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A Younger Theatre

Guest Blog: Paradigm Theatre - The New Repertory Theatre Company

By Sarah Pitard


http://www.ayoungertheatre.com/guest-blog-paradigm-theatre-the-new-repertory-theatre-company/

On 15 November 2012, The Telegraph published an article about Ian McKellen and why he believes there will be no more acting greats. In the article McKellen states “…today’s young actors will never develop into fine middle-aged performers because they have not honed their talents in repertory theatre”.  He then goes on to say, “The situation is desperate. There are no [resident] companies in this country – not even the National Theatre has one. There’s a desert.”

But this is where we come in.

In January of 2012, a group of nine individuals came together to start a theatre company. But not just any theatre company: a repertory theatre company we called Paradigm. What makes us different is that we plan an entire season of plays in advance (which fit a certain theme), and pull from the same body of actors to play various roles in all of our productions. We obviously pull in actors from outside Paradigm as well, but we make sure that none of our company members ever go for too long without being in a show. That way, as McKellen puts it, we are able to “hone our craft”.

In a little over a year, Paradigm has produced two fundraisers, one benefit show, and four full-scale productions at different venues across London. We’ve been able to do this with very little money and very little help… and it’s been hard. As Artistic Director of Paradigm, I don’t think I’ve ever been as busy in my life. The same can be said for our Resident Director, Cat Robey, who has directed all four of our productions, as well as for our fantastic Artistic Associates (company members).

We are currently half-way through our final production of the 2012/2013 Season The Many Faces of Love, which is Tartuffe at the Canal Café Theatre, which will close on the 27 April.  WhenTartuffe closes, we will be left with one question: will we be able to survive another season without going bust?

Every year the arts budget from the UK government seems to get worse and worse, and now it’s almost impossible to find funding. Even schemes that are available online for emerging artists tend to be for less than £1,000, which doesn’t even cover half a week’s rent at most theatre venues in London. Even fundraising can be tedious, because once you’ve had one fundraiser, it gets harder and harder to keep having them, no matter how much you jazz up an event. Arts Council England is bombarded by applications. For most theatre companies, it’s hard enough to produce one decent piece of theatre per year, let alone four!  It’s going to be a risky business seeing if we’ll be able to pull it off again as we have already.

If it were up to me, and if I had anything to do with the way in which the theatre industry is managed in London, I would probably ask some of the larger theatres to run schemes where they give companies the chance to do a full-run of a show in that space for free. That would be worth more than any money that could be given to a production. I would also ask that more theatres open themselves up to new writing, and be willing to take more risks with the kind of material they produce. Theatre is an ever-evolving art form and should be given the chance to morph into all sorts of interesting shapes. Lastly, the UK government needs to wake up and stop cutting arts funding; I could go on all day about this. England’s great contribution to the world is theatre, so it’s a shame that the current government is trying to destroy that. A real shame. And to be honest, I think that’s really what’s at the heart of the article that was published in The Telegraph; we are living in a new era that is lacking in the funds that make it possible for theatre to thrive like it should.

I just hope that soon we’ll be able to push theatre in the right direction, or even bring it back to where it once was. As McKellen says, “The strength of British theatre should be that these actors in their middle-years know what they’re doing and are good at it. Not rich, not famous, but making a living.”  I hope that as Artistic Director of Paradigm Theatre Company, I’ll be able to at least make that happen for my company. 

 

 

November 7, 2012 - Onomatopoeia: Words of Theatre - Theatre of Words

By Tilly Lunken

 

The Changing Paradigm of London Independent Theatre

London has long been a theatre town, but in an industry that by its very nature should involve change it has become entrenched in established theatre practice. Perhaps it could even be described as a little neglectful of the Fringe underbelly that can so often inject vitality into the mainstream. Increasingly it seems whatever independent theatre makers produce; the rhythms of the main stages roll on regardless, for whilst many theatres boast of new writing and developing the next generation, the reality of the current economic climate is that risk is not ideal.

Into this context comes an innovative and recently established group who are bringing a different approaching to staging independent theatre. Self described as the only Fringe Repertory Company in London, Paradigm Theatre Company is redefining both artistic practice and the way the audience interacts with their shows.

Originally from Chicago Playwright/Artistic Director Sarah Pitard has implemented what she describes as a ‘Chicago Rep’ model that involves a company of committed artistic associates that generate four full new productions a year. In her spin on the template, two original new works, one original adaptation and a classic are produced. These plays are then grouped together into a themed seasons so there is a thread of consistency for the audience across the year. The current theme ‘the many faces of love’ may seem broad but Pitard enthusiastically ties it to each production: “invisible love… giving because of love” it’s what it’s all about.

Although once a mainstay of the industry, Repertory theatre is no longer fashionable, however Pitard details the many benefits to those involved with such a company. Each Artistic Associate can be involved in up to three of the four productions. Whilst others are brought in on individual shows, members are consistently involved throughout the season. In the upcoming production there is a cast of nine actors, three of which are Artistic Associates within the company for the year. There clearly needs to be a balance between an in-house production and engaging with the wider industry but Pitard is confident they have achieved this so far. She emphasises that whilst members may be working on other projects concurrently Paradigm is essentially an “artistic home” for all those involved. It seems as much about building a supportive community as it is about developing careers.

With consistent and long term programming, Paradigm Theatre Company is challenging and changing the way London interacts with independent/Fringe theatre. This isn’t a pop up group that will bubble and burst in the short term, as Pitard says they are “very, very different” from anything that is currently on the scene. They will provide a reliable platform for independent and emerging artists as well as consistently good theatre for a returning audience. It is a bold approach to take and they are looking to build on the success of breaking even so far.

Currently in production is Pitard’s play Freedom, Books, Flowers and the Moon an adaptation of the Oscar Wilde short stories The Nightingale and the Rose and The Happy Prince. Working with the strengths of the short form, each story neatly fits into one act. They are linked through the context of the persecution of gypsies during World War II, with the characters all human but perhaps not treated as such. Here they are “transported to a whole new place” where as a writer she felt considerable creative freedom. In fact she used “very little of the actual text, most of it is just me… but certainly the tone is the same as the stories” and they are textured with symbolism and delicate imagery that reflects the original concept.

Asked why she chose these stories in particular Pitard talks at length about The Happy Prince: “my dad would get to the end of it and then cry… I didn’t quite understand it when I was six but somehow I knew it was amazing.” She then describes discovering English Literature at drama school and keeping a “notebook full of words” to educate herself, it was this that led her to writing and also to revisit Oscar Wilde. Reading The Happy Prince again she understood her dad’s tears – “the ending killed me” and she knew she wanted to adapt these “deep and meaningful and beautiful” works.

Being Artistic Director as well as the playwright on this production you can see Pitard relishes the extra “bit of artistic control” she maintains over the show, however she insists that she is able to relax “trust my team” and doesn’t attend rehearsals. It’s refreshing to engage with a writer who is involved beyond the page: “I want to produce and I want to write” she says and Paradigm gives her the opportunity to do that.  

Her determination reflects a wider trend of theatre makers taking initiative and taking creative control of their careers. Paradigm’s Resident director Cat Robey has directed four independent productions in the last two months and Pitard herself works full time as well as writing and producing. Pitard laughs, it’s “intense but it can be done, you just don’t sleep a lot!”

 
There is something gritty about independent theatre and Paradigm definitely doesn’t have the slick glossiness that so defines our established theatres. However, you definitely get the sense that as they develop they’ll shine in their own spotlight and might – just might –be more artistically fulfilled for it.


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