NEXT Door But One, the York community arts collective, will stream its 2017 production of Any Mother Would in its YouTube premiere from 7pm tonight.
Written and directed by director Matt Harper-Hardcastle, the hour-long play will then be available online until September, both on YouTube and via the collective’s website, nextdoorbutone.co.uk.
“We’re taking a slightly National Theatre at Home approach to it,” says Matt. “If it’s good enough for the National Theatre in lockdown, then it’s good enough for us.
“It’s completely free to watch, but what we’ve done is set up a Go Funding page, almost as a Pay What You Think, for the YouTube streaming, and whatever we make from donations will make us stronger for the future.”
Any Mother Would marked Next Door But One’s shift into public performance in 2017, “making theatre out of the untold, poignant stories that had been shared with us and that we believe create the foundations of our community, so felt they needed taking to a larger stage.”
This sold-out first venture into the public field featured as part of York Disability Pride 2017 and the Great Yorkshire Fringe 2018 festival.
Public performance is on hold in these Coronavirus-clouded times but, supported by public funding from Arts Council England, Next Door But One is able to continue workshops and performances through its Covid-19 response project, Distant Neighbours.
“We want to ensure that we can sustain our relationships with participants and audiences beyond this current pandemic and also support our freelance artists through this difficult time,” says Matt.
“This means our artistic programme that connects with neuro-diverse children, adults with mental health problems, community groups of people with learning disabilities, and services supporting those who are experiencing grief, will continue.”
When confronted by the Coronavirus lockdown, “initially we looked at all the work we had planned between now and September,” says Matt. “Mainly we considered all the people we were already working with and how we could stay connected, having built up many relationships with community groups and organisations, such as Snappy, Camphill Village Trust and St Leonard’s Hospice.
“With the heightened scenarios brought about in lockdown, we wanted to ensure we could keep it going, and have life after this time, and we felt it was important that people had opportunities for education, for involvement, for expression, for so much more than just entertainment, like learning about navigating through life at Camphill Village.
“We have already begun an online R&D [research and development] of our adaptation of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, hosted our first Playback Theatre workshop over Zoom, and soon we’ll be able to offer a rehearsed reading of our latest play, written for May’s cancelled York’s Dead Good Festival.”
Next Door But One applied for an Arts Council emergency fund in in late-April, all tied up in a fortnight, and already Matt had contacted eight freelance theatre-makers to be involved in projects now to be conducted online and on Zoom.
“We know how hard hit the freelance cohort has been in lockdown, me included, so we’ve now been able to honour our contracts in a slightly different way,” he says.
“We’ve also been able to ring-fence the original money granted for the scratch performances and we can give work to our artists once more when we can do that.
“Between now and September, we can keep people working, and after we received just under £6,000, we can do so much more than we first thought we would.”
Next Door But One also applied for Comic Relief funding towards next year’s work, receiving just under £5,000. “We put that application in at the same time, and this allows us to run another year’s work with Converge [at the University of York St John], doing our Discover Playback course.”
Discover Playback brings together performers and those with experiences of mental ill health, with the focus on learning, creativity and being artists together.
“We’re now going to be able to continue our work with Converge, in this mental health field, when otherwise those people would have had to face five months’ withdrawal from our services and their well-being might well have been affected so much that we might have had to start all over again from scratch,” says Matt.
“Instead, we’re working on our Discover Playback workshops through the summer and through the next academic year too.
“The funding means that not only can we support our artists through this awful time, but also those people we have worked with for three years when this work feels more important than ever.”
As mentioned by Matt earlier, research and development work is continuing on The Firework-Maker’s Daughter on Zoom. “That brings its own wonderments and challenges when we can’t work in our usual ways with Snappy and York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre, but now we can record a Zoom version and podcast version and send them out to continue our work,” he says.
“The original plan was that we would be taking our scratch version to York Theatre Royal’s De Grey Rooms ballroom at the end of June, and to Snappy too, but that can’t happen.
“So now we’re doing the R&D workshops in a reduced form on Zoom, working with people with sensory needs and autism, and we’re having to look at different ways for these young people to interact with the screen.
“That’s why we’re making the video (Zoom) version, podcast version, and we’re looking at using Makaton, a version of sign language that uses key symbols, so it’s more of a visual aid.”
Matt continues: “We’re ploughing ahead with this, and a video and audio recording should be ready by July to send out to Snappy and to any parents who think it might be useful for their child.
“Our live performances combine a hybrid of participatory elements that we can now include in the recorded version, with worksheets, activity packs, drawing materials, the chance to do music within it, but now doing everything individually at home.”
Coming next from Next Door But One will be a rehearsed reading of a shortened version of Operation Hummingbird, a play Matt has written in the wake of publishing The Day The Alien Came, his book on his bereavement experience after losing his mother to cancer.
“I did a few book readings and author talks and lots of people said, ‘You should make this into a play’, but writing the book was a big feat in itself, so I’d never considered doing a play,” he says.
“But then I thought about making a piece for the Dead Good Festival, so I’ve taken a fictionalised story, looking at how grief and the feelings of grief change, starting with feelings of loss as a child and how that then changes, and how our memories of things change over time; what we hold on to; how what we think of as painful changes; how it becomes a discussion between our self now and our younger self.
“We haven’t fixed a date for the rehearsed reading yet, but hopefully it will be in July.”
For more information on Next Door But One, go to: https://www.nextdoorbutone.co.uk/covid-19-response.php