Lab Company Residency Programme
Theatre Lab Company, Narwhal Ensemble
The Theatre Royal Plymouth continues to breathe new life into the talent rich – but opportunity thin – South West theatre scene, with their theatre and performance development program The Lab Company. The annual programme is aimed at early career artists and practitioners from across the South West region and selects between 8-12 people each year to receive support, training, opportunities and experience from the theatre and their pool of contacts. Those artists selected will go on to form a resident company at the Royal with full access to all of the Theatre Royal’s vast facilities and workshops lead by industry professionals. At the end of the yearlong residency, the company performs their newly created show to showcase their newly found skills and experience.
This year’s graduate Lab Company Narwhal Ensemble wrap up their yearlong artist development program with a four day run at the Theatre Royal’s in house Lab venue entitled Whey Down South, mixing song, comedy and cheese rolling with hilarious results. Utilizing the opportunities granted, this original show is directed, produced, written and performed entirely by the group. A few days before their first show, I sat down with Helen, Sam, John, Emma and Alex from Narwhal Ensemble to reflect on their time with the Theatre Royal, the Lab Company process and what advice they have for the incoming 2017 company.
“We played a lot, didn’t we… the first third was a lot to do with finding out our dynamic as a group and that was mainly done through workshops, games and play”, laughs John. “It was something we had to work out for ourselves as a new group of people, we all came at it from all different levels” adds Helen. Helen, one of the more experienced performers has been able to take on a producer’s role, something that she has been keen to adopt. “It’s about working with everyone’s strengths as well as being supportive to those who haven’t been in the industry for very long and helping people flourish”.
Theatre Lab Company, Narwhal Ensemble
Unsurprisingly, the group is made up of very talented and eclectic individuals with a variety of backgrounds and age ranges, all eager to be involved with the South West art scene and develop new skills. Alex, the youngest member (having only just finished sixth form when applying) talks fondly of his time at the Royal; “it’s been really great for a year of training, not only as an actor or writer but as a professional; to be in this space and to be treated as any other emerging artist would be”. Emma adds, “…I moved away, did a foundation course in acting and then changed completely. I worked in law and in psychiatric hospitals, this has been my move back home and back into theatre so it was a huge shift”.
The Theatre Royal is keen to develop local talent as well as enticing those outside of the South West to the now well art funded city. It aims to bestow artists with new skill sets, which would in turn create future artistic and creative opportunities for them as practioners, such as workshop leadership. During the residency the group have worked as assistant practioners to lead workshops with adults, children and even the armed forces. “We work with and teach groups that you wouldn’t usually come in to contact with,” says Sam. “It’s been one of my favourite things about the project”. John quickly follows “there is a real theatre community in Plymouth, it’s not just the theatre where theatre happens. We’ve gone out to schools all over Plymouth and that’s been really good”. It’s clear that the group have a fondness for the companies they’ve worked with leading the workshops and in turn, the workshops the Lab Company have been able to lead. The Theatre Royal is hoping that this development and wider investment will pay off for them and the city in the future.
And now just 12 months after meeting, this group of strangers has been able to come together and assemble a complete show that is ready for a paying audience to see.
With them is Nick, the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Staff Director, “These artists are left to come up with the show by themselves, no one from the theatre comes in and tells them what they should or shouldn’t do…They’ve spent a year working each other out, what their tastes are in theatre and how they want to make work together. It’s a real mix of all their different strengths.”
Nick has overseen the group over the course of the year and has seen firsthand the development of the company, “I think that’s one of the most interesting things I’ve observed from my perspective, is seeing a group of people that wouldn’t necessarily have ended up working together, working together and the product of what comes out of that …I think that’s one of the most exciting things about this scheme… it really is a melting pot of different influences and experience and I think that makes the company and the work a lot stronger”.
The group reflect on their time and look to the future of the project and next year’s Lab Company; “One of the hardest steps to take, is to make that first thing, so for me this is the first time I’ve been a part of making a show and you have the support of this theatre in doing that which is amazing. Having help with what I consider is the hardest step is a massive thing,” observes Sam. John nods in agreement, concluding “I don’t think you realize it at the start because you’re so involved in what you’re doing but you get the opportunity to work and live in such an amazing theatre for a year. There are so many amazing opportunities going on – grab it and enjoy it”.
Theatre Royal is currently recruiting for Admission to the Lab Company for 2017/2018. Admission is via audition and interview and is open to anyone over the age of 18. If you’d like to find out more about the programme or how you apply to be a part of it then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.