New Wolsey Theatre spearhead a bespoke commissioning and support fund

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Jamie Beddard, Agent for Change at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich is passionate about opening up opportunities for D/deaf and disabled theatre makers. Here he talks about Testing Ground – a bespoke commissioning and support fund designed to develop and produce new work to be presented at New Wolsey’s annual PULSE Festival.

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The Shape of the Pain by Rachel Bagshaw and Chris Thorpe

We at the New Wolsey Theatre are committed to greater representation of D/deaf and disabled practitioners in all our activities, and have initiated a number of programmes including Agent for Change and Ramps on the Moon.

Alongside these programmes, new work is critical in realising our values and aspirations, whether created by established, mid-career or emerging artists. The art should be the catalyst for change, and marginalised artists are in the box-seat to deliver new ideas, perspectives and aesthetics.

Traditionally there has been a disconnect between new studio shows by emerging (often individual) artists who present to a smaller audience, and the main-house shows produced by a handful of established companies, who perform on a mid-scale basis. There had been little middle-ground or crossover, as pathways, and gatekeepers have been limited.

The commissioning fund for Testing Ground is an attempt to fill this gap and develop shows that could potentially move on studio to main house in terms of scale and ambition. But in the first instance, more work from a plethora of different artists and companies needs to be a priority.

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Invisible by Nicola Werenowska

We are keen to connect and embed this work both with all our other activities, hence the tie-in with PULSE Festival, our annual 10-day festival presenting a snapshot of contemporary theatre, curated with Festival Directors China Plate. The festival enjoys an industry-wide reputation for showcasing the best of new work and new writing, and been a springboard for many artists, companies and shows.

In 2017, we supported three productions, all of which were showcased in the festival. Each production was supported differently, according to the needs of the project, and the ways in which our support could have greatest impact.

One of the first projects that we worked with was Rachel Bagshaw and Chris Thorpe’s The Shape of the Pain, which premiered at the New Wolsey Theatre before going on to Battersea Arts Centre and Edinburgh where the show was recently reviewed for DAO. This was a full production, our first commission and included in-kind support such as rehearsal space, technical support, marketing and access input.

Our second was Invisible by Nicola Werenowska, which resulted in a rehearsed reading at the festival, and included a fee, dramaturgical support, and space.

Thirdly, we contributed to the Disability Sex Archive by Kiruna Stamell and Rhona McKenzie, with a fee and showcase complementing the work already done on the project. All three commissions were the result of ongoing discussions and support for these productions.

For PULSE 2018, we are keen to open up the application process, attract and discover a broad range of new ideas, and once again, support in a bespoke way, to best develop this work.

The work will be showcased in appropriate slots at PULSE Festival (eg. Suitcase Day, Scratch, Youth/ Emerging or full production). Please spread the word, and apply at https://www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/testing-ground-submissions-now-open-2018/