Next Door But One launch Yorkshire Trios project for writers, actors and directors UPDATED 13/1/2021

The trios for Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios gather for a Zoom session

YORK community arts collective Next Door But One are undertaking their most ambitious project, against the tide of the pandemic.

Building Back Creative People And Places is aimed at providing commissions and mentoring to 15 artists who have struggled to engage in their creative practice during the pandemic.

Under the new programme, Yorkshire Trios is connecting five writers, five directors and five actors to create five ten-minute solo performances, planned initially for staging at the Gillygate pub, in Gillygate, on January 15 and 16 until Lockdown 3 was imposed.

“The trios have been formed and are writing and rehearsing on Zoom, but we’ll now be postponing the performances until we can do Covid-safe shows after lockdown,” says Next Door But One (NDB1) artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle.

“We did consider moving them online, but there was a real want from the full team to keep something that was live theatre in the calendar.”

Taking part are Mandy Newby, Joe Feeney, Dan Norman, Nicki Davy, Rachel Price, Becky Lennon, Lydia Crosland, Libby Pearson, Emily Chattle, Jenna Drury, Christie Barnes, Fiona Baistow, Anna Johnston, Miles Kinsley and Nicolette Hobson.

“We’ll be offering them professional development and mentoring throughout 2021 to build their skills and retain their much-needed talent within the performing arts industry,” says Matt. “We want to make sure there are no losses to that cultural talent pool, which is so important to York.”

Next Door But One’s call-out for writers, actors and directors to take part in the Yorkshire Trios project

For their first project, themed around Moments Yet To Happen, the trios are bringing together stories of “laughter, strength, dreams and everything in between that 2020 may have been lacking”. 

“From the hearts of Yorkshire creatives, told in the heart of the city and into yours, Yorkshire Trios is here to remind you of the talent and stories that our community holds,” says Matt.

“The trios have worked on the new pieces for a week and we had an informal sharing on Zoom on Sunday, which, after the first full week of the new lockdown, was a really celebratory moment. All the trios were really grateful to have had a creative project to work on during this tricky time once again.

“In order to support our 15 new creatives, we have flipped our plan on its head so that we will now be running an intensive period of online professional development workshops, to keep the team connected and creative until restrictions ease, and we can pick the performances back up.

“We thought this was an important move as the fatigue and disappointment that is being felt by those in theatre due to a third lockdown is important to address.”

When the Yorkshire Trios performances can go ahead, they will “showcase writers of different genres, directors with different styles and actors with many different voices, but all with a Yorkshire heart”.

“There are so many reasons why Yorkshire Trios is important to us,” says creative producer El Stannage. “We know first-hand how difficult it has been to maintain a career in the performing arts through lockdown, especially for those who face any other socio-economic barrier.

Next Door But One artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle

“That’s why we want to provide an opportunity to create theatre, to invest in those careers with NDB1’s mentoring and professional development offers for 2021 and also to promote a sense of belonging, that many freelancers say they lack, by joining our growing ensemble.”

Buoyed by a grant from the York Small Charities Fund, administered by the Two Ridings Community Foundation, the company can cover core costs affected adversely by the pandemic.

“This means we have the vital opportunity to redevelop our strategy in partnership with those we work with and can look at the future sustainability of the company,” says Matt.

“What’s more, a substantial grant awarded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England is enabling us to deliver the new artistic programme of projects that provide opportunities for different communities as well as for local artists.” 

Reflecting on Next Door But One’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the arts since last March, Matt says: “When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, like many theatre companies, we adapted our projects and delivery to keep the communities we worked with connected to creativity.

“During lockdown, we were able to secure funding from Arts Council England, the National Lottery Community Fund, Two Ridings Community Foundation and Comic Relief Community Fund to migrate five of our projects and productions online.”

In doing so, Next Door But One could provide paid employment for ten performing arts professionals and engage with 500 audience members and participants digitally.

Meet the Yorkshire Trios: from top left, Mandy Newby, Joe Feeney, Dan Norman, Nicki Davy, Rachel Price, Becky Lennon, Lydia Crosland, Libby Pearson, Emily Chattle, Jenna Drury, Christie Barnes, Fiona Baistow, Anna Johnston, Miles Kinsley and Nicolette Hobson

“No matter what current rhetoric exists around the importance of the arts, we know first-hand how vital it is to the identity of many of us, especially within the Covid climate” says Matt. 

“Our work since March has kept some of the most vulnerable members of our community connected both to one another and to meaningful activity when isolation and anxiety were on the increase.”

Matt points to Next Door But One helping people to navigate their emotions; giving others something enjoyable to anticipate; providing resources to groups and services who have really felt the struggle, and providing financial support to professionals in one of the hardest hit industries.

“I could not be prouder of what we have achieved as a team,” he says. “A big thank-you also goes to the funders and partners who have believed and invested in us during this difficult time.”

Looking ahead, the rest of Next Door But One’s 2021 programme will be made up of further developments of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, working with children with learning disabilities in tandem with the Snappy Trust; a Forum Theatre series made with adults with learning disabilities; Playback Theatre training for adults with mental health problems, and a new production of Operation Hummingbird for York’s Dead Good Festival, run in partnership with St Leonard’s Hospice.

“Our ethos is that everything we do is rooted in something that is beyond theatre, where our impact goes beyond putting on a play and walking away,” says Matt. “We go into communities and leave something behind, where they learn new skills or feel connected with something they didn’t know existed before.

“That is the only way small theatre companies can survive, by having connections beyond the theatre world, whether with social care, children’s services, bereavement services or mental health.”

Rather than the philosophy of ‘If we build it, they will come’, Matt says: “It has to be the other way round. If we want to communicate with the community, we have to take theatre to people, rather than waving a flag in the air and saying ‘you must come to us’.

“If anything can make an environment around which people address their needs, then theatre can create that,” says Matt Harper-Hardcastle

“We’re not tricking people into going to the theatre, but what we do feels natural, like running the workshops for the Camphill Village Trust (a charity that supports adults with learning disabilities, autism and mental health challenges), where we work through situations they may face in their lives.

“That’s always been my passion: not to put on end-on theatre shows but to think, ‘how can we use theatre to find whatever people need to find, whether for entertainment or the expression of their own story’.”

Setting up Next Door But One in 2012 was Matt’s way of making a grassroots connection with the community. “Some people don’t see theatre as a fundamental thing they need, so it’s important to think about how we package what we do, for example working on workshop that demonstrate people’s needs,” he says.

“It’s a case of meeting them where they are and then you can take them on a journey to doing more regular-style theatre workshops.”

Theatre is supportive, suggests Matt.  “As a gay, disabled man, I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a very inclusive experience in theatre. If anything can make an environment around which people address their needs, then theatre can create that,” he says. “That’s why a lot of our projects just start with meeting people, rather than taking a project to them.”

Next Door But One do not have a high profile, but Matt can live with that. “The perception of theatre is playing in big buildings, but not many people know about us because our work is not done in a highly visible domain,” he says. “We’ll be in back rooms in halls, or rooms meant for therapy, or portable cabins.

“We’re like the elves in The Elves And The Shoemaker, just getting on with it in small groups, but that’s our passion. It’s not known about because what gets airtime is the big show at the big place, but that’s why we’ve managed to keep working through each lockdown, because our work is rooted in so many communities, so we can hold people together.

“Because we’re community driven, we can do something for them and they can do something for us, whereas the big theatres, without that community benefit, are not seen as important at this time to get us through the global pandemic.

“By contrast, we know what our communities are already facing in this situation, knowing about what vulnerabilities they have that will be exacerbated at this time. We can show we’re a really important part of their life by staying relevant to the people we work with under the Arts Council’s Let’s Create scheme.”

More information on Yorkshire Trios can be found at:

Next Door But One to stream Any Mother Would in YouTube premiere tonight

James Knight and Jane Allanach in Next Door But One’s 2017 production of Any Mother Would, to be streamed on YouTube from tonight

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,

“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.”

Next Door But One director Matt Harper-Hardcastle in rehearsal

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.

James Knight and Jane Allanach in a scene from Next Door But One’s Any Mother Would

“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.

Actor Anna Rogers and Matt Harper-Hardcastle in discussion in the rehearsal room

“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.

“We can support those people we have worked with for three years when this work feels more important than ever,” says Matt Harper-Hardcastle

“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.”

Next Door But One and Converge took part in Mental Health Awareness Week with the #DiscoverPlayback course @ConvergeYork

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: