Theatre figures recognised in 2015 New Year honours list

Kristin Scott Thomas, pictured Electra (Credit: Johan Persson)

The 2015 New Year honours list has recognised a range of individuals holding performing, artistic and administrative roles in the theatre and stage sector.

Actress Kristin Scott Thomas, who starred in The Old Vic’s Electra last year, has been made a dame for her services to drama. Stage and screen actors Sheridan Smith and James Corden have both been awarded OBEs. Actress and writer Meera Syal, most recently seen performing in the National Theatre’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, has been awarded a CBE for services to drama and literature.

Paul Kerryson (Credit: Paul Adams)

Leicester Theatre Trust’s Paul Kerryson (Credit: Paul Adams)

Artistic director of Leicester Theatre Trust Paul Kerryson, also outgoing artistic director of Leicester’s Curve, has been awarded an MBE for his services to theatre in Leicester. Also being honoured with an MBE is Graeme Phillips, Liverpool’s Unity Theatre artistic director who is stepping down from the role after more than three decades; he is being recognised for his services to the arts in Liverpool. Founder and artistic director of Northern Broadsides Barrie Rutter has also been awarded for his services to drama with an OBE.

P11_ES_DEVLIN_INTELLIGENT_LIFE_473_V2Retreat_1 David Ellis

Stage designer Es Devlin (Credit: David Ellis)

Design talents of the theatre world have also been acknowledged in this year’s honours: stage designer Es Devlin – whose recent work includes I Can’t Sing! at the Palladium, American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre and the 2014 Olivier Award-winning Chimerica – has been presented with an OBE for services to stage and set design; and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s associate designer Tom Piper has been awarded an MBE for services to theatre, and as well as for services to First World War commemorations, for his part in the poppies installation at the Tower of London.

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Last chance for Latitude Festival – Starts this Friday

Claudine Nightingale reports on the theatre offerings at this weekend’s Latitude Festival

Arts of all genres are catered for at Latitude (Credit: Danny North)

Arts of all genres are catered for at Latitude (Credit: Danny North)

It’s that time of year again … school summer holidays, yes, but also festival season! If you’re wondering what to do with your weekend now there are no exam papers to mark, perhaps a trip to Latitude Festival in Suffolk is what you need to help you forget the past busy year. For those of you who aren’t really in the mood for a more conventional music festival – and I know you’re all passionate about theatre – Latitude is the perfect solution. As well as some great music acts, they have equally strong offerings in the field of theatre, poetry, comedy and film. Plus, if you’ve got your own children to entertain over the summer, this couldn’t be better; Latitude provides award-winning facilities and entertainment for children of all ages, ensuring that both you and they have a great weekend.

Young people can work towards an Arts Award while at the festival (Credit: Steve Hunt for Culture Works East)

Young people can work towards an Arts Award while at the festival (Credit: Steve Hunt for Culture Works East)

For children, there is an Inbetweeners teen area, designed for young people aged 12 and over. There’s loads for children to get involved with, including working as a reporter for the festival, or even performing on stage in the tent. It is organised by Culture Works East, the company that have helped to facilitate the Arts Awards possibilities for children attending the festival (see the forthcoming issue of Parent Guide to Drama Education published free online in August 2014 to find out more).

It’s also really encouraging to see that Latitude have branched out this year to actively cater for school groups. Although the deadline has passed for this year, they have been offering discounted day tickets for the Friday of the festival for local schools, with a free teacher ticket for every ten students, to allow them to take part in the Arts Award scheme and other child-friendly events. Let’s hope this goes well and is developed in future years so that more students can take advantage of this opportunity.

Forced Entertainment's The Notebooks features at 2014's Latitude Festival (Credit: Tim Etchells)

Forced Entertainment’s The Notebooks features at 2014’s Latitude Festival (Credit: Tim Etchells)

Most importantly, of course, there’s loads on offer for you. As well as a host of acts and artists in other fields (literally and figuratively!), there are some big names in theatre appearing during the weekend: on Friday, Clean Break and Forced Entertainment will each be performing two different productions; the Royal Shakespeare Company are performing a brand-new show on Saturday and Sunday, directed by Erica Whyman; and there are many others worth watching out for, including the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre and the Royal Exchange Theatre.

There’s not much time left, but if you’re the spontaneous type then Latitude is the only place for culture vultures to be this weekend. Tickets are still available for camping, but you can also purchase day tickets for Friday, Saturday or Sunday if you just want to sample the experience. All the information you need is at www.latitudefestival.com. Maybe see you there …

Theatre casualties in Arts Council national portfolio announcement

Richard Frame (Hermia), Thomas Padden (Theseus) & Sam Swainsbury (Demetrius)

Propeller in performance: the theatre company’s future is thrown into doubt without Art Council funding

Arts Council England (ACE) has revealed the organisations who will, and will not, be part of their national portfolio for 2015–18. All-male Shakespeare company Propeller, Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and radical touring company Red Ladder have not made ACE’s portfolio list, resulting in loss of funding.

Propeller were told by the ACE, ‘’We decided that, taking into account the quality and level of your artform provision available nationally, we preferred other applications.’ Responding to ACE’s comments, the company and Propeller’s director Edward Hall said: ‘Whilst a lack of commitment from ACE to high-quality touring theatre on a financial basis is perhaps understandable, Propeller’s national reach and quality of work cannot be called into question as our track record amply demonstrates. I am sorry that this decision will prevent us from continuing to pursue our national touring programme which has delighted so many thousands of people and which will prevent our company from pursuing its commitment to delivering affordable, high-quality drama in the regions.’

News of Orange Tree Theatre’s funding loss from the ACE came as the new artistic director Paul Miller began his first day in the role. He told BBC news: ‘I think the big, national contradictory pressures that are on the Arts Council were just so great that something had to give – and on that occasion it was us.

‘Once upon a time, the Orange Tree was a fledgling start-up company that had its first Arts Council funding. For new younger companies to get into the system, it means that existing organisations cannot simply take for granted that they will continue to be regularly funded. There are still many ways in which we can continue to take wonderful theatre in our lovely space. We just have to find a financially different way of doing it.’

Other organisations face smaller cuts: The Barbican will lose 18% of funding, while The Southbank Centre, National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company will each receive a 3.6% reduction.

Some theatre organisations enjoyed a boost, with increases in funding for Unicorn of 28% and Hull Truck of 46%; welcome news for Hull Truck following the ACE’s assessment of the theatre company earlier this year as facing ‘immediate and serious financial risk’.

This year saw a 2% rise in the allocation of funding to regional companies, with 47% dedicated to organisations in London and 53% to those outside of the capital.

ACE chair Sir Peter Bazalgette said of the portfolio announcements: ‘We are in the premier league of creative nations and this portfolio will keep us on top in an era of tight funding. We can delight in our arts organisations and museums for the sheer inspiration they bring to our daily lives as well as their contribution to the creative sector. I’m proud that we’ve been able to deliver such a strong and well balanced portfolio.

‘With 46 new entrants to the national portfolio, with increased funding for grants for the arts, and with creative people and places being maintained at its current level over the next period, this settlement represents a commitment by Arts Council England to new talent and building England’s arts and culture capacity all over the country. When funding is declining you have to set priorities – this we have done.’

TD attends relaxed performance of MATILDA THE MUSICAL

Attendees of Matilda The Musical's relaxed performance

Attendees of Matilda The Musical’s relaxed performance

By Ruth McPherson

On 15 June, the Royal Shakespeare Company presented the inaugural ‘relaxed’ performance of Matilda The Musical at Cambridge Theatre, building on the programme of relaxed performances that the RSC has been running in Stratford-upon-Avon since 2013, when it was among the first to adopt and promote the concept. The National Autistic Society worked closely with the RSC on this special performance offering full access to the theatre for people with autism and learning disabilities.

The performance provided a relaxed environment, with elements of the production adapted to reduce anxiety or stress. Lighting and sound levels were adjusted to soften their impact and there was a relaxed attitude to noise and moving around the auditorium during the performance.  Designated ‘chill-out’ areas were provided outside the auditorium with soft seating and activities for people to use if being in the auditorium became overwhelming for them. All audience members were also sent a visual story to help them familiarise themselves with the plot, characters and the setting before they arrived at the theatre.

Tickets for the show were offered at the reduced rate of £20 and it was a sell-out performance. Catherine Mallyon, executive director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said ‘Relaxed performances are a fantastic way of offering a warm and inclusive welcome to those families, giving them the chance to experience high quality, live theatre, often for the first time. We are delighted to be part of the growing number of theatres across the UK helping to make relaxed performances a standard feature of British theatre-going.’

The cast of Matilda The Musical. (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

The cast of Matilda The Musical (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

Several other major London shows have also presented successful ‘relaxed’ performances recently, including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Romeo and Juliet, The Elephantom, Mamma Mia! and The Lion King.  The National Theatre has recently announced that they will be putting on a relaxed performance of War Horse in September.

ATG owners top The Stage 100 List

Chief executives Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire of the Ambassador Theatre Group have come top, for the fifth year running, of The Stage 100 List – the industry paper’s annual power list. The theatre group, established over 20 years ago, owns 39 theatres in the UK.

Last year saw ATG undergo a period of change and growth: the company purchased New York theatre, Foxwoods, home to the soon-to-close production Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. This marks the first UK theatre group to own a Broadway venue. Later in the year ATG was bought out by a US private equity firm for £350m. Deputy editor of The Stage Alistair Smith described the deal as a ‘game-changer’ and ‘the biggest theatre transaction that has ever taken place in the UK market.’

The National Theatre team of Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, who came joint top with ATG’s Panter and Squire in the 2013 list, have come in second in this year’s fixtures. Andrew Lloyd Webber, having previously topped the list six times, is in third place. Cameron Mackintosh and Nick Allott come in at four and Sonia Friedman at five.

New entries in the top ten include Gregory Doran and Catherine Mallyon for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sam Mendes and Caro Newling for Neal Street Productions, and theatre director Jamie Lloyd.

For the full The Stage 100 List, visit www.thestage.co.uk.

RSC launch playwriting competition with Tanika Gupta

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has launched a playwriting competition with British playwright Tanika Gupta.

Gupta’s newest work has been a writing collaboration with the RSC. The Empress, set to have its stage debut in April 2013, was written by the Sugar Mummies author and commissioned and developed by the RSC.

The playwriting competition, in its second year, invites applicants to write a 500-word scene. Gupta has written a line of dialogue which applicants must incorporate into their scene: ‘Finally, you will pay for what you did to me.’

Entries will be judged by Gupta, along with a panel of RSC judges, who will be looking for a fresh new voice, skills in dramatic writing, originality, inventive use of language and rhythm.

The winning entrant will receive an experience day at the RSC. The deadline for entries is 30 November 2012, with the winner of first prize announced by 20 December.

Applicants can submit their work by email (nshepherd@cross.com) or by post (N Shepherd, A.T.Cross Ltd, Unit 14 Windmill Trading Estate, Thistle Road, Luton, LU1 3XJ).

For more information visit www.rsc.org.uk/about-us/updates/write-a-scene-with-tanika-gupta.aspx

Shakespeare: staging the world – exhibition review

Star Rating
****
A great connection between context and text. For KS5+ students or for teachers looking to explore the world of Shakespeare that much more.

Shakespeare: staging the world is not your usual Shakespeare exhibition – it is not the Bard’s own work which is at the fore, the exhibition instead focuses on the world which surrounded Shakespeare and how that shaped the content of his plays. The accompanying catalogue says: ‘Shakespeare’s audiences learned at the playhouse what was happening abroad – or what they imagined to be happening abroad.’

The exhibition leads you through the various parts of the world which shaped many of Shakespeare’s plays. London is shown as it would have been during Shakespeare’s era – maps demonstrate the growing use of the Thames, which gave London greater connections to the rest of the world – significant to the influences on Shakespeare’s writing.

Modern elements breathe life into the exhibition. The RSC have filmed a number of short extracts from plays such as As You Like It and Henry V which are projected onto the walls amongst the items on show. This, if nothing else, truly connects the historical context to Shakespeare’s words. It also adds a somewhat more dynamic design element to the experience.

Items on display help to contextualise some of the significant moments in his writing. The political unease found in Macbeth is said to reflect the impact of Guy Fawkes gun powder plot on the country. The witches casting a spell to concoct a storm at sea is said to reflect James I’s fear that he would drown in a shipwreck at the work of the devil. Macbeth clearly engages much of the political paranoia that existed at the time.

The exhibition would be most useful for KS5+ students, specifically those studying Shakespeare’s plays performed in their original performance conditions. There is great contextual evidence for Macbeth, Othello, Julius Caesar and the many of his works based on monarchs of the country. Making that connection between Shakespeare’s work and what was happening at the time will help to open up students understanding on a whole new level – and may give them a different view point on his plays.

The general consensus on the popularity of Shakespeare is that it stems from his ability to be ‘all things to all men’ through his use of universal themes. Shakespeare: staging the world confirms that assertion, as it displays how in tune Shakespeare was with the world around him and that his plays reflected the contemporary issues affecting the world at the time.

Open until 25 November 2012. To book tickets visit: www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/shakespeare_staging_the_world.aspx

Final season from Michael Boyd announced at the RSC

Boyd’s last season at the RSC

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s last season under artistic director Michael Boyd has been announced. Boyd said that: ‘I’m very proud to be programming my last season in our new space with many of the theatre artists who have contributed to its success in the last year.’

The Winter’s Tale directed by Lucy Bailey will open the RSC’s 2013 season in January, with plans to take the performance on tour throughout the UK. Following this, a company of actors will perform in repertoire Hamlet, All’s Well That Ends Well and As You Like It.

The Swan Theatre will open its season  with the world premier of Tanika Gupta’s new play The Empress. The play, to be directed by Emma Rice, tells the story of the relationship between Queen Victoria and an Indian manservant. As with the main space, the opening performance will be followed by a company of actors performing three plays; Titus Andronicus, A Mad World My Masters and a new play from writer-in-residence, Mark Ravenhill.

Michael Boyd upon announcing the new season reflected on the successes the RSC has experienced in the past year: ‘Our transformed Royal Shakespeare Theatre has really got into its stride this year, setting the pattern for how we celebrate Shakespeare’s work. We’ve created a space that is perfectly balanced on the tightrope between the Renaissance and now, and truly brings the actors closer to the audience. The last 12 months, in which we’ve celebrated the RSC’s 50th birthday in Stratford, opened the most awarded West End musical in history and launched the World Shakespeare Festival right across the UK, point to the healthiest possible future for theatre’

Boyd will leave his post in September to be replaced by Gregory Doran.

Arts Council and BBC create new online arts channel

Arts Council England (ACE) in partnership with the BBC are to launch a new online arts channel called The Space. The channel will contain work from theatres across the UK. The project will run from 1 May until the end of October 2012.

The Space is described by ACE as ‘an experimental digital arts media service and commissioning programme that could help to transform the way people connect with, and experience, arts and culture.’

53 applicants were successful in applying to create original commissions for The Space. Some of the notable entries include Pilot Theatre Company, Blast Theory and Bristol Old Vic. Two entries which will capture this summer’s Shakespearean festivities are The Globe, who will be documenting their Globe to Globe festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company, who are creating World Shakespeare Festival TV to capture the highlights from this summer’s performances.

Chief executive of ACE, Alan Davey said: ‘The Space is one of our most significant interventions of recent years and I’m delighted to be able to announce such exciting and imaginative contributions from artists and organisations. It will inspire a great generosity of spirit among the participating organisations, with each of them committed to documenting and sharing the journey they all are taking together.’

The Space will be accessible across four different platforms; PCs, internet connected televisions, smart phones and tablets. The resources will also be made available through video on demand on Freeview.

The project has been developed to coincide with the London 2012 festival and the many celebrations happening around the UK this year, including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games.  Roly Keating from the BBC said: ‘We believe we can make something really special happen to celebrate 2012’s unique summer of arts.’

To find out more about the participating applicants visit the Arts Council website. The Space (www.thespace.org) will launch in May.

First national Shakespeare recital to be recorded for BBC

The first national Shakespeare recital competition for secondary school students will take place on Sunday 29th January. The final of Off By Heart Shakespeare will be filmed in front of an audience this weekend and will be broadcast on BBC 2 in April. The programme will coincide with the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012 and William Shakespeare’s 448th birthday.

Off By Heart Shakespeare will be presented by Jeremy Paxman and students will be judged by historian Simon Schama, actress and playwright Imogen Stubbs and Samuel West, theatre director and former star of Lucy Prebble’s ENRON.

The programme is a spin-off from the 2009 BBC contest Off by heart, which also was presented by Jeremy Paxman. The competition saw primary school students from across the country take-part in a poetry recital.

The nine finalists competing in this year’s Shakespeare themed competition are currently rehearsing at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s base in Stratford-upon-Avon. They will get the opportunity to meet artistic director Michael Boyd before the televised final. During their stay in Stratford, RSC practitioners are taking students through a number of workshops to help develop their voice and movement skills for the competition.

More information about the competition is available on the Off By Heart Shakespeare website. Also available are a number of resources to encourage teachers to get their students to explore the language of Shakespeare. There are tips for learning a Shakespearean speech off by heart, a voice and text preparation pack and ideas for teachers about how to go about setting up their own Shakespeare recital competition.

www.bbc.co.uk/schools/teachers/offbyheart