How Hull Truck Theatre is nurturing talent through Grow programme

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Next month Hull Truck presents Grow, a season of new work from local, regional and national artists. Nick Ahad reports.

Things are happening out East.

Hull Truck Theatre has been slowly changing the theatre game it’s playing, under the quiet and firm leadership of Mark Babych in recent years. The artistic director has introduced a whole raft of ideas, schemes, policies and most importantly of all, tangible actual changes, to make his theatre a place which reflects a diverse, contemporary Britain.

That’s not all they’re doing, though. There is a lot going on at Hull.

The latest move Babych and producer Adam Pownall have made to change the game comes into force over the coming weeks.

It is the instigation of a full season of work under the banner of Grow, a programme that has been running at the Hull venue for the past five years, but which steps fully into the limelight in 2019.

Alongside this, Babych himself is taking the directorial reins of a one-woman show which receives its world premiere this week.

First, Grow.

When we talk, I confess to Babych and Pownall that Grow has thus far slipped under my radar. It’s an oversight, but one which is explained when they tell me that it has, for the past five years, happened over a single weekend and been aimed at emerging artists in Hull. It’s the kind of thing that might slip past a theatre critic because the work isn’t really aimed at being seen and evaluated by the outside world, given its often embryonic form.

“It’s really grown over the past five years,” says Pownall.

“When I arrived here in Hull last year, it was my first day and Grow was happening. I was walking around the building thinking ‘this is amazing’, all these artists making work and talking about their work. I just wondered how that spirit was something we could get to go through the rest of the year. That’s why we’ve decided to have a whole season this year.”

So what exactly is Grow?

“It’s a season of work that is contemporary and very much from Hull. It features lots of artists making contemporary theatre work, but there are also networking opportunities, workshops, drop-in sessions where artists can talk to people who work here at the theatre and ask for advice, they can meet experts and ask about things from programming to doing a tax return.”

In the corporate world I believe it’s the sort of thing that comes under the banner of ‘upskilling’, something which the arts industry is, it holds its hands up and declares, particularly bad at doing.

“Our doors are open to artists all year round, this is a chance for us to make sure people know that our doors are open and a chance to start conversations with us and for artists to meet each other,” says Pownall.

Babych says there is a bigger picture idea going on with Grow, too.

“It’s a question on another scale, a question about inclusion and access, but it’s also a question about what a theatre is for. We’re not just about creating work and putting it on our stages. That’s something we do and we spend a long time talking about the diversity of the artists who are working on our stages, but we also have to think about the diversity of the audiences and we have to think about the health of the wider theatre ecology.”

Over the past few years, since Babych’s arrival, it has become clear this diversifying of audiences and artists is something which is important to him and something on which he is willing to take a lead.

“I sometimes get accused of ticking boxes, but all it is is that I see the creative potential of an inclusive approach. If we want to make great art, then we need to make art that is reflective of modern Britain.

“The most exciting work is made when it reflects who we are and from different points of view and I want us to be a place where great art is made.”

Speaking of great art, this week sees the opening of a new piece of theatre and it feels very much like a piece of work that will act as a warm-up, if you will, ahead of the launch of the Grow season next month.

Paragon Dreams is a one-woman show, written and performed by Hull actress and playwright Hester Ullyart, directed by Babych. It is a bit of a surprise to see the building’s artistic director working on a one-person studio piece.

“It is the sort of work I did a lot of before I became the artistic director here and for me it feels like a great opportunity to work with a really interesting artist who is making work out of Hull.

“It’s another example of how our programming is aimed at developing artists from and in Hull.”

Described as a ‘spellbinding thriller, it also features an original score by Hull composer Joe Roper and is a story firmly rooted in the local area.

It being a one-woman show being presented in the wake of the critical acclaim of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, one hates to make the comparison, but…

Babych interrupts the question: “I think Fleabag was a real game- changer and Hester totally acknowledges the influence it has had on her work.

“It is a piece of work that deals with very complex subjects 
with a wit and panache and 
I think that is something reflected in Hester’s work. She is a great talent and I really believe she is on the cusp of something really exciting.”

And the most exciting thing?

Ullyart came to Hull Truck in just the way that many other similar emerging artists are going to thanks to Grow when it launches in a few weeks from now.

Paragon Dreams by Hester Ullyart, directed by Mark Babych, Hull Truck Theatre, to May 4.

The Grow Season launches at Hull Truck with the Grow Festival May 7 to 11.

Beginning with Roundhouse Poetry Slam on May 7 at 8pm, the festival includes Blokes, Fellas, Geezers, a one-man 
show looking at masculinity (May 8) and Can I Touch Your Hair, a piece about the struggle and pride of having afro hair (May 10).

Full programme details and to book tickets visit www.hulltruck.co.uk or call 01482 323638.