Theatre of Sound

Last week I went to three cultural events which all used the theatricality of sound to various effect.

First up was a trip to The Rose Theatre, Kingston where I caught the end of Filter’s Twelfth Night tour.

The programme notes describe this production as a:

‘radical and riotous interpretation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night [which] reflects the anarchic energy running throughout the play. With a stage covered in cables, synthesisers, microphones, instruments and amplifiers, Filter creates the world of the play through sound, making the whole experience more akin to a rock concert than classical theatre.’

It was striking to see an audience comprised in the main by two extremes of the age spectrum. There seemed to be equal numbers of young people (of both school, university and graduate/young professional age) and older people (past retirement) with a few children and middle-aged adults mixed in for good measure. I’m guessing the key selling point for the younger audience was that they were studying, or had recently studied Shakespeare or perhaps had heard about Filter’s innovative work before. While I suspect that many of the older audience members were loyal attenders who would have been attracted by anything associated with the RSC (this production was originally commissioned for the Complete Works festival in 06/07).

The other thing that was striking was how the production seem to polarise audience reaction – more so than any other I can remember seeing. As it says in the show programme:

‘ The company are developing a cult status (the Lyric Hammersmith is said to have received more letters of celebration and more letters of complaint than ever before after their Three Sisters). But then experiment is, by its very nature, challenging – and to divide audiences is a great deal better than to leave them numbly non-committal.’

Some people walked out during the show, and I heard others sounding off in the foyer afterwards that they had not liked it one bit. But it seemed the majority had a brilliant time – and it was really great to see so many people deriving such visceral enjoyment from The Bard in 2010.

To return to the programme notes – ‘Filter’s unique collaborative language explores the interaction between sound and music … in a desire to make theatre that truly awakens the imaginative senses of an audience…’  And love it or hate it, you had to acknowledge that the company really did get to the essence of the characters and the spirit of the story, by making  ‘audiences actively participate’ – at point some of us found ourselves involved in a game of ‘Butthead’, dancing a conga line around the theatre, downing shots of tequila and munching on pizza!  

Next up was a visit to Theatre 503 to see Auricular which The Londonist described as a ‘testament to the power of theatrical radio’. This was the latest in a series of ‘immersive audio adventures’, where radio drama was performed live on stage for a theatre audience in ‘an interesting fusion of dramatic media to explore the potential of our aural imagination’. It was fascinating to see a range of scripts brought to life with added visual elements, and to be able to watch the sound effects being made before our very eyes – things that would usually be hidden from view becoming exposed.

And then I rounded things off with One Day – a collaboration between London Sinfonietta and Matthew Herbert, which formed part of the London Jazz Festival. On entering the Royal Festival Hall, we were all handed a copy of the Guardian from 25 September 2010 – the inspiration for this new work. The stage was a hubub of activity throughout the evening – with Matthew mixing samples on a sound desk in front of the Sinfonietta players, a singer, a compere, a foley artist, food being prepared and cooked in a kitchen area, film projections on the back wall, volunteers building and inhabiting a brick house, and a jazz quartet up in the Royal Box. We were encouraged to do the crossword, reference and read various articles in the paper, and use our copies to make paper aeroplanes. At various points we were invited to help make the music  by rubbing our credit cards together (to make a percussive sound) in a piece inspired by an article about finance, and to jangle our house keys (for a piece influenced by an article about property) and then at the end of the evening we all joined in the finale, making music by tearing, blowing, banging and waving our copies of the Guardian. The floor was awash with paper as we left the auditorium… I didn’t envy the poor ushers who had to clear up after us!


How culture contributes to life in the Capital

London Councils have just published their ‘Playing Their Part: culture and sport’s contribution to local life in the capital’ factsheets. These are free to download and provide good success stories, useful figures and interesting details of how Londoners and London benefit from a vibrant cultural and sporting offer.

Transformation, Organisational Development and the RSC

Demos All Together ReportIt’s good to know that it’s not only us here at AL that are championing Organisational Change as a transformative way towards improving relationships with audiences. I’ve just come across ‘All Together: A Creative Approach to Organisational Change’ a report from think-tank gurus -Demos, that had been following the Royal Shakespeare Company as they embarked on a three-year organisational change process that successfully introduced ‘ensemble’ as a way of working throughout the company. The internal transformation process led to a significant change in fortunes for the RSC both financially and achieving critical acclaim with their audiences. You can download the report and see how they did it, find out just what ‘ensemble’ really means and how you might try implementing it by downloading and reading the free report.

Do arts, live longer…

Hi, I’m Josie, I’d like to share some recent findings from the world of arts and health research – which is what I used to do before arriving at Audiences London…

In an eye-catchingly titled article, ‘Cultural participation – A Matter of life and Death?’, Mark O’Neill, Director of research at Culture and Sport Glasgow considers recent international research that shows cultural participation makes such a difference to people’s mental and physical wellbeing, that people live longer as a result. The research began in Sweden, but its findings are being confirmed and developed all over the world.

Encouragingly for arts marketers (and anyone else too busy to go to the cinema), it’s not a use it or lose it situation:
‘like physical fitness, regular participation in culture helps maintain wellbeing, and requires regular engagement to realise the benefits. And like sport and physical activity, the benefits can be achieved by starting participation at any age, and recovered after a period of inactivity.’

He concludes:

‘…there is a strong ethical dimension implicit in this research. If engagement with culture enriches people’s experience to the degree that it creates healthier, more flourishing lives, then the issue of access is critical… The obligation to people whose background does not include the cultural capital required to begin the engagement with formal culture is also clear: this is a key justification for public funding.’

That’s all from me, I’m off to take my culture pill!

ACE investment in arts for older people

Great to hear that several of our bolder and wiser contributors were successful recipients of the recent one off grant from arts council england.   Both Entelechy Arts and the Building Exploratory will be working in new partnerships in 2010 to develop arts opportunities for older people ; Entelechy with Battersea Arts Centre and the Building Exploratory with Cubitt Gallery.  We’ll look forward to hearing more about what happens next year…

Congratulations also to Greenwich Dance Agency, Akademi, Arts Depot, Space in partnership with Age Concern, and Westminster Arts who also successfully bid for funds.  You can read more about the work each has planned here.

You play the part…

I was recently the Librarian (with a dark secret) in Coney’s production of  ‘A Small Town Anywhere’ at BAC – my first experience of participative theatre (as an adult)…  While I’m still digesting how we managed to oust the Mayor, not find out who the Raven was and hold back from a town hanging, overall I really enjoyed the set-up and filling in my back story, but was not so good personally at getting involved with the politics of the town.  So, the question is when you leave the participants to work things out for themselves, do you lose the sense of dramatic tension central to a theatrical experience? On the other hand, maybe you just can’t compare apples with oranges and I should just relish the experience for what it was!

The art of with

Following Emma’s post about the art of with, I also saw Charlie in person, in Manchester last week , at an event focusing on his essay for Cornerhouse.  V interesting,  also  featuring Tom Flemming and someone contributing via live web link from Univeristy of Maine in the States amongst others.

The essay is great – really worth a read, relevant to any arts organisation that wants to remain relevant to peoples’  lives.

I was particularly interested in section VII ‘Is open always better ‘ – which discusses what kinds of openness really count.

True to the spirit of ‘with’ you can respond to the essay here