The challenges of rural programming – bringing BLOCK to Mid Wales

By 5th September 2016Uncategorised

The weekend of 20 and 21 August, Articulture, the Magic Lantern cinema, Tywyn, and Natural Resources Wales brought the performance ‘BLOCK’ by NoFit State and Motionhouse to four locations in Mid Wales. Here Annie Grundy (Articulture Co-Director and Magic Lantern) shares the process of programming the show, and reflects on what was a challenging but ultimately successful venture, with over a 1000 people enjoying this innovative new production….

At the time of agreeing to book BLOCK all Articulture and the Magic Lantern knew was that it was a collaboration between two fabulous companies – NoFit State circus and Motionhouse dance – both leaders in their fields – and was to be a piece about urban living that involved a set composed of 20 movable blocks.

With the short film footage of the R&D period released, we gained more of an idea of the piece’s visual and physical impact, and began looking for 4 outdoor locations that would contrast with, and provide stunning backdrops for BLOCK.

We scouted venues with NoFit State and came up with the Ysgol Bro Hyddgen playing fields looking down the Dyfi Valley, the estuary and beach at Ynyslas nature reserve, the immense forest at Coed y Brenin visitor centre, and Tywyn Seafront looking out to Cardigan Bay.

Dates and times were agreed as major Welsh land manager Natural Resources Wales became a key partner with their venues at Ynyslas and Coed y Brenin as part of the tour, and the publicity and marketing wheels started turning to promote this new performance in 4 venues, all relatively new to outdoor arts.

Then the weather came and said ‘Hi! Remember me? I’m getting a bit bored with this summer of relative blues skies and am looking for some action – how would you feel about some super whizzy wind and lashings of pelting rain?’ Storms moved in for the show weekend!

For outdoor shows you can address the weather in a number of different ways. You can cancel, you can do it in the rain (has worked well for some great National Theatre Wales performances, but would be too dangerous for a show like BLOCK), or you can find an indoor alternative. In this instance we went for the latter, though it was challenging to find venues that were high enough. We teamed up with local community leisure centres where possible and the result was that the first two performances in Machynlleth and Ynyslas moved indoors to the Bro Ddyfi Lesiure Centre and Borth Memorial Community & Sports Hall.

Gone were our lovely backdrops, and up to 30 mins before the first performance start time, there was a mere trickle of people turning up… but as fast as the weather here can change, that trickle turned into a deluge, with people pouring in – young, old, families, teenagers, locals, tourists…
And for their efforts they were treated to an extraordinarily powerful piece of theatre that engages the whole gamut of human senses and emotions, whether you are aged 2 or 82! The audience feedback forms are ram-packed with superlatives – absolutely amazing, astonishing, astounding, awesome – being just the ‘a’ words!

And it was ditto at Borth! The stewards who went to leaflet the town came back and said ‘there is no one to leaflet’ – but 350 people came!

And then there was Sunday… the weather took just enough of a break for the performance to actually take place outdoors at Coed y Brenin – thanks to the performers’ determination – to a raincoat-wearing audience of 250 – 30% of whom had never been to Coed y Brenin before and with 100% of the 35 people interviewed saying they had come specifically for the show.

So it was with great sadness that the Tywyn seafront show had to be cancelled…despite the fact that all along this was the gig that looked most weather-friendly in the forecasts up to and including the morning! And especially as over 70 very optimistic people braved the torrential rain and high winds on a ‘just-in-case’ basis.
A WORD TO THE WISE! – If you get the chance to see BLOCK on tour next year – DOOOOO!

The shows in Mid Wales were un-ticketed & ‘free’ – but people were asked for donations and were so delighted with the show that those who could, gave generously, – ensuring that even with only 3 of the 4 shows, we raised 50% of the hard costs – the other 50% coming from the Magic Lantern and Natural Resources Wales.

There was also masses of in kind support from a number of enthusiastic people keen to see a great show visit the area, so!

THANKS – ALMIGHTY BIG ONES WITH BELLS ON! – to… The wonderful audiences for their whoops, cheers and donations, NoFit State and Motionhouse, Ysgol Bro Hyddgen, Natural Resources Wales, Coed y Brenin Visitor Centre, Ynyslas Nature Reserve, Articulture team, Gwynedd Land-use licence team, Magic Lantern Cinema, Tywyn and its friends group, Bro Ddyfi Leisure Centre, Borth Community and Sports Hall, Arts Council of Wales for supporting the tour and making it more affordable, Steve Poynter, Dave Roberts, and the fantastic team of over 30 volunteer stewards who helped out over the weekend and also with publicity, Sam and Alex and Geoff for accommodation, Lyn Carroll, Ali Williams, my mum for tumble drying the performers’ costumes between shows and MOST OF ALL – anyone I have forgotten!

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