Theatre | How to Build a Season

Theatre | How to Build a Season

Creative Producer of Cardiff’s The Other Room, Ben Atterbury, shares the story of how he put together his first season programme.

I always go to the Edinburgh Fringe festival, and last year I was incredibly excited to go with my Other Room hat on, and I spent a pretty glorious week watching lots and lots of brilliant artists and performers doing their thing.

My specific aim was to chat to really promising young companies and simply make them aware that we existed. At this point the theatre was only six months old, and we didn’t really have anything to offer them aside from saying: Hello! We’re here and this is what we do!

Which is mostly what I did; I watched shows and drank lots of coffee with various different artists and bored the living daylights out of them by harping on about our little space.

The festival was where I first came into contact with young companies like Barrel Organ and Walrus Theatre. Both graduate companies from Warwick University, they were at the fringe with their sophomore and debut shows respectively. Both shows, besides being bloody good, really chimed with me as shows that could really work in The Other Room, so I emailed and met with both companies to tell them so, and we left it at that.

At this point, we were heading into an Autumn season that we loved, but the programming of which had not been without huge challenges and hiccups along the way. We took the learning, and in the next few months after the festival I began to develop a model for the theatre that allowed us some flexibility in what sort of shows could come to The Other Room.

The model that I developed was one that allowed our Autumn season to become something a little bit more fluid and a little more curated, with room for touring productions alongside our usual large scale co-productions like difficult|stage’s ‘Alix in Wundergarten’ and otherMother’s ‘Blud’, performed as part of last years ‘Blue Sky’ season. There were still some rules:

  • We wouldn’t run anything for less than a week to give audiences a chance to build and engage.
  • The shows that were part of the season would fit into The Other Room’s artistic policy of great modern drama and new writing, with some room allowed for shows that were formally daring.
  • The work we brought in would be true to our audience because it would be curated by The Other Room team. So, although nothing in this season is actually made by us, it still carries our seal of approval; these are shows that we have hand picked for you.

‘Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons’ was the first show to slot into the season when company director Ed Madden got in touch with me in late November of 2015. He was putting together a tour of the show and since I’d registered interest while at the Fringe he wondered whether we might want to be a part of that tour. We had a coffee in Bristol and I nervously presented him with my new thinking for how a visit from them might work and basically said that we’d love them to come, but we’d be learning how to do it together, so we were up for it as long as they were.

Fortunately, he didn’t run away and over the next few months the season began to slot into place around the flexible time slots that we’d designed for it.

Abdul Shayek, Artistic Director of FIO, came to us and said he wanted to do a production of Katori Hall’s ‘The Mountaintop’ for two weeks in early October. We said yes because we love FIO and we love ‘The Mountaintop’, a collaboration between The Other Room and FIO was a no-brainer; and an important revival during Black History Month.

We are supporting Critical Ambition, run by TOR Associate Director Dan Jones and his Co-Artistic Director Tom Myles, to make their first large scale production, Phil Porter’s ‘BLINK’. Another no-brainer as Dan has trained with the theatre (recently co-directing ‘Constellation Street’ in the INSOMNIA season with Chelsey Gillard) and his company’s aim to give equal weight to theatre across Cardiff and Swansea (after two weeks with us, the show will spend a further two at Volcano Theatre on Swansea High Street) is something that appeals to our own aim to promote the growth of theatre and culture in Wales as a whole; not just Cardiff.

‘Blackbird’ came to us after a young company we’ve had our eye on, Those Two Impostors, came to us with the rights in hand and asked if we could help them to put it on; the play is brilliant, a total modern classic and it’s a real coup to have it in Wales.

Resident company difficult|stage can come back and make our Christmas show until the end of time if they want to, and Barrel Organ were a final addition after they again took me up on my invitation from Edinburgh and got in touch to enquire about the possibility of touring their show ‘Some People Talk About Violence’ into The Other Room as part of a wider tour. We couldn’t say no.

It hasn’t been an easy ride, and much of putting together ‘Autumn/Winter at The Other Room’ has felt like we are making it up as we go along.

If I’m really honest; we have been making it up as we go along. But, that’s been one of the most brilliant things about it; devising a new structure and a new way of working, taking a long view on how the theatre can be most helpful to young companies in Wales and further afield, how we as a theatre can learn from the things we have done in the past, and how we can apply that learning to enable us to bring you this hugely exciting season. We’ve loved every second of it and I feel very attached to what I’ve helped to develop and create with the brilliant team here at The Other Room; we inspire each other every day.

I feel like the result is a season that is packed with something for everyone, from the dark, moody and atmospheric to the whimsical and quirky, it is a season that feels very ‘us’ without actually belonging to us at all. It’s incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking and invigorating all at the same time, but like we’ve been saying to all the companies involved;

We’ve never done something like this before, so let’s join hands and do it together.

See you in the crowds.

 

Details of the Other Room’s new season can be found on their website.