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Leave Your Shoes At The Door - Jo Ronan and BloodWater Theatre

Once upon a time, fringe theatre was alternative in both form and 
content. Radical collectives brought together by one form of 
counter-cultural ideology or another attempted to change the world with 
non-hierarchical structures which they attempted to implement both in 
the rehearsal room and the office, if they had one. The rise of 
free-market economics and the allure of public funding forced such 
companies to professionalise in a way that may have allowed them to 
join the party, but which arguably neutered the whole notion of 
alternative and fringe theatre entirely.

Such notions of the contradictions inherent in the system interested 
theatre-maker Jo Ronan when she worked for various theatre companies in 
the 1990s, when, despite a seemingly radical agenda in terms of 
productions, the accepted hierarchies and pecking orders remained in 
place. Several years on, such ideas of what it means to make truly 
collaborative theatre are explored in Leave Your Shoes At The Door, a 
work which aims to challenge old-fashioned hierarchies in a number of 
ways.

“When I started my Ph.D.,” Ronan explains, “the bee in my bonnet was 
how the idea of collaboration in theatre is used very pervasively now. 
There was a time when some companies' work was all about being 
political, but the question that needs to be asked is how can you 
politicise the making of the work, so that the process of making 
theatre becomes synonymous with the end product? So let's forget about 
context. Let's try and make the work genuinely collaboratively, so the 
audiences see how and why we do it, and what pedagogies are required to 
make that shift, but do it in an entertaining fashion.”

The roots of Leave Your Shoes At The Door date back to 2010, when Ronan 
first began to look into collaborative practice in a way that took it 
beyond the academic to something that looked more outwards than some 
research projects. Ronan subsequently gathered around her a group of 
theatre artists interested in exploring such an approach. As BloodWater 
Theatre, the group presented Whose Story Is It Anyway?, a work in 
progress seen at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.

While the desire to work outwith the normal theatre infrastructure 
continued, there were also more pragmatic concerns. People in the group 
needed to earn money, while some of the company moved away from 
Glasgow. It is for such reasons that it has taken more than two years 
for Ronan and BlackWater to move things on to the second stage that 
Leave Your Shoes At The Door effectively forms.

“It's been very time consuming,” says Ronan, “but we really wanted to 
try and work differently from the models that exist, so we've made it 
in our own time and on our own terms, but hopefully in a way that 
interests the audience.”

The conceit of Leave Your Shoes At The Door finds Ronan and the 
performers from BloodWater playing a fictional theatre company who, 
like BloodWater, reconvene after some time apart to continue an 
exploratory way of working. While the show's mix of filmed and live 
action sounds self-referential, Ronan and co are actually proposing 
something that's little short of a revolutionary way of working. This 
includes the ticketing of the show, with the company asking the 
audience to pay what they can, from zero upwards.

“What we are trying to do is to make a piece of work that we all have a 
stake in,” Ronan explains, “and we hope that what we've come up with 
will interest an audience enough to make them think and feel about the 
relationship between process and product. Are audiences interested in 
the process of making a show, or is the end result enough?”

Where all this leads to in the long term remains to be seen. This is 
something again which will be decided collaboratively.

“Beyond this we have to ask our focus groups and our audience whether 
there is a point in pursuing all this as a company,” Ronan says. 
“That's a very difficult question to be answer, but the more important 
thing is to ask the people inn BloodWater what they want to do. Do 
BloodWater want to stay together and continue working in this way, or 
have we taken things as far as we can go?

Leave Your Shoes At The Door, CCA, Glasgow, January 31st, 3pm and 
7.30pm.
www.cca-glasgow.com
www.bloodwatertheatre.com

The Herald, January 31st 2014

ends







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