Openness and community outreach were the overriding themes of today’s launch at London’s Soho Theatre of Birmingham REP’s 2013 centenary season, spearheaded by new artistic director Roxana Silbert.
Silbert – ex-artistic director of acclaimed touring company Paines Plough – was introduced by Stuart Rogers, The REP’s executive director. As the company prepares to return to its newly renovated theatre in September 2013, Rogers highlighted the addition of a new 300-seat auditorium, a major rehearsal space and the “seamless transition” from the venue to the Library of Birmingham, to which it is now joined. He revealed that the theatre’s facade is being stripped of everything added since 1970 and interior partitions have been removed to allow for more space and light – apt images for a season concerned with re-stating The REP’s core principles.
After talking about her excitement at being appointed artistic director, Silbert explained that the 100th birthday season will reflect the physical history of The REP and pay homage to founder Sir Barry Jackson’s belief that theatre should “serve as art instead of making that art serve a commercial purpose.” The first half of the programme will take place at the company’s original home, The Old Rep Theatre in Station Street.
Silbert hoped that the season will demonstrate a “spirit of pioneering innovation” and “really reflect and interrogate what it means to be part of the unique moment of life we are sharing.” Two new plays, talks, exhibitions, tours and activity days will celebrate the company’s heritage and reputation, as well as recognising and nurturing regional talent.
The programme will launch on 12th February with the world premiere of Philip Pullman’s darkly comic I Was A Rat!, co-produced with Nottingham Playhouse, Ipswich New Wolsey Theatre and Teatro Kismet. The production falls within The REP’s remit of creating work of international standard for young people. Adapted and directed by Teresa Ludovico, the English version of the play is written by David Watson (Flight Path, Pieces of Vincent) with music by composer Frank Moon, a graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire.
Heather Gardner (12th – 28th March 2013), the second new commission, maintains Birmingham’s prominence in the programme. Based on Ibsen’s classic Hedda Gabler, it is written by local playwright Robin French – hailed by the Guardian as one to watch – and set in 1960s Edgbaston. Silbert met French while she was at Paines Plough and cited him as an example of her dedication as The REP’s artistic director to creating “pathways into the industry” for emerging artists.
This aim is at the heart of her new initiative, REP Foundry, which will invest in and support emerging local directors, artists and companies through a year-long development and mentoring programme aimed at bringing new stories and voices to the stage. As part of this drive, the company has re-opened its doors to unsolicited scripts and will collaborate with Birmingham Library to assist up-and-coming playwrights. Regular open-space ‘speakeasy’ events and scratch nights will showcase work produced as part of the project.
Thanks to a Heritage Lottery grant, the theatre has been able to open its archives and make them accessible to the public. This is part of REP 100, which will celebrate the company’s heritage with exhibitions, tours, an audio history project and a website, REP100.org Silbert revealed that the archive has inspired spoken-word performer Polarbear to devise a piece to be staged as part of next year’s celebrations.
Silbert spoke warmly of The REP’s “dynamic” Learning and Participation department, which launches two new projects to coincide with the company’s centenary. The first will see all children born at Birmingham City and Heartlands hospitals during The REP’s birthday week –11-17 February 2013 – offered free annual theatre experiences for the first ten years of their lives; the 100 Words initiative will encourage young people and community members throughout the West Midlands to write 100-word plays linked in some way to The REP’s history.
As part of what Silbert called The REP’s “spirit of inclusivity,” 100 tickets at the Old REP Theatre will be set at 1913 prices.