IT is no secret that the arts haves been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As many theatres roll out their plans to “Build Back Better”, York community arts collective Next Door But One are focusing their support on the city’s freelancers, delivering another series of free professional development workshops.
Various UK surveys throughout the Covid pandemic have highlighted how seven out of ten parents and carers, nearly two thirds of disabled practitioners and 70 per cent of those who identify as being from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background are thinking they will need to leave their careers in the creative industries.
“These figures are extremely concerning for a number of reasons” says Next Door But One’s artistic director, Matt Harper-Hardcastle. “Not only is our own team created from these different artists, but without the correct continued investment, the arts risks taking huge steps backwards in respect of access, representation and diversity.
“As a small theatre company, dependent on the skilled freelancers within York, it is important we look after our people.”
Last year, Next Door But One ran their first programme of professional development, funded by Arts Council England, for 27 performing arts professionals, offering workshops on fundraising, facilitation, directing and scriptwriting, as well as group mentoring sessions and networking opportunities.
“Ninety per cent of participants on this programme had lost most of their freelance work, were struggling to secure new opportunities or had considered a change in career,” says associate director Kate Veysey.
“From our previous cohort, we supported many to secure future employment and to raise funds for their own projects (notably £50,000 in Develop Your Creative Practice funding through Arts Council England).
“But the overriding feedback was on the importance of Next Door But One creating a new network for participants to support one another through the difficult time of the pandemic. A network which is still helping people flourish.”
Next Door But One are now mounting a similar programme, Opening Doors, that hopes to do just that, says Matt. “If people need some direction, or support on what they should do next, or what might be possible for them; that’s what we hope to offer,” he reasons.
Opening Doors will begin this month (February 2022), funded by the City of York Council, York Centre for Voluntary Services and Make It York, and Next Door But One are looking for individuals to register their interest if engagement in this programme would be of use to them.
“The process is quick and open to any performing arts professional, from new graduates, emerging or re-emerging artists, or those who just need support to get back on their desired track, based in or around York,” says Matt.
“Some workshops will be in person, at the company’s new home of The Gillygate pub, in Gillygate, while others will be virtual and will be run by industry leading directors, producers, fundraisers, casting directors and playwrights.”
To register your interest, go to www.nextdoorbutone.co.uk or if you have any questions about the professional development programme, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are reading this, are thinking of registering your interest, but are still unsure, here is what one of last year’s participants said: “
NO time like the present to discover no-nonsense arts podcasters Graham Chalmers and Charles Hutchinson’s look back to the year of No Time To Die, Ralph Fiennes in York, Grayson Perry’s Pre-Therapy Years and Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights.
Review: Next Door But One in Yorkshire Trios, The Gillygate pub, Gillygate, York, April 23 and 24 2021
LIVE theatre has returned to York. Yes, you read that right.
For the first time since York Stage brought a Covid-enforced early end to their pantomime run of Jack And The Beanstalk on December 30 at Theatre @41, Monkgate, actors have taken to a York stage for two nights of pub theatre…in the spring open air.
Where once a tent would suffice for shows by Alexander Flanagan Wright’s company, now The Gillygate publican Brian Furey has installed a wooden-framed outdoor performance area in the beer garden.
Socially distanced tables with allocated seating and an outdoor bar were complemented by Covid-secure measures: pub staff in face masks to take and deliver drink and food orders; Next Doors But One organisers in black and red masks designed in company livery; the programme in e-programme mode, available online only.
Next Door But One, the York community arts collective directed by Matt Harper-Hardcastle, with input from associate and project manager Kate Veysey and creative producer El Stannage, originally hoped to present Yorkshire Trios: 15 Local Creatives, 5 Short Performances, 1 City, inside The Gillygate in early January until Lockdown 3 put a red pen through those plans.
Instead, backed by Arts Council England funding, NDB1 kept the creatives busy with two months of online professional skill- development sessions and mentoring until the Step 2 reopening of pubs’ outdoor hospitality provided the opportunity to perform.
A day’s warm weather added to the weekend mood as the Friday audience settled in. Behind them were those who were only here for the beer, but rather than putting up a To Beer Or Not To Beer dividing line, and asking anyone to pipe down, everyone just raised a glass to being allowed to gather in a pub garden after the long winter’s hibernation.
Today, Next Door But One have issued a Let Us Know What You Thought email, asking attendees for Audience Feedback by “sparing a few minutes to complete our short survey so we can build and improve on the event”.
CharlesHutchPress is happy to oblige in the analysis of an evening “themed around Moments Yet To Happen, wherein trios of actors, directors and writers brought theatre-starved York a fistful of short stories of laughter, strength, dreams and everything in between: an optimistic carousel operator; a neighbour with a secret; a poet inviting us into her world; a Jane McDonald fan on a soapbox, and a delivery driver full of wanderlust;.
Taking part were the quintet of trios: actor Miles Kinsley, director Nicolette Hobson and writer, Anna Johnston, staging One More Time We Go; Christie Barnes, Fiona Baistow and Jenna Drury, unmasking Kelly Unmasked; Mandy Newby, Joe Feeney and Dan Norman presenting Weirdo; Emily Chattle, Libby Pearson and Lydia Crosland, making a point in Motormouth, and Nicki Davy, Becky Lennon and Rachel Price, asking And How Are Your Goats Keeping?.
On Friday night, one actor, Nicki Davy, from Leeds, had to be elsewhere (for acting work reasons, hurrah), meaning we missed out on answering the goat welfare question.
Anyway, here is the survey. Question 1: What did you think of the quality of the performances you saw? Rate from 1 for Poor to 5 for Excellent.
One play, Weirdo, was indeed excellent in darkly humorous, unpredictable, intriguing writing by Norman (the discovery of Yorkshire Trios), offbeat direction by Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Brighton-bound Feeney and deadpan execution by Mandy Newby, the most experienced actor on view, as the weird woman with the even weirder smell emanating from her home.
Kingsley, newly back north from completing his training at the Central School of Speech and Drama, had the difficult task of opening the show, not as the warm-up act but straight in at the deep end, side on under a flat cap, in Johnston’s lingering memory play, One More Time We Go, that demanded more assertiveness in performance under Hobson’s direction.
The most resonant piece in Covid times was Kelly Unmasked, Drury’s study of a woman, newly diagnosed in her 30s as autistic, trying to come to her own terms with a lockdown being experienced by unaware, socially distanced others all around her. It was stressful, as much as distressing watching Barnes’s on-the-wire poet Kelly, when director Baistow needed to extract more variety in her acting tropes.
Friday night ended with Abba dance moves, Jane McDonald cheerleading, a very northern no-nonsense feminist ultra and a soapbox that just didn’t quite wash. Not Macbeth’s tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, so much as a torrid tale told by a “Motormouth” devoid of self-awareness and an off-switch, signifying not enough, for all the energy of writer Crosland, director Pearson and actor Chattle.
In a nutshell, this was a night that swung erratically between 2 and 5 on the scorecard, but with consistently good-quality sound and lighting.
Question 2. Did you enjoy the performances being outdoors in a pub setting? Rate from 1 for Not At All to 5 for Very Much.
Yes and no. It was good to feel alive again in the company of actors, but noises off from the tables at the back, while entirely tolerable under present circumstances of outdoors being the only place to drink right now, would be distracting at future performances if the beer garden is to become a garden of artistic delights. So, 3 out of five for now.
Question 3: Do you feel the bitesize performance pieces suited the pub setting? Again, 1 for Not At All; 5 for Very Much.
Yes, because, like the next round, there was always another one coming down the line pretty pronto. That said, the original idea of promenade performances around the interior of the pub would have worked that much better. So, another 3 out of 5.
Question 4: How did you find the quality of the food and drink available during the performance. Same score grades.
Excellent, attentive service. Genial welcomes from Brian and Matt. White wine for the ladies went down very well. Blackcurrant cordial for the teetotal reviewer was totally entente cordial indeed. Didn’t nibble, so no quibble on that score. 5/5
How did you find the COVID safety measures put in place for the performance? Same score grades.
As with last summer’s Park Bench Theatre at Rowntree Park, last autumn’s socially distanced shows in The Round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, York Stage’s pantomime at Theatre @41, Monkgate, and York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, the Covid-safety measures were meticulously carried out.
As before, the message to the Government is, yes, the arts needs your support, but you should trust the arts to run events with the utmost professionalism, whatever the circumstances. The Gillygate, 5/5. The Government: could do better.
Would you be interested in attending a similar performance to Yorkshire Trios in the future?
Outdoors? Yes, but with the provisos mentioned above. Indoors, yes. The Gillygate has always been a good home to theatre.
As for the content, there is promise here and further opportunities should be encouraged.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your experience that might help us shape future events?
This review has run to 1,207 words already. Enough said, surely?!
NO Stone unturned as Two Big Egos In A Small Carpodcasters Chalmers and Hutch hit Episode 40 with thoughts on Harrogate Film Festival, Oliver Stone & JFK; Jagger & Grohl’s Slade-meets-Sham 69 lockdown knockdown single Eazy Sleazy; bye-bye Bay City Roller Les McKeown & Jim Steinman RIP; jazz & happiness; no Covid insurance government support, no Deer Shed Festival in 2021 & what next for the summer festival season? Oh, and the return of pub theatre…outdoors in York.
NO mention of home entertainment here, as Charles Hutchinson decides to cast fears aside – albeit while acting responsibly – as he looks forward to theatres, bars, galleries, museums and music venues opening their doors once more.
Cupid, draw back your bow and let the beer flow, straight to the York Theatre Royal patio
LOVE is in the Step 2 air, and soon on the York Theatre Royal stage too for The Love Season from May 17.
Perfect timing to launch Cupid’s Bar for five weeks on the Theatre Royal patio, where the bar will run from midday to 9.30pm every Thursday to Sunday, providing an outdoor space in the heart of the city for residents and visitors to socialise safely.
Working with regional suppliers, Cupid’s Bar will offer a range of drink options, such as draught beer from Black Sheep Brewery, Masham, and York Gin from, er, York.
Exhibition of the month ahead outside York: Ian Scott Massie, Northern Soul, Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole, North York Moors National Park, May 17 to July 11
MASHAM artist Ian Scott Massie’s Northern Soul show of 50 watercolours and screenprints represents his personal journey of living in the north for 45 years.
“The north is the truth of England, where all things are seen clearly,” he says. “The incomparable beauty of the landscape; the harsh ugliness left by industry; the great wealth of the aristocracy; the miserable housing of the poor; the civic pride of the mill towns and a people as likely to be mobilised by political oratory as by a comedian with a ukulele.”
Reopening exhibition of the month ahead in York: Pictures Of The Floating World: Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints, York Art Gallery, from May 28
YORK Art Gallery’s display of rarely seen Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, complemented by much-loved paintings from the gallery collection, will go on show in a new Spotlight Series.
Marking next month’s gallery reopening with Covid-secure measures, Pictures Of The Floating World will feature prints by prominent Ukiyo-e artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige, along with works by those influenced by Japanese art, York artist Albert Moore and Walter Greaves among them.
This free-to-visit exhibition will highlight the significant impact of Japanese art on the western world and the consequential rise of the artistic movements of Aestheticism and Art Nouveau.”
On the move: Van Morrison’s York Barbican shows
NO reopening date has yet been announced for York Barbican, but Irish veteran Van Morrison’s shows are being moved from May 25 and 26 to July 20 and 21.
“Please keep hold of your tickets as they will be valid for the new date,” says the Barbican website, where seats for Van The Man are on sale without social distancing, in line with Step 4 of the Government’s pandemic Roadmap to Recovery, whereby all legal limits on social contact are potentially to be removed from June 21.
Morrison, 75, will release his 42nd album, Latest Record Project: Volume 1, a 28-track delve into his ongoing love of blues, R&B, jazz and soul, on May 7 on Exile/BMG.
New play of the summer: Alan Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, June 4 to July 3
AFTER the 2020 world premiere of his virus play Truth Will Out lost out to the Covid pandemic restrictions, director emeritus Alan Ayckbourn returns to the Stephen Joseph Theatre to direct his 85th play, The Girl Next Door, in the summer season.
“I wrote it back in Spring 2020. I like to think of it as a lockdown love story,” says Ayckbourn, introducing his touching, tender and funny reflection on the ability of love to rise above adversity and reach across the years.
Influenced by his own experiences in two “lockdowns”, one in wartime London in childhood, the other in the on-going pandemic in Scarborough, Ayckbourn will play with time in a plot moving back and forth between 2021 and 1941. Box office: sjt.uk.com.
Gig announcement of the week in York: Imelda May, York Barbican, April 6 2022
IRISH singer-songwriter Imelda May will play York Barbican next April in the only Yorkshire show of her Made To Love tour, her first in more than five years.
“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive and elevated for a while,” says May. “Let’s go!”
Last Friday, the 46-year-old Dubliner released her sixth studio album, 11 Past The Hour. The box office opens tomorrow at 10am at yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Gig announcement of the week outside York: James, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, September 9
WHERE better for James to announce a summer show in the week they release new single Beautiful Beaches than at Scarborough Open Air Theatre?
The Manchester legends will play on the East Coast in the wake of launching their new album, All The Colours Of You, on June 4. Tickets go on sale tomorrow (23/4/2021) at 9am at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.
This will be the third that James, led by Clifford-born Tim Booth, have played Scarborough OAT after shows in 2015 and 2018.
And what about?
GOOD news: Live theatre bursts into life in York for the first time since December 30 when York community arts collective Next Door But One presents Yorkshire Trios in The Gillygate pub’s new outdoor seating area tomorrow and on Saturday.
Themed around Moments Yet To Happen, trios of actors, directors and writers will bring to theatre-starved York a quintet of short stories of laughter, strength, dreams and everything in between: a neighbour with a secret; a delivery driver full of wanderlust; an optimistic carousel operator; a poet inviting us into her world and a Jane McDonald fan on a soapbox.
Bad news for tardy readers? The 7.30pm shows have sold out.
LIVE theatre will burst into life in York for the first time since December 30 when Next Door But One presents Yorkshire Trios in The Gillygate pub’s new outdoor seating area on April 23 and 24.
“The sun is beginning to shine, the days are getting longer, and lockdown restrictions are easing, so we’re inviting you to a production that brings you everything 2021 has been missing so far,” says Matt Harper-Hardcastle, the York community arts collective’s artistic director, who had to postpone the original “mini-promenade” shows planned for inside Brian Furey’s pub in Gillygate in January.
“The plan was that people could get a drink and move around the pub to see the five solo performances, but once lockdown was announced, we thought we’d wait to see what transpired, keeping it on a low heat, but still wanting to do it as soon as possible, when it could be a springboard for the 15 creatives involved to get back out there working again.
“Then Brian [Furey] got in touch to say he’d been building a gazebo structure to make it feasible for him to reopen the pub, but if we could put lighting in, it could double as a performance space too.
“We could have waited to June, but this felt a brilliant opportunity to come back together now. It feels a really big step now, when two years ago, rocking up to a pub for a show would have felt perfectly normal.”
Themed around Moments Yet To Happen, trios of actors, directors and writers will bring to theatre-starved York a quintet of short stories of laughter, strength, dreams and everything in between: a neighbour with a secret; a delivery driver full of wanderlust; an optimistic carousel operator; a poet inviting us into her world and a Jane McDonald fan on a soapbox.
Actor Mandy Newby, director Joe Feeney and writer Dan Norman will stage Weirdo; Nicki Davy, Becky Lennon and Rachel Price, And How Are Your Goats Keeping?; Emily Chattle, Libby Pearson and Lydia Crosland, Motormouth; Christie Barnes, Fiona Baistow and Jenna Drury, Kelly Unmasked, and Miles Kinsley, Nicolette Hobson, Anna Johnston, One More Time We Go.
“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, ahead of next week’s 7.30pm performances, supported by Arts Council England funding.
“From humour to drama, sentimentality to the bizarre, an evening of Yorkshire Trios will have something for everyone…and there’s a drink included in the price!
“We all know the feelings of being stuck indoors, longing to go to the pub and catch up with our friends. Well, Yorkshire Trios has all of that and more. What better way to mark the latest phase of the Government’s Roadmap than being sat with your friends and family in The Gillygate pub’s beer garden, watching five original, locally produced and completely relatable short performances?”
Yorkshire Trios underpins the values of Next Door But One (NDB1) as a theatre company. “Buying a ticket to attend Yorkshire Trios is about more than watching theatre, it’s about our local community” says associate and project manager Kate Veysey, York Theatre Royal’s youth theatre director.
“It’s backing the wealth of creative talent in York, it’s supporting a local hospitality business at the centre of the city and it’s taking those small but manageable steps to reconnect people with one another and the wider community.”
The 15 Yorkshire creatives at the heart of this NDB1’s project were recruited at the end of 2020, but after the imposition of Lockdown 3 from January 5 put a stop to that month’s performances, the collective talents of Newby, Feeney, Norman, Davy, Price, Lennon, Crosland, Pearson, Chattle, Drury, Barnes, Baistow, Johnston, Kinsley and Hobson have been kept busy and creative through a series of online professional development sessions.
“We know how difficult it has been for many professionals in the arts to stay engaged in their creative practice during lockdown, with many feeling disconnected from the industry and in need of opportunities to stretch themselves and keep them going” says creative producer El Stannage.
“For more than two months, we’ve provided skills development and mentoring sessions, meaning that now our 15 creatives are even more equipped to bring their best to the performances within Yorkshire Trios, and we cannot wait to share that with audiences.”
Matt emphasises the importance of Yorkshire Trios to all those involved. “It’s had that feeling of ‘this is what was needed’: someone saying, ‘we believe in you, and, yes, we want to use your talents’,” he says.
“It’s been wonderful having 15 people sharing their skills and having that belief that ‘you belong, you haven’t been forgotten; there’s still a place for you when you’ve been told your work is not viable’.”
Looking ahead, Matt says: “We’ll be recording the performances too, so that anyone who still doesn’t feel safe to attend or has any vulnerabilities stopping them, we can stream it to them at a later date, with more info on that following the live performances.”
Next Door But One presents Yorkshire Trios outside at The Gillygate pub, Gillygate, York, on April 23 and 24 at 7.30pm. The performances are Covid safe and therefore with a socially distanced limited capacity, with tickets being sold as ‘tables’ of up to six individuals from a maximum of two households.
For more information and ticket details, go to: nextdoorbutone.co.uk/Yorkshire-Trios.php.
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.”
For their first project, themed around Moments Yet To Happen, thetrios 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.
“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.
“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’.
“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.”
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.”