|A scene from Morning at the Lyric Hammersmith|
Honour Bayes: Lyric keeps it local
Date: 25 September 2012
A blend of robust poetry and agile circus, I was recently wowed by Ockham's Razor's Not Until We Are Lost at Artsdepot. But it wasn't only the stunning aerialism that captured me - just as impressive was the skill displayed by a choir of local singers who had been brought together for these performances.
As highly trained artists twisted and turned above, they were cradled by the delicate harmonies of volunteers who mingled amongst us. It was a beautifully interwoven marriage, one which worked artistically but also grounded Not Until We Are Lost firmly in the first location on its tour.
As this show travels the UK, each choir will have a unique connection to their surroundings and the performances will change, embedding the piece into every community it is played in.
Community theatre used to be a downtrodden term but these days it's becoming a go-to phrase. Regional and fringe theatres are learning that home is where the heart is with many projects looking around their neighbourhoods for inspiration. While in the spirit of X Factor, the West End is opening up auditions to encourage everyone to feel they can be part of the action.
Community theatre used to be a downtrodden term but these days it's becoming a go-to phrase”
Artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith Sean Holmes
is a master of this - though with a lot more integrity than X Factor
. During his tenure at this west London theatre he has created a connection with the Hammersmith community that grows from show to show, programme to programme. Their panto regularly proves this but current show, the award-winning Morning
, is another fantastic example.
Created with and cast entirely from members of the Lyric Young Company, Simon Stephens' searching new play is building relationships with both its future artists - the epic Michael Czepiel is surely a sound designer to keep a sharp eye on - and audiences. I don't think I've ever seen such a predominantly teenage audience for a piece of new writing as filled this theatre on Thursday night.
The feeling of ownership in the space was vast as hundreds of eyes watched their peers on stage working on challenging and sophisticated material. I was getting to watch Stephens' play with the demographic he had written it for. If they'd cast adult actors I don't think I would have had the chance to do so.
Without wanting to sound mercenary, this readymade audience also enables Holmes to programme a piece of work which otherwise may have not have kept the box office happy. In this way community engagement is enabling avant-garde work to flourish.
As theatre searches to show it is indispensable in a recession-riddled society, this method of direct engagement ensures the stories told on stage are everyone's. And as the excellent Not Until We Are Lost and Morning show, form does not have to be compromised in this process; in fact it is often enriched and expanded.
Ultimately these opportunities pierce the heart of the performer/audience relationship and take us closer towards those moments of communion that we cherish. In an increasingly individualistic society, that seems pretty indispensable to me.
- by Honour Bayes
Any opinions expressed above do not represent the view of Whatsonstage.com nor any of its staff or contributors beyond the bylined author.
|Honour is a freelance arts journalist who has written for a number of publications including the Guardian, the Stage, Time Out, Total Theatre, FEST Magazine and the Church Times. She was Theatre Editor of Fourthwall and is on the editorial team at Exeunt Magazine where she is the host of a bi-monthly arts podcast. Honour blogs at http://theatreworkbook.wordpress.com|
|Ockham's Razor is an amazing company, and "Not Until We Are Lost" was brilliant. In no small part because of the music, the harpist, and the choir (which I thought could have been used more, throughout the performance).
I'm an actor, and with jobs being scarce, virtually every show I've performed in, with professional companies, in the past two years, has been as a so-called "volunteer performer." The companies have always been lovely, feeding us, giving us little gifts, so no complaints there. But it is a bit embarassing to be a professional artist, and see on their websites and programmes, being billed as a "volunteer performer", as if I was new to the field. But we're often billed as "local community performers", which is never true. And which is patronising to actual local community members - who usually are never reached out to. If you are TRULY working with local community performers (both experienced and non-experienced), do mention this. BUT.... if you're working with professionals like many of us, I would MUCH prefer the term "professional pro-bono performer", or even "professional volunteer performer". It's much more respectful of the years of training and work we have done. - Shakey||03 Oct 12|
|Almost all reviews of "Not Until We Are Lost"(aside from The Times)have used the term "community choir", "choir recruited from the local community", or "volunteer community choir".
Ockham's Razor may have originally intended the choir to consist of local community members. But, like most professional theatre companies recruiting volunteer performers, they recruited via sources that only professional or trained performers look: SingersPro, ArtsJob, and Ideastap. They acknowledge this fact in the written programme.
And as such, the choir was made up of trained performing artists.
If one really wishes to recruit and empower local communities, who may never have attended theatre/dance, one instead must recruit in the actual community, the hard way: By connecting with local businesses, local charities, local restaurants, local churches etc - and ask them to send emails, and spread the word via their social media. Most arts orgs working this way actually partner with specific local charities who do this regularly. That's the way to truly involve "local" communities.
It's a balancing act that producers must juggle. Neither way is right or wrong. Companies using volunteer performers - whether empowering local communities to the magic of performance - or working with professions lending their talents pro bono - these days treat them well and appreciate them brilliantly.
But if a company changes the type of pro-bono performer they work with, from conception to show, they should alert reviewers in advance. It's the right thing to do. Especially so that trained professionals can feel they are given their due. - Edwin||02 Oct 12|
|I loved this show, and the choir helped make the poignant atmosphere, by surrounding us with sound.
The Ockham's Razor written programme stated that the choir was "put together especially for the performance". It did NOT call them a "community choir". Why? Because they were all highly experienced singers, most professional performers of some sort. However, the original press release must have used the term "community choir" or "local community", because most reviews used this term.
I agree that involving local communities, especially outside of London, is worthy. But it's often not possible with limited rehearsal time and limited budget. Especially in London, producers with limited budgets usually reach out to the excess of out-of-work professionals to be their "volunteer" performers. Who wouldn't?
With limited rehearsal time, as Ockham's Razor apparently did, you need experienced singers who can deliver the complex harmonies, rhythms, and Latin phrasing in a short period of time.
Indeed, this choir was made up of capable, experienced singers, most professional performers of some sort.
Indeed, almost every show I've seen in London described as involving "performers from the local community" has turned out to be professional performers, ably lending their skills, trying to keep their cvs current. More often than not, not local.
Most professional companies using "volunteer" performers - be they professionals themselves, or "local" community members - are brilliant at showing their appreciation for the time non-paid performers put in. They may feed them, or reimburse travel costs. Using volunteer performers has many benefits for both sides.
But I think a distinction should be made - as Ockham's Razor did in their programme - whether the performers are local community members new to theatre; or professionals lending their talents pro-bono. - Sharon||02 Oct 12|
|I agree that Ockham's Razor show "Not Until We Are Lost" was woven together by the melodious choir! However...everyone should know that like many "community performers" - at least in London - this talented choir was composed almost entirely of professional artists - singers, actors, and directors - who in this economy, are excited by any opportunity, even unpaid. I spoke with several choir members afterwards. Absolutely none of them was local. But so dedicated and excited, most travelled very far distances just to take part. You see, many professional theatre companies get funding or are able to save money by using volunteer performers. Identifying them as "community" or "local", or "volunteers" keeps things transparent, and avoids accusations of not paying professional artists. However, most London actors, dancers, and singers seeking to keep thier cvs active in this tight economy, will perform in anything they can. Invariably, many of these will be as "community" or "local" performers. Some confirmed that almost every project they've performed in during the past year has been volunteer, and billed as "community performers." And that every single "community performer" in these shows has actually been professional. Professional performers see this as a mixed blessing. They are able to rehearse quickly and behave professional, until people who may never have performed before. Yet anyone seeing the credit on their cv would be able to research and see that it was an unpaid "volunteer" gig. I see nothing wrong with using unpaid professional artists. But there must be some alternative term that will not make professsional artists feel "less than". - Allis||01 Oct 12|
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