What would our dream Everyman be like?

Edward Barrett, 4 October 2012

Called by: Gemma Bodinetz.

Present: Andrew; Francesca; Ed; Polly. Joined later: Grace; Sam; Sarah.

(Gemma apologised if this seemed like a selfish topic – but we all agree it’s great to be able to have an input).

GEMMA: We’ve had lots of conversations about the new Everyman, many of them focussing on the physical environment. The main auditorium will be very similar – still 400-seater around three sides – though the seating plan will be flexible – it could be made in-the-round, for example. Not a ‘flick-of-the-switch’ re-jig, but will allow a better ‘fit’ for different types of work.

ED: Perhaps a bit like the Bolton Octagon.

GEMMA. We’ll have a fly tower. It’ll be totally accessible. There’ll be a community space, used by the Youth Theatre plus outside groups. The Bistro will be back, with 3rd room performance space; a rehearsal space; a writer’s hub. There will be a small gallery – though we don’t need it to always be open, of course. And that goes back to the original set-up.

ANDREW: There’ll be new writing, and new work – but a distinct from the Royal Court.

GEMMA: They have a commercial imperative, we don’t. The Everyman had lunchtime Shakespeare at the start. Filling the programme with new writing is not always possible – quality work needed. We want designers, directors etc. to be working at the forefront of their art.

ED: Programming Shakespeare was partly a practical thing – matching the production to schools Shakespeare curriculum guaranteed an audience. Though working with writing of that quality has a positive effect on the rest of the work.

POLLY: Mentions a Newcastle venture – The Art Factory. People loved the building, but didn’t go for the abstract art it was filled with. There’s a need to take risks, but . . .

ED: The new Everyman ‘faces’ are already appearing – Stephen Graham, Leanne Best, Kevin Harvey . . .

GEMMA: And the ‘old guard’ – weren’t known at the time of ‘the’ photo! (Julie Walters, Matthew Kelly, Bill Nighy, etc).

POLLY: Attracting artists like Robert Leplage . . . Lipsynch premiering in Newcastle.

Links between local & international practitioners. Having an ‘invite’ via outreach to attract new demographics . . . Southbank monologues by Muslim women.

GEMMA: How political should the Everyman be? I don’t tweet entirely from my own strongly political perspective, for example, given the width of the Everyman and Playhouse audiences.

ED: Whatever you programme, it’ll be political. If you put on nothing but pure entertainment at a time when we’re coming up against the shortcomings of capitalism, that’s a political statement.

FRANCESCA: (Having work with a political slant at the Everyman) is an expectation anyway.

ANDREW: As long as it’s work grounded in a recognisable reality, with real characters.

POLLY: Less of an expectation for ‘thunderous’ politics. Bringing in a group from Guatemala can have more impact (than overt political statements).

GEMMA: There is more of a feeling of having a ‘clear and present enemy’ in the form of modern capitalism and the Conservatives.

ED: Yes – though there still seems to be a feeling of people waiting for each other (to make a move against the status quo). The closest we seem to have come to any sort of consensus is in labelling us ‘the 99%’.

GEMMA: Alan Dosser would have had something on about Hillsborough (given the recent report of the committee scrutinising the Hillsborough-related documentation). Should we be able to ‘jump’ quicker?

POLLY: Would the spaces allow that?

GEMMA: Potentially, yes. I wouldn’t dramaturg it – it would be writers invited to give ‘your response to . . . ’

POLLY: Could you set this up from the beginning?

GEMMA: (Responding to current affairs) is part of the Everyman’s DNA.

FRANCESCA: Contact Theatre (Manchester) have a model called Verbally

Challenged – five writers and four actors producing 10-minute pieces that evening.

POLLY: Contact is interesting – felt like a club, 17 – 19-year-olds want to hang out there. Attracts kids from the estates.

GEMMA: Something we’re going to have in our remit.

ED: One of the most electric nights (with a young audience) I’ve experienced in the theatre of late was 20 Stories High’s Ghost Boy.

GEMMA: They’ve become one of the pillars of the Everyman. There are links between their Youth Theatre and ours as well. Keith Saha has a skill-set I just don’t have.

(Someone asks about programming across the Everyman & Playhouse).

GEMMA: We tend to have four-week runs. There is some audience crossover, but some consider themselves an Everyman audience, some Playhouse.

POLLY: Have you considered having an ensemble company for the Everyman?

GEMMA: Have looked across the Everyman and Playhouse, but it’s very difficult. Do we always look for plays with the same number of parts? How do we avoid clashes? 

Economically, actors nowadays need to do television work, for example. And in terms of cost, would we then still be able to bring work in? We do have an ‘extended family’, and we always have (at least) one actor from Merseyside in each show.

POLLY: Interesting to use crew across the two venues. Might be able to use them in outreach work. (Given the outreach work required / enabled by having demolished the old Everyman) what gets excluded when the walls go back up?

GEMMA: Alan Dosser used to have shows going out in vans . . . At the Bristol Old Vic they had a system of ‘angels’ – company members partnered with young actors from the B.O.V. drama school. The mentoring, feedback, support, etc resulted in great relationships being built up.

FRANCESCA: What is the value of a standing rep company?

GEMMA: The actors get to know each other – something that takes time if there’s a new cast for each production. The company can become more responsive. In the ‘old days’ (of the Everyman) shows could be scrapped and replaced even after tickets had been sold.

POLLY: How to encourage audacity . . . The ‘extended family’ exists; need fluidity.

GEMMA: I’m generally a fan of subsidy, but you can become a ‘catch-all’. The Everyman company (historically) could do whatever they wanted.

ED: There’s something very fertile about the way METAL works, for example – having a very open remit, and inviting artists to make it there own, works.

GEMMA: The Playhouse Studio will be liberated by having dedicated rehearsal space at the Everyman. Will help to keep the Playhouse feeling ‘alive’.

FRANCESCA: Might it take touring work?

GEMMA: We don’t want to tread on The Unity’s toes. We have good links between Liverpool theatres, so care is needed. And there’s no point in splitting audiences.

POLLY: Nantes Biscuit Factory has a crèche, bar, workshop, gallery, theatre - and a playful feel. Refs METAL hosted the Liverpool Art Prize - a way of getting different people through the doors.

GEMMA: (Planning the new Everyman) is about throwing out the bad as well! It’ll be very useful to have a space where we can stage an unknown work with an unknown cast, attract an audience of 100 without it feeling empty. Though there’s a need to maintain character as well as flexibility.

SAM: Having an emotional connection to a new building is often not about what the theatre looks like – more to do with having a ‘warm’ experience. Manchester’s ‘Home’ – whatever you think of the name, it’s the right sentiment. I remember when working in York being moved by the sentiment that ‘this theatre isn’t here for any of us, it’s for the community’.

ED: It’s surprising how many of the most successful theatre buildings had another public function previously – including the Everyman.

SAM: The old Hull Truck building was a shed, but warm; the staff seemed ‘hidden away’ in the new building. A similar thing happened in Scarborough.

GEMMA: The new Everyman is designed to have an ‘open’ feeling, with sight-lines from one part to another. Some people will, of course, mourn the old Everyman – as with the new Bluecoat. I never saw the old Bluecoat, but love the revamped version – but I still heard people finding it inferior.

ED: Is it in part overcoming challenges that brings a new theatre space to life?

GEMMA: Before becoming Artistic Director, I directed (Jonathan Harvey’s) Guiding Star at The Everyman, and what I saw was to some extent an unloved theatre. A great performance space, but an unwelcoming front-of-house, for example.

ED: The second night’s audience of a new play are quicker to ‘get’ it than the first, even if they’ve not spoken to each other – though I’m not sure how. And a lot of the newly-built schools I’ve seen seem a lot more warm now they’ve been in use for a while. Perhaps something similar can happen with a new-build theatre.

GEMMA: It’s worth remembering the Everyman has closed in the past, and there wasn’t an uproar. We’ve worked to build a groundswell of support.

SAM: There is still the need to take risks. If that means there’s an occasional two-star show, you need to take that on the chin.

GEMMA: Yes. Though if someone has a bad Chinese meal, they don’t tend to think ‘Chinese food isn’t for me’, while they might think that about theatre.

(I think this – a single bad experience - is often why people who do go to the theatre might think ‘I don’t like Becket’, or ‘I don’t like Shakespeare – Ed).

GEMMA (cont.): And it’s worth remembering the old Everyman did also produce some rubbish – though the artistic vision was clear, and the audience had a sense of ownership.

FRANCESCA: The resonance of the work with the audience (is key).

GRACE: And whatever happens, the new Everyman will not be the old Everyman! Impossible to make it that.

GEMMA: I remember one evening I got the shakes thinking about bulldozing the Everyman. My son said he’d never go to the Bistro, for example, as for him it had an image of only being for middle-aged hippies – even though many of us know it’s not. But that was liberating. We’ve got to build for the future.

SARAH: I’ve tended to think of the Playhouse as bringing work in. The studio space could be a place for new things to be worked on, like The National.

GEMMA: It’s an interesting perception, as the Playhouse produces as much work as the Everyman! I guess in some respects The Alchemist doesn’t feel like a ‘Liverpool show’.

SARAH: Though of course it doesn’t need to be about Liverpool to be a Liverpool play.

FRANCESCA: What pleases local audiences might not be the same as what pleases the critics.

ANDREW: Resonance doesn’t have to come from it being a Liverpool-centric work.

GEMMA: If we do a ‘Scouse’ play, we attract two piles of mail – one from people thanking us for putting their stories up there, and one from people saying they don’t want to be portrayed as being unemployed, or whatever. But theatre has to reflect its time and place.

GRACE: But there can be a feeling of separation, with London auditions, for example.

GEMMA: Yes, there are a lot of actors who want to be seen – they don’t necessarily expect to be put on stage as such. We don’t have a single casting director.

FRANCESCA: There’s a lot of Manchester theatre that auditions in London.

GEMMA: Lots of Liverpool actors are London-based. And a lot of agents etc. are down there.

SAM: From a marketing perspective, having local actors and rehearsals gives great word-of-mouth.

FRANCESCA: An actor can’t love a theatre building if the first time they see it is the day before opening.

GEMMA: Macbeth rehearsed in London – Neil Morrissey had some evening filming commitments – but even then I insisted on two weeks in Liverpool. By and large we rehearse here.

SARAH: Will the new Everyman building have one stage?

GEMMA describes the physical set-up again. Those are the formal spaces – though I suspect how some of them are used will evolve.

ED: It will be wonderful to invite groups in such as Tom McLennan’s Dingle Community Theatre. Some of the people involved in that type of work might not otherwise think the Everyman is for them.

GEMMA: We’re busy building community links now that should bear fruit. We used to bring community groups in only for them to be shocked that our facilities were worse than those in the community centres!

SAM: Though it can go the other way – I do find myself sometimes going into a very smart building and thinking ‘Do I deserve a marble floor?’

GEMMA: I love it all! Except for the ‘civic theatres’ built by committee. The transition from the old Bush to new – brilliant! And we’re using the same architects.*

*(Haworth Tompkins).

SAM: Playful, friendly marketing makes a difference – warm, non-corporate.

GEMMA: Some board members were a little hesitant about certain non-traditional aspects of the new Everyman. But non-offensive design & build theatres that please no-one are anathema.

GRACE: I can see (the value of) the youth aspect – but what about the older generation of non-theatre-goers? The majority of the population is reaching that age now.

ED: It was interesting to see the differences in opinion between younger and older audience members during the page-to-stage event for Oedipus.

GEMMA: I have to admit I’m nearly old now! But then I look at Mick Jagger . . . Do we all just reach a certain age and just want to see Noel Coward? I hope not!

?: There’s a desperate need for crèche facilities. That’s one group currently excluded – people with young kids. We give a lot of energy to those around 40.

FRANCESCA: How do kids fit into culture, full stop?

POLLY: Chester Performs encourages them.

SAM: There is a group that seems less supported – I’m 28, and I find myself thinking ‘Why do over 60s get discounts?’ They’ve got more money than me!

POLLY: We don’t discount for pensioners.

SAM: How did that go down?

POLLY: There wasn’t a problem. Though it was that way from the outset, not a change of policy.

GEMMA: We are doing more to attract different groups. We have autism-friendly, twilight performances for example. Works brilliantly for Panto, for example – seeing people overcoming fear and really enjoying the show is incredibly rewarding. Though it’s not economically great yet. We relax the rules, as you’d imagine – as long as no-one gets on stage and touches anything electrical! Carers also feel like they can let their hair down more, enjoy the show, have a drink. Perhaps not something we’d do with Chekhov!


New Everyman, accessibility, new writing, Liverpool plays, Liverpool actors, Everyman Theatre, Community, Gemma Bodinetz, community, studio