversation I start to feel that I am somewhere quite magical where dreams take on some surreal tones and one might encounter witches flying on their brooms  in the moon light….but maybe it’s just me, the fresh air of Worcestershire and the delicious spicy food!

Manda, my secret agent here, has encouraged me to have a walk around at night as the town is really nicely lit.

In truth it feels like being in a Neapolitan nativity reconstruction where stone houses are lit in pools of dim sodium lights…and it being almost christmas…well it couldn’t be more perfect…apart from a weird shady figure in the main square standing still looking straight ahead with scarf and a hat on…

I wonder what they are doing…are they drunk? are they waiting for someone? are they so immersed in their thoughts that the cold of the night doesn’t bother them at all?

I leave ..off to bed.

The great wall of Malvern. 

picture 0

The morning after I awake very early to meet Manda and set off for a walk in the hills….

picture 1

Manda used to work for the Council in the Arts department and is now a freelancer artist and amazing tour guide.  She tells me about the feeling that Malvern hides behind its hill somehow [???]

The curse of being such beautiful place where people come to gather their thoughts as they enjoy long walks and imagine Tolkien’s like atmospheres, is that anything else happening here seems to be obscured.

Malvern sits amongst the famous hills: Great Malvern, Little Malvern, West Malvern and Malvern Link… (I might be making the names up a little)…so it is that wherever you are in Malvern you can always see a hill. 

Picture 0.1

I discovered that the hills naturally would have lots of trees on top but by law it is conserved bald…..some rule set up during the victorian period to make sure they are left as much as possible in their beautified version of themselves.

I do love the hills.

I would like to make an audio piece to be listened to sitting on this bench looking at the horizon and imagining the surroundings as the backdrop for a story..maybe real maybe fictional, in which the listener feels immersed fully.

picture 2

From here the horizon is so vast and peaceful. The wind is blowing hard and Manda and I are pushed along the path and must make sure not to get blown away.  Nature is taking over today and  my plan of recording our walk definitely encounters some obstacles.  It’s a typically ‘sublime’ landscape and would make an ideal subject for a paintings and books and Music.

We talk about pagan rituals and hippies and teenage sleepovers on the hill. We talk about the old Spas that made Malvern so famous and affluent in the past until somebody got typhoid and all the Spas got closed down and turned into Boarding schools.  We talk about The Malvern Gazelle….an independent satirical publication which doesn’t exists anymore… we talk about how, even though the place is very small and there are less opportunities then in the big city, there is the sense that people really want to make things happen in an independent, guerrilla style and are always backed by the community.

picture 3   picture 0.2

picture 0.3

We visit the parish church, where the vicar is battling through an enormous pile of leaves to get in through the door, possibly wanting to admire the beautiful tiles that used to decorate the floor and that have now been moved onto the walls to preserve them.

picture 4

We visit the Winter’s Garden with it’s lake and duck and the statue carved out of a fallen tree, a celebration of water and life that comes with it. The artist decided to carve some little houses at the top of the statue that look like they are being swept away by the current. This vision turned out to become reality a year later when a great flood swept away the houses around the hill.

picture 5

Finally we visited the Theatre, built in 1885 and renovated in 1998 and comprised of three different spaces.  The large modern theatre and foyer reflect more practical times and have a sheen of modernity,  but the old theatre has been left untouched, as has the little cinema, the only space that remained open throughout the war.  It is said that the ghost of Bernard Shaw still makes an appearance from time to time, in the back row, up in the gods or down by the old theatre bar, now just a store room that I have the fortune to visit.

picture 6    picture 7

Unfortunately I did not see the ghost, but I was slightly scared by the massive portrait picture of Burt Lancaster half hidden amongst the fake Narnia wardrobe’s doors for the next production.

picture 8

Manda and I get in the car and drive all around the big hill. The landscape changes so much from one side of the hill to the other; a large expanse of flat land is in front of Great Malvern with most of the buildings concentrated there  and spreading out at the feet of the hill. Over to the other side is hill after hill and little pockets of smaller inhabited areas.  Bald hills and furry hills where the trees are growing strong and the colours change with the seasons.

Today the leaves are falling and the wind is blowing them around the country like kids on a funfair ride.

picture 0.5

We drive past the installation that appeared all around the side of the hill towards West Malvern…or was it Little?…three stone cottages big enough for a small family of mice to live in beautifully built and cherished by the locals.  A reminder that rules can be bent and that if something is worth having there is a way to make it happen.

picture 9

I discover that in 1942 the  anti-aircraft radar and searchlights were moved to Malvern. During the war the coastline was far too exposed and the scientific labs and research groups were moved here… and stayed, leaving Malvern with a high scientific population  to this day. The new system to regenerate the old gas lamps in a more eco friendly way has been developed in Malvern and is now being adopted by London as well.

picture 10

Off course I mustn’t forget to mention the beloved local hero Sir Edward William Elgar, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. It also turns out that the shady figure in the main square is not a drunken soul at all but a statue of Sir Elgar, which has been dressed up for the season with a woolly hat, a scarf and a cosy woolly moustache.

picture 11

It is almost time to go for me but I can’t leave before having seen the famous WORM .. a tunnel built at the height of the Malvern’s fame as a Spa heaven to connect the station to the basement of a former hotel (now the Girls College) to allow passengers to access the miraculous waters directly, without the hassle of even seeing the roads.

picture 12   picture 13

This is very exciting! You can clearly see the tunnel from both station platforms.  The old door is now shut and boarded up, but there is a bit of an opening through which I can peep. It is pretty dark in there, but there is some light coming in from the other side of the tunnel, as well as from some oval windows on one side.  Yes it is just a long corridor….but you can almost see the tiles on the walls on one side.

Malvern is like…Moriana, a city of two sides…one one side is grand Victorian and Edwardian houses, lush former hotels and the beauty of nature…but you only have to walk in a semicircle to discover Malvern’s hidden face … radar dishes, guerrilla art installation, music and a little bit of witchery.  

picture 0.4

 

We Need Your Stories of Lost and Forgotten Margate

by Sarah Punshon

Story Hunt image

Last year, Dan and I came to Margate for a day trip.  We visited the new Turner gallery, walked along the beach in the rain, ate fish and chips on the front.  It was fab.  This year, we’re coming back – and this time it’s for work.  We’re coming to hunt for stories.  We need tales of lost and forgotten Margate, of buildings long since bulldozed, people no longer with us, and events that left no physical trace behind them.  We’re going to try and get our heads round what Margate is, was, and could be – and we need a lot of help from locals.

Story Hunt is a theatrical walking tour: on April 12th, Dan will lead one hour walks round central Margate, telling his favourite stories in his own unique way, taking audiences on a journey into the past, present and future of the town.  We’ve already made versions of the show in three other towns: Gateshead, Stockton, and Berwick.  In all three, we discovered amazing stories of heroism and protest; love stories; riots, fires and disasters; quiet determination and extraordinary kindness.  Story Hunt celebrates the impact ordinary people have had on the course of history, telling the kinds of stories that don’t always make it onto blue plaques or bronze statues.  In every town we’ve found more stories than we could ever use in a one hour show: I’m looking forward to discovering Margate’s tales.

We collect our stories from library books, museums and archives – but also by talking to as many locals as we can.  Everyone has a story about their home town.  We want to know about the shop your Mum used to visit before it got knocked down; the dance hall that’s now unrecognisable; the local hero who deserves to be better known – everything that makes Margate what it is today.  We’re coming to do our first stage of research in January, and will be back in April.  If you’ve got a story about Margate, we’d love to hear it.

Ways you could get involved:

  • Look out for the Story Hunt booth, which will be popping up in town in April.  Join us for free tea and biscuits, and a chat about lost and forgotten Margate.
  • Submit a story via email to storyhunt2014@gmail.com.  We’ll read all the stories submitted, and they may find their way into the show itself.  They don’t need to be long they don’t need to be long and it doesn’t matter if you’re a published writer or this is the first time you’ve shared anything you have written: you could just tell us about a building, a person, or an event in Margate that it seems important for us to know about.  You could send us pictures, too, if you like.
  • If you’re feeling creative, write your story down as a poem or fictionalised account.  Pick a building or an event, choose a point of view and describe what you see, feel, hear, and smell – and why it matters.  You could describe the moment from your own point of view, if it happened to you, or you could imagine yourself into the shoes of a Margate resident of two hundred years ago.  It’s entirely up to you.  The only rules are that it must be based firmly in Margate – a specific street or building – and it must be no more than 300 words long. Submit your poems and stories to storyhunt2014@gmail.com by 8 April.

Please note: some of our favourite stories will be showcased here on the New Theatre In Your Neighbourhood website.  You should let us know when you submit your story, poem or picture whether you’re happy for it to be freely available to members of the public, and if so, how you would like to be credited: full name, first name only, or anonymous?

We’re looking forward to meeting you in Margate and hearing all your stories.

Dan and Sarah

blog by Sarah Punshon, director & dramaturge for ‘Story Hunt’ by Daniel Bye

Story Hunt will be taking place on Saturday 12 April, departing from Theatre Royal Margate.  Tickets are £5 and you can find out more and book your tickets here http://theatreroyalmargate.com/event/story-hunt/