Common Chorus Theatre

A Peek Behind the Curtain – A Wind of Change in Meanwood

Plans for the new community show ‘A Wind of Change’, which kicks off in Meanwood in a few weeks time, are going well and the groups are filling up; Group 3 – ‘A Hidden Wind’ is nearly completely full! We are still looking for folks who live, work or have a lasting connection to Meanwood to take part and the deadline to sign up is the Wednesday 27th September: www.commonchorus.co.uk/awindofchange

It is a big project, where logistics can start to take over, so I thought it would be nice to lift the curtain on the creative side of things a bit as this is the exciting part. Through the summer I have been meeting with north Leeds’ very own master storyteller Matthew Bellwood, and we have been plotting and planning.

Something we decided early on was to use a ‘Frame Story’, a bit like Arabian Nights or A Christmas Carol where a charecter is on some sort of journey and as part of their story they witness, or are told, other smaller stories.  The idea is that each of smaller stories help inform or impact upon the main story – like how Scrooge learns from each of the ghosts that visit him. So Matthew has created the overarching frame story for us that will run right through, and then each of the groups are going to create their own smaller storytelling performances that will fit in with it.

I think fiction is a powerful way of exploring what is real, and that is a motif that runs through Common Chorus’ work. We have been talking about how to have the show grounded in real life stories that come from everyday people, whilst at the same time having a sort of fantastical element that interrupts that. It was Ness at InterACT who first suggested that we should make the central theme of the show about change. I had this idea about the winds in the wood, which morphed into a wind of change, which in turn reminded me of Mary Poppins and the way she flies in and out of her story as the wind changes. Mary Poppins blows into the dysfunctional Banks family home, and with a spoon full of magic and fantasy she addresses the real world problems at the centre of their lives. Our story isn’t going to be set in Edwardian London, it will be set in Meanwood today. However, our lead charecter will be a young person coming to terms with a change that may be beyond their control, but how they respond to that change is still for them to decide. Here is a short extract from what Matthew has been writing, and a photo that was taken when we were exploring Meanwood that gives us a sense of setting.

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The stranger’s hair is white, but streaked with strands of grey and black. She is tall and slender, though her shape is hidden beneath the folds of a large, grey duffle coat. Her feet are clad in bright yellow wellingtons and she holds an umbrella in her hand. The ferule at the umbrella’s tip is long and sharp. It is yellow, like the wellingtons and pointed like a beak. 

 The girl stares at her doubtfully. She knows she shouldn’t talk to strangers – but it seems rude to just ignore the question. “I’m Sophie” she says. 

 “Well then, it’s good to meet you Sophie. You may call me Mrs Heron if you like. You people seem to have an obsession with naming things and I suppose that it’s as good a name as any.”  

“But … but who are you? Where did you come from? Have you been here all the time?” 

 “Yes,” says the woman, musingly. “I suppose that you could say that. The water has followed this course for generations. Thousands of gallons over thousands of years, down from Adel, through the Meanwood Valley, and then on into the centre of town – although the beck was there before the town of course. This watercourse has been here for longer than I care to remember. It helped to carve this valley out of solid stone, it shaped the landscape; fed the woods and trees and later on, it fed the mills and tanneries and dye works that grew up along its banks. It was the beck that bought the people here in the first place. It fed them and nourished them and gave them power. Of, course, it does not flow as strongly as it once did, but it’s still an important feature round here. But then you know that, don’t you?” 

 “What do you mean?” 

 “What do you think I mean? You made it an offering. The beck has had many offerings over the years and it always listens carefully. An offering is a kind of prayer you see? It comes with a question and the beck heard yours. That’s why I am here. I have come to help you answer your question.” 

 

Today Matthew and I shared his whole story with the rest of the production team and group directors. We have had a great brainstorming session around it and I am really excited about the ideas that are coming out about how the groups will make what they will make. It is all top secret at the moment, mostly because it still needs people like you to come and help us make it into what it will one day be.

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If you want to be involved, there is still time left! All of the sign up info including the groups and a rehearsal timetable are here. And the sign up form only takes three minutes to do and is here: Click to go to sign up form

 

After the Flood

After the Flood is a site-based theatre performance created at Granary Wharf in Leeds as a commision for the Leeds Waterfront Festival 2016. Set six months after the devastating Christmas floods, it dramatised the real experiences of people who made a response to the tragedy.

“It made me think of the city differently… about the connection between the city and the countryside… It did all this in a clever, funny and gentle way, without forcing a message on to the audience” – Dr Lourdes Orozco, University of Leeds, Workshop Theatre.

The performance was commissioned by Professor Steve Bottoms as part of the ongoing research program Multi-Story Water. It has been documented in six parts by Big Media Film:

Directed by Simon Brewis
Text by Steve Bottoms
Design by Hannah Sibai

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Announcing new community theatre project for Meanwood – A Wind of Change.

After plotting through the winter Common Chorus and InterACT are super chuffed to announce a new large scale community theatre project for all of Meanwood – A Wind of Change. Some folks may already know that this has been on the cards for a while as we started contacting community leaders and organisers in the early Spring, but now we have been given the thumbs up by our wonderful funders we can hit the launch button.

The show is going to be devised / co written by the cast working alongside our company of professional theatre makers, so it will be an original show made by and for people in Meanwood. There’s still plenty to decide, but I put this together as a sort of taster / starting point –

Winds in the wood, the new coming in, something is brewing and about to begin. I can’t put my finger on what lies in front, but a wind of change is blowing, whether we like it or not.

It is actually a fusion of two fairly famous quotes, can anyone identify the two sources?

The show will be a modern day fable that explores the ever changing nature of Meanwood. It will have magical storytelling, songs, physicality, spoken word, a live radio show and it will be inspired by the talents and real life stories of around sixty people from across the community. We will also draw upon the skills of some of Leeds’ most exciting resident theatre makers, each leading a group within the larger cast. They are Uncanny Theatre’s Natalie Bellingham and Matt Rogers, A Quiet Word’s Matthew Bellwood, Adam Z Robinson, Peter Spafford and of course Common Chorus’ own Simon Brewis (that’s me).

Workshops to create the script and stories will start in October 2017 and the project will culminate in the half term week of February 2018, with performances on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th February 2018 at Stainbeck Church Hall. Over the summer we will be working hard to contact groups and get all the logistics in place and recruitment for groups will take place in September. However if you are super keen and want to make sure you are the first to know when we start recruiting for the groups you can email simonmatthewbrewis@gmail.com to make sure you are on the list.

If you are a community leader, or run a group of some sort where you think people might like to get involved in this and we haven’t spoken to you yet, please do drop me a line.

More information including details of rehearsal times and location for groups are on the Common Chorus website now.

A Wind of Change

Presented by Common Chorus and InterACT ‘A Wind of Change’ was an original community performance put together by & for people who live in, work, or regularly visit Meanwood. From local tales both real and fantastical, A Wind of Change spun theatre, live music and storytelling into a yarn that all enjoyed.

“It was a wonderful show…The actors, and those who supported back of house each performed brilliantly. It was pulled together so professionally.” – Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Jane Dawson.

For production shots visit our Flickr album or watch a documentation of the show here:

A collaboration between Common Chorus theatre and InterACT.

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‘Letter to the River’ & ‘Recovery Stories’

‘Letter to the River’ and ‘Recovery Stories’ were two community theatre performances that we devised with clients in recovery from addiction at Spacious Places Recovery Centre.

Devised in response to biographical stories by clients at Spacious Places Recovery Centre.
Directed by Simon Brewis
Text by Dan Ingram Brown
Co facilitated with Lynsey Jones
Stage Manager (Recovery Stories only) Ruth Mark

Letter to the River – It is the morning of the 5th July 2014 and Leeds is awash with yellow and bicycles, it is the morning of the Grand Depart of the Tour De France – a once in a lifetime event. Sally winds her way through the crowds, on her own pilgrimage of sorts towards the river. She reflects on markers along the way, reminders of the domestic violence, alcoholism and profound loss she has experienced. As the race begins she stands among the crowds on the bridge over the river and and is filled with hope as she makes a life changing decision. This is her Grand Depart, her celebration and her journey of recovery.

For more insight read this blog Simon wrote about the project for Leeds Inspired – http://www.leedsinspired.co.uk/blog/project-hope

Recovery Stories – Sally has been in recovery for just over a year and she loves her new life. She is starting to make real friends again, she has joined a choir, she is even reconnecting with some of the people her addiction had driven away. But nothing could be more difficult than bringing her estranged brother Jay back into her life – because Jay is an addict. As Christmas Day approaches Jay says that he wants is what Sally has; Sobriety. Sally hatches a plan to help him get his freedom, because when you are free from drugs, you are free from everything.

Stories and learning from both projects became essential research and development for our touring production Drink With a Chimp.

Theatre Producer Needed – ‘A Formula for Lemonade’ by Common Chorus Theatre.

Common Chorus is a West Yorkshire based theatre company led by Artistic Director Simon Brewis. We tell truthful, provocative and entertaining stories inspired by real people’s experiences. We want to recruit a new freelance producer to assist part time on the research and development process for our new show; ‘A Formula for Lemonade’. This is an opportunity to get involved on the ground floor of an up and coming company with a bright future. Our immediate commitment to each other would only be for this project, but we hope to build a relationship with someone we can work with again in the future.

Draft blurb for ‘A Formula for Lemonade’ R&D process:

Andrew Richardson has it made. He is well-paid, lives to work, and has a beautiful and intelligent wife. Just when he is enjoying life, a spot of ill health starts to get in the way of things. He resolves to get back on the horse that bucked him – but the truth is, he is never going to work again. Thrust into a world he never knew existed and handed an identity he doesn’t understand, he must figure out how to keep hold of the life he has become accustomed to, his dignity, and even his sanity in his new world without work.

Featuring live music, original songs and powerful visual storytelling, this darkly comic and engrossing tale is for anyone yet to ask themselves ‘who will I become when my health gives out?’ as well as those who know only too well.

Info about show and process:

We plan to have research and development activity start in Autumn 2017 and conclude in early summer 2018.

Our fictional story has been inspired by the biography of Gemma Bonham, who in her late 30’s was forced to stop working as the Theatre Programmer at Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds when she became too ill to work. To develop our story, we will produce a self-contained community theatre project with people, and their carers, who have been forced to leave work due to chronic illness. A series of workshops and rehearsals through the early Autumn will culminate in a public storytelling performance at Love Arts festival in Leeds on the 18th October 2017.

Taking inspiration from these stories, a team of professional theatre makers will then develop and devise a script and score for a professional production. There will be three main devising weeks, the first in November or December 2017, the second on the week of 22nd January 2018, and the third in either May or June 2018.

Plans for the development of the show are already motion, and the producer will complete a core team that already consists of Simon Brewis (Director), Adam Z Robinson (Writer) and Gemma Bonham (Creative Consultant). Several community and venue partners are already onboard and we are ready to begin the process of applying for funding. Please note, we do not have funding for the project yet. The producer will take an essential partnering role, alongside the director, in applying for funding. Fees for their time will be budgeted into these funding applications. The project is very well positioned to begin the funding application process.

Candidates for the position must:

  • Be able to work flexibly in Leeds / West Yorkshire.
  • Have strong organisational and logistical skills; we need a producer whose skill set trends towards effective company management and administration.
  • Be able to contribute to funding strategy and applications; writing an original funding application in partnership with the artistic director, and then completing subsequent applications with a degree of autonomy.
  • Demonstrate interest in making highly crafted, accessible, entertaining and provoking storytelling theatre in response to real life stories.
  • Be inspired by our process of using community theatre processes as an integral part of the research and development for professional theatre.
  • Be able to work in partnership with the artistic director to maintain relationships with community partner organisations, funders and partnering theatre venues.
  • Understand what it takes to research and develop small scale touring work for studio theatres.

Desirable attributes include:

  • Driving Licence and access to own car.
  • Proven experience of successful funding applications made to Arts Council G4A.
  • Aptitude in areas of theatre making that fall outside the roles of a director, writer, actor or producer that may come in useful in a small company.

To apply for the position please send a CV and covering letter of no more than one page detailing your suitability for the role. Applications will close at 5pm on Wednesday 10th May. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview by the end of the week. Interviews to be held on either 15th or 16th May in Leeds, or by arrangement if these dates are problematic.

Please email applications and questions to simonmatthewbrewis@gmail.com For applications please use the words ‘Producer Application Lemonade’ in the email title.