Playhouse Producer, Michelle Walker, talks about the process of making Playhouse Plays Out shows that are for (and sometimes about) the community of Oxford, plus the exciting new PPO show: Stand.
One of the most exciting and rewarding parts of my job is to help get ideas off the ground for Playhouse Plays Out productions. These are shows we make in all sorts of surprising locations in and around Oxford – in a shop or a pub, for instance, or on a narrowboat, a playing field or a running track. They’re all about doing something different, and offering audiences a chance to see theatre which is really embedded in their city and community, and which resonates strongly with the place in which they live and work. Hopefully, they encourage people who don’t think theatre is for them to give it a try. One of my favourite shows in recent years was The Story of the Four Minute Mile, which took an iconic Oxford story – about Roger Bannister’s record-breaking achievement – and told it afresh from the point of view of the bystanders in the crowd. As part of making that show, we invited Oxford residents to share their memories of that historic day with us, and some of those memories got woven into the show. We were astonished by what we learnt and we were really excited by how generous people were at sharing their stories of that special day. And so we decided that we wouldn’t stop there!
We’re always on the lookout for theatre makers – writers, directors, devisers – whose style of working we think will really appeal to Oxford audiences and whose interests will align with our own. This is of course the case for all our productions, but it’s particularly important we get the fit right for our Playhouse Plays Out shows - they’re not your usual kind of theatre and we hope to find theatre makers who are as inspired by the idea of them as we are. And on top of those interests there needs to be a passion for working with audiences in an imaginative and authentic way.
So I’m really delighted that this year we’ll be working with Chris Goode, a theatre maker I’ve loved for many years (I’ll never forget sobbing uncontrollably in the front row of a very small portacabin at the Edinburgh Festival as I listened to the incredibly moving story he told in The Adventures of Wound Man & Shirley). He has a really brilliant way of encouraging us to see the world in a new light, and of celebrating and honouring people or stories which might otherwise go unnoticed. Like his show Monkey Bars, which was based on interviews he’d done with primary school children: he put their words - full of wisdom, humour and utterly without self-consciousness - absolutely verbatim into the mouths of adult actors, who were dressed in suits and spoke very seriously. It was a simple-but-beautiful device which prodded us just the right amount, reminding us that we should be listening to our younger members of society more attentively. Out of the mouths of babes and all that…
When we were planning how we might celebrate our 2014 Radical Thinking season at the Playhouse, I knew that along with commemorating figures of Oxford’s illustrious past – Shelley, Cranmer, Emily Wilding Davison – we also had to explore what being radical might mean in people’s everyday lives now. And I knew immediately that Chris was the man to tackle this. He’s going to make a show called Stand, which will be a collection of stories from ordinary people about what it means to take a stand – for something, or someone, you believe in. Our first step is to invite as many people as possible to share their stories with us, so over the coming weeks we’ll be spreading the news far and wide that we’re looking for ordinary people’s extraordinary tales of conscience and courage to use in the creative process, and possibly even in the show itself.
Playhouse Plays Out shows are all about the audience getting involved in theatre in a different way, and this is about as exciting a way to get involved in theatre as you can imagine! So if you think you’d like to tell us about that moment in your life when you took a stand, click here to find out more about how to do so.