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!

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

TRAUM – a post from intern Harry Holles – Rehearsal Week 1

Delighted to introduce Harry Holles, a 6th Form student from Coventry who is currently one of our interns at Theatre Absolute working on TRAUM. Here’s a few words from Harry on week 1 of rehearsals…

Hi, my name is Harry, next year I look forward to starting a foundation course at Birmingham School of Acting, where I hope learn different styles of acting and gain a wider understanding of the world of performing arts.

This week I started my internship with Theatre Absolute, which has been amazing!  In the first session with Dimitar and Marius, Chris set everybody the task of writing just a few hundred words on an experience of our choice in which we have felt alien, and the emotions that came with that experience. For Dimitar, Marius and Tiff it was their experiences entering this country and their reasoning for doing so….it was very interesting listening to everybody’s experience and having them paint the picture in my mind…I spoke about the overwhelming feeling I got stood at the top of a lakeside mountain in Italy.  It was very difficult to put into words exactly how it felt but it was nice to try and express that moment through words on a piece of paper.

After the first week, I feel very hopeful for this performance and I can really see it being an amazing show!

Disciplines in Dialogue: From Theatre Absolute to And So Forth by Richard Walls

 

I’m currently in rehearsals for Damsel/Wife/Witch, the inaugural show of And So Forth (ASF), a new London-based company I co-founded earlier this year dedicated to interdisciplinary collaboration. Performed by two actors, a singer and a pianist, the piece was written by a close partnership of artists: a playwright, a librettist and a composer; it exemplifies ASF’s focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and mutual support. Tapping into contemporary debate, the show explores the nuances of gender expectation and identity through fairy tale. It’s an arresting and exciting time and one which invites reflection upon my earlier work with Theatre Absolute.

Back in the September of 2012 I was commissioned by the company to write a short play for 100, a cross-disciplinary arts project launched in response to the approaching centenary of World War One. The project – which premiered at the Herbert Art Gallery in 2013 – utilised film, theatre and textiles to explore a range of themes surrounding the conflict and its centenary.

It was my first professional commission and the resulting play, Powder, my first professionally produced play. As such the pressure I piled upon myself during its writing was immense and if it weren’t for the generous support and mentorship of the company I doubt the play would have made it to the stage at all. But make it Powder did, alongside a short film by Jay Langdell and a textiles exhibition by Julia O’Connell (N.B. a full-length play by Steve Waters commissioned for the project premiered the following year).

What was immediately apparent after the premiere was that though each artist’s work had been created independently the resulting works were now in a dialogue with one another. Occupying the same period of time and space the play, the film and the exhibition both impacted directly on the reception of one another and became inseparable from a collective 100 experience. Indeed, in the post show discussions I was often asked to comment on the film and the exhibition as much as I was about my own play. But I was happy to do so being that what had started as a series of singular visions had now fused into one creative endeavour.

Theatre Absolute has since gone on to collaborate across disciplines more directly. This year alone pieces such as The Visible Maker (Julia O’Connell’s live craft performance piece which utilised interactive media) and Traum (a collaboration between Theatre Absolute and dance company Moving Spaces) were interdisciplinary collaborations which both challenged the notion of the Shop Front Theatre as a ‘limited’ space and embraced the clash of disciplines in order to create great art.

That I therefore feel so at home in And So Forth is no mistake. As a company, And So Forth believe the best catalyst for unique and exciting work is the facilitation of dialogue between remarkable practitioners, not only for the purposes of creation, but also for the ongoing development of the artists themselves. Only yesterday I was discussing the musicality of dialogue with Glyndebourne’s Young Composer in Residence Lewis Murphy, who I have had the pleasure of collaborating with on Damsel/Wife/Witch, whilst also discussing dramatic action with Mezzo-Soprano Katie Coventry, who most recently appeared in British Youth Opera’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen. To be able to work with such exceptional emerging artists from different theatrical worlds can be at times challenging but it is always a privilege and always worthwhile. It develops and strengthens me as a writer.

In the current climate it is more important than ever for young artists to reach out beyond their comfort zones and work with those from other disciplines. Not only because pragmatism demands it, but because the potential artistic rewards are huge. If anything, I hope that my experience with both Theatre Absolute and And So Forth are a testament to that.

Damsel/Wife/Witch by And So Forth will be playing at the Chapel at Asylum Peckham between the 15th – 18th September. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/andsoforth.

 Richard Walls is a co-founder of And So Forth and an Associate Artist of Theatre Absolute. He is currently attached to the 2015 Birmingham Rep Foundry programme.

 

 

Thoughts from our intern, Charles Ingram…

Process – The Making of Traum

Its day one and there is an aura of that mixture between excitement and uncertainty, with an overwhelming itch to start things off not knowing exactly where we will end up at the end of this project. As the creative assemble we instantly discussed the extreme potential of the Shop front Theatre space, Marius and Dimitar of Moving Spaces have already started their minds and bodies in motion with hundreds of ideas to be put on the table whereas Chris and Julia of Theatre Absolute have one question at present, how does a person deal with not sleeping and what is its effect on the human body and psyche. Chris introduces himself and Julia and we all have an introductory talk about where we are at and what we do before taking the plunge into our work. We discuss that Traum is a work in progress and there is no pressure on what to create in terms of quantity. We speak about the fact that this is a collaboration so our roles will cross over and change as the project goes on, we are all happy with this arrangement.

We start with a Writing Lab, where we are given the first sentence to commence free writing experiment. Writing only what thoughts came into our minds in order to generate material as a great way to kick off. Allowing for us to relate ourselves with the music playing (Composed by Chris), the stimulus given and the ability for us to relate it back to this main idea of not sleeping and the effect it has on us as human beings. This was extremely successful as we could instantly relate to one another’s writing. Though at this stage it is important to note that Chris wanted Marius and Dimitar to write in their own native languages, which turned out to be quite magnificent to listen to and the translation that more insightful.

Once we had the main bulk of the idea behind the piece we got it up on its feet and this is where the collaboration really kicks in. Moving Spaces were the main choreographers in this project with Chris directing the piece as an outside eye laying insight into the clarity of the story told. My own role was to assist in the production via Chris and help generate the technical aspect of the sharing of this work in progress. Though the technical side did not come until much later in the process. My role as a spectator was key to the progress of this production, allowing to support Chris to give him eyes in the back of his head in order to help him see the piece as a whole. This was crucial as the stage construct we had in mind was a thrust stage setting surrounding the areas around the pillars with chairs.

The way it worked was that Moving Spaces would generate separate sections of dance infused b-boy choreography for Chris and myself to see if it fitted into the piece, as these were very talented Dancers but even more talented choreographers, most of the time the answer was ‘yes, great, pop that in’. What was nice was that neither party knew what was in each other’s heads until a few days into the project. There was this absence of technical dance knowledge from Chris and the absence of critical thinking and observation from Moving Spaces. Once the melding of these two minds happened on day three, the production took a dramatic leap forward giving it a performance arc and a storyline. Adding in the music at this stage was then key to allowing Moving spaces to get a feel for the space and how to present their moves.

What was created in the end was a 15 minute long contemporary piece of dance-theatre with some b-boying in the mix. A story of a man and his apprehension towards working and the inability to sleep through a personified ‘Anxiety’ figure which looms over his life. Anxiety which he battles with throughout this performance in a frantic display of interconnecting action and an impressive showing of breakdancing capability. The most interesting part of this performance I think was the relationship between them, one speaking in Bulgarian and the other English. The anxiety telling him to ‘speak English’ and to ‘adapt’ is transcendent to all migrant workers, trying to make a living not just in England but all over Europe.

The piece starts with the worker (Dimitar) hard at work and falling asleep, he realises this an decides to get away but he cannot get away from the thoughts of work generated by this anxiety (Marius) which appears within his actions. The anxiety plays with the worker to force him to work and preventing him from sleeping. When the worker fights back we find this is where the pieces interesting factors lie. We see sections of unison movement and confrontational b-boying, however there are some tender moments where we see that they are dependent upon another. The piece comes to its ending with the worker hiding from the anxiety who is ‘trapped’ in this dream world of his. The final confrontation is the worker exclaiming to the anxiety ‘you know what, screw you’ in Bulgarian before grabbing him and falling to the floor, finally getting some rest.

Seeing the piece progress from the initial words and music and to have it created before your very eyes is something quite special, seeing talented artists working together for a greater cause is refreshing and as a contributor I feel extremely privileged to be a part of it and it further gives the piece a large amount of value not only to me as an intern with Theatre Absolute but also as a creative in the industry. Allowing for me to broaden the creative experience with all parties involved and progress the knowledge base of the company.

The potential of this project to move further has been commented on not only by its creators but from the audience who got the chance to view the showing of the work in progress. Many comments of ‘can’t wait to see the finished product’ were very comforting. But where does it go to next? Does he wake up or does the story just extend itself? Well until we get back into that rehearsal room we just will not know. This piece not only relates to everyone on a human level but it has cultural significance to so many people around the EU. I would love for this piece to be shown in Bulgaria to see if it has a lesser or greater impact. Or the inclusion of further languages to increase the field of audience and relatability. All in all a great piece and has definite quality enough to move on and up somewhere else in the creative world.

Frank McMahon blogs about his work with Chris O’Connell

My first contact with Theatre Absolute was in September 2012 when I attended a writing gym, facilitated by Chris O’Connell. It was lively, stretching and thought-provoking and left me wanting more.

It was going to see The Wedge performed and written by Naomi Said, and then hearing how it had been developed which inspired me to write a monologue. Suddenly I had a format which enabled me to bring together various ideas and pieces of writing.

I posted it to Chris. Then I had an e-mail saying he had enjoyed it immensely. I went “ wow! “ maybe this is it, the start.

We arranged to meet, and after some discussion, agreed to work together for 3 sessions on the script.

These sessions have been: stimulating, searching, respectful, (“you are the writer“), challenging, inspiring and very enjoyable. Basically, we have worked by reading the script aloud and then working through it in detail.

He has also, very helpfully, suggested some playwrights and plays to read. My script is now more dramatic, more energetic, carrying less fat and working on it has mined some things which came as a surprise to me. None of which is to say it is complete. The next stage is to work on it with an actor with a view to a scripted reading before an audience.  So it may well develop further. And after that?

The great thing about working with Chris is the sensitive way in which he blends encouragement with realism, challenge and creativity, helping me to find my voice.

It has been brilliant!

Frank McMahon

Interning with Theatre Absolute: Joining the Conversation

What is it you’re looking for in a theatre internship?

In early June 2010, I was in Coventry City Centre doing some last minute shopping before jetting off to start a post-graduate internship at a theatre in the United States. Whilst walking through the city arcade I came across the new Shop Front Theatre and saw there were people inside having a conversation. I’d been intrigued by the theatre for a while but this was the first time I had actually seen anyone inside. I hesitated about walking on in (this was a shop, after all) but before I could one of the men inside came and opened the door: the artistic director, Chris O’Connell. I explained that I was going to be out of the country for a while but that on my return I would get back in touch about the possibility of getting involved with the theatre in some capacity. Having stumbled upon one conversation, I was now leaving with one of my own.

Being an aspiring writer, thinking about suitable internships has always proved difficult. What exactly is it I’m looking for in an internship? What exactly is it that I can offer a company? What are the positions available that can help me to become a better writer? Will a theatre pass me over for an internship in administration because they know I don’t want to ultimately work in theatre administration?

Such questions are not unique to writers. I know plenty of actors, directors, and producers who went through the same. Maybe they had done some acting, but were now more interested in learning about directing. Perhaps they weren’t completely sure they even wanted to work in the theatre. Maybe they just wanted to get a sense of how a professional theatre company worked. Though we often categorise jobs in the theatre into specific boxes (actors, directors, stage managers etc.) in reality each role may at some point cross over with another and it’s always good for the right hand to have a working knowledge of what the left hand is doing in any organisation.

Fast forward seven months from our initial conversation and Chris and I met, along with the company producer Julia Negus, to churn such questions over. Such open, honest and frank conversations became a staple of our working relationship; a way of constantly evaluating:

1.)  What the theatre needed?

2.)  How I could help facilitate this?

3.)  How facilitating this would help me?

The answer to the third question was quite often one word: access.

The Shop Front Theatre is a profoundly unique and democratic space. There are no private offices for private meetings (unless you count the tiny changing room, which is tempting considering the wonderful array of biscuits in there!), no arbitrary area where all the performances must be staged and no physical barriers between the box office, the drinks table, the lounge area and (sometimes) the stage. Anyone who has ever attended a theatre absolute show at the Shop will know that prior to and after each performance you can speak to the actors, director, writer, producer, volunteers and other audience members in a shared space. Each audience member is asked to fill out a feedback sheet and invited to continue the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Productions are often scheduled so to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible (‘Always’, Chris O’Connell’s last play, had breakfast time performances) and tickets competitively priced so to break down some of the economic barriers preventing people experience live theatre.

But how did such an accessible way of making and showcasing work help me, an aspiring writer, when interning with the company?

I recently came across a tweet entitled ‘A Script’s Journey’ which listed the artistic process of a successful play. It was as follows:

Playwright’s Heart

Playwright’s Head

Director’s Heart

Director’s Head

Actor’s Heart

Actor’s Head

Audience’s Heart

Audience’s Head

What interning at Theatre Absolute did was allow me to see every stage of this journey in the same shared physical space. Let’s take Chris O’Connell’s play ‘Arcade’ as a case in point. The play, set in a café, was about an encounter between two people years after one of them had been sent to prison for killing a mutual friend. It engaged not only with the history of the Shop (it used to be a café) but also with questions surrounding performance space (part of the play took place out in the street).

Before he even started writing the play I remember speaking to Chris about how he wanted to engage more actively with the history of the Shop and use the space more inventively. I remember him staring out the window. I could see the cogs turning. Hear the questions he was asking. Then when I sat in on rehearsals I could see him work as a director in interrogating his own script. See the actors do the same. Have coffee with them. Discuss dramaturgical questions on the sofas. Converse about other aspects of the theatre industry (the working life of an actor, issues surrounding theatre funding, engaging with audiences etc.). Then when the show opened I could speak to the audiences about their thoughts – each and every night.

I’ve heard horror stories about internships where all the intern did was make coffee and fetch lunch for the employers. The justification for this is often that it doesn’t matter what you do in an internship; what matters is that it looks good on the C.V. But it doesn’t matter how good it looks on the C.V if you can’t give satisfactory answers at a future interview about what skills you learnt and how that’s relevant to the people interviewing you. Whilst interning at Theatre Absolute I made a lot of cups of tea and coffee, but the difference is that I would also make one for myself and be in the room when important decisions were being discussed and made.

I had other responsibilities, of course. I found helping to organise special one-off events and educational programming particularly useful as it helped me to nail down what the artistic policy of the company was. It also meant that even though I want to be a writer I was broadening my skills base so to prove more appealing to other employers when searching for part-time work.

But what I truly appreciate is that the company never forgot that what I wanted to do was write – in fact, they actively encouraged it. I had workshops and a reading in front of an invited audience of my short play ‘Public Housing’. I went on to develop this and submitted it as part of my application for an MA in Writing for Performance at Goldsmiths College, London. At my interview for the course I spoke extensively about my time at Theatre Absolute: my experience in learning how to interrogate a script, my knowledge of working in unconventional spaces in new ways and my desire to engage actively with audiences. Chris also wrote me a wonderful reference. My application was built upon the time I had spent with the company and so when I got accepted onto the course I couldn’t thank them enough.

It’s now almost three years since Chris and I had that first meeting and the conversation we started back then is still on-going. In September 2012 the company commissioned me to write a short play for schools as part of the ‘100’ project. Not only is it my first professional writing commission, it’s also an opportunity to give something back to the company for having supported me and to write something for Coventry’s up-and-coming generation. It’s an immense privilege.

In March 2011 it was announced that Theatre Absolute would lose its core funding from the Arts Council and for a time it looked as though the Shop Front may have had to close. Yet since Coventry City Council announced they would allow the theatre to keep the space the company has rewarded them by proving good on its promise to provide artistic programming of the highest calibre. Furthermore, the company’s record for investing in Coventry talent is superb. Naomi Said’s ‘The Wedge’ began life when she attended one of Chris O’Connell’s writing gyms and the play was nurtured by the company all the way to full production. Strongbox Theatre, a company set up by Coventry University students, was able to utilise the space in showcasing their show ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ and went on to take it to the National Student Drama Festival. And I have been delighted in hearing from other interns and work experience placements about their own positive experiences with the company.

What Coventry is seeing now is the fruit of a whole series of conversations. Conversations which all stem from the company’s unyielding desire to engage with its artists and its community. It’s this spirit of inclusivity, this desire to reach beyond its immediate base and engage with new artists and new audiences, which make it such an asset.

If you want to play a part in its future success, perhaps it’s time you started a conversation of your own…

 

Richard Walls

April 2013

Latest news from Chris O’Connell

Hello, Chris here, artistic director of Theatre Absolute. It’s time to check in with news of what’s been happening at Theatre Absolute. I notice it was November when news from the creative coalface was last posted. That was during the making of ‘The Wedge’, written and performed by Naomi Said. It turned out to be a fabulous production. Embracing the limitations of the shop with no set, only four lights and a single soundscape, it was stimulating in its absolute simplicity and performed with unerring courage by Naomi. The shop was teeming with bodies for the week of its run and once again brought familiar faces, and new attenders. We are particularly proud of it because Naomi and Theatre Absolute met at the shop during one of our Writing Gyms. It is currently poised to tour and find a new life beyond the shop. Details of its future movements will be posted both on Facebook and here on our website.

The New Year brought new challenges for the company as I wrote and directed a ten-minute piece called ‘Always’, commissioned by Holding Space, funded by Arts Council England. Scripted to interact with filmed and animated images, ‘Always’ was a tight knit collaboration between myself, ‘experience’ designer Ashley Brown and actor John Flitcroft. John has appeared in several Absolute shows, and it was a pleasure to work with Ash for the first time. At only ten minutes, the choices one makes of how best to tell the story are specific and risky. Narrative is narrative and whether 90 minutes or 10 minutes, the same rules of a typical Theatre Absolute production still applied: character, story, intensity, immersion. Certainly the latter was achieved in new ways, as this was the first time we had worked with an artist such as Ashley, who created a smorgasbord of images, projected onto three walls within an intimate 8 x 12 foot space specially built and created at the very back of the shop. Combining both text and imagery is of course not unheard of in the theatre – many companies have worked in this way, but it was a first for us in that the images and the text were both central to and inseparable in their telling of the story. Made for 1 to 15 people at a time, ‘Always’ was seen at a variety of times throughout the day, ranging from 8.30am to 8pm shows.

‘Always’ finished on the 16th March, and the shop was immediately chocka block with a new show from Coventry’s Highly Sprung. ‘The Mobile Phone Show’ by Jim Cartwright was a charming piece performed by Sprung’s fantastic young company. It was great to see the Shop used in yet another configuration and full to the brim with audiences and cast each night. Next up is Ian Tilton, rock photographer and the man behind many of the legendary photos of Kurt Cobain, and The Smiths, amongst many others. Ian will talk and launch his SET IN STONE Stone Roses photo book with author Claire Caldwell on the 18th April. Later in May we welcome Coventry University to the shop with some final year degree shows from the performing arts students.

For the longer term, there is our 100 project which will see four new pieces of work created between now and summer 2014. Have a look at the Projects page, on this website. This last week the project has really started to blossom, and early in the week I met playwright Steve Waters to look over the drafts of his play, which will premiere in June 2014. I say drafts, plural, because it’s looking like his piece will become a triptych of short plays. I also met up with Richard Walls, who is writing a short play for premiere in November this year. At second draft stage, Richard and I enjoyed a lunchtime pint as we dissected and challenged and considered what might happen next as he develops the piece towards a rehearsal draft. Richard’s piece deals perhaps more directly with the anniversary of the Great War than Steve’s, and is told through the eyes of a woman. You’ll have to come and see both of them to know more!

As if that’s not enough, filmmaker Jay Langdell is about to hold auditions for his short film – a truly moving evocation of boy soldiers, which he is due to film later this year. Julia too has begun an intense period of research and development for her artwork and has been spending some time liaising with Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, and their collections.

If you want to know more about, and keep in touch with the work we are producing at the UK’s only professional shop front theatre, be sure to contact us here on the website, or Like us on our Facebook page.Always-02Always-01