Digital Theatre on The Space: The Parade

Monday 25 March 2013, 12:01

Kate Rowland Kate Rowland BBC Creative Director of New Writing

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This week The Parade - a suite of a new stage plays filmed exclusively for the digital arts service The Space - is published. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the journey that the BBC Writersroom and our collaboration with the Slung Low Theatre Company.
The BBC Writersroom mission is always to discover the most exciting new writers, work in partnership across the cultural industries and then make sure that any talent we do find gets seen and heard.
So, in May 2011 after a targeted call to UK theatres to nominate their most exciting new writers, ten writers were selected by myself and playwrights Lee Hall and Rebecca Lenkiewicz.  Each of the ten writers was then given support and mentoring from the BBC in a series of writing challenges and workshops. Over a period of twelve months they wrote a new script for their theatre, and after a creative brainstorm facilitated by us at the BBC Writersroom, they came up with the idea of The Parade: a state of the nation banner giving the individual writers a provocative trigger to create a short play that got under the skin of the decline of the high street up and down the country, a play when staged collectively would have more impact.
Performed at Live Theatre Newcastle in March 2012 the diversity of the work, characters and ideas went down brilliantly with the audience. The plays were reinvented for radio with five of the pieces developed for Radio 3's The Verb. Following an ideas meeting with Ali Cole and Peter Manuria from The Space, The Parade was commissioned in February 2013.
The agreement with The Space stipulated the filmed plays had to be delivered for March 15th 2013, so we had to find the perfect production partner pretty fast.  My thoughts immediately turned to the extraordinary and innovative theatre company, Slung Low in Leeds. Based in old railway arches in the Holbeck area of the city they jumped at the chance of creating a new form of digital site-specific theatre and were prepared to make all this happen in less than five weeks.
The scripts - the most essential element -already existed, but everything else had to happen with skill, imagination and no existing model to refer back to, and on tight budgets. But I'm an Aries, have a background as a theatre director and youth work and rarely allow 'no' to be an option: this opportunity was too exciting to miss. The four dramas had to be filmed overnight and over a weekend as they were using a local Turkish-run supermarket as their main location.
Fortunately (and uniquely) the supermarket has a kebab shop within it, so this one place gave the production team three distinct locations. I went to visit rehearsals in the freezing cold and had a guided tour of Slung Low. The place is an inspiration and a reminder why art and the people who make it matter. (If you're ever in the vicinity go visit.) So as I watched the rehearsals in the railway arches, warming myself by the wood burner, actors sat on old sofas were joined by Billy the dog as he wormed his way into every scene. Did it matter? No, because the commitment, and the emotional engagement with the work was not going to be distracted by anyone or anything.
So BBC Writersroom's first collaboration with The Space and Slung Low theatre, explores the human stories behind Britain's troubled high streets. The performances are set in and around venues that might be found on any UK parade of shops in a high street and the four you will see, are Somewhere between a News Clipping and the Gossip Section by Kenny Emson. Set in a cornershop, it is a tense two-hander and conveys society's obsession with news media and its portrayal of crime.  No More Poundshop Wars by Amman Paul Singh Brar is about two rival pound shop owners going to war. This humorous, touching play looks at the length people will go to survive in a recession. Can You Hear Me Baby by Rebecca Prestwich is set in a cheap late night take-away.  A lonely, drunken man tries to talk to a heavily pregnant woman in a kebab shop late at night, and an unexpected encounter ensues. And finally, and set in a flat above an off-license, CSI Millionaire by Katherine Mitchell tells the story of an ex's revenge on her former lover.
It's been a brilliant partnership all round, innovation in action. And for the final word I think a note Alan wrote to all the writers (included below) really sets the scene.
Kate Rowland, Creative Director, New Writing, BBC Writersroom.
Alan Lane, Artistic Director. Slung Low
It seems very strange to write to you all not having met you- I've never worked on anyone's script I've not met before. I'm writing to congratulate you on your plays and to thank you for writing such detailed and intelligent pieces that were such a delight to stage.
We were asked to stage and film your short plays from The Parade for The Space.
We filmed them last week in Venus Supermarket in Holbeck South Leeds.
We are a theatre company specialising in work in non-theatre spaces and so I decided that we would play to our strengths and film these pieces in one take: digital theatre the BBC rather nicely called it, one-take-cinema my director of photography knowingly nodded.
We focused on lighting the scene interestingly (in a painterly fashion I instructed our lighting man who was previously of the National Theatre).
Two of the plays (Somewhere Between and No More Poundshop Wars) had live music composed and performed by the guitarist Guiliano Moderalil cast strongly from experienced theatre actors.
And Director of Photography was the Sheffield based Ed Cartledge.

This week The Parade - a series of a new stage plays filmed exclusively for the digital arts service The Space - is published. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the journey that the BBC Writersroom has been on, and on our collaboration with the Slung Low Theatre Company.

The BBC Writersroom mission is always to discover the most exciting new writers, work in partnership across the cultural industries and then make sure that any talent we do find gets seen and heard.

So, in May 2011 after a targeted call to UK theatres to nominate their most exciting new writers, ten writers were selected by myself and playwrights Lee Hall and Rebecca Lenkiewicz.

Each of the ten writers was then given support and mentoring from the BBC in a series of writing challenges and workshops. Over a period of 12 months they wrote a new script for their theatre, and after a creative brainstorm facilitated by us at the BBC Writersroom, they came up with the idea of The Parade: a state of the nation banner giving the individual writers a provocative trigger to create a short play that got under the skin of the decline of the high street up and down the country, a play that when staged collectively would have more impact.

Performed at Live Theatre Newcastle in March 2012 the diversity of the work, characters and ideas went down brilliantly with the audience. The plays were reinvented for radio with five of the pieces developed for Radio 3's The Verb. Following an ideas meeting with Ali Cole and Peter Manuria from The Space, The Parade was commissioned in February 2013.

The Parade cafe Filming a scene for The Parade

The agreement with The Space stipulated the filmed plays had to be delivered for March 15th 2013, so we had to find the perfect production partner pretty fast.  My thoughts immediately turned to the extraordinary and innovative theatre company, Slung Low in Leeds. Based in old railway arches in the Holbeck area of the city they jumped at the chance of creating a new form of digital site-specific theatre and were prepared to make all this happen in less than five weeks.

The scripts - the most essential element - already existed, but everything else had to happen with skill, imagination and no existing model to refer back to, and on tight budgets. But I'm an Aries, have a background as a theatre director and in youth work and rarely allow 'no' to be an option: this opportunity was too exciting to miss. The four dramas had to be filmed overnight and over a weekend as they were using a local Turkish-run supermarket as their main location.

Fortunately (and uniquely) the supermarket has a kebab shop within it, so this one place gave the production team three distinct locations. I went to visit rehearsals in the freezing cold and had a guided tour of Slung Low. The place is an inspiration and a reminder why art and the people who make it matter. (If you're ever in the vicinity go visit.) So as I watched the rehearsals in the railway arches, warming myself by the wood burner, actors sat on old sofas were joined by Billy the dog as he wormed his way into every scene. Did it matter? No, because the commitment, and the emotional engagement with the work was not going to be distracted by anyone or anything.

The Parade till One of the four locations in the supermarket used for filming The Parade

So BBC Writersroom's first collaboration with The Space and Slung Low theatre, explores the human stories behind Britain's troubled high streets. The performances are set in and around venues that might be found on any UK parade of shops in a high street and the four you will see, are Somewhere between a News Clipping and the Gossip Section by Kenny Emson. Set in a cornershop, it is a tense two-hander and conveys society's obsession with news media and its portrayal of crime.  

No More Poundshop Wars by Amman Paul Singh Brar is about two rival pound shop owners going to war. This humorous, touching play looks at the length people will go to survive in a recession.

Can You Hear Me Baby by Rebecca Prestwich is set in a cheap late night take-away.  A lonely, drunken man tries to talk to a heavily pregnant woman in a kebab shop late at night, and an unexpected encounter ensues.

And finally, and set in a flat above an off-license, CSI Millionaire by Katherine Mitchell tells the story of an ex's revenge on her former lover.

It's been a brilliant partnership all round, innovation in action. And for the final word I think a note Alan wrote to all the writers (included below) really sets the scene.

Kate Rowland, Creative Director, New Writing, BBC Writersroom.

"It seems very strange to write to you all not having met you - I've never worked on anyone's script I've not met before. I'm writing to congratulate you on your plays and to thank you for writing such detailed and intelligent pieces that were such a delight to stage.

We were asked to stage and film your short plays from The Parade for The Space. We filmed them last week in Venus Supermarket in Holbeck South Leeds.

We are a theatre company specialising in work in non-theatre spaces and so I decided that we would play to our strengths and film these pieces in one take: digital theatre the BBC rather nicely called it, one-take-cinema my director of photography knowingly nodded.
We focused on lighting the scene interestingly (in a painterly fashion I instructed our lighting man who was previously of the National Theatre).

Two of the plays (Somewhere Between and No More Poundshop Wars) had live music composed and performed by the guitarist Guiliano Moderalil cast strongly from experienced theatre actors.

And Director of Photography was the Sheffield based Ed Cartledge.

Alan Lane, Artistic Director. Slung Low."

 

 

The Space is a free, digital arts service from Arts Council England and the BBC showcasing arts and cultural events across the UK. There are posts on the BBC Internet Blog and here on About the BBC which explain how the project was established. 

The BBC Writersroom has an online resource for writers here


 

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