At the end of December 2020, Farnham Maltings put out an offer of support to South East theatre makers and artists to create new work with and for the town where they lived.
The South East is made up of more small towns than any other region. From coastal and semi-rural to more urban areas on the edge of our cities, some are historic market towns, others are new towns with new names. They are part of our character; they shape the way we live and are often overlooked by powerful metropolitan and rural interests.
This was a further response by the organisation to support theatre making and performance through the current restrictions of the pandemic. The Maltings wanted to continue to offer creative support to artists and encourage them to consider their local audience and how they could best support, celebrate and encourage communities to connect in their towns.
"We’ve tried to offer support to artists as much as we can throughout the past year, helping makers and audiences to find new ways of connecting through these extraordinary times. We wanted to help artists reach audiences not only through a digital screen, but those who were just behind their front door. SE based artists are often required to travel to cities and larger towns to create work, these commissions absolutely celebrate the value of making and hosting live performance in our high streets, our parks, beaches and small venues."
Katy Potter, Senior Producer
In Staines, Circle of Two theatre company will create ‘The Not So True Guided Tour of Staines’. An interactive promenade theatre piece in which a quirky character, the Bard, leads a select audience through town, stopping at various points of interest along the way. The Bard engages the audience in collaborative story-telling, using poetry and puppetry to tell tall tales, both past and present, about the local area and its inhabitants. The audience decides if the stories are fact or fiction, or a mixture of both. They can also help to decide which way to turn and which way to look, encouraging a connection with their surroundings from different perspectives, generating curiosity, creating bonds and becoming more of a part of where they live.
In Whitstable, theatre maker Sadie Hennessey and Whitstable Anchorage Klub will host ‘Blessing of the Beasts’, a processional performance event, on West Beach. This is the number one dog-walking spot in Whitstable, where a diverse selection of dogs and humans interact on a daily basis. Using the beach huts and jetty on West Beach Sadie will present an evening of variety theatre, themed around the animal kingdom. Including magic, burlesque and song, drawn from the Klub’s roster of professional cabaret acts and amateur local groups.
In Faversham and Sittingbourne, Circo Rum Ba Ba will be working Ideas Test and local authority partners to create highly visual theatre inside Empty Shop Windows, infusing the high street with new excitement. Circo Rum Ba Ba is an all women troupe of diverse performers who perform in economically challenged environments where local people have little opportunity to engage in the arts. We fuse a distinctive mixture of circus, physical theatre, comedy, elaborate costume and extravagant props to craft a surprising exhibition of spectacle and narrative, bringing transformative theatre to new audiences in unexpected places.
In Maidstone, Darren Clark with Parkwood Theatres and New UK Musicals will be developing and staging a new musical. ORDINARY PEOPLE is an original musical about everyday people. The show is being written by Composer & Lyricist Darren Clark (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Wicker Husband) and will be based on stories collected from the people of Maidstone. It's a show that explores the extraordinary nature of our everyday lives and reveals that all of us have a story that's worth telling. ORDINARY PEOPLE will be performed at The Hazlitt Theatre. This new performance will include a mixture of professional actor musicians, the Hazlitt Youth Theatre, local dance grps and choirs and will be directed by Jenny Longley.
In High Wycombe, we will be supporting Wycombe Museum to develop their Windrush Legacy project. This will build upon their research and recent exhibition and look to develop the stories collected by Daffodil Forbes into spoken word and theatre performance. The script tells many hidden stories of people, place and identity in High Wycombe but also celebrates the Windrush contribution to their local area. The project aims to connect particularly with the local community of Caribbean descent.
In Manningtree, The Grand Theatre of Lemmings are developing a new piece of theatre to take place on the High Street in an empty shop window, this environmentally themed physical piece of theatre will tell the true story of a deep-sea diver who gets entangled in debris. Through port holes in the window the audience will watch, interact and enjoy this new performance whilst also questioning the human impact on our planet.
'Our Towns' is a part of our New Popular programme, a five year initiative supported by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation that tests and creates new theatre with the ambition of reaching broader audiences in new places with new experiences.
For more information about Our Towns or the New Popular project, contact Katy.