Archive for the 'Hatchifesto' Category

Hatching Space, After the Event: An Interview With Hatch (Summer 2012)

To conclude Hatching Space, it might be worthwhile to post the full transcript of an interview carried out at Primary during the summer of 2012 with the three core members of Hatch, Nathaniel J Miller, Michael Pinchbeck and Marie Bertram. The edited version appeared in the Performance issue of Nottingham Visual Arts magazine.

Interview by Wayne Burrows. All photography by Julian Hughes.

Nathaniel J Miller and Michael Pinchbeck at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

Nathaniel J Miller: Can you hear that when you play back? Do you think this will record OK with the echo in here?

WB: I think it’ll be fine. It’s not usually a problem unless there’s background noise…

NJM: …or if we all talk over each other.

WB: So if we get started, I suppose the first thing I wanted to ask about was Helen Cole’s ‘This Secret Location’ essay in this book you lent me which had a line – “It is my belief that the responsibility of any curator is to act as a bridge between artist, audience and context” – which sounded like a fair summary of what Hatch tries to do. Would that comment seem like something you’d see yourselves reflected in?

NJM: I suppose so…does that mean we’re curators?

Michael Pinchbeck: I think anyone who puts something somewhere has to think about those things, whatever the art form. I mean, today we’ve mostly been driving around with Andy Field, who’s going to be bringing a piece here in October, and it’s mainly been a question of asking “where does the work work best?”. After that, it’s about finding an audience, and making it possible for the work to be made in that place.

NJM: Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to come first, whether you find a space that’s interesting enough to want to put work into, and going out to find the right work for it, or whether you find work you want to bring to Nottingham, and then go out to find the right space for that work.

Frank Abbott: Spaghetti Powerpoint at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Obviously, some Hatch work is devised for particular spaces, particular contexts, so maybe Frank Abbott being at Broadway would be an example of that recently?

MP: We were also invited by Broadway to find artists who would respond to Broadway, and the same with the Playhouse, so we took the audiences from one venue to the other, and invited both them and the artists to think about the journey between the two different venues. In October, we’ll be doing a similar thing, taking audiences from Broadway to Primary, and other events have involved bus journeys, where we thought about what would happen on the bus to the venue. So if we are curating, we’re curating the journeys between venues as much as the events happening in them. We’re trying to create an experience for an audience as much as a performance.

NJM: How things started was with Hatch trying to create places for people to use to show work: existing locations, but not places you’d go to see art or theatre or performance. We’d be in a pub, or somewhere like that, and we’d make the space for a night. Now, we still do that, but also create connections between places and people, audiences, artists and art. That can be two points on a journey within the city, or a network that links things happening here in Nottingham to places outside, so going from Nottingham to Leicester is an example of that.

WB: One thing I remember Hatch being described as, during what I suppose you’d now call its mid-period – around the time of Abroad on Broad Street, or Across on St James’ Street – was that it’s like a very compressed festival. Does that get towards the intention?

NJM: It gets the point that we’ve had an intention that anything could be included, and we always had a wide ranging view of what we defined as performance, and a feeling that no type of performance would be excluded – though some things fall into our particular spiral better than others, and there are certain things it’s logistically possible for us to do, and other things we don’t have the resources to do. But the idea that any kind of performance can happen within a Hatch event is something we’ve always felt was important, and that’s not unlike how a festival works.

MP: One recent definition – not of us in particular, but the kind of thing we do – is “a micro-festival”. Something that happens for a day or two, and can incorporate one-to-one performance and durational pieces, or a more conventional one hour show, all inside the same frame. One of our earlier outings was Hatch: Wish You Were Here, where we had Meg Tait playing an organ with a fork attached to her head. It only lasted a minute and a half, and that’s a thing that could only happen in this kind of micro-festival context, where we can give artists a space to try things out, to do things that are untested and untried. And you don’t necessarily know it’ll only last a minute and a half until you see it.

WB: The other side of that is the way some of the work blurs the line between what is obviously work, and what’s just happening around the venue. At Hatch: Undercover in the Loggerheads pub there was a man sitting at a table doing a performance with jelly babies. The way you encountered it meant it could have been a performance, or it could just as easily have been some eccentric local amusing himself.

MP: I think those kinds of venues allow that blurring and uncertainty to happen much more easily, and now we work with arts centres and more established venues it’s a lot harder to achieve that. But we do still try to programme a few events that are free range, that move around the buildings, that are in the programme but don’t have a fixed time-slot or a fixed space. We’ve always been keen to encourage that potential reading.

NJM: Part of the challenge in using a pub or street is setting things up so you can present performances, and part of the challenge in using an Arts Centre is how you can reconfigure it to make it a space where you can still be surprised by the things that happen.

Katherine Fishman & Alice Gale-Feeny at Hazard 2 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Marie Bertram: I think sometimes it’s easier to fully invent an infrastructure than it can be to adapt to one that’s already there. When it’s all there, I think we need to subvert it a little to suit our purposes. Both situations have their strengths and bring problems.

MP: It’s also when you don’t know where the work is, when it begins or ends, or even what it is. For example, when we first performed at Embrace in Leicester, Medium Rare brought various items of found building material to the venue, the journey on the train with it was a part of the work, the parade to get it to the venue was a part of the work, the construction of a shelter outside Embrace was a part of the work…and then they sat in it for a bit, took it apart, and carried it back again, so for me that’s one of the strengths in Hatch: there’s a transience and mobility that’s a bit like Simon Starling’s shed into boat into shed work, where there’s a real slipperiness about what the work is. That idea of building an infrastructure then taking it away again is part of what Hatch is. We’re a pop-up organisation, with the potential to exist anywhere, at any time, but without a fixed abode.

WB: Has the Hatch infrastructure become more formalised than it was in the beginning – I suppose I mean by that to ask if Hatch now does have a particular identity, even if it’s one it doesn’t necessarily want? I guess there are certain expectations audiences will now bring to Hatch events.

NJM: I think that’s inevitable, but I don’t think that’s a negative thing. One of our intentions in the early days was to keep moving things around, and not be too closely linked to any one space or organisation. We still do that, in Nottingham, at least – in Leicester it’s slightly different because all the Leicester events have involved Embrace – but I think people’s sense of a Hatch identity is something we’ve created. It’s not necessarily a set of features…

MP: …and I think we have avoided doing the same thing twice, so even when the format is similar, there’ll always be some new element, and it keeps changing. Part of that is responding to feedback from audiences and artists. So it was Frank Abbott who suggested we might employ a writer to occupy the programmes and respond to them, so that’s how we came to commission you for the NEAT and Hatching Space programmes, and documentation became one of the things our artists found useful. This meant at Scratch we had 3 or 4 different modes of documentation, from photography and audio to written responses to the work…that’s all part of a process of development and a way of evolving Hatch. As a result, even the events at Embrace, a single venue, have all had very different formats, stretched the building, the staff and ourselves. The next one there will run for a full 12 hours. That’s what we’re trying to do – keep stretching ourselves. When I did my MA at Nottingham Trent someone asked the question: “Do you want to do the same thing better, or do you want to do something different?”. It’s a good question. Did you want to keep trying the same thing and keep getting better at it each time, or did you want to keep trying new things, and going in different directions, trying new things, things you’d not tried before? I think for us, we’ve always chosen the path of different rather than better…

NJM: I’m not sure it’s either-or with those, because if you’re doing the same thing, your toolbox for doing it becomes more refined, and you can end up with something that’s far more polished and professionally produced, but it’s not necessarily any better than what you had to begin with. We could have followed the thing of being a regular night with a set format, and we’d have become much better at doing that as we went on, but the events themselves would have become stale.

MP: We talked in the early days about the Shunt factor, doing something like Shunt in London, where you go along not to see any particular thing they’re showing, but because it was a night being put on by Shunt. We wanted that same sense that you’d go along to Hatch, not really knowing what you might see, but knowing that because it was Hatch, it would have a certain flavour and atmosphere. Often, because we were working in pubs and clubs, that atmosphere was the most important factor to start with, so it was a social event as much as it was an artistic event.

WB: I think that was very much the case, and I guess you could say of how Hatch has developed is that it began with connections between performances within a single venue, has moved on to connect venues around the city, and is now in a phase where you’re becoming part of bigger networks, linking this city to networks elsewhere: you’re bringing people here, like Action Hero from Bristol, or Andy Field from Edinburgh, and at the same time Hatch is travelling, to Leicester and Manchester…is that an evolution you’re conscious of cultivating? I suppose it’s a logical development, that this network keeps expanding.

NJM: I think that’s right, and the network element puts Hatch into a series of networks, and it’s logical that it grows from the back room of a pub, to the scale of a city, to the size of a region, and so on. We’ve always had people travelling to Hatch events, to be part of it, so even when we couldn’t offer money to performers, they still came to show work, to take that opportunity…

Olwen Davies: Inside Neverhood at Hatch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: We also called it Hatch because we wanted to be a place that would incubate and nurture new work, but also reflect the idea of an opening, a trapdoor, through which work that wouldn’t normally be seen here could find a way to an audience. We used to go and see work in Nottingham, things like Forced Entertainment or Third Angel, exciting companies at venues like The Powerhouse, and it seemed there weren’t the venues showing those kinds of work here anymore, so we were trying to bring some of that back. So when we had Reckless Sleepers at Hatch Abroad, or Action Hero at Hatch Across, we were conscious that there weren’t other contexts where that work could be seen in Nottingham. Now we’re bringing Third Angel to Hatch Twelve in October. We’ve talked about an ambition to have these ‘regional coups’, for Hatch to show work that isn’t being seen anywhere else here, and it’s important that artists can see the region, through Hatch, while audiences get to see these artists, through Hatch. It’s a two-way Hatch, if you like.

NJM: Yeah, and I think because Action Hero hadn’t done anything in Nottingham before…

MP: …they’d not been to the East Midlands before…

NJM: …no, and so hadn’t been seen in Leicester, before we put them on there, either, and Third Angel haven’t been to Leicester for a long time…

MP: They’ve been to Corby, I think.

WB: That touches on something important, I suppose, because going back a few years, you find that Nottingham was always a key city for live art and more experimental kinds of performance, so the National Review of Live Art had roots at the Midland Group, companies like Dogs in Honey and Reckless Sleepers were here, and Nottingham was very much part of a wider national conversation involving cities like Manchester and Sheffield, through those things, and things like the earlier NOW festivals and the Powerhouse programmes. And that has seemed to decline over the years, and a lot of the companies who emerged here moved away, so you have Gob Squad, but they’re mainly working in Berlin, or Reckless Sleepers in Belgium, so I wondered if a consciousness about that lost history was part of the starting motivation for Hatch: a desire to re-seed some of that ground?

MP: Absolutely, we touched on that in the Second Hatchifesto, and talked a bit about how a lot of artist led activity grew up in those gaps during that time, like plants coming up through the cracks in the pavement. And I think there’s definitely an ambition for us to help that process, so we’ve been able to attach companies and work to the Nottingham Playhouse, and we’ve been able to show work at Nottingham Contemporary, so we try to create a new loop within that absence, and it’ll be interesting to see how that evolves. But it seems to me to be about context, so NOW gave the work it brought here a context, and NottDance does that, and has invited to make work for them, and the NEAT festival was a context, and we took part in that, so within these festivals, who want to represent something artist led and from the grass roots, Hatch can present an attractive option. So at NEAT – which wanted to reflect some of the spaces and histories around the city – we were able to bring work to places like Wellington Circus, and the Nottingham Forest football ground, and the Polish community centre in Sherwood. Our ability to initiate these kinds of projects can make us much more adaptable, in terms of creating these fresh contexts, than some of the bigger organisations we sometimes work with. At the same time, we want to find work and bring it into these contexts, so for NEAT, there were two Manchester artists we came across through Green Room, and invited to show here, at the Polish Centre and the Playhouse, so Hatch became a way of drawing that line between the programme at Green Room and the programme at the Playhouse – a line that wouldn’t ordinarily have been drawn. Maybe it goes back to the opening quote about bridges, because often our role is about making these connections.

NJM: There was a niche here, for something that could help to continue showing that kind of work, and when I first came back here, from Liverpool, it did feel there was an absence: things like the NTU creative arts course, and certain venues and programmes, were closing down, but there weren’t yet the new things there replacing them…

MP: …and I think the Creative Arts course at NTU was important, but there were still degree level students emerging from places like New College Nottingham and the fine art courses with strong interests in these forms, so our early events often had combined audiences where those students were a key presence, and we had performers who were graduates of those places, so the NTU strand was only ever one rung on that very diverse ladder of theatre being made in the city.

NJM: It’s also important, when you have people graduating, that there are things in the city that can keep them here, so they don’t all just disperse off to bigger places elsewhere.

MP: Another aspect of that is that there were a group of students on the fine art degree at Trent who decided to set themselves up as a performance collective and NTU asked if Hatch could mentor them. That was the beginning of our relationship with Medium Rare, and they performed with us at several events during their 3 years of study, and are now working with us again as graduates. I think what’s interesting is that although our work with these places has an academic context, it also sits across and between academic and public contexts in an interesting way.

The Suitcase Ensemble at Hatch:Scratch [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

WB: I’ve noticed that in the last few years a lot of the conventional boundaries have been going through one of their blurrier phases: a lot of visual arts events seem to draw on performance and spoken word, while a lot of theatre and performance seems to be drawing on approaches borrowed from disciplines like music and experimental film: Mamoru Iriguchi’s piece being one example, Frank Abbott’s another, maybe. Do you think these lines are perhaps getting more blurred than usual, or is this just an ongoing thing?

NJM: I think there’s some truth in that, so you’ll get artists like Hetain Patel who just very naturally fall into all sorts of different categories, just through the work he does. He ends up being classified differently in different contexts, and even the same piece can be shown in different ways in different places: he might make a theatre show, or a dance performance, an installation or an exhibition, and it’s hard to say exactly what kind of artist he is, except that he’s an interesting one.

MP: Yes, and I think that applies to a lot of the artists Hatch work with. I think of Frank Abbott, who’s also difficult to place, as a film-maker stroke performer stroke fine artist stroke whatever else he does with all his strange gadgets.

NJM: It’s those people where you can’t say in one or two words what they are and where they fit in who are often making the most interesting work. The concept behind Hatch is constructed in a way that helps us to find those people and bring them together.

WB: Are you finding that the lack of an easy definition about Hatch itself, and where it fits between these different disciplines, is something that helps or hinders you, with funding and finding audiences?

NJM: I think at first it did make it potentially difficult to explain what we wanted to do, and what it was we were trying to create, and it could make it difficult for people to get a handle on what they were seeing and thought we were doing. But as we go on it becomes one of our strengths and means we can have conversations with very different institutions and people, so we can talk to Nottingham Contemporary and Primary, and we can talk with Nottingham Playhouse and Broadway. We can create lots of different contexts and start from anywhere.

MB: It keeps it really adaptable which makes it really exciting for us, and allows us to explore. We don’t end up facing that wall of assumptions about what we are or what we can be.

WB: During NEAT, before I started writing about that programme, I tried to think about what Hatch was, and realised that you were often given the label of ‘experimental’. But then, thinking about what was taken to define experimental, I realised it was often as much a case of having returned to a pre proscenium arch kind of theatre, before the fourth wall was built, when site-specificity and involving the audience might have been more standard. Was that history any part of your thinking?

NJM: We’re not consciously reaching back to any pre-existing form of performance, before the walls were built around it…

MP: …but then, we have avoided building the walls, or we’ve moved the walls around.

NJM: I don’t think we thought of it historically, but there is an idea…and an audience…that can be presented with certain kinds of work in ways that don’t fence it in with ideas like ‘experimental’ and ‘difficult’, and when it’s seen in certain ways, where no big deal is made of how strange and experimental it is, that can draw the audience in and make the work very accessible without needing to compromise it.

MP: If you think about experimental theatre, and the companies who make it, you often find that for some people it’s the word ‘experimental’ that’s off-putting, and for others, it’s the word ‘theatre’ that’s off-putting. Performance in the Pub, which is Hannah Nicklin’s night in Leicester, is billed as “theatre for people who don’t do theatre”, and there is that sense that for some audiences, theatre is not a space you might enter. So if you programme it in a pub or in a club or on a street, it’s more readily accessible and as an audience you can find yourself involved in something you’d never normally find yourself in – and then you might realise you quite like it. So we try to avoid those kinds of definitions, and until we’re in a theatre, we don’t necessarily acknowledge what we do as theatre. There’s always the possibility that it can happen in another place just as easily as it can happen inside a theatre.

WB: Is that the real significance of your insistence on using the word ‘performance-y’?

NJM: Probably. Sometimes things aren’t difficult to understand or avant-garde until you tell people that that’s what they are.

Fourbeatwalk audiotours at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: Frank Abbott and Mat Trivett at Broadway were talking about what Frank was doing there, and they decided to call it ‘expanded cinema’, something that stretched and extended the screen and bled into the auditorium more than usual, and I think what we do could be seen as ‘extended performance’ in the same way. But by not using any very specific terms ourselves it leaves it up to our audiences to decide what they want to call it and how they want to experience it.

WB: Are you finding your audience is now defining itself, as a particular kind of audience that comes to Hatch events, or is it still quite flexible as to who comes?

NJM: There are a lot of people now who come to the things Hatch put on, because they think it’ll be worth seeing what we’re up to, but as long as we’re still moving to new places there will be new audiences coming to the events we put on. Some might have heard of us before, and come because it’s Hatch and they’re curious about what we do, but we’ll still get a different audience coming to see Hatch at Broadway than we will get coming to see us at Embrace Arts. And within that, some of those who come to Embrace will be people who use that centre a lot, and come because our event is on there, even though they wouldn’t normally come to events like ours, and there’ll be others who don’t normally go to Embrace who’ll go to that venue because we’re there. It’s definitely more difficult to surprise people in dedicated arts venues, where people are coming to see a Hatch event, than it is when you’re putting things on in pubs and places where people are there for a drink, or for lots of reasons other than seeing the performances we happen to doing.

MP: What we can still do when we’re at an arts venue is extend the frame of that space, so if we take an audience from Embrace to the Y Theatre, what happens to the audiences in both those places? What if we take an audience from Broadway to the Playhouse? I took a lot of second year Trent students to Nottingham Playhouse and they’d never been there before, because it wasn’t on their radar, so putting things on different people’s radars is one of the legacies we hope can come from the double bills we’re doing. Perhaps we can also offer things you wouldn’t normally get at events: at Embrace, we had a free buffet during Hatch Scratch, and one person who goes to all Embrace’s things said: “I’ve never seen a running buffet at an event here before”, so that became a highlight for him – a surprise. It made his night. But that was the idea – “we feed you, you feedback” – because we didn’t want it to feel like a one-way street, we wanted the audience to feel they were being given something, making it a two-way street and adding a sense of generosity to the night.

Michael Pinchbeck at Hazard 2 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Do you think there’s a particular Hatch aesthetic that’s developed since you began? There’s a certain thread of work I think of as very Hatch, work which draws on personal experience, can be quite intimate, but is also gentle, not necessarily some of the harder edged kinds of performance that happen in other contexts.

NJM: I think it varies, and there has been some of that more confrontational stuff at Hatch, but, yes, there are some live art platforms that are very confrontational, and we’re not really one of them. Perhaps that’s one of the things about attracting audiences from lots of different places, and wanting them to come back, which sort of means we do try not to scare people off. But we’ve talked about this a lot within Hatch, and one thing we’ve discussed is that we share a feeling that all the fourth walls should be removed and replaced by permeable membranes, and in this context, where you’re trying to create that particular kind of engagement between audiences and performers, anything that requires a fourth wall isn’t going to work. Performances need to be conscious of the audience being there, so whether it’s talking directly to that audience, or acknowledging it in other ways, that’s something that is needed to make things work in a Hatch context.

MP: Even when we’ve done performance platforms in more traditional single venues, like Embrace Arts, we’ve tried to configure things so perhaps one piece will be a promenade performance, another a durational piece, another using cabaret seating, so the audience never walks into the same space twice and always engages with the performances differently.

WB: I suppose that leads on to how things evolve from this point. Hatching Space is the longest-running, widest-ranging and biggest Hatch programme to date, so do you know how this will unfold? We’ve seen two events so far, across three different venues, but is this programme mapped completely, or still a work in progress, and where does this new phase lead you?

MP: Well, there are some exciting things in development, so one of our past partners has offered to support our programme for another two years, and that obviously provides a sense of backbone to what we do next. But there is a good question in looking at where we go next, and I think a lot of that will involve working outside our own city more, taking Hatch to other parts of the country, and drawing connections between those places and Nottingham and the East Midlands.

WB: So you’d be thinking about possible exchanges?

MP: The bus trip to Hazard Festival in Manchester is the first example of that, taking an event to a city where Hatch hasn’t been seen before, and also taking along a Hatch audience to see what happens at Hazard.

NJM: I think it’s also fair to say that as we’ve gone on, and looked at applying for more regular kinds of funding from places like the Arts Council, we’ve had to define what we do much more than we did in our earlier days. We did realise, in thinking about what we actually do, that we had this twin focus on developing new work within the East Midlands and bringing exciting work from elsewhere into the region: work that has difficulty finding a platform anywhere else here, but can be seen as part of Hatch. So whatever form it takes, the next phase will be about those two things: supporting artists here in making new work and bringing new work from outside for artists and audiences to see. Obviously, that’s also a way of putting the work being made here out into the wider world, and bringing the artists based here into a wider conversation, between different organisations and festivals nationally. An exchange programme would be wonderful if we could make it happen.

MP: Another aspect of that is that we were asked to present a talk at ‘Getting It Out There’, so we read the Second Hatchifesto, and afterwards met several companies who are working in other places, like Bristol and Leeds, who said it chimed very much with what they’re doing. So we’re finding, through that national exposure, more like-minded partners who will be potential collaborators in the future. It might be a case of us showing work they’ve produced, or them showing work we’ve produced, but we’re certainly trying to think more nationally. Partly because the circuit is changing all the time. It’s evolving faster than people can keep up, even at the level of touring work to the same venues. More venues are closing, due to the funding situation, and that’s one reason why more homeless or pop up organisations like ours can play a part, putting on work there’s no other context for. We have to be in a position to respond to those requests.

Shrug at Hazard 3 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: So in one sense, you become a kind of invisible building?

MP: Yes, one of the things we looked up to early on was Forest Fringe, based in Edinburgh, and their sense of a free space outside of a festival that offered artists opportunities for free in a climate where everything costs a lot of money. Now they’re homeless themselves and are just doing a publication this year, but we’ve already worked with both Debbie Pearson and Andy Field – the co-directors – and if we can create something that fosters a similar sense of supporting artists and creating an audience experience then we’ll be very happy. I think at first we did struggle with the idea that Hatch didn’t have a home, and thought maybe we needed one, but as we’ve gone on we’ve become aware that it might be one of our strengths, that it’s our USP.

WB: The quote I mentioned at the beginning was about curating, but I wonder if some of what you’re describing shades into areas like producing?

MP: I think you fix the nature of the dialogue in a fine art context when using that word, and because we work in different ways, and what we do can shade into areas like fine art, there are times when we’re curating. But there are other times when we’re producing, or are an outside eye, a dramaturg, or times when we’re marketing officers, or health and safety officers, so all these things are what we do sometimes, as and when we need to.

NJM: Also, curating gets used as a term for people who book bands for a gig, or who put together a mix-tape, and because I’m married to a curator, I’m very careful about how I use the word. Maybe there are some similarities, but we always had the definition of ourselves as a theatre without a building, and more and more we find ourselves doing what we’d be doing if we were a theatre with a building, except we do those things without one. Some of that might be producing, in the same way that a theatre will find artists and develop new work…

MP: Also, if you have a building, there will be people who programme it, but that’s not really the focus for me, the work itself is the focus. Sometimes, in an exhibition context, the curator becomes the focus as much as or more than the work itself, and that’s not what we want to do, we want to create the platform for the work to be seen.

NJM: Yes, the framework of Hatch hopefully offers people something they want to come to, but once they’re there what we want them to do is to see the work in the most intriguing way possible.

WB: I was thinking of curating in relation to Hatch events in the sense of Hatch bringing together sometimes disparate kinds of work, some of it from different disciplines, some unfinished or in process, to a single place and time where it can be seen…

NJM: We’re doing that, but perhaps the difference is we’re not trying to make a particular wider statement.

WB: But I suppose it’s unavoidable that there will be a statement – something we might call Hatch – that emerges from these gatherings of work. Is there a difference between Hatch as an entity and ethos and the sum total of the work you’d see at a Hatch event?

MP: In the run up to every event there’s a lot of dialogue that goes on, especially around pieces created for particular venues, like Frank’s piece at Broadway or Priya Mistry’s piece at Embrace. That’s really important, but there’s also Marie’s concept of ‘aftercare’, a lovely word that reflects the way we hope not to lose contact with artists, and try to keep in touch with them and feed the development of their work.

WB: There has been a strong thread in what you do, with artists who participated in early Hatch events still being involved now. They often return, with new work…

MB: Yes,  and sometimes in different constellations, too!

NJM: How it works for us is that someone might participate in different ways, so they might perform a solo piece at one show, then appear in a group show or as part of a duo at another and perhaps take part as a volunteer helping with front of house in another event. I suppose a good example of that in action is Ollie Smith. He’s done his own work with us, helped out at events, and now works with Michael, touring theatre shows like The End and The Beginning while developing shows of his own.

WB: There’s also someone like Kris Rowland, who did The Claque at Fresh and turned up with How We Run at Scratch…

NJM: Yes, How We Run also featured Pat Ashe, who’s worked with us as a solo artist, too. So there are lots of people who work with us, sometimes but not always in those shifting constellations Marie talked about. Some have come back with new work from the same artist or company, like Annette Foster or Action Hero, and some might not have returned yet but are still in touch and might do something else with us another time. The other side of that, obviously, is that we often select work from open submission processes, looking at all sorts of proposals, and we have to be careful not to create any kind of clique around ourselves, and we don’t want to end up in a situation where we’re just working with our friends, or doing things with the same people all the time. But it is lovely to be able to help people develop, to be a part of that, and to provide those opportunities for development in a consistent way. It is the aftercare thing…

Annette Foster at Hazard 1 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MB: Yes, for us it’s about being able to reflect on things, to think ‘what happened here? what did we set out to do and how was it for the artists, or the venue, or for us…’. It’s important to keep that dialogue open between ourselves, as Hatch, the venues and artists, and also to get that feedback to the artists. Olwen Davies, for example, she performed Fridge Logic at Embrace, and through that – well, not only through that, there were some other links – she met Zoo Indigo and worked on Blueprint, and is touring with them now, and will be back later in the year with a new show as part of a Hatch double bill. It’s lovely to have these ongoing relationships, and we learn about the needs of artists from those. We learn how we can support that development.

NJM: One thing about the double bills is that each one creates a residency within which an artist can create a new work, so while it’s important for us to find work and create contexts where artists can perform and try out new things, with us taking the risk, it’s also very important to offer artists these spaces to work in, to create things before we get to that point. Sometimes it’s necessary for artists to have a space where work can be made in the first place, and sometimes you’ll have an artist like Frank Abbott who’ll have his own resources, his own space, but we can offer him a week at Broadway to make something new: we offer the time rather than – or as well as – the space. Then with Pat Ashe, we can give him a space to work where he can think about what he wants to make in a very focused way.

MB: With someone like Frank, his needs were more technical, and so technical that we knew we couldn’t support that ourselves. But Broadway could, with their expertise and staff, and they were generous in giving what was needed to create that piece. I guess it’s making these connections, and seeing where we can find the help we need, or that artists might need to Hatch that work.

WB: Some of that is about Hatch finding and creating the relationships with those venues, but with this newspaper going out, through NVA, and the relationship with Embrace, you’re also open to working by invitation, I assume? If there are people reading this wondering why Hatch hasn’t approached them, I assume that might sometimes be a question of them contacting you?

MP: Do you mean venues or artists?

WB: Either. I suppose the question is about how far you’re open to creating new partnerships and who might initiate them.

MB: There are so many different starting points. Sometimes it begins with a theme, sometimes with an artist we want to bring to the region, sometimes with a venue we’re particularly interested in working with. There are so many different directions things can go from those starting points.

NJM: Sometimes artists or venues will approach us with ideas or projects and we decide whether we collaborate on those or not. We can’t do everything we’re asked to do, simply because we don’t have the resources to do certain things at certain times, but sometimes it’s those less expected connections that can prove the most fruitful. Those are often the ideas we wouldn’t have come up with just between the three of us but when they come in from somewhere else can turn out to be fantastic. The next thing we want to do is branch out and work more widely in Leicester, because I suppose Leicester’s an obvious location for Hatch, but we might not have thought of that as an obvious course of action until we were invited to do something by Embrace and were able to build a relationship with the city and a new audience through that venue.

The Gramophones at Hazard Festival [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: I suppose we’re coming towards the end, so if I can, I’d like to ask you the standard job interview question and wonder where you see Hatch in five years’ time?

MP: It’s interesting that we sometimes thought it would be nice to do something that wasn’t a performance but maybe a publication, so this guest editing of NVA is a step towards that. We also want to think about doing something that exists in a different context, so we acted as a sort of bridge between New Art Exchange and Frank Abbott leading a series of workshops with the Yard young people’s theatre group there, and that was a new development for us that has led to us doing a double bill there. Sometimes you go down a slightly different route and those diversions create the beginnings of new relationships, so perhaps we just need to figure out how many routes we can go down at once given that there are only three of us. I mean we do have teams of volunteers and helpers at each event but it still feels like we’re constantly stretching our capacity.

NJM: It’s hard to say what things will look like in five years and it would be a shame if we were able to say because I think we’d always hope to surprise ourselves.  It would be nice, if we were still doing it in five years, if there were more than three of us, and if we were able to devote more time and resources to it ourselves.

MP: Not in the sense of taking on a building, but perhaps a next step might be to find a workspace. Because we’ve always been mobile and remote – and sometimes nocturnal – it’s not been ideal. There are also things we’ve talked about in the past that remain long-term aims, like taking artists to Edinburgh, or being able to engage in higher profile platforms.

NJM: Maybe putting on some much larger scale events that encomass the whole of the city at once. That would be very interesting as well.

WB: I guess now I think of it, it must be around five years since the first Hatch event at the Maze?

NJM: …ish. That was 2008.

WB: So next year will be five years from the starting point.

MP: Perhaps we should do a Hatch: Five.

NJM: And who knows, this time next year we might be back at The Maze. The Maze is a very nice place.

MP: The next step after a national conversation is obviously an international conversation. There are various things going on across Europe that it would be very nice to engage with, and with things like the World Event Young Artists happening here later this year, with all its partner organisations, and the British Council’s showcase in Edinburgh, these are international platforms we’d like to be part of, to go to these things, and talk to people, which might be where future collaborations can begin.

NJM: Traditionally, exchange programmes at school were always about bringing someone from, and going, somewhere in mainland Europe, so that might be the next thing we’d want to look into.

WB: The final thing would be to ask if there’s anything we’ve not talked about that you’d want to be sure was mentioned, or something we have discussed that perhaps you’d really want to emphasise?

Shrug at Hazard 1 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: Just returning to that international note, thinking about artists we’d like to bring to Nottingham, obviously during NEAT we did manage to bring Gabriele Reuter over from Berlin, so that’s another way we might think about those international links, as getting some of the work going on in other places internationally in front of audiences here who might not otherwise see it.

WB: Did Gabriele already have a link to Nottingham through Dance4?

MP: She’d been an associate artist there and had shown a work in progress at NottDance, but the finished version of Tourist hadn’t been shown here.

WB: Of course, and Gabriele Reuter’s piece at Nottingham Contemporary was also the first time – if I’m not mistaken – that Hatch had shown a self-contained show in a conventional venue by itself?

NJM: That’s right, yes.

MP: It did feature Hetain Patel as a guest performer, though, so even then there was a collaborative element. What’s interesting for us is that we can engage with artists at very different stages in their careers, so Medium Rare are just beginning, Reckless Sleepers are very well established but only rarely seen in the region, while Hetain is someone we’ve worked with several times who has become well known here and elsewhere. Then there’s someone like Frank Abbott who isn’t so much Hatching as re-Hatching, after retirement from being a lecturer for twenty years. It’s an exciting trajectory.

NJM: It’s not just a showcase for emerging artists or established artists or mid-career artists but somewhere we can put all these different things together, somewhere where a context can be created within which all these different kinds of work and levels of experience can talk to each other.

MP: We’ve talked in the past about whether we could one day do a Hatch for children, or a Hatch that focuses on inter-generational performance, bringing together these age groups. Also, being aware of Nottingham’s past, I’d want to emphasise things like Hatch: Mass, which draws its own line connecting Nottingham Playhouse with Spanky Van Dyke’s bar, which was the site of the city’s old rep theatre and so filled the role of the Playhouse before the Playhouse we know today opened around 1963. So that event invites Hatch and our artists to reflect on that history – and what’s exciting is the way it allows us to open up another kind of dialogue with the changing history of the city.

Zoo Indigo at Hazard [photo credit Julian Hughes]

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So, When Do The Performances Begin, Again?: Hatch at Hazard Festival (Part One)

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The Hatch journey to Hazard Festival, a one-day ‘random spree of eccentricity’ organised by Word of Warning under the direction of Tamsin Drury in Manchester’s St Ann’s Square, begins in Nottingham at 8am with a vintage red and cream bus parked just along the road from Broadway. Its advertising, probably unchanged since the 1950s,  invites us to try Shipstone’s Ales and Skegness, and if it struggles to get much above 40 mph and betrays that its suspension is every bit as vintage as its advertising with every bump in the road, well, it’s certainly a theatrical spectacle in itself, with cars almost invariably tolerant of of its presence, slowing down to let it through and taking the opportunity to watch it pass by, and pedestrians stopping on the pavements to view it properly. Even the driver getting into his cab might be a sort of costumed performance, as documented by our onboard photographer Julian Hughes in the strip of images above. In short, this is probably the only way for Hatch to travel: slowly, a bit shakily, perhaps, but in style and with an improvised audience of bystanders, onlookers and fellow travellers on the roads of several counties.

Oddly enough, I’d interviewed Hatch themselves – that is, Nathaniel J Miller, Marie Bertram and Michael Pinchbeck – for a piece to be included in their guest-edited Performance and Live Art issue of Nottingham Visual Arts magazine not long before this trip, and while the edited piece had to exclude the section from the print version, at one point during our hour-long conversation, Pinchbeck had described the way that for some companies involved with Hatch performances began long before they arrived at the venues or put themselves in front of what we might have assumed were their primary audiences:

“[Sometimes] you don’t know where the work is, when it begins or ends, or even what it is. For example, when we first performed at Embrace Arts in Leicester, Medium Rare brought various items of found building material to the venue, and the journey on the train with it was a part of the work, the parade to get it to the venue was a part of the work, the construction of a shelter outside Embrace was a part of the work…and then they sat inside the construction for a bit, took it apart, and carried it back to Nottingham again, which was another part of the work. For me, that’s one of the strengths in Hatch: there’s a transience and mobility about it that’s a bit like Simon Starling’s shed-into-boat-into-shed work, where there’s a real slipperiness about what the work is…”

In fact, the question of where exactly a performance began and ended had surfaced several times during that conversation, and Miller had noted – at a slight angle to Pinchbeck’s comment – that the connecting threads between different venues, companies and performers might be at least as crucial to what Hatch wanted to achieve as the venues, companies and performances themselves:

“How things started was with Hatch trying to create places for people to use to show work: existing locations, but not places you’d usually go to see art or theatre or performance. We’d be in a pub, or somewhere like that, and we’d make the space for a night. Now, we still do that, but we also create connections between places and people, audiences, artists and art. That can be two points on a journey within the city, or a network that links things happening here in Nottingham to places outside, so going from Nottingham to Leicester is an example of that, and going from Nottingham to Manchester is another…”

Perhaps there’s a sense in all this that the journey to Hazard in St Ann’s Square should be considered almost as carefully as the performances that took place when we arrived, and the artists were given sign-boards to give a stamp of recognition that what they were doing, between the festival’s starting time of 12 noon and its ending around 5pm that same day, was somehow, officially, ‘the art’, to be seen in isolation from the process of getting it there and back from the location where it had always been scheduled to take place. Might a vintage bus full of performers, on its way to a micro-festival where they will all perform, consist of a performance in its own right? Given the comments of Miller and Pinchbeck on the nature of Hatch, and our somewhat theatrical and leisurely mode of transport, it didn’t seem entirely implausible that this might be the case.

What kind of performance would this be, then? In some respects, given that Hatch performers often play close to their actual personas in front of audiences, it’s one that seems not too far removed – if a little less constructed and formally defined – from those we’ll see later. Simon Raven‘s performance at Hazard is scheduled to be a busking session, with Raven in a Hawaiian shirt playing the likes of Summer Holiday on his acoustic guitar, and he’s prepared a set of song-sheets to practice on the bus, where Cliff Richard’s early hit gets an airing, along with a whole lot of bus-themed tunes, from Magical Mystery Tour and Magic Bus to a version of The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round that veers whimsically off into some improvised lyrics about satanism, vaguely (if not necessarily deliberately) evocative of Charles Manson’s late sixties demo recordings aimed at the Beach Boys.

In a very different way, The Gramophones occupy the back seats and look and behave for the duration pretty much exactly how they’ll be performing when they begin to piece together the fragmentary extracts from their ongoing End To End performance in Manchester, while Amelia Beavis-Harrison (not officially on the Hatch roster, but hitching a ride to present her new piece The Lion and the Unicorn as part of the Hazard programme) busies herself weaving ribbons to make the prize that will remain ungraspable by the two costumed participants in her performance later. Alice Gale-Feeny and Katherine Fishman sing along with Raven’s strumming and try on bizarre sunglasses (a popular pastime, as the portrait of another experimental shades-wearer here suggests). Meanwhile, Michael Pinchbeck reminisces about past Hatch events with Rachel Parry – a fact that seems pertinent, given that both are performing pieces about memory at Hazard today.

Not all the Hatch performers are on the bus, but those who are seem very much in character (whatever that means in this context) long before we finally pull into St Ann’s Square on the stroke of noon, where the bus is quickly made over to become the performance venue it will be for the duration of Hazard itself. On the lower deck Annette Foster will be performing her one-to-one tarot reading session Messages from the Big Red Bus while the top deck will become the setting for a version of The Gramophones’ End To End. Everyone else is dispersed into the streets under the direction of a variety of Hazard attendants in wasp-coloured T-shirts, ready to begin the afternoon’s performances. Whether the morning on the bus counts towards the day’s official performance-y action is an open question. There have been plenty of moments – as the time began to tighten on our journey’s final push towards Manchester; when the vintage bus found itself at a service station surrounded by onlookers; as the vehicle’s every turn seems to have been documented on someone’s mobile phone camera – when the journey seemed at least as much a performance as anything likely to happen at Hazard when we arrive.

What did happen at Hazard will, of course, be explored in Part Two

Hatch: Scratch (Part Two): Relationships, Reconstructions and a Clinical Depression Concept Album

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The first five of the thirteen performances presented during Hatch:Scratch are considered in a previous post, From Chaos and Participation to Nuts, Cowboys and Farewells, and moving into the second tranche of thoughts on the night in this follow-up, it’s clear that at least some of the themes glimpsed among those earlier pieces are continued and developed through the four featured here. Perhaps it’s worth wondering whether ideas of imperfection, in particular, are not only inevitable, given the ‘scratch’ format, but a key part of the ethos of those performers and writers most likely to be drawn to the Hatch aesthetic in the first place. And what is that elusive aesthetic, loosely defined (by Hatch itself) as ‘the performance-y’? Well, one version of an answer, a largely historical one, was explored in a prologue written for the Hatch: NEAT series of events during 2011, another in the organisation’s own Hatchifesto. But things being left open-ended rather than neatly resolved appears to be part of it, as does leaving in the marks of process, the mistakes and conflicts of the performers, the sketchy details, the pencil marks, smudges and hiccups…

How We Run: “Sorry. We had hoped this would turn out better…”

It’s certainly not hard to relate the self-undermining presentation of the three-man show of How We Run’s Waterwalk (the group includes what appeared to be a full house of former Hatch performers) to the opening salvo of Priya Mistry’s Ping Pong Crash and the efforts made by both performances to create something impossible to bring to any kind of tidy resolution. Waterwalk took its name from a musical piece by John Cage, as performed on an American TV gameshow during the 1950s, and a reconstruction of that performance (with Kris Rowland making an almost perfectly reticent Cage) marked the climax of a piece that also tried to recreate Andy Kaufman’s notorious stand-up gigs spent reading aloud from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and offered an account of the rather lesser-known (but evidently legendary on the Winchester University campus where it took place) Ut Astrum Una Hora by Pea Green Boats, a performance in which at least one member of How We Run had participated. The effect was two-fold, underlining the unrepeatable nature of live art with stumbled lines, shortfalls of props and a context that just can’t generate the shock and surprise of the originals, but also – perhaps more interestingly – questioning whether those events that pass into legend were really as compelling, original or self-evidently significant as their later reputations suggest. What if, Waterwalk appears to ask, these events just hadn’t been very satisfying in the first place and we’ve forgotten far better ones? Why is Kaufman the subject of Hollywood movies and endless screeds of analysis while Pea Green Boats (or by implication, any other live work reduced to late twentieth century background noise) passes unnoticed? The serial failure of these reconstructions is calculated and accompanied by a lot of Campari, but was it entirely a product of the company’s own self-confessed (indeed, exaggerated) limitations?

Two Destination Language: “So what do you think of his shirt?”

At first, it seemed that it was only the shared gameshow reference that linked Two Destination Language’s WLTM with How We Run’s Waterwalk but perhaps the analogy between ideas of romance and ideas of legendary significance in performance weren’t as far removed from each other as they initially appeared, both being subject to retrospective mythologising and a degree of rose-tinting of reality. WLTM is staged as a Blind Date or Snog Marry Avoid style pantomime, with the central duo confining their role to selecting audience members to pair up then working to drive the energy levels to vaguely manic extremes. Meanwhile, we watch potential romance bloom in real time, shuffle our feet and avoid eye contact with the hosts who ominously – if gleefully – roam the aisles in search of fresh contestants. If WLTM did have a purpose beyond straightforward participation and entertainment it lay in the almost desparate need to be liked projected by the hosts, who seemed to consider the success of their match-making crucial to their own sense of self-worth. Dressed in ‘nudie’ aprons and behaving like 15-rated children’s show hosts, they fussed around their homespun gameshow’s mostly nonchalant subjects with all the bluster of Ricky Gervais on a management team-building weekend. In that, the performers gave the impression that current society’s ethos of forced but ruthlessly exposing ‘fun’ might be the real target. The Two Destination Language hosts refrained from the kind of cruelty and psychological bullying that so often marks their real media models, instead ensuring throughout that they were always the most ridiculous figures onstage, so perhaps the intended satire cut less sharply than it might have done. Even so, WLTM made for a good-natured, high-energy interlude that culminated in a formation dance and a sigh of relief from those audience members who’d escaped being led to the stage.

Hannah Nicklin: “Standing up to protect what you think matters…”

A relationship was also being negotiated in Hannah Nicklin‘s A Conversation With My Father, in which the Leicester based theatre maker (and sometime political protestor) opened negotiations with her own father, a serving policeman whose duties include the control of public protests, among other things. I only caught a short section of this performance, but what I saw seemed political in the true sense of finding ways to live among and between competing worldviews rather than the shallow sense of accusation and allocation of blame for social ills. With Nicklin and her father engaged in a video dialogue (set up, perhaps not coincidentally, to resemble the recorded police record of the interrogation of a suspect) intercut with Nicklin’s own (often telling and funny) stories of protest and family life, the piece circled around ideas of competing values and recognised that the father’s belief in public order wasn’t always at odds with Nicklin’s more liberal attitudes, but perhaps created the context in which she was free to express herself, while her beliefs and actions, in their turn, fostered the kind of civic tolerance that made her father’s orderly society possible on a day to day basis. In an age when ritualised slanging matches pass for political debate and people are liable to define themselves by their prejudices – for or against – there seemed a refreshing openness and intelligence at work here that made me wish I’d been better organised on the night and seen the whole performance. As it was, what I saw suggested a very interesting piece in the making – one that’s likely to be as topical in these days of police ‘kettling’ and undercover provocateurs as it might be timeless in its questioning of the basis of a functioning civic society.

David Parkin: “We’re going to do some songs from my clinical depression concept album…”

In a very different mode, former Metro Boulot Dodot member David Parkin negotiated a very particular relationship with himself, documenting his own fall into and recovery from a severe episode of clinical depression by way of a suite of songs going by the umbrella title Good Friday, a musical opus he insisted on describing as his ‘clinical depression concept album’. Adopting a smart suit (bought, he explained, as a costume, using Arts Council money, after years of trying and failing to obtain one by other means) and the patter of a cabaret performer, Parkin came across as a kind of Billy Joel figure, launching into songs about playing scrabble on grey Leicester Sundays in houses with empty knife drawers, feeling the urge to run destructively amok and, after a long, slow recovery (partly aided by the learning of piano, on a Hemingway he had inevitably named ‘Ernest’) his sudden appreciation of the beauty of stars in a night sky and realisation that despite the cosmic isolation, he no longer wanted to die. The music ranged from minimal and downbeat (the opener, ‘Scrabble for Beginners’, had the feel of a less baroquely obscene Arab Strap) to Rufus Wainwright campery and Chopin/Liberace-inspired romanticism. Like Sean Burn, Parkin seemed intent on changing the ways we talk about mental illness, but also – in using the language of the popular song – seemed aware that the form itself, with its tendency to focus on extreme emotional states, is already on some level a ready-made receptacle for the kinds of experience his own material poured into its familiar shapes and sounds. There can be few contexts beyond outright madness and song-performance where a whole roomful of people going “do do doo doodle ooo, do do doo doodle ooo” at full volume would pass as entirely unremarkable behaviour.

Hatch: Scratch (Part One): From Chaos and Participation to Nuts, Cowboys and Farewells

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

No sooner had the first double bill of the new Hatch series taken place in Nottingham than it was time for HATCH: Scratch at Leicester’s Embrace Arts, an event that encompassed an epic programme of excerpts and short works in progress designed to showcase (and generate feedback for) a variety of individual artists, performers and emerging companies from the East Midlands and beyond: often, a very long way beyond, with participants on the night hailing from France, Liverpool, Manchester and Texas, among other places. With thirteen performances to get through (three durational works and ten shorts presented in five paired episodes through the night) HATCH: Scratch certainly couldn’t be said to lack ambition, so much so that it seems to make more sense to try and look at the various threads of the event in a thematic necklace of fragments rather than a single through-written analysis: a kind of ‘scratch’ recollection to match the ‘scratch’ form of the night itself. This is Part One, looking at the first five of those thirteen performances…

Priya Mistry: “All the actions have an arrangement but I can’t say where everything will land…”

The first pairing of the night placed Priya Mistry‘s self-declared ‘performance experiment’ Ping Pong Crash and Other Sounds side by side with an extract from Chris. Dugrenier‘s work in progress, Elan Vital, a pairing that seemed to have been grounded in the contrast of order and chaos it evoked. As Mistry’s deliberately unpredictable choreography threw human bodies into a stage layout created by random scatterings of ping pong balls, inflatables and other unruly inanimate objects, and there obliged them to work through sets of prescribed patterns of movement, her deliberate attempt to undermine her own choreography offered a striking counterpoint to Dugrenier’s attempt to discipline her body in preparation for the execution of a standard gymnastic manouvre: the ‘back-walkover’. A delayed train meant I’d missed the beginning of Mistry’s piece, but entering the performance in its final stages certainly communicated a strong sense of order emerging – or trying to emerge – from the chaos generated on the floor of the gymnasium-style hall. As I came in, a man seemed to be climbing a wall backwards and a woman was struggling, absurdly but with every appearance of absolute concentration, with an inflatable swim-ring: both were trying to avoid the orange ping-pong balls that were everywhere underfoot. The scene looked like an exploded children’s playroom in which the performers tried to maintain some sense of dignity and poise. In that sense, and in the ‘banana skin’ threat posed by the ping pong balls themselves, Ping Pong Crash and Other Sounds felt rather like a cartoon version of life in general.

Chris.Dugrenier: “Stretch yourself, but know your limits…”

Chris. Dugrenier, by contrast, presented herself in Elan Vital as a woman in search of a self-control that the random factors of Mistry’s piece suggested might always remain slightly out of human reach. Having failed to execute the gymnastic ‘back walkover’ in her supple youth, Dugrenier is now set on training her body to achieve it at an age when it might already be beyond her capabilities. With this knowledge and determination she exercises herself and her audience, implores us to believe in her and works to inspire herself, before, ultimately, leaving us on the cliffhanger of ‘to be continued…’ just as she prepares – and assumes her posture – to attempt the feat. It’s an exercise in control and controlling, though it’s never clear whether Dugrenier’s character is working to satirise and expose some of the more egregious strains of ‘life’s what you make it’ and ‘it’s never too late’ circulating in contemporary Western Culture, by deliberately flirting with failure, or willing herself to believe in them, and persuade her audiences that they, too, could reach for their dreams and make them real. It’s a key ambiguity that suggests Elan Vital could develop as both a touchingly inspirational personal story and an analysis of the language of social control and sporting propaganda.

Sean Burn: “I assume people with nut allergies will select themselves out of my audience…”

Elsewhere in the building, Sean Burn was spending two hours breaking walnuts with his bare hand then feeding their contents to his continually changing audience. One of the night’s three durational performances, cracking up made its point succinctly. As Burn said himself, in one of his many asides, cracking up was designed as a ritual he could use to “reclaim the language of mental health”: at this point, he raised a walnut, contemplated it like Hamlet with Yorick’s skull, then set it on a table to be broken with the flat palm of his bare hand. Each time, the invocation of “nuts…cracking up” was repeated, then followed by an interlude of discussion with the audience: “yes, the walnut was chosen for its particular resemblance to a human brain, but it helps that it’s a nut that can be cracked open in this way – I wouldn’t be doing it with Brazils”, he’d explain, before holding up his swollen hand to show the physical demands this apparently capricious action made on him physically. A performance grounded in language became one that left stigmata, and while never directly invoked, perhaps there is an awareness that the idea of traditional Sainthood – with its obsessions, hysterias and visions – was often linked to what the modern age redefined as mental illness. Burn packed a lot of allusions and layers into what had initially seemed a straightforward test of personal endurance.

Greg Wohead: “Now we’re going to try and do a thing called the Texas Thunderstorm…”

Greg Wohead‘s approach in The Many Apologies of Pecos Bill had a madness of its own, specifically that of the tall stories making up the defining mythologies of many national and regional identities, but in a pairing with Lowri Evans’ Live Letter the piece – a highly accomplished slice of traditional storytelling in which a personal narrative, from Wohead’s own Texas childhood, was woven into the story of the eponymous Texas legend Pecos Bill – became an exercise in the manipulation of storytelling styles and techniques as much as a straightforward contrast between heroic and defiantly everyday material. The coup de theatre here lay in the opening bit of audience participation, as Wohead instructed the audience to first rub hands together, then snap fingers, then clap, then stamp feet, and finally reverse the order of these actions, at ascending and descending volume, in order to first invoke, and later play back from a recording, the convincing sound of a coming and departing thunderstorm. With shadow projections, tales from the scout hut and school canteen (shades of Wes Anderson, perhaps?) and the central thread of Pecos Bill himself, who “was raised by wolves, used a rattlesnake for a lassoo and rode a demonic horse nobody else could tame” this was such a neatly shaped and perfectly executed short that it’s hard to see how it could be developed into something longer without diluting it.

Lowri Evans: “My hair was so bored it was leaving my head…”

One reason why the storytelling styles seemed accentuated in Wohead’s performance perhaps lay in its pairing with Lowri EvansLive Letter, whose own concerns seemed to be with the techniques of communication, in Evans’ case the ‘final letter’, the last word and some low-key but dramatic personal sense of achieving narrative and emotional closure in the flow of an uncooperatively fluid life. She arrives onstage with a suitcase, in a black feathered dress, and begins to take her leave without ever quite seeming prepared to let go. She draws the outlines of a kitchen (“I’m not sure I’ll visit your house again. I creep around it in my head…while you’re at work”), unscrolls an absurdly long piece of paper, on which she’s written her final testament to a relationship, a place, some past version of herself…a farewell to something, or nothing, or everything. There’s a sense in Live Letter of the everyday being cast into some peculiar light, as though – given just the right circumstance – nothing could possibly be more poetic than, say, a group of saucepans on a kitchen stove or a municipal park in the rain. Evans’ piece feels like a sketch (quite literally, as she spends a long section of her performance tracing the outlines of an utterly mundane but – for her, or her character, at least – highly charged image in black marker pen onto an illuminated sheet of paper) but Live Letter clearly has the potential to draw its audience ever further into the neurotic and obsessive world her onstage persona seems bent on creating.

Slice, Dice, Cut, Walk and Dance: Frank Abbott, fourbeatwalk and Mamoru Iriguchi

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The first double bill in a new season of Hatch performances, this time going under the banner of Hatching Space, saw Frank Abbott’s Spaghetti Powerpoint at the Broadway Cinema connected to London-based Japanese artist Mamoru Iriguchi’s Projector/Conjector at Nottingham Playhouse in a kind of technological duet. Curiously, while both performances foregrounded technological elements, both drew on the lexicons of decidedly analogue forms for their framing and subject matter while striking broadly elegaic notes. Perhaps they could best be understood as a pair of love-letters to celluloid cinema and live theatre  rather than the heralds of any utopian techno-future.

Frank Abbott has been a regular Hatch performer in recent years, taking his slide projectors, shopping trolley and portable screens out into the winter landscape to project images of summer at Hatch: Fresh, for example, or constructing a little illuminated train out of light bulbs, hand-carved cereal boxes and washing-up liquid bottles to accompany a procession from Leicester’s Embrace Arts to the Y Theatre as part of the same event. He’s made endless reiterations of a single joke, mapped recordings of spaces occupied in the past onto those he’s performing in, and his aesthetic generally leans towards a Blue Peter sense of household improvisation rather than the Apple Corp slickness often found elsewhere in digital arts. If Abbott has a mission, perhaps it’s about bringing digital pretensions crashing to earth and exploring the ways technology succeeds and fails in its promise to perfect unreliable human memory.

That sense of scrambled recollection certainly seemed a key part of Spaghetti Powerpoint‘s agenda, and the performance consisted of Abbott himself screening a (perhaps justly) forgotten Italian Western from the 1960s, Adios Gringo!, while continually interrupting its narrative flow with personal reflections on seeing it at a long demolished Leicester cinema in the 1960s, demonstrations of an extensive array of cutting, slicing and other sharp-edged food preparation tools and gimmicks, and some cinematic devices of his own, imported to conceal the plot holes and heighten the drama of this otherwise clunky revenge story. Perhaps it’s the best way to see a film like this: a highly constructed version of the experience we’ve all had at some point, of watching some terrible DVD with friends who’ll insist on pausing the action, fast-forwarding the dull sections and talking over entire scenes where the loss of continuity does nothing to undermine the sketchiest of plots.

One audience member at Spaghetti Powerpoint is required to press a button whenever someone dies, adding another bullethole to the screen each time, as though keeping score in a computer game. At other points, a second screen juxtaposes sun-baked desert confrontations with images of demolished cinemas, or marks the cuts between the hero and his pursuers during a chase scene with the words HOORAY! and BOO! as though saving the audience the trouble of direct participation. The film itself, directed and written by Giorgio Stegani under the Americanised pseudonym George Finley, is a copy of a copy, every scene like a hollow echo of a scene in another film, the lead actors running through standardised lines and actions: even the music is a recognisable (though admittedly rather impressive) pastiche of Ennio Morricone’s more famous scores by Benedetto Ghiglia.

The characters are so generic, in fact, that Abbott introduces a series of very personal descriptive types to differentiate them: “…the doctor from a Luis Bunuel film walks over to the man who looks like my friend from school, while George Bush Jnr is talking to someone who I think was once in Coronation Street or Eastenders…”, Abbott tells us, and somehow, while we’re listening, the characterisations make perfect sense of – perhaps even add depth to – the entirely generic scenario we’re otherwise watching. Abbott’s approach throughout reminded me of the Situationist tactic of détournement, the method by which Wild West comic books and film stills were repurposed as political tracts in the 1950s, and its influence on Jean Luc-Godard’s cinematic methods in the later 1960s; there’s also an echo of the 1970s work done with copies-of-copies of Marlboro Cowboy advertisements by the American artist Richard Prince (who himself appropriated the subject from earlier appropriations by James Welling).

Perhaps the performance punchline, riffing on the shared use of the word ‘cutting’ for both celluloid editing and food preparation (explaining the interludes on Abbott’s extensive personal collection of slicers, dicers, cubing gadgets and peelers that have run through the whole piece) also echoes Richard Prince, this time the series of paintings of jokes he made from the 1980s onwards, every one lifted from some routine publication, and all as second-hand and inevitable in their lurch for the obvious gag as each other. With the film itself being an echo of an echo of a pastiche of a cliche in the same way, maybe Abbott’s presentation suggests that it’s only by layering a work of industrial mass entertainment like Adios Gringo! into an idiosyncratic narrative of the viewer’s own devising that it can carry any meaning at all for an audience coming to it half a century after the passing of its sell-by date.

The notion of personal memory or concealed history layered onto an all too familiar route also underscored the two audio-guides recorded by fourbeatwalk to bridge the distance between the two venues at which tonight’s double bill was taking place. Maps were provided and we had the choice of two very different voices to lead us from Broadway to Nottingham Playhouse, the informative and laconic tones of Chris Matthews, who took us on a circuitous path through the architecture, history and radicalism of the city, or a somewhat earthier personal account of the drinking dens, nightclubs, encounters and characters that have combined, down the years, to shape LeftLion editor Al Needham’s very distinctive take on the place. The weather didn’t help (I had to abandon the tour somewhere around the ornate facade of Watson Fothergill’s office when torrential rain began hammering down) but luckily both audioguides can still be found on the Hatch website, downloaded into a mobile phone or mp3 player, and followed at your own leisure.

On arrival at the Nottingham Playhouse’s studio theatre and rehearsal space, a black box situated high above the Sky Mirror on Wellington Circus, we encountered two figures laid out on the stage with their bare feet touching, like reflections of one-another. When the lights went down, and the two characters began to move, they silently introduced themselves as a male Projector, played by the female Selina Papoutseli, and a female Conjector, or screen, played by the male author of the piece, Mamoru Iriguchi. A precisely executed blend of dance, technology and mime followed, reminiscent at some points of silent cinema, at others of the kind of performance cabaret pioneered by people like Robert Wilson in New York during the 1970s and 1980s. Like Abbott’s piece, Projector/Conjector seemed to be framing its technology in past rather than current media and idioms.

Above all, its structure followed that of the ballet, Swan Lake, a point elaborated with music, animation, and by way of a narrative that saw Iriguchi’s Conjector and Papoutseli’s Projector moving through the major acts of the original Swan Lake storyline in a series of playful, absurd and occasionally touching variations on a theme that was precisely mapped onto its source but not always as immediately recognisable as you might expect, despite the familiarity of the occasional musical cue. But perhaps the link to Swan Lake was less significant than the allusions to cartoons, as dialogue happens in speech bubbles, rockets leave their screens and fly around the auditorium before landing on a planet being projected elsewhere, rudimentary swans are glimpsed on an animated lake, and knives, swords and scalpels cross betwen digital and real worlds.

The end result is a slight, sweet natured piece that borders on whimsy, but has just enough darkness in the mix to avoid outright tweeness: rather like Swan Lake itself, in fact. As with the actors in Frank Abbott’s source film, Adios Gringo!, it also seemed important that these characters, too, rarely let their facial expressions slip out of neutral, giving a deadpan feel to the performances that heightens the humour and absurdity in ways that more expressive characterisations would almost certainly have lost. At times, Projector/Conjector had the same blend of stone-faced acting, technical precision and ridiculous humour as a Buster Keaton short, which is high praise indeed, and if its aspirations leaned towards the gently playful rather than the more obviously profound, that’s only to say it offered a lighter and airier confection than the one we might have been expecting.

Hatch at NEAT11: A Brief Guide To The Performance-y

I’ve been asked by Hatch to document the series of performances taking place during NEAT11, and over the coming weeks I’ll be attending and responding to the various events taking place under the Hatch banner as they happen. NEAT11 is also a moment where Hatch (to labour the egg metaphor) pecks through the shell of its own history and spreads its wings, building on its previous metamorphoses from one-night programmes taking over a single Nottingham venue (The Maze, Loggerheads, Bar Deux and The Ropewalk among them) to one-night programmes taking over entire streets (Broad Street in Hockley for Hatch: Abroad, St James’ Street for Hatch: Across) and most recently, during Sideshow2010, presenting Hatch: It’s About Time in two different forms, first at Embrace Arts in Leicester, then exactly a month later at Nottingham Castle.

This time, Hatch takes a radically different form, offering a series of performances in a whole range of venues – from an outdoor green at Wellington Circus (with Medium Rare and Zoo Indigo) to a room at the Nottingham Forest football stadium (for Mehrdad Seyf and Chris Dobrowolski’s Poland 3 Iran 2); from the Polish Eagle Social Club in Sherwood (for Krissi Musiol’s Sugar Statues) to The Space at Nottingham Contemporary for Gabriele Reuter’s Tourist. As always with Hatch, the work will be informed by and reflect on its location, but this time the performances are more self-contained, and the total event will only be visible as each takes place over the two weeks of Hatch at NEAT11. As we prepare to start this journey through the city’s history, and take in some of its more curious spaces, it seemed worth thinking about what Hatch is, and below are a few notes on some of its ‘performance-y’ precursors:

One Voice and an Audience

From the earliest days of human existence, telling stories has been the most traditional form of performance known. Whether it’s Stone Age tribes around a fire, recollecting the deeds of ancestors and the details of that day’s hunt, the tellers of tall tales like Gawain and the Green Knight in Saxon England or Charles Dickens doing his reading tours (on one memorable occasion, at the Mechanics Institute in Nottingham), the performance involving a single person with something to say and a knack of saying it engagingly has been at the root of every other form of theatre for thousands of years. One of the more memorable experiences on offer at Hatch: One at the Ropewalk was being enveloped by scents under a duvet while Sam Rose created a one-on-one performance in which she whispered her words directly into the ears of her audience, while  Hatch: It’s About Time gave Chris Dobrowolski an opportunity to demonstrate just how much ground one man with a few slides and a story to tell could cover.

A Slightly Absurd Sense Of Humour

The idea of the absurd in theatre is usually traced to the Ground Zero of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi in 1896, and Jarry’s sterling effort certainly covers things for much of the modern era, give or take the occasional melodrama that crossed the line of plausibility, or such determinedly non-realistic traditions as the Punch and Judy show. Yet many point out that Aristophanes was already presenting material of an absurdist bent at the Dionysian Theatre Festivals of Ancient Greece, and a quick glance at plays like The Frogs and The Acharnians – where actors playing male roles sported huge padded or leather phalluses alongside female characters played by men – reveals that much of the humour was far from sophisticated or respectful. Slapstick, ludicrous musical taunts, score-settling with rivals, all contained in plots that spiral quickly into absurdity, before a few token lessons are learned. Anyone who saw the Oyster Eyes performance at Hatch: It’s About Time, or the odd puppet show staged in a cardboard ice-cream van by Brosnan & Goodge as part of Hatch: Wish You Were Here will know that few Hatch sessions pass without an absurd moment or two.

The Site-Specific Performance

The earliest dramatic plays written in England are the Medieval Mystery cycles, and these were always site-specific, designed to be performed at religious festivals in the towns that created them by casts drawn from the local population. Whether it’s the celebrated York, Chester and Lichfield plays, or such one-off dramas as Everyman – usually performed in churches – Medieval theatre was constructed on improvised stages in specific places, taking performances to their audiences in a manner that is very Hatch-like. In the 60s and 70s, these traditions were revived by companies like Welfare State International in the UK, or Bread and Puppet Theatre in the US, each working to create performances that got out from beneath the proscenium arches and went wherever their audiences were likely to be, absorbing them into the spectacle as they went. Whether it’s Frank Abbott reconstructing The Tales of Robin Hood in the grounds of Nottingham Castle for Hatch: It’s About Time or Adam Goodge in his finest sparkly waistcoat offering philosophical lessons on the green baize in Riley’s Snooker Hall at Hatch: Across there are some performances that just couldn’t happen anywhere else.

The Act Of Not-Acting

Sometimes, a performance involves someone appearing to reveal that they’re not acting, while in fact not really being themselves. Of course, there’s always been a need for audiences to pretend we don’t notice famous actors in traditional theatre: who didn’t know that Laurence Olivier was, in fact, Laurence Olivier when he played Hamlet or Henry V? But at Hatch these games can go further, as when The Megaphones presented their Time Freeze reunion at Hatch: It’s About Time, slipping between pretending to be the stars of a terrible 1980s TV show and being blatantly themselves, while still pretending to be the stars of that show. Others might do the reverse and make their characters seem entirely real. I’m fairly sure that Gemma Neep isn’t actually an obsessive Facebook stalker prone to emotionally blackmailing everyone around her, and she seemed lovely after her show had finished, but the way she played exactly that character in her performance at Hatch: It’s About Time might lead us to think otherwise, and I’d be rather wary of clicking on the invite if she did send a Friend request. I’m fairly sure that some Hatch performers are being themselves, though. Well, perhaps…

The Lecture, Talk and Guided Tour

Of course, that business of pretending to be someone else is less noticeable when performers purport to be doing something other than performing: perhaps, like Southpaw Junction at Hatch: It’s About Time or Jenna Finch and Gareth Morgan during NEAT11, they’ll be offering guided coach tours, or explaining the history of a place. Perhaps they’ll be offering a lecture on a subject you’re unfamiliar with, or taking you out on a walk and pointing out the sites of historical interest. Is this experimental? Well, I’ve been on many Ghost Walks, listened to lots of reflections on the past, and heard specialists in various disciplines making highly contentious assertions with absolute conviction, so such things might easily be mistaken for performance. Hatch performers might, like real lecturers, guides and raconteurs, be embellishing and inventing things, just to liven the whole experience up, holding your attention by adding the very things they know you want to hear. They might be leading you up a particularly scenic garden path, with just a small grain of objective truth at the end of it. As a rule, the more outlandish it is, the more likely it is to be true. Be especially wary when performers offer proof of their assertions. The chances are it’s all been fabricated.

The Crossover

Like many other aspects of experimental performance, the crossing of art-form boundaries is usually thought of as a contemporary concern, at the cutting edge of things. But as Ben Jonson’s collaborations with Inigo Jones to create lavish Masques during the early 1600s show there’s nothing all that new about the business of writers, artists, musicians and dancers coming together to create performances involving all these disciplines and more besides. It’s often forgotten that Handel’s Water Music was created for a performance on a barge on the River Thames in 1717 rather than a concert hall, while his Music for the Royal Fireworks was written in 1749 with a Pyrotechnic display over Vauxhall Gardens in mind. Whether it’s W.B. Yeats writing plays to be performed in the style of Japanese Noh for the Abbey Theatre in 1917 or Sheffield’s Forced Entertainment and Nottingham’s Reckless Sleepers and Gob Squad adding film and video to the mix in 2011, the ways devised by performers to transgress the fixed boundaries of the seemingly conventional stage production by introducing elements now considered alien to it are as old as the conventions themselves. Rules, like eggs, are there to be broken.

So, where does the Hatch idea of the Performance-y sit on the experimental/traditional continuum? In truth, the traditional idea of theatre as a proscenium stage where audiences listen quietly to the lines spoken by professional actors is a fairly recent invention (dating to around the eighteenth century) that was never the whole story, being both pre- and post-dated by other ways of doing things. From Victorian Music Hall and fairground melodrama to the audience participation at Edwardian pantomimes and reports of groundlings playing cards on the edge of the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe in the 1590s while vendors and prostitutes plied their trades during the soliloquies, it seems performance has looked more like one of the many incarnations of Hatch than the main stage at The National for most of its recorded history. That Hatch and its performance-y ethos fits so well into the programme of NEAT11 – which itself spans the full range of European theatre today – only supports the point.

What is Hatch?


vb. To cause to break and release the fully developed young; To contrive or devise;

n. An opening of restricted size allowing for passage from one area to another.

Definition

Hatch is a verb, Hatch is a noun. Hatch is a peripatetic space for work that is or wants to be performance-y. Hatch is the y. Hatch will be accessible to all forms of performance, all types and levels of performer and as wide an audience as possible. Hatch is a home for experimenting and collaboration. Hatch presents work which is likely to succeed, but not afraid to fail. Hatch will present work at a series of locations around the city centre – the city is our studio space.

Continue reading ‘What is Hatch?’


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