We are a theatre company that believes the audience is as important as the artist and that to create truly dynamic and relevant theatre, the audience and artist must inspire each other’s imagination.
We blur the boundaries between what is described as ‘participatory’ theatre and ‘professional’ theatre. The company strives to establish a dialogue with its audiences to inform the artistic vision, and works to establish that dialogue by pursuing three distinct strands of work:
What we do
Large-scale, multi-artform participatory work
We believe that the eradication of ‘storytelling’ as a common skill has contributed to the fragmentation of communities and the eroding of collective memory and emotional connection.
The company seeks to re-connect geographical communities through its work, and to establish empathetic dialogues between the socially excluded and the wider community.
It is through ‘storytelling’ that we enable participants from marginalised sectors of society to engage with the majority, and to deepen understanding of their experience. This work always involves ‘theatrical’ performance, but also shifts the boundaries of where and how that can be presented.
This work often begins as ‘issue-based’, or may be inspired by a shared geographical history, an architectural stimulus or a tangible desire from a particular section of society to engage with the arts.
“I've been meaning to email you since the hour that you left us - to thank you for a brilliant couple of days. The response from the kids was wonderfully positive and they all really loved the experience. The response from parents was equally positive. It's hard to please parents and pupils, let alone all parents and all pupils, so well done for that achievement!” Mark Ward, Head of Drama, Halterworth Primary School on the ‘Sheherezade’ storytelling project
This work always involves participants working alongside professional artists on an equal footing and ideally finds an audience amongst those who would not normally hear the stories of the communities involved, due to geographic, economic or cultural distance.
The ‘Punchbag’ project is a good example of this kind of work. It was a collaborative multi-artform project created for and by professional artists and communities in Southampton and Basingstoke during a two year period beginning in 2009. It was an interactive arts project designed to raise awareness of domestic violence, effecting cultural change amongst the participating communities and in particular with boys. The project worked in Southampton and Basingstoke with women affected by domestic violence and with Primary and lower Secondary school age boys. A series of ‘happenings’ in Southampton and Basingstoke involving photography, performance, writing and sound were created by participants, working with professional artists in these art forms, in the centre of the community, for free. The work was shown in empty shop units, projected onto buildings, created as temporary graffiti and played over sound systems carried in the streets. The work of each geographical group was swapped and shown in the other area, to guarantee the anonymity of participants.
This two year programme worked with women's groups and family centred organisations as well as in schools and colleges, and groups outside the education system via connexions and youth offending units, to raise awareness and understanding of the issues surrounding domestic violence in the wider community.
“I found the young people thoroughly engaged and positive about the whole process and have had nothing but positive feedback from the parents of those who attended. I wouldn’t hesitate to become involved again.” Family Support Worker, Basingstoke Locality Team
This strand of work requires the most rigorous and unflinching evaluation if it is to continue to grow and develop. It also requires the company and its partners to take great leaps of faith, placing trust in communities and in the processes honed and refined with the evaluation of each project. It is only by being thorough in the critical processes and de-briefing of such projects that the company will be able to continually achieve effective and innovative large-scale participatory work.
“A Gothic masterpiece…Basingstoke is very lucky to have a theatre company of proteus’ standard” Basingstoke Gazette on Dracula
This work is sometimes initiated by artists informed by experiences amassed from working on large-scale participatory projects. This work may also take its inspiration from a piece of text, visual art, choreography, film or photographic image. Whatever the inspiration, the work evolves into a live performance piece created and performed by professional artists, touring beyond the geographical community that inspired it.
“A technical and artistic masterpiece” The Stage on The Elephant Man
“A delightful little show… brimming with warmth (it) proves there can be so much more flavour in a small show than in many larger budget efforts” The Stage on ‘The Snow Queen’
Where appropriate the community or individual that inspired the work is involved in the creative process, but the over-riding ideology and principle of this strand of work is the exploration and integrity of an artistic vision. This work is not always newly created or commissioned. Where an existing text inspires an artist, a process of dialogue begins with groups or individuals in contemporary society who can inform the exploration and interpretation of the text, ensuring its relevance and vitality.
“Just wanted to say that I saw "The Elephant Man" at Hanger Farm last night. It was a truly amazing experience - sent shivers down my spine and moved me to tears. Thank you for such a wonderful night.” Hanger Farm Arts Centre Audience Member
In this way, we hope to embed a social integrity into its work, pushing the artists involved to move into deeper levels of interpretation and to interrogate existing texts from a 21st Century perspective.
“Creative ingenuity…. cool, probing sincerity…a production of such high standard” The Stage on Dracula
We work to reach a point where artists are able to trace their connection with a text to a point of encounter with the wider community, fully establishing the inspirational circle from artist to the community/audience and back again.
“A wonderful afternoon- everyone enjoyed themselves” “The fifth time we’ve hosted proteus – always so professional & successful” Promoter, Great Shefford Village Hall, on The Lost Toy
“Children were engrossed throughout by the tale of teen suffering, due to Kefi Chadwick’s brilliant script and excellent performances from the cast of four – inventive, stimulating and top-draw drama” Basingstoke Gazette on Below Zero
Long-term, regular work with specific communities
This includes the development of the company’s work with individuals affected by issues. For example, the Breakout project mentioned above, as well as a regular performance workshop group for young people and adults wishing to engage with professional artists, The Proteans.
“My time with the Proteans has been invaluable. I have been lucky enough to participate in a professional reading of a new play in London with trained actors & attend an audition to learn what one can expect – an experience that I am sure many trained actresses would love to have. It has given me confidence to try out new pieces / plays that I would not dreamed of doing previously (i.e. Talking Heads) & I have received nothing but positive feedback from my directors / fellow cast members & audience. In short – I love it!!” Donna Marie Beeson, Protean
These regular, core groups have become our community ‘family’. The company works to develop these groups to the point where they can become a resource for us and other artists, providing a ‘think tank’ or development group able to comment on and facilitate the exploration of possible models of participatory work. In this way the company will continue to establish a national reputation as a resource for the creation and development of innovative, high quality participatory work.
How we do it
Changing the space
In addition to traditional theatre spaces, we make work anywhere - parks and open fields, office buildings, churches, museums, aircraft hangers, empty shop units, lifts, even buses. We define a performance space as anywhere a performer can be seen by at least one other person. The company will not always ask the audience to sit in front of the performer; they may move with the action, be encouraged to discover the performance by exploring the space, or may participate in some or all of the performance themselves.
Changing the relationship
We believe that for theatre to be truly relevant, artists must respond directly to their audience. Traditionally this dialogue casts the audience as a passive partner, only able to comment on completed work. We seek to re-define that relationship, and place the dialogue between artists and community at the centre of all its work. The company creates a circular shape of communication and response; an environment where an artist will be inspired by a community and responds with work that can express their views and concerns.
Changing the definition
We define ‘theatre’ as any performance art, and will utilise any art form to enhance and deepen the experience for audience and participants. The company creates work collaborating with artists from different disciplines where appropriate, and will continually develops the use of multi-artform work, enabling the artists working with us to be inspired and informed by each other via the working process.
"Beautifully heart breaking... Visionary... I could not help but exhale at the commendable intelligence and imagination with which this production was created... Breathtaking... – The Elephant Man deserves to be seen by everyone – a spectacular achievement in theatre.” What’s on Stage Scotland