Outpost: Making Theatre Local
Made In Plymouth contributor Jesse Holliland chats with New Model Theatre’s rep company during their rehearsals for Outpost 2016.
I met up with the cast and crew of New Model Theatre when they were deep in rehearsals for the third year of Outpost: a three-week festival showcasing independent theatre in the city. New Model Theatre was formed in 2013 and is passionate about creating theatre that has a human element at its heart. After touring with a critically acclaimed show in 2014, they took inspiration from the theatrical communities they’d met and began their journey to develop a sustainable small-scale theatre scene here in Plymouth. They began building towards their vision with BETA, a bi-monthly evening of work-in-progress performance and Outpost, a three-week pop-up theatre season showcasing independent theatre.
In the first two years of Outpost, artistic director Tom Nicholas recruited from national touring companies to fill the programme. This year Tom made the decision to take the next step and support local talent by recruiting for a rep company of actors connected to the city and the South West. Out of a staggering 344 applications the team selected 4 actors to work together and produce shows as part of Outpost, getting performances ready to run alongside the touring shows. Tom describes how he’s seen a dramatic increase in theatre and arts in the city over the last 3 years, “Where once there was very little theatre being made in Plymouth there is now a thriving community of writers, directors, designers, actors and performers”. He attributes this burgeoning community to a number of factors, including the introduction of more practical, acting based creative courses the city. This has seen an influx of performance-based creatives and encouraged more local actors to take ownership of theatre in their city, allowing exciting new projects such as Plymouth Fringe to develop. However, as is seen across the rest of the country, there’s still a lack of local employment opportunities for theatre workers. Tom posits that could be because theatrical arts are still playing catch up to the visual arts community locally; he explains there’s a barrier between visual arts and theatrical arts that historically has been hard to breach. This could be due to the fact that visual arts often have a more inwardly focused presentation where artists are able to stay in one place and move their work. Theatrical arts are more outward looking developmentally – theatre creatives generally need to travel and be transient with their art.
Speaking with two of Outpost’s rep theatre actors they explain that another issue restricting local theatre arts is recruitment. There’s a real ‘catch 22’ issue with casting that is impacting local actors and theatre, “London exists in a bubble for theatrical arts…production companies generally go to London to do their casting which means that actors and graduates move to London to find work, which in turn means production companies need to go to London to recruit.” But in spite of this practice it’s widely accepted that local rep theatre can be a vital lifeline to regional actors and graduates. Dame Judi Dench recently spoke out about developing theatre and how upcoming actors are being held back by the demise of Rep Theatre. Some larger production companies are starting practices to combat that – Liverpool Playhouse recently made the bold decision to cast a 14 strong rep theatre of actors who had a connection to Merseyside. These local connections don’t only benefit the actors; recruiting locally can lower costs for the theatre which in turn can make the shows more affordable and accessible to a wider audience. The team all agree that theatre should be seen as a fun night out as well as a cultural experience but often costs and stigmas stop people accessing it. Rep member Ben Kernow is passionate about theatre being part of everyday life for everyone, “There’s no difference between watching a drama on TV or on a stage, if you can do one then you can do the other.” Local theatre can help combat the barriers by breaking taboos and moving the experience out of traditional auditoriums and into more mainstream or neutral venues. New Model Theatre is grateful to have great support in the city from partners like Barbican Theatre and Ocean Studios that allows them to bring affordable and inspiring theatre out in to the community. Outpost Theatre ran from 11th to 30th October. More information on New Model Theatre, their partners and their upcoming projects can be found on their website: www.newmodeltheatre.com.