Space for imagination.

Written by Chris O’Connell – Artistic Director, Theatre Absolute

Working as we do at the Shop Front Theatre, we get through a lot of activity!

Almost every week someone knocks on our door, or we say yes towards enabling or facilitating a new project in the Shop that someone has come to us to enquire about. “Could we use your space to … “ – fill in the gap, it could be a range of many things as we have a multitude of activities going on at the Shop and very often, if we can make it work, we will say yes and support the best way we can.

As the end of the year looms, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on two very different projects that have happened over the last 12 months. Not because they are the best, but because they are very diverse and because they are truly illustrative of the work we are able to do at the Shop front Theatre.

Last year, we hosted our Late-Night Shopper event, which is a platform we provide via which to show emerging artists at the Shop Front – they may be dancers, musicians, writers, actors, and so on, across all levels, amateur, beginners, established. The event was memorable for the contribution of the brilliant duo who are Rishard Beckett and Richard Walls. They performed an extract of their piece called ‘Instrumental’. It was still being written the night they did it, it was edgy, it was risky, but they got up and went for it because I think the Shop offers that security, no one is there to judge. We were proud to be able to facilitate the evolution of these two guys who come from very different backgrounds and who are forging a remarkable partnership that thrives on the fun, creativity, and love they discover in each other’s company.

The complete opposite of that small and delicately balanced project is the big, brash, loud work we recently completed with Coventry University’s 3rd year students from their Theatre and Professional Practice BA course. They are a cohort of 50, so that’s a lot of bodies in our space!! Over the month of October this year we asked them to respond to the project we are currently in the middle of producing which is called ‘Are We Where We Are?’ It is made up of 9 pieces for theatre that considers ideas around justice, race, equality, and more. With the students, we encouraged them to take this as a stimulus and look at their own lives and the world around them, and create five 25-minute theatre pieces in reply. Split into five groups of ten, they produced brave, bold, and insightful work that was a privilege to watch. Whoever said young people don’t care about anything?

We have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have this space and the support of the local authority and funders such as the Heart of England Community Foundation.  We are not core funded and rely totally on project funding and donations but somehow, we make it work. We also remind ourselves that we are able to offer a haven for many differing voices and an environment in which people feel they can express themselves. We ran the students’ pieces for a week, and in that time, we received lots of new audiences, (including proud parents, supportive siblings), who got to witness the intimacy and the thrill of activity in the Shop Front Theatre, and who left expressing how impressed they were at the creativity of what happens here in Coventry.

Do visit the Shop Front Theatre in 2018 if you can – we have a new body of work from January and our very first Shop Front Festival on 23rd and 24th March. Come along and bring a friend too!

For more information on Theatre Absolute click here.

Photo by Andrew Moore.