The Yorkshire Connection

Feature in Issue 5-1 | Spring 1993

Returning to Yorkshire after completing my training in Paris in 1984, I found Mime within the region was in its’ developmental infancy. In March of that year there was the first ‘Yorkshire Mime’ Festival; seven major companies performing, teaching and converting the general public, in over ten town centres; a handful of practitioners; the start of regular workshops and courses at the Yorkshire Arts Association.

Today, nearly ten years on, the opportunity, provision and facilitation has greatly increased. The national and regional funding, the life blood of any art form, for projects, new work and development is a constant problem, but briefly there are over thirty mime, physical theatre and new circus individuals currently resident in Yorkshire and Humberside.

We have four practitioner networks or forums: The Dance and Mime Forum co-ordinated by Errol Barrows in Kirkless; a new-venues-linked Circus and Physical Theatre forum based in south Yorkshire (Sheffield/Rotherham); The Forum for Performers and Dancers (FFPD) run by Stephen Long from Yorkshire Dance Centre, which runs professional classes for resident performers in the region and holds regular monthly meetings; and the Mime and Physical Theatre Forum initiated by Sue Harrison in 87/88, which meets on a regular basis to discuss national and regional needs and concerns.

We also have over twenty venues, the latest being Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax, that actively promote international, national and regional performers as well as premiering new work. Recently we have seen David Glass Ensemble’s adaptation of Gormenghast at the Alhambra Studio, Bradford and Gerry Turvey’s In at the Deep End, at Huddersfield Art Gallery.

Tragically the Yorkshire Mime Festival has never happened again through lack of funding, but there is the Northern International Festival of Mime, Dance and Visual Theatre at Kendal in Cumbria, the highly acclaimed Bradford Festival which services the art form from street to main house theatre, and the Humberside Youth Festival, which has a performance and workshop programme.

The Yorkshire Dance Centre along with other regional venues offers workshops, courses, summer schools with visiting and regional artists, and weekly classes run by the aforementioned Leeds-based forum. For a few years Heads Together also ran a very successful training programme at YDC until the money dried up. Various Higher and Further Education courses in Leeds, Bretton Hall, and Huddersfield are now available and contain a strong element of physical theatre. We also have a magazine called Dancescene, Dance and Mime in Yorkshire and Humberside, edited by Ramsey Burt and published three times a year.

Mileva Drljaca, the Dance and Mime Officer at Yorkshire and Humberside Arts, continually tries to develop mime, physical theatre and new circus within the constraints of an ever changing and uncertain funding and RAB structure.

Sounds like the Garden of Eden…

Well… it is often littered with hidden mine fields, encased in barbed wire; all too often it becomes a ‘secret’ garden – a place where you try to survive while you battle against the pressures, the deadlines, and the cold bare reality of the ‘arts’ world.

For example…

‘We are still looking for funding – application to Yorkshire and Humberside arts pending – so we go where the work is. There is not sufficient work in the region to pay the bills.’ – Beverly Adams, The Faceless Company.

‘Unfortunately the growth of physical theatre in Sheffield has coincided with Sheffield Council’s slide to poverty, with resulting financial consequences.’ – Bret Jackson, Swamp Circus.

‘The “Total Theatre” sector exists through the enthusiasm of the performers dedicated to their work. There is no doubt that the biggest subsidy for the work comes from the artists involved – underpaid and undervalued. It can be wonderful work, immensely satisfying and challenging. In a meeting in Yorkshire a couple of months ago I was called cynical for the first time in my life. Maybe just a little more realistic!’ – Adrian Sinclair, Heads Together.

Yorkshire is a region that is alive and kicking with an abundance of in-house companies and individuals all appearing under the mime, physical theatre, and new circus umbrella and speaking in different tongues, offering different products and servicing different market sectors. There is naturally cross fertilisation, collaboration and cooperation and an overall objective… to turn the intenders into attenders… it’s not the projects you dreamed of, it’s the ones which really happen.