Total Theatre Awards 2011

Feature in Issue 23-3 | Autumn 2011

Pippa Bailey, director of the Total Theatre Awards, reflects on the Edinburgh Fringe 2011.

The Total Theatre Awards almost didn’t happen this year and we, like many others, found ourselves in an even more precarious situation, reflecting the turbulent times we are living in. Many of our supporters are undergoing cost-cutting measures so essential work must take priority. I am delighted we were able to secure the support and proceed. I am hugely grateful to all those organisations able to support us again, with a warm welcome to the Nuffield in Southampton as a new supporter.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe felt a little different this year. The loss of Assembly on George Street meant that Assembly retained their venue on the Mound, overlooking the Princes Street Gardens but also occupied the gardens in George Square, George Square Theatre, and various other University of Edinburgh rooms. This sadly stopped last years Total Theatre Significant Contribution Award winner David Bates from bringing his very special World Famous Spiegeltent to Edinburgh, and the George Square gardens had a distinctly more commercial vibe.

Forest Fringe was back for its fifth year but with its venue, Forest Café, under threat. Another new initiative was Summerhall, programmed by Rupert Thomson with input from Edinburgh veteran Richard Demarco. This vast building housed much of the British Council Showcase and a programme called Take Out, created by BAC, both presented in the final week of the festival. It was also home to the Total Theatre Awards shortlisted overnight show Hotel Medea, playing from midnight to dawn each weekend. Summerhall provided another venue, like Forest Fringe, where artists were able to play with the format and length of their work. The Fringe has become such a commodified marketplace, where every show is expected to last an hour or less, so these are welcome interventions.

During this year’s process for the Total Theatre Awards, the assessors saw 402 shows, only a few less than last year’s 427. The number of shows embracing visual theatre – whether that be puppetry, mask or moving image – had significantly increased. The amount of cabaret afforded a new section of the Fringe programme giving this genre a deserved boost. We had eighteen able assessors seeing the extraordinary range of work this year, and joining the heated discussions.

The shortlisting meeting was the longest in the history of the Awards, partly due to the large number of relevant high quality shows. After six long hours the shortlisted shows were chosen. A panel of esteemed judges then saw this work over the following six days, and on 25 August after much deliberation decisions were made, with the judging meeting held on the morning of that day, and the Awards ceremony held that evening at Fringe Central, attended by a lively throng of artists, producers, venue directors, and critics.

The ceremony carried a slightly sombre tone as we reflected on the riots that had broken out in England at the beginning of the month, and judge Ben Twist reflected on the need for political engagement if theatre is to remain current. Certainly a high percentage of the shortlist and the awardees were in some way engaging with issues either directly or indirectly.

The first Award to be announced was the Significant Contribution to the field of Total Theatre, which went to Judith Knight, co-founder/director of Arts Admin.

Judith Knight founded Arts Admin with Seonaid Stewart 31 years ago and has gone on to support, administrate, produce and fund some of the most significant artists and projects of the last three decades. Several generations of artists and companies owe their early or continued success to Arts Admin, including Mike Figgis, Forced Entertainment, DV8, Moti Roti, Station House Opera, Bobby Baker, Mem Morrison, Robin Deacon, Ursula Martinez, Stacy Makishi, Chris Goode and Lemn Sissay. Arts Admin has provided the support that has allowed artists to create work, tour it both here and abroad, and develop new work in a way that suits their own creative rhythm rather than finding themselves beholden to the timetables of funding bodies. Judith Knight has not only supported artists but is a role model for many within the sector and has created a wonderfully supportive culture for creativity.

Total Theatre Awards 2011 were supported by the Barbican London, Norfolk & Norwich Festival, The Nuffield Southampton, University of Chichester, University of Winchester, and Wales Millennium Centre.

Total Theatre Awards Judges 2011:
David Bauwens, Producer, Ontroerend Goed; Robert Jude Daniels, Senior Lecturer, University of Chichester; Professor Anthony Dean, Dean of Arts faculty, University of Winchester / Total Theatre Board; Donald Hutera, Critic, The Times; Dorothy Max Prior, Editor, Total Theatre Magazine; Patricia Ceschi, Creative Producer based in São Carlos, Brazil; Tina Rasmussen, Director of Performing Arts at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto; Patrick Sandford, Artistic Director, The Nuffield Southampton; Kully Thairai, Freelance Director; Ben Twist, Culture and Climate Change Consultant and former theatre director.

Chair of Judges: Pippa Bailey.

Total Theatre Award for Work by Emerging Artists/ Companies: ShadyJane, Sailing On

‘ShadyJane, for all their youth, live up to the challenges they’ve set themselves, showing an awareness of the power of scenography to drive a piece. There’s a lovely puppetesque quality, and strong performances from the three-woman team.’

Total Theatre Award for Physical/Visual/Devised Performance: NeTTheatre/ Grupa Coincidentia, Turandot

‘A wonderful postmodern deconstruction of Puccini’s last opera, mulched in with the tragic real life story of the throat cancer the composer developed. To hear, to speak, to voice, to lose voice, to be denied voice… what these mean, literally and metaphorically, is explored. Bold and brave and beautiful.’

Total Theatre Award for Physical/Visual/Devised Performance: Bunk Puppets/ Scamp Theatre, Swamp Juice

‘Shadow puppetry to tickle the senses of adults and children alike. It’s a jiggling, gobbling journey of rolling eyes, wagging chins, monsters with wiry hair and pincer-like attacks. Consistently, impressively, visually inventive.’

Total Theatre Award for Innovation and Experimentation: Adrian Howells, May I Have the Pleasure?

‘A mock-wedding reception at which we are the guests! In this age of interactive and immersive theatre, it’s good to remember that Adrian Howells has been there a long time, and this experience shows. What a pleasure it is to be in his company!’

Total Theatre Award for Innovation and Experimentation: Tania el Khoury, Maybe if you choreograph me, you will feel better

‘A relational piece that happens between one female performer and one male audience member – an everyman, an archetypal patriarch, representing all the world’s fathers, brothers, lawmakers, religious leaders, politicians. An ambitious, thoughtful, and challenging performance.’

Total Theatre Award for Innovation and Experimentation: Look Left Look Right, You Once Said Yes

‘A one-on-one theatre show set in the streets, cathedrals, bingo halls, graveyards, and bars of Edinburgh. A very lovely piece: the sites chosen are a varied and interesting mix; the route planned meticulously. Vitally, the audience is really looked out for throughout the journey.’

Shortlisted: Emerging Artist/Company
Sleepwalk Collective, As the flames rose we danced to the sirens the sirens
Milk Presents, Bluebeard: A fairytale for adults
Wrong Crowd, The Girl with the Iron Claws
East End Cabaret, East End Cabaret: The Revolution Will Be Sexual

Shortlisted: Physical/Visual/Devised
Muirne Bloomer and Emma O’Kane, The Ballet Ruse
Dr Brown, Dr Brown Becaves
National Theatre of Wales / Told By An Idiot, The Dark Philosophers
Cirk la Putyka, La Putyka
Circle of Eleven, Leo
Ramesh Meyyappan/Iron-Oxide, Snails and Ketchup
Siro-a, Technodelic Comedy Show
Theatre Ad Infinitum, Translunar Paradise
All or Nothing and Strange Bird Zirkus, Uncharted Waters

Shortlisted: Innovation and Experimentation
Ontroerend Goed, Audience
Zecora Ura and Persis Jade Maravala, Hotel Medea
Orkestra del Sol, Orkestra del Sol’s Top Trumps
Nassim Soleimanpour/Volcano, White Rabbit Red Rabbit
Tim Watts/Underbelly Productions, The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer

On recommendation of the Judges/Advisors the following shows, opening late, were also considered for an Award:
In the Physical/Visual/Devised category: Dog Kennel Hill Project, Working the Devil In the
Innovation category: 1927, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets Action Hero, Watch Me Fall Curious, The first moment I saw you I knew I could love you Melanie Wilson and Abigail Conway (Subject to Change), every minute, always Quarantine, Entitled Metis Arts, 3rd Ring Out –The Emergency.