York Theatre Royal sets up Collective Arts to keep you busy, arty and digital at home

Let’s play: York Theatre Royal is encouraging theatre activities at home while everyone is in the grip of lockdown limbo

YORK Theatre Royal is to run the Collective Arts programme of “creative community engagement” during the Coronavirus pandemic shutdown. 

The St Leonard’s Place theatre is planning a series of digital activities and events to bring together York’s creative community of all ages until the building reopens.

Associate director Juliet Forster says: “We’re all finding the current circumstances challenging and are missing the joy of social gatherings, external stimuli and shared experience.

“But challenges can also be a great spur to creativity, and we’re really keen to find as many ways as possible to bring people together, to inspire creative responses and enjoy what we make together.”

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal associate director

One activity up and running already and open to all is the Lockdown Legends Challenge, a weekly creative project that invites people to submit responses to challenges such as filming one-minute plays (week one), designing costumes (this week) and creating production model boxes (coming next).

A new challenge is released every Monday morning on the theatre’s social media channels and submissions are then posted on these channels during the week.

The Theatre Royal is also adapting the delivery of the nationally recognised Arts Award, now to be undertaken from a home setting. The new guide is specially designed to be used by children and young people aged five to 25 years old, supported by their parents/guardians, to keep them busy, engaged and inspired by the arts at home. 

Another project aimed at engaging young people during this time is the Coronavirus Time Capsule. Working with a group of 20 young people, week by week the Theatre Royal will create a cumulative video time capsule, recording teenage experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.

York Theatre Royal : Out of bounds but stretching the boundaries of theatre. Picture: Matthew Holland

“The Coronavirus Time Capsule is a new international project run by Company Three and youth theatres across the world will be taking part and making capsules of their own,” says Juliet.

In addition, the Theatre Royal is organising the In Focus photography competition, open to all ages and abilities who are invited to send in their photos that show the realities of life in Coronavirus Britain.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, May 8. All entries will then be judged by a team from the theatre’s photography group.

Over the next few weeks, York Theatre Royal will release more projects and opportunities to take part in. All details on how to be involved can be found on the theatre’s website, yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York Theatre Royal postpones Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad until 2021

Balancing act: York Theatre Royal postpones The Penelopiad until 2021 but that enables “a little more dreamtime” for the creative team

YORK Theatre Royal’s summer production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad has been postponed.

Originally in the 2020 diary for July 10 to 25, associate director Juliet Forster’s show will be staged in 2021 instead on dates yet to be confirmed. 

Uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic is holding up pre-production work by Forster’s creative team.

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal associate director, directing The Penelopiad

Juliet says: “The joy of Atwood’s work is that it doesn’t date, so although we are disappointed that we have to postpone our production of The Penelopiad, I know it will be just as relevant and exciting to stage this wonderful play in 2021.  

“And on the upside, for the creative team involved, having a little more dreamtime on this story will only make the final staging of it all the more spectacular!”

Written by the Booker Prize-winning author of The Handmaid’s Tale and 2019’s The Testaments, The Penelopiad tells the story of Odysseus’ wife Penelope and the Trojan Wars from her point of view. 

Writer Margaret Atwood

Ticket holders will be contacted by the Theatre Royal box office in the coming weeks.

Are some lives worth more than others, ask Out Of Character in new play Less Than Human at York Theatre Royal Studio

Juliet Forster, left, directing rehearsals for Out Of Character’s Less Than Human

SOMETHING strange is happening, something disturbing, say York company Out Of Character in Less Than Human, this week’s production at the York Theatre Royal Studio.

After their sold-out November 2017 show about Victorian freak shows and mad doctors, Objects Of Terror, they are collaborating once more with the Theatre Royal, whose associate director, Juliet Forster, again directs the new piece.

Out Of Character’s publicity artwork for Less Than Human

Less Than Human plays out against the backdrop of Planet Earth having less to give but its inhabitants taking more. In this struggling world of diminishing resources, humanity is forced to wrestle with the true cost of survival.  What does it mean to be truly human? Are some lives worth more than others? Who decides who lives and dies? A question that suddenly has a new urgency and prescience amid the rise of Coronavirus.

As evolving technologies offer new forms of “human being”, is there still hope for a bright future…or do some people have to pay the price, the play asks.

Out Of Character in rehearsal for Less Than Human

Out Of Character’s company of artists and performers brings together people who use or have used mental health services. Their bold, creative and darkly comedic approach to making theatre aims to stir both the mind and the heart.

The company won the Excellence in Equality and Cultural Diversity Prize at the 2018 York Culture Awards. Audiences on social media have described their work as compelling, deeply affecting, intense, beautiful, clever, articulate, challenging, powerful, poignant and thought-provoking.  

Out Of Character cast members in a tug-of-war scene in Less Than Human

Out Of Character’s previous shows included Tales From Kafka in July 2010, Henry IV in May 2012 and More Tales From Kafka in November 2014.

Less Than Human runs from Thursday to Saturday (March 12 to 14) at 7.45pm nightly. Tickets cost £10, concessions £8, on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Evolution, not revolution, heralds new age of pantomime at York Theatre Royal

New pantomime partnership: York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and executive director Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer Paul Hendy,

THE new age of pantomime at York Theatre Royal will involve Evolution rather than revolution.

For the first panto of the post-Berwick Kaler era, the Theatre Royal is teaming up with award-winning pantomime producers Evolution to present Cinderella.

The show dates will be December 4 to January 10 2021, an earlier start and finish than the December 7 to January 25 run for Sleeping Beauty, Dame Berwick’s last pantomime as co-director and writer after a 41-year association with the Theatre Royal.

Cinderella will be directed by Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster, who directed Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York in 2018 and Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge in the Theatre Royal main house last September, as well as children’s shows aplenty.

Juliet Forster, who will direct York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Cinderella

The script will be written by Evolution co-founder and producer Paul Hendy in tandem with York-born comedy writer and podcaster David Reed, who has returned to his home city and will provide additional material.

The cast is yet to be announced but will not be a star vehicle, with variety acts and blossoming pantomime talent and a “York flavour” likely to be to the fore instead. The set designer, not confirmed yet, will be charged with creating magical transformations and glittering sets to complement the “stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.

Formed in 2005 by Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, Evolution Productions present “bespoke pantomimes of epic spectacle and hilarity” for the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; The Hawth Theatre, Crawley; Garrick Theatre, Lichfield; Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury; Alban Arena, St Albans; Octagon Theatre, Yeovil, and Grove Theatre, Dunstable, now joined in a co-producing partnership by York Theatre Royal.

Juliet Forster and Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird were exhilarated by Evolution’s 2019-2020 pantomime for Sheffield Theatres, starring long-running dame Damian Williams in Cinderella at the Lyceum.

Paul Hendy’s script from that hit show will provide an early template for Reed to set to work on giving it a York branding, with Cinderella’s rags-to-riches story being switched to this historic city in a “new pantomime for everyone”.

Evolution producer Paul Hendy: co-writer of Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

Executive director Bird says: “We are over the moon to be creating a spectacular new pantomime for the people of York: one that’s tailor-made for the whole family, while honouring the pantomime traditions that our audiences love so much. 

“Our recipe includes two of the most exciting voices in our city, David Reed and Juliet Forster, together with Emily Wood and Paul Hendy, the finest makers of pantomime in the country – a fairytale combination.”

Bird continues: “This phenomenal team will give the York Theatre Royal pantomime a new lease of life with a fresh, family friendly, fun-filled approach to the story of Cinderella. It’s a pantomime for the new decade, set with pride in our amazing city.”

Evolution Productions has built a reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality production values, strong casting and funny scripts, twice winning Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards.

Producer and writer Hendy says: “Emily and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on this year’s pantomime. We are huge fans of the theatre and we’re looking forward to collaborating with Tom and his brilliant team to produce a wonderful, family-friendly pantomime with spectacular production values, a superbly talented cast, and a genuinely funny script.”

Ticket prices will remain the same as for 2019-2020. Family tickets and Sunday shows are being introduced, as well as schools and groups discounts so that “everyone can go to the ball”.

Theatre Royal members’ ten-day priority booking opened today; members’ five-day priority booking on February 8; 9am in person at the box office, 10am online and phone booking. General booking opens on February 13; same times as above. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Meanwhile, Berwick Kaler’s first pantomime at his new York home, the Grand Opera House, will be Dick Turpin Rides Again, with writer, director and revived dame Kaler being joined by regular cohorts Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell for Qdos Entertainment’s panto partnership with the Ambassador Theatre Group.