'Creating work from scratch is easier in Bristol'
Bristol-based director and producer Katy Carmichael talks about the merits of working in Bristol and why it's still a struggle to get smaller regional companies to London
We knew Bristol was family friendly and its creative scene was burgeoning so we left our Soho flat and decamped here in 2005. I studied Drama at Bristol University in the early 90s (with David Walliams Simon Pegg and Sarah Kane) then some years later I met Tris on stage at Bristol Old Vic. It seemed like a natural move and we haven't looked back since.
One of Theatre Damfino's missions is to create new forms of performance for new audiences; bringing non-actors into the process and putting their skills in the spotlight. So far we've worked with chefs, surgeons and street artists. I'm currently devising a piece with a jazz performer.
I've never believed that theatre companies or actors need to be in London. I hope the received notion that you are only on the 'map' when you get to London is dying out. I grew up in Liverpool which is a culturally vibrant city; The Everyman was as much of a brilliant powerhouse then as it is today. Tris has worked as a leading actor with Kneehigh for 30 years; making theatre in a barn on the Cornish cliffs which then travels all over the world.
It continues to be uphill struggle for smaller regional companies to get to London.
In terms of creating work from scratch it is definitely easier in Bristol; less of a battle for resources and rehearsal space. The artistic community here is small and strong so there's more chance of finding simpatico collaborators. Funding struggles remain same wherever you are. These are hard times for small theatre companies who need every leg up they can get. We road tested our first show in the Bristol Old Vic basement as part of their artists development program, Ferment which was a solid start (Mayday Mayday won The International Fringe Award at Edinburgh then was selected to play at St Ann's Warehouse New York).
Bristol is an open-hearted and dynamic city. It's laid back, gritty and eclectic and this is reflected both in the work and the audiences. Bristol's cultural identity is a patchwork of creative activities fizzing alongside each other; thriving music and street art scenes, world class theatre, destination food and film festivals, animation, circus and so on. It's a very exciting place at the moment.
It continues to be uphill struggle for smaller regional companies to get to London. It's a frustrating catch 22; for a London producer or theatre to book your work they need to see it. In order for them to get on a train to see it, the work has to be reviewed or recommended in the National press but most small scale work is only reviewed when it gets to London. I'm hoping the forthcoming faster train service will build a stronger creative and convenient link between the cities. Going up to Edinburgh has become the main way of ricocheting regional theatre work in to London.
We were lucky with Table of Delights. After the run in Bristol, we were on the lookout for a unique independent venue in London that shared our sense of adventure; one that was prepared to put their audience on stage around a giant dining table and transform backstage into a working kitchen! I approached The Print Room who happened to be looking for their first show for young audiences so it was a perfect fit and timing. Anda Winters (artistic director) hadn't seen Table of Delights but loved the idea, saw footage, met me and the chefs and then thankfully took a punt on a co-production. I think serendipity and a huge leap of faith are important to forge truly exciting collaborations. We shouldn't oversimplify the London versus regional theatre debate. Wherever they are, smaller theatre companies need real support to get on the map; through proper funding, creative mentors, champions in the press.... or brave imaginative producers taking a risk.
Theatre Damfino is led by performer-directors Katy Carmichael and Tristan Sturrock. The Table Of Delights won an Off West End Award and will return next year as a show and an interactive food-entertainment website for families. Head to www.theatredamfino.co.uk and www.tableofdelights.com.