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.

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