The current pandemic and resulting lockdown have had a dramatic impact on the performing arts. Spotlight… seeks to highlight the companies, organisations and creatives working and producing throughout the pandemic and explore the ways Welsh creatives have sought to retain a platform and continue to project their voices and reach their audiences. This week, we turn to Theatr Iolo.
Who are Theatr Iolo?
For over three decades, Theatr Iolo has produced exciting and innovative theatre and workshops for babies, children and young people across Wales, the UK and internationally. Theatr Iolo dedicates itself to working with the best artists, writers, and creatives to present authentic and beautiful stories and ideas that are engaging and imaginative, but never with any sense of condescension to their young audiences.
What has been Theatr Iolo’s Lockdown Life?
Despite the impact of the lockdown, Theatr Iolo have been busier than ever. Like many others, we have turned to producing and creating online content for their young viewers and their parents and carers in order to make lockdown a less isolating and difficult experience.
Chwarae, a Welsh language production ‘about the joy and importance of play for children’, was on tour in March but was cancelled before its run finished due to COVID-19. Fortunately, a rehearsal of the play had been filmed previously, simply for archival purposes, so Theatr Iolo were able to post a video of the performance online.
Live performances of Owl at Home, another production set to tour Wales in May, have also been made available online, performed by actor and musician George Williams in the slightly different, yet thematically appropriate venue of his garden shed. Owl at Home follows the tale of a lonely owl who, with no one to speak to, sings to himself and finds strange ways to pass the time. Based on the illustrated children’s book by Arnold Lobel, the tale has an uncanny suitability to life in lockdown and provides the children watching with a character who, much like them, found himself stuck at home and isolated from his friends.
Other online performances from Theatr Iolo include readings of Emily Gravett’s Tidy, a collaboration with Theatr Genedlaethol called Amser Chwarae gyda Llygoden yr Eira and an audio play entitled Transporter.
Alongside producing shows online, Theatr Iolo, from the start of lockdown, sought to support children and parents across Wales by publishing a large collection of resources online. From interactive online storytelling to theatre, art, music and wellbeing, Theatr Iolo provided resources to support parents suddenly tasked with educating and entertaining their children throughout lockdown.
What of the New Normal?
Looking to the future, Theatr Iolo have postponed their live production of Owl at Home until the spring of 2021 but still have a range of brilliant resources and productions available online.
Theatr Iolo are also working on a new project with Hyderabad Children’s Theatre Festival, which is funded by the British Council. Theatr Iolo are currently seeking Wales-based artists of Indian Heritage to collaborate with artists in Hyderabad to create a new project for young audiences.
Theatr Iolo has been running a playwriting competition for children and young people. In order to support parents and schools encouraging children to take part, Theatr Iolo collaborated with Welsh playwrights Alun Saunders, Bethan Marlow, Alexandria Riley, Connor Allen, Dafydd James and Kyle Lima to produce resources and videos with tips and guides for the young writers. Open for children aged 7-16, the winners will not only receive a £25 book token, but also see their very own play performed by professional actors at the Sherman Theatre once it reopens in 2021.
Alongside supporting young creatives, Theatr Iolo has set up the New Writing Project, a competition for playwrights to submit pitches for new plays intended for young audiences. Successful playwrights will also become involved with the Sherman Theatre’s reopening and will take part in a paid workshop weekend to work and build on their submissions.
Due to the current crisis facing the arts in Wales and across the UK, Theatr Iolo has announced the Associate Artists who will be working with them over the next six years. So far, Theatr Iolo has sponsored Sarah Argent to join the Freelance taskforce and worked with and supported the Wales, Culture, and Race Taskforce which works with freelancers across Wales who are seeking to diversify and create a more inclusive artistic sector. Theatr Iolo has also collaborated with artists Tracy Harris and Paul Jenkins in order to create a project which has captured the experiences faced by families during lockdown and how their lives are now changing as they further adjust to the easing of lockdown measures.