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The story behind Ovalhouse's Be Good Revolutionaries

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Dirty Market's new show Be Good Revolutionaries, about a family caught in revolutionary Cuba, is playing at the Ovalhouse Theatre until 23 June. Here, director Georgina Sowerby and Ovalhouse's Rebecca Atkinson-Lord tell us more about how it came into being.

Georgina Sowerby: Our commission from Ovalhouse to make a new work for their Outlaws season is, of course, hugely exciting and gratifying. Yes, it’s great to be able to pay our inventive, open company. Yes, a theatre commissioning the work wills that piece into existence. But possibly the most fulfilling aspect of the process is feeling we’re part of a bigger movement, a ground swell amongst certain fringe theatres in London and across the UK, a sort of ‘waking up’.

We feel like we’re caught up in a David and Goliath story, where David trips on the pebble and remembers he had the sling in his pocket all along. Ovalhouse, along with other venues and festivals, has bypassed the need for validation by big institutions; it’s creating its own agenda - light enough on it’s feet to support theatre makers in interesting ways at early stages; flexible and free enough from big theatre branding to create really questioning, inspiring seasons.

Funnily enough, Be Good Revolutionaries has ended up exploring similar themes. We have a family dominated by an omnipresent father: you never see him but you know you’ll never be as good as him (is that really true?) and a tyrannical mother so caught up in her own story, her children can’t act on their own impulses or follow their desires. When the children understand they can author their own lives, that change can only happen if they make it happen, the fun begins!

The Ovalhouse commission has helped us understand we’re not working for a theatre but with them to create something imaginative and exciting and inventive.

The best bit about the commission is knowing we have genuinely creative people working with us to make Be Good Revolutionaries thrilling. Thanks Comrades and Viva La Revolucion!

Rebecca Atkinson-Lord: We all know it’s a difficult time to be an artist; there’s so little money out there and more and more people are chasing the big funders or commissioning houses for what sometimes can feel like mere scraps.

At Ovalhouse, we see commissioning artists as a way out of all that; a way to sidestep the increasingly feudal-feeling funding relationship between tiny artist and big behemoth. It’s the natural progression of how we’ve always worked with artists to support and realise their aims as much as our own. We commission work full of ideas that excite us from artists trying to blaze new trails. Often that means that the work is risky or as yet unquantifiable; the kind of work that can be difficult to wrangle into a marketing soundbite or a neat pitch; the kind of work that might otherwise never get made.

The ambient financial doom is making lots of bigger organisations more conservative in their programming; less willing to take a gamble and as a result, the diversity of theatre and theatre makers out there is under threat as we all struggle to survive on less. But at smaller organisations like Ovalhouse, where we can afford to be a bit more nimble and take a few more risks, artists are finding new ways to make things happen.

This spring, we were lucky enough to make the first ever full-scale Ovalhouse Commission to a band of theatre bricoleurs called Dirty Market. The Dirty Marketeers have always made bold theatre in unconventional spaces. My first experience of their work was shivering under two coats in a derelict space at the seeming-end of civilisation. And it was wonderful. In March this year, they showed an unfinished version of their latest piece as part of our If only… season and the brand-new Ovalhouse commissioning strand meant that within a week of seeing it we had committed to give them the time and resources to make a fuller version; Be Good Revolutionaries it just that.

Be Good Revolutionaries continues at Ovalhouse until 23 June


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