Announcing Shop Front Festival!

This March, Theatre Absolute will present the UK’s first ever Shop Front Festival. Over Friday 23 and Saturday 24 March, we’ll put theatre in shop-fronts, create pop-up performances in precincts and present dancing in the streets. It’s a pilot project yet ambitious in scope, with some of the UK’s most exciting new and established artists, theatre makers and performers.

Expect home grown commissions including Made in Store by Nick Walker, a semi-improvised show for Coventry made in collaboration with shopkeepers and their customers in especially-selected shops in the city.

The Unfinished City – a shop front symphony is a poem with music inspired by Coventry city centre, and created through a collaboration between Theatre Absolute, Chris O’Connell and 5 city based musicians.

DIY Dance is an invitation to local youth and community dance groups to perform short dance pieces in response to city centre architecture. Meanwhile Motionhouse Youth will create two new pieces, alongside 8 – 10 Coventry groups, all working in different dance styles and forms.

We also welcome national and international artists and theatre companies to Coventry.

The Empathy Museum, a unique collaboration between acclaimed cultural philosopher Roman Krznaric and award-winning artist Clare Patey, presents A Mile in My Shoes:  a shoe shop where visitors are invited to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – literally. Wearing a pair of the contributor’s shoes, visitors go for a walk, listening to the shoes’ original owner telling them a story.

Susannah Hewlett brings Latherland, a city centre soap opera in a shop unit in which the audience is invited to be extras in an interactive live soap opera. A small group of invited actors – from the city – lead the action which is open for any member of the public to join in!

There will also be hands-on experiences for families including the Actual Reality Arcade by Matthew Harrison, a life-sized interactive game zone for all ages, inspired by classic arcade games including shooter games as Overwatch everyone can play using boosting services at Pilot spaceships, dodge barrels, avoid lasers, build Tetris walls, fire rockets, shoot alien invaders and become Pac-Man over both days of the Festival.

Tangled Feet’s Inflation sees four fools arrive on the high street with a motley collection of blow-up props and an uncooperative bouncy castle. With an initial plan to educate the public on the great British history of castles, they get sidetracked into a fruitless mission to understand the world-wide banking collapse…and how we got to Brexit, fun political theatre for families.

Look out for Talking Birds’ The Q. Join in with some enhanced Queuing outside shops, inside shops and in the places you’d least expect a Q! And of course, don’t forget to get your own #Quelfie.

Shop Front Festival is mostly FREE, with some ticketed events. Further programme announcements will be made in the coming weeks.

The two-day festival, which is being supported by Coventry City of Culture Trust, Coventry City Council, Heart of England Community Foundation, Coventry Business Improvement District (BID), Backstage Trust, and 29th May Trust, is the first major cultural event to be held in the city after winning the title of UK City of Culture 2021.

The Coventry Great Place Project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, as part of their Great Place Scheme.

The Shop Front Festival is presented by Chris O’Connell and Julia Negus, the duo behind Theatre Absolute, in collaboration with outdoor arts producer Lou Lomas and independent artistic director Orit Azaz.

CHOKE: The Rehearsal Process

DAY ONE: CHOKE written by Daisy Moorcroft, Project Assistant.

Hello! I am hugely grateful to have been provided with the wonderful opportunity to be part of the Theatre Absolute Team this month as I come on board as Project Assistant for upcoming production CHOKE. With the privilege of a first-hand experience of the Rehearsal process, over the next few weeks I hope to share with you some insights into the celebrations, challenges and ponderings of this creation period. 

Are We Where We Are? The two-year theatre project, inspired by the work of American Novelist Henry David Thoreau began its latest development today as rehearsals began for CHOKE, a new work written by Theatre Absolute’s Artistic Director Chris O’Connell. New to the Shop Front Theatre are Actors Graeme Rose and Matthew Wait.

Day One TAAs expected, the day began with a read through of the script, which instigated a series of in-depth discussions in regard to the motivations and power play between these two males as they revisit their old relationship as University friends. In conjunction with the overarching theme of the programme, discussion and reflection upon the projected authenticity and perceived self-worth of each character brought to light the confusion and vulnerability that these two men face. Who am I? What do I stand for?

As an artist from a predominately Contemporary Dance background, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect, but two things certainly surprised me:

The electric change in energy during the second read through. I presume the second read-through generally flows more smoothly that the first. However, after listening to both Actors intensely discuss their characters backgrounds, thoughts and views on the plays events with Chris, I could really feel the Actors empathic connection to their character emerge in the subsequent read-through. As they began to better understand ‘themselves’ they began to better understand each other, bringing sharp, witty interchanges between the two characters to life. I am really intrigued to see how this continues to develop throughout the rehearsal process.

The attention to rhythm. Finding a pace that feels right in a dialogue exchange is important. As a dancer it was intriguing to hear Chris actively developing the rhythm and musicality of the scripted speech, much in the same way that I would approach shaping and developing of counts for a choreographed phrase. I could see real parallels between the creation of writing, speech and movement in the strive towards what ‘feels right’ to an audience.I can’t wait to see how Chris approaches getting the work onto its feet tomorrow!

Tickets for the performance running 6th -17th February are already on sale and can be purchased here.

Are We Where We Are? A reflection by Chris O’Connell

If you don’t know by now (…then where have you been?!!) Are We Where We Are (AWWWA) started in May 2017 and continues through 2018. The project consists of 9 theatre works commissioned for the stage, utilising a variety of forms for performance through monologue, duologue, a devised ensemble production, and 6 short form theatre pieces written and performed by writers, as if they stand at the window of their world, sharing with us the world that they see.

It’s been immensely exciting to so far have produced 4 of the 9 commissions. The depth and breadth of the subject matters from our four writers has deepened our understanding of the programme. The writers to date have been:

Jules Orcullo – May Utang (May 2017)

Laila Alj – I Am Here (June 2017)

Rabiah Hussain – Where I Live And What I Live For (October 2017)

Sarah Woods – Under The Carpet (November 2017).

AWWWA is inspired by American novelist Henry David Thoreau’s quote ‘We are not where we are, but in a false position’ and the four four pieces to date have conjured considerations and provocations across race, equality, gender, belonging, justice, and our undeniable commonality. They have led to some fascinating feedback and panel discussions with our audiences and the artists involved, giving us a sense that here and now, in the 2nd decade of this new century, the themes of AWWWA are very much alive and pertinent.

The notion that a company as small and delicate as Theatre Absolute, with no core funds and a disused shop space with very little infrastructure can produce these 9 new pieces fills me with pride. What is important is not only to offer the commissions, but to get new work on its feet before an audience. I understand very well the culture that the development of new work often exists in; writers are seeded, developed, scratched, but my own development and learning has been gained first and foremost by the exposure of my work being placed before an audience. Our aim from day one has been to create a critical mass, a boiling point of voices that creates an arena in which to learn and gain experience. It has also been to forge a conversation, and I think if you’ve got along to all or any of the 4 so far, you’ll agree that AWWWA is intensely provocative, fast moving, and both audiences and artists involved have been really up for it.

We’re at a kind of halfway point but we’ve still got a lot of work to do, and remain determined to ensure the second half of Are We Where We Are is as stimulating as the first half has been.

The fifth piece can be seen on 25th January, when Chris Thorpe will be at the Shop Front Theatre to deliver his stand alone piece, Yellowstone. On the 6th February, my play Choke will open and run until the 14th February, with the rest of the AWWWA programme performed throughout 2018.

Sincere thanks to our funding partners on the project: Arts Council England, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Belgrade Theatre, Talking Birds and Coventry City Council.



PILLAR POETRY – Midlands Call Out

Copy of 092919

Poem: Colonial Woman by Shahnaz Akhter


An open call for poems around the theme of Are We Where We Are? to be written upon the pillars of the Shop Front Theatre between 6-17th Feb 2018.

Three poems from Midlands based poets/writers will be selected. Judges from Writing West Midlands and Silhouette Press will then award one of the poems with a £200 prize fund, with the other two selected receiving £100 each, on the 10th Feb.

Full brief and application form linked below.

Open Call Closes: 5pm, Fri 25th Jan 2018

Click here to download the: Pillar Poetry Open Call Brief / Application Form PDF or Pillar Poetry Open Call Brief / Application Form DOC

We look forward to hearing from you.

Are We Where We Are – further reading

May Utang, Are We Where We Are #1, Shop Front Theatre

May Utang, Are We Where We Are #1, Shop Front Theatre

For those of you who are following our fab ‘Are We Where We Are’ project (see Chris O’Connell’s earlier post and current projects page for details of what’s on next), we have created this post to add other links or information that you might find relevant or useful. This reading list will be changing as we go forward with each new commission so do check back regularly!

#2  ‘I Am Here’ was by Laila Alj – Premiered 7th June 2017

Article 1

I’m A Millennial, get me out of here

Simon Senek. Millennials in the workplace

Love and Witchcraft in Morocco

Are We Where We Are? by Chris O’Connell

Are We Where We Are? is a two-year theatre project inspired by the work of the American novelist Henry David Thoreau, whose book ‘Walden: A Life In The Woods’ was published in 1854. Thoreau took himself away from the industrialising world of urban America to find time to reflect amongst natural surroundings. It was in many ways a meditation on the consumerist and materialist obsessions of Western society at that time. In the book, Thoreau writes at one point: “We are not where we are, but in a false position”.  Around 130 years later, Thoreau’s provocation is quoted by a character in Paul Auster’s 1983 novella ‘Ghosts’, as one man searches for meaning in a life that seems to have stalled and begun to fall apart. These two instances of the same quote became a stimulus for us here at Theatre Absolute, as we began to grapple with the notion that, here in the 21st century, we are arguably not where we are, but in fact, somewhere else. It felt apt as the advanced societies we have created spin in seemingly daily chaos. It feels apt when, here, today, one considers the qualities and complexities of justice, equality, race, citizenship, nationhood, isolation, inclusion, the list goes on.

With these ideas in mind Are We Where We Are? becomes a question to our artists, to you the audience, to the wider world. Just as Walden did, we are taking time to contemplate.

Over the next two years we will commission 9 new pieces for the stage utilising a variety of forms in performance that includes text, new technologies, and physicality, and we will do it through monologue, duologue, a devised ensemble production, and 6 short form theatre pieces written and performed by writers, as if they stand at the window of their world, sharing with us the world that they see.  All works will be performed at our Shop Front Theatre here in Coventry. Big thanks to Arts Council England, Coventry City Council, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Talking Birds, The Belgrade Theatre and Warwick Arts Centre for their support with the project.

Our first piece was MAY UTANG written and performed by Jules Orcullo. Jules recently worked with us last Summer on our ensemble piece ‘ARC’, she is an inspiring writer. She performed MAY UTANG on Thursday May 11th to 2 full houses. There were post show discussions and we launched the ‘Are We Where We Are’ project . The second piece is ‘I Am Here’ by Laila Alj, on 7th June at 7.30pm. Tickets are via Oxboffice or call 0845 680 1926. Hope to see you there. Chris O’Connell

Arc – ensemble work in progress at the Shop Front Theatre

In July we brought together an ensemble company to create the early workings of a new piece. The collaborators were: Ola Animashawun, Marius Mates, Julia Negus, Chris O’Connell, Julienne Orcullo and Sneha Singh.  Here’s a blog about the experience. 

On Arc

Jules Orcullo

Recently, I was privileged enough to share space with 5 incredible artists from various artistic disciplines, regions of the UK, and cultural backgrounds at Shop Front Theatre in Coventry. We had a space, 4 days, a short story stimulus, and a simple provocation: ‘We are not where we are but in a false position’. From there, we began R&D on an ambitious multi-disciplinary performance project called Arc – an exploration of contemporary, global living, and the disruption of system, structure, and storyline.

New as I was to Coventry, to Theatre Absolute, and to truly ground-up, collaborative practice, there’s no understating the impact of those 4 days on my approach to theatre-making practice, my outlook, and my connection with those around me. Now that I’m back in the bustle of London, I’m stuck for ways to begin – so here’s a jumbled set of thoughts:

I came into the project via Chris O’Connell, who had been a brilliant writing mentor on a playwriting residency in April 2016. When he first mentioned the project, the brief which was so open-ended and thrilling, it was both daunting and difficult to turn down.

Chris and co-founder Julia Negus set the tone for what was to be an eye-opening 4 days of uncensored and honest. The mostly leaderless devising process seemed to tap into each of our authentic instincts, responses, and memories. Whether it was a gnawing uncertainty following the results of the EU referendum, the mindful satisfaction of drinking water consciously, or a first-hand reaction to a machete-wielding priest, we collectively worked our way towards our ‘arc’. As much as I found the creative impulses to be loose and organic, I knew I was working with consummate collaborators – weaving together spoken word, new writing, movement, multimedia, music, dance, and textile art so evocatively and with skill.

I continue to be floored by Marius’ breaking prowess, Sneha’s verbal and physical lyricism, Julia’s free-flowing conduit between concept and creation, Chris’ bold eloquence, and Ola’s incisive insight. The opportunity to work in such uniquely skilled room is rare. Diverse interdisciplinarity is such a strong backbone for any project, practice or organisation as a pathway to connection. The fact that Theatre Absolute’s commitment to this is so strong is terrific, and I’d love to see more of it across the UK.

At one point during the 4 days, I was challenged by a self-abnegating thought: “While we live in such exceptional times, with news of fresh devastation every day, what use is our art-making?” The tried and true answers are sometimes so etched into every artist’s being that it makes little sense to renew the question. But as the R&D went on, as we kept responding, creatively, to the world of today, up to the hour, up to the minute, it became clear that the question was, for me, a much-needed spur to action. A provocation to renew my sense of responsibility and purpose in my art-making. A vocation that I can’t imagine replacing for anything else.

So in response to that initial provocation: “We are not where we are but in a false position”, I wonder: where could we as artists be but where we are? What could we do but what we’re doing?

There’s something about Coventry

As a newcomer from London via Sydney, the city struck me as forward-thinking, forward-reaching, constantly in-progress. And I have to say it’s a new favourite destination for me. It’s a city that’s easy to get along with, easy to find out more about, easy to build a rapport, or an exchange with.

Sharing the work-in-progress on the final day of the R&D cemented my real admiration for Coventry’s arts community. Artists and companies looking to engage with or create audiences in the region are in for a treat. There’s something really lovely about the Coventry audience that I’ve not experienced elsewhere. Those who were there came to the work with full intention to be involved in the conversation that Arc was creating, and an appreciation of the complexities of the artistic process. And the warmth and brilliance of everyone I met left a lasting impression.

I can’t thank Chris and Julia enough for inviting me onto the project and for expanding, provoking, challenging, welcoming, giving, and sharing all throughout. I arrived as a fish-out-of-water writer/performer and I leave as a collaborative theatre-maker, with an intention to be back in Coventry soon. I also leave with a renewed sense of what it is that makes collaborative performance so valuable, and such a vital form of communing and creating in this period of immense global flux.

Jules is an emerging Filipina-Australian theatre-maker based in London via Sydney. She is currently developing a performance piece entitled phroot sahlad on female sexual dysfunction, shared spaces, and migration. She is an alumna of Lyric Hammersmith Development Lab 2016, The North Wall Easter Residency 2016 and the Australian Theatre for Yong People National Studio 2015, and is now participating in Yellow Earth Academy 2016 and The Royal Court Introduction to Playwriting Group.

3rd Blog from Tiffany

We have approached our second show week now! I am pleased to see that everything ran smoothly in the past week, and we have received some lovely comments and feedbacks from the audience!

One of the best thing about live performances is that the energy changes every night in every show- The dynamic and the atmosphere of the performance alter because of the ‘presence’ of the production crew, performers, and the audiences. Different energies were brought into space every day in the past week, and that have affected the performers’ intake from the performance space. Every night is different; every night is a new start!

It is interesting to point out how my perspectives of the show have changed throughout the process. After watching the ‘same sequences’ for so many times, I realised my attention shifted to some hidden elements of the performance that I was not aware of at the beginning- I started to pay attention to the lights and shadows, and how it has affected my view as an audience and how it heightens the moves and images onstage; and I became intrigued in the reflections of the light on the dancers’ bodies during the piece!

I love TRAUM. And I wish this can go further and further into different stages at different international venues in the future!

Second blog post by Tiffany

‘I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space, whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged’. – Peter Brook

Before our first public audience last night, TRAUM had everything needed for ‘an act of theatre’: The ‘bare stage’, two bboys, the set, the props, the crew, the story… BUT we were still lacking of an audience! We are delighted to have our first group of spectators yesterday evening, supporting and witnessing this moment of birth of a new and experimental play by Theatre Absolute and Moving Spaces!

It was wonderful to see TRAUM live with an audience, as it gave a completely different feeling towards the outcome. Audience has given so much energy toward the performers, and not to forget, the intimate space of the Shop Front Theatre allows a stronger energy exchange between the actors and the crowd.

Two shows down, and nine more to go! Even I have seen the plays a numerous of times now, the story still touches my heart and moves me deeply- It portrays the truth; It illustrates and speak faithfully about our reality.

The Shop Front Theatre would love to have you as an audience, and chill and chat with us after the show! Please come and support this fantastic piece of experimental theatre. You will love it, I promised.

Introducing Tiffany – our 2nd intern on TRAUM

I am originally from Hong Kong and have been studying in Birmingham for about 4 years now. I am currently doing my MRes directing in the University of Birmingham, and one of my main modules is to do a placement at Theatre Absolute in Coventry. As excited as it sounds, I was very nervous before coming over and meeting new people, so I had to take some supplements for stress I got from

Just a bit about my self- I initially worked as an actress back in my home country. Then, I’ve slowly developed my interest around directing and producing when I was doing my BA Drama and Theatre Arts. I am passionate about doing something experimental with theatre performances and combining theatre art with performance art; I have recently done a drama solo, called The Last Present, which I brought the drama out of the conventional theatre space into a local gallery in Hong Kong that is decorated as a home (The concept of site-specific performance is quite new in Hong Kong.) . So yea, I do a bit of everything now- directing, producing, acting, sometimes, designing for theatre, too.

Let’s talk about this placement: The project that I will be responsible for is TRAUM. My main areas of work at Theatre Absolute is to assist Chris (the director) in the theatre-making processes (contribution of ideas, materials generating, working with actors…etc), and to help Julia (the producer), on the marketing side of the production. It is important for me to take this opportunity and be involved with stuff as much as I can, in order to get a sense of how to run a theatre in the UK and how a professional theatre works. (The best thing is, I am producing my own performance in Hong Kong simultaneously. That means, I can put what I learned from here into practice!)

Although the project, TRAUM, started a year back in Jan 2015, their process of theatre-making makes it less difficult for me to catch up with what I’ve missed; Chris started with (re-)discussing his concepts of TRAUM with the performers, and suggested about what strategies he wants to utilise to convey TRAUM’s message. The fact that this is a collaborative theatre, he allows plenty of time for performers to question, to comment, as well as to contribute to what he has said.

I found that their process is somewhat similar to what Frantic Assembly has done in their projects; Chris requested the actors to bring their personal stories (related to our theme) to the table. By asking details upon their stories (documented through audio recording), materials are generated for the development of TRAUM’s script/plots. Ultimately, a majority of things that are shown in our performances are REAL events and realistic thoughts that were experienced by the ensemble. It is interesting to see how the team started with only a ‘working progress’ of TRAUM and transform it to a complete story in only a short period of time!

The team has begun to work on choreographing and creating movements upon the first draft of TRAUM’s script. (The boys are amazing!) I’ll, hopefully, work a bit more on the marketing side next week. Stay tuned!

p.s. As expected, loads of jokes will come out when you’re working in a team! We manage to get some very unique hashtags running: #facetheturkey If you want to know what this is on about, come to our shows and ask one of the team member about #facetheturkey after the performance!

Tiffany M. Lo

JAN 2016