Where is the informal/experimental theatre in Stoke

Peta Murphy-Burke, 13 July 2012

Who convened the session? Peta Murphy-Burke

Who came? Laura, Nat, Theresa, Susan, Nick, Gemma, James & Paul

The session was both a question and a challenge, I have been in the city after coming to study here, for 22 years, set up a carnival & costume company and worked for the local authority. I haven't been to any experimental theatre spaces that have continued to exist in Stoke-on-Trent. There are projects, intiatives and on paper there are all the conditions for a vibrant theatre ecology. But the reality is harsh, an area of severe economic deprivation and low engagement in the arts, is there a space for new non-traditional work?

Over to the group……..


Is it just that there is no physical space to gather people and experiment? This was a factor but also due to the pressure to make work to commission and earn a crust was there a psychological space? Infrastructure and conditions for growth are broken and missing. The reductions in investment in local authority arts posts means there is no point of contact for arts groups. Where do you start? if there is no meetings or networks how do you begin this conversation?


It is hard to see other artists, when the work is not visible. the internet is a noisy space and can't link up with people here. Lonely artistic existence without a peer group or people to work with. Why stay? Is leaving the easy option? suggestions included working for other companies and bringing back that experience to Stoke, making work with communities, creating audiences.

conversation wandered to wider issues:

What is theatre? if there are no points of reference when working outdoors in Stoke, is it theatre? is it performance. Reaction from the audience can be extreme, people aren't used to coming across theatre in the streets and in the parks. Where is the political/experimental groups? there is a sense of risk when making work here, taking energy and ideas to instigate change. The paradox of the basic need to survive vs the artists who want to live and work here. BEING IN STOKE… it's a privilege? it's a curse? it's the space to transform. Reminded one person of Birmingham 20 years ago which was also vilified and branded an unattractive industrial city. There was agreement that the ingredients are here but no cohesion of ideas no general will.

People had tried for many many years to make this a home for participatory extraordinary theatre, but had to make a living and can't change the immediate environment. A brick wall of no funding, lack of infrastructure and unwilling audience.

Time to LEAVE. BUT then the stories of great adventures, performances European and international work, playing to full houses, introducing box office audiences to element of outdoor work, No Fit State sold out for free show, audiences beginning to change.

Other statements:

We need to find and cultivate a different audience. We need mates to do this with. The role of the producer is integral to success. Its about social change. Funding is not a human right. The sieve of pain sorts the wheat from the chaff: if you can survive this you can survive anything! there needs to be a seed bed for young companies. Stoke's not shit.


New Vic offered a bar, for a drink (we will pay for our beer to support the theatre) once a month for anyone to meet and discuss theatre. Paul offered the idea of a PILOT night, but would there be the audience? it was suggested we have this an an aspiration for 2013. So get the network going invite people over who've done it in other cities, start the conversation! Another offer: If the group wishes to reconvene in this format, Nick offered Improbable's services!!! :) A series of actions from the conversation to begin a network and connect.


informal, theatre, outdoor, performance, experimental, Theatre, pilot, Performance, scratch performance