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Amy Letman On ...Transform 12

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After a successful inaugural year, the Transform festival is coming back to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2012. Spanning the weekends of 19-22 and 26-28 April, the event offers an extensive programme of new work, live music and exciting free events. Associate producer, Amy Letman, took time out from preparations to discuss Sunday dinner, the challenges of bringing such an eclectic mix of talent together and to offer 9 reasons why people should “swing by” the Playhouse this April.

With such a full programme of events planned, will everything be ready in time?

We’re sort of ready, but sort of not ready at all. People are still working on some of the shows, and they will be right up until the beginning of the week of the festival. But then some elements are very much fixed, which is good.

What kind of audience feedback did you get from the first Transform, and did that inform what you’re doing this time round?

We had loads of great feedback from last year. Lots of things people really liked are returning. Some of the artists we started relationships with last year are coming back, but we’re working with them in a more meaningful way. People loved the festival atmosphere front-of-house, so that’s returning, and we’re focussing on every night there being something happening in the (Playhouse) bar for free. People also said they’d like it to be a more condensed period, so this year it’s two weekends rather than two continuous weeks.

When putting together an event like this, do the artists approach you with ideas or do you ask them to create work?

Sort of a mix really. We knew we wanted there to be three core shows that made up the programme and they came out of conversations with our artistic director, Ian Brown. With the touring work, it’s stuff I’d seen that I thought was exciting and really wanted to bring here, like Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker, The Oh F*** Moment and Make Better Please, the Fuel production. It was also about us having conversations with young companies who we’re interested in starting a relationship with, so Little Bulb Theatre are coming because they’re brilliant, and local companies like The Paper Birds and RashDash. We approached them and said, “How can you use Transform to test or develop things you’ve got in motion?”

There was also the idea of creating special events. This is where Feast came from, a big Sunday dinner front-of-house where the audience can come and eat a four-course meal. Between each course somebody stands up and does a speech about radicalism. Threaded through is music from a local band, The Wonderful Sound of the Cinema Organ. That’s about creating something really playful, bringing people to the theatre on a Sunday and giving them an experience they might not normally have here. The same thing for Les Dangereux Cabaret, which was incredibly successful last year. There’s a real appetite for it in the city.

How did the three core pieces, 9, 12 Proposals for a Better Europe Respectfully Offered by Observers from the Sidelines and You: The Player, come together?

With 9, we worked with Chris Goode & Company last year at Transform. They did this piece called Open House where Chris and a group of collaborators occupied a rehearsal space for a week. The room was open and anyone could go in at any time and become part of the show. It was a really joyful and beautiful experience for everyone involved, but it was also chaotic. Chris then came up with this concept for 9, which was about marrying that concept of flinging open the doors and saying, “anyone can be part of this”, but also creating a really crafted finished final production. So we did a call out for people with little or no performance experience, which went all across Yorkshire, and we’ve ended up with these nine extraordinary people who’ve never stepped on the stage before.

For 12 Proposals, we knew we wanted some kind of international element and we’ve always had a relationship with the Belarus Free Theatre. So we got Nicolai Khalezin from the theatre and Unlimited’s Chris Thorpe together for a few days and they came up with twelve proposals for how Europe can be a better place. During Transform we’re going to get them in a room with six performers and we’re going to make part of the show in six days and present it in the Courtyard Theatre.

With You: The Player, we identified fifteen young, site-specific companies that we thought were interesting and sent them all a brief saying, “we want an artist to come in and work with us to create something throughout the building”. Look Left Look Right presented this idea, which we were really taken by because it involved working with local artists.

Do you find all the pieces work well in the Playhouse space?

For me, the exciting thing is teaming artists who create really extraordinary things in different, new ways with the Playhouse. What can happen when those two join together is really exciting because we’re a producing theatre; we make shows really well and these people make really extraordinary work, so we bring that together with really interesting results.

What kind of free events do you have planned?

There will be people around having interesting conversations, hanging out, and either some amazing music or a really interesting company presenting some work. It really is a space for the people for those two weekends. It’s about saying “look, this is here, there’s entertainment on every night and it’s for you, so swing by”.

Is Transform purely for adults, or are some of the events suitable for younger audience members?

This is brilliant for young adults. The responses we’ve had from sixth forms and colleges have been really interesting. For really little people, they might want to come to The Giant & The Bear Playtest by Unlimited. And we wanted Feast to be an event where all the family could come. None of it is strictly for adults; it definitely doesn’t exclude children.

If someone only had time to attend one event across the whole Transform festival, what would you recommend?

It’s so difficult to say; I would see everything! But if you were only going to see one thing, it should probably be 9 as it’s a pretty pivotal piece of work and it’s only going to be on twice, ever. Nine people from incredibly different backgrounds and different parts of the world, who happen to be living in Yorkshire, taking a really extraordinary leap of faith and doing something they would have never of imagined doing on the Courtyard stage in front of 350 people. But that teamed up with the calibre of the creative team and their backgrounds. It’s just really unmissable. If I could say another thing to see, it would be 12 Proposals because we’re looking at a major piece of work for the future. So it’s an opportunity to be in the first audience to see the beginning of something really exciting.

Transform 12 will be at the West Yorkshire Playhouse across the weekends of 19-22 and 26-28 April. For tickets, contact the box office on 0113 213 7700, or book online at www.wyp.org.uk.


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