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.