Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Audience development is important not only because it’s vital to the survival of theatre, but also because it completely effects the theatre-going experience.

Last Friday, I went to see Much Ado About Nothing by the RSC  in their shiny new theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I expected, rather naively on reflection, that the audience would reflect the very modern design. Sadly not. It was like waking up in the 50s next to the Jonses and their new Teasmade.  I have absolutely no problem with people of any age or background going to the theatre; what I have a problem with is people who feel they should go to the theatre because that’s what middle class people do. Why bother? Surely just stay at home and watch Coronation Street if that’s what you’d prefer? People need to have a REAL reason to want to go to the theatre– not just because they feel they should.  I’ve noted before the over-funding that this causes in the world of opera and other socially-enhancing-art-forms, and the RSC and National Theatre aren’t exempt from this. Their cuts in the Arts Council RFO portfolio were minimal, and Artistic Director Michael Boyd said that they’d cope… not the reaction of hundreds of other organisations crippled by the cuts.

But, I’m going over old ground… the real point is that the RSC should not be complacent about audience development, and should always seek to find ways of attracting new and future audiences into the theatre, while not forgetting those who have always been loyal. To do this theatre practitioners need to take a step back and look seriously at what they’re competing against, both in terms of successful commercial theatre and other entertainment sources: cinema, TV, games etc.  Admittedly the RSC has taken the brave step of once more delving into the world of musical theatre– presenting Matilda in London– and I suspect that this was largely a well crafted way of generating income, one that should be applauded nonetheless. But, producing musicals will not alone solve the problem of attracting future theatre audiences; I’m referring to the hard to reach audiences, people who have never been into a theatre, people who have always thought that theatre ‘wasn’t for them’. Intelligent producing and clever marketing can help attract these people. Practitioners should look at what makes West End shows appeal: theatre technology, visual effects and the universal language of music. Riverdance, to a cerain extent, achieved this in the 1990s– it put together a series of elements that were perfect for the love of neoliberalism and Postmodernism that we saw in the 90s. Which brings me to my final and most important point: Reinvention (with a capital R). I don’t believe that theatre should be created in the style of a long dead playwright. Each generation should endeavour to reinvent their theatre environment in a continual cycle of progression and modernisation; just as technology and time never stand still neither should theatre.

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Matilda is opening on Broadway in 2013! Excellent news! Really hope the RSC will be producing… can’t really see why they wouldn’t. A friend at the RSC tells me that Tim Minchin wrote loads more songs -so many apparently that the producer told him to stop. I’m very interested to see whether any of them make it into the show. I expect that the West End cast will stay in London… I’m specifically referring to the wonderful Bertie of course… He’s in workshops for the upcoming Bridget Jones Musical playing Mark Darcy, and will presumably take the role when (/if) it enters production… Would be good to see Bridget here in time for London 2012… IF for no other reason than to prove Lord Lloyd W wrong, that tickets will sell and (despite the huge damage to arts infrastructure that the olympics has caused) will actually be good for London and the arts… for a few weeks anyway…

Andrew Lloyd Webber has been claiming for months that the Olympics will be a time of catastrophically low attendance in the West End, this demonstrates yet again how out of touch he is with the current theatre going public… In fact theatre in general…

The fact is that the West End has progressed significantly since the 1980s, but Andrew Lloyd Webber hasn’t. He has written a series of flops since 1990: The Beautiful Game (2001), The Woman in White (2004), Love Never Dies (2010), Of course it’s true of any successful person that keeping success up is very difficult, and in the 1980s and 90s Lloyd Webber was at the height of his success, along with other musical theatre composers such as Boublil and Schonberg, but then with the creation of jukebox musicals the West End has shifted towards a more modern spectacle, with the music bearing a closer correlation to current popular music.

I think the Olympics will be a boom period for the West End; with a massive influx of tourists, and most having only one ticket for an Olympic event, tourists will make the most of other London attractions, and seeing a West End show is one of the ‘must do’ attractions for tourists visiting London.

Original BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16362975

I don’t review shows often here because I rarely see anything I enjoy enough. However:

I went to see Matilda the Musical at the beginning of November, I had been anticipating it for a while, and meant to see it at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon where it premièred last year, being temporarily immersed in Sligo (like water or mud) prevented me. Anyway. I arrived after a mad rush down Earlham Street, and took my seat very conscious that I could be soon very disappointed. I wasn’t.

Matilda the musical is the best night I’ve spent in the theatre, clever, entertaining, original and faithful to the book. It captured perfectly, Roald Dahl’s mischievous humour. I realise by this point that everyone has talked about Bertie Carvel but I have to as well. He turns Miss Trunchball into a fully rounded, utterly despicable, 3D character with every bit as much depth  as Hamlet. Unlike Hamlet, Miss Trunchball is a character you want to watch. Musicals with this level of intelligence and craft are rare, the West End is filled with plotless jukebox musicals, movie adaptations and outdated long runners. It’s great to see something original for a change.

I can’t list everything that I loved about this show, just go see it, I’d imagine it’ll be extending for a few years to come and I can’t recommend it enough.

I sincerely hope that Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly continue to work together, the West End is safe in their hands.

I went to see an amateur production of The History Boys last week, I’d been to see it in Jan 07 at Wyndham’s in London… with Ben Barnes as Dakin… I enjoyed the first act, but the second I found completely absurd, the low point being the moment when Dakin asks the teacher if he wants to ‘suck him off’… I know Alan Bennett is gay, but is it really necessary to force homosexuality on an audience play after play? I mean fair enough if his plays were aimed at a mainly ‘gay audience’, but they’re not. His continual reference to homosexuality frankly wears thin.

Infact the only Alan Bennett play I’ve ever enjoyed was a touring production of Enjoy, which played at York Theatre Royal a few years ago. It was expectedly weird and fairly clever, but even still had a transvestite and gay character. I want to make it clear that I’m not homophobic in any way whatsoever, I just think that it is of no benefit to anyone to present gay/bi/trans characters in a non realistic way, the story (and I’m all about story) loses its credability, it doesn’t ‘normalise’ sexual diversity infact it alienates it further. His play for the National Theatre in 2010 was about an Oxford Don and a rent boy…

I think generally Bennett is overated as a playwright. I didn’t understand the hype that surrounded The History Boys, even when it originally opened. I think to an extent theatre appeals to middle class audiences because they think they have to like certain writers to be considered ‘cultured’, but what happened to the idea that ‘you’re only as good as your last play’? It doesn’t seem to exist with the big name playwrights (Aykborne, Godber, Stoppard included), excluding critics of course.

NB. I preferred the amateur production of The History Boys to the National Theatre production.

Regional theatre and new writing are inextricably linked. Compare for a minute that sort of theatre you see in London’s West End, to the theatre you see in Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and even Hull and Scarborough, these places boast some of Britain’s best contemporary playwrights: Alan Bennett, Alan Aykborne, John Godber. Would the work of these men have seen the light of day on a West End stage? What producer is willing to take that risk!? Regional theatre offers new writers an important opportunity to shine, and therefore holds a key position in discovering and developing the talent of tomorrow.

So. Ireland. I’ve ranted before about the lack of performance infrastructure, but there’s more to say. Where are the development plans for regional theatre? Where are the theatre in education departments? Do they exist at all!? Take my local theatre, The Hawkswell Theatre in Sligo. Last September the position for Director came up, I applied, having enough ‘senior management experience’ and skill to meet the requirement, obviously I didn’t get it (Arts in Ireland are very nepatistic) less than six months later it came up again. In my letter I mentioned briefly that audiences can be developed through building active relationships with schools and other institutions educational and social. I briefly outlined the benefits of working with third level institutions both in terms of reaching new audiences but also in presenting material. There is NO money and very little benefit in theatres operating purely as receiving houses in the regions, they just don’t create the community buzz that producing houses do. A perfect example of this is Druid Theatre in Galway an organisation that not only the city is proud of, but the country; They have an international reputation. Of course Druid is entirely producing, but Sligo needs a theatre that people can get excited about, theatre that attracts the student population, and producing in-house productions in association with Sligo IT, offers a real opportunity to generate income and develop links with education. Is this too progressive? It’s difficult to get people to think out of the box… particularly in the regions. Why is that? Is it all about empire building? Key players enjoy the control they have over organisations, they don’t want to relinquish their control and so any newcomer that has a good idea is an immediate threat. I really wish this wasn’t true, but it is, and when I was a teenager it was the reason I was so keen to get out of amateur theatre -apply a business model and flat corporate structure and like alchemy, theatre becomes a lot more creative and communication flows a lot easier.

Regional Theatres need to work together strategically, and on a more local level arts organisations need to collaberate more, create clash diaries, share marketing and where possible resources. Theatre in the regions will never be the money spinner that it is in the West End (no appropriate Irish equivalent) but it can become more economically self sufficient, more robust and most importantly, it can revitalise tired communities, generate income through cultural tourism and create employment. Win win.

I once attended a meeting with a number of regional arts practitioners in the UK, I remember one lady saying ‘we need to move away from our preoccupation with infrastructure’, that’s all well and good, but first of all you need to have the infrastructure to move away from. A theatre isn’t just a place to perform, it’s a cultural focus point, a point of contact between artists and the community in which they work and live.

Despite having a culture of culture, Ireland has a distinct lack of performing arts infrastructure. Aside from the recently built Grand Canal Theatre, there are few venues in Ireland that can accommodate large scale productions. Even the two big producing houses in Dublin (The Abbey and The Gate) are tired venues, in desperate need of a complete technical update. So out of the five big theatres in Dublin only the Grand Canal Theatre offers a great deal of potential to producers of large scale theatre. If Ireland is to compete with Britain in terms of cultural tourism, then a great deal of investment needs to be put in to building new venues and redeveloping existing venues across the country. I was very surprised to discover that even Galway doesn’t have a large theatre with a fly tower and large amounts of wing space.

The last tourism and culture minister said that Ireland needs a ‘broadway’… I’d like to contradict that, Ireland needs a ‘West End’. But further than that it needs infrastructure in the regions, major theatres in every gateway city in the country. Investment into the cultural economy pays dividends not only in money generated by tourism, but in the community enrichment that happens as a direct result of culture and creativity. The world knows that Ireland is culturally rich, isn’t it time that the full potential of this was realised?