Dinner with a difference

An introduction from Maddy: the following might seem anomalous on this blog, focused as it is on the New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood project. But I asked Humira Imtiaz, the writer I met at a workshop last October, to blog about Leo Burtin’s visit to Stockton with Homemade for two reasons: partly to keep encouraging Humira to write, mostly because I think what ARC is doing to transform itself into a community hub welcoming to everyone, even those who think “contemporary performance” isn’t for them, is inspirational and that goes far beyond their work with Fuel. This has been sitting in my inbox for a while, but Leo is taking Homemade to Bristol at the end of the month so do catch him there if you can.

Homemade: Bistro at the ARC
by Humira Imtiaz

Hosted by Leo Burtin, the pop-up Bistro offered a variety of delicious food – and an interesting alternative to ARC’s “Pay What You Decide” scheme. Rather than using money as a form of exchange, we used recipes, ones that have a special, subjective meaning to the consumer. It may not sound much, but this project does challenge the idea of monetary exchange as the only valuable exchange between people. It recognises that there are more important things in life, whether it’s sharing a family recipe of pakoras that your grandmother used to make or food that you’ve prepared yourself.

As you may have guessed, the pakoras were my exchange – though my anxiety made me throw in a little recipe for green chilli chutney as well, because you can’t have pakoras without that! I’m not exactly the most social person around, and when it comes to strangers my first instinct is usually to run. But the food and the familiarity of the personal memories linked to that – which can be emotional, ranging from “family favourites” to “something simple to impress the lay-dies” – encouraged conversation. The showcasing of alternative foods and encouragement of conversation between people of different backgrounds is another admirable side to this vision.

The recipe exchanges were written on little postcards and speaking with Leo about this work was quite enlightening. I think I’m going to miss this Bistro: it would be nice to see something like this more often and maybe it doesn’t have to end with food.

A community fuelled by theatre

by Michelle Pogmore

I am a Midlands-based theatre maker, performer, programmer, general manager and events consultant. Phew. The things you have to do to to earn a living making theatre. I began a few years ago after leaving uni as a mature student and with a child of eight. I set up my own company Red Dress Theatre and took a solo piece on tour. I also joined Reaction Theatre Makers and we’re currently booking our autumn tour for 2015. I feel that it is important for Worcestershire that companies such as ours drive forward into national territories to help put this part of the region on the map. Worcester has felt like a small place in the past and reaching out to others beyond this community has been essential for it to grow and stay alive to the possibilities of what can be achieved.

A fundamental turning point for me has been my part in New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood, as a local engagement specialist in Malvern. Fuel has made me feel part of a wider community of artists and valued for my ideas, and given me the rare opportunity to explore creative ways of promoting the work coming into our neighbourhood. Fuel has brought new life into Worcestershire and some of the most inspiring, intimate and challenging theatre to new and existing audiences. It has created debates and highlighted the ongoing necessity to create not only the opportunity for great theatre to be seen, but for us all to use this as an opportunity to come together. It has made us brave, it has made me brave.

That began two years ago with the most incredible piece of work: Zero by Clod Ensemble – the coming together of live music, story and choreography. We brought musicians to see dance, dancers to see theatre and all of us into a wonderful world of live music. What’s more, we had a wild after-show party in a gothic mansion house with the cast and musicians playing until 3am. But this wasn’t just a party for the cast. It was the planting of a seed that has grown here. The opportunity for audiences to come together and be a part of the experience, to join in and feel involved. To talk and laugh, discuss and feel included. This has been a part of the legacy that NTIYN has fostered.

Over the next year, our work with Fuel comes to an end, but I actually feel no sense of an ending. It is a continuation of all I have learned and experienced by attending others’ work and by working with Fuel. The reflection on our local theatre environment they encouraged led me to want develop cultures and environments that were not only about turning up, watching and going home, but a place to feel a part of something, as this is something that we felt was lacking in this area. A welcoming environment made up of the people who are present.

I had the initial idea to set up an online hub on Facebook called Fuelled by Theatre, where anyone could find out about innovative work within and outside of the region. The kind of theatre people might not know about, a place not owned by anyone but created through many voices, all passionate about seeing, reviewing and sharing views and information on artists, companies and performances touring throughout our region and sometimes beyond. Again this idea was valued. Fuel have funded the development, marketing and launch of the Facebook page in order for it to expand and thrive as a meeting place for everyone. And Fuel are not just taking their funding and running when the project comes to an end: they are continuing to support our growth and the growth of innovative theatre in our community.

Also with Fuel’s encouragement, myself and Tiffany Hosking are now programming work into a community arts centre in Malvern, the Cube – and bringing Clod Ensemble’s latest work The Red Chair there in June. Tiffany and I opened with our first programmed piece earlier this month: we had a full audience but what pleased me most was when people remarked on the atmosphere of the place, the art work hung that afternoon from a university student, and the relaxed and friendly nature of the space.

I am part of a community here in Worcester and my voice speaks for many who are developing work and events and who value the growth of our own thriving arts community. Fuel have breathed new life into Malvern. New and innovative theatre, new networks, contacts, friendships and support. It’s amazing what a little value can do to a person or a place. We are fuelled by theatre here, and passion and endeavour.