Well, as 2017 draws to a close we take a look at what we did in the last year. It’s been a great year for both The Play’s The Thing, (our professional company) and Pepper’s Ghost (our sister community inclusive company).
At the end of 2016 we heard that The Play’s The Thing had been successful in its bid to receive Arts Council funding. No mean feat in these lean times in funding for the arts.
We were also successful in gaining a grant from the Milton Keynes Community Foundation who have been so very supportive to both companies over the years. We were successful in our crowd funding campaign, and we received many donations and some generous sponsorship too. It was all to produce a new play called “Austerity” by Mike Elliston.
In July 2016 we had produced Mike’s play “Trailer/trash” for MK Fringe Festival to great acclaim. “Austerity” was going to be specially written and performed at Milton Keynes Library at the end of March 2017. The subject was topical, but also historical and it was to be looked at through the lens of austerity after WW2. What was it like then compared to now?
The show was to have five core professional actors and a community chorus, so a chance for real learning and development as the two companies worked together and plenty of public engagement. There were also songs written by the exuberant Ian Roberts. People are still humming the tunes! Lots of hard work, but it was all worth it. The actors worked so well together and the creative team were a joy as always. It was also clearly a subject that interested people as each night was packed.
Milton Keynes Library was a great place to work and the staff were fantastically pro-active in promoting the show. We can’t wait to work with them again. The library project space was transformed and it really was a wonderful experience to watch how the show grew and grew. We ran a Q & A after each show and it was so interesting to hear people’s responses to this subject. We also invited organisations to speak as part of the Q & A sessions. The Food Bank was one such organisation. All the money from programme sales was donated to the food bank as were all the food stuffs (part of one scene in the show) and toiletry products. We learned so much during the whole process about so many things and we shall take these forward as the companies continue to grow and develop. Thank you to everyone involved.
No sooner had “Austerity” finished and we were onto our next project which was “Instrumental” - a show with Encompass and Camphill working with the collaborative group we help found called Grid Arts. This was to give these communities a voice for the MK50 celebrations. We worked for several weeks running workshops with both groups on movement, music and sound and to a lesser extent spoken word. The final show at Chrysalis Theatre in April was a beautiful mix of movement, sound and lighting with a few short poems too. It was great to work with both groups and we all gained a great deal from working together. It was a joyous and positive occasion.
Then we were onto our next project “Ghosts” by Henrik Ibsen to be performed at Stantonbury Theatre in May directed by Ian Spiby and produced by Rosemary Hill with a full professional cast. Rosemary (aka Caroline Mann, her Equity name) also played Mrs Alving – the lead character. What an amazing challenge - a play about incest, euthanasia and venereal disease. Certainly an Ibsen masterpiece and a gift for any actor. We are so proud of this production. It was a great success and audiences grew night by night. It looked beautiful with its stunning set and lighting and the cast were a joy.
Everyone relished the characters and we had such fun rehearsing. The themes may have been dark, but that doesn’t stop the rehearsal process being constructive, nourishing and satisfying. It was indeed very moving and still so topical. Ibsen loved to write about hypocrisy and he loved to shock. It still does that. It’s a play rich in its themes of duty, love and morality.
So then a little bit of a rest before we embarked on the community play for the year which was “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. We started rehearsals in September for performance at Stantonbury Theatre in November. Although set in small town America in a place called Grover’s Corners at the turn of the twentieth century, it could be anywhere. The themes are universal – the strength of community, finding value in the small things in life and how everyone has a story.
A joint project with both companies, this was also for MK50 with Grid Arts. And it certainly seems to have touched a chord with everyone. It was not just the cast who found the experience a profound and moving one, but also the audiences who wrote afterwards how it how really made them think about life and how to find meaning in it. What more can we ask of theatre?
“Our Town” was a fitting way to end our theatrical projects for the year. It is such a beautiful and gentle play, but it delivers its final message with such power and skill. I think the cast and team are still living it. We certainly feel we made a real family together and we look forward to 2018! We have many exciting plans and depending on funding we hope they can come to fruition.
Thank you everyone who has worked with us this year. We are blessed to have wonderful teams on all our shows. Thanks also to all who have supported us - funders, sponsors and of course audiences. You are keeping theatre alive and we couldn’t do it without you.