Why Everything Matters

February 26, 2010

When working in theatre, we tend to be very selfish people. We get caught in our creative bubbles, in the joy of our performance or show and rarely do we see it in any other light than that of good. Excellence of the highest praise! Of course this is naturally to be expected.

Someone has spent many hours going over the words, finding the right pace of dialogue and just the right adjective to make an audience fall about laughing. A strong figure has sort about directing the piece, and the actors have spent many a night learning their line and ensuring they don’t perspire too much in the costume that has been made for them.

Yet, despite all of the effort that has gone into a show. Sometimes we, the audience, won’t like it.

That’s not to say we can’t appreciate the effort that has gone into it, the fact we are there in the first place shows some kind of commitment that we wanted to go and enjoy ourselves. We have duly paid our money, and arrived in our seat to watch, but that doesn’t mean we will enjoy what we see.

The problem may not even be the play itself, for as audiences we are naturally humans, and with this strange concept comes emotion, desires, day dreams, inabilities and a long list of faults and natural qualities. This is to say – sometimes things affect us before we even make it to the theatre which can determine the whole outcome of a show, regardless of time, effort and love put into it.

It’s a sad fact to be made. If we are held up by traffic, as Mark Shenton reported this week for a show, and only just manage to slip into your seat before the show starts – this could knock the whole show into the woes for you. Equally, not managing to get your favourite seat in the theatre as Lyn Gardner spoke of her fond memories in her blog last week. These all play a part on our perspectives on the show.

That is to say, if in the course of leaving our homes or work, we have travelled a terrible journey, had trouble collecting our tickets as we don’t have the right card with us – we find the drinks over priced, the programme lacking in anything but advertisements and our seat anything but comfy – we might just not enjoy the show.

Of course I would hope that the show I am attending would have the ability to knock me sideways, bring me out of my gloom and blow away the cob webs of regret. Yet we all know that sometimes that sensational theatre experience isn’t to be had every time we go to the theatre.

So to the producers, the actors, the directors, and everyone involved in theatre. Let it be clear: as audiences we are human, and with this comes the ability for our moods and sensitivities to every little detail in our night at the theatre to affect the way we see your show.

So don’t be offended when we don’t enjoy it – sometimes, it’s just not our day for theatre. Oh, and everything, every little thing we encounter on route to our seat matters, even if it happens outside of the building.


The Theatre of 2010 – My Hopes

December 31, 2009

Whilst people are making their New Year Resolutions, and institutes are celebrating what 2009 held for theatre listing the best of the best, and even the worse of the worse… I’m looking beyond all of this. We’ve already seen several Hot Tips appearing for theatre in 2010, and with new season announces each week the anticipation for the first big sellers is getting exciting. For me, I’m hoping 2010 will see the start of change in theatre.

So without further hesitation, here are A Younger Theatres’ Hopes for Theatre in 2010…

#1 Continued West End Ticket Sales – Recession was a hot topic on everyone’s lips during 2009. We saw numerous companies go into Administration and disappear off our high streets. Purses and wallets were firmly kept shut, yet somehow the West End saw an increase in ticket sales and remarkably out riding the recession. They say that theatre is a form of escapism and perhaps audiences were inclined to spend their money on musicals and plays to forget their woes. Whatever the reason, let’s hope that 2010 continues with the sales and theatre shows us what it is really made of during finical crisis.

#2 Lighting In The Lime Light – The forgotten talent in theatre. I hope that in 2010 lighting gets the recognition that it readily deserves, that critics take up their pen and paper and focus on how these wonderful shows they are writing about are seen through the designs painstakingly made by lighting designers. It’s as if this area of theatre gets completely lost in the lime light of the actors who are being lit. Lighting is atmospheric, stunning and highly creative – so lets see people talking about it more, instead of leaving it in the dark. (Let’s also hope the lighting puns/jokes stop too… lime light?! What was I thinking?)

#3 Younger People Breaking Through – The very nature of this blog is for myself to have a platform to express my thoughts and feelings on something that I completely adore. I admit wholeheartedly I am young, at 21 years old, and writing about theatre in the best fashion I can. 2009 has taught me that there is a gap within theatre that is slowly being filled with the younger generations, be it through youth theatres gaining greater success, or the new breed of playwrights getting younger. What I hope for though is that we start to see the written form of the younger generations as critics such as myself having a greater platform in discussing both theatre and the arts.  We might not have the many years of theatre under our belts like Billington, but we do come with passion and a whole new point of view. 2010, let it be the Year of the Younger Generations!

#4 Internships On Top – The recession might not have dampened ticket sales in the West End but jobs in the arts are drying up, where a single advertisement can get several hundred people applying. 2009 saw the boom in the Internship, something I discuss here. My hopes for 2010 is for Internships to continue with the increasing number of applicants but also to begin to evolve with this demand. Internships allow for much learning, but lets not squash that learning by it becoming the norm. Let 2010 keep Internships on top form.

#5 Ecofriendly Theatre – Our climate is changing, but what are theatres doing about it? The Arcola Theatre is one of the leading theatres in taking the green initiative and adapting their theatre to tackle climate change. I hope that 2010 sees other theatres taking up the greener side of theatre – LED Lights anyone? What more, I’d like to see bigger theatres doing their bit and proposing how they will tackle a more enviromentally friendly theatre for 2010.

#6 Social Media For Better – Phenomenons such as Facebook and Twitter have changed the way theatres are now engaging with their audiences. We saw the first devised opera through the means of Twitter – a great collaboration between audience and the Royal Opera House. Twitter has enabled theatres to tell us more, to give insights into what lies behind the walls, deep in the offices and backstage areas. It has allowed voices to emerge from the depths of theatres. Let’s hope 2010 brings more engagement with audiences through the joys of Social Media, and better improvement on how it is effectively used in marketing campaigns.

#7 The London Fringe Festival – The talk of the town after an announcement was made that there is to be the London Fringe Festival in August 2010. What can I say to this? My hope is simply this: The organisers realise that their attempts at putting on a Fringe Festival in London during August when the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is taking place is barbaric. If they want to make this a success, they have to base their model on something that is not already in place. My hope for 2010 is that this festival either completely flops or completely blows all our minds. Whatever the outcome – let it be a lesson learnt. (Let’s also hope for a better website, better organisation, and better ideas for this 2010 Fringe Festival…)

So here are a few of my hopes for the Theatre of 2010… what are your hopes?


Script This…

November 30, 2009

Talent can often be found in the strangest of people or places. If the current trend of TV reality shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and X-Factor are anything to go by, offering everyone and anyone the chance to showcase their talent, there are talented individuals waiting to hit the limelight. Oh and of course let’s not forget the multiple Andrew Llyod Webber exploits into finding the next Joseph, Maria and Nancy talent contests, so it’s about time that we saw a little of this talent searching in other aspects of theatre.

Enter stage left Script This… brought to you by the Broadway Theatre Barking team.

Even in the depths of Barking at the Broadway Theatre, a place I had never experienced but completely fell for its charm on Thursday night, is showing that talent is everywhere and needs to have a platform. Their ongoing programme of Script This… invites new and unpublished budding playwrights from any background to submit their scripts to the Broadway Theatre where they are all read, returned with feedback but the most important part, given the chance to appear in their monthly Script This… event.

Four scripts are selected by the Script This team to appear in a short 10 pages, script-in-hand performance, directed by The Broadway Theatres artistic director, Karena Johnson, and professional actors. They are all rehearsed, and presented in the same day, which makes the process even more exciting.

Then in front of a small audience the plays are presented. Yet what makes this event different is after every short extract the audience discuss their thoughts and feelings on the piece. Did they enjoy it? What worked, what was lost? The feedback is valuable as hidden amongst the audience are the playwrights themselves, but are only revealed at the end.  After the discussions the audience then vote by manner of a card system, green for you liked it and want more, yellow for it was good, and red for you never want to see it again. The cards are totted up and the extract that gets the highest mark moves onto the next round where they can produce another extract at the next event.

The reason that I’m very taken with Script This… comes from the experience which I had at the event. There is something edgy and fresh about the night, where I find myself sitting next to two complete strangers but bonding over our opinions on the scripts being presented.

It was clear that not everyone within the audience were from theatre backgrounds or in the industry themselves, but this made the whole experience even more exciting. By discussing the scripts openly amongst a collection of mixed individuals and groups was rewarding to say the least.

I’ve often found that criticism from those within the industry to at times be too bogged down with the ‘know-it-all’ approach to theatre, so why not have someone who is completely fresh and new to plays and writing discussing their honest, open views? Encouraging discussion about the plays means that the playwrights gain an insight into what a whole collection of people thought about their work. At times the views are conflicting but this makes for interesting debates around the work.

Whilst I will openly admit that I am far from a critic or expert of plays and playwriting – my views were justly heard and discussed by the audience. Script This… really works in two ways; by engaging the audience with new writing work never seen before, and equally of the writers gaining feedback and an opportunity to showcase their work.

The Broadway Theatre in Barking really has taken up a challenge to broaden their work, and one which I fully support. If talent is to be found anywhere, then why not in Barking? Script This… will be returning to The Broadway Theatre in January and is highly recommended for a creative and inspiring night out at the theatre (with a difference).

See The Broadway Theatre website for details on Script This… and future events.


The Lone Theatregoer

November 18, 2009

I tried an experiment the other week, a test of my mental ability to attend the theatre on my own. Ah, this might be an easy task to handle for those of us experienced theatergoers who regularly embark on solo exhibitions to the theatre. So I set myself a larger challenge.

7 days, 7 shows, all alone.

Admittedly it is just by chance that this challenge came to pass as I was attending a number of shows for work purposes before it dawned on me just how many shows I had accumulated in such a short space of time, and all rather alone.

There seems to be some kind of stigma with the notion of attending the theatre alone. I know I’ve often looked at the lone person in a row and pitied them for a moment. But why? Theatre isn’t exactly a social event other than the fact that people meet on mass to watch something, and then disappear again after the spectacle. We generally don’t communicate during theatre, we sit in silence, surrounded by strangers, so what difference does it make if you actually know the person next to you?

Well, from my experience of the lone theatregoing, it does make some difference, but not always in a negative way.

I must admit that at times I like my own company, I enjoy long walks alone and sometimes it can be hard to find anyone to go see a certain show with me last minute. (Sounds like I’m forming a dating advert here!) However it’s the beginning part, the interval, and the ending of seeing a show that makes the experience of going alone to the theatre a rather daunting affair. You have no one to talk to… instead discussing key plot and characters in your head to yourself, instead of engaging in a debate with your other person. What happens at the end of a show too when you’ve seen something amazing? You want to tell someone, you want to proclaim to the world that you just saw the most breath taking event that has changed your life… isn’t it always good when you have shared that moment with someone else?

Well yes, I guess the answer to that is, yes I do want to share that moment with someone. But going to the theatre alone means you’re actually sharing it with everyone around you, even if you don’t actually know them.

Upon my visit to the National Theatre to see The Habit of Art, I was sitting next to another lone theatregoer who struck up conversation with me during the interval. The reason can only be because it was evident that we were both sitting alone, watching something truly remarkable and wanted to share this delight with someone, and who better than a complete stranger!

This lady turned out to be an out of work actress, who equally shared my passion for theatre, and for Bennetts latest work. We spoke about a whole array of things, about my work, what she does, our love for theatre. It was one of those slightly surreal moments, where I found myself talking to someone purely because we were both in the same position. The Lone Theatregoers.

If I was attending the theatre with someone, would this conversation with this complete stranger ever had occurred? I feel it’s unlikey.

The other 6 shows were far less exciting in meeting people, but proved valuable thinking time for myself. Whilst I would have liked the company at some of the shows that I was present at, equally witnessing these things alone proved a challenge for me. Often reviewers do attend shows on their own, and quite regularly, but I’ve always found that taking someone along with me helps to break apart work or to debate subject matter.

My experiment has in no way made me buy two tickets to all future performances and forcing unwilling friends to attend with me. It has certainly made me appreciate that going to the theatre  can and is a social affair in some manner. However I have the feeling that my attitudes to seeing shows will be the same. If I can find someone to go with me, I shall go with them, otherwise I’ll stick to knowing that I can easily transport myself to the theatre without the fuss of someone else.

So with the above in mind… would you dare to face the challenge of The Lone Theatregoer?


Internship’s The Thing

November 4, 2009

Trends come and go. In everything, there is a trend. So, perhaps unsurprisingly trends are readily coming and going within the theatre world, and none more prolific than that of internships. There appears to be a steadily growing number of internships around theatre and the arts popping up each month, and it looks set to stay.

Whilst theatre internships are a great way for participants to get hands on experience within a certain role in theatre, it is gradually getting more alarming by how many internships are currently being advertised for. A few years ago internships were hard to come by, and now, it would appear even the smallest of companies are offering them.

The question is then, does the value of an internship drop because of the vast amount of internships which are available out there? Much like how there has been steadily growning talk how the number of school leavers taking up university places are causing the affect of a degree to mean less, and now a masters is the thing to have, or rather, the thing to get you anywhere.

When applying for a job after doing an internship, do you get any points for being slightly higher up than others because you have done an internship with a company? I’m not quite so sure that this is the case anymore… where every small to large company is offering an internship, it has to surely affect the number of people applying for jobs in the arts. If the majority of people are doing internships, then the majority of people will have them, so does it actually get you anywhere?!

Of course there will be varying degrees of arguments over this opening of theatre internships across a wide sector, yet it seems clear that the main reason behind this has to be money. What with the United Kingdom still struggling to get out of our recession, and employment figures dancing around a rock bottom low, securing jobs in any industry is proving hard. So how does a company get extra support, and fulfill certain demands within their work, without having to add a x amount of salary to the table… the answer, an internship.

Internships are not paid, however often a company will pay for travel expenses or lunch – or indeed, sometimes nothing. The participant of the internship will be assisting a certain department or person within the company, and effectively will be an extra pair of hands to help out – a pair of hands that doesn’t cost thousands of pounds each year.

I might be making it out that the thought of internships are a bad thing, and that companies are cashing in on voluntary work, but this is of course not true. Internships are a great way for someone to get a step up into an industry that they are interested in working in. It gives them experience professionally and also connects them to industry professionals. So, it works in everyone’s favour. Or does it?

A quick look at an arts jobs site such as ArtsJobs.org.uk and you can see the extent of the amount of internships available. Last week alone saw a total of 14 internships for London alone being advertised. This is an astronomical figure, as each of these internships means one less of a paid job. Does this mean that the jobs that are becoming available are being swamped by applicants? Yes. Often a simple box office or admin role within the theatre being advertised will gain 300 plus applicants, a figure which is a certain sign of the times.

Whilst theatre internships offer great work experience the impact that it is having upon the jobs sector is becoming more clear, only time will tell how much so.

Thinking of doing an internship? Then check out A Younger Theatres Guide to Internships


Save our theatre! (From the older generations)

August 14, 2009

The title of this post is pretty bold, but I feel under the circumstances there is every right to be bold, and brash. The theatre of the future, of even today needs to be saved from the middle classes. So why do I feel the need to state this? It boils down to the recent events that have occured in relation to several news papers (The Sunday Times, The Telegraph and The Mail) running articles on West End Theatres hiring Bouncers and Security to deal with the ongoing issues of ‘yobbish behaviour’ seen in the audiences.

This happens, and I myself having worked in a West End Theatre have witnessed what some audiences members are like after a little bit to drink and a swinging musical. At the theatre I worked at they have full time members of door security who regularly dealt with members of the general public who were upsetting other audiences members. This was most notable when audiences had been out drinking beforehand and believe they are going to witness a rock concert (it was We Will Rock You after all) The fact that it is a growing issue is where the problem lies.

I’m all for kicking out rude, loud, uncivilised and general audience members who can not comply to the rules of theatre etiquette, (yes there is an etiquette which should be held to: the general rule being shut up and watch), but these articles or rather the comments are digging much deeper that the face value of theatre etiquette and audiences.

Since I began writing this article the Daily Mail website has actually removed all the comments that were actually on their article here, which was driving my thoughts upon this blog. However lucky for me Sans Taste have the comment in full from one of the Daily Mail readers where ‘Sue’ states:

“This is what happens when tickets are given away to under 25s. They have no social skills at all. They are vulgar and have no culture at all. It is a complete waste of money. It should have been given to families with an increase in culture but cannot afford the tickets. Or it could have been given to pensioners who likewise are unable to afford tickets. The under 25s are an abomination and a disgrace to our society.”

I’d like to thank Sue for her charming words on the current state of a whole generation of under 25’s and the state in which we are bringing down the theatre industry with ‘no social skills at all’. Of course this is a strong reaction from some middle-aged woman who has unfortunately been scarred for life by the terrible disgrace that the younger generation brings to the theatre.

My reaction is simple: It is people like this that should be barred from theatre’s altogether. The act of going to the theatre is a social event, and whilst I agree that there is an ‘etiquette’ as I spoke about before to going to the theatre, that doesn’t mean that we should stop a whole age range of people from attending. I feel outraged that someone could be so narrow minded in regards to audiences and the arts.

As a 21 year old, who adores the theatre, spends his life involved in theatre, and attempts to pick up apart details of theatrical events and understandings of theatre – I implore the older generations to stop this narrow minded approach to audience and ages. Theatre changes, as does the audience, but there is nothing wrong with getting younger generations into the theatre, in fact, it boosts culture, education and even ticket sales by allowing more younger people to enjoy the spectacle of theatre.

Theatre has for years been an elitist event, and it is about time that ticket prices dropped, allowing more families, younger generations, and even the older generations to enjoy theatre. Schemes like A Night Less Ordinary have allowed for under 25s to finally afford to go to the theatres, and see and witness the buzz of culture that is thriving not only in London but all over the country.

Of course there is going to be criticism from those that are left out of the scheme, but that doesn’t take away from the opportunties that this is bringing to those that would have never experienced theatre because of the inflation of ticket prices (the West End in my opinion is shocking for selling tickets at £50+ – limiting its market audiences to those that can afford these over priced tickets. Theatre is meant to be accessible to everyone!)

So just because I am classed as under 25, that doesn’t make me ‘vulgar’ with ‘no culture’ – in fact I’m embracing all culture of the theatre as much as possible and loving it. If people are so concerned with the introduction of younger generations into the theatre then my advice is simple: Stop going to the theatre altogether and intead write hate letters into national newspapers complaining of the lack of standards in theatre audiences, and how all under 25 year olds are an abomination and a disgrace to our society because those who are so blatantly offensive and discrimitive towards younger audience members are obviously not a disgrace to our society, but just born into a generation that doesn’t understand the changes within our society, and most certainly not within the theatre.

Articles mentioned can be found at the following places:
The Times
The Daily Mail
The Telegraph

With original stimulus from Sans Taste


The Dance’s The Thing [Part 1]

July 24, 2009

An Experiment: What happens when you take someone so rooted in theatre and ask them to spectate upon dance. Not just any sort of dance for that matter, but a Dance Festival… well, it certainly proved interesting when I took the plunge into a contemporary dance extravaganza of a weekend just gone.

The first on my list for inspection came to me at Jackson’s Lane, where the Cloud Dance Festival was taking place. Having been invited by the organiser of this festival, I was welcomed with open arms to allow my critical eye to linger over some of the participants.

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The Cloud Dance Festival is at it’s current state a three day events which takes place at ever changing venues. The simple idea behind this festival is to allow younger and up-and-coming dance companies to showcase their work in 10 to 20 minute slots.

The festival is run and managed by Chantal who along with her dedicated team manage to run this festival on no funding, bringing amazing talent of dance to one location. I can’t help but to raise my praise for the team behind this festival. The ability to continue to bring all of this 3 times a years, with no money, it’s fantastic. It shows a true dedication to an art from which I can easily relate to with my theatre obesesions.

So what did I learn from witnessing this dance festival?

Firstly, you don’t have to be fully appreciative of dance as a genre of art to not enjoy it. Nor do you have to be an expect to be able to write about it. So, I might not have years of experience, nor can I quite deliver the technicalities of dance positions and manovers but what I can do, or rather see is the experience of the event. To witness, to enjoy, or to scratch my head asking, “What’s going on?”, either way these are all experiences that I undertook during the festival.

There are many parralles between dance and theatre, made even more clear when you get some of the performances classed more as dance theatre than dance itself.

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Jackie O'Toole and Dances in 'Eve'

Narrative – whilst some of the performances I watched, contained narratives, dance allows for a freedom away from the normal conventions of theatre, with plot, narration, dialogue. That is not to say that they don’t exist, which was made very clear when many of the performances contained speaking to enhance the work. What is great about dance is sometimes you do not need to follow the action, attempting to pick apart the relationships between the ‘characters’, nor must you always pay attention to the ‘plot’ in order to understand the outcome of the piece. No. With Dance, there is this fluidity for the performance to just be witnessed. To just watch bodies moving within a space. Watching the shapes, patterns, repetitions, movements that the dancers make – that alone is joy to the eye.

Music – The emphasis on music used as a dramatic device within dance is outstanding. I think I was rather taken aback when I watched the festival. Every performance included the use of music. Even now I’m questioning if a piece contained silence at all… possibly not. Music and dance are therefore entwined together, the choreography feeds off the rhythms, off the style of music, and at times sets the tone of the pieces. I’m a sucker for music, it’s a secret obsession of mine, so to be able to listen to such rich volumes of music during these pieces came as only another way in which I felt this overwhelming sense of calmness within me.

Honestly – to watch a body that is trained in moving around a space – to have the freedom within the body to fall, to jump, to spin and turn over and over – coupled with music for the ears… you momentarily get transported into another world. It all seems too simple. Whilst theatre attempts to completely immerse the spectator into the world of the play or action, dance almost throws itself in the opposite direction. Admittedly with the bare stage of the Jackson’s Lane it is difficult to see past the dancers and explore what the story behind them might be, but this isn’t a negative point at all. It enhances the ability for you to truly see what you want from the dancing.

Henry Fry and Riccardo Buscarini with their 'Places of Non-Belonging'

Henry Fry and Riccardo Buscarini with their 'Places of Non-Belonging'

Energy – One thing I’ve noticed is the sheer amount of energy which is needed for a performance of dance. I think at times it can be quite easy for an actor to give it half of his attention during a play without getting noticed of this. However in dance it becomes blindingly obvious when a dancer lacks energy. I saw this several times in the festival, more from the younger companies. However on the flip side, with this came a whole abundance of energy. If you have it – you’ve got it, and also have the audience too.

The Face – This might sound like a strange thing to state but I became increasingly fascinated with the dancers face. For at times, some dancers showed nothing, not a flicker of anything flashed across their face. Others allowed for countless emotions and amusements to flow freely whilst they danced. But where is the distinction between these two different ideas. Are dancers allowed to show their emotions on their face? Or should it only show the physical exertion that they are going through? I wish I knew the answer.

These are some of my observations from a ‘critical point of view’. I’m sure I could write many more, but I’ll save this for another time.

What I admire about the Cloud Dance Festival is the vast selection you get from this festival. It’s not a matter of going and experiencing world class dancers, it is more venturing into an unexplored territory. Some of the dances I watched truly caught me by surprised and I honestly enjoyed. Others I admired for the sheer effort that went into them. I didn’t quite expect there to be such a vast array of talent and ages too. On the night I went, there seemed to be a younger feel to the participants, but this made it even more enjoyable because you can certainly tell that some of them are bound to go on and produce some amazing work in the future.

The Cloud Dance Festival is about potential. It showcases an array of talent – giving opportunities to those that need it. I see this festival as a melting pot of talent, boiled down, distilled for several days and then unleashed upon a stage.

My advice? Even if you aren’t too keen dance, or know nothing of dance, as is the case with me. Sometimes it is worth exploring for an exciting adventure into the unknown. [And how many conventional theatre shows have you seen which have included a bit of dancing… quite a few I imagine!]

End of Part One of my discussions upon dance.

For those interested in Cloud Dance Festival, visit their website here. Please support this worthwhile festival by joining their mailing list or going to their next festival in November