New connections

A brief introduction from Maddy Costa: I’m now well into handover with NTiYN, visiting communities not to host conversations myself but support local volunteers in hosting their own Theatre Clubs. And because they’re run by people in and for a place and a community, these Theatre Clubs aren’t just post-show discussions: they’re actual social groups who will meet on a regular basis to see shows, chat and enjoy spending time together. It’s basically my dream come true. Anna Bodicoat is one of the three new volunteers based in Margate: I hope her post inspires people to contact her and join in.

By Anna Bodicoat

I love theatre that makes you think and feel deeply, the kind of theatre that might sometimes ask you to put a bit of work in. I know not everyone feels completely comfortable with this, and maybe sometimes discomfort is partly the point. I wonder how tolerable that discomfort feels, especially if you go to the theatre without a chance to talk about it afterwards.

I am lucky enough, in my work and in the things I do, to have lots of chances to share ideas, explore feelings, and work out what I think through conversation. In many interactions I have I can be tentative and test out ideas knowing that it is a safe thing to do, that I’m not going to be shouted down or told I am wrong.

Even so, I have loved the opportunities provided by Fuel and the NTIYN project, to be part of something that allows people to do that within a framework of exciting contemporary theatre. My first theatre club discussion was after This Is How We Die, a steamroller of a piece that left me in awe. Attending the discussion was as much a part of my experience as the show itself, and I want to shout about theatre club from the rooftops!

I want to tell people how great it is to be given the chance to talk about their ideas, to explore how theatre makes them feel and what it reminds them of.

I want to share what effect one such discussion had on me and the people who gathered in the upstairs bar at Theatre Royal Margate on October 2nd.

We picked Daniel Bye’s Going Viral for the first meet of Margate Theatre Club. The premise that piqued our interest and hinted that there may be a discussion to be drawn out of the play was: ‘An aeroplane flies from India to England. Everyone on board is weeping. Everyone except you. On the ground, the weeping spreads. Is it a strange new disease? An outbreak of hysteria? Or has the world become genuinely sad?’

We were led around the outside of the theatre and through the stage door to be seated on the stage behind the curtain, one of the first plays to be done like this at the Theatre Royal. This created a really intimate feel to the performance, added to by Daniel starting the play seated in the audience, offering nuts, and hand sanitiser and asking direct questions about our state of health! Throughout the play, he challenged the audience to look at each other, to imagine themselves inside the story. I noticed just how responsive we were as an audience, almost hyped up, performing ourselves, ‘acting’ as audience members. Maybe, in part, this was a response to what he put himself through, with scenes where he attempted to induce tears in himself, making us all wince and challenging us to feel for him.

One of the themes of our discussion was connection. We talked about the connection he was inviting us to make, with him and with each other. We wondered about our connection to the world and to people in need, particularly at present our connection to refugees. We thought about compassion and how we show it in a country famed for its ‘stiff upper lip’. I was taken by Daniel stating that the people that make Britain profitable apparently had immunity to the outbreak, saying something about the empathy deficit within the higher echelons of society and big business. We also talked about responsibility, and we thought together about what responsibility the main characters did, or didn’t, shoulder at a time of crisis.

Throughout the discussion I was struck by the bravery people had in sharing, how honest they were about what they thought, even if they may have been in a minority. Of particular note were a couple of people who did not see any metaphors in the piece, and we were able to talk about witnessing the play on completely different levels. A poignant moment for me was talking about grief and how the play explores it. We talked about private and public expressions of grief and sadness, and what is ‘permitted’ in today’s society. I was reminded of the experience in grief where you cannot believe the world still continues as normal, despite someone you love being dead. At a time like that, I want the whole world to be crying too, just like in Going Viral. I wondered whether the contagion of weeping people were carrying the sadness of the main character in a way that he couldn’t find a way to express.

Overall, the play and the theatre club confirmed my experience of the arts as a way of processing and exploring difficult emotions and topics. I think the space in the upper bar gave people a taste of what thoughtful and exciting theatre and discussion can be like. As long as people feel safe enough to express an opinion, and feel heard when they do, I think it is likely that they will use a discussion space to gain much more from a theatre piece, even if they come away with more questions than when they went in.

@Anna_Bod
@MargTheatreClub

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Our Town

by Georgette Purdey

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I was feeling quietly satisfied as I got out of the cab at the Theatre Royal in Margate. The cabbie had spent the entire journey from the station telling me about the show I was en route to see – she had heard Ross, the director, interviewed on local radio. This always bodes well when your job is to market the show.

Rather than just programme Tortoise in a Nutshell’s hit show Feral into the Theatre Royal, Fuel commissioned a new version – Feral in Margate – as part of New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood. This is a luxury few shows are afforded, but it made all the difference. The company spent a week in Margate conducting local-specific research and development, meeting with a variety of locals: councilors, schoolchildren and shopkeepers. And they reimagined their show as a result.

NTiYN’s mission is getting ‘new audiences’ into the theatre. It was obvious in the foyer that night that Feral in Margate had done just that. The theatre was open early to allow audiences to filter in and watch the entries to the #mymargate film competition – an invitation to locals to make something of their own, to accompany the performance. The 11 entries had been compiled into a show reel of people’s favorite Margate spaces: from the imposing Arlington House to some locals larking about in Fort Road Yard. I was sat behind some of the entrants who were giggling with pride seeing themselves up on the big screen.You can watch the entries here.

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Winner Martin Spier with his bespoke piece of set.

After a free drink at the bar courtesy of NTiYN the crowd was in the right frame of mind to see the show. It was a crowd quite unlike any other I have sat in in a theatre for a while. Gone were the usual ranks of silver-haired middle classes, replaced by an eclectic mix of families with older children, arty types and a man who said quite loudly mid-performance: ‘It’s been ages since I haven’t had a fag for this long.’ I had that wonderful sense that the crowd was unpredictable. Their reactions to seeing their own town made in miniature on the screen shifted from excited to saddened as the story unfolded, and for most ended with hope as the town rebuilt itself.

As the show closed the audience didn’t shuffle off into the cold; instead they all stayed and joined the cast on stage to look more closely at their town, their history, their streets laid out before them. The crazy cat ladies, the local councilors, the shopkeepers, were all there in a beautiful coming together of a community. In the performance the Council is pictured as an authoritarian body, distant from the ‘real life’ of the townsfolk. Up on stage at the end the local town councilor was happily joking that at least her miniature counterpart was a man – so she might not be recognised!

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Most residents liked it, some didn’t, but they were all on stage, examining the set and engaged in debate about their town. Not a chocolate-box, picket-fence toy town – but a real town with its old-school seaside charm rejoicing in a piece of work made just for Margate, being performed in its beautiful and historically significant theatre.

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The show is best summarized in the words of the audience:

‘This was brilliant! I didn’t know what to expect but knew it looked interesting. Totally captivating from start to finish. Funny, thought-provoking. Can’t praise highly enough.’

‘The attention to detail was astonishing! The whole concept and production was so inspiring. Many congratulations on such excellent work! Please do more!’

Good nights out

At the heart of New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood is a question: how do we ensure that it’s not a selfish endeavour, something that only helps Fuel tour better, failing to impact on theatre more widely? The company and I want to experiment through the three-year programme, and learn – but also share our thinking and discoveries with others. This blog represents one attempt at documenting activities: it’s haphazard, sure, but at least offers some kind of case study that might be useful in the future. (Two clear lessons from the blog are: it’s hard to maintain a coherent narrative around work that happens sporadically; and it’s really hard to persuade people to write about theatre, even on a blog that attempts to be informal and conversational like this one.)

I love writing, but I can’t rely on reaching people online, or via twitter, and through my work with Dialogue I’ve become interested in what can be achieved through small-scale discussion and face-to-face conversation. That’s why I approached Battersea Arts Centre to start working with them on their equivalent to NTiYN, the Collaborative Touring Network. How better to share Fuel’s practice than by talking out loud to other people about it? CTN and NTiYN overlap in Margate, but otherwise reach slightly different places, presenting exciting opportunities to create links between towns and across regions.

Already, working with CTN has been the catalyst for a new phase in NtiYN’s development and my role in it: it’s encouraged me to start talking to Pam Hardiman, Programme Manager at the Theatre Royal Margate, and Jessica Jordan-Wrench of Tom Thumb, about setting up a local theatre-going group, a community of people who meet regularly to have a drink and a chat and see a show together. We’ll see Fuel work, and CTN work, but also other touring work from Paines Plough, the house network and Tara Arts. Pam, Jess and I hope to advertise the group in the local paper, in shop windows and on cafe noticeboards, so the invitation reaches people who aren’t already going to the theatre. Maybe they just don’t know what’s on offer, or maybe they do but feel they don’t have anyone to go with, or maybe the tickets are prohibitively expensive. As a group, we’ll negotiate a concessionary rate, which will allow us to see stuff we might not normally watch, and have a pint or a glass of wine before and after. Chances are we won’t like everything we see – but we’ll still have a good night out, because we’ll be meeting each other.

Even though the Margate theatre group doesn’t exist yet, I’m already taking the idea to other towns and regions thanks to joining up with CTN. And it proved very useful in a fraught but valuable discussion I had on Saturday in Darlington, at a workshop/discussion on theatre criticism. It was arranged by Jabberwocky Market, a brilliant festival that started only a year ago with the support of BAC. I was there to host a theatre club following the evening performance of Ballad of the Burning Star, the kind of activity I’ve been doing with Fuel; the writing workshop was something extra I asked to do, because I’m interested in supporting local critical communities.

The workshop didn’t go to plan: several people signed up, then didn’t attend, so it ended up being improvised with four people who were cajoled into coming on the spur of the moment. (Improbable Theatre Company have a maxim: whoever comes are the right people. It often proves a useful thing to remember.) We began by talking about where criticism is at, how it’s done in newspapers, and what it might mean for a more diverse group of people to blog about theatre. One woman, who works as an editor and spends day after day rewriting poor prose, was suspicious: can a blogger’s taste be trusted? And if there’s no one to edit their work, what guarantee is there that it’s readable? Another woman, a theatre-maker called Hannah Bruce, was anxious about the readership question: if she started blogging, who would she be writing for? Other theatre-makers? People who might come and see her work? Stewart Pringle, who was in Darlington to review Jabberwocky Market for Exeunt, talked about his experience starting out, of wanting to write reviews in the “proper” way, and how much he appreciated the freedom and inventiveness of blogs. I talked about the role audiences can play as advocates – and how much theatre needs them, if it’s not going to lose all its funding and die.

And then there was fierce, articulate, brilliant Val. She listened to me and Stewart, getting more and more riled, then announced that we were arty-farty types using too many long words, exactly the kind of people who make theatre seem elitist, putting off normal people like the ones she works with in an office, who might like theatre, if only they took a chance on seeing it. It was difficult, and unsettling, not because she was criticising or taking issue with what I was saying – not everyone is going to agree with me – but because I had thought we were saying the same thing.

Val is volunteering as an audience ambassador for Darlington, and wants more people to go to the theatre because it’s live – unlike a film, it’s a bit different every time you see it – and because it’s exciting. But she feels like she’s hitting against a brick wall of her local community’s lack of interest, their assumption that theatre isn’t for them. She doesn’t think blogs, or criticism are the answer: she’d seen a touring production of Regeneration, and loved it; it’s had four- and five-star reviews from several major newspapers, and still she can’t persuade her office co-workers to come. As far as she’s concerned, people like me, with our passion for weird theatre in intimate spaces, are part of the problem: we make theatre sound like hard work.

It felt as though we were at loggerheads, but Val and I had a wonderful moment of coming together when I told her about the plan for the theatre group in Margate. Her entire demeanour changed: this was something she could make happen. She started having her own ideas for what the group could do: she could approach the theatre to ask about the possibility of them meeting the actors afterwards, or getting a tour of the stage. Its community aspect appealed to her, too, the idea that the commitment would be to the group, not to the theatre. Essentially, what she’d be inviting people to wouldn’t be a play, but a Good Night Out.

Her outburst – specifically the epithet arty-farty – made Stewart and I think much more carefully about our language for the rest of the conversation: I certainly didn’t use the word “advocate” again. Val made me realise that there are still gaps between what I’m aiming to do and what I’m actually doing (at a basic level, when was the last time I told the parents in the playground of my children’s school, “Oh, go see this show at our local theatre, I’ve seen it and it’s amazing”?); there are still gaps between what I think I’m saying and the words I’m actually using. Later that evening, a small group stayed behind at the end of Ballad of the Burning Star to have a book-group-style discussion on it; as ever, when you get people talking about what they think of a show, rather than just asking questions of the people who made it, the responses to it were fascinating: one man felt it was left-wing and anti-Israel, another man felt it wasn’t a political but an emotional piece, and we talked quite a lot about its power dynamics between men and women, victims and aggressors, and different nationalities. Val sat through the whole discussion, arms folded, not saying a word. I didn’t get to say goodbye to her, but hope that, in sharing some of what I’m doing with NTiYN with her, she feels inspired to take action on the ideas she likes – and just ignores the rest.

Story Hunt, Margate

by Suzanne Collins

Meeting at the Theatre Royal, Margate on Saturday morning for our hour-long walking tour, we are introduced to our tour guide and the writer of Story Hunt, Daniel Bye. More than just a walking tour of Margate past, present and future, Story Hunt challenges the view that Margate is somewhere history happened to.

Our group of around 15 inquisitive souls, from toddlers to one gentleman in his eighties, are guided by Mr Bye and his imaginary yellow umbrella to various sites around the town, frequently stopping to hear stories of Margate’s people and places – some unchanged, some no longer there and some that on another day you probably would have walked past without a second glance.

This is very far from a dry, linear tour commentary and for someone like me where a monologue of dates, facts and figures will quickly dissipate into a sludgy mush, the storytelling, people-based approach was very welcome. At one point as we stand overlooking the beach we are invited to imagine a gleeful young woman on a day trip who has lost the bottle of stout she buried in the sand for safety, with other day-trippers lending a hand with her digging and searching. Then, jumping quickly to another point in Margate’s past, we are told of the infamous mods and rockers descending to the beach and running riot. This is followed by the tale of 46,000 exhausted troops arriving on the sands from Dunkirk in World War II to nothing more than the kindness of Margate residents, who rush to bring blankets and provisions from their meagre supplies. And all this before Dreamland is even mentioned!

The vividness of the characters linked only by place is heightened further when members of the tour group (or perhaps that should be audience; for this is also a performance) are asked to read a few lines on hastily whipped out flash cards, instantly becoming characters of times past. There is a balance between gentle humour and sombre reflection, which the short walks between our pauses allow us to ponder or discuss.

Now and again during the tour Bye invites us to think about the future of a young, imagined girl whom our group has named Chloe, and whom we first meet pondering the existence of hidden tunnels under the Theatre Royal. This narrative thread, in which we see glimpses of the child’s life as she grows older, suggests that our ‘Chloe’ could be many children of Margate’s future. Here and through the stories of all the other characters we meet on our journey we are shown that the history of Margate is shaped though the actions of its residents, as well as people just passing through. The future of the young girl and ultimately the future of Margate is up to us.

This was a one-day only event so you’ve missed your chance for this one, but there have been other Story Hunts by Daniel Bye, ARC Stockton and Fuel in Gateshead, Stockton and Berwick so perhaps there will be another in a town near you.

@squilookle

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/