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.