Our Artistic Director, Tom Mansfield, writes…
Happy new year everyone! 2017 was another exciting year for us here at Upstart. We took Simon Jones’ Marco on a mini-tour to Stockton, Exeter and London; worked with Jermyn Street Theatre to present the multi-award-nominated British premiere of Maxim Gorky’s The Last Ones; and presented the second annual DARE Festival at Shoreditch Town Hall. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved, and had a great time taking our work to audiences around the country. I’m hoping that 2018 will be even better.
The turn of the year is, of course, a really good time to take stock of where we’re at and where we’re going, and over the holidays I prepared what we’re calling a ‘Statement of Intent’ for 2018. I wanted to share it publicly here so that everyone reading this can get a sense of what we’re aiming to achieve. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to be honest, since, of course, so much of this is likely to change – but I think it’s helpful for our friends, colleagues and supporters to know what we’re aiming to do. So, here goes!
Who are we?
At Upstart Theatre, we believe that theatre is a tool to kick-start conversations about the world we live in. Inspired by the shared origins of theatre and democracy, we bring people together to take part in acts of shared storytelling, where the world onstage offers us new ways of thinking about the world off it. The relationship between theatre, politics and dialogue is at the heart of what we do.
In the last few years, the values above have led us to push the boundaries of what’s possible in live performance – whether through the pan-European interconnected performance of Phone Home, the interactive decision-making of The Situation Room, or the unique blend of theatre, art, performance and discussion events that makes up the DARE Festival programme.
Where are we?
2017 was a year in which old certainties came under fire. While Britain squabbles its way towards an uncertain future outside the EU, European institutions – and the values that underpin them – are being challenged in Poland, Hungary and Greece. Meanwhile, with the burgeoning #MeToo movement in both Britain and the US, the power relationship between men and women is being questioned as never before.
As we move into 2018, it’s possible that the destruction of old certainties will give us new opportunities to think about who we are and who we want to be – which could lead us to a better future. It’s equally possible that rather than moving forward, we’ll move backward to old ideas about the relationships between people and between nations – relationships based on coercion, capital and control.
What are we doing this year?
This year, Upstart Theatre programme is about people and societies at moments of radical change – people and places in crisis. As part of our commitment to inviting as many people as possible into the conversation, we’ll be presenting shows live in venues in London, Birmingham and across the country; and online, for free, as part of our Upstream digital programme.
Our programme – Live
- In January-February, we’ll be continuing our work with the refugee music charity Fairbeats, running workshops in Love to Learn’s Wandsworth centre themed around ‘democracy’.
- In May, I’ll direct Bertolt Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich at the University of Birmingham. Written in exile, Brecht’s play documents the early years of Hitler’s Germany and offers a powerful window onto a society in the earliest stages of dictatorship.
- In June, we’re planning to work with Fit to Burst and Ovalhouse to present a First Bites presentation of Rebecca Tortora’s Last Night I Met You Dreaming – a magic realist exploration of one woman’s journey into a capitalist heart of darkness, bringing together text, movement and video art to tell a magic-realist story of loss, hope and rebellion. There’s an application in for funding as we speak so fingers crossed for this one!
- At the end of June, we’re joining forces with Hope Not Hate and Amnesty International to support the second annual Change of Art Festival at the Human Rights Action Centre, performing a diverse range of work from community and professional artists programmed for and with local residents in Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
- In September we’ll be touring Marco throughout the UK – the story of a man who can’t stop moving, even though it will, most likely, kill him. Simon Jones’ debut solo show is an exploration of toxic masculinity against the background of obsessive competition and hero-worship.
- In October, we’ll present our third DARE Festival, an explosion of new and in-development theatre and performance exploring the relationship between theatre, politics and technology.
- Also in the autumn – assuming a pretty major EU funding bid comes off – we’ll begin workshops for The Chorus Project, our second pan-European collaboration project. Inspired by the ancient Greek Oresteia trilogy, we’ll be working with community participants to create a new piece of theatre asking what we mean when we talk about democracy in Europe, in collaboration with partners in Germany, Austria, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Our programme – Online
Alongside our live shows, we’ll be pushing forward with Upstream, our digital research and development project. This year, Upstream will involve three projects:
- An online version of our hit show The Situation Room, giving players the opportunity to step into the shoes of a world leader in the middle of a Cold War crisis.
- A digital arts project created by Simon Jones, inspired by his work on Marco, exploring what goes through people’s minds when they’re cycling. It’s a chance to get involved in wide-ranging conversations with people who are at the heart of the audience for the show.
- A digital platform for Middle Child Theatre’s production of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything. We’ll be working with Middle Child to explore how their unique brand of gig-theatre can reach beyond the auditorium, alongside their performances at the Bush Theatre in October.
Alongside this, we’ll be a part of Live Online, a network for real-time creative collaboration online led by the University of South Wales.
Who do we work with?
We believe that theatre, like democracy, is for everyone, and that the opportunity to take part in meaningful conversation is part of what defines us as citizens. While we are limited by economics and geography – we are a small charity based in London – we aim to transcend these limitations through a combination of touring theatre whenever possible, and presenting work online. We seek to reach a broad cross-section of society wherever we work, through partnerships with community groups and arts organisations. Working across borders – national, regional, social – is particularly important to us. In 2018, we’ll be working with:
- Regular theatregoers, especially those with an interest in innovative theatre, in Stockton, London, and throughout the UK;
- People with an interest in cycling and sport who don’t go to the theatre regularly;
- Young refugees and asylum seekers;
- Youth theatre members;
- University students;
- Young men in Birmingham from Black British backgrounds;
- Non-professional artists;
- Professional theatremakers;
…and hopefully many more.
So here we go! If all of these projects go ahead, it’s going to be a really exciting year – and even if they don’t, it’s exhilarating to be prepared for all these possibilities. I’m really looking forward to working with the rest of the Upstart Theatre team, and our partners across the country and beyond, to offer audiences and participants a thrilling year of excellent political theatre. Hopefully see you at an Upstart show or workshop soon!