Autumn 2009 – Spring 2012
A Small Town Anywhere is theatre for around 30 playing audience who take hats and badges to become citizens of a small town for the most momentous week of its history. Originally inspired by Clouzot’s film Le Corbeau, it’s a story about a community at war with itself, riven by tribalism and petty ambition, and testing if solidarity can survive. Simmering gossip and tensions between the two tribes of Wrens and Larks are stirred to boiling point by the poison-pen signing themselves as The Raven.
Small Town is also about the roomful of strangers who become the playing audience, and what communal sense emerges through their play. The story of the town that unfolds is responsive to the choices they make, individually and collectively. An advance interaction with the Small Town Historian, online or in person, gives audience the opportunity to cast themselves into the Town and make their own history- including their filthy secret, which may or may not be discovered.
The challenge from BAC and the National Theatre Studio was to take an existing story and make it with a playing audience, by themselves, in a theatre with no audience. Le Corbeau was chosen because it had a community as a protagonist which resonated with our basic theatrical set-up. The phases of development included creating The Gossip Game (which modelled the story of Le Corbeau), trying different stories with playtesting audiences, developing online advance narratives and creating full design in space, light and sound.
This original version of A Small Town Anywhere that was presented at BAC in 2009 was critically-acclaimed as a piece of playing theatre, and Coney’s ambition was for it to become a travelling show. With a large set and busy operating team this was going to be difficult, so we embarked upon a piece of research to enable a ‘light’ version of the show to be remade with integrity and passed onto other teams with confidence. Funded by The Jerwood Charitable Foundation we presented scratches twice again at BAC, in May 2011 and May 2012.
“…the fraught final stages feel as complex and electrifying as any actor-based drama. The moral decisions we are asked to take might seem simplistic to a fly on the wall, but the luxury of such detachment is long gone.”
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out Critic’s Choice, Oct 2009.
“At its best, A Small Town Anywhere investigates what it means to be a community – and how, in the face of internal conflict and external pressures (such as war), that community will survive or collapse according to how its members behave.”
Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, Oct 2009.
“… a vitally important step in the development of participatory dramaturgy. Through an elegant synthesis of mise-en-scene, game rules, performance and action, I was led on a journey that was both purely of my own making and deeply, thoughtfully authored. A ground-breaking piece of game-theatre.”
Alex Fleetwood, Director of Hide & Seek, Oct 2009.
Coney has been represented by many people on this project so far.
Original makers and operators: Annette Mees, Ben Pacey, Gary Campbell, Melanie Wilson (Town Crier), Tassos Stevens, Tom Bowtell (Historian), Tracky Crombie.
Direction: Tassos Stevens
Operating team for 2011 scratch: Ben Pacey, Simon Katan, Tassos Stevens, Tom Bowtell (Historian).
Operating team for 2012 scratch: Gareth Howells, Gemma Brockis (Town Crier), Greg McLaren, Tom Frankland (Historian).
Redevelopment and blueprinting was directed by Tassos Stevens, designed by Gary Campbell and facilitated by David Finnigan.
With thanks to helpers and players in Melbourne and London.
Image credit: Bryony Campbell