Out and About

Feature in Issue 21-2 | Summer 2009

Pippa Bailey looks to a bright new future.

Like many people in these turbulent times, I been pondering the future, with several opportunities in recent months to explore how it might be shaping up.

At the end of January I was invited to the Lilian Baylis studio at Sadler’s Wells to see Folding and Unfolding: Moments in Costume, the 2009 graduate exhibition of the Masters in Costume Design for performance. For anyone interested in a movement-based approach to live performance, these creations provoked intriguing physical responses. Not just functional, the costumes defined character by the way they restricted the body or opened to reveal secret compartments and hidden meaning. One stand-out design by Annalise Harvey embedded ten thick elastic strings in the back of a Victorian gown, extending like wings behind the woman trapped in her dress and attached to bolts in the wall. A similar idea was explored more playfully by Ginny Yang whose bustle dress contained several monocles, attached to silver chains, then handed to audience members. Konstantinia Vafeiadou created a series of plastic sheaths and hoods, removed to reveal an increasingly strange and vulnerable bird-like creature. For my money, the women’s costumes were infinitely more successful than the men’s; testimony perhaps to the way in which women’s identity has been shaped, constrained and revealed through the range of clothing we perform.

Next stop, in early February, a meeting of the Independent Street Arts Network included a presentation from Alastair Noonan and Karl Rouse at Central School of Speech and Drama (CSSD) detailing a number of highly successful collaborations between professional artists and CSSD students. Everyone involved talked about the benefit of attaching talented students to projects where they could work alongside experienced artists. In 2008 The Centre of Excellence in Theatre Training (CETT) commissioned Remarkable productions and designer Adam Neville to work with CSSD students and create the Bar of Ideas for Paradise Gardens Festival in Victoria Park, London. Another big success story is the widely toured Nutkhut show, Bollywood Steps, developed into large-scale with student performers and technicians. There are very important additional costs and considerations when working with students who need training, mentoring and adequate expenses but great reward for all concerned when these collaborations work.

On another matter entirely, Musical Theatre Matters is both a mantra and a relatively new organisation, headed up by the irrepressible Chris Grady, which is seeking to increase knowledge, to encourage a community, and to champion new musical theatre initiatives. I was asked to speak at their annual conference in early March and have to admit to cringing at the idea of ‘musical’ – conjuring nightmare images of tatty sequins, overacting and show-tunes on endless repeat. But I am always keen to build bridges between different areas of the performing arts and certainly interested in the development of new music theatre shows (perhaps more like the legendary Shockheaded Peter). Bringing music, drama and different performance styles
together, appealing to a wide-ranging audience while moving away from revivals and the particular work that has dominated the West End for many years is an attractive proposition.

The day started with three outsiders – myself, Jeremy Newton, chief executive at The Princes Foundation for children and the arts and Clive Belgeonne, a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and project manager at the Development Education Project. We all offered our thoughts on the role of creativity and artists in creating a brighter future, recognising the immense power of music theatre to help. The day continued with extraordinary local and international speakers including Bill O’Brien, director of theatre at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington USA – eagerly awaiting instruction from his new boss at the White House.

South America partly provides the inspiration (and a tenuous link) to NoFit State Circus’ newest show Tabu – featuring two extraordinarily talented Argentinian sisters. First commissioned by Norfolk and Norwich Festival in 2008, I caught this show at the start of their 2009 tour at the Roundhouse before it headed off to the Brighton Fringe in May, then France and Germany, and finally Cardiff, at the Wales Millennium Centre in September. Not all aspects of the show are successful, but this exceptional British circus company takes the audience on a mood journey, in turn smoulderingly dark and intensely joyful, with a sexy live band and some of the best static trapeze I have ever seen. I was also tickled by the idea of 42 rowdy circus folk parked up at the back of the slickly refurbished Victorian building. The Roundhouse, which professes to place young people at its heart, has just launched their young people’s theatre company. Their young jazz band featured on the opening night of Tabu and they have announced the beginning of a Roundhouse young circus company. It’s certainly all go in North London for the stars of tomorrow.

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Issue 21-2
p. 25