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Artist Perspective: Up The Road Theatre

Friday, February 15, 2019

Rural Touring is a great opportunity for artists but we’d be lying if we said it always went smoothly. As with any tour, there can be bumps along the way. Today we hear from Up The Road Theatre about why they were so keen to get more involved with Rural Touring and how they handled it when things didn’t go to plan.

This March, Up The Road Theatre, are going back on the road. We toured our first production, Bardolph’s Box, in 2016, and dipped our toe in the rural touring scheme waters with Cheshire Rural Touring and Spot On. A great time was had by all. Especially those children at Lancaster Library – I think one of them is still wondering where that witch went. Peril at Sea is a very different kettle of fish. We’re sticking to our roots of very little technology, and it’s still all about story-telling, character and text. No projectors or SubZero SZPA’s required by this company. (I have no idea what that is by the way, but we don’t need one, thanks all the same.) This production is for adults rather than children, and it’s going to boathouses rather than libraries.

Up The Road Theatre are based in Kent. I went to school near Dover, a place that is not renowned for its thriving arts culture. In the days before High Speed, London was two hours plus on the train, and school trips meant getting back at 1am. By the time I got to university, I felt at a disadvantage. I hadn’t heard of half the artists and companies being talked about. I’d done my best at going to see shows in the West End but realised there was so much more out there. After university I wrote to Ivan Cutting at Eastern Angles, asking if he had any upcoming opportunities. I nearly didn’t go to the meeting as I’d already had a few treks across the country to be rejected or ignored and was feeling somewhat deflated. As it turned out, Ivan did have an opportunity and I found myself assistant director on a verbatim musical about New Towns. Obvious choice for someone with a Shakespeare masters. In my time with Eastern Angles we had a company trip to see their production The Long Life and Great Good Fortune of John Clare. That play still remains one of the best things I have ever seen, and we were in a village hall in Suffolk. I found that incredible and over the next few years with Eastern Angles I grew to understand what rural touring means to people. Up The Road Theatre started to emerge.

Our aim is to take work to those communities who have little access to live theatre, or the arts in general. Those communities who aren’t a short distance from a producing or receiving house. Those for whom seeing theatre means spending a great deal of money and getting back at 1am. For our current production, we wanted to focus on coastal communities, it being a show about the sea and set in a coastal community. I really wanted to up our engagement with rural touring schemes and we got onto the menus of the four schemes we applied to. Hurrah. We took a punt with 10 dates, and, unfortunately, the punt didn’t pay off. I know dates are never guaranteed but we had everything – images, trailer, copy, press release. We had a brand-new production made for coastal audiences, all self-contained, Q&As and workshops available, and we couldn’t make it work.

There could be a great many reasons why we weren’t picked up. I don’t know what those reasons are. I know for one venue it was a lack of available dates. Not getting those dates did cause difficulties. I have filled those six gaps, and thank you to those who stepped in and pulled me out of the hole. We’re looking forward to going to Cornwall with Carn to Cove and I’m really pleased to be taking the company back to Cumbria with Arts Out West. I pitched at the AOW menu launch event, it was interesting, informative and not nearly as scary as I thought it might be. We’re also with Spot On now too, which feels like being welcomed into a large, happy family. I have a brilliant trio of actors and I know audiences will take to them; I’m very excited to see what our cast will do with the script.

So if you’re around a coastal area in March and fancy coming to see our work, please do. The tour schedule is on our website. If you’d like to have a chat about rural touring or think this sounds like the sort of production you’d like to have on your menu, get in touch. My email address is on the website. I would like to take the show out again, there is interest. I’ll just need to have a lie down first.

I think rural touring is fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed the previous conferences I’ve been to. As a company, we might have been down, but we’re certainly not out. We’re a relatively new company, we’re a small company but ‘art not without ambition’. As ever, we’re on a learning curve, but at least it’s a curve going upwards.

Do you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share with us?  Email Stephie: admin@nrtf.org.uk