Yes, please do, really. That’s one of the best things about being a theatre-maker – the research into whatever you are currently working on – it’s a great activity for the continually curious, or the perpetually nosey-parker.
My research trips have included accessing restricted material about witchcraft from the British Library, taking actors to a “bells and smells” service at Westminster Cathedral, pacing Nobby’s Walk from Orton Longueville to Cathedral Square, and back again, and hanging out in a park cafe eating cake and talking to the locals. And I always “have to” read novels which relate to setting of the play.
And when I stumble across something new, surprising and contradictory I start to think – this is it, this is where the story is.
And that’s the excitement I have seen in the eyes of the students I am working with on the Cross Purposes project for Eastern Angles. Today’s 15 year olds are highly amused to hear that the 80 year olds got up to no good too – stealing rhubarb, putting motorbikes on roofs and canoodling in the back row of the cinema.
They have also been perplexed by the news that, until WWII, most women gave up their careers when they married, that car ownership was unusual until the 1970’s, and that leaving school at 14 used to be the norm.
The elders, many of whom are in Crossed Key’s sheltered housing schemes, have also been finding new, surprising stories, sometimes about each other, but mostly about young people – it’s not all hoodies and rioting, instead they have found the students from Bushfield Ormiston, Thomas Deacon, and Arthur Mellows Academies and Jack Hunt School, polite, interested and talented.
I have been running workshops for all the years I have also been directing. Sometimes you are (just!) serving the school curriculum, or drumming up audience (not sure that really works though), or giving the audience an insight into the creative process (which is good, but one-sided) – but it’s projects like this one where arts education projects really prove their worth in using creativity to strengthen communities - an aspiration which the RSA Citizen Power project is also seeking to deliver.
So whilst I may not be working in the rehearsal room, the work is creative, interesting and testing our (myself, and the writers Nick Wood and Mark Grist) professional skills.
And whilst I have high hopes for the final pieces that the students will create, based on the elders stories, it’s the process of collaborating across the generations, using theatre-making as the formula, which is where the real benefits lie.
But how to evaluate these benefits? That’s another challenge for my professional skills. I am sure there is some research out there somewhere. Doubt it will involve cake though.
Thinking of a first topic for this new blog has been difficult - it’s such a marker to put down. What theme will capture Jumped Up Theatre’s, and my, personality?
A lofty analysis of theatre’s ability to explore ideas, shatter prejeudices and unite nations? Maybe wait until I win the Pulitzer Prize.
A state-of-the-nation response to the coalition, Troy Davies, the Arab Spring, and how can they stop Spooks at a time like this? Those opinions leak out on my Twitter feed anyway.
The fun and frustrations of being a working mum? British theatre may pride itself on being radical but talking about how you are a theatre-maker with a young child bores the pants off most people.
So maybe it should just be about what this blog is for, for Jumped Up Theatre. To tell our audiences and colleagues what we are up to, whether it be productions and workshops, or what’s going on in our heads.
Jumped Up as a company name has been around since 1993 but this new website marks a point when I am trying to get the company to be grown-up and commit to some long term planning. The company, i.e. me, Kate Hall, Artistic Director – is now resident in Peterborough. This could look like a difficult place to start – there are no funded arts organisations in the city, the theatre is a receiving house with a conservative programme, and there are only a handful of other theatre professionals in the city.
Which brings me to the title of this blog, from one of my favourite jokes: “A few years ago, when driving the back roads of Galway, I got lost. Spotting a local farmer, standing beside the road, I asked him “Can you tell me how to get to Dublin?” To which the farmer replied, “I can, but if I wanted to go to Dublin I wouldn’t start from here.”
When this joke was told on Question Time, it was judged as offensive and edited out, but I like it, because when I was in Ireland for my Grandmother’s 90th birthday those are exactly the directions I got.
It also reflects how I could feel, with the circumstances outlined above, working on Jumped Up’s ambition to become Peterborough’s leading professional theatre company, creating work with audiences and communities both locally and nationally, that engages them in the creative process.
But it’s not how I feel, well not all the time – because when I have, on a tide of optimism, created projects here, I have found that the city’s theatre will be supportive, that there is a hunger amongst audiences for Jumped Up’s work, and that there are theatre-makers out there – and artists from other backgrounds – visual artists, musicians, film-makers, dancers – who jump at the chance to collaborate.
So, there are four productions in the pipeline, plus education projects. I am recruiting a new, local board. Moral support is coming in from fellow practitioners in the region. Financial support has come in from private backers and the Arts Council. And thanks to the eternal patience of Martyn at Dimension6000 this new website is finally launched.
This seems a great place to (re) start from.