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An introduction to: Furnace Festival

Associate director of West Yorkshire Playhouse Mark Rosenblatt explains all about the theatre's programme developing new work ahead of Furnace Festival's opening night

Scratch night at Furnace Festival
(© Antony Robling)

What exactly is Furnace?
Furnace has changed over the five or six years since it started. It began as part of a wider strategy to try to open up the theatre, to give more space and opportunities for emerging artists. Overall, Furnace is about artist development, we do regular scratch nights and there's also a festival once a year where we present work we have helped develop. We support and invest in getting people to a point where they are putting their work in front of an audience.

What sort of artists do you work with?
Primarily with artists who are based in the region. We use this phrase "born, living or raised in Yorkshire". We work with all ages. The work tends to be mainly with people who haven't done anything before, but you could be a superstar director, or an established theatre maker with an idea that you wanted to try out. The beauty of the scratch nights is that you might then get a ten or 15 minute slot next to someone who has not made anything in their life before.

Furnace Festival
(© Antony Robling)

Is it just for writers?
No, there are a wealth of pathways that we have created to enable people to develop skills. There are chances for actors, writers, directors, theatre makers and we are also just starting to develop technical design too. We also have a thing called Summer Sublets where, when the theatre is quieter during the summer, we open up the rehearsal rooms for companies to develop projects here. We offer courses in writing and opportunities for local actors to participate in workshops with established professionals.

What's the intention behind Furnace?
To discover people who we didn't know who live round here. Furnace is also a way of anticipating the arrival of a studio theatre, which we are planning to build as part of our big capital redevelopment project.

You already have two theatres, do you need another one?
The challenge with the West Yorkshire Playhouse has always been that Courtyard is our smaller space, but it's a 350-seater venue. It's a mid-scale venue. So to take a risk on something smaller, by someone much less experienced, has been too great a risk. We've never had a place for it to go. We are building an audience who will be interested in work which, in a couple of years, will run in a full-time studio space.

How important is it to connect with local voices?
I think lots of regional theatres have similar models. We are certainly not alone. There are also other companies in Leeds and Yorkshire doing similar things - for example, Slung Low are over in Holbeck. We are part of an ecology. At the moment more and more people are finding London too expensive to live in. People want to be able to live and make work in the city that they were brought up in. So there is more and more demand for theatres like ours to offer those opportunities. It's about retaining talent in the region and giving people real employment opportunities to stay here and work here.

Furnace Festival runs this year from 27 September to 8 October. Click here for more information.

Click here for all our Regional Theatre Focus coverage

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