Making rural shows that matter: Insights from Wassail Theatre Company

In light of their current production, Reclaimed, Artistic Producer of Wassail Theatre Company, Nick White, talks about making rural touring shows that matter.

 
Image credits Paul Blakemore

This January marks the third anniversary of Wassail Theatre Company’s first show, The Giants. As I write, our fifth production, Reclaimed, has just started touring. Reclaimed is inspired by events surrounding the 2013/14 floods of the Somerset Levels. It is set in a fictional village hall and touring to real ones. It’s also playing at some arts centres, The Theatre Shop and Loco Klub as part of February’s Ferment Fortnight. Come and see it, it’s brilliant.

My professional bias could become my downfall but we’d like you to see it because it reflects what Wassail is all about. We’re a charity and we have a fancy mission statement, but in order to be taken seriously we need to make work that ignites conversations and that creates opportunities for the many. Conversations and opportunities for artists and audiences alike.

 
Image credits Paul Blakemore

In Reclaimed we’ve taken a very Somerset story, developed it with a specific community, garnered support from local venues, cast an ensemble of exceptionally talented local performers, and staged it in a unique and ambitious style. Our previous productions have aspired to achieve these things, and our future plans will continue to develop them. In all of our work we’re trying to learn what makes people, regardless of their theatrical literacy, want to engage. Reclaimed, however, does something new for us. It’s a different aesthetic. It has a different beat. It takes audiences on a different journey that is peppered with emotive, contentious issues.

The conditions for making professional work in Somerset that is accessible and intelligent are challenging. The artists have to take all of the risk. We don’t have any artist led NPOs. We don’t have any producing theatres. Audiences aren’t used to a regular supply of professional work. We are working our proverbs off just to establish a reputation. If we are to prove the necessity of theatre within Somerset’s artistic life – an argument that is far from being won – we must embrace challenging subjects and continue to seek out new audiences. To do this, we must use the environment to our advantage. So that’s what we’ll do, and what we’ll keep doing.

When Somerset is as trendy as Bristol, when it embraces joined up thinking as well as Dorset, when it fights back like Exeter, more artists and more audiences will benefit. More stories will emerge. More theatre will be made. It’ll be great.

Nick White (with plagiarism from words by Jesse Briton)

 
Image credits Paul Blakemore

Reclaimed by Wassail Theatre tours Somerset (and Bristol) until 10 Feb. You can catch in it Bristol at the Loco Klub as part of Bristol Old Vic’s Ferment Fortnight on February 1, book tickets here. Find out about the rest of the tour here.

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