Wednesday 3 December 2014

Warmth, Heart and Soul

I'm sat here, in London.

In one of my best friends houses.

In this picture, Ed is working on his Treasure Island script. Jim is recording and sound designing. I've just finished an LX plan. We open Treasure Island at The Arts Theatre on Tuesday.

On Monday just gone,1st Dec, A Christmas Carol opened in Manchester. This is the fourth year we've run the show - full of food and wine and Christmas cheer. We're really happy to be working with our friends at The New Playhouse in Manchester, then heading back to York for a run with York Theatre Royal at The Guildhall, with food and drink by The Gillygate.

On Friday we open Beulah too, which is playing at The Arts Theatre at weekends. Beulah is like a warm old friend.

We're damn lucky to be spending Christmas in work, busy, with friends.

Sometimes I feel very damn lucky indeed.


Tuesday 16 September 2014

A Man Who Changed The World...Twice


The idea for The Bridge That Tom Built began in a classroom, in my hometown, in Staffordshire, and the person I ought to thank for this show coming into existence is my A-level History teacher, Mrs Belcher.

The village I grew up in is largely unremarkable except for being the site of a string of Victorian horse massacres that Arthur Conan Doyle investigated and the boggest of bog-standard Comprehensive schools that was originally built for evacuees during the war. So nothing out of the ordinary. It was a coal-mining town for as long as anyone older than our parents could remember and the school's primary concern had always been to provide more miners. When the mines closed the school's attitude never really changed. The education one expected to receive there was, at best, damage limitation.

But I was lucky. I had some remarkable teachers. Teachers who cared a lot about their students and who knew that if they could make a difference in the lives of their charges, they in turn could begin the world over again. And that's always a remarkable aim in my book.

One particularly remarkable teacher in one particularly remarkable lesson (a primer on Soviet History), asked us if we knew which country had the first political revolution. None of us guessed America. She asked us which came next. France? And then she mentioned a man none of us had ever heard of. Thomas Paine. She said that if anyone in all of history could be said to be her hero, it was him. That he was remarkable. And that, without him, it's doubtful we'd be talking about revolutions at all.

What struck me then was that somebody - a nobody - could come from the boggest of bog-standard backgrounds and, living through the most interesting of times, utterly change the world - not once but twice. And even stranger, that they could then be entirely forgotten.

Inspired by a remarkable teacher's admiration of a remarkable man, I read about him, about his life. Here is a man who wasn't afraid of anything. He met more or less every major figure in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. From Oliver Goldsmith to William Blake, from George Washington to Napoleon. And most of them couldn't stand him. Here was a man who wasn't afraid of speaking his mind. A man who was not in the least bit daunted about living in interesting times, times that are every bit as interesting, and despotic, and absurd as they are now. It was then that I knew it was a story I had to tell.

I was asked after the show quite recently what Tom Paine would think of the world today; of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, of Gaza, of the Middle East, of America, of the EU, of banking bonuses, of the newspapers.

The answer is easy. He'd be furious. He will always be furious.

I wrote this show not as a testament to some long-forgotten working class hero, nor as a biographical rumination on what it was like in yesteryear. It is a play about being furious. It is about today and last week and the next ten years. That is what is enduring about the life of Thomas Paine. He gave everything - even his own place in the history books - to begin the world over again. That's remarkable.

The Bridge that Tom Built is about having a link to the past so we can understand the present. I cannot pretend it is wholly accurate, or even particularly fair, but it is my journey through Tom Paine's life. It was a journey that made me see the world differently. It was a journey I had to share.

Coming to Norfolk is so important for this show; the journey will bring Tom Paine home. And, above all else, the life of Thomas Paine taught me that no matter how humble your home, it is where all great journeys begin.

And isn't that a remarkable thing?

Thursday 10 July 2014

Invitations, Opportunities and Resolutions

York Theatre Royal's community cast for The Mystery Plays 2012

Earlier on this week we asked this big question on The Guardian Blog:

Basically, we have the structural capacity to invite more people in to our process or our rehearsal room, but not the financial capacity to pay more people on the show. Just to be clear, these potential opportunities are supplementary to the necessary roles to make a production happen. Our new production of Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis has a full paid, professional team signed up to make it all happen. But we wondered if, now that we're able to, we could invite more people in. 

There have been so many responses. Some of these are below the Guardian blog in the comments section. Other have come in emails or on Facebook or via twitter and even in good old conversations. One person found themselves in a debate with three strangers on a train about it. To all of you who've got back to us, thanks. It was / is a genuine question and I really value all the thoughts as responses - be those legal, moral, professional, developmental, personal or otherwise. 

So here's what we think now, after listening to everything and thinking more...

LittleFeast in Easingwold. A gathering of community for Selina Thompson

Opportunities to let people in, to invite people to come and play and make and learn are hugely important. Our partners, York Theatre Royal (where we are an associate company) are brilliant at it. Their projects like TakeOver and On Our Turf, their shows like The Mystery Plays 2012 and Blood + Chocolate with Pilot Theatre and Slung Low offer huge opportunity for the community and young makers to come and learn and play. These doors should always be wide wide wide open. I hold YTR as a beacon in that regard. 

The Flanagan Collective though is a very small company - we run on a project by project basis. And, in the scheme of things, we're pretty young. I'm 26 and set the company up at the end of 2010. So what our infrastructure has to offer is different. It has a very much learn-on-the-job feel. That's how I learnt in the first place, running Belt Up Theatre, and I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. 

But Marcus Romer posted this blog about the cycle needing to change. I learnt working for whatever I could get, but for myself - it was my choice and our model which we made up. That was absolutely right for me at that time. But that was around 6-7 years ago. Since then we've been hit by a financial crisis, huge social and political shifts, and a lot of money starting to fall out of the cultural sector. So now, today, is different to then. So it's wrong of me to assume the same glove should fit. We need to break the cycle - as a small company, as a young company who are busy doing things for the first time - we should look forwards, not backwards. 

A huge amount of the conversation has been about accessibility and about money. Money is always pretty boring but always hugely necessary. A good day of shadowing a director won't pay the bills. That's what a lot of folks have said and it's true. So thanks for saying it. That now, I couldn't afford to do what I did years ago for free or for such little money, because that doesn't feel so comfortable any more. I'd want paying. So, in the same sense, I should want to pay people too, for everything they do. 

So here's what we'll do...

ICARUS by Fine Chisel. A promenade community folk opera as part of On Our Turf

We won't offer any unpaid placements on Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis. We will wait until we are able to pay people for these placements and offer paid opportunities. And we will actively try to do this on every project from here on in. We will actively try and fundraise to invite more people in to the process on paid roles. This might be by the time we make our next folk show, Snakes and Giants. This might be by the time Sherlock goes out on tour. If we move damn fast and find some dollar, this might be by the time we start rehearsals in three weeks. But we'll do, and we'll keep trying to do it, on everything we make, starting from now. Because those opportunities to actually get your hands dirty and do it are invaluable - so many of you have said this to us. So we want to make sure we're offering that out, but without the restrictions of privilege, or savings, or geography, or any other reason which elevates some and isolates other from these opportunities.

What we will also do, though, is always run an open rehearsal / making room. We are still a theatre company and we still make work. And if anyone wants to come and watch that process, or chat, or hang out, or go for a beer, then we want out doors wide wide wide open for that too. We will always welcome people in, on their terms and in their ways with zero pressure on them or us. I think that is very important too, that we aren't a closed shop - that if anyone wants anything that we can offer then we can try and help. If sitting in on our tech, dress, read through, production meetings, marketing planning etc is useful then you should just be able to let us know that you're coming and we can tell you where we are. We'll think quickly about how to do this. 

So hopefully those two resolutions sit well next to each other: actively striving to offer paid opportunities and always having an open invitation in to our rehearsal / making room. 

This has been a very valuable process for us - to think and asses and grow and learn a bit about what we want to do and how we should be doing it. It was a genuine question which has provoked genuine thought and, hopefully, a good and genuine answer. 

You can always get in touch with us through @FlanCol and - both come straight through to me. 


Thursday 26 June 2014

Sherlock - Directing & Producing & Placements

We are making a new show. A version of Sherlock Holmes, in the room in this picture. It's running for 6 weeks in York over summer. It's pretty exciting for us, but also pretty daunting.  We want to get it right. 

We make a lot of work and we often make it quickly, or it moves around a lot, or it's a little team and it's in the back of a pub. This is probably similar, just a bit bigger. We want to invite more people in to the room - in to the rehearsal room and in to the show as it runs over summer. We don't want to keep our doors closed and our secrets secret. We ain't really got any secrets that I know of. 

So we'd like to offer some placements. 'Placements' is a rubbish word. All I know is that I learnt everything I know by doing it and getting on with it and I know it's always useful to meet and work with new people, watch how they do it. I'm not saying we're good at what we do, or that we are good people to watch or to learn from, but we're people and we're putting on a big show. And we'd like to invite people to be a part of it if we can. But we want that to be on their terms, not ours. 

Let's be upfront. We're a small company with very little money. We don't have staff and we don't have funding. So we don't have a hope in hell's chance of offering paid internships or paid placements. I'd love to be able to. So, our question is how can we offer out, or open up, these roles/options without taking the piss? Sure, there're things we think it would be great to have some folks come and work on, but it's probably more for you to tell us than us to tell you. 

So that's the question we'd like to ask. We want to invite people to come and work with us on our new version of Sherlock Holmes? But we want to know what you'd want to be in it for you, what would be valuable. We'd like to know what you think, then we can try and make it happen. I don't mind if you say 'watching rehearsals', I don't mind if you say 'by letting me direct the show', I don't mind if you say 'By sitting and chatting for an hour at the beginning and end of every day', I don't mind if you say 'You're in no way a company I could get any help from in a month of Sundays'. All news is good news. 

Either email at or tweet us as @FlanCol or reply on here. 

All thoughts welcome, please.



Monday 23 June 2014

Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis

We seem to make two types of shows –

Folky musical shows which make everyone cry
Adaptations of stories which make everyone laugh

In the middle of Christmas Carol, which falls in to the latter category, we got a review saying how our Scrooge (Haydon Wood) and Marley (John Holt Roberts) would make an excellent Holmes and Watson. Said reviewer wasn’t wrong.

Now, 7 months later, we are going on sale with our biggest show yet. A six week run of a new version of Sherlock Holmes in York’s beautiful council chamber, buried deep in the Guildhall. This isn’t a show in the back of a pub. Written by me (Alex) and directed by Tom, this is a show with around 7,000 tickets for sale. I’m not entirely sure how we got here – I’m going to blame Brian Hook (Producer) for now.  We’re working with Hartshorn Hook Productions from Manchester, Pegasus Theatre from Oxford and in association with our good friends at York Theatre Royal. It feels like a pretty big deal for us.

Sherlock has taken over our nation – it’s had a huge resurgence. Like many other people, I’m sure, my interest started with the Guy Ritchie films and later the brilliant BBC versions. Now, I’ve read every Sherlock Holmes story I can get my hands on.

It’s interesting how different kinds of shows come along. Shows like Beulah and BABYLON come from some instinct, some nebulous idea that you strike upon and try and chisel out of all the other stuff that’s flying around. Adaptations, though, are trying to chisel out someone else’s idea. What we see in Sherlock isn’t new or different to what other people see, it’s just maybe about us trying to carve it out differently.

Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis isn’t a version of one Sherlock story. It takes elements from lots of places, ideas from lots of encounters, and blends them together. So we end up with something new, made up of lots of bits of other things. One of the most interesting things is exactly what makes this project possible – the very fact that Sherlock Holmes has had such a resurgence. And, for me, there is something fascinating about why we are obsessed with him – a man who can solve seemingly anything, who can turn his hand to fixing everything; a man who, when we are stumbling in the dark, can find a little bit of light. The fact that this character has become a part of so many of our households is fascinating. He’s almost like a superhero, just without a cape and a lycra suit. Someone we can actually look to for help. Unfortunately, I think that is somewhat indicative of our society now - we are looking for help from outside, rather than trying to fix it ourselves. 

So our version is somehow about superheroes, it’s somehow about friendship and companionship, it’s somehow about bringing people together to fix something rather than relying on other people and, of course, it’s about a good old mystery and adventure. It also has a damn big sword fight and a free glass of wine.

We hope we aren’t copying Cumberbatch and Downey Jnr. We hope we’re making something special, and live – something which turns Conan Doyle’s superb stories in to one of those plays which make you laugh, and also feel a little warmer and closer that when you came in. And one where you've helped to fix something along the way.

Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis runs from 11th August – 21st September 2014. Tickets through / @FlanCol / #TheGamesAfoot

Monday 3 February 2014

The Value of Community, of Listening, of Learning.

The the weekend before last I blogged about our gig in bath, about how it was hard and about how we came out of it being worth 66p.

Then Lyn Gardner blogged here about what we were up to and why it felt good.

Then there was a Symposium on Small Scale Touring at the Royal Exchange hosted by Paines Plough. 

Then there was this weekend. 

It feels like we've learnt a lot over the last week. Or if we haven't learnt it, we feel more like we're ready to. Here's kind of how. It's long winded, sorry.

Joe, the director of BABYLON, told us - he was taking the mick, not making it up, just he was taking the mick out of of this particular bit of teaching - that when he was at LAMDA he was taught a few different ways to stand in rehearsals as a director. One position was legs shoulder width apart, shoulders dropped, arms by your side and palms facing out. This position is called 'ready to receive the news'. He text us all after he'd caught up with Bath and told all to keep ploughing on and, over everything, be ready to receive the news. I reckon we are ready to receive the news. 

Since our blog last week it's amazing how many people have got in touch, or mentioned it to us. I don't mean it's amazing in a way we feel special or anything, it's just amazing that that many people want to support this type of adventure and, crucially, want to help or share what they know. Hannah Nicklin got in touch about doing some good, thorough research in to how we as an industry think of new ways of ticketing and selling and paying for the work. Mikron Theatre got in touch to let us know how they make Pay What You Think work and how they talk about it with their audiences. Pubs and other companies posted on the Guardian's blog thread saying how they do things and how they make it work.

On Saturday we all had lunch together and chatted about how the show was going and what we do next. Ed said it's perhaps the hardest show he's made. Serena said it by no means feels like second nature yet, like there's still work to do and things to discover - both in a very positive way. So we will retour BABYLON in Autumn. But we'll retour it taking on board what we're learning now. 

On Tuesday we were in Cardiff. We were in Cardiff last minute because we'd lost our Sheffield dates and a wonderful girl called Kate off twitter put us in touch with a bar. The bar was hosting an open mic night which was predominantly populated by students. It was a brilliant night, we hadn't encountered this audience before - we were only playing a gig - but suddenly we were inside a community, inside a group of people who go to that bar every week to sing and play music. 

The conference on Thursday with Paines Plough was good and frustrating in equal measure. But the good bits are far more worth focussing on. And I ended up having some great conversations - about BABYLON but also about how we could redesign the whole system. Whether that's pubs, canal boats, camp sites, students unions or whatever. There's a seeming energy and desire to look at how we do things - to look at the problems and to reimagine it all. We all talked a lot about sharing. So we'll try and host a day to do with that. 

On Friday I had a chat with a chap called Nick, who I'd never spoken to before but it was a great conversation. It was a conversation about Slow Art or Slow Touring, about taking things slower, spending longer in places. 

On Friday night we were in Scorton at The Farmer's Arms run by the brilliant Laura Wykes. We went to school together, we haven't seen each other in years. But we were welcomed with open arms in to their community. We did the show, we played more music after, we sold CDs, we took about £145 as Pay What You Think. We stayed up to the early hours drinking with the folk who use that pub day in and day out. 
On Saturday we were in The Gillygate in York run by the wonderful Brian Furey. You couldn't have fit literally one more person in to the back room, it was rammed. Two other great folk bands played (Over The Yardarm and Fine Companions), another superb night with about £240 on the door. 
And Sunday we set up camp in Slung Low's HUB. Slung Low have been running performances in their railway arches for a while and are always Pay What You Decide. We've been friends with Slung Low for a while - they're ace. We packed maybe 35 people in to their parlour out of which I knew maybe 2. These people were here because of Slung Low, not us. We did the show and when we counted up at the end I was truly staggered, I had to sit down. On a late, cold Sunday afternoon 35 people had donated us £327.50 - that's higher than any guarantee on this tour. People we'd never even met before.

At our lunch on Saturday Ed, Jim, Serena and Conrad told me what they wanted to do. They wanted to tour, but slower. They wanted to earn their place in a community. This weekend we were invited in to three communities with truly brilliant gatekeepers at the heart of each. We are very lucky and very grateful for that. We've learnt from them. We can't just turn up in the back room of a pub in Bath and expect people to care. We need to work harder. We can't just tour one nighters, pack the van and bugger off again - what gives us the right to do that? If we want people to value us, we have to value them. Maybe we have to play more gigs for them, cook dinner for them, go and play at their open mic nights in their student unions, open our doors and arms to them in whatever way we can. 

As a company, a show, a tour and even just a bunch of people we think we are about communities. And we are - but we and those we're friends with have spent years building theirs. We can't build a community in one night. So we need to learn, to listen and to reimagine. If we want people to give us £327.50 of their money then we need to do what people like Slung Low or Laura Wykes or Brian Furey do. We can't just be a touring theatre company, that ain't gonna cut the mustard, we need to think better and care harder about the people we want to care about us. 

The answer? Listen more, learn more, try harder, try better, keep peddling, care more - be ready to receive the news.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Playing, Paying, Pubs and Value

BABYLON is touring pubs. Not pub theatres, but just pubs. To the glorious and the good inns across the nation. We're two weeks in, we've two and a half to go. This is a massive learning curve, in a good and honestly very hard way. But we knew that. Touring to pubs wasn't the easy option, it was an option we wanted to explore, play with and see what we could make work. Last night was hard. The hardest yet.

We opened at The Fauconberg. Home crowd, sold out. A lot of fun and great support for the first night of a show. The second night we arrived in at the venue and they asked if we could just play a gig instead of doing the show. And, actually, that's fine, because we can. And it's more important to us that we work with a pub, rather than just impose ourselves on it. So if we can tell the story and bring a group of people through playing a gig, instead of a two act show, then that's okay. Although I don't imagine you would ever get asked that in a theatre, but that's why we're touring pubs. People liked the gig, bought CDs and signed up to our mailing list for future work.

The next night we were back to the show. A busy, noisy pub on a Saturday night. Act 1 was great,  lots of singing and dancing along. Act 2 was hard, didn't work, turned too much in to a play - too much like traditional theatre to work in this environment. A good lesson learnt. So on Monday - after playing in a lovely pub on Sunday with very tasty food (a nice perk!) - we went back in to the rehearsal room to change a lot of Act 2. We knew now what we needed and what we wanted, so a good day of reworking was had. And Monday night the show was great. A brewery packed full and with us the whole way. Then in Manchester on Wednesday and Newcastle on Thursday the show grew and bedded in. 

Friday we were to head to Bristol. One van broke down, the other van took 9 hours to get here and arrived at 7.15 for 8pm show. But we were in a great pub with a brilliant room upstairs and a great crowd of Bristolians. Some who meant to come, others who just wandered in. Then last night we were in Bath. Again, great pub and great room out the back. We went and played a few tunes in the main bar to drag in some punters and as the room filled up we looked forward to a big show.

There were two groups of people worth mentioning. There were two lads, maybe 20 years old, who had come to the pub for a few pints of lager. They liked the sound of the music so they came in - they hadn't come for a play, they'd come to the pub on a Saturday night. But they stayed watched a two act play. That's what they did, with their Saturday night out drinking - they sat through two hours of theatre and sung and stamped along. They cared and watched the whole way. They were on their feet in the revolution and sat at a table with new people they hadn't met. That is great. Your Saturday night out on the town turned in to a trip to the theatre - that's perfect.

The other group to mention were more difficult. Maybe 6-7 of them. Very trendy looking folk who, again, we're out for drinks but I think they had come to see us, which is great. There were two women, though, who wanted to talk the whole way through - mainly to us. So I have a conflict here. People have come to see us in a pub, you are allowed to chat  and talk in pubs. We're doing a play, you're not really allowed to talk in plays. We've tried to structure the show so it takes you with it - it quietly teaches you the rules for the evening. There are songs and narration and scenes, we try to let you know when to sing and dance and when to sit and listen. Last night these rules didn't work so well. And I don't know who's to be held accountable.

In a big scene at the end of act 2 Hetty asks Oli 'So why did you marry me then?' - this is the first time we've heard they're married, you find out why later in the play. 'Hang on' says one of the women from the group 'When did you get married? I missed that. Why are you married?' - she asks directly to the characters. You can feel a little bristle run through those who are at the theatre, and you can feel the opposite from those who are the pub. It's a fair question, we just aren't going to answer it now. So, by theatre rules this person is being disruptive - the rules are you don't shout out, if you're in a theatre. But she's not being abusive, she wants to know about the story, about the characters. So, in a way, she's with us. We tell her in the interval that she'll find out the rest in act 2. They stay for act 2. 

By the end of the show there is silence. Everyone is with us, those at the theatre and those at the pub. But we're knackered and a bit disgruntled because we have made, crafted, cared for and loved this thing of a show and we've spent the night having to work so hard to make other people care for it like we do. And I don't know what's good and what's bad about that - there's both. I'm still figuring it out. 

What is hard though is this, and I don't like that this is hard, but it is. So there are maybe 30 people filling this little room. They've spent hours at the pub. They've all spent however much on wine and beer and shots. They've walked in to this back room for free. Unsubsidised this show costs maybe £700 per performance. At the end we explain it's pay what you think, that there's a hat. From these 30 people we get almost £20 total. The group of loud drunk people leave without paying anything. I don't like valuing things on money but that hurts a bit. We're worth £20? That's less than a round of drinks.

The whole budget for this tour is £20k. We've bee granted pretty much £15k by the arts council, so we need to earn £5k in a month. It's very low, but we'll still lose money now. There is a brilliant value in touring around pubs - in the two lads with their lager accidentally spending their evening at the theatre, in the people who just wandered up for the second act who wished they've been there from the beginning so they'll come back - but doing a four person, two act show for £20, that doesn't feel worth it. That's about 66p per person. What else costs 66p? I don't think you can get a chocolate bar for 66p.

So it's interesting. It's hard and it's wonderful. But I guess this is why we're working like this, is to learn. And we need to learn, we need get better at bringing people with us in the narrative and also get better at asking people to part with their cash, because what they've watched and been a part of is worth it. 

Upwards and onwards. Next week nights in Sheffield have turned very quickly in to nights in Cardiff and then we're back to Yorkshire. Then Croydon, Somerset, Leeds, Oxford, Birmingham and London. Some tickets, some pay what you think, some guarantees. More learning, more playing, more understanding what on earth we're up to. Hopefully see you on the way!

Sunday 12 January 2014

Making Different and Making Harder

I am 25. In one way or another I have been making work on offer to the general public since 2007, really. During this time, so much of our focus has been dominated by The Edinburgh Fringe. It's a wonderful place and I owe it a lot - for a lot of fun, a lot of stories and a lot of shows. It has it's pros and cons but I wouldn't change anything about the summers I've spent there. This is, I realise, where we launch our work. By 'we' I make a drastic generalisation about people a bit like me or companies a bit like ours. In short - we make shows which are around 1hr long, we play them in one hip-hop-and-happening city for a month and we hope to any gods that public, press and industry like them. I'm sure me and thousands of other theatre makers have got used to this system. It's a fine, fun, and sometimes very rewarding system.

We're making BABYLON in a stone barn behind a pub in Coxwold, North Yorkshire. It's January - the Edinburgh Fringe is ages away - and we open a national tour on Thursday. We play 26 shows in one month covering hundreds and hundreds of miles around the country. We open our show, not to a jam packed city full of arts-folk, but in villages and towns full of people who may or may not care about what's going on. We have two vans to drive in. We have funding from the Arts Council. We are going on a bloody NATIONAL TOUR! 

Who let this happen? This isn't cosy and safe and well known territory. This is god-damn terrifying.

This has only just really occurred to me. It's a bit like being a real, grown up theatre company. And the thing which is perhaps hardest to come to terms with, is that the show isn't 1 hour long. It's 2 hours long, with an interval. That sounds basic, but it's not, far from it. 

The reason, though, the show is 2 hours long is because it's a damn big story. And one we want desperately to get right and tell well. The work we've made before (Beulah / Some Small Love Story for instance) is so very near and dear. But BABYLON is different, I don't think BABYLON will make anyone cry - most shows I write tend to make people cry. It might make people angry, or provoke a discussion, or make people put their arms around their friends and sing longer in to the night. But it's not a show about beauty and it's not a show about love. It's a story about people and about how sometimes we can get it wrong and, hopefully, about how we in real life might not. It easily takes 2 hours to tell. It could take a hell of a lot longer - but we want to tell it well and we want to tell it in 2 hours.

So we're not opening our show at Edinburgh Festival - we're taking it on a national tour around pubs and non-theatre spaces, many of which haven't had any theatre in before. And we are telling a long, involved, social and political story which, we think, actually matters. We're all, like I said earlier, a bit like me. And it feels like we're all leveling up - growing up - as writers / performers / artists / directors / makers. Like we've found ourselves somewhere where we have to take a big leap. Honestly, it is quite scary and it is very difficult. But it feels right. And difficult is a relative term but my brain is working very very hard and the answers aren't always coming easily. It's that kind of difficult.

I don't know whether this is something that happens to everyone at a certain point in the career or development or adventure. Or whether it is happening to us because of our country, our government, the slow dismantling of our industry. But either way this is our response, it would seem - to level up. To grow. To make different and to make harder. To imagine better - both in the telling and the models we use to tell.

I hope, in just over a months time, we have learnt more, know more, have met new people, understood new things, have found out how best to tell our story and to have provoked some debates, conversations, friendships and late night drinking sessions. And, yes, the show might end up in Edinburgh - but it will still be 2 hours long because that's the story we have made. 

Yesterday was a tough day - we got stuck. It's fine getting stuck. The way out is to find a way through. If we never got stuck, we wouldn't get better. If we never got scared, we wouldn't get braver. If it never got difficult, it probably wouldn't ever be any good. 

We open on Thursday 16th Jan with our 2 act, full length, social and political folk romp and then head out on a national tour to pubs and communal spaces across the country. For us, that's a hell of a sentence. I'm sure we'll enjoy the ride. 


Listen to SILVER, a song from the show, here

Tour details are at / keep up to date on twitter @FlanCol

PS - The photos are entirely irrelevant. They are simply three photos I took on a walk yesterday when the world look pretty golden and there was a peacock out on our hill.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Not Against Theatres

Yesterday I was on the phone to someone talking about BABYLON, a new show we're making. The person on the other end of the phone was someone  I like, respect and who knows a lot more about theatre than I do, has spoken to far many more theatre-makers than I have, and has a far better notion of what is happening nationally and internationally than I do. 

She asked about BABYLON. I told her it was a folk show touring pubs; that we're taking our new show on national tour to as many pubs as we can in a month. She asked why. I said that we we had managed to make some good friends, other companies or touring schemes who had been willing to take a punt and help get BABYLON in to their local - brilliant people like Point Blank, Fine Chisel, Greenwich Theatre and Theatre Orchard. And she asked why I thought all these people we're starting to make work in that way - or build those sorts of networks.

Of course, making work in pubs is nothing new. There are pub theatres everywhere. But I'm 25 and have grown up going to theatres. I live in the middle of North Yorkshire in the countryside and, as a kid, we went to the theatre - the building. I have been lucky enough to work in theatre full time since I graduated - and almost full time before that. We've worked in a lot of theatres. I work in a theatre now, York Theatre Royal, a wonderful big building - a regional producing theatre. But, instead of theatres, we have actively chosen to tour our show to pubs, and seemingly so are other people. Why? It's a good question. 

My initial answer was economics. That's a good answer for most things at the minute. But it's true. I think it probably is cheaper to create a show for pubs - or at least the outlay is cheaper. However the potential income is far lower. But, if you're making work in a pub then you're not asking people to drive for an hour to then spend £25 to come and sit in a big dark room with you; you're asking people to walk across the road and spend £8 tops. My second answer was audiences. Taking a show to an audience, rather than getting them to come to you. Again, old news - this is a brilliant idea which every rural touring scheme and company in the country will swear by. But it's true. I see people at shows in our local pub - take Midnight At The Boar's Head by Fringe First winning company, Fine Chisel - who I would never see in a proper big theatre. So it's partly that. 

To be honest, though, it's because I like it. It feels right. 

On the 2nd of January, Joe Hufton (the director), Amos Jacob (the stage manager) and me spent the day sorting our rehearsal room. It involved shifting laundry, boxes full of pint glasses, logs that were in there drying, a cat which needed to find a new shed to live in, clearing and cleaning the various detritus the cat had left behind, and lifting an actual vintage car outside. We're rehearsing in a brick barn out the back of The Fauconberg Arms. It's very cold but it's very wonderful. There's a beautiful view over the North York Moors. Last night, I found the cast wrapped around the piano, by the fire in the bar, writing a new song with a pint. Ed can be found chopping wood outside. This all feels very normal, very relaxed. A very lovely place to be. 

And I think that's it - I/we feel at home here. Maybe I/we don't feel at home in theatres. Or our work doesn't feel at homes in theatres. Theatre buildings are wonderful places, but there are an odd, learnt set of rules and expectations that go with them. Theatre: 'What time does your show start' - '7:30' / Pub: 'What time does your show start' - 'Probably around 8 but we'll play a few songs and wait until everyone's in, they can bring their food in with them.'

We're very lucky. We have small grant from Arts Council for this tour. So we can work how the pubs want us to. Some have separate rooms, some a space around the corner, some just have the one bar. BABYLON, our show, doesn't have a tech spec, doesn't have a minimum playing space, doesn't need a blackout, it doesn't have a set financial deal - it can play anywhere because we genuinely want it to play anywhere. We want it to play to people, to communities, and we want to try and play where communities gather. 

People gather in theatres to see theatre. People gather in pubs to talk and chat and drink and eat. Often, theatres are empty pretty soon after the show has finished. Almost no pub I've been to closes it's doors at 11pm with the bar having been voluntarily vacated. 

In some ways it's hard work because we're making a new network - working in lots of pubs who don't put on theatre, who haven't had a company tour there before. But it's an experiment, the beginning of something, hopefully. And, looking at the worst case scenario, if noone turns up, I'd rather be sat in an empty pub than and empty black box. But fingers crossed we'll be in pubs full of wonderful folk. 

But never in a million years would I want rid of any theatres whatsoever. Theatres and theatre buildings are hugely important. I remember Joyce McMillan saying that you could tell what industry had failed by what buildings the arts were using - old churches, old factories, empty shops. If the theatre buildings fail then we're in a sorry state of void affairs. But in the last month two pubs which support the arts in Manchester  - The Black Lion and the Lass O Gowrie - have closed. We were touring to The Black Lion and that's where we rehearsed and opened our Some Small Love Story / Beulah tour. For us, these buildings are as important. 

The next five and a half weeks are exciting. We're off to perform in 25 pubs around the UK. Some old, some new, some borrowed. Some ticketed, some on fees, some Pay What You Think. And perhaps 'pubs' is the wrong word - we're off to Slung Low's HUB too - so 'spaces which belong to and are used by a wide bunch of people' might be better?

If it goes well, we'll keep doing. In a few years we might have figured out why. But, I think, right now, it just sort of feels like the right place for us to be heading. BABYLON is a show about communities, about sharing things, about the importance of people, about taking decent care and consideration of each other. It's also got a bunch of damn good folk music in it. Pubs feels like the right place to be. And let's not get too worthy or clever about it - it's damn good fun. And it should be fun. / @FlanCol