Recently I have been attending a number of conferences and performances that showcase young talent or provide a platform for emerging and established artists to present work to promoters and programmers.
This work might be fully formed, in development or little more than an idea. It might use world famous scripts to get the very best out of young talent, or draw on the world around us for inspiration. One thing I have felt is clear over the last week or so, these opportunities provide an essential stepping stone for professional and aspiring professional performers, young and old alike, those with little experience and those that have been performing for years.
I started last week by attending New Directions, a showcase curated by China Plate for the National Rural Touring Forum. Having previously managed a rural touring scheme across Northamptonshire and been the Executive Director of a theatre company that has had village hall touring at its core for 40 years I was excited to see the programme. There has been a misconception in the past that village hall touring needs to be safe and middle of the road and this showcase partly seeks to address that by presenting a really wide range of work that would challenge promoters (and venues) to try something new, hence the title.
There is also a far greater crossover between work produced for village hall touring and that presented in small and even medium scale arts centres and theatres across the country than some might realise, with many artists combining touring on both circuits. Another great reason to attend.
I was particularly taken by work by Travelling Light, Francesca Millican Slater, Untied Artists and The Wardrobe Ensemble plus a pitch from Pentabus Theatre about their show provisionally title Shopping and Fracking. The event, as always with NRTF conferences provided a thoughtful and interesting two days of inspiration.
Back at home and Lincoln Academy of Theatre Arts was presenting Les Miserables at The Drill Hall. There was much anticipation over the 5 show sell out run. I was particularly looking forward to it, having seen their production of Miss Saigon last year. LATA really challenge their students, all aged between 14 and 19, with tough material and they do rise to the challenge. I would describe the standard as watching a class of drama school students close to graduation presenting their final piece of work. The talent on show was fantastic, the goosebump moments brilliantly delivered and the quality of singing from some of the leads quite amazing. Glad to see such talent being fostered right here at home. It’ll be interesting in the coming years to see how LATA helps and nurtures these performers into potential careers in the industry.
Finally on Sunday I headed across to Derby for DeParture Lounge. I was there to see a very specific piece called The Litvinyenko Project, a two handed performance piece by Two Magpies Theatre re-imagining the final day in the life of Alexander Litvinyenko, poisoned nearly 8 years ago by Polonium 210. The show was presented in the café of Derby Museum and was part of the fourth day of this festival that focussed on site specific work. My only frustration was that the timings of the shows meant I couldn’t see more. It was presented by a partnership called In Good Company, comprising Embrace Arts in Leicester and Create Theatre in Mansfield and Derby Theatre, set up to provide a region wide development programme for artists. The four days gave opportunities for artists to network and develop skills alongside work that included new writing, Edinburgh touring and the site specific day I went to.
In our current funding climate any opportunity to connect performers, artists and companies with places that present work need to be supported and nurtured. I have seen approximately 30 pieces of work through the facilitation of these events in under a week. Imagine trying to see all that work separately. And as the biggest showcase of them all, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe begins next week let’s celebrate the chances to connect artists and venues and to foster collaboration and partnership that these type of events offer.