It’s no secret that the pandemic has brought forth a myriad of challenges for arts organisations, established practitioners, freelancers — and crucially, those emerging in the industry looking to get a foothold on unsteady ground.
We at Coney have been extremely lucky. Our practice; sparking change through meaningful play has been almost wholly adaptable to remote delivery. Our digital specialism has enabled us to continue meeting audiences and in some cases has allowed for the forging of connections between players, across social, political, and national divides – in ways that may not have been possible before.
For this reason, from the beginning of the pandemic, it has been Coney’s top priority to share our practice widely. In February this year, we relaunched our Associates & Guild programme to have the most meaningful impact going forward. With this incredible and varied group of makers, we are engaged in continual exchange of practice and, with them, we continue to widen this process to new generations of artists.
Over the last year, this has been especially prevalent in our work in higher education. Landing digitally in universities across the UK, our teams have been made up of Coney HQ and Associate & Guild artists – each expert in Coney practice informed by their specific fields.
Ranging from bespoke one off events; performances of flagship Coney productions and makers Q&As; leading whole term-long modules introducing students to digital interactive dramaturgy; to guiding devising processes towards producing playful online experiences for live audiences -we’ve had a brilliant time, and met an incredible array of young artists.
Here’s a few examples of what we mean, from this summer term;
First up was Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. Here we worked with students on the MA Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media course – leading a 10 week Introduction to Writing for Interactive Media. The course provided an opportunity for students to develop their specialist practice through contemporary and emerging theories of writing/making that stands at the borderline between theatre making and the digital industries: video games and transmedia play. Each weekly session was led by Coney director Tassos Stevens accompanied by a specialist Associate; Segen Yosef on understanding the gesture of the piece, Chloe Mashiter on game design and an introduction to Twine, Kieran Lucas on using sound and audio production, Afreena Islam on making work drawing from personal and lived experience, culminating in a week long making intensive guided by Game Designer, Melanie Frances.
It was an absolute joy and privilege to be in the intensive making room, and get to see each idea take form over the three days. What was particularly striking to me was how non-intense it all felt, especially for a process which sat on zoom. There was a gentleness, an ease and a playfulness that I felt in the making room, which I think then rippled through all the works produced.Melanie Frances, Coney Guild
Simultaneously, we landed digitally at Arts University Bournemouth. Represented by Director Michelle McMahon and Assistant Director, Janise Sadik, we introduced 3rd Year BA Acting students to Coney practice in a 6 week devising process, towards producing a playful live experience for a digital audience as part of their final assessment. Each week the core team were joined by a different Coney Associate introducing them to their expertise, and showing them how they could use it to inform their final piece. These makers included Melanie Frances on theatre style game design, Kieran Lucas on sound design for live performance, Kathryn Beaumont on developing character, Anne Odeke running acting one-on-ones and David Finnigan on systems mapping. The process culminated in their production; Waiting Room – an interactive digital promenade around the hotel at the border between this life and the next.
It has been a wholly positive experience for the actors, who have been presenting to me these last 2 days, reflecting on the experience. I have heard comments like, ‘working with Coney has reignited my love for the arts,’ and ‘I realise I want to do devising/create my own work now’ as well as tons of positive feedback about how you and all your associates were to work with, and all the skills they have learned…Johnny Hoskins, Senior Lecturer, AUB
I suppose, the thing that comes to mind is how valuable a learning experience our work together was; our group had the chance to experiment and work with a really diverse range of associate practices. At a time where it’s difficult to imagine your place as an artist in the world, turning up to make work, which acknowledges where the world is at, and meets audiences where they are, is incredibly powerful. It filled our time together with hope.Michelle McMahon, Director of Waiting Room & Coney Associate
Last but certainly not least – we took a trip to the seaside! As restrictions began to lift in May, we led our first in person making process in over a year. Represented by Guild member Toby Peach, 3rd year BA Community Theatre students embarked on a 6 week devising process towards the production of an interactive story trail around the local area using stories from local people to illuminate the past and present of Shoeburyness. The Rising Tide premiered as part of Estuary Festival 2021.
“It has been a joy to be back with the Community Theatre students at East 15 in Southend-on-Sea recently. I graduated from the course over 10 years ago and remember meeting Tassos (Coney’s AD) whilst I volunteered at Metal, a community arts festival, so to head back with my Coney hat on to meet new young theatre makers felt a full circle moment. We made a site-specific show based on the local history of Shoeburyness, which was performed on Shoeburyness’ famous East Beach. It was brilliant to be back out in the fresh air, after a long time online, and working with young people who are passionate about reaching audiences. I really hope we can continue to meet and share Coney’s practice with young makers as they take their first steps in the arts beyond university.”Toby Peach, Coney Guild & Young Coneys Director
These are just some of the brilliant experiences we’ve had over the last year meeting emerging artists across the country, and sharing our unique practice to foster the next generation of makers using playful tools to make connections and spark change.
If you’re a student, lecturer or course coordinator looking for similar opportunities to the ones above – don’t hesitate to give us a knock. We’d be thrilled to have a Zoom cuppa to discuss how we could meet the needs of you and your students.