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.