A few days into 2013 feels like an excellent time to take a breather and reflect on what’s happened over the last year. Here our three Co-Directors share their highlights of 2012 and what 2013 holds for Coney.
The Queen’s Bedroom in House of Cards, image by Ludo des Cognets
“Looking back at 2012 it felt like we made a big jump as a company! We became an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, the wonderful David Cahill Roots joined as our Executive Director and we worked with some great partners and collaborators.
My 2012 was focussed on the extraordinary collaboration with Kensington Palace: House of Cards. The building itself is magnificent and steeped in history, and such a weird and wonderful place to work in. But what was truly inspiring was the immense expertise and commitment on all levels of the organisation. The project also allowed me to work with amazing artists (a lot of people I’ve wanted to work with for some time) and a wonderful ensemble of actors who are the ‘courtiers’. Hundreds of thousands of people have come and experienced the work. We’ve seen well-heeled ladies wipe a tear about a young prince who died over 300 years ago, delighted gentlemen practice 18th century dances with our courtiers and children sneak around the palace to spy on court. It all feels pretty special.
Equally important are the development of a few new projects that really allow us to push our own boundaries. A great example is Early Days (of a Better Nation). We did two awe-inspiring Scratch performances of the show, one at BAC in London and one at Chapter in Cardiff. Making a fully responsive Scratch for an audience of a hundred is terrifying, complex and complete madness. It also felt exhilarating, amazing, full of promise and the only way to develop truly responsive work. I can’t wait for the next development outing at IBT13 in February. It will be new, it will be dangerous and I’m sure my gut will be thoroughly wrenched again.”
“The vision with which Coney was founded – allegedly as a front organisation for another agency, but that’s another story – was that it was always about the other people in the room, and what happens in play in the exchange between us. The delight is always in what Coney is given by other people, whether the joyous ingenuity of playing audiences or the brilliance of collaborators and co-creators. I’ve already posted about some highlights of work I helped make in 2012 so here it’s about other people: The huge team with Annette Mees making the towering House Of Cards at Kensington Palace. The new members of the squad for the travelling A Small Town Anywhere: Gemma Brockis, Tom Frankland, Gareth Howells, Greg McLaren. A tea party made with Maia Tarrell to herald strangely lovely happenings in Launceston, Tasmania. Dan Canham, my most excellent co-directing buddy for RSVP with gobsmacking Dublin Youth Theatre. The buzzing brains of the Modelling Players gang hosted over here from Australia. And more, too many to mention.
My moment par excellence was one in A Moment in Yarn, where Rhiannon Armstrong told one story to be crocheted by four different agents, including Sayraphim Lothian from Melbourne who was handing her gem of a piece over to be made and played by new people here in their own way, as part of a process coordinated by Alyn Gwyndaf and with me an Ear (a role to be explained anon). Here are their four individual takes on the same yarn:
A Moment in Yarn, image by Sayraphim Lothian
We in Coney HQ are steering and facilitating a wide network, as Coney itself is represented in each instance by an ever-exchanging line-up. I’m looking forward this year to many things I’m helping make but having to keep a little shady: a series of open events on activism; stories, games and play exploring agency in every sense of the word; even the beginning of the story of what might be behind that front, if that story indeed turns out to be true. Most of all – because the most radical practice is the organisation itself – how to keep showing that Coney makes best when it’s all about the exchange.”
“I spent most of the early weeks of 2012 tucked away in a cosily remote B&B just outside Whitehaven in West Cumbria ready to co-create a Coney show with Mimi Poskitt called Let Them Eat Jam, which saw us explore a new model of responsive theatre-making.
Let Them Eat Jam was created by West Cumbrian people, inspired by West Cumbrian stories and staged at the remarkable silk-lined Rosehill Theatre which is unexpectedly perched atop a West Cumbrian hill. There was a definite West Cumbrian theme going on. Having been commissioned by West is Best (the West Cumbrian Arts Engagement Initiative), we began our research for the show in 2011, meeting more than 100 locals aged between 9 months and 90 years as we sought to uncover the stories of the area which mattered to people most. (We also learned more than we could have ever expected about the more pejorative side of eating Jam.) The show can be succinctly summed up as a site-specific, immersive, time travelling love story which cast the audience in a leading role as it explored the life of Ellen, a Whitehavener, as she journeys from first love to last dance. Alongside four professional actors, the cast featured 22 performers from the local community, including 16-year olds keen to pursue acting careers, a 74-year old making a long overdue stage debut, an employee of nearby Sellafield Power Station and a middle-aged man appearing in his first play because his daughter ‘gets to do plays at school and I get jealous’.
Let Them Eat Jam, image by John Story
Despite an insanely short rehearsal period (14 days from first rehearsal to first night), we refused to compromise on the ambition of the show, and I’m enormously proud of what we made. Just as satisfying as the final show, was the process from which it emerged. Responsiveness is at the heart of Coney’s practice, and here we were responsive to the West Cumbrian locality, the physical location of Rosehill, the individual talents of our cast and the decisions of the audience.
Looking to 2013 I’m excited about working with Annette on Early Days (of a Better Nation), where we cast the audience as the government of a new nation that has just emerged from a tumultuous revolution. This year I will also be diversifying our Adventures in Learning strand, with 5 new mini-adventures premiering in schools. Dubbed Inspiration Days, these day-long adventures will see fictional characters (ranging from an extremely lost Australian Earthquake Survival expert to a depressed Greek God) arriving unexpectedly in primary school classrooms and leading the pupils on a quest which draws them into a whole new learning world.”
We’ll be sharing more about our plans for 2013 in the next newsletter, and we’d love you to sign up here.