During our tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways, Kate Saffin and I have been invited to write a couple of guest blogs. Here’s a link to one I wrote for Frost Magazine which is introduced by Milly Adams. It’s all about the route the women took from Birmingham to the Coventry coalfields, a route I remember from my childhood.
I’m about to embark on a 49-show tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways – an Arts Council funded double bill with writer/performer Kate Saffin. Although I’ve spent many holidays travelling on a 70ft narrow boat, this will be a very new experience! I will be blogging about it on the Alarum Theatre website www.alarumtheatre.co.uk so may go a little quiet on my own blog.
To find out a bit more about this work, see/hear these interviews:
And have a look at the Alarum website which has all the dates and lots of information.
Wish us luck, and I hope to see you at one of the shows!
A performance can change a space for ever. When ‘engagement and creative arts warrior’ Rachel Sharpe said words to this effect, I was struck by the truth of it. Having toured Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways to venues unused to hosting performances, I knew what she was getting at.
A good example is the Wildside Activity Centre in Wolverhampton, alongside the Staffs & Worcs Canal. The room was laid out for us to perform against the short wall of their rectangular space, the ‘top’ of the room – a wall cluttered with displays and other bits and pieces – but we chose the long wall which had several windows. We asked for the chairs to be arranged in a wide arc so that people could see us more easily, and we drew the curtains which created a simple dark backdrop without distractions. The organisers had never hosted a theatrical show before and were very accommodating. At the end of the evening, the Centre’s Project Leader, Steve, looked up at the strip lights and commented that for future events of this nature, it would be good to improve the lighting to make it more atmospheric. So a space previously seen only as an ‘activity room’ now has an added dimension as a theatre, and the success of our show has encouraged them to put on more events of this nature.
There are other venues where we didn’t feel as if our hosts had noticed that they could easily have done more to give us a quiet space where we wouldn’t have to compete with, for example, the ring of a till or loud conversation. A pub which hasn’t hosted theatre before won’t necessarily have realised that it’s not appropriate to book people in to have a meal during the show. It may not occur to them that clattering cutlery and the necessity to communicate over dinner orders is not ideal for audience and artists alike! Some hosts will have taken things like this on board for the future and others not.
Not only does a performance change the space, but the audience changes the performance. A large responsive audience in a compact space gives a virtual sounding board which lifts us. Concentration was harder when we had: a sprawling audience with people chatting at the back, a bloke in the second row holding up a device to take photos or a video, wandering and/or barking dogs, a drunken woman (who was really enjoying the show), a man in a loud shirt whose phone had a very loud ringtone …. Every performance feels different and has its own quirks, not least because of the venue and the audience, and taking theatre to non-arts spaces means working round all sorts of inconveniences whilst hoping to develop use of that space and raise awareness of how arts events can work well in community venues.
Some people have come to see our show at least twice and have said it’s even better the second time, which is good to know! Tomorrow night we’re at Theatre in the Dock in Banbury when there will be a special announcement about our exciting plans for 2017. Next year there will be opportunities for our show to have an impact on new spaces, as we take audiences into another world where much of their surroundings are imagined: the back of a boat, a pub, a lock, the towpath, top planks, tarpaulin, sirens, doodlebugs … and lots of women!
For details of our forthcoming London shows and for more information, go to the Alarum Theatre website.
I’m delighted to announce that ABNB Boat Brokerage will be supporting Alarum Theatre’s Autumn tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways! http://www.abnb.co.uk/
Wednesday 7th Sept – 7.30pm • Garden of Camp House Inn, Grimley, WR2 6LX, 01905 640288 – In association with The Worcestershire Literary Festival & Fringe
Saturday 10th Sept – 7.30pm • The Windlass Cafe and Restaurant, Stourport, DY13 9EN, 01299 871742 – In association with Stourport Heritage Open Days, Stourport Canal Basin
Thursday 15th Sept – 7.30pm • The Folly Inn, Napton on the Hill, CV47 8NZ, 01926 815185
Friday 23rd Sept – 7.30pm • The Wildside Activity Centre, Wolverhampton, WV6 0HA, 01902 572240
Sunday 25th Sept – 1.30pm • Wolverhampton Boat Club, Codsall, Wolverhampton, WV8 1RS, 07977 101411
Friday 30th Sept – 7.30pm • Theatre in the Dock, Tooley’s Boatyard, Banbury, OX16 2PQ, 01295 272917
* Saturday 1st Oct – 2.30pm • Theatre in the Dock matinee, Tooley’s Boatyard, Banbury, OX16 2PQ, 01295 272 917
– Includes a wartime tea!
* Mon 28th & Tues 29th Nov – 7.30pm • The Rosemary Branch Theatre, Hoxton, N1 3DT, 020 7704 6665
* indicates a ticketed event (see www.alarumtheatre.co.uk for details) otherwise free entry with donations to support the artists
Photos from our Summer Tour:
My poem Poo Stick Parade was written after a walk along the Staffs and Worcester Canal during which I encountered the most noisy group of walkers I have ever come across. It was published on this site for humorous poems yesterday http://www.spillingcocoa.com/poo-stick-parade-by-heather-wastie/
This week I’m doing 2 performances at venues alongside the same (very beautiful) canal. Kate Saffin and I are presenting Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways at Ashwood Marina tomorrow night and the Eagle & Spur Cookley on Wednesday. Both performances start at 7.30. See Idle Women Midlands Tour for full tour details.
Sorry folks! The stage at the Camp House Inn, Grimley is under water which has forced the venue to cancel tonight’s performance of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways. They would very much like us to reschedule so we’ll see what we can do, but in the meantime, there are plenty of opportunities to catch the show. See below, and keep up to date on Facebook or Twitter @Alarum_theatre
This is how it started. On Twitter. I was booked to perform Idle Women and Judies at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port. I tweeted about it. Kate Saffin responded to my tweet and we got talking. We each had a self-penned one-woman show about the women who were trained to operate working canal boats during WWII. Like narrow boat and butty, our shows fitted together, and within 6 weeks we had arranged a double-bill tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways.
At the beginning of April we did a sell-out preview at The Barge House in London. Towards the end of my performance I announced that I would be singing a song inspired by Molly Traill which begins like this:
We took a trial run
From Ellesmere Port to Birmingham
On Willow and Ash
And here’s what we found
The boats need smartening up
The engines need repairing
Here’s my report
I’ve written everything down
As soon as I mentioned Molly’s name, a voice came from the audience: “She steered my boat!” It turned out that the voice belonged to the current owner of NB Willow, and I had found the information for my lyrics on her blog: Severner Willow
She was surprised and delighted to hear a song about her boat and I in turn was chuffed to meet her!
Our tour starts at the Worcestershire Literary Festival on June 16th. See below for the full tour schedule:
Thu 16 June The Camp House, Camp Lane, Grimley WR2 6LX (outdoors unless wet)
Tue 21 June Ashwood Marina, Kingswinford DY6 0AQ
Wed 22 June * Eagle and Spur, 176 Castle Rd, Cookley DY10 3TB
Mon 27 June * Dudley Canal Trust, Birmingham New Rd, Dudley DY1 4SB
Wed 29 June * The Bonded Warehouse, 2 Canal St, Stourbridge DY8 4LU
Mon 4 July Fox and Anchor, Brewood Rd, Wolverhampton WV10 7PW
Wed 6 July The Bridge Inn, 22 High Green, Brewood, Stafford ST19 9BD
Thu 7 July The Navigation Inn, Newport Road, Gnosall ST20 0BN
Mon 11 July The Junction Inn, Norbury Junction, Stafford ST10 0PN
Tue 12 July The Anchor Inn. Peggs Lane, Old Lea High Offley ST20 0NG
Tue 19 July The Shroppie Fly, Audlem Wharf, Shropshire Street, Audlem, Crewe CW3 0DX