Features Published 26 May 2015

Incoming, Incoming!

Barrel Organ, Kandinsky, Sh!t Theatre and Kill the Beast discuss this year's Incoming Festival at the New Diorama and what it means to be an emerging artist.
Exeunt Staff

Barrel Organ – Dan Hutton: Even before performing Nothing at the Fringe last year, we were talking about creating a piece of work which examined the way in which modern socio-political structures exact violence on us. We were keen to think about what ‘violence’ might mean in different contexts, away from the cliches of blood and gore shown on TV and in movies. Then, after months of discussion, we found some time and space to throw around some ideas and see where our imaginations took us. More recent R&D periods have seen us trying to whittle down those ideas into something coherent and more fully formed, but those first few sessions involved everything from horror stories to lip-syncing.

Most of the company were together when the exit polls came out on 7th May, and we proceeded to watch events unfurl with a mixture of amazement and depression. On the Friday, we were due to continue working on the show, but ended up managing just an hour’s work after a long talk about the result and its implications for us. We’ve never shied away from the fact a lot of our ideas are based in a desire to engage with the world and theatre in a way which is political, so the result will no doubt have a profound effect on the work we make. We have resolved to do a number of things in the next five years: to make an effort to engage with audiences; to offer hope when it seems like there is little; and to keep fighting for a better world.

The history of Barrel Organ has been marked by a series of extraordinary opportunities given to us by a handful of people who believed in us, even as we proposed mad ideas and seemed like a group of eleven loud, idealistic, angry young fucks. Granted, we may be those things, but festivals like NSDF and Incoming allow us to hone our craft, to take more risks and sit in a context where failure is allowed. It seems to us that, for the foreseeable future, artists will have to push against cultural and economic powers who raise their eyebrows at risk in the hope that those of us for whom it is our lifeblood will shut up. But they need to know we will never stop shouting.

Sh!t Theatre – Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit: We originally wrote 10 minutes of Women’s Hour for the cabaret night of Camden People’s Theatre’s first Calm Down, Dear Festival of Feminism. We then augmented this into a very rough 40 minutes for the lovely Pink Fringe at the Marlborough in Brighton. And then we were commissioned by Camden People’s Theatre to complete the show to headline the next Calm Down, Dear. Women’s Hour is a departure in form from our recent shows; it is non-narrative, more surreal than the journalistic style we’ve been playing with. The show is an attempt by us to say or do everything there is to say or do about women in one hour – which is obviously absurd. We were very lucky to get arts council funding to finish this show but are very aware that, with more cuts coming, we have no way of knowing if we will be able to continue making our living; if the venues who support us will even be open in the future.

However, we were prepared for this either way before the election, as Labour also ‘promised’ that they would endeavour to make cuts to the arts. We will have to get ‘proper’ jobs. Or write a show about it. Or win the lottery. As emerging artists in this climate, we feel a kinship with alternative comedians and performance artists under Thatcher in the ‘80s – which is invigorating. We read today about a venue up north which is charging companies/artists a £100 fee if they have fewer than 25 people in the audience. Festivals like Incoming support us by paying us but also allowing ticket prices to remain low – thereby also supporting the audience and allowing un(der)waged people access to their excellent programme.

Shit Theatre's Women's Hour.

Shit Theatre’s Women’s Hour.

Kill the Beast – Clem Garrity: We always start with a bucket load of influences and inspirations; this time round we drew on the folk-horror genre of the late 60s & 70s and started to explore that nicotine-stained, brown-wallpapered world. We were also really excited to try and see if we could craft and tell a who’s-the-werewolf-who-dunnit within 75 minutes onstage after the more sketch-like approach we took to the plot of The Boy Who Kicked Pigs – this time around we weren’t confined by adapting somebody else’s story, so we could chop, change and kill characters wherever we saw fit, which was nice.

After creating the story (and many, many fights over whether the word fraulein was funnier than commandant) the next step was to get our creative team on board. There were many more burrowing away behind the scenes to create the show but here’s a taste of what some were up to: Bryan Woltjen started creating the beautiful model boxes we project as our flickering sets, each with a slight nod to one of our many strange inspirations (check out the posters on the wall in the opening scene).

Nina Scott and Rachel Owen started dressing the village of Hemlock-Under-Lye, drenching each character in varying shades of mustard and bog-green (if you look closely you can see each resident sporting a growth of moss somewhere on their person). Our composer Ben Osborn started working with a theremin, a psychedelic instrument, which is never touched by the player and creates all those brilliant UFO- style sound effects you’ll have heard in countless B-movies.

We are all big horror fans as well as being comedy lovers, so I think we are naturally inclined towards the darker side of life. We are fascinated by the way in which a situation which is fundamentally horrific or tragic can suddenly become very funny when viewed from a different angle. Finding what that angle is and for how long you can sustain the comedy of a dark situation is for us one of the best challenges of making a show. And we’re all just very, very ill.

The art scene in London is still as thriving and diverse as ever, despite the recent slew of arts funding cuts. London boasts both world-renowned theatre and an underground creative core that exist on a totally misbalanced axis. Whilst the money is in the West End, enormous amounts of hard work and inspiration go into thousands of pieces of work which run the risk of getting lost in the chaos of the capital. Incoming provides a one stop shop for audiences to see the fruits of these hard labours and a great platform for companies like us to show and share our work.

We were at Incoming last year to show our very first (and very rough) performance of He Had Hairy Hands so it’ll be lovely to return to its warm, welcoming bosom with a little less panic and a hopefully a little less sweat!

Kandinsky – James Yeatman: It’s a funny thing to be part of a festival for ’emerging’ companies, in that Kandinsky really began ’emerging’ about ten years ago. The writer Al Smith and I formed the company (named after Al’s family cat) while at university, and by 2010 had developed a great following on the fringe with shows that ranged omnivorously from the moon landings to the atomic bomb to Chinatown. By 2010, however, we were increasingly busy with freelance work that paid us a bit better; I went off to work for Complicite and Al wrote lots for TV and radio. Dog Show, then, marks the company’s re-emergence – we’re coming out of hibernation. Al and I got the band back together because we wanted to explore a new way of working that pooled our experience in new writing and devised theatre, combining qualitative research with devising workshops to create striking, theatrical responses to a stimulus that still left space for a playwright to give the piece the distinctive precision of dialogue and authored storytelling we enjoy in the best new writing. We began developing Dog Show last year with the support of the New Diorama and Shoreditch Town Hall, and the show’s had a great response so far – it’s fantastic to have the chance to keep developing it, both for Incoming and into the future.

Bringing the company back to life has been a reminder that to be ‘emerging’ is a real slog: people will watch your show, but won’t really help you get it on; there’s no big organisational safety net, no overdrafts or infrastructure of offices, photocopiers and rehearsal rooms. Everything has to be fought for, every penny raised from squeezed funding bodies and links to Kickstarter campaigns shamelessly broadcast to friends, acquaintances and potential audience members (check ours out).

But if it is a slog, it’s one redeemed by the knowledge that as nobody’s forcing you to make the work, you can make whatever you want, with a duty to love what you’re making; and also that when you do encounter kindness and support, it’s incredibly gratifying. And Incoming is exactly that. Bringing Dog Show to the festival, alongside so many other exciting companies producing such a huge diversity of work for all the right reasons, is incredibly exciting and a real honour. The way the festival is run, right down to a box office split, keeps costs as low as possible for theatre-makers and gives us a great stage to try out work that we really believe in, made in a way that we want to continue working in future. It’s so exciting to bring Kandinsky back, reach new audiences and show people that this old dog still has plenty of new tricks.

The Incoming festival is at the New Diorama from 1st-10th June 2015

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Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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