Making theatre? for me it’s all about the audience… #Theatre #audiences #Kingston14

30 Mar

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I had one of those moments last night when I realised what this theatre stuff was really all about. Again.

I saw the first preview of Roy Williams’ new play, Kingston 14 at Stratford East. This is a really strong and important piece of work, and the first night audience gave it the applause and response it truly deserved. When I say audience, I mean the people who were there that night. The groups of individuals, couples, families, all who had come out on a Friday night to see something that had been made for them. A new piece of work that said ‘this is for you, these are characters that you may recognise, and relate to their stories’.

This particular theatre encourages first time attenders to come to the previews from the borough – if you haven’t been to Stratford East before it costs just £2.50 to see the show for a preview. Consequently the theatre was sold out, the show and its relationship to its local audience was electric. Riotous laughter and reaffirmations one moment to hear a pin drop tension the next. This is what this theatre stuff can do. And here at Stratford East, it does it very well indeed.

The audience were a reflection of the creative team and the cast on stage. It really is that simple. If you don’t see it on stage, it’s highly unlikely you will see it in your audience. Think about it – It’s not rocket science, it’s rocket salad. If it’s not in the bag you’re not going to get it on your plate.

Initiatives, audience development schemes, all that stuff is all very well, but if the work you make, and who you make it with, doesn’t reflect who you are making it for – then it is doomed to fail. Some theatres are too risk averse to think outside their own comfort zones, and as Nii Sackey said at our recent No Boundaries event – ‘Theatres need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable’ This is a key concept and vital to the whole nature of how we make and share our work.

This play, the theatre it was premiered in and the team that made it have clearly got this right, as was demonstrated by the reaction from the audience last night. Testament to the fact that this had to be made.

I am glad that Kerry Michael, Artistic Director of Stratford East, had the foresight, and determination to pick this play up and to produce it – otherwise that audience on that first night would never have had the opportunity to see this come to life. He knew that his audience deserved to see this work, and for it to have a four week run.

This is about a mutual trust between artists and the communities that the theatre serves. The history of this building has long roots and connections that stretch back to the work of Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop that created a theatre for its communities. In the shifting times of developments and building around the theatre, this legacy still continues.

I have also have always made work in this same way. The audiences we want to see for Pilot’s work are reflected by the cast and creative teams we work with. It really is that straightforward. Roy and I have collaborated together for a good few years now, and we are currently working on his new version of Antigone that we are making for Pilot, with Derby Theatre and the Theatre Royal Stratford East to this venue next January and February 2015 for 4 weeks, and we are looking forward to making something new and very special for the audiences who come and see it.

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