What’s The Point?

Feature in Issue 23-1 | Spring 2011

Miriam King celebrates the enterprising spirit of a venue that gives creation time and space willingly.

Tucked away in Hampshire, Eastleigh is a small and unpresupposing town a few miles north of Southampton. Eastleigh (once popular with trainspotters because of its locomotive-building heritage) doesn’t have a great many landmarks, but beyond the bandstand in the municipal park is The Point: a contemporary arts venue, owned and run by Eastleigh Borough Council, offering a warm welcome to artists and audiences alike. Shows programmed include top of the range world-class dance and theatre from companies such as Poland’s renowned Song of the Goat Theatre, but the venue is also a regular home for the local youth theatre, and offers a progressive Creative Learning Programme. Here there are classes, workshops and creative projects for people of all ages.

And then there is the Creation Space. A space – yes – for artists to create! There has been much talk over the years of creation centres in the UK, but whilst others have talked, The Point have been quietly getting on with it – with exceptional results.

Even before the arrival of the Creation Centre, The Point’s nurturing and development of artists and artist-led projects was well established – something I can testify to personally. Three years ago (in 2007-2008) I had an artist’s residency at The Point, resulting in the creation of an installation/performance piece called The Reading Room. This was the last project to take place in what had been Eastleigh Borough Council’s old library building, before an extraordinary and exciting renovation took place, resulting in the development of the new Creation Space. In the lobby area of this new space there remains a testament to my time spent there as artist in residence: one library book, returned to the very place where it had been taken out over fifty years previously, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, the page set open to read:

‘All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts...’

This book, sited in its own alcove, is a reminder of the building’s former self and a pointer to what the space now is.

Gregory Nash, then artistic director of The Point, was there at the beginning to get everything into gear. The Creation Space was born in the late autumn of 2009 and is now in the capable hands of new director Sarah Brigham. This fully residential purpose-built creation centre, set within a regional venue, is one of the first of its kind in the UK: a state-of-the-art light-filled rehearsal studio with accommodation attached, allowing established artists 24-hour access to the rehearsal room whilst in residence. Four bedrooms house up to ten artists, with the ground-floor bedroom being fully accessible for disabled artists. What luxury... what necessity! To have a purpose-built space where artists can work and live uninterrupted, with the benefit of being able to create, day or night…

Artists and companies (at all levels of experience) that have benefited to date include Lone Twin, who worked on the third part of their Catastrophe Trilogy, The Festival; The Balletboyz who worked on The Talent; Hiccup Theatre, who made The Owl and the Pussy Cat; Los Banditos; and Udifydance.

Another supported company is The River People, who (being Hampshire based) have a longstanding and ongoing relationship with The Point, as do another Hampshire company, street arts ensemble Wet Picnic. At the time of writing (January 2011), the critically acclaimed Gecko (whose previous works have included Total Theatre Award winning show The Race, The Arab And The Jew, and The Overcoat) is in residence for three weeks, creating Missing. Later this year, the piece will tour nationally.

The Point also focuses on emerging artists, helping them to reach the next step through structured support. Mid-career artists are offered the time and space to develop and flourish. About the process of joining the associate artists scheme Sarah Brigham says, ‘Our associate artists scheme is an open call out. Companies are asked to provide examples of their work at a pitch session. We then select the artists who we believe will benefit most from being on the scheme. They then join us for a year-long residency, during which time they receive mentorship, networking opportunities, business advice, marketing and press assistance, and unparalleled access to performance platforms and creation spaces.’

Of course it’s a much desired opportunity for the newly emerging artist, yet so vital too for the older ‘been around the block many times’ artist, no longer ‘emerging’, yet in need of the opposite: ‘retreating’ – digging themselves in for a period of reflection and reappraisal. For this purpose, established artists have the opportunity to contemplate, work and create.

An example of a long-established company taking the time to rethink and rework at The Point was Lea Anderson’s all-male company The Featherstonehaughs (companion company to her all-female ensemble The Cholmondeleys), who developed new work Edits there in September 2010.

But arguably the ‘jewel in the crown’ for the Creation Space to-date has been the relationship with acclaimed Polish company Song of the Goat. In autumn 2010, The Point hosted and produced Song Of The Goat Theatre’s Macbeth tour, which toured nationally and was a highlight of the Barbican’s BITE programme. Of this Sarah Brigham says, ‘Song of the Goat in residence at the theatre allowed us to really crack open their process for our audiences and artists. We worked with them on four levels: morning-long taster workshops with University of Winchester students exploring their process; full-day workshops with regional artists exploring process; a week-long residential course with artists from across the UK exploring process in performance; and an in-depth lecture/ demonstration open to all. Audiences and artists had the opportunity to explore the process leading to the performance, debate and critique it with the company, and ultimately comment directly back to the company.’

The trainspotters might be less frequently seen there nowadays, but Eastleigh is now, due to The Point, a fast track to another kind of locomotion.... a vibrant new home for artists and supporters of experimental theatre and dance creation, welcoming and inspiring local audiences alongside anyone from further afield who might wish to venture there – it’s just over an hour by train from London Waterloo!

See www.thepointeastleigh.co.uk

Any emerging or established artist or company wishing to use the Creation Space should contact director Sarah Brigham to discuss:
E: thepoint@eastleigh.gov.uk
T: 023 8065 2333

Referenced Venues

This article in the magazine

Issue 23-1
p. 14 - 15