Cultural Playing Field


RSC Open Stages Showcase – Stratford-upon-Avon, 15/14/15 and 21/22 July 2012 by Robin Simpson
June 15, 2012, 11:03 am
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On two consecutive weekends in July (13/14/15 July and 21/22 July) twelve amateur theatre productions from all over the UK will be performing in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. These twelve productions have been selected from more than 270 amateur theatre groups taking part in our RSC Open Stages project and represent some of the best amateur theatre you will ever see.

They include:

  • The Tower Theatre Company from London performing ‘Baba Shakespeare’ by Emmeline Winterbotham which follows a troupe of travelling British players in 1960s India as they journey from desert palace to hill station, performing Shakespeare amid declining audiences, changing circumstances and ever more slender means. (Courtyard Theatre, 7.30pm, Friday 13 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Julius Caesar’ performed by Rainbow Factory from Belfast, is a contemporary retelling set on the Shankill Road in the early 2000’s during a loyalist feud. The play uses Shakespeare’s tragedy to explore some of the themes of Belfast’s recent past including the relationships between those in power and the role of violence in society. This will be followed by ‘MacBeth in Scots’, performed by Edinburgh Theatre Arts. Translated from Shakespeare by Robin Lorimer, this is the first production of Macbeth to be staged in Scots. The powerful translation brings to vibrant life Shakespeare’s bloody tale of ambition, treachery and downfall. (Courtyard Theatre, 7.30pm, Saturday 14 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Pocket Dream’ by Elly Brewer and Sandi Toksvig, performed by Riverside Drama Company from Long Eaton, Derbyshire. With actors in dispute with the management and refusing to leave The Cricketers pub, a cast is cobbled together resulting in a hilarious bravado of comic costumes and romantic confusion and fun. (Swan Theatre, 4pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Henry VIII The Musical’ performed by Walden Musical from Saffron Walden in Essex. ‘Henry VIII The Musical’ is a spell-binding new production about England’s most famous King. At turns powerfully emotive and hilariously funny, this fast paced theatre spectacle keeps audiences entertained for performance after performance. (Courtyard Theatre, 7pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged’ written by Adam Long Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, performed by Tread The Boards, the resident Company at the Attic Theatre, Cox’s Yard, Stratford upon Avon. This whistle-stop tour of the Bard’s complete works promises to leave you laughing until you can laugh no more. Tread the Boards’ unrivalled energy will captivate Shakespeare lovers and haters alike in this energetic and rollercoaster of a performance. (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 9.30pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • and much more ….

 

It’s going to be very exciting but also a tough sell as the groups will be performing far from their regular audience base. We are determined to make sure they have as big an audience as possible. Tickets for each production cost only £5.

We are also offering a whole day (half day on Sundays) workshop experience with one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s professional practitioners in voice, movement or stage combat to any amateurs coming to see the shows on that day – all for only £15!

Full details at: http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/open-stages

 

Please do join us in Stratford-upon-Avon in July if you possibly can.

Please encourage as many people as possible to buy tickets for the shows.

And please watch this brilliant and inspiring video trailer and forward it to everyone you know!:

http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/open-stages/trailer.aspx

Robin Simpson.



World Shakespeare Festival partners’ day by Robin Simpson
March 16, 2012, 1:35 pm
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I was at the National Theatre in London on Tuesday to take part in the World Shakespeare Festival partners’ meeting. This event, chaired by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Director of Communications, Liz Thompson, brought together marketing and communications officers from organisations including the National Theatre, Barbican, Sage Gateshead, Royal Opera House, British Museum, National Theatre Wales, Birmingham Rep, Northern Stage, Shakespeare’s Globe and Brighton Festival. Our Open Stages project and the way amateur theatre groups are getting involved in the World Shakespeare Festival got prominent attention (it was the first item we discussed!). Ian Wainwright from the RSC outlined the progress of Open Stages and representatives of three of the Open Stages partner theatres (Contact in Manchester, Questors in London and the National Theatre of Scotland) described the plans for their forthcoming Open Stages showcase events. It was also fascinating to hear about the multitude of other World Shakespeare Festival productions in preparation across the UK – from Simon Russell-Beale in ‘Timon of Athens’ at the National Theatre to ‘Forests’, a new work based around the forest and heath scenes from a variety of Shakespeare plays which is being directed by Calixto Bieito at Birmingham Rep, to a new Welsh language translation of ‘The Tempest’ by Gwyneth Lewis which will be performed at the National Eistedfodd. There is so much going on within the World Shakespeare Festival it is very difficult to grasp all the details. But that is nothing compared to the mass of events under the wider Festival 2012 banner: we had a presentation from Claire Hutchinson from LOCOG, Head of Marketing for Festival 2012, which was mind boggling in terms of the scale and variety of activity due to take place around the country over the coming months. The World Shakespeare Festival starts on 23 April (Shakespeare’s birthday), full details at: http://www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk/

Robin Simpson.



RSC Open Stages update meeting by Robin Simpson
September 30, 2011, 11:17 am
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I was in Stratford-upon-Avon on Thursday to meet Geraldine Collinge and Ian Wainwright at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Our RSC Open Stages project is progressing well: the first of the 263 amateur productions within the project took place in February 2011 on the Isle of Skye and there will be Open Stages productions across the UK through to the end of 2012.

RSC Open Stages map

RSC Open Stages map

We have now completed the programme of skills sharing sessions across the country. The RSC Open Stages Skills Exchange team has travelled 5,047 miles this year, running sessions from Glasgow to Southampton, working with 2,320 amateurs. The learning from these sessions has been immense and, as well as the ways in which amateur theatre groups have benefited from the knowledge and experience of the professionals, it was fascinating to hear how much the RSC has learned about the nature and state of amateur theatre in the UK. On Thursday we discussed how we might use this learning to help to plan further work together after the Open Stages project finishes at the end of 2012. We also discussed details of the regional (and national) Open Stages showcase events being organised by our 10 partner theatres in Spring 2012 and the World Shakespeare Festival/Open Stages performances in July 2012. On 14, 15, 21 and 22 July 2012 at least 10 amateur productions, selected from the Open Stages programme across the UK, will perform in Stratford-upon-Avon as guests of the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the official World Shakespeare Festival (which is part of London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad). It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for the chosen groups and a great chance for us to demonstrate the excellent standards achieved by UK amateur theatre groups.

Robin Simpson.



RSC Open Stages takes shape by Robin Simpson
April 27, 2011, 10:47 am
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RSC Open Stages logoOn Tuesday I went to Stratford-upon-Avon looking forward to a peak behind the scenes at the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre but came back buzzing with excitement about our RSC Open Stages project. (And the theatre was quite exciting too!) Open Stages grew out of discussions between Voluntary Arts and the Royal Shakespeare Company about how best to involve amateur theatre in the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival (part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad). After a planning weekend involving 65 representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies, in Stratford in November 2009, Open Stages began to take shape as stand-alone project, funded by The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Ian Wainwright was appointed as the RSC’s Open Stages Producer in August 2010 and Ian has been working closely with Voluntary Arts and the amateur theatre umbrella bodies to develop the project. At the end of 2010 we invited applications from amateur groups and I can now reveal that 300 amateur productions across the UK have been chosen to be part of RSC Open Stages. These 300 amateur groups, who are creating productions of Shakespeare plays or Shakespeare-related performances, will be branded and marketed by the RSC and will be invited to take-part in a series of 10 regional and national skills-sharing weekends run by the RSC and 10 partner professional theatres. Within each region and nation, several amateur productions will be chosen to be showcased at the partner theatres in Spring 2012 and 10 of these will go forward to perform in Stratford in July 2012 as part of the official World Shakespeare Festival, alongside the RSC’s own productions and professional companies from across the world. The 300 amateur RSC Open Stages productions include performances in forests, castles and stately homes, performances by the John Lewis Partnership amateur dramatics group and by a RAF theatre group involving service personnel just returned from Afghanistan. The response to our call for applications was far in excess of our expectations and Open Stages looks like being a wonderful national celebration of amateur Shakespeare. Ian and I were joined on Tuesday by Tabitha Allum, the Chief Executive of Stagetext, to discuss the use of captioning for the hard of hearing by amateur theatre groups. We agreed to offer all the groups involved in Open Stages the opportunity to receive training from Stagetext in how to introduce live captioning to their performances.

More details of RSC Open Stages at http://www.rsc.org.uk/explore/projects/open-stages/ and lots of discussion at http://www.facebook.com/rscopenstages.

Robin Simpson.

The RSC Open Stages map

The RSC Open Stages map



Stagetext and the voluntary arts by Robin Simpson
December 3, 2010, 7:58 am
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On Monday I was in London to meet Tabitha Allum and Lissy Lovett at Stagetext. Stagetext promotes captioning and subtitling in entertainment, educational, training and cultural venues to increase accessibility for people with a hearing loss. We discussed the possibility of training people within voluntary arts groups to provide live captioning of their performances and agreed to look at developing a few pilot projects.

Robin Simpson.

 



Community Media Association East of England Roadshow by Robin Simpson
October 8, 2010, 8:42 am
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On Wednesday I was in Ipswich for the Community Media Association East of England Roadshow. Community media organisations and arts organisations from across the Eastern region gathered at Endeavour House – the home of Suffolk County Council – for a day of presentations and discussions about how they might work more closely together. This was the first of a series of regional roadshows we are presenting as part of the CMA’s Arts Project, funded by Arts Council England. Our plan is to look at the role of community media organisations can play in relation to the arts – not just as a means of publicising existing arts activity but as a “producer, platform and partner”. On Wednesday we heard details of some fantastic examples of community radio stations that already engage in lots of arts activity. Future Radio – a station in Norwich run by around 100 volunteers – has an amazing record in covering and commissioning arts activity. In 2009, as the culmination of a project funded by a Grants for the Arts Lottery award from Arts Council England, Future Radio created a radio production of Hamlet – working with 10 local theatre companies in and around Norwich to recruit a cast of 20 mostly amateur actors, commissioning original music and broadcasting the play in seven weekly episodes. From the extract we heard, the results were very impressive. For more details see: http://www.futureradio.co.uk/platform. To find a community media organisation in your area that might be interested in working with your voluntary arts group go to http://map.commedia.org.uk/.

Robin Simpson.



Catching up with the National Campaign for the Arts by Robin Simpson
October 1, 2010, 12:29 pm
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I was back in London on Tuesday for a catch-up meeting with Louise de Winter at the National Campaign for the Arts. Among many other topics we discussed the NCA’s ‘I Value the Arts’ campaign (http://www.ivaluethearts.org.uk), the Royal Shakespeare Company/Voluntary Arts ‘Open Stages’ programme, the Arts & Business/NCA Culture Forum, the Participation Manifesto and the Big Society. But, inevitably, we spent most of our meeting talking about the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and the prospects for arts funding.

Robin Simpson.



Shakespeare United and 2012 by Robin Simpson
September 23, 2010, 10:37 am
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On Monday I was in London for a meeting at the Covent Garden offices of the Royal Shakespeare Company with Geraldine Collinge and Ian Wainwright of the RSC and Ian Flintoff, the founder of Shakespeare United. Shakespeare United is a project supported by the actors’ union Equity which started in 2004 with the intention of developing a massive Shakespeare celebration across the UK (see http://www.shakespeare2012.com). A particular focus of Shakespeare United is to take Shakespeare to places where there is currently no theatrical activity. We discussed possible links between Shakespeare United, the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival and Open Stages – the RSC/Voluntary Arts pro-am project. We identified a number of ways in which these programmes might support each other and agreed that they should naturally complement each other.

Robin Simpson.



Meeting the RSC Open Stages Producer by Robin Simpson
August 6, 2010, 11:25 am
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On Wednesday I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon to help with Ian Wainwright’s induction. Ian is the new ‘Open Stages Producer’, appointed to co-ordinate the ‘Open Stages’ pro-am strand of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival that Voluntary Arts has been developing with the RSC. Ian was previously Director of Education at Bristol Old Vic and has fifteen years experience leading the education teams of regional theatres including the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough and the Watford Palace Theatre. He has also been a Board member of the National Association of Youth Theatres. Ian will be attached to the Open Stages project until its completion in December 2012. He will shortly be setting up a series of meetings with the main amateur theatre umbrella bodies to discuss the details of the Open Stages project.

Robin Simpson.



Points of Contact visit to Brazil by Robin Simpson
March 30, 2010, 4:23 pm
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On his appointment as Brazilian Minister of Culture in 2004, the legendary musician Gilberto Gil launched a programme known as Cultura Viva – Living Culture. Gil’s Secretary of Culture, Celio Turino, developed a system called ‘Pontos de Cultura’ – Cultural Points: Gil described Cultural Points as “sharp interventions into the depths of urban and rural Brazil that aim to awaken, stimulate, and project what is characteristic and most positive in communities in marginalised societies”. The aim was to build a programme based on “what already exists and works legitimately within the community… local bodies, organisations and mechanisms that can be strengthened, improved and continuously evaluated.” Gil said “I’m not talking about giving people fish, nor about teaching people how to fish. I am talking about enabling the ‘fishing’ that has been going on for a long time, especially in areas prone to social vulnerability”. There are now more than 2,500 Cultural Points, each receiving around £48,000 to develop activities according to what it needs and wants to do, usually a continuation of existing practices, in some cases never previously remunerated. Approximately 10% of the funds must go towards the purchase of multimedia equipment that is supported by free software provided by the Ministry. The idea of building on existing community cultural activity rather than always starting something brand new and offering funding with little stipulation about how it should be used, trusting that the groups selected as Cultural Points will use it in a way that will create a positive social impact, fascinated me.

I was very excited to be offered the chance to visit Brazil to learn more about Pontos de Cultura as part of ‘Points of Contact’ – an exchange programme between the UK and Brazil organised by People’s Palace Projects (and funded by the British Council, Arts Council England and the Brazilian Government). A dozen British arts organisations have been twinned with Brazilian Cultural Points with the UK representatives visiting their Brazilian colleagues in March and return visits to the UK happening in July. I was invited to join a small group of policymakers and funders to visit Brazil during the initial exchange visits. Our group included Mick Elliott, Director of Culture at DCMS, together with senior representatives of Arts Council England, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, Liverpool City Council, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation as well as two Clore Fellows. It was great for Voluntary Arts to be included in this company – not least for the opportunity to network with the other members of the group.

Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo

Our visit started in Sau Paulo – the fourth largest city in the world with a population of 20 million people. We were taken to see a range of cultural facilities and organisations and took part in a formal seminar with the Secretaries of Culture for the State and the City of Sao Paulo.

Ministry of Culture, Rio de Janeiro

Ministry of Culture, Rio de Janeiro

We then flew to Rio de Janeiro where we took part in a debate in the old Ministry of Culture building with representatives of the federal and municipal governments. We also visited several Cultural Points, including the Spectaculu school of theatre, acting, costume design, illumination, and carpentry. Spectaculu is located in the docks area near to the bus station – deliberately neutral and accessible territory in order to attract young people from several rival favelas. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=BR&v=ErcukMXRYgs

Spectaculu

Spectaculu

On Wednesday we visited three of Rio’s favelas to see the work of AfroReggae – an amazing organisation which is using culture to bring hope to some of Brazil’s poorest and most violent communities – literally saving lives. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5_DnxeEkts

AfroReggae drummers in the Vigário Geral favela, Rio de Janeiro

AfroReggae drummers in the Vigário Geral favela, Rio de Janeiro

From Rio we flew to the North East of Brazil to the city of Fortaleza to join the Teia (literally ‘the web’) – the biennial festival of the Pontos de Cultura. Representatives of most of Brazil’s 2500 Cultural Points had travelled from across this vast country for a week of celebration, performances, demonstrations and discussions. It was wonderful to wander around the Dragão do Mar complex, stumbling upon an amazing diversity of cultures and activities. I had been particularly hoping to hear some forró (“the hip-swiveling, dancefloor-filling, rural party music of Brazil’s northeastern states”) in its natural habitat – and I wasn’t disappointed. It was also great to see such a mass of voluntary artists celebrating the cultural activities developed in their own communities. The Teia is a unique event but if you could imagine transplanting The Gathering or the National Eisteddfod to somewhere just south of the equator you wouldn’t be too far off!

The Teia, Fortaleza

The Teia, Fortaleza

I had a brilliant time in Brazil but the real value of the trip will be in what happens next. As we prepare for the return visit by the Brazilians in July our policymakers group will be meeting to discuss whether the Pontos de Cultura system might provide models we could adopt in the UK. I think I left Brazil with more questions than answers and some scepticism about the replicability of the scheme – though it is obviously producing fantastic results in Brazil. But I do feel inspired to continue the debate and I think we have the beginnings of a strong alliance with the other UK organisations in the group which may produce some exciting results for the voluntary arts sector.

I am incredibly grateful to Mick Elliott for the chance to be part of the policymakers group and to everyone at People’s Palace Projects for organising such a truly wonderful experience. Particular thanks must go to the amazing Paul Heritage – the inspiration and driving force behind ‘Points of Contact’.

Robin Simpson.