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Guest Blog: At The Yard in Hackney, we don't know what we're doing

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Jay Miller, artistic director of Hackney venue The Yard, exlains the venue's proudly anarchic ethos

Here at The Yard we don't know what we're doing. We didn't know what we were doing when we built an amphitheatre in a warehouse when the country was in a recession. It was stupid. None of us had any money - idiocy! Rather than build next to bohemian cafes, we built our theatre on the fringes of the city, next door to industrial vegetable peelers, car mechanics and a place for swingers to hang out, aptly named Fun Time Club.

To complement the theatre we also built a bar and installed a kitchen with second-hand white goods and mobile electric hobs that we'd recovered from camping gear stowed in my garage for years. Who knew how to run a bar and kitchen? We certainly didn't. We were amateurs who could pour some drinks, and cook a few dishes. No, we were worse than amateurs, we were beginners.

And, of course, with this lack of thought, this lack of concern with how we should do things comes chaos. A chaos that is exhausting. Exhausting because we never know what is coming, we never know when the next crisis will arrive, and it will arrive, for, as I have explained above, we DEFINITELY DON'T KNOW WHAT WE'RE DOING.

In this vacuum, in this lack of control, in this seemingly unending catalogue of challenges, we enjoy ourselves. We love it. Sometimes it's ecstasy. Is that strange? Are we sociopaths? Why do we do it to ourselves? It's because chaos often gives birth to surprise. At The Yard we love surprises. In a place without order, anything can happen at any time, and this feeling is vital for brilliant new theatre to thrive.

The experience that a theatre creates, both for the artists that work within it and the audiences who experience it, is hugely important. It needs to be safe enough for everyone to take risks together and surprising enough to not feel staid. If a theatre, from root to branch, questions protocol and is not bound by precedent, then it will have a direct impact on the work that is being made for its stages. It means that from the kitchen to the bar to the marketing to the box office to the rehearsal room and to the stage, we can do what we like, when we like and how we like. In this space where rules don't exist, new things will start to happen.

At a time when the mainstream dominates, when we need some radical ideas to kick-start our belief systems, the creation of new ideas, in new art for new audiences is urgent. During The Generation Game, a collection of new work that recently opened at our theatre, we expect to find the beginnings of something, of something that resonates for inexplicable reasons. In truth, we don't know this for sure. In January we asked people to send us an idea in response to the provocation 'The Generation Game'. We didn't know who was going to send us an idea, what they were going to send us, and whether it'd be any good.

We were waiting to be surprised.

Programming work in this way is a nerve-wracking experience. It's out of our control. We never know what's going to happen. And it's wonderful because we find the most amazing people in the most unlikely places. We received 378 submissions, interviewed 60 companies and programmed the 20 we thought were the best.

To give you a taster, as part of The Generation Game we have an ex-con telling us about his life as a fraudster; a female wrestler explaining why she collects clothes; a woman playing a game show host/meditation leader; a play that is drawn by the audience; a staged podcast/documentary about a road trip taken by Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando; shows about healing mentally ill patients through music and another that casts the audience as an online community of trolls.

Within The Generation Game we will explore how groups of people fragment and reform; a sense of belonging to something; loss; ageing; optimism and the cult of Sir Bruce Forsyth.

The institutional pillars of our society have recently crumbled. We have been stuck at a crossroads for quite some time now. Created from chaos, from not knowing how to do things, The Yard is making new rules and new ideas in new art. The Yard is a venue without precedent, a venue that makes theatre with energy, with people who are committed and talented, and who are dedicated to the building of something new. Come and experience this moment for yourself.


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