Twenty Thirteen

And so we come to the end of an incredibly eventful year; a year that was by turns fulfilling, frustrating and ultimately enriching for Rhum and Clay.  This is an epic summary blog, so get comfortable (or just skim). I’m going to try and look at some of the broader issues this year brought up for us, as well as a recap of all the wonderful things too. There’s lots missing, but I’m sure you don’t want to be reading for hours.

February & March

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Production photo by Richard Davenport

We started with a tour of A Strange Wild Song, which travelled from place to place, north to south, city to countryside. We visited venues in areas as diverse and far apart as central Liverpool and rural Devon. Happening within the body of the main tour, the rural touring element, supported by Beaford Arts, was a first for us as a company and it was a joy to discover a previously unknown audience with a hunger for new work. It was also great to revisit some of our favourite venues from previous tours, still supporting us despite an increasingly squeezed arts sector. It’s worth noting that the spring tour and our autumn tour were aided greatly by the support and subsidy of Arts Council England, as well as the in-kind support of friendly venues and companies. As austerity continues to be a buzzword and with more swingeing cuts to come I’m finding myself intermittently concerned and hopeful about the future of public arts funding and sustainable (if that’s ever possible!) touring and regional theatre spaces. An example of this: Pegasus Theatre in Oxford is faced with local council cuts to their funding of around 2/3 over the next two years. We’ve worked with Pegasus on our autumn tour and it’s a really fantastic venue (Julian spent plenty of his adolescent years in its youth theatre) so it would be a shame to see it lose the financial support of the Oxford’s council. In those circumstances, what suffer are the projects and schemes with riskier returns i.e. ‘fringe’ productions and outreach programmes. (You can sign a petition here against the proposal). As someone who grew up outside London/South and its vibrant arts scene, well-supported regional theatre (Lawrence Batley Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse) gave me my first insight into what the form is capable of and sparked off a love affair, the throes of which I am still living in and, thankfully, living off. Those theatres are so hugely important and, apart from the support of a few committed critics, don’t tend to get national attention (I ignore, of course, the fantastic local press and community involvement in many places). I could write a whole blog about that, so I’ll stop there, but its indicative of the problems that will drip down onto the smaller companies- such as ours- in the future and some will inevitably find themselves frozen out. However, there’s currently a lot of talk about how we can create a sustainable creative world and venues, artists, producers and others are all thinking up solutions to make the future more hopeful. There is a rather nice blog on this is by Alan Lane of Slung Low.

May & June

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Production photo by Philip Tull

The last days of Spring were spent in the idyllic surroundings of West Berkshire at The Watermill Theatre, where we devised and performed The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It marked a number of firsts for Rhum and Clay: It was our first adaptation. It was our first production with a co-creator on the outside of the piece i.e. not performing. It was our first co-production. There were plenty more discoveries to be had, as there are with every new production, but these strike me as particularly big ones. This was a rural touring production and so we set off in a van to the village halls of Berkshire, Wiltshire, Surrey and more to prance about in Victorian suits. This was an audience that was new to us and we were new to them, but the immediacy of the performance (literally village halls- no lights, no sound, no black box, just what we brought with us) meant there could be no distance, or stand-offishness on either side. The success of the tour has led us to becoming an associate company of The Watermill, working on a new production next year called Hardboiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow.

July & August

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Publicity photo by Rhys Robinson

Edinburgh. Oh Edinburgh. It seems strange to think that we won’t be taking a show to the Fringe in 2014. It’s been a huge fixture of our calendar for the last three years, with tours, rehearsals and lives planned around those three make-or-break (so they’d have you believe) weeks in August. Our show, The Man in the Moone, just about broke even financially, which is counted as a success in Edinburgh. We garnered some decent reviews and audiences. No one got scurvy. It also felt like the very limits of what we were capable of, creatively, in a very packed year. The great thing about Edinburgh is the tremendous opportunity to have your work seen by a huge amount of people, both from within and without the arts industry. Plus, it’s brilliant fun and you get to be immersed in theatre, comedy, dance and bizarre performance art for a month. However, it’s also a drain: emotionally, physically and financially. With several Fringes under my belt, the ruthless, competitive edge of the Fringe seems to have become more prominent as the novelty loses its shine. Work is either incredible or terrible, though in reality most of it falls somewhere in between those two poles. Not that this should be interpreted as an indictment of the Fringe (I still love it deeply), but when you are forced to write show copy in April for a devised show that doesn’t yet have a full plot or any character names, one can sometimes find oneself making a show to fit what’s written in the brochure, and it feels in danger of being ‘something that you do every year just because’. As our time gets packed with multiple projects, it becomes harder and harder to avoid that scenario, so we’ll be using the intervening year to make sure our 2015 Fringe show is something really special. We’ve found a topic we’re excited about and more info should be cropping up soon. 

September, October & November

Our final engagements of the year were: a second tour of A Strange Wild Song and a company residency. Once again, we were lucky enough to be supported by Arts Council England, The Watermill Theatre, The Bike Shed Theatre and all our tour venues to make it a reality.

This was our second residency at The Bike Shed and was a fantastic success. Our shows did well, having been redeveloped for their idiosyncratic, intimate space and we facilitated a huge amount of workshops. Over the last year, our workshops have really gone from strength to strength, not just in demand, but in our facilitation of them. This could have a whole blog to itself, but the engagement of the students has been fantastic and the work they create has been, frequently and genuinely, inventive, funny and moving. We worked with a lot of schools and organisations, sometimes through the venue, sometimes because we were in the area and each time was a new challenge, but with new potential as well. I’m currently working on a video of the footage we shot on tour so if you are desperate to see how it all went down, you will soon have the opportunity.

To round off, this is a photo of the view from last venue on our tour:

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Photo by Chris Harrisson

So that about sums up our year. I’ve tried to keep it brief. If you’ve just skimmed to the end, then here’s a super-helpful super-brief summary of our year:

VENUES PERFORMED IN

A Strange Wild Song

New Diorama Theatre, London

The Ustinov @ Theatre Royal Bath

Tolmen Centre, Cornwall

Chumleigh Community College, Devon (Beaford Arts)

Winkleigh Village Hall, Devon (Beaford Arts)

Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Pegasus Theatre, Oxford

Winterbourne Academy, Bristol

Theatre Royal, Margate

Embrace Arts, Leicester

Déda, Derby

The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter

Landmark Theatre, Ilfracombe

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (co=production with The Watermill Theatre)

The Watermill Theatre, West Berkshire

Village Halls (21 in total, full list here)

Shutterland

The Globe at Hay, Hay-on-Wye

The Man in the Moone (developed in association with Hertford Theatre, with additional support from Beaford Arts and The Bike Shed Theatre)

Hertford Theatre

The Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

New Diorama Theatre, London (Supported by the Emerging Companies Fund)

Worcester University

The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter

RESIDENCY

The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter (3 weeks)

A huge thank you to all the organisations and people that have made 2013 such a ride for Rhum and Clay. Roll on 2014!

CHRIS

PS That petition again, for Pegasus Theatre: click here

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