Theatre Skills Award nominations open

Celebrating fantastic mentors and managers in the theatre industry, The Creative and Cultural Skills Awards 2016 have opened nominations for their Theatre Skills Award.

Nominees should be individuals who work within the industry and strive to provide young people with the opportunity to work and learn in the creative industries. They must also ensure that employers benefit from a skilled generation of talent and help the industries continue on a course of economic growth.shutterstock_134693633 (1)

Last year’s winner of the Theatre Skills Award was Geoffrey Joyce of British Theatre Technicians. Judges were particularly impressed by Joyce’s ability to pioneer a training provision, helping young people find a suitable route into the creative industries.

‘The technical theatre sector can now rely upon an introductory training provision which was developed primarily through the dedication of this one theatre practitioner and trainer,’ said the final judging panel of Joyce. ‘Geoffrey’s achievements are truly outstanding and the theatre sector is in debt to him.’

If you know an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the creative industries, you can nominate them for the Theatre Skills Award until Friday 8 January 2016. The prestigious ceremony will be held at The Backstage Centre on 2 March 2016. It is free to nominate someone; to do so, simply download the nomination form at http://www.ccskills.org.uk/supporters/awards

 

Edge Investments launches £40m arts fund

In light of declining arts funding, venture capital firm Edge Investments has opened up £40 million to the creative industries, intended to encourage flair and entrepreneurial spirit within smaller creative companies which might be suffering at the hands of declining arts funding.

Theatre companies wishing to apply for the fund will be able to do so on commercial terms, with Edge Investments seeking a minimum of a three times return over its seven to ten-year life for investors, who include high net worth people and businesses. This includes government-owned British Business Bank, who are committing £24 million towards the scheme.

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The fund seeks to stop decline in the creative industries

While full details have yet to be confirmed, Edge Investments have divulged that they will look to invest in ‘fast-growing and revenue-generating small- and medium-sized creative companies, which have access to core intellectual property assets which Edge believes are poised to benefit greatly from the growing digital economy.’ ‘The creative industry is of increasing importance to the wider UK economy,’ says Ken Cooper, managing director of Venture Capital Solutions at British Business Bank, ‘and we are particularly pleased that this fund will ensure these high-growth businesses have access to the finance they need to scale.’

Chief executive of Edge Investments David Glick adds, ‘There are nearly 160,000 creative industries businesses in Britain. Yet despite being in this high-growth sector, many of them find it difficult to attract adequate capital to maximise their potential. Our new Edge Creative Enterprise Fund aims to fill that funding gap.’

While there is no specified deadline for securing financial support as yet, prospective companies can visit the Edge Creative Enterprise Fund website for more information at http://www.edge.uk.com/edge-creative-enterprise-fund

RSC to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream with amateur companies nationwide

The Royal Shakespeare Company is recruiting hundreds of nationwide amateur actors to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream in its most ambitious project to date: Dream2016.

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‘Titania and Bottom’ by Henry Fuseli (c.1790)

Midsummer’s Day this year saw the RSC announcing the 14 amateur companies from across the UK, who have been working in a unique collaboration with a group of professional actors to celebrate the Bard’s 400th deathdate. The production will involve a total of 687 people to make up the professional and amateur cast, musicians, and school children to play fairies in Titania’s fairy train – a total of 580 fairies, in fact.

Educational resources will be on offer once the show hits stages across the UK, beginning in Stratford-upon-Avon in February. 60- and 30-minute edits of the production will be available to primary, secondary and special schools, with a specially-composed score suitable for all ages and abilities. There will also be teaching resources providing guidance for staging the play, as well as the RSC Dream Team 2016 Playmaking Festival, which can take place in Stratford or with an RSC artist in schools.

Erica Whyman, RSC deputy artistic director, has been working on Dream2016 throughout the year. ‘I’ve always loved touring and care very much about having a proper relationship with regional theatres,’ she said, noting that this is the largest project she and the RSC have carried out to date. ‘No one has ever attempted to bring this all together in a professional production.’

The project seeks to bring forth modernity from Shakespeare’s play, with a setting in late-1940s Britain. ‘It’s about the country coming together after surviving a traumatic time and about the post-war austerity. It fits with the play.’

Owing to the distance between the amateur companies, which cover all nine English regions, Whyman has said that she had a Skype-style technology created to enable rehearsals to take place at the same time. ‘The challenge for me is making sure those regional voices really are in play. I want to get a real sense of these places.’

Among the professional cast will be Ayesha Dharkey as Titania, Sam Redford as Theseus and Lara Riseborough as Helena. Bottom will be played by school teachers from around the country – most of them men, with two women taking the role in Canterbury and Nottingham.

Dates and venues:

  • Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 17 February – 5 March
  • Northern Stage, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 16–22 March
  • Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 29 March – 2 April
  • Blackpool Grand Theatre, Blackpool, 5–9 April
  • Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, 12–16 April
  • Marlow Theatre, Canterbury, 19–23 April
  • Theatre Royal, Norwich, 26–30 April
  • Theatre Royal, Nottingham, 3–7 May
  • Hall for Cornwall, Truro, 10–14 May
  • Barbican, London, 17–21 May
  • New Theatre, Cardiff, 24–28 May
  • Grand Opera House, Belfast, 31 May – 4 June

For further information, including tickets, visit www.dream2016.org.uk

Review: Time of Women with the Belarus Free Theatre

If any theatre group knows how to spread a message, it’s the Belarus Free Theatre. Kicking off their tenth anniversary festival Staging a Revolution two weeks ago, the group took political refuge in the UK after being forced out of their country by dictatorship.

The initial performances, which included Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis and Generation Jeans by co-founder Nikolai Khalezin, were held in undisclosed locations; attendance was only admitted once the recipient received a text message with an agreed meeting point, and ticket-holders were asked to bring their passports with them, a custom upheld in Belarus underground theatre should anyone be arrested. The festival came to a close in the Young Vic, BFT’s home for the last four years, with Being Harold PinterKing Lear and Time of Women.

Maryia Sazonava as Irina Khalip and Maryna Yurevich as Natalya Radina. Credit: Nicolai Khalezin

Maryia Sazonava as Irina Khalip and Maryna Yurevich as Natalya Radina. Credit: Nicolai Khalezin

In the smaller, downstairs theatre of the Young Vic, Time of Women took to a stage bedecked with a Christmas tree on one side, a desk on the other, and a box – which would soon be revealed as a prison cell – in the centre. The heroes were three women imprisoned for protesting against the apparent rigging of Alexander Lukashenko’s 2010 presidential win, and were played by Maryna Yurevich, Maryia Sazonava and Yana Rusakevich. The play followed a simple structure: each woman would, in turn, divulge her experiences in prison, then we would see how she and the other two women coped within the cell, and then she would be interrogated and bribed by a prison official, played by Kiryl Kanstantsinau. This structure allowed small insights into her life as a free woman, an imprisoned woman, and a woman facing freedom at a cost.

Though simple in concept, the meaning did occasionally slip away, befuddled at times by the poetic language and complex symbolism that didn’t quite ring true of their characters. It is also important to note at this point, that the play was entirely in Russian, with subtitles projected above and either side of the stage. This would not have caused an issue, had it not been for a technical fault halfway through; the subtitles stopped working for about ten minutes, rendering most of us feeling completely alienated from a play that was already battling with challenging concepts.

That aside, it was a moving play, with each of the women providing standout performances that brought forth the fear and passion felt by those arrested – an event that drew the world’s attention and was reprimanded by artistic figureheads, Ian McKellen among them. Though the festival has now closed, the BFT continues to stage plays of rebellion against injustice in a country so close to home. In this way, it might be beneficial for KS4-5 students to get a feel for theatre with a cause; Time of Women proved that challenging concepts could be met with simplistic design and structure, and political theatre is seldom touched upon in drama classrooms. However, I would not recommend BFT as suitable for anyone below KS4; the subtitles were fast-paced and the potentially controversial themes – though no doubt the driving force behind the group – may be difficult to grapple with among younger students.

Plymouth Barbican given £80,000 for renovations

The Social Enterprise Investment Fund has awarded Plymouth’s Barbican Theatre with £80,000 to go towards a new incubation hub and rehearsal studios, which will in turn create a new vibrancy around the city’s creative industries.

As a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England, the Plymouth Barbican has been garnering recognition for its work with diverse young people and new artists, since it was founded in 1980 as an outreach theatre-in-education company.Plymouth_Barbican_and_harbour

In the shadow of London’s West End, many smaller scale regional theatres often struggle to fight for funding or recognition – yet over 90,000 people visited the Barbican last year, as well as 140 young people taking part in theatre and dance workshops each week. This project will accommodate the increasing popularity of the theatre with three new custom-built rehearsal spaces and an incubation hub for young people.

‘Words cannot describe how delighted we are to have been awarded this funding,’ says Sheila Snellgrove, Company Director and co-founder of Plymouth’s Barbican Theatre. ‘Thanks to their investment, we will be able to create eight new jobs for young people in the creative industries, boosting the local economy and contributing to the city’s ambition to increase graduate retention.’

Councillor Chris Penberthy added that ‘Barbican Theatre has encouraged hundreds of young people into theatre – not just actors, but producers, engineers and technical staff. Barbican Theatre is very important for the work they do to involve those who feel left out of the mainstream and for the next generation they nurture. We are pleased to be able to invest in the growth of the Barbican Theatre, allowing them to continue doing more of what they do and bring disused premises back to life.’

Dame Judi Dench: red lights ‘all over the theatre’

Following Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent lamentations about audience members recording and taking pictures of theatre productions (see Teaching Drama, Autumn 1), it seems that the problem Judi_Dench_at_the_BAFTAs_2007had failed to switch off.

The latest actor to bring to light the increasing problem of smart phone users not turning off their devices during performances, Dame Judi Dench has expressed concerns over poor theatre conduct. ‘I can’t see well,’ she told the Sunday Times Culture magazine, ‘but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs.’

Currently starring as Paulina in Kenneth Branagh’s The Winter’s Tale at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End, Dench’s call for audience members to cease mobile phone usage comes following a similar plea from Cumberbatch to fans outside the Barbican. Kevin Spacey has also criticised poor theatre etiquette, following an audience member’s phone ringing, and James McAvoy halted a performance of Macbeth to stop someone filming. Perhaps most absurd of these cases, however, took place earlier this year on New York’s Broadway, when a man jumped on stage during Hand of God to charge his phone on set.

National Theatre of Scotland announces three-year trilogy to commemorate WWI

As their tenth anniversary approaches, the National Theatre of Scotland have announced a three-year trilogy of plays to commemorate the centenary years of the First World War, entitled The 306.

NTS-logoThe 306 will pay homage to soldiers shot for cowardice or desertion during the First World War, and will begin with Dawn. Set in France during the Battle of the Somme, Oliver Emanuel’s play will be staged in a rural Perthshire barn between 21 May – 11 June 2016, with the two remaining parts staged in 2017 and 2018 to mark the end of the Great War.

Each part of the trilogy will explore the lives of the ‘unknown soldiers’ whose names are absent from British war memorials. The NTS says that this will ‘give them back their voices, stories and names.’

Artistic Director Laurie Sansom will direct the trilogy in a co-production with Perth Theatre. Though a seemingly formidable task, Sansom appears unfazed. ‘We are dedicated to creating projects that truly reflect the ambitions of Scotland’s artists,’ she says. Further information is due to be released soon.

Stagetext celebrates 15 years with Captioning Awareness Week

Captioning charity Stagetext will be marking its 15th anniversary with Captioning Awareness Week from 9–15 November, which will include captioned and live subtitled theatre performances.

Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Stagetext was established in May 2000 by Peter Pullan, Geoff Brown and Merfyn Williams and is a registered charity and regularly funded organisation of Arts Council England. It was built on the determination to improve access to the arts for those who may otherwise not usually have the opportunity to experience a live performing arts production.

With over 10 million – that’s 1 in 6 – people in the UK being deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, the theatre can often seem inaccessible. Stagetext is aiming to get as many theatres, museums and art galleries involved as possible. Current captioned events include Anita & Me at Theatre Royal Stratford East and a Royal Academy of Arts talk on the Ai Wei Wei exhibition.

To get involved, Stagetext is encouraging people to take to social media with the phrase ‘I’m #CAPaware’. More information about the event, and the performances taking part, can be found at www.stagetext.org/reviews/captioning-awareness-week

#LoveTheatreDay 2015

This year’s #LoveTheatreDay, which celebrates all things stage-related, is to take place on 18 November.

Made In Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre Photo: Tristram Kenton

Made In Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre
Photo: Tristram Kenton

The Twitter event highlights the activities of theatre organisations, helps to forge new relationships, and creates a positive buzz around the art form.

This celebration of theatre comes at a time when its future is under threat, with the threat of cuts posing an uncertain future.

As well as the overall #LoveTheatreDay hashtag, there will be three more to highlight specific areas for discussion throughout the day:

  • #BackStage (10am–12pm) offers audiences and other arts professionals a look behind the scenes.
  • #AskATheatre (3–5pm) offers the chance to pose questions to individuals and groups working in theatre.
  • #Showtime (7–10pm) will offer the chance to experience performances via Twitter.

Theatres or theatre groups which sign up for the event will receive an information pack with tips on how to prepare.

Frantic Assembly launches production archive at British Library

Frantic Assembly, who have been making waves for 21 years, are opening a production footage archive at the British Library, an event which will be marked by a panel discussion in the library’s Eliot Room on Tuesday 10 November at 5.45pm. The discussion will be led by Artistic Director Scott Graham and Mark Evans, Associate Dean at Coventry University.Main_entrance,_British_Library_-_geograph.org.uk_-_711858

Cited as ‘the most innovative and progressive theatre company around’ by The Times, Frantic Assembly was founded by Graham in 1994 with Vicki Middleton and Steven Hoggett, and has been winning awards and creating new foundations for theatre-makers ever since. The company is currently studied across exam boards such as AQA and Edexcel as leading contemporary theatre practitioners.

The launch of the archives will be a testament to the international success of the company, which has toured 30 different countries worldwide and regularly sells out at the Fringe. The event will comprise a two-part conversation featuring artistic and academic guests, and will be aimed at teachers, academics, educationalists, theatre enthusiasts and students.

Following the discussion will be a Q&A and complimentary refreshments. Further information and booking can be found at http://www.bl.uk/events/frantic-assembly-devising-and-physicality-in-theatre