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Porl Cooper On ... The Lowry Studio Season

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Porl Cooper has been responsible for getting Fringe theatre a really good name in Salford through his role as a programmer at the Lowry Studio Space. With the ever-eclectic new season recently announced, we had a chat to him about his likes, hates and why Studio Theatre is often the last thing on an an arts editor's mind, when it comes to theatre coverage.
Porl, what is the mission statement or aim of the Lowry Studio?

The Studio programme falls into two halves I suppose. The general focuses is on hosting the work of new and emerging theatre companies and artists. Then within this, The "Developed with The Lowry" strand focuses upon supporting and presenting new work from emerging and locally-based writers and artists, helping them to take risks in developing and producing their work from an initial idea or concept. The aspiration is for The Lowry Studio to become the first choice for new and emerging artists in the region.

Describe your role.

For the first half of that remit, I'm a programmer. I scour the country (and my inbox) looking for the next great thing-   accessible shows, stories well told, outstanding work which suits the scale of the venue. For the "Developed with The Lowry" strand, I take on more of a producing role, mentoring the companies, advising them of opportunities, where necessary assisting in their teaming up with collaborators and associative artists tas a means of developing their practice and disciplines, and also commenting on their work as it takes shape.

You clearly have a passion for fringe theatre and smaller pieces which get less coverage, but is it must be pleasing when a studio based play/show goes on to become something bigger? Which recent hits which have gone on to become successful elsewhere?

Of course I love that the companies reap the benefits of their hard work and achieve the profile that they deserve. I'm massively keen to dispel the myth that diminished scale equals diminished value, or that something "would be on in the Quays or Lyric if it were any good." I can safely say with some certainty I'm proud of everything we've hosted since I've been allowed to programme the space.

From the Developed with Strand, its great to hear that Rogue Theatre's Dancer and the Devil has gone on to deliver 45 performances up and down the country recently (and shows no sign of slowing down!) including an outdoor site specific version in the middle of the wild Cornish Woods. Plans are also afoot to bring them back to the North West in a very beautiful but so far secret venue in Spring next year. Translunar Paradise are off round the world this year taking in Greece, Italy, Norway, Israel and Brazil before they wow the crowds at Edinburgh Fringe again (and become associative artists here at The Lowry). Homegrown Monkeywood are also about to retour Once in a House on Fire and deliver an encore in the Quays Theatre. Last year we hosted Miss Nightingale The Musical which we hope to bring back bigger and better too in the near future, and with No Sleep for The Haunted opening in The Studio this week, I'm keen that the space can be recognised as an incubator for brand new musicals, which is something of a rarity for this region. 

You travel a fair bit in search of a good production. What have you seen lately that is worth a punt?

To be honest so far this year I havent been out of the region that much - January the studio was rammed with local work, with Library's Replay festival bedding down for 2 weeks alongside Organised Chaos. This month I've had a very hands on role with No Sleep, but Im looking forward to Citizen593's MAN which I'm seeing in Birmingham at the end of the month. I loved Foursight Theatre's Bette and Joan in Edinburgh recently and it comes to us next week

Do you get the chance to get to the West End or do you prefer fringe?

I'm very often in London but the only time you will see me in the West End is walking back to my hotel after a night at somewhere like Soho Theatre or Trafalgar Studios. You might find me whats going on in the back space at the Phoenix Arts Club or at the (former!) Kings Head, Islington. I'll admittedly say I have no real interest in whats going on in the West End, other than on a casual industry awareness kind of basis. I'm not really very good at "populist" stuff unless it has a very unique take on it somehow. So unless it's a site-specific, participatory radically reworked version of "the latest Hollywood adaptation", you won't be seeing  me there sorry!

You are a fan of Burlesque and I see there is more to come in the new season. Where did this interest stem from?

I'm a fan of Burlesque in its truest sense, because theres an admirable skill in parody, lampooning and subversiveness. I don't think theres really anything clever in striptease (we all take our clothes off at night) but combining this with a really clever and confident (and I think that's the key word) routine brings forth great entertainment. I'm a bigger fan of Variety to be honest. Which I think goes back to watching things like New Faces and Opportunity Knocks when I was younger. I'm no fan of BGT and the like though. It's to be hoped that the bullying, public humiliation and shattering the dreams of young people that these shows endorse can soon be confined to history with things like performing animals and laughing at dwarfs in years to come....(rant over!)

The Studio has been great at presenting gay/queer theatre which pushes a few boundaries. Is there anything coming up that you can recommend?

I'm looking forward to Roger Hill/Mandy Romero's Stevenage  (it's the secret to everything!).  Locally too, Rob Ellis's delightfully offensive Fetish Knights is being remixed and re-produced for presentation this summer. Going back to my love of Burlesque, Briefs are a fantastic all male performance troup, combining wonderful acrobatic and circus skills with a delightfully camp and tongue in cheek presentation style. This autumn, we're teaming up with Liverpool's Homotopia to present several shows in the autumn, one of which is an interesting piece called Habibi Problem about two Iranian gay adolescents. This company (CieLaroque from Austria)were very popular last year when they came as part of The Best of BE Festival.

Which productions staged at the Studio have stayed with you and why?

Oh far too many of them again unfair to single any out. But definitely my first ever programmed piece Lizzie Hopley's Pramface - as relevant today as ever with its themes of Reality TV shows, our fixations with celebrity and everyting being about "the image". I loved the come-uppance the "media" got at the end. And a piece I most recently saw was Donna Rutherford's KIN earlier this month will also stay with me for a long time - a brave and beautiful piece exploring our relationships with our parents as we and they age together... I think that's as fair as I can be! First and last!

In the new season what can you recommend and what would you say to someone who had never attended the Studio because they have an image of  experimental theatre that involves dragging them up on stage?

I'd say please don't expect that, because its unlikely to be there!! I'm most excited about the Developed With project for that season - The Boy Who Kicked Pigs from Kil The Beast Theatre. Its an adaptation of a very dark, grotesque yet comedic tale by Tom Baker. The company delivering the work, Kill The Beast are a very young, dynamic and vibrant company yet still have an impressive pedigree of work behind them so I'm looking forward to working closely with them as they creat the piece. Elsewhere another New Musical, Toxic Bankers comes to us (it opens at Leicester Square Theatre this week)- one of the creators of that is Desmond O'Connor, a very popular regular at our Burlesque and Cabaret Nights. I am delighted also to be welcoming back Analogue, with 2401 Objects -award winning drama/science crossover piece about Patient H.M whose brain was disected live on the internet to 400,000 people. As I've said, everything is highly accessible, and all the feedback I experience from people first hand on their first visit to the studio is that they're massively impressed by the work in there.

Lastly, the Lowry also has some great big budget productions coming to the Quays and The Lyric, what are you personally looking forward to in the season ahead?

Drama is my main passion so I love Library Theatre being here at the moment - I cant wait for Arabian Nights for a couple of reasons - firstly the Quays Theatre will be transformed into the round, which is a rarity! Secondly because Amy Leach directs and Im a big fan of her work (Dr Korczak's Example, Royal Exchange). I'm excited about Close the Coal House Door as well, a much talked about collaboration between Northern Stage and Live Theatre Newcastle. My Mum's family were all Durham miners, and I recall the stories from  my Great Uncle Tom, so this piece is quite close to home.....

Porl Cooper was speaking to Glenn Meads.

For more details on the Lowry Studio Season, please visit the website.


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