Theatre Bristol & Tobacco Factory Artist Residencies S.I.T.E 2010/2011

Tobacco Factory Theatre and Theatre Bristol are working together to provide a studio residency programme for four companies or artists in 2010/2011. The 4 SITE artists in residence are:

Kid Carpet
Toby Hulse
Dancing Brick
Full Beam Visual Theatre
These residencies are about giving artists access to space, time, ideas and expertise to invest in their projects at the earliest stage of development – an opportunity to work with expert mentors or collaborators and to test ambitious thinking without the pressure of production. Each company or artist is assigned a producer to support their work.

The four producers – Tanuja Amarasuriya, Mike Martins and Katie Keeler from Theatre Bristol and Ali Robertson director of the Tobacco Factory talk here about the artists they are working with.


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Photo: Dancing Brick

Who are you paired up with and what appeals to you about their work?


Ali – I’m very excited to be working with Dancing Brick, a young company of enormous potential who have already played twice at the Brewery Theatre with “21:13” and “6.0: How Heap and Pebble Took on the World and Won”. Valentina and Thomas, the two core company members, are wonderful performers; they are physically skilled, have a delicacy and an emotional intelligence that shines out from the stage and are instantly empathetic. The work that I have seen from the company has been very fresh and clear in its storytelling and has had a quality of delightful playfulness and invention that I’ve found enormously appealing. Both shows that I have seen have perhaps had something a little bit over-careful about them though and we are hoping that “Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice” – the project that is being developed through SITE –will be larger and more ambitious than hitherto. We don’t necessarily look for a physically larger show than their previous ones but there is a potential richness and complexity to this project that could mark a significant step for the company and that we hope the SITE residency will enable the company to reach.

Mikey – I am paired up with Toby Hulse and Vicky Andrews from Pickled Image with their proposal “Roustabout – The Secret Garden”. One of the main things that I’m excited about is the performance will be an “improvised adventure for children”. I love the idea of devising a site specific performance with enough ‘space’ in it so that the audience (mainly children) will lead the development of the narrative through their investigations, questions and discoveries, no mean feat methinks!

Tanuja – I’m working with Full Beam Visual Theatre, which is a surprise because I normally run a mile from anything involving puppets. The project takes a play by David Hwang, M Butterfly, as its starting point. I loved the way the company talked so passionately about themes in the play and their ideas for creating a work with real international ambition.

Katie Kid Carpet. I had heard of rock/pop musician Kid Carpet before reading his proposal for SITE but had never seen him at a gig. I asked around and a typical response was  “yes! … Kid carpet … hysterical”. Reading Ed Patrick’s proposal (Kid Carpet is an anagram of his real name) I was instantly hooked. It is going to be an electro pop punk performance for children with puppetry, projection and storytelling: Oliver Postgate meets the Beastie Boys. I think children and adults are going to love it.


Photo: Kid Carpet

What do you know so far about their ideas for SITE and how is it all going?

Ali – At the most simple level “Captain Ko…” will be about two interstellar astronauts discovering a planet made of rice. It will be heavily informed by 1950’s and 60’s sci-fi B-movies and will feature many of the favourite tropes from that genre. We expect a lot of phrases like “Captain, there’s something here we don’t understand” and “We should be safely back by Tuesday, as long as nothing unexpected happens”.

At a deeper level the company want to explore the very wide topic of memory and how memory makes us what we are. They are fascinated, and perturbed, by the way major events can sink into the past leaving little trace of what seemed so important at the time. So many events seem like they will always be fresh – we use the phrase ‘never forgotten’ so readily – but inevitably their freshness fades; anniversaries are unobserved, the flowers wilt at the spot of the accident. In due course we lose our direct connection with them, just as the death of Harry Patch has severed our last direct connection with World War I, and eventually only the minutest trace is left in our collective consciousness, just as the tracks of our astronauts will be covered over, and it will be as if they were never there.

The residency has already happened. The company was with us through late July and August, and played 40 minutes of a work-in-progress to an audience of about 30 at the end of the residency. What they came up with was rather wonderful and has confirmed that the project has massive potential. However, the residency uncovered as many levels of complexity to the project as it cleared up: we know that what we have done so far has only scratched the surface.

Mikey – The piece has Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel ‘The Secret Garden’ at the heart of it, but will not be a simple re-enactment of the story. Imagine ‘The Secret Garden’ itself is buried in a garden; the audience will literally discover pieces, or clues of the original story in the soil and therefore be guided in any direction they choose to find out more about. The piece will rely on the imaginative and improvisational relationship between the performers and the audience, that is an exciting and risky thing to create and I can see that Toby and Vicky are passionately driven to achieve it, I really hope I can help!!

Tanuja – M Butterfly takes the story from Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly, as a framework for a drama based on the true story of a French civil servant falling in love with a Chinese opera diva, who is later revealed to be a man. It’s a dense, rich play whose themes include East/West power relationships, identity and self-representation and humanity’s willing suspension of disbelief in the pursuit of love.

The company are splitting their residency time up across the year and the first period of studio working is not until Autumn. So it’s still early stages, but Rachel and Lizzie started the whole thing off with a conversation with the wonderful John Moran, so that gives an indication of their ambitions for the project. Currently we’re looking at how we could deconstruct the play and construct the story or stories the company want to tell. It’s a big project and will take time to reach full production.

Katie – Ed got straight to work on the songs. You can download a taster here. Ed uses toy instruments to make his music and as I thought and had heard – they are very funny. The songs, sentiments and ideas for this show are also touching, sometimes exhilarating, clever and evocative, but mostly funny.

We’ve had just one day so far in The Brewery rehearsal space listening to the music and cooking up the characters, the animation and the puppets. Ed’s creative team is film-maker, animator, lecturer William Bishop-Stephens, illustrator and puppeteer Lisa Yardley and illustrator and designer Hannah Broadway. The story so far is about a badger, a bear, a hedgehog and a gorilla on a search to find ‘the good bit’. On their journey, badger will start a band and we will all ponder what sound a hedgehog makes.

 Full Beam final image 

Photo: Full Beam Visual Theatre (photographer Rhys Davies)

What do you hope to bring to the project?

Ali – My main input was an enabling one. Hitherto, the company has always worked very much on its own at the commencement of projects. For this project they received significant artistic input, which I agreed with the company and coordinated, from dramaturge Lu Kemp, designer Katie Sykes and sound designer Robbie Stamp. Katie and Robbie’s input meant that they were able to work at a level of visual and aural richness that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. Doing this at a very early stage should obviously feed through to the design of the final show but also meant that the company could explore fundamental concepts at an early stage with greater production back-up and, we think, make better informed and more accurate decisions as a result. The dramaturgical input from Lu was critical: the aspirations for the project are so multi-layered that it was of the utmost importance that there was an experienced outside eye to guide, nudge, suggest lines of enquiry and generally keep the conceptual ship afloat.

Mikey – So far we are at the investigative stage of the performance, not yet devising physically. I am seeking out extra funding and support possibilities to help finance this stage, and talking to possible future partners from the Outdoor Arts sector to create some interest in time for a ‘showing’ of the project in April 2011.

Toby is busily picking clear and strong moments from the original story to develop into this performance, and working on the development of the main characters that the audience will meet and go on the adventure with. Vicky is designing and imagining the clues and artefacts that could be discovered in the soil, with her vast experience of making puppets and interactive props and set I am really excited to find out what she comes up with.

The next stage in November will be to start devising the characters and elements of the narrative we’re focusing on.  We will then slowly introduce audience into the rehearsal sessions and explore how the interaction is working.

We will be working with the ‘New Generation Documenters’ project, which will involve children from local schools documenting the project as a project of their own; this will be of great value to us as a resource and in terms of presentation.

We aim to present a strong and clear presentation of elements of the piece in April 2011 with a view to finding other partners who could help with the next stage of taking this wonderful idea into full production.

Tanuja – Full Beam is a very experienced company, and one of the things they want to use SITE to do is to refresh their artistic practice, so part of my role is to ‘short circuit’ some of their usual creative processes and push them to adventure down some routes they might not instinctively go down. It’s a great challenge for me, and I’m already learning loads from talking to Rachel and Lizzie. We’ve had a bunch of meaty discussions about some of the conceptual themes that the company find particularly interesting and also lots of dreaming about aesthetic possibilities and how the company could use different media to interrelate stories which occur in different places and different ages. We’ve also done a bunch of dreaming about potential collaborators and mentors. I loved the passion with which Rachel and Lizzie introduced their ideas to us and they really painted a picture of a show I wanted to see – so I hope I can help them reach their ambitions.

Katie – The team all have some experience of making theatre but essentially they come from other art-forms – music, film and visual art. This is exciting for me as they are following their instinct rather than a set process. I think that my job is to help the team so that the process is as fun and easy as possible. It is never easy, it is always lots of hard work but you know what I mean. I deal with room bookings, money and deadlines etc but I also have an eye on the bigger picture. How can we develop the show further? Where could it tour? Who else could we work in partnership with? How much money can we make? Will we need more and if so – how can we get it? I also hope to help them be ambitious and feel safe to take risks. Gulliver

Photo: Toby Hulse