Definitely not bulls***: From Lab Company to The Lab

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Definitely not bulls***: From Lab Company to The Lab

It’s over two years since I started out on the Lab Company training scheme (the Theatre Royal’s training programme for emerging artists). While I successfully imagined lots of many things about this wonderful scheme (workshops with visiting companies, seeing lots of theatres, working weekly in the building), what I definitely didn’t predict was that in two years time, I would be bringing my own show, BULLS***, into the Lab, TRP’s third stage, a dedicated studio space for new, experimental work.

The Lab has been essential to my development. It’s here that I came back to creativity after a pretty long sojourn – with the encouragement that it is never too late to do something you love. It’s here that I trained, with some of the best local, national and international artists making work today, and started to grow my own creative skill set. It’s here that I honed my theatrical nose, courtesy of the Drum’s excellent programming. And it’s here that I’ve made creative friends and colleagues, with whom I’ve had the privilege to work – and to make work.

And so here we are, 3 weeks away from curtain up on a brand new piece of work, tonnes to do, more than a little bit tired, and truly excited that my first piece of independent work will find a home in the same theatre which gave me my first creative base.

Let me tell you a little bit about the show…

BULLS*** follows the story of Rosie Abbot, a female bull rider, seeking to compete as a woman in a world which is pretty much exclusively male. PBR (professional bull riding) is a hypermasculine space – there are virtually no women working, judging, or commentating – let alone riding. As well as the pretty awesome performative challenge of how to stage a bull ride, this was a world which interested me because of the potential it offered as a space to stage and explore bigger questions around gender, power, disparity of opportunity, and the body (especially the female body) as a highly political space. During our R&D (‘research and development’ process) we talked a lot about agency and what it means to be a woman in a story, or telling your own story (radical eh…). We need more stories about women and by women – stories which put (imperfect) women centre stage, with identities and lives and motivations and a spectrum of feelings all of their own. We reckon Rosie, and her Mum Grace, are two such women.

I’ve had the privilege of working with an incredible creative team, through a highly collaborative process. Our three performers are all fantastic physical actors, who’ve taken on every challenge thrown at them by our movement director, resulting in a tight-knit ensemble who are incredibly exciting to watch working together onstage. Together, they’ve created some really risky, interesting movement. Combined with a script developed out of improvisation, play, and sensitivity to the voices and characters found in the rehearsal room, this has resulted in an unusual, muscular and really fun way of telling Rosie’s story.

That story has, in turn, has been made all the richer by a series of community and schools workshops, where we got to really get into the nitty-gritty of how women and girls relate to sport, to gender politics, and to their own bodies. I remain touched and inspired by the honesty, thoughtfulness and courage of the teenagers we met at Ivybridge, Newton Abbot and South Dartmoor Community Colleges. These are girls who make me hopeful for the future, and how much is changing – while also sad at how far we still have to go. These workshops also revealed something else to us: that girls (and boys too, no doubt) desperately need and crave spaces to have ‘real’ conversations about the things which matter to them. We talked for a good hour or more with all of the groups – and they were still asking for ‘a longer discussion’ on their feedback forms. I think art is one of these vital spaces. We need more workshops, conversations, stories and imaginary characters which create these sorts of spaces.

It’s very early days for the show – we’ve had under 3 weeks in total from the day we first came together as a company to send the show up in a couple of weeks, and there’s a good 6 weeks, if not 6 months, more work we already want to do on it. We’ve had to put more ideas than I can count to rest, for now, popping them in a box labelled ‘NEXT STAGE’, and in the meantime practicing being patient, and getting comfortable with imperfection and untied ends. But we’re excited by the characters we’ve birthed, the story we’re starting to tell, and the way we are telling it.

Plus we’ve got a song about bull riding. Can you ask for more than that?

BULLS*** will play in the Lab between 13th – 15th December 2018, at 8 pm every evening. Tickets can be booked online here , or by calling the Box Office on 01752 267222.

On Thursday 13th December, there will be a chilled performance. Chilled performances are particularly suitable for people who feel more at ease knowing they can go in and out of the auditorium during the show.

You can read our rehearsal diary from the first two weeks of R+D here.
BULLS*** is being supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

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