When Rep Stripped opens at Dundee Rep next week, it will look a lot different from the Tayside theatre’s usual programme. This inaugural ten-day festival of new work won’t feature full productions as the company’s in-house ensemble have done on the main stage since the company was founded. Instead, under the curatorship of producer Carla Marina Almeida and director Jordan Blackwood, Rep Stripped will see artists at different levels of experience present a series of works in progress and Scratch performances at early stages in development.
With the festival pulled together from an open call-out, the sheer level of activity on offer is an impressively mammoth operation for Almeida and Blackwood to oversee, especially given that both are themselves at the early stages of their careers.
“It’s been a really long process to bring everything together,” says Almeida, who for the last year has been Dundee Rep’s Stage One Regional Producer, a UK-wide initiative for young producers. “It’s been going on since June last year, and because it’s really different from what the Rep normally does and because there are so many artists involved it’s taken a long time to co-ordinate, but we’re really excited to be doing it. When we started I was brought in as producer, and Jordan was brought in as director, but as soon as we started it straight away became a much more collaborative process, and it’s only now in the last week that we’ve gone back to our more regular roles.”
For Blackwood, who has worked as assistant director on Dundee Rep productions as well as being co-founder of Glasgow-based new writing company, In Motion Theatre Company, Rep Stripped, one of the surprises was the high level of applicants.
“There were about 150 to 160 submissions,” he says, “and it was really nice to see submissions come in, not just from emerging artists, but but from people who are quite established. To have that range and diversity of artists working alongside each other is really important in terms of balance, and it means that people can support each other at different levels.”
Familiar names in Rep Stripped include Rep Ensemble member Emily Winter, who will take part in events alongside input from Oliver Emanuel and Gareth Williams, the team behind the National Theatre of Scotland’s 306 trilogy. There will also be first looks at work from companies such as Blood of the Young, Jordan and Skinner and Brite Theatre’s Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir. Those taking part in Scratch events include Dundee-based Nunah Theatre Company, Third Thread Ensemble and a verbatim piece from the Shaper/Caper company.
Stripped Lates feature spoken-word artists Imogen Stirling and local collective Hotchpotch Presents, while Rep Stripped’s Pilot initiative will present work built up through residences by the likes of director Beth Morton, working with producers Raw Material.
There will also be workshops and discussions hosted by the National Theatre of Scotland’s Engine Room initiative, while Playwrights Studio Scotland host Where are all the playwrights in Dundee, a discussion featuring the likes of Jaimini Jethwa, Sandy Thomson of the Poorboy company, and writer of DUPed, John McCann.
Rep Stripped was initiated by Dundee Rep artistic director Andrew Panton, who approached Almeida and Blackwood to bring it to life. Part of the impetus came from the success of Hi, My Name is Ben, a new piece of musical theatre developed by the team behind the Noisemaker company with Dundee Rep and the Connecticut based Goodspeed Musicals. The various stages of development for that show had what Almeida calls “an open rehearsal vibe” which enabled audiences to see part of a show’s development they wouldn’t normally be granted access to.
This is something of a tend just now, and appears to reflect something of a trickle-up effect of more grassroots-based activity by artists finding different ways to work in cash-strapped times. With this in mind, Dundee Rep isn’t the only theatre to put development programmes more public-facing than they might once have done. While this in part reflects the current state of arts funding, programmes such as Rep Stripped have gone some way to fostering a looser-knit aesthetic that is crucial for participating artists. But what’s in it for audiences perhaps more used to watching the Rep’s regular programme of main-stage productions?
“I think the main thing for the audience I the chance to see work at the beginning of its life and to influence how it develops,” says Blackwood.
What happens beyond Rep Stripped in terms of whether it becomes an annual part of the theatre’s calendar remains to be seen.
“It would be nice to think that it could,” says Blackwood, “and this is part of a big conversation we’re having right now. But whatever happens, I think it’s important that the Rep should become more of a creative hub to develop things throughout the year. It would be great if Rep Stripped became an annual event, but there should also be space for directors and other artists to come her throughout the year and develop stuff.”
“It would be quite sad after such an amazing response to Rep Stripped already if nothing else comes of it,” she says. “We’ve had lots of local people applying to be part of something here for the first time ever, and we don’t want to lose that.”
Rep Stripped - Highlights
The first big weekend of Rep Stripped features two Scratch nights, one of new works by Scottish writers Sue Gyford, Isla Cowan and Gavin J Innes, the other based around women writers, and featuring work by Rebecca Martin, Julie Tsang and Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir. There will also be work in progress presentations of Caravan by Daniel Cameron, Belleville Rendevous by the Blood of the Young company and A History of Paper by Oliver Emanuel and Gareth Williams. Further works in progress follow by Third Thread Young Company, Nunah Theatre Company and Scottish Youth Theatre. Another seven days of activity follow.
Rep Stripped runs at Dundee Rep, April 18-27. For full details go to www.dundeerep.co.uk.
The Herald, April 13th 2019