As we pass the one year anniversary of theatres and arts centres closing their doors as the UK entered the first national lockdown, national touring theatre company Proteus, based at the Creation Space in the heart of Basingstoke, reflect on how they have maintained the vital connection with their communities and audiences over the past 12 months. There is a sense of optimism and opportunity in the air as they prepare for the opening of their new production of The Bloody Chamber, celebrating 40 years of making professional theatre in Basingstoke, and the re-opening of the Creation Space for a packed Summer programme!
When the first Lockdown was announced, Proteus was just weeks away from beginning rehearsals for their new mid scale circus infused production of The Bloody Chamber, a dark and heady retelling of Angela Carter’s twisted tales based on traditional fairy and folk stories.
Over the past year the opening dates have moved another 4 times, finally settling on 11th & 12th June at the Pavilion in Worthing – a bigger theatre space to allow for the public to safely attend while remaining socially-distanced. The creative team fully committed to measures such as bubbling up and living away from family, and taking frequent Covid tests, and there was rigorous cleaning of the Creation Space to ensure that rehearsals could take place safely.
The production uses narrative circus, innovative sound design and an all-female cast to flip stories traditionally told via the male gaze, often with violence, to a powerful female perspective, and never has the time felt more right to bring this to the stage.
Alongside Proteus’ professional touring programme, the organisation’s busy participatory work continued in various forms including the creation of brand-new podcast series, Generation Protopia, with our cohort of 16–19-year-olds, recording the impact of the pandemic and their attitudes to the global events of 2020. Younger groups have been meeting weekly on Zoom, rehearsing and performing a digital festive show for family and friends virtually and currently the groups are taking part in a series of online masterclasses, connecting the participants with unique skills and practitioners they would not ordinarily be able to explore.
PYT has been a much-needed outlet during lockdown, when so much has changed it was brilliant to have a way for my son to express himself and connect with friends
– Youth Theatre parent
Engagement Producer Alex Lonsdale says:
The young people will be ready to utilise these new found skills when in-person sessions resume and the groups begin to rehearse an ensemble outdoor production of Grimm Tales, scheduled to take place at the Walled Garden in the Summer. We are always looking ahead and in the coming months we are look forward to revealing our plans for open-access theatre skills workshops and performing arts summer camps for young people across North Hampshire and beyond. Our ambition is that the Youth Theatre can provide a space where young people can explore all aspects of theatre-making, and this is by no-means limited to being at the front of the stage!
It seems timely that while we reflect on creativity in the face of adversity ‘one year on’ from the first lockdown, we are also celebrating ‘40 years on’ for the Basingstoke-based critically acclaimed theatre company, as the second half of 2021 marks Proteus’s 40th anniversary. As part of an ongoing legacy of work, Proteus will be developing a large-scale participatory project: Protopia, commissioning a cohort of exciting professional artists and working with the award winning Slung Low in Leeds and ARC Theatre in Stockton-on -Tees to bring innovative and ground breaking free public art to Basingstoke!
The idea to celebrate our 40th was never to have a big self congratulatory party (although I’m sure we will raise a small glass) but to make work that creates real grassroots impact and looks forward to the next 40 years, and to use this milestone as we emerge from such a dark time for our industry as a real moment for positive change. The team at Proteus are also really excited to reveal more details in the coming months of their plans to re-open and welcome back audiences and participants, placing the joy of creating at the heart of everything they do. The planned Summer Season promises to offer something for everyone, from storytelling adventures for young children and their families and a brand new co-production with Scratch Built Productions called You Need A Holiday, to a mini festival celebrating acoustic music, spoken word, outdoor circus, workshops and live theatre. Our adult drama workshop group The Proteans return to the Walled Garden to perform The Importance of Being Earnest and the hugely popular Late Night Assembly cabaret will be hosting an evening celebrating queer performance.
With so many people discovering or reigniting their passion for creativity during lockdown, we’d like to provide a space where people can share this with others. Involving the wider community in the curation of these events as part of our celebration of creativity in the community at its heart. As ever, we invite our local audiences to contribute their ideas to help shape how we move forward in a post-Covid world, truly reflecting our belief that the Creation Space is, and will continue to be, a civic space for all to enjoy and participate in the arts.
CEO and Artistic Director Mary Swan concludes by saying:
From creating a weekly webcast series for very young children to bringing professional actors together with our adult drama workshop group for the national celebration of storytelling that was the Signal Fires event; or capturing the lockdown experience of the future generation in our podcast series to creating a brand new mid-scale piece of theatre working with award winning circus companies Ockham’s Razor and Mimbre; we have actively sought out every opportunity to support freelance Artists, make new work and support our communities. In this way Proteus has fought through the past year to keep the arts alive in Basingstoke.
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