Archive for the 'NEAT11' Category

Extending the Platform: An Interview with Hatch (Summer 2013)

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The interview that follows was first discussed with Hatch in relation to a call for proposals and papers to be included in Performance Research: On Writing and Digital Media (vol 18, issue 5) and was accepted by the journal editors in Spring 2013. It was withdrawn, by myself, during Summer 2013 after the contract for publication not only offered zero payment, as expected, but also insisted on the assignment of full copyright in the text to the parent publisher, Taylor & Francis. The interview itself discusses the link between this blog and the performance platform of Hatch. The conversation – with Nathaniel J Miller, Marie Bertram and Michael Pinchbeck – took place at Primary, Nottingham, during May 2013.

Al Needham & Chris Matthews audiotours at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Al Needham & Chris Matthews audiotours at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Nathaniel J Miller: So is the idea here that we interview you?

Wayne Burrows: Maybe. I think the idea is to explore the thinking around the decision within Hatch to begin this online documentation. What did Hatch hope to get out of it when this online extension to the live platforms was initiated?

NJM: Partly, it was about generating feedback for artists. The starting point was that we wanted something written, so whether there were reviewers at an event or not there’d be some lasting document about the work shown there. It was also about a need for documentation within the NEAT festival platform we did in 2011. We had photographs from earlier platforms, but this was about trying out a different way of documenting the performances.

Marie Bertram: The programme we ran during NEAT was also a string of events rather than a single one night platform, so we felt the writing might provide a through-line to that and make connections between the different events within that programme so they weren’t just floating, separate things, they were all somehow brought together.

Angel Club (north) [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Angel Club (north) [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Was NEAT the first time you’d run a programme like that, with events in different times and places, across a longer period?

NJM: Yes. Previously, there’d be a lot of events on one night, in one place or within a number of venues in a well-defined area, like Broad Street or St James’s Street. There were also fewer thematic connections between the performances in that programme. They’d been things we’d liked the sound of, that all fitted into the NEAT festival context, but they weren’t responding to a title or idea, something we’d set in advance, which is how things had tended to work in the past. I think we found some of the connections in hindsight, through the things you wrote about, and it turned out there were quite a lot of links, but we’d not been conscious of them ourselves when we were putting the programme together.

Michael Pinchbeck: It was also partly about us wondering what the blog could do to create that through-line, whether in a programme of discrete events like NEAT, or within individual platforms, or between double bills. We’d never done that before and it seemed like the online format of a blog was an appropriate form we could use, where each post would evolve into a bigger whole, a history of Hatch over time. That idea is closely linked to something that’s becoming more common now, where reflections on performance, the idea of embedding criticism in the platforms, and the process of creating the performances themselves, are becoming more widely used. When it comes to something like Hatch, which is often about unfinished work, you as a critic in that space are embedded within a process, witnessing the meeting of an artist, an audience, a moment and a space, in a way that is live and remains true to that moment, but also becomes part of the process of building a narrative around the work. There’s a sedimentary build-up of information there, so the history of Hatch remains in that blog long after the events have come and gone, and from that we can start to connect the threads contained in those different posts, teasing out themes neither we nor the artists have been aware of. It’s an interpretation which is partly objective and separate from the artist’s intention, but also subjective and embedded within the framework that Hatch provides for the development of new work.

Michael Pinchbeck, Marie Bertram and Katherine Fishman at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

Michael Pinchbeck, Marie Bertram and Katherine Fishman at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Another thing about these events is that, whether it’s one evening with twelve different things going on or a series of different performances in different venues across a period of weeks or months, we make it difficult to see everything. You might see one event but miss another or see a part of each thing but not the whole. It’s hard in that situation for artists to see each-others’ work, and hard for us to see much, sometimes, too. So while there are reasons why we’ve made those choices and set our platforms up in those ways, piling up a lot of possibilities and choices for our audiences, the fact remains that it’s hard for us to get an overall view of any given event and that can be a drawback. But if we have someone who we’ve specifically engaged to see everything, as far as that’s humanly possible, and to write a response to what they’ve seen, that can be useful for our artists, who can then read those discussions of their work alongside accounts of other work presented on the night – which they may not have seen – and get a sense of how it might have connected to their own in some way.

The Gramophones [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The Gramophones [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: From my reading of the blogs, what you often do is put things into a broader context, so you might say “this is looking back to live art in the sixties” with a few examples, or you might mention other work that draws on a particular approach or source of material and comment on and add links to those examples elsewhere on the internet. It opens a dramaturgical inquiry that can be of benefit to the artists, because not all have that kind of dramaturge role being filled within their own process. I know that when you wrote about Ollie Smith’s Cat In Hell at New Art Exchange you made some comments how they might expand that material, if it was going to become a full length show, which I think he found useful. So it’s critical and looks in from outside the work, but part of what this embedded criticism does is bring a kind of internal dramaturgy into play, where the writing informs the process. It’s not just responding to the work, or reflecting it back like a mirror, it’s a driver, with some influence on the way the work is made, an active part of the process. That’s part of what we wanted the blog to do. It’s not the one night stand of a short newspaper review, it’s entering into a longer term relationship. It has that role, so there’s a use for marketing, where I know Hannah Nicklin and David Parkin, among others, have quoted the blog in their publicity, but it’s blurring those roles. It’s part of the pre-performance development of the work and a post-performance reflection on it at the same time.

WB: I think that’s an interesting point. If the writing, the platform online, becomes enmeshed with the platform live and potentially changes it, it becomes a bit like a  theatre version of the Heisenberg Principle in physics: “the act of observing alters the thing being observed”.

NJM: That’s always been the case for performance anyway. The audience, and the performers’ consciousness of the audience, affects the performance.

Hannah Nicklin [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Hannah Nicklin [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: And the thing is, if you present a finished piece of work and – let’s say, Lyn Gardner from The Guardian, for example – she writes ‘it’s ten minutes too long’, you have a choice: to continue performing a show that everyone will now assume is ten minutes too long, because she said it was, or to make it ten minutes shorter.

NJM: But then if you shorten it by ten minutes, but don’t say so, everyone will still expect to think it’s ten minutes too long because that’s what they’ve read.

MP: And then another person might see it and think it’s fifteen minutes too long or five minutes too short. But the point is that it’s no good hearing that kind of comment at that stage in the process because it’s already too late. But if you hear it when it’s still a work in progress, as it usually is on a Hatch platform, you can then consider that opinion when you’re making adjustments to the piece, agree or disagree, make any cuts or changes you think might be needed to improve the work.

Priya Mistry at Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Priya Mistry at Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: That’s a crucial difference between a digital text and an analogue one. The fact that it exists online and can be continually added to and changed makes it more informal and conversational than something with the finality of print. If we’d asked you to write a pamphlet or a short book, there’d be a point where it’s finished, or at least, has to go off to the printer. But a blog doesn’t have that finality. It’s never finished.

WB: That’s true. The process is often that a draft is uploaded, but might still be altered and revised, or have new links and material added, for quite a while after it goes up. One example is that quite often a piece staged later in an ongoing programme might be linked to one that took place and was discussed earlier. The writing doesn’t go up in a completely finished state, anyway, though there’s a point after which it doesn’t change, except to refresh dead links, things like that.

NJM: Maybe if this had been happening four or five years ago, there’d have been more discussion on the blog itself too. That’s fallen out of vogue a bit now and people are more likely to converse about it on Twitter or Facebook and other social media sites instead.

WB: Yes, often you’ll post the links and notice the sharing and discussions going on underneath them, so the conversations tend to be displaced from the source on the blog itself. If the sharing extends outside your own friends lists or the people you happen to be following, as it often does, you lose sight of the response quite quickly.

NJM: It’s an interesting evolution in the reception of digital texts.

MP: Sometimes, as an artist reading a blog about your work, something in it really prompts you to want to respond, whether positively or negatively, and it’s possible to enter into that dialogue. It isn’t possible to have that dialogue in hard copy, in print reviews. A possible extension of that is to think about how we can encourage artists to respond when we’re circulating the blog, to try and generate more of those responses and conversations within the blog, though as you and Nathan say, there are other avenues for that, too. But what it is, in the end, is a conversation between you as a writer and the Hatch programme: a dialogue. And in those terms, I know Jake Orr from The Younger Theatre and Maddy Costa from The Guardian are developing a website called Dialogue as an online space for theatre writing and writing about theatre. It would be good to explore how Hatch: Back might connect to that, because it seems to be part of a growing body of writing on performance that exists online and pops up on other social media, in a live-ish way.

NJM: These sites often carry more interesting writing because there are relatively few print outlets and those that remain do tend to follow the 300 or 400 word review format, so there’s not a lot of space for longer or more reflective pieces. They are now appearing in other places, like this blog or Dialogue.

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: As I understand it, this movement of performance online grows out of frustration with word-counting and star ratings in print outlets.

WB: I can confirm that Metro used to specify 250 words for most reviews, very occasionally 350 words. The longer pieces, the 650 or 850 word features, were always interviews with the director, writer or performer and were written as previews before you’d actually seen the new work.

MP: One interesting question for us might be to ask what’s different about writing for this Hatch blog?

WB: As compared to reviewing for something like Metro? It’s completely different. With a 250 word review in Metro, you’re distilling down what you think after the event. You know it’s going to be fixed and you don’t know, really, who the readers will be, so it’s got to be open to a whole range of levels of knowledge about that particular performance. Some might be reading it from a perspective of deep involvement in theatre, live art or performance, others might just be picking it up with no previous interest in those things at all and there can be every kind of reader in between. You’re trying to produce a response that can at least potentially work for all of them on one level or another. The constraints of space mean you mostly give just a flavour of the piece, and perhaps imply a judgement in the way you phrase your comments, but there’s no room for developing an argument or suggesting a wider context beyond a few very basic nuances, which might be pretty subtle and depend on an informed reader picking them up. With the blog, I’m not sure if it’s more or less open. It’s more open in the sense that you can follow a thought process over maybe 2000 words, if that seems appropriate, but can equally do something shorter, 300 or 400 words, and keep it very tightly focused. But maybe it’s less open in that there’s a much stronger sense of who the audience is, since they’re the artists, or more generally the wider Hatch audience, which is often a peer audience of students of performance, or performance and live art professionals, but ultimately those at the more informed and engaged end of the Metro spectrum. But the key difference from a writing viewpoint is that the blog is not a distillation of my thinking, it’s more like the thought process itself. I start writing and work through my own thinking about the work in some way, so I might not be sure what I thought of it when I type the first line but by the time I type the last line I’ve worked something out and have a better idea of how I felt about a particular piece or series of performances. With Metro, I suppose I’d be more focused on pinning down a more definitive kind of provisional statement, a judgement of some sort, so in that way it’s a very different process.

fourbeatwalk: The Disaster Bar at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

fourbeatwalk: The Disaster Bar at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Obviously, all reviews are subjective to some extent but your writing on the Hatch blog seems more subjective than an average review. You’re letting the reader in on the process of your thinking about the experience, rather than making the kind of judgement called for in a traditional review. I suppose that’s partly because we’re not asking for reviews of that kind. We want a critical response but not a mark out of ten.

WB: Those aspects of it come partly from being able to let the reader into the actual experience of the work rather than to some extent generalising it, as you might in a review, where you’re considering not just what you personally thought of it, but how it might work for other kinds of audience. It’s a retrospective account of a live experience, like a review,  but its purpose isn’t to inform its readers about whether they should go and spend money on tickets. A good example of how that can work was at Hatch: Twelve, where Natasha Davis’s Suspended happened twice during the day. The first part of it I saw was a few minutes from the middle section, not the beginning. Then I saw the beginning of the second performance but had to leave for a one to one performance with Annette Foster. And when I got back to Natasha Davis, she was just doing the final part of the middle section I’d seen before, so I then saw it from there to the end. The point is that when it came to writing the piece, I suppose I could have reconstructed the show, as I’d seen all the parts, and I had the option of glossing over the haphazard order I’d experienced them in. But it seemed more worthwhile to reflect that slightly scrambled version, where the whole performance was there – beginning, middle and end – but not necessarily in the right order. That carries into the writing, so where I didn’t really experience a performance as it was meant to be seen for one reason or another, that can be incorporated, and I think that reflects the reality of the live platforms. It wouldn’t be possible to do that in a traditional review format, where not having seen the piece in full, as intended by the artist, would possibly invalidate anything you had to say about it.

Third Angel and mala voadora [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Third Angel and mala voadora [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: I remember something similar happened with Annette Foster’s fortune telling piece, Messages from the Big Red Bus, when that was on at Hazard Festival in Manchester. The technology wasn’t working, so you talked about what it ended up being and what it was supposed to have been, as though both versions of the performance happened simultaneously. It feels more embedded in the process, and maybe process is a key word here. These writings are about a process rather than a finished product. I don’t know if that sense of process having a stronger presence than a finished product is part of the nature of blogging as a form, or something that applies here because it also happens to reflect how Hatch artists often work.

WB: The Hatch at Hazard day in Manchester was interesting because there were a whole range of parts in it. There was the journey there, on a very distinctive 1950s double decker bus that became a venue on arrival. Then there was the context around the programmed performances, and finally there were the performances themselves. So the account of that event ended up as three quite distinct sections, one covering the bus journey there, one breaking down the day into its constituent individual performances and my own experiences of them, and then a third that widened things out to take in the context of Hazard more generally and the Manchester streets around St Ann’s Square where the festival took place. It was a way of reflecting the fact that the day in total wasn’t really about the performances, or not just the performances, at least. If I’d focused entirely on those discrete programmed works something important would have been missed about the experience.

NJM: The Hazard Festival writings also reflected your role as part of Hatch so there was a sense of how it felt from the inside, rather than as a member of the public in Manchester just encountering the performers, as a regular review would tend to do.  But that was an extreme example. We quite deliberately set up that Summer Holiday vibe by going on the vintage bus, then using that bus as a theatre.

MP: Yes, we wanted that sense of just turning up and putting the show on right there, like in an old musical.

NJM: Another dimension is a sense of the artists on the way to work, which is always part of these things but isn’t apparent to the audience. Our performers in Manchester had the bus as a kind of focus so being on the bus from the start enabled you to take part in that and to bring some of that hidden side of things into the documentation.

WB: Alongside that was a sense of Manchester itself. There were things going on in the streets around the performances that fitted in with or diverged from the performances, thematically and in terms of performance styles and intentions. If you moved further along from St Ann’s Square, where the Hatch and Hazard performances were going on, you quickly began to run into buskers, people doing street marketing,  people who dance in fancy dress or stand painted like statues, Classical music played on Farfisa organs, that sort of thing. These unofficial performances were sometimes more or less indistinguishable from the kinds of spectacle Hatch and Hazard were putting on with very different intentions. To give one example, when things were being packed up near the end of the day I was standing by the bus and two Muslim guys came over and asked me if I believed in chance: “What if you were crossing a desert and saw a mobile phone form itself spontaneously from the sand and wind? Would you assume this was the work of nature or God?” It did seem this could very easily have been the beginning of a performance, and I suppose it was a performance, albeit motivated by preaching or religious marketing rather than art. So these things raise the question of where the line should be between the programmed performances of the Hazard festival and Hatch and the things you might encounter in that location outside those contexts.

Simon Raven at Hazard [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Simon Raven at Hazard [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: You also referenced Sean Burn, who was performing with Hazard in Manchester, but had been at a Hatch scratch night earlier in the year with a different piece. Your antenna seems raised, as if you’re sensitised to these connections.

WB: Another interesting thing about the encounter with Sean Burn was that his performance involved taking a flower from him and that flower ended up in Simon Raven’s performance because it seemed appropriate to link what the two of them were doing at opposite ends of the site. Maybe that goes back to your earlier comment about influencing as well as observing the performances?

NJM: One reason for asking you to do the blog because we knew you had experience of previous Hatch events, having been to most of our platforms since 2008 and even performed in one, so we knew you had some understanding of how we operate and where we’d come from. Something I’m quite curious about is how that changes the way you experience Hatch events, now you’re asked to professionally observe them?

WB: The very early Hatch events were as much social events as they were about seeing work, I think, so I’d be in the venue but might not see all that much of the performance staged on any particular night. Thinking about the street-based platforms, Hatch Abroad and Hatch Across, I guess I remember seeing maybe three or four things in full at each of those, and then lots of little bits of other things going on. When I’m covering it, I have to resist that social side and see the work, so I’ll now see at least some of everything, with a few exceptions that were unavoidable, such as not managing to get a slot for the one-to-one performance with Jo Bannon at Hatch Mass, say. That need to focus has changed my experience because that social side of Hatch has been much less the focus of going to the events than it was before I began writing about them. I used to miss things because I’d be in the café talking to someone or having a drink outside and now I’m in the audience – whatever that means in a given performance – pretty much from beginning to end. It’s not just Hatch that has this social aspect, since at Ian Nesbitt and Emily Wilczek’s Annexinema events audiences won’t necessarily come and sit down to watch every single film, they’ll dip in and out of the programme, come and go. Audiences go there for the ambience and that’s part of what makes these kinds of events work. In that way the Hatch platforms I’m attending now have a different focus to the Hatch platforms I attended before 2011.

NJM: I think some of our recent platforms have been more focused though we’ll still do the more chaotic and social sessions in strange venues when we can.

Rebecca Gamble's Mariela Hosomaki [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Rebecca Gamble’s Mariela Hosomaki [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: That raises another interesting point, because back when I used to miss a lot of the performance, because of taking part in that social side of Hatch, I might well have looked at the blog and other documentation to see what I’d missed, if it had existed then. So the documentation could, in theory, be seen as something that replaces or supplements the actual experience. I know people who have said the same about Glastonbury Festival. They go but the first they see of the headline acts is watching them on the TV coverage after they get back. You won’t necessarily go to the main stages when you’re there because there’s so much else to do. So it’s interesting how this kind of documentation could potentially replace parts of the live experience. On a similar note, I’d like to ask if one of the things you hoped the blog could do is communicate Hatch and its activities beyond the immediate audience, mainly in the East Midlands, who come to the events? There’s a now a way for people in Edinburgh, London or Belgium to have a kind of access to the work you’re doing in Nottingham, Leicester or Manchester that wasn’t possible before.

NJM: It is another function of the documentation. In order to illustrate what Hatch is, we need photographs, things written about it, so we can now send people from outside our region to the blogs where they can get an idea of what we’re about and what’s going on. Probably by accident rather than design there’s also a sense of self mythologizing about it, as well. We’ve commissioned this writing to be done, which beyond the immediate purpose of describing the work and feeding comments back to the artists, puts us into a wider context of theatre and performance and live art nationally and internationally. That very first piece you wrote for the NEAT Festival programme, defining Hatch and its ways of presenting work in relation to theatrical forms going back hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, connecting us to a history that wasn’t academic, but was very interesting. Perhaps it’s a bit of a cheat for us to commission a body of writing about ourselves rather than wait to be noticed but I think we’re conscious that it does have an effect on how we might be seen.

WB: That first piece in the NEAT series was written as much to get my own head around the idea of what Hatch is and does and where it fits into a longer perspective of performance of the sort NEAT was setting out to represent. But another part of it was thinking about the way that what platforms like Hatch do is usually labelled, a bit lazily, in my view, as ‘experimental’, a definition that rests on a partial, even false view of performance history. I mean, it happens in a lot of art forms, so in writing you’ll hear lots of commentary about ‘experimental fiction’ despite the fact that the experimental or postmodern novel demonstrably pre-dates the traditional and modern versions. In that case, when I asked myself what it meant to talk about the experimental and the avant-garde in performance I found that what it often means is that this work is doing something that was pretty commonplace 200 or 300 years ago, which was replaced by something else 150 years ago and has now staged a bit of a return to an older form: audience participation and site specificity goes back to the Mystery Plays in Medieval Europe, multimedia to Ben Jonson’s collaborations with Inigo Jones at the court of James I, or Handel’s music for fireworks in Vauxhall Park. I interviewed the American minimalist composer Steve Reich around 1998 and asked him about the process where the barriers between classical, pop and avant-garde music had begun to weaken, given his own influence on people like Brian Eno and Richard James, The Aphex Twin. He said he thought it wasn’t that anything radical was changing, but that musical culture was emerging from a slightly anomalous period where those distinctions had been upheld in more absolute ways than at other times in the past. If you went back to Beethoven and Bach’s day, court and church composers were always taking ideas from folk tunes and popular dances while people outside the courts and churches were taking the composers’ tunes and recasting them as folk tunes and dances. This was how it’s always been and it was only really after the mid-nineteenth century that the idea that they all had to be kept in separate boxes really gained traction. A similar process seems to be happening in many other art forms now, including performance, and perhaps the digital context helps that process along by technologically mediating exchanges that would previously have happened through word of mouth, meetings and chance encounters.

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: One thing that’s often discussed about the online world is that we have access, at least in theory, if we’ve got a broadband connection and know how to find what we’re interested in, to more or less anything, at any level of achievement, in any genre, from any point in history or any place in the world, more or less instantly. Because of that there’s an idea in circulation that we have an artificially created commons that both artists and audiences have access to and this is quite new.

WB: That’s becoming quite explicit in performance, too, so when Olwen Davies performed her piece at Broadway, she talks about learning to do a version of Sixties Biba Girl make up from an instructional clip on YouTube. But then she points out that this actually removes her from the real history as much as connects her to it, because the woman whose YouTube tutorials she’d used had based her version on photographs and illustrations from the time and then filled in the gaps with informed guesswork. That apparent accessibility is partly fictional and can distance the reality of things from us even as it appears to connect us to them.

NJM:  For Olwen that whole piece is based on her idea of how these clips and fragments, which she’s conscious are as fake as they are real, shape her view of what it was like to be alive in 1967 or 1968. In the performance, she presents this amazingly detailed but completely skewed perspective. Zilla! Part Two by Andy Field links to this kind of digital hyper-availability too. He can tailor his Google Streetview images to make the fictional journey specific to any venue or place he happens to be performing in. He can change the text to include local material sourced online, sometimes with a bit of local knowledge provided by those hosting him, as his intention is to rewrite the piece so feels like it’s narrated by someone who has lived in a particular city and knows it well. That happens in every city or venue where Zilla! Part Two is performed. That is something new for performance. It could have been done before but might have taken days of preparation, site visits and research to do what can now be achieved on a laptop or smartphone in a few hours.

Andy Field: Zilla! Part Two at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Andy Field: Zilla! Part Two at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Interestingly, that kind of research can be valuable in the blog, too, particularly where you make a reference to something outside the platform, a performance from the past or a pop-cultural reference, and can link directly to a film or detailed account with photographs of the thing you’ve mentioned. That allows a kind of shorthand, a casual approach to referencing, that isn’t possible on a printed page, where you’d have to describe the similarity or difference you’re drawing attention to in much more detail. On a blog, the links can be used as instant footnotes, almost, and they allow anyone who might be interested to explore a piece of work in a wider context. It’s also worth adding that no matter who an artist in a Hatch programme might be, if I don’t know any of their previous work I can run a search and usually quite quickly find a website which gives at least some sense of their context and background. That kind of contextual information is very easy to track down. For example, I knew nothing about Eggs Collective before they performed at Hatch Mass, but I was able to find their website and find out that one member, Lowri Evans, had done a solo performance earlier in that year’s programme, while Sarah Cox turned up at Scratch 13, performing with Nicki Hobday. Not all of this goes into the writing but having access to these signposts means you can see the context things are operating in very quickly.

MP: Online context raises some questions for us about how we might develop the blog and has been part of our thinking about what it could become in future. When Green Room in Manchester closed, a website was made, Green Room United, which has documentation about all the artists who performed there while it was active. You click on a performer’s name and a list of all the companies and people they performed with appears, building a kind of Green Room family tree. If I click on myself, I see metro boulot dodo in the late nineties and early 2000s, Reckless Sleepers, Strange Names Collective and all the shows I’ve done solo. It’s a jigsaw showing all these collaborations and links, a kind of map. These blogs are mapping our history digitally, in a similar way, which is a nice concept. It’s a map with no edges. It’s immaterial. But it’s a map you can use to navigate those histories.

Lowri Evans' Live Letter at Hatch Scratch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Lowri Evans’ Live Letter at Hatch Scratch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: I guess the immateriality of that history can be a bit poignant, especially when it’s linked to a venue or a company or a platform that is no longer active, that closed, ceased to operate or simply moved on. Maybe it’s at its most valuable then, too – these maps might be needed to rebuild when the landmarks on them no longer exist.

MP: Hatch has no fixed form and no home that can close, though many of the places we’ve temporarily occupied have closed down. But that temporality is in the nature of performance: it appears and then it disappears. It has no body or clothes. It knows that in the moment it happens it will vanish and leave no trace of itself. So maybe the blog is one way of trying to capture something from that process, with the writing in some sense replacing the performance once the performance is over. The blog becomes a trace it can leave. There’s a nice comment I read somewhere, that there’s a good reason why there’s no equivalent of the National Gallery for performance, a place where you could go and see Carolee Schneeman’s Interior Scroll or any of these classic pieces that only existed when and where they happened. There are various approaches to trying to reconstruct or preserve these performances, but they existed in some very fundamental way only in their particular moments.

NJM: You can go into the National Review of Live Art’s archive and see all kinds of things that survive: writings, photographs, films and video documentation. But none of them is the experience of the performance.

MP: The whole issue of performance archives is interesting, asking questions about how we might re-enact an archive, how you might use the documentation of a performance to restage that performance. The University of Bristol had a project called Performing Documents where they restaged a whole range of performances from the past. Tim Etchells re-enacted Bruce Nauman’s A Violent Incident – which he presented as a new piece called Untitled (After A Violent Incident) which performed Nauman’s video live, using the video as a kind of score. There’s something about how we approach the documentation of our own events that suggests it might be possible to reconstruct a Hatch event that happens today in ten years’ time.

NJM: That relates to what How We Run were doing in their piece at Hatch Scratch at Embrace Arts, when they were trying to work out how to restage or re-experience an iconic performance like John Cage’s Waterwalk. By doing that, could you create an iconic performance of your own?

MP: They were also trying to mythologise their own performances.

How We Run: Waterwalk at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

How We Run: Waterwalk at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Yes, that’s true. They were trying out the idea that by talking about something they’d done while still at university in the same way and in the same context as something canonical like John Cage’s Waterwalk or Andy Kaufman’s comedy club readings from The Great Gatsby they could somehow have some of that iconic status rub off on them. By speaking about their own work in that way they create a myth in which they are already part of that history rather than relative newcomers aspiring to it.

WB: I think one of the most moving performances I’ve seen was when Forced Entertainment did a new version of Emmanuelle Enchanted, a show they’d made when they were all much younger, but re-staged it a point in their lives where their ages were starting to show. So they were the same people, the same performers in the same roles using the same script, as close to the original as possible. But they couldn’t quite manage some of the things they’d done all those years earlier and it began to break down and became a show about themselves as performers trying to recapture a moment in their own lives that they can no longer quite reach. It was an interesting approach to re-staging because it had become a very different show, about something quite different to its original incarnation. The other version of this I find interesting is when Gob Squad try to reconstruct Andy Warhol’s Kitchen. Again, it becomes a performance about the discrepancy between one period in time and another. There was a similar sense of disjunction in Olwen Davies’s relationship to the Sixties in her piece at Broadway [Retroscape], which I imagine might have been at least partly influenced by Gob Squad’s Kitchen. In relation to the blog texts, the point is that neither my writing nor Julian Hughes’ photographs, nor the combination of them, can ever fully represent any of the performances they document. But perhaps they do end up, mostly accidentally, replacing those things and become a kind of alternate version of them, in the same way that any re-staging is by definition a new performance, whatever the intentions are. If Carolee Schneemann re-stages Interior Scroll, it can never be the event that’s been so extensively mythologised, it’s always a new event, one that might have very little connection back to its source.

MP: Maybe there’s a metaphor in this for the writing as an attempt at enabling the appearance of new work, by being part of the dramaturgical process when a performance is being made, while also resisting the disappearance of that same work at another stage. The writing can develop it, in a photographic sense, and also retain an impression of it so it doesn’t fade. Perhaps this suggests the blog embodies that idea of these writings as neither a process nor a product but something in-between.

WB: I’m intrigued by the sense that in a few years, or even just a few weeks after an event, the audience for these performances could be people who never had the experience of the performance in the first place. Are they reconstructing it imaginatively from the descriptions left behind in the writings and photographs or are they devising a new performance from the act of reading about an old one? There’s a kind of performative aspect to the writing, in that I tend to write each post in real time, following the thought processes down the page to a conclusion. So it would follow that the reading of these accounts might also have a performative aspect. The act of reading might make the performance visible again but as with Olwen Davies’s version of the 1960s it might also add distance within that illusion of experiencing what happened, or something a very little like it, or vaguely related to it, through the texts. I like the idea of resisting disappearance but I suspect it’s always going to be a case of failing to resist disappearance.

Andy Field: Zilla Part One at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Andy Field: Zilla Part One at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

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]

Hatch at NEAT11: Zoo Indigo/Medium Rare: Opening Hours II (Rain Stops Play)

The final day of Hatch: NEAT was anticipated to be the closing of a circle, returning to its own beginnings in a repeat performance of the opening weekend’s events, but this time bringing together Medium Rare and Zoo Indigo’s previously separate Opening Hours performances on the same day and the same patch of ground. Since both the earlier versions had circular themes, in response to Wellington Circus itself, this made a certain sense, giving the varied events of the past fortnight’s Hatch thread through NEAT11 a symmetry and sense of unity despite their individually self-sufficient nature.

Sadly, the plan was sent slightly awry by the weather, which after a briefly promising morning quickly descended into unceasing heavy rain for the rest of the day. By all accounts, Medium Rare ran their performances as scheduled between noon and 4.30pm, performing their synchronised swimming routines and games of catch in florescent waterproof capes even when the audience was – at one point – a crowd of exactly zero people (I understand things improved somewhat later, and some hardy souls in waterproofs were given golf umbrellas and did manage to experience the performances).

I’m certainly sorry I missed out on what must have been the very strange sight of that audience-less performance running exactly to script and schedule even when no-one was present to witness it, something that I can imagine added a ritualistic dimension to what was already a piece steeped in familiar British stereotypes and character-traits, given that the performance on the first weekend consisted of the five members of Medium Rare in PE teacher costumes putting audiences through their disciplined paces in the fresh air with whistles and a briskly efficient attitude, as though we – or they – were being remodelled as characters from an Angela Brazil novel.

So it was that this earlier sense of British identity, underpinning the first performances of Hatch: NEAT, had been intended as the point to which we’d finally return. But now, as we found ourselves confronted with the stark facts of a day-long downpour and the cancellation of Zoo Indigo’s endurance maypole dance and its attendant side-events, might this actually be an oddly appropriate finishing point? What could be more revealing of British identity, after all, than an outdoor summertime event unceremoniously rained off, or at best taking place in rain-lashed wintry darkness as the lowering black clouds refused to budge from a sky that only that morning had teased us with promises of sunshine?

Saddened to have missed Medium Rare’s sterling (and, it appears, mostly successful) efforts to play on with their three part performance despite the adverse circumstances, and with that disappointment compounded by finding the gates to Wellington Circus padlocked, the rain still lashing down and Zoo Indigo’s Ildiko Rippel confined to Cast with a troupe of game but resigned volunteer maypole dancers come the start time for the evening’s activity, the situation nonetheless offered an opportunity to reflect on some of the many contradictions of Britishness almost as richly paradoxical as the performances themselves.

Identity was the intended theme, the thread connecting everything in the Hatch programme since that first sunny Saturday on Wellington Circus, and here we now were, as the circle closed, in an exactly reversed situation: one that might just have easily decimated the first weekend and blessed the last. He we were, drinking hot coffee in damp clothes and marvelling at the force and consistency of the downpour. It came to seem almost inevitable, somehow, as though it had been engineered, an accidental ‘performance-y’ situation expressly designed to contrast with the opening weekend’s sunshine and smooth running.

I started to make my back through the deluge, feet getting soaked by the rivulets of water running down every pavement between the Playhouse and Market Square. It seemed entirely fitting to spot an illuminated billboard emblazoned on the side of an Angel Row bus-shelter with a near life-size canary yellow lifejacket on it, as though daring me to think I might need one just like it before I made it home. This is exactly the sort of thing a Hatch performance might do, I was thinking: slot something unlikely but appropriate into a place you wouldn’t have expected to see it. To this extent, missing out on Opening Hours II turned out to be almost as much of an experience as seeing it might have been had the weather been different.

Hatch at NEAT11: Hunt & Darton/Leentje Van De Cruys: From Rosettes and Rocinante to Ponies and Polos

After Thursday evening’s performance of Tourist and Gabriele Reuter’s reshuffling of the identity concept that has underpinned Hatch: NEAT so far, the final Saturday moved us away from the national and cultural identifications that had informed such pieces as Krissi Musiol’s Sugar Statues and 30 Bird Productions’ Poland 3 Iran 2 to far more personal kinds of belonging and alienation. To be specific, we had a double bill of performances in which women identified themselves with horses to look forward to, as Hunt & Darton’s Break Your Own Pony shared the Playhouse rehearsal studio stage with Leentje Van De Cruys’ Horse.

Of course, there’s nothing especially novel about female artists taking horses as subject matter. The title poem of Sylvia Plath’s posthumous collection Ariel was about the sense of dangerous freedom engendered by riding a horse, while Patti Smith’s 1976 debut LP (Horses, naturally) featured a long title track in which successive waves of ‘white shining horses…with their noses in flames’ appear to symbolise a kind of visionary ecstasy that overwhelms the song’s narrator. The association isn’t just made by female artists, either: Peter Schaffer’s 1973 play Equus centres on the relationship between a psychiatrist and a disturbed young man who blinds a stable full of horses out of a religiously-inspired fear of their connection with female sexuality and power.

So, not putting too fine a point on it, women and horses have form, artistically speaking. Where some examples of the identification are intense and archetypal, though, the first piece on show this afternoon – the live art duo Hunt & Darton’s Break Your Own Pony – takes a far lighter and much less reverent approach to its subject in a series of vignettes which sees the two performers (Holly Darton and Rachel Dobbs) acting out a series of alternatively surreal and silly skits playing around with the ways in which women and horses find a kind of cultural and emotional common ground.

Scripted as a list of ‘actions’, the various parts of Break Your Own Pony are like the lessons of a riding school tutor, with the duo offering a series of brief demonstrations as we work our way through the options. Some use puns (‘Whore/See’), some ridicule the identification of female sexuality and horses by miming horse-riding as a kind of ludicrous booty-shake, some drag half the audience onstage to walk and trot them round in circles onstage while the theme from the 70s TV series Black Beauty blares out. The duo leap onto tables and hold convoluted poses, perform synchronised gurning sessions, hand out torches and ask audience members to spotlight their George Stubbs Whistlejacket sweatshirts as they scuttle across the stage like moving targets on a fairground stall.

Pretty much every horsey cliche you might think of was slotted in somewhere: clip-clopping coconut shells, polos, carrots and rosettes. Miniature jumps are set up on the stage. Chairs have stirrups, TV shows like Rawhide and The Horse of the Year Show get name-checks. A lot of it reminded me of the horsey bits in Smack The Pony where Sally Phillips or Doon Mackichan would move from being sophisticated career woman bemoaning the immaturity of men before suddenly switching to being six year olds cantering round pretend show-jumping courses, neighing, snorting and giving themselves four faults. In other words, Hunt & Darton’s piece didn’t take itself too seriously and didn’t outstay its welcome.

The second piece, Leentje Van De Cruys’ Horse, was a rather different take on the idea, as a woman, naked but for a pair of red high-heeled shoes and a static but oddly expressive horse’s head mask, appeared on the stage and began to tell us her story. She is a horse, as we can see for ourselves, she begins, but the problem she has is that – while she appears to be a young foal with sleek muscles and a shiny black nose – in fact she believes herself to really be a saggy old mare: and not just any saggy old mare, either, but Don Quixote’s faithful but decrepit steed, Rocinante, as ridden by the delusional knight in Miguel de Cervantes’ great two volume satirical-chivalric novel completed in 1615.

Van De Cruys takes this rather bizarre concept and runs with it, allowing the central thread to accumulate resonances in an unforced way as it goes. The superficial youthful appearance in contrast to the ‘real’ old nag self of Rocinante brings ideas of female body image into play, and the broader story – in which, just to compound her main difficulties, our narrator is also ill at ease in the company of horses, and prefers the human society of the pub, where no-one can get past the fact that she’s a horse who can talk and read for long enough to actually listen to anything she has to say – touches on many ideas, not least those of acceptance and the experience of being an outsider in a culture that isn’t your own.

The sense of Van De Cruys’ alienation from herself is reinforced by the practical set-up, where she speaks through a microphone inside the mask that creates a slight echo and displaces the voice from the body in front of us: her words are amplified through speakers rather than heard coming from her own mouth. At first, it wasn’t entirely clear what the nudity added to the piece, but when a later section takes Van De Cruys into the audience to seek acceptance and understanding it’s obvious that the self-consciousness and mild embarassment her nudity generates is crucial to the effect she’s creating. Were she clothed or in costume, the audience could far more easily appear to accept her for what she is.

By the conclusion, she’s managed to generate a strangely plausible sense of connection with an audience that can’t quite understand her and remains uneasy in her presence, but is prepared to listen to what she has to say for as long as she is willing to confide it. It’s this ability to combine a genuine undercurrent of unease with a gradual acceptance that really underscores the points that Horse sets out to make. It’s a difficult piece to summarise without making those points sound far more bluntly made than they were, but by the time Van De Cruys turns from the microphone and disappears behind a backstage curtain, it’s clear that however extreme her own confusions might be, they’ve illuminated something far more universally human than her own very particular dysfunction.

One reference the show didn’t make directly is to the final chapters of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, where Swift’s hero, Lemuel Gulliver, finds himself in a land peopled by a race of highly civilised horses, the Houyhnhnms, and a barbaric human tribe called the Yahoos. By identifying so strongly with the horses during his stay, Gulliver finds that on his return to England he is forced to become a recluse, no longer able to bear human company, and spends his days in his own stables. It’s not clear whether Van De Cruys has consciously made Horse as an inversion of the same idea, albeit with a less biting mode of satire in play, or whether the allusion to Swift’s 1726 novel is merely coincidental. Either way, the relationship is notable and adds another facet to an already layered performance.

Hatch at NEAT11: Reshuffling The Deck Of Identity Cards: Gabriele Reuter’s Tourist

It probably says a lot about the nature of Hatch that tonight marked a genuine first for the organisation: a conventional hour long performance that took place, by itself, on a stage area inside a regular performance venue. For most people this would be entirely unexceptional but for Hatch it’s actually something of a daring experiment. Clearly, as we pass the halfway point in the Hatch: NEAT programme, it’s time to shake things up a bit.

That shake-up encompassed more than just the presentation, too, since tonight’s offering, Gabriele Reuter‘s Tourist, not only introduced us to the cover star whose image had already become very familiar from the Hatch: NEAT flyers handed out at previous events, but also played a few games with definitions of identity itself, the theme that had threaded all those earlier events together.

Identity here is not about personal grounding in a particular culture or language but inhabiting stereotypes of various kinds. After beginning with a gust of wind, a flurry of snow and the appearance of a baffled arctic explorer on the stage, who looks around, then goes back behind the screen, three women emerge, each dressed in black trousers and vest, the generic uniform of contemporary dance: a uniform that erases the international make-up of most dance companies and reduces each member to a body and a series of movements. 

This means that in most productions, the fact that four identically dressed dancers might be German, Italian, British (or even from Mars) is rendered irrelevant. In Tourist, that tendency is put at the centre as three women attempt to communicate with each other through mimed movement and pre-linguistic sounds: they mime building obstacles to perform around, whimper, mimic drips of water or ticking clocks. Identity becomes the way all three are strangers on this stage and to one another.

This mimed sequence gives way to another gust of wind, sending all three tumbling offstage only to re-emerge as three characters plucked straight from a Boy’s Own annual or a 1940s Abbott & Costello comedy: a parachutist, a desert soldier and that arctic explorer we’d seen at the beginning (interestingly, the costumes suggest a link with some of Chris Dobrowolski‘s old toys, as seen during Poland 3 Iran 2). Now they begin to speak, to the audience and to one another, but while the language has all the form of speech there’s none of the content. We hear the emphasis and inflections, even the accents, but the actual words make no sense.

Within this framework, the characters change identities.  Jane Leaney’s female desert soldier disappears and then returns as Hetain Patel, while Julieta Figueroa’s Elvis-approximating arctic explorer becomes a kind of chorus, stripped of her costume. Reuter drags her silk parachute behind her like a bridal train but later returns to her neutral role as a generic dancer. While these multiple identities shift and slip, a series of broad, gently comic routines unfolds, often rooted (perhaps the anachronistic costumes allude to this?) in silent-era film comedy.

It’s certainly thoughtfully constructed, and there are moments when the light tone deepens a little, as in the closing sequence, where language finally becomes legible and a description of the performance’s location begins with the backstage area, moves outside the building, through Broadmarsh Centre, circles around the city and gradually – passing between the voices of all four performers – moves off into the countryside before telling a story about a receptionist, ‘working late in a grey office block with lots of windows on the edge of a village’ as she goes up in an elevator, along a corridor, then enters a room… 

Just as we reach what appears to be the beginning of this story, the performance concludes, having made its way from mime to language, broad stereotypes to the single defined character of that receptionist: and likewise from the alien space of the empty stage to the tentative beginnings of a different kind of performance altogether. The insubstantial, sketchy feel implicit throughout Tourist is a conceptual plus, seeming to reflect the way we can often find ourselves drifting as we tentatively seek anchors in strange locations, but also a quality that excludes much potential for strong investment in its characters and scenarios.

Yet it’s also in the nature of Tourist to change those characters from one show to the next, always adding a guest performer from the city it’s being presented in, and changing its details to fit each new set of circumstances. In this sense, it’s a very deliberately tentative and uncertain performance, and one that perfectly fits the restless, provisional ethos of Hatch. With the final weekend coming up (including a horsey double-bill at the Playhouse and a return to Wellington Circus) I like to think of Tourist as a gentle breeze reshuffling the Hatch: Neat deck of identity cards to ensure things can go anywhere from here.

Hatch at NEAT11: 30 Bird Productions/Gareth Morgan: Live Action From The City Ground

The third instalment of the Hatch: NEAT programme picked up on fragments from both its predecessors, with 30 Bird Productions promising Poland 3 Iran 2, a show that made an informal connection between Chris Dobrowolski‘s Polish father and Krissi Musiol‘s grandfather (as evoked by Sugar Statues at the Polish Eagle Club last week) while the more general role played in tonight’s session by football seemed to echo something of Medium Rare’s abstract PE sessions on Wellington Circus during the opening weekend

The emphasis on football as a thread through tonight’s Hatch had me slightly concerned, if I’m honest. After all, as a British-born working-class male who has successfully managed to achieve the near-impossible and avoid any real contact with ‘the beautiful game’ for most of his adult life, even a few seconds of crowd chanting in the background of a Match of the Day trailer on the TV can see me reaching for the remote with a reaction speed that startles the cat. So it seemed an ominous start when I boarded the Hatch coach and realised Nottingham Forest’s 1978 anthem We’ve Got The Whole World In Our Hands was playing at a fair level of volume, on a loop. 

Luckily the sound of Paper Lace and the 1978 Forest squad soon faded to be replaced with Gareth Morgan’s Births, Deaths & Marriages, a rambling but likeable account of the author’s long and accidental relationship with Nottingham Forest Football Club. While the bus took in some of the key locations from Morgan’s story – the house he grew up in at Elmswood Gardens in Sherwood, the City Registry Office on Shakespeare Street that his father found closed one day in 1988 and the City Ground itself, our final destination – Morgan’s stand-in for the day, Richie Garton, did his best to cope with a challenging script.

The tangle was partly due to Morgan’s absence, since the actual subject of the autobiography was in China: apparently Morgan had committed himself to reciting the tour script to a no doubt bemused audience in Kowloon at the precise time we were hearing it, which in China meant he was performing at 1.30am on Wednesday morning. This left Garton to cope not only with the narration of a rather densely layered story, which demanded the bus arrive at certain locations as we hit exact moments in the tale, but also with making sure we knew which parts of the narration were being related exactly as written by Morgan, and which were the improvisations of Garton himself. 

But whatever confusions arose in the convoluted set-up, Births, Deaths & Marriages was in essence a simple and sweet natured tribute to a football-mad father, who had managed (thanks to that fatefully closed registry office in 1988) to register his son as a Nottingham Forest Supporter a full week or two before his birth had been legally recorded: as Morgan saw it, this technicality meant he’d been a Forest fan longer than he’d been officially alive and Garton handed round copies of the birth certificate and photographs of Morgan’s father holding his newborn son – wrapped snugly in a Forest blanket, naturally – to illustrate his case.

It may have been a less than polished presentation in many ways but at its heart was a touching emotional honesty and a powerful sense that football is just one of the many things British men use to communicate and express affection, in place of actually communicating or expressing affection. As Morgan’s script wondered, while our coach pulled through the gates of the City Ground and passed a sign reading Home Of True Reds, “if I had ever talked about feelings with him, would he still have been my father?”.

This shift between football and family history, and Morgan’s own comments on club affiliation as a kind of cultural identity, led neatly into the concerns of tonight’s main attraction, the two-man show of 30 Bird Productions’ Poland 3 Iran 2. With Mehrdad Seyf and Chris Dobrowolski taking their shared fascination with a 1978 match between Iran and Poland as a starting point, the football quickly receded to being a peg for a wide-ranging series of anecdotes, histories, comic digressions, coming of age stories and whatever else seemed to fit, all illustrated with slides, photographs and snippets of blurry YouTube footage from the 1978 game.

Anyone who saw either part of Dobrowolski’s performance lecture at Hatch: It’s About Time  last year will know the man can talk engagingly and at length, but Seyf managed to hold his own and the two passed the reins of the performance back and forth as they went, building a loosely structured double narrative in which Seyf’s family history – that of Iranian Communists and progressives finding their way between the Second World War, the Shah and the Islamic State under Khomeini and Ahmadinejad – criss-crossed with Dobrowolski’s account of his father’s migrations from Stalin’s prison camps by way of the Caspian Sea to fighting with the Free Polish Army and finally settling in Essex to work (and learn English) on building sites.

These narratives connected directly in places: as Dobrowolski’s father made his way to the UK his unit stayed briefly in Iran, where Seyf’s father was a key figure in the local Communist Party. But the key event remained the one that first brought the two narratives together, the shared experience of watching, on televisions in very different places, that 1978 Olympic staging of a Poland-Iran football game. Within this framework both Dobrowolski and Seyf take any number of digressions, from Seyf’s mother’s attempts to reconcile her Communism with a love of Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth and Hollywood films to his own tendency to miss major historical events by being ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ – a place that often turned out to be the beach.

Dobrowolski, too, misses out on such momentous events as the Solidarity strikes of 1980 by way of being in Poland (with its news blackouts) but preoccupied with a family visit to relatives, where he insists, instead of taking part in the unfolding of history, on day trips to Hitler’s bunker and Auschwitz, where he finds one of the least appropriate souvenirs imaginable: a candy-coloured Holocaust Viewmaster. The shifts between light and dark, sport and politics, family anecdote and the sweep of history, are deftly handled, and while the structure doesn’t follow that of the football match (there’s no half time, no goals or attempts to win possession of the performance) there is something here that echoes match tactics.

As the two pass the spotlight back and forth, just as team-players keep the ball moving on a pitch, Poland 3 Iran 2 becomes not so much Poland versus Iran as both teams deciding to ignore the score completely and just enjoy the game for its own sake, like kids having a kickabout on a bit of wasteground with coats for goalposts. The resulting show more closely resembles a two-handed lecture or stand-up routine than a conventional theatre piece but it holds our attention to the final exchange of shirts, and leads me to wonder how Gabriele Reuter’s Tourist, on at Nottingham Contemporary on Thursday, will further complicate the threads of that broader theme of ‘identity’ we’ve seen developing so far.

Hatch at NEAT11: Krissi Musiol and Jenna Finch: The Road To Polish Nottingham

What’s the etiquette when you’re about to board a bus and a Roswell escapee holds out a tray of Polish chrusciki-style sweets, then indicates you try one? As in most situations where cakes or sweets are offered, the answer, of course, is to do exactly as you’re told in the interests of good manners and to help avoid any potential intergalactic diplomatic incidents that might otherwise arise. This isn’t the sort of dilemma you’re usually faced with on a sunny Thursday evening so it must be something to do with Hatch, as it makes its way from the very British identities explored by Medium Rare and Zoo Indigo on Wellington Circus last weekend to another world, this time that of Polish Nottingham.

This was why we were boarding a coach that would be taking us from the site of last weekend’s performances to the Polish Eagle Club in Sherwood, via a convoluted route designed to take us past as many Polish clubs, shops and other Poland-related locations in the city as possible. As we travelled, a guided tour under the title Are We Nearly There Yet? by that unmasked extraterrestrial (otherwise known as performance artist Jenna Finch, literalising Czeslaw Milosz’s ideas about the human condition as a state of being alien) would give us a condensed history of Poland with a musical score provided by ourselves on an array of borrowed instruments. As the cymbals, recorders, toy guitars, cowbells, squeaky toys and penny whistles made their way down the aisle, the rules of the performance were explained.

These were simple enough. With each instrument came a single word, and whenever that word was spoken by our tour guide we were to make a ‘sharp brief sound’ with whatever instrument we had. As the bus pulled away from the kerb and headed out through the Nottingham streets I had a set of maracas and the word ‘Poland’ in my hand. At first there was some confusion: did ‘Poland’ mean I should make my noise for ‘Polish’ as well or just stick to the letter of the script? As with that chrusciki-style snack (as it turned out, a cone of biscuit coated in white candy with a hyper-sweet soft filling) it seemed best to do as instructed: I restricted my maraca-shaking to the naming of the country itself and left those things defined by being part of it to themselves.

The result was a slightly chaotic mix of information and absurdity as such key events as the tenth century formation of the first Kingdom of Poland under Mieszko I or the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the Union of Lublin in 1569 were greeted by a cacophany of noises. The contrast of dark episodes of war and revolution with squeaks, bangs, rattles and whistles made for an entertaining journey, though the echoes of Milosz were only occasionally strong, as when Finch’s account of the destruction of Warsaw during World War Two coincided with our passing a Polish delicatessen called Warsawa and brought Milosz’s lines from ‘The City’ to mind (“The terror and sweetness of a final dissolution./Let the first bombs fall without delay”) or when the sunlight and spectacle of the streets evoked the conclusion of ‘1913’:

What strange costumes, how strange the street is,
And I myself unable to speak of what I know.
No lesson for the living can be drawn from it.
I closed my eyes and my face felt the sun…

It seemed Are We Nearly There Yet? was intent on alienating the history being recited from those hearing it, the constant raucous interruptions acting like the noise of the present day as it prevents us properly considering the past. Nothing – whether the Holocaust, Katyn or the levelling of Warsaw – could really affect us in these conditions or even be properly heard. Perhaps it was a microcosm of the media noise of the twenty-first century or the kind of meaningless cosmic joke that seems to haunt so much of Milosz’s poetry? Whatever the intentions, the Polish vodka shots that greeted us on arrival at our destination were a fine signing-off and a perfect welcome to the surroundings of the Polish Eagle Club with their strangely timeless mid-Century, middle-European atmosphere.  

This is also a place that has deep roots in the city, a history that turned out to have some very direct links with Krissi Musiol’s Sugar Statues. There was something wonderfully appropriate about this performance’s arrival here, as the grandfather at the heart of her piece – a man named Kazmierz Kuzminski – was, it seems, personally responsible for the striking design of the nearby Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa (Kościół Matki Boskiej Częstochowskiej) to which the Eagle Club is directly linked. That personal connection and interplay between location and piece no doubt heightened the impact of Musiol’s performance but in truth this was a show that would have gripped and felt emotional even in a branch of Argos or a Post Office queue: the way its language, movement, visuals and content were integrated created something simultaneously richly-layered and spare, intensely plausible yet built on a single family’s histories and myths.

From the moment when Musiol first appears on the white stage in a bridal gown, “a girl in a rotten grey dress searching for a rotten grey man”, the blend of truth and fiction, folklore and history, is seamlessly achieved. As the grandfather loses words, one by one, he turns to a notebook to communicate anything from a desire for bread rolls to such poetic phrases as “we mourned the end of autumn”. As Musiol spins her various threads – ranging from accounts of brutal killings in concentration camps to accounts of her grandfather’s victory over a dragon, from her own journeys through middle-European cities to baking the cakes that come to represent those cities as they are lost to war, heartbreak and hangovers – the effect seems to share territory with writers like Bruno Schulz, whose Street of Crocodiles contains much in a similar vein to Musiol’s own merging of history and folklore, personal and objective truth. 

In the title chapter of Street of Crocodiles, Schulz describes a map of a city “made in the style of baroque panoramas [where] the area of the Street of Crocodiles shone with the empty whiteness that usually marks polar regions or unexplored countries of which almost nothing is known”. In Musiol’s performance that whiteness – from the bridal dress to the ubiquitous icing-sugar with which she endeavours to fill the cracks in her own and her grandfather’s history – seems to carry a similar set of meanings. By the conclusion, with Musiol’s admission that even the true parts of her story ‘didn’t happen’ (a move that is itself as fictive as the fiction it purports to expose) we’ve found ourselves deep in territory where all memory is potentially treacherous, all fiction crystallised around kernels of  truth.

From Polish-language songs describing the baking of sweet cakes to accounts of entire cities “taken apart with the bare eyes” of Soviet and German armies, from promises between a father and daughter to neither die nor marry to accounts of the many ways in which a place might be ‘lost’, Musiol takes us through a playful but emotional labyrinth built from the material of personal and cultural identity. After her performance, the stage is littered with broken cakes, jars of sugar representing statues, a porcelain bridal couple buried in yet more sugar and the faint traces of Musiol’s dress where its hem has dragged back and forth through the branches of a sugar tree sketched on the ground. We’ll be returning to the question of Polish identity on Tuesday evening, when Chris Dobrowolski will put his in opposition to Mehrdad Seyf’s Iranian loyalties over a 1976 Poland-Iran Olympic football match. However that play-off goes, Musiol’s performance has ensured there’ll be some high expectations.