A chance to create new work over the summer

West Yorkshire Playhouse is supporting the work of new theatre companies over the holiday season. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Summer Sublets at West Yorkshire Playhouse
Summer Sublets at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Traditionally summer can be a quiet period for theatres, but the West Yorkshire Playhouse is going to be a hive of activity over the holiday season – they have come up with a constructive way of using empty rehearsal spaces to benefit emerging theatre companies, artists and writers in the region. 
Producer Amy Letman is behind the Summer Sublets Residencies initiative which was trialled last summer and gives local theatre makers the opportunity to develop their work within the Playhouse’s premises free of charge. Those taking part are also offered mentoring and support from the programming team including constructive feedback, introductions to producers and valuable advice on how to attract funding.

“There is a lot happening in the region at the moment with new companies starting out who are doing really interesting work,” says Letman. “And it’s a great way for us to meet some of them.”

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Two of the projects developed during last year’s Summer Sublets have gone on to become very successful with Matthew Bellwood’s An Icy Man being presented as part of the Playhouse’s Transform festival earlier this year and Rash Dash’s Ugly Sisters going on to be a hit at the Edinburgh festival – the company will launch their new tour of the show at the Playhouse this autumn.

This summer Letman says they wanted to be more ambitious and open the scheme up to larger numbers – they are supporting 10 projects in all across the summer. “We had over 25 apply this time and they were very focussed,” she says.

“Some of them were companies who had heard about it from last year and had a new idea they wanted to start out or it happened to fit in well with the process of their project and this was a way of really getting it on its feet.” Applicants are required to describe their company, their project and how they intend to use the time and space.

“They specify how long they need,” says Letman. “Some are with us for a few days and others for two weeks, some are doing a couple of days a week across the summer and others in more concentrated bursts. They let us know if they would like any mentoring or support and we match them up with members of the programming team. We also introduce them to producers and programmers in the North of England who are supporting the development of new work.”

The projects are diverse and varied. They include a creative collective called Yorkshire Life Aquatic who aim to bring the beauty of synchronised swimming onto dry land – during their residency they will be developing site specific performance pieces that use movement inspired by synchronised swimming techniques, and celebrate real women; playwright Joanne Hartley and choreographer Pauline Mayers’ Full Time Permanent is an exploration of the corporate office with its rules, regulations, jargon and clichés; and Leeds-based writer Lydia Rain, who recently took part in the Playhouse’s So You Want to Be a Writer programme, will be exploring the history of the First World War through the eyes of a young woman living in Leeds.

New theatre company Displace Yourself, set up by young husband-and-wife team Jennifer Nevin and Mike Auger, recently finished a two-week residency during which they developed their project Walk on By using music, comedy and movement to explore some of the many causes of homelessness.

“There was no pressure to come up with a finished, polished production, it was all about the process, giving us the time to thoroughly explore issues surrounding homelessness and play with new ideas,” says Jennifer.

“For a new company having just moved to the area, the welcome and support we received was invaluable. It was useful to meet other new artists involved in the Summer Sublets, and we were put in touch with others in the industry who are now helping us with the future of our project.”

Some of the projects taking place this summer will be chosen to feature in the Playhouse’s Furnace festival in the autumn, a chance to put the work in front of an audience. That is exactly the kind of practical encouragement and exposure that new theatre companies need. The Playhouse’s creative team understand this and they are committed to continuing the summer sublets, alongside other development opportunities.

“There will be a whole host of things on offer, whether you are a writer or a new company,” says Letman. “We are really looking at how we can help to develop the next generation of theatre makers.”

Other Summer Sublets Residencies

Speak Woman Speak – Loss. Leeds-based artists Leah Francis, Carmen Martorell and Zodwa Nyoni create work inspired by women.

Adam Z. Robinson and Rachel Ashwanden – Conscientious. A monologue about peace and violence, apparent friendships and betrayal.

Emma Adams and Sarah Applewhite – Accidents and Emergencies. Writer Emma Adams and director Sarah Applewhite are creating a new work together.

Adam Young – With Open Arms. Looks into how the authoritative voice can influence public behaviour and decision making.