CYCLISTS are needed to power radical new theatre show A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction at York Theatre Royal next month.
Miranda Rose Hall’s darkly humorous, life-affirming play uses energy generated by on-stage cyclists, who will ride specially adapted bicycles to power all the electricity required for lighting and sound.
Consequently, the Theatre Royal is seeking volunteers to saddle up to be part of this innovative production, co-produced with Headlong and the Barbican, London. Eight cyclists are needed for each 80-minute performance, outnumbering the solo performer by eight to one.
Anyone keen to be involved can find out more at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/pedalpower. The deadline for signing up is Monday, September 11.
Running in York from September 27 to 30, Miranda Rose Hall’s play heads out on a life-changing journey to confront the urgent ecological disaster unfolding around us. Part ritual, part battle cry, this “fiercely feminist off-grid” one-woman show offers a moving evaluation of what it means to be human in an era of man-made extinction.
Sharing learning from Europe and Katie Mitchell too, Headlong’s innovative touring model explores the idea of a play touring, but the people involved not doing so, in the first project of its kind in the UK.
The Barbican hosted the beginning of this journey and now each city on the tour will follow a blueprint for the show, brought to life by a different team of theatre makers at each venue as part of a ground-breaking international experiment in reimagining theatre in a climate crisis.
The York leg’s director, Mingyu Lin, resident artist at York Theatre Royal, says: “York is the final stop for this ground-breaking concept of sustainable touring and I’m so excited to be directing our own version of this ambitiously eco-conscious and witty show, which will be made (and powered!) by York talent.”
The role of Naomi will be played in York by Stephanie Hutchinson, from Leeds, who studied performing arts at Salford University. She previously appeared on the Theatre Royal stage in Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre’s haunted dance hall comedy, Elephant Rock, in May 2022.
Her further theatre credits include Shake The City (Jermyn Street Theatre), Wind In The Willows Library Theatre, Manchester), Mugabeland (Come As You Arts North West) and The Haunted Man (Kindred Theatre) and she has had television roles in Emmerdale, Without Sin and Coronation Street too.
A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction, York Theatre Royal, September 27 to 30, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
In Focus: A Play For The Living In A Time of Extinction director Mingyu Lin
DIRECTOR Mingyu Lin could be excused for feeling a little lonely as she prepares to bring an innovative show to the stage of York Theatre Royal. She has moved from rehearsing a community company of 100 for Sovereign to A Play For The Living In A Time Of Extinction with a cast of only one.
While cast numbers may be small, the idea and thoughts behind the project are big, not least the idea of generating power for the production using bicycles on a zero-travel tour. Or as the pre-show publicity puts it: “a bold experiment in eco theatre-making” that sees the play tour across the country while the people and materials do not.
York is the final stop, where Theatre Royal resident artist Ming, a regular director of Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks, has been involved with the project from the start. She was working as a creative associate at Headlong when “the play passed my desk”, and she recalls that she and the rest of the team loved it.
A Zoom meeting was set up with the writer Miranda Rose Hall, who lives in America, and Katie Mitchell, director of a version of the play in Switzerland, to discuss how a play about sustainability could itself be sustainable. Pedal power, involving a team of cyclists generating electricity during the performance , was a big part of the answer.
“I’m passionate about touring theatre and Headlong tours outside London, so we knew we had to tour the play,” says Ming. “And if you have a play that looks at climate change, I’m against a play made in London going around the north telling us how to live our lives.
“What the tour does is use local talent and it doesn’t have all the things that are damaging where you spend lots of energy and resources when you move people from place to place, which you don’t actually need to do because where you’re moving to has got those things already.
“What’s been done is find a way to be both sustainable and tour. The concept of the play never changes but the talent working on it changes at each venue. Cyclists are recruited at each venue to power the show. The only thing that’s moved physically is the technology that transforms kinetic energy into electricity – and that all comes in one big box.”
When Headlong was planning the tour, Ming knew she was joining York Theatre Royal as a resident artist, so she snapped up the chance to direct the production. “I knew I really wanted the people of York to see it,” she says.
“I knew York would love it in a theatre that’s absolutely unique and gorgeous. The play and
the concept fits really well within the theatre and York itself is a cycling city.”
Ming needed to find an actor within commutable distance of York to play Naomi, the character in the one-woman play. That turned out to be Leeds-based Stephanie Hutchinson.
“With one-person shows it’s difficult to maintain the energy and the engagement. You are really banking on performance charisma. We had to look for a very strong performer and there are a lot of them in the area,” says Ming. “I hope that even if we don’t work with them now, we will work with them very shortly because those we saw were of a high calibre.”
Theatre was “always the dream” for Ming. “Growing up in Singapore, I was interested in stories and storytelling. I loved reading and in the world of literature everything is new writing,” she says. “I worked as a stage manager there during the holidays. When I started doing A-level drama, I realised theatre is a great way of telling stories.”
She studied English Literature at the University of York, then trained as a director at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She now directs for stage and screen, as well as being a founder member of the BESEA (British East and Southeast Asian) advocacy group BEATS (Better Ethnic Access To Services).
Ming also is a [play] reader for Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre and the Brentwood Prize. “As a stage director, what I’m really passionate about is advocacy. I want to affect society change
with the work we do,” she says.
“I’m part of an advocacy group that campaigns for more South East Asian representation on stage, backstage, on screen and behind the camera. The genres I’m interested in
primarily are new writing and adaptation,” says Ming.
“One reason I was drawn to A Play For The Living was because it deals with an urgent issue,
something important, and features a wonderful way to get communities involved with the cycling. There’s also a volunteer choir involved.”
York Theatre Royal’s summertime large-scale production of Sovereign, staged outdoors at King’s Manor with a 100-strong community company led by two professional actors, was “great” for Ming because “I’m very, very, very up for working with the community. That’s very important. You can make change doing that,” she says.
Directing Sovereign – with co-directors Juliette Forster and John R Wilkinson – was definitely a challenge but, putting it in perspective, Ming refers to the scale of directing for television with a crew of 50 and cast of 20.
Not the most stressful artistically perhaps, but certainly in terms of the logistics and keeping on schedule. “There was a lot of joy in the uniqueness of a community production like Sovereign. It was a challenge because most of the performers had never been in that situation before,” she says.
“With rehearsals, they were learning new things and you were going on a journey with them, and that’s quite fun. There was a huge treasure trove of learning for me, especially working with Juliet [Forster, the Theatre Royal’s creative director], who has done so many large-scale community productions. That was really helpful, working with other directors.
“One thing I loved about coming here was that I knew there were other directors in the artistic planning team and you get to work together.”
She is now part of that community, as she and her husband, who comes from York, have
moved to the city.
Ming directing Hollyoaks coincided with the arrival of the first South East Asian family in a television soap: a continuing TV drama that reaches a younger audience than most theatre shows. “So you’re not preaching to the same audience as in the theatre. You’re widening your reach. The show also covers a lot of important storylines, which is what drew me to it,” she says.