First preview at Summerhall

Our first Edinburgh Fringe preview at Summerhall this afternoon got a couple of lovely responses on Twitter, and we just wanted to share them:

…come along and experience it!

2014-07-27

Dusty Feet

The bread is baked. The doors are framed. The archive photographs are mounted. The blackboards are clean. The china is encased. Dusty Feet is ready.

It’s a strange moment, this exhibition opening. Not because, as with any exhibition, the opening is when the engagement begins, and that’s exciting and a little bit frightening too. Our engagement began long ago, with the designing of street signs, and bread stamps, and handkerchief embroidering. We’ve already had a couple of hundred people work with us on this project. So this is like a half-way point instead. The beginning of a new phase, where we’re showing things and inviting responses.

We’ve curated an opportunity to leave marks. To write on a door, to draw on cards, to mark blackboards. To type. To stamp.

We don’t know what people will give us back. And that’s really pleasing: to shape an experience, but to give control to each visitor, allowing them to contribute to the experiences of those who come after them.

Leave marks behind.

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Copenhagen

A week in Cophenhagen at Nordic Performing Arts Days has been packed with discovering more about the work made in Nordic countries, the people who make it and how they work, and some great conference debates on matters from dramaturgy and globalisation to international collaborations and artist-led initiatives.

We’ve been struck by how well supported some of the artists we’ve spoken to are — but the flipside is that there are others who feel excluded from the patronage these enjoy. That’s a difficulty we know well at home, too.

We’ve been impressed by some really finely honed work, and intrigued by some rougher ideas for things to come. We’ve been inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of artists leading venues and collaborations.

We’ve been excited, too, in conversations with promoters and artists and arts managers, about the prospects for the future. Amid warnings about economic crisis (including warnings about using the words ‘economic’ and ‘crisis’), we’ve heard much hope. And it’s infectious. So we return from CPH stage refreshed and enthused and looking forward to where those conversations take us.

Plus, the whole thing ended in the most unlikely way, on midsummers night, with a Swedish band (punk? electro? hardcore? hardcore electro punk?) in fabulous costumes opening the closing party — and then singing American pie with classical guitar accompaniment on the bus home many hours later! Did we mention we’d enjoyed ourselves?

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New York New York

A week in the US has been great. We’ve seen such a range of work and spoken to lots of artists and presenters as well as some of those who enable them to keep making and sharing work.

There’s been a lot of curiosity about the public funding we get in Britain, but it seems to be based on misapprehensions. There are public funding streams in the US, seemingly more effective at state than national level for the people we spoke with. And in the UK, public funding doesn’t enable all the things some Americans thought. So there’s been some learning on both sides, which has been great.

We’ve been discovering something about how artists small and large engage with private philanthropy. There’s perhaps a greater willingness to give from people who aren’t especially wealthy in the US, but there’s also a greater willingness to ask for money. It’s interesting to talk with people about where they get money from and how much too: lots of it is very small sums from other artists, so there’s a bit of a loop going on.

At the higher profile end of the scale, we went to Robert Wilson’s gorgeous Watermill Centre in upstate New York. The freedom artists on residencies there have to make work in inspiring surroundings is a fabulous thing — and it’s enabled by lots of private donations. Making use of auctions, of an annual benefit event, of their network of artists who have been helped and want to help others in turn — this is the scale at which this model works well.

Lots to think on as we continue our journey…

Same place, same time, one year later

The flowers are ordered and the train tickets booked for Ipswich. It’s exciting to be coming back to Pulse after a year — it’s where Near Gone started to gather some momentum, where we learned from the audience response that we were onto something.

And, of course, where we won the Suitcase Prize. It’s been a busy year since, as we finished the show and took it on tour and started working on a new piece. We’ve met lots of people, and spoken to many of them about the prize. Ed and Paul from China Plate told us when we were applying last year that they’d created the Suitcase Prize as a way to highlight sustainable theatre. Lots of our conversations have got us onto the question of what exactly that might be.

There’s environmental sustainability. One of the prize rules is that you have to get to Pulse using public transport – the idea was to find shows that didn’t need a van to tour. So we’ve had lots of discussions about travel, and often they’ve come back to audience and how they get to the theatre. Not just the question of whether they drove. But about how far from them a theatre might be. It’s much better for two of us to visit them near where they live than for them to travel to a big city. If the place they live still has a theatre.

We’ve spoken to people about heating their theatres, and the cost of keeping a building that’s empty much of the time. We’ve talked to technicians about the benefits of using LED lamps. We’ve wondered where all the green is, too: so many theatres are fantastic creative spaces set in uninspiring environments with no living plants at all (maybe, living in the countryside, we notice it more than some). We’ve talked about how to reduce the environmental impact of a theatre. When your building is a converted church with huge windows in thick stone walls, you’re restricted in what you can do, but it’s made us think about the footprint of our work, and that’s a really good thing.

There’s another kind of sustainability, though, that Ed and Paul were thinking about, a kind that’s been creeping up the agenda over the past year. The sustainability of artists’ careers is just as hard to tackle as those stone buildings. There have been growing campaigns to focus on the brilliant arts this country produces – BAC’s David Jubb has launched the Food For Thought campaign, which is just part of the work What Next has been doing around the country.

It’s no accident that culture is getting more profile around the European elections. A brief look abroad shows how much more aware of the value of culture some of our neighbours are (we went to IETM in Montpellier and were really struck by how effectively this crosses economic hardships too). The European context gives culture a boost as something that’s much more than a business success for export and tourism.

But it’s the artists who have been rising in visibility. Struck by a blogpost Bryony Kimmings wrote last year, artists and arts managers have started talking about a very real problem. A whole #illshowyoumine movement has been spawned, asking some of the same questions the prize raises. How do we make a living as artists? What’s happening to touring performance? How do we get paid for all the different aspects of our work when we’re producing, writing, directing, designing and performing it all ourselves?

Arts Council England has done a good job of supporting a variety of arts organisations from local arts centres and rural touring schemes right up to the National Theatre. It’s made sure their staff are paid fairly, trained appropriately and by doing that it creates an ecology in which there are great careers in arts management – in selecting and marketing work, in providing the facilities to present it. But there’s nothing like the same opportunity for the artists themselves, who are often (particularly when making devised or solo work) the worst paid people involved. Is that right?

So we won the prize, and we’re still touring the show, and making a new one, and getting ready for an exhibition. We’re really busy. And that makes sustainability matter more.

Sustainability is important if you don’t want artists to feel the need to move into something else so they can start a family, or move into their own home. Sustainability is important if you value diversity in the arts. Sustainability is important to artists thinking about how to plan rehearsals and tours, how to design performances, where to place their work. Sustainability means making sure there’s a future for live performance: for coming together and sharing a space in which something, anything, can happen.

Here’s to passing the suitcase to this year’s winner. To more of those exciting, challenging conversations spreading around the country. And to innovative, engaging live performance!

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Dusty Feet on the path

We’ve been getting really stuck into the Dusty Feet project in the last couple of weeks. Visits to museums and the History Centre in Chippenham have thrown up all sorts of really exciting objects, and we’ve been planning the workshops in which people can participate.

We’ve been getting together the things we need for embroidering handkerchiefs — and we need to learn a bit about this ourselves — plus planning the work with a local school preparing to stamp bread! You can come in to get some of the baked breads yourself on 19th and 26th July – at Salisbury Library from 10am-1pm.

It’s a complex project, but we’re really excited about the various strands of it and looking forward to it all coming together at Salisbury Library’s exhibition from 17 July.

Meanwhile, dates for the embroidery workshops (all 10am-1pm at Salisbury Library) are:

  • 23 May
  • 3 June
  • 7 June

It’s a great chance to meet people, have a cup of tea while embroidering and hear about the project from the lead artists. Just turn up and ask the library staff about joining in on the day!

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Developing Manpower

We’ve just spent a week at The Point Eastleigh, working in the Creation Space to begin the process of shaping our various ideas about Manpower into a performance. And we’re really pleased. Alister built (and dismantled, several times) a shed. Kat discovered men she didn’t know. We browsed magazines and we drilled. There’s hours and hours of video.

The most important outcome is that we’re on track: there’s a thing which we’re slowly chiselling away at, a piece we’re sculpting from the block of our ideas. It has its own form, something a bit unusual, something unexpected. But that’s part of the fun of making: each idea leads to unexpected consequences. Those discoveries keep the process alive, because it’s at the same time going to plan. Previews start in September and we can’t wait to get on with the next stage of rehearsals.

Manpower is commissioned by ICIA University of Bath with Salisbury Arts Centre and supported by the Kevin Spacey Foundation, The Point Eastleigh, Bristol Old Vic Ferment and BAC.

Near Gone image by Alma Haser

Near Gone Summer

Our biggest work so far, Near Gone, is a  gripping story of survival, told with passionate dancing, pounding gypsy music and tremendous honesty. Winner of the inaugural Suitcase Prize as part of Pulse Ipswich, it’s been on tour since last October, and audiences are telling us they love it!

BOOK for Summerhall HERE!

“immensely powerful and life-enhancing”Photo by Tamsin Drury

You can see Near Gone this summer at:

  • 1-23 August (odd dates only) at Summerhall, Edinburgh (12:30pm)

Earlier this summer, we’ve been at:

Our visit to New York was supported by caravan. Our appearance in Edinburgh is supported by Arts Council England and Escalator East to Edinburgh.

We hope to see you soon!

“Brilliant, original, energetic and beautiful.”

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IETM Montpellier

We’d been warned. Warned about what IETM wouldn’t be like. Warned about what not to do there. But we didn’t know, as we boarded the Eurostar and then the TGV across France, what it would be like – or whether we’d like it!

We did. We really did. We’ve had a few great days of conversations about things trans-. About the boundaries of gender and sex, about the importance of national boundaries, about change and momentum. We’ve met programmers, promoters and people who enable work of all kinds to be made. We’ve had some great food and wine (it was the south of France, after all), seen some great performance and mused on the question of what it’s all for.

Kat and fire in Montpellier

Perhaps, though, that’s the point. Not knowing what it’s for. We’re normally so immersed in our everyday tasks, in making, producing and sharing work, that we don’t get the chance to step back and see the bigger picture. Find out what other people are up to – not just one other artist, but as a reflection on what thinking is going on, discovering who else is interested in similar things in other corners of Europe, and not feel there has to be an outcome.

There’s something really generous in the idea of industry professionals coming together for a meeting at which they just talk about ideas — with no agenda to fix, to buy or sell, to make this or that project happen. In the long-term, there may be partnerships which arise, but for now, we’re just really glad to be part of the conversations, to let them fertilise our own thinking — and as we take the train home, we’re already really looking forward to the next IETM.

Photo by Tamsin Drury

Touring: our spring

Touring Near Gone in the way we have – with some pretty long gaps between the dates – has prompted a lot of reflection.

Obviously, it’s economically more sensible to organise gigs next to each other, to block out a couple of weeks and show the piece and then move on. But it’s not very practical for us to tell venues that there’s only one date they can have. When we speak to programmers, they sometimes take a couple of months to reach a decision, and by then the dates that might originally have suited have changed anyway. So we’ve got gaps.

And each time we pitch up with our flowers, and re-immerse ourselves in the piece, we find it’s still fresh and real. We find ourselves performing roles very close to ourselves, and we’re interested in holding those roles and the audience, interested in the responses we elicit that night. We really enjoy sharing the work with audiences, and they’ve been enjoying it back.

But questions about the sustainability of work keep coming up. There are well-established artists struggling to make ends meet despite really dense touring schedules and great audiences. There’s no sense of a future where that issue is resolved. We don’t have the security of the fees that traditional theatre models paid writers, directors, designers and performers — and something’s going to have to change.

collaborative performance from Katherina Radeva and Alister Lownie