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Five Minute Theatre 2012 - The NTS Doth Protest


Mayday and protest are natural bedfellows however some governments may 
attempt to re-brand it. This was something clearly recognised in the 
early days of Mayfest, Glasgow's now defunct trade union backed arts 
festival. It's something that is clear too in Mayfesto, The Tron 
Theatre's now annual month of politically inclined theatre, which 
acknowledges its obvious debt to Mayfest. While Mayfesto 2012 has 
scaled back its activities prior to a larger, city-wide event set to 
take place in 2013, the radical slack has been picked up by the 
National Theatre of Scotland, whose second Five Minute Theatre event 
takes protest as it's very pertinent theme.

Following on from the inaugural Five Minute Theatre, which, over 
twenty-four hours, streamed more than two hundred new miniature plays 
which were selected from more than twice that number live over the 
internet, this year the NTS, in a very logical association with STV, 
have opted for a leaner model. Rather than an all-day affair,  the 
company has opted to truncate things to a 6pm to midnight running time, 
with a mere seventy-two works being broadcast from a solitary hub at 
The Tron timed to coincide with the launch of Mayfesto itself. If such 
relative brevity of this year's event sounds like the NTS might be 
slacking, NTS audience development manager and co-ordinator of Five 
Minute Theatre begs to differ.

“It's been mental,” Maxwell says, still in the thick of pulling 
together a set of events taking place, not just across Scotland and the 
UK, but which has input from all over the world. “I'm just about to 
face the running order problem.”

This week's protest-based Five Minute Theatre looks set to be the first 
of five similarly styled events set to happen throughout the year. With 
each one picking up a different theme, the central hub will also be 
beamed from a different geographical location.

“We wanted to make it shorter and sharper,” Maxwell explains, “and to 
make Five Minute Theatre happen in more concentrated bursts. The impact 
the first one had on us last year as a company was immense. It was such 
a great way to celebrate the NTS' fifth birthday, and we knew we wanted 
to do it again, but we also knew we wanted to make it different in some 
way. Once the dust settled after the first one we raised various ideas 
at development and planning meetings, and this idea of doing five came 
up, and this sounded an interesting way of seeing what would happen. 
We'd talked about the possibility of theming last year's event as well, 
but part of the glory of Five Minute Theatre last year was that 
anything and everything might happen.”

The idea of taking protest as a theme came about while Maxwell was 
talking to playwright David Greig and David MacLennan, the brains 
behind Oran Mor's lunchtime theatre phenomenon, A Play, A Pie and A 
Pint. Both men were in the throes of pulling together Oran Mor's One 
Day in Spring season of plays by writers from Arab companies, which, in 
co-production with the NTS, is currently ongoing, both at Oran Mor and 
the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Given the nature of the One Day in 
Spring season, as well as a slew of politically motivated works that 
are around, the connections seemed obvious. In the end, it was NTS 
artistic director Vicky Featherstone who picked up on the idea of 
protest, because, as Maxwell observes, “a play can be about protesting 
about anything.”

With this in mind, works range from both seasoned theatre professionals 
as well as schools groups and individuals with little or no theatre 
experience. So while actor Tam Dean takes a unique look at Robert 
Burns, singer Karine Polwart will broadcast an instrumental and 
vocal-based piece about a woman's enforced eviction from a living room 
in Midlothian and David MacLennan and his Oran Mor team perform 
excerpts from their Jacques Rousseau Show, in Aberdeen a group of eight 
year olds will perform a piece protesting about two sisters protesting 
about their parents splitting up.

In Edinburgh, the Traverse Young Writers Group will present a piece on 
conflict between pandas and penguins in Edinburgh Zoo, while at Out of 
the Blue, a group of aerialists will present a piece focusing on the 
rise of youth protesters today, and performance poet Michael Pederson 
presents a two-person piece about a bolshie bank customer who becomes 
embroiled in an amorous encounter in a call centre.

Also in Edinburgh, the staff of the Bongo Club in Edinburgh, currently 
under threat of eviction from its Edinburgh University landlords, will 
make their feelings on the situation regarding one of the capital's 
most vital independent spaces clear, while playwright Kris Haddow will 
present a critique of the current debacle regarding the Scottish 
Government's recent changes to Public Entertainment License 
legislation. Other interpretations of protest aren't quite so explicit.

“There are hard-line looks at global issues,” Maxwell says, “but there 
are lots of people protesting about relationships as well, which I was 
a bit surprised about. We could have had a whole relationship hour if 
we'd wanted to. There's  a lot that came in about the First World War 
and conscientious objectors as well, particularly from schools.”

In Glasgow, among the twenty-nine pieces on offer, there will be 
flash-mobs in George Square  and broadcasts from an army recruiting 
office and a tenement bedroom, while a myriad of works will come from 
as far afield as Renfrewshire, Dumbarton, Ayrshire, Dundee, Bo'ness and 
Fife.

While some contributions will be pre-recorded, in the main each play 
will be performed live, broadcast via two roving camera crews in 
Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as a live feed from Orkney. As each play 
streams over the event's sex-hour period, there will also be the 
opportunity for audiences to comment via a live chat feed. Beyond the 
work itself, the latter was one of the 2011 event's big success stories.

“The thing we've learnt from last year is that people really want to 
talk about theatre,” Maxwell explains. “That came across from having 
the live online chat facility. People could just blether, and that was 
a brilliant thing to see.”

In all respects, then, and if last year is anything to go by, Five 
Minute Theatre is an exercise in mass participation in artistic 
endeavour that ticks all the boxes in terms of social inclusion without 
ever feeling forced. With the next Five Minute Theatre scheduled for 
the summer, Maxwell is confident the concept has legs.

“We now have the kit to do something like this,” she says. “We also 
have the experience to do it, and the more often our crews do Five 
Minute Theatre, the more expert they'll become at it.”

Given the amount of protest-based work that exists in its broadest form 
beyond Five Minute Theatre, the NTS have clearly tapped into a 
resurgence of people power that all if the event's contributors have 
grasped onto with a vigour that politicians should probably take very 
seriously indeed.

“I think we've reached a tipping point,” Maxwell acknowledges. “It's 
really interesting what's going on just now and the artistic responses 
to that. But it's not just theatre-makers who want to protest. It's 
everybody.”

Five Minute Theatre is streamed live online today, 6pm-midnight. A live 
hub is based at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow.
www.nationaltheatrescotland.com
www.fiveminutetheatre.com

The Herald, May 1st 2012


ends




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