An artistic director has written an open letter to councillors voicing her support for The Castle theatre and its future.
Florence O’Mahony, artistic director for the The Human Zoo Theatre Company, contacted the Northants Telegraph after it was announced that the contract of The Castle (Wellingborough) Ltd to run the theatre on behalf of the council was to be terminated.
Here is her open letter to the council, which she hopes will help the authority make an informed decision when looking at the future of the Wellingborough theatre:
“I am writing to you to voice my concern and sadness at the news of The Castle Ltd’s recent contract termination in Wellingborough.
“I am an artist in residence at The Castle, and the artistic director of the international, award-winning Human Zoo Theatre Company.
“I hope that this open letter may offer the councillors a seemingly overlooked and catastrophically disregarded insight into the creative, community and artistic impact I have personally witnessed (and of course, I can only speak about the times I have been there to see the incredible work in person) at The Castle during my time working there.
“As I sit and try to summarise the impact of The Castle’s support of The Human Zoo Theatre Company over the past two years, it begins to dawn on me how difficult and lengthy a summary might end up being.
“Perhaps that is down to my creative tendency for using ten words where one might suffice, or perhaps that is down to the far-reaching, forward-thinking, practical and personal support that The Castle has put in place for supporting us as a young emerging company for the past 24 months.
“Our relationship with The Castle began when we came to facilitate a weekend of workshops as part of RYTF, working alongside The Castle’s thriving youth theatre and participation teams to deliver a weekend of events to over 150 young people from Northamptonshire.
“The opportunity for these young people to engage with professional practitioners is unparalleled in the local community.
“As a young person who grew up with very limited access to professional artists, I know how this lack of access can lead to a belief that your creative growth is of little importance within the community and to the local authorities.
“Regardless of whether these young people go on to forge a career in the arts, this platform where their creativity and personal development is taken seriously, is undoubtedly part of a broader picture which values creative, personal growth, nurturing young people in Wellingborough to enable them to apply these skills either within the arts or outside of it.
“It encourages Wellingborough’s young people to explore a world beyond their own individual experience, and to access practitioners who stretch the industry both nationally and internationally.
“In a climate where culture is being squeezed out of the national curriculum, The Castle provides a safe haven where young people’s access to the arts should always be treated as a necessity that is secure and constant.
“Our first residency at The Castle saw us work with a smaller section of the Castle’s youth theatre group, to deliver a four-day devising workshop, culminating in the youth theatre developing a self-devised opening piece, and joining us on stage in a large movement scene, as part of our professional touring production of ‘The Hive’.
“This offered us as a company the opportunity to be working at The Castle for an extended period beyond our one night performance, allowing us to begin our relationship with this thriving venue as resident artists.
“I’m sure I don’t need to explain the incredible impact that this workshop had on the young participants, who were offered direct access to a professional company’s devising process, and the opportunity to perform alongside professional performers on stage.
“This residency offered Human Zoo and The Castle the opportunity to create a mutually beneficial, practical partnership where we delivered The Castle’s ambitious and extraordinary goals for engaging with young people, whilst creating a financially viable touring model.
“This opportunity encouraged more audience members to come to see a new company’s work. It was a win-win-win situation on all accounts.
“Since then, The Castle’s mentoring, championship and commissioning support of The Human Zoo has been exponentially beneficial to us as an emerging company.
“I’m not sure where we would be if we hadn’t crossed paths with Darren Walter in Edinburgh, and his ongoing professional mentoring has lead to us feeling empowered to make organisational and structural changes to our company which were vital for us to continue making work.
“We would not have known how to go about this without the time and industry knowledge imparted by an artistic director’s whose advocacy and respect for emerging artists creating new work is committed, knowledgeable and invaluable. “Developmental fundraising mentoring from Anna Denny has lead to us being able to apply to new sources of funding which previously, we did not even know existed.
“The impact of this is that Human Zoo is beginning to develop into a company that is able to offer viable professional opportunities to our artists and to continue delivering our community outreach work.
“Our contract to deliver The Castle’s Young Company programme has offered the Human Zoo viable, professional contracted work, and has offered nine incredibly talented young people, aged 16-22, the opportunity to access professional theatre practitioners and industry experience in order to help them to take the next step in forging a creative career.
“This hands-on, practical, tailor-made training model for young people is becoming a new industry standard for regional arts centres, and The Castle’s capacity to provide this opportunity marks their incredible dedication and commitment to providing competitive, engaging and exciting training opportunities for young people in Wellingborough.
“I am yet to visit a venue who takes their youth programmes so seriously, with a constant goal to improve and build upon what already exists.
“This is by far more than your average weekly drama club, or a youth theatre run out of a village hall.
“This venue’s industry experience and professional personnel means that meaningful, in depth and wide-reaching training is on offer to Wellingborough’s young people. This programme is truly impressive (and as a touring practitioner, I have had contact with a huge range of young people’s programmes).
“When facilitating the Young Company, The Human Zoo’s team are able to offer up our own experience of starting a new company, of devising work and of taking productions to the Edinburgh Fringe (the world’s largest theatre festival) and to use our own industry contacts to secure impressive and competitive venue support from The Pleasance, where this Young Company will perform their show in August.
“Those who have visited this huge arts festival will understand the clout a venue such as The Pleasance can have, and to have this in place for the Young Company is no mean feat.
“This programme encourages the young people involved to be included in the producing of their own work, and so it is testament to their own creativity and application writing that they were able to secure this venue, with mentoring from Alex Leonard, The Castle’s very own Wonder Woman in terms of increasing participation, and providing diverse, exciting and personal training opportunities for young people.
“Aside from our work with young people at The Castle, we are also being commissioned to create new work here in Wellingborough. Our next production, GIANT, has received commission funding from The Castle which has lead to us securing significant further funding from Arts Council England, and other partners and charities based in Wellingborough.
“A large chunk of this project sees The Human Zoo delivering meaningful and creative intergenerational workshops between young people and older people (aged 60+) in Wellingborough and Northamptonshire.
“We are working with NVCA to deliver engagement opportunities to socially isolated, vulnerable and currently unengaged older people in this community.
“This series of workshops will encourage these two groups to challenge the stereotypes about different age groups and to build a bridge of communication through genuine, personal, creative collaboration.
“The arts, and theatre specifically, offers an excellent and wholly appropriate platform for beginning to rebuild intergenerational relationships in this community.
“Where the opportunity to create professional work here at The Castle exists, the generation of community engagement opportunities closely follows, and across all of the companies that visit The Castle, these opportunities are of a quality that is remarkable and important.
“As artists, we are constantly striving to share our work and our process in meaningful ways which will have an impact beyond the four walls of a studio theatre.
“Over the past two years, The Human Zoo has lived and breathed the community life in Wellingborough.
“We have gone out of our way to make sure that our presence as a resident company is felt by those who might not necessarily buy a ticket to see our shows.
“Whether it be by actively engaging with Wellingborough residents, making appearances at community events, or by taking our casts into the local shopping centre to promote The Castle’s programme, The Human Zoo has grabbed the opportunity to get to know Wellingborough by the reins and being resident here has allowed us to really invest in this valuable community relationship.
“Professional artists know full well that without being our work being accessible to communities, without offering an attitude which welcomes engagement and openness, our artistic output (however spectacular) is rendered useless. “The Castle are great champions of bringing professional artists together with the residents and communities of Wellingborough and for this, we are truly grateful.”