leeds theatres past and present

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LEEDS THEATRES PAST
AND PRESENT
How has the theatrical heritage of Leeds influenced
the current landscape of theatre in the city?
University of Leeds, Undergraduate Research and
Leadership Scholarship, 2014.
Dominique Triggs
[email protected]
How has the theatrical heritage of Leeds influenced the current landscape of
theatre in the city?
Introduction
As a part of the University of Leeds Undergraduate Research and Leadership
Scholarship I have researched Leeds Theatres in the Past and Present. My idea has
developed from its original focus of whether Leeds theatres are important to the
city’s cultural heritage, to whether the theatrical heritage of Leeds has influenced the
current landscape of theatre in the city. I could not study all Leeds theatre for this
report so I narrowed it down to three which are City Varieties Music Hall, Slung Low
Holbeck Underground Ballroom (the HUB) and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. They
all offer different styles of theatre and originated in different time periods allowing for
more diversity while I have been researching whether they have been influenced by
Leeds theatrical heritage. Within each case study I have narrowed my focus even
more by concentrating on a certain characteristic of the theatre in question. So for
City Varieties I will be focusing on their survival to the present day, for Slung Low I
will be investigating their community projects and for the West Yorkshire Playhouse I
will centre on their Theatre in Education Company (now Schools Touring Company).
What I want to show in this report is that Leeds theatrical heritage has a lot to offer
present theatres in terms of artistic direction and education projects. Leeds theatrical
history is diverse, compelling and explains where Leeds current theatres originated
from. This could be explored in many different ways in terms of artistic output as it
could inspire new writing, re-introduce past theatrical productions and reveal gaps in
theatrical output that present theatres could rectify. In terms of education projects it
could introduce Leeds theatrical history to new audiences and inspire them to look
into it themselves through the readily available secondary literature, online websites
and local archives. This project matters because as well as celebrating three
important Leeds theatres it focuses on highlighting a relatively forgotten period of
history which could be of great interest to theatre practitioners and Leeds citizens
alike.
1
Context: Leeds theatre from 1771 to 2014
In 2014 the current theatre venues in Leeds are:
•
•
•
•
•
The Grand Theatre and Opera House
City Varieties Music Hall
West Yorkshire Playhouse
Slung Low HUB (Holbeck Underground Ballroom)
The Carriageworks
All these theatres are subsidised, with many funded by the Arts Council and Leeds
City Council as well as other sources. Subsidised theatre is a controversial topic,
with many people divided over whether theatre should be subsidised or commercial.
This was reflected in a debate organized by The Economist in 2012 between Alan
Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, and Pete Spence, of the Adam
Smith Institute, which was moderated by Emily Bobrow. As Bobrow explains both
debaters are big supporters of the arts and believe in its importance, but they differ
on whether the government should be funding this.1
Davey supports subsidised funding believing theatre is worth the investment
because,
‘Those who run our great cultural organisations are leaders, impresarios,
entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, who know how to make a little money go a
long way. They contribute to growth, through the development of creative skills and
economic regeneration, as well as the visitor economy. More than that, they make
this country a better place to be for its citizens.’2
Spence meanwhile argues,
‘When government seeks to get between artist and art lover, art will surely suffer. No
elite panel of experts should decide what art is best us. We should decide what is
best for ourselves. The dead hand of the state doesn’t have much going for it – we
should put it to rest and embrace the messy, diverse, vibrant tapestry of commercial
funding’.3
Both parties raise valid points and this is the decades long running debate that our
modern day theatres find themselves in the midst of. This is a very present day
problem affecting the current landscape of theatre in Leeds. An example of this is
1
The Economist, Arts Funding: Should governments fund the arts? (The Economist, 2012)
<http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/875> [accessed 28 July 2014]
2
The Economist, Arts Funding: Should governments fund the arts? (The Economist, 2012)
<http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/875> [accessed 28 July 2014]
3
The Economist, Arts Funding: Should governments fund the arts? (The Economist, 2012)
<http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/875> [accessed 28 July 2014]
2
Red Ladder a theatre group that in July 2014 lost 100% of its Art Council funding.4
They have set up the saveredladder campaign to save the group under the hashtag
#GisATenner, in the hope donations will supply enough funds to ‘cover the full
production budget for two UK tours’.5 The campaign is going well with the company
receiving many public donations with one Labour MEP saying ‘she would donate all
her expenses – from September once she is in Brussels’ showing the importance of
Red Ladder as people, not only in Leeds, are donating money so the company
survives.6
It is topics like this which make me wonder how the theatrical heritage of Leeds has
influenced the current landscape of theatre in the city. To explore this it is worth
looking back to 1771 when Leeds’ first theatre known as Leeds theatre was opened
on the 24th July, although it will be referred to in this report as the Hunslet Lane
Theatre to avoid confusion.7 It had been built by Tate Wilkinson, who ran the York
circuit, as he felt Leeds was an appropriate place for a theatre due to it being
geographically situated between London and Edinburgh.8 Also Wilkinson had been
having business problems with a theatre
in Newcastle, meaning he needed another
theatre for his touring company during the
summer season. 9 It can be argued that
the Hunslet Lane theatre was not
incredibly successful, as it has been a risk
to build, and the Leeds population did not
seem that interested in the theatre.10 This
is partly because of the strong Methodist
presence in Leeds who believed theatre
was wicked with one Methodist, Whitfield,
preaching ‘you go to plays! and what do
you see there?...you see the devil’s
children grinning at you’. 11 Methodist
criticism played a role in diminishing
audience numbers, as dissuaded people
from attending performances, explaining
Figure 1Hunslet Theatre Courtesy of Discovery Leeds
4
Jane Verity, Red Ladder supporters start #GisATenner (Leeds: Red Ladder Theatre Company,
2014) <http://www.redladder.co.uk/news/> [accessed 28 July 2014]
5
Jane Verity, Red Ladder supporters start #GisATenner
6
Rod Dixon, Rod’s Blog July 2014 (Leeds: Red Ladder Theatre Company, 2014)
<http://www.redladder.co.uk/rodsblog/rods-blog-july-2014/> [accessed 21 September 2014]
7
Robert E Preedy, Leeds Theatres Remembered (Leeds: R.E.Preedy, 1981)
8
David Harris, Tate Wilkinson’s Leeds: the early years of a provincial theatre (Leeds: University of
Leeds, 1974)
9
David Harris
10
David Harris
11
David Harris
3
why Leeds was quipped at ‘the Botany Bay of actors’.12
The lack of success of Leeds’s first theatre, although it did manage to last until it
burnt down in 1875, was arguably the origin of the urban myth that Leeds people are
not interested in going to the theatre.13 I found evidence of this myth in Professor W.
T. Newlyn, a renowned economic professor’s, 1965 ‘Economic Analysis of the
Prospects of a Repertory Theatre in Leeds’ as he writes that ‘the theatre-going habit
is undeveloped in Leeds’, despite the fact The Grand and City Varieties open at this
time.14 In a conversation I had with Slung Low’s artistic director and co-founder Alan
Lane, he believed the attitude that Leeds people are not theatre-goers was false, as
he has worked with numerous Leeds theatres and arts companies and has not found
any evidence of this. So although David Harris says the ‘heyday’ of theatre was in
the late 19th and early 20th century it could be claimed that theatre, at least in
Leeds, is going through another popular period as there are 5 permanent theatres
currently residing in Leeds.15
The reason that one city can hold this many theatres according to Harris is because
“in terms of artistic policy [they] don’t encroach on each other’s territory”, he wrote
this in the 1970s concerning Leeds Playhouse, Civic Theatre, the Grand and City
Varieties however the same cannot be said for the present day.16 Although each
theatre venue has different focuses and certain characteristics that make it unique,
for example Slung Low and their emphasis on innovative original theatre, they do
overlap on areas. As the Grand are home to Northern Ballet and Opera North but
this is not exclusive, with Northern Ballet performing Dracula in 2014 at the West
Yorkshire Playhouse. Many of them focus on comedy and drama with no theatre
having a monopoly on certain genres of theatre. Despite these overlaps none of the
theatres seem to suffer for it as they all appear to be running successfully. This could
be explained by the notion that theatre is popular in Leeds and the outer suburbs so
that it can support five theatres. Also the prestige attached to many theatre venues in
Leeds it likely to bring in audiences from further away, further supporting five
theatres in one city.
In this report I want to go into further detail on three out of five of these present
theatres and look at how they may have been influenced by Leeds theatrical
heritage.
City Varieties is an living embodiment of Leeds theatrical past and the distant music
hall era, so I will be focusing this case study on the Varieties survival through its over
12
David Harris
13
R, Preedy, p.4.
14
W. Newlyn, Economic Analysis of the Prospects of a Repertory Theatre in Leeds: Undertaken for
The Leeds Theatre Committee (Leeds: University of Leeds,1965) p.15.
15
16
4
David Harris
David Harris
a hundred year old history. Is there a particular reason for its survival when other
music halls in Leeds are now long forgotten memories?
Additionally, I will examine the history of the West Yorkshire Playhouse in its
previous incarnation as Leeds Playhouse' and focusing on their Theatre in Education
Company. I want to investigate whether theatre as an educational tool came to
Leeds through the Playhouse or whether there were previous theatres involved in
community education. Was the Playhouse filling an educational gap?
With Slung Low HUB I will examine their Leeds community based projects,
especially within Holbeck, which Alan Lane felt was particularly abandoned by the
main city. Were productions previously in Leeds focused on the community and their
needs, or the theatres own economic success?
5
City Varieties Music Hall
Synopsis of City Varieties
City Varieties began its life as a singing room in the Swan Inn which was locally
called ‘The Mucky Duck’ in the 1760s.17 The singing room entertainment was used
by the management to keep customers in the Inn and buying more beverages than
the customer may have originally planned, increasing the Inn’s takings.18 It became a
‘proper’ music hall in 1865 when it re-opened as ‘Thornton’s New Music Hall and
Fashionable Lounge’; Charles Thornton had become the licensee in 1857.19 Music
Halls were for the working class population, usually used as escapism from the
hardships of everyday life in the Victorian period.20 On the City Varieties tour they
paint a detailed picture of the music hall environment, with the artists on stage
fighting to be heard whilst the audience drink and chatter away, with some
unfortunate artists being attacked with rotten fruit and vegetables hurled by
unsatisfied customers.21 The Varieties still have some smelling salts from the period
which were used to revive women who fainted due to the heat and cramped
surroundings within Thornton’s.22 However many other music halls began to open up
at this time in Leeds and Thornton, not wanting to compete, put the music hall up for
auction but the reserve price was not met so Thornton leased the premises to John
Stansfield.23 This began the complicated part of the Varieties history where the hall
changed hands many a time as ‘between 1878 and 1898 the managers and
proprietors came and went in quick succession’ with the hall barely surviving.24 This
period was not successful one for the Varieties and further competition from the
newly built Empire Palace Theatre in 1898 meant the Varieties, along with the Tivoli,
actually closed down for a while.25
The Varieties endured and began a successful period from 1898 – 1913 when Fred
Wood obtained ownership of the hall. During this time it is recorded that
‘nationally…the British Music Hall reached its zenith’ with three important events
occuring, including the formation of ‘The Variety Artistes Federation’, the accession
17
18
19
20
21
22
Peter Riley, The Amazing Varieties (Leeds: City Varieties Music Hall Leeds, 1997), p.17.
City Varieties Tour
G Mellor, The Northern Music Hall (Newcastle upon Tyne: Frank Graham, 1970), p.17 - 45.
City Varieties Tour
City Varieties Tour
City Varieties Tour
23
Discovery Leeds, The City Varieties (Leeds: Leeds City Council, 2003)
<http://www.leodis.net/discovery/discovery.asp?pageno=&page=2003218_251720608&topic=200321
9_253704250&subsection=2003625_239681423> [accessed 11 August 2014]
24
Mellor, p.45.
25
Mellor, p.130.
6
of Edward VII a big supporter of music halls and the 1912 Theatres Act.26 However
the popularity of the music halls began to decline and after Fred Wood’s death in
1913 the popularity of the Varieties’ dropped further.27
Once again a period of changing hands began until 1941 when the Varieties was
leased to Harry Joseph.28 The Varieties began to rely on strip shows which Harry
Joseph had organised ‘in an attempt to attract audiences back to the Varieties’.29
These strip shows were not a new phenomenon as they had been produced
temporarily a few decades before, but it was new for 1950s audiences.30 There is
also evidence of these shows being produced at the Windmill Theatre in London,
now known as The Windmill International, during the 1930s.31 These strip shows are
unlike modern day ones as the performers under orders from the Lord Chancellor
were not allowed to move nude, instead only being able to pose nude with the stage
going dark when the performers changed position.32 This was shocking to audiences
at the time as it was not allowed to be broadcast and was deemed mischievous.33 At
this point the City Varieties may have well joined the majority of other music halls
across the country, including Leeds’ Albion Street Music Hall, in closing down due to
lack of economic success.
26
Riley, p.49-51.
27
Riley, p.51.
28
Discovery Leeds, The City Varieties.
29
Discovery Leeds, The City Varieties.
30
Riley, p.59.
31
Belle Phénomène, History of Burlesque (Belle Phénomène, 2012)
<http://www.bellep.com/#!history-of-burlesque/c23gi> [accessed 23 September 2014]
32
Riley, p.59.
33
Riley, p.59.
7
Everything changed though in
1953 with the BBC’s ‘The
Good Old Days’ which despite
starting of as ‘a one-off
homage to the old music hall
era [sic] it ran for the next 30
years’ to great success.34 The
idea was brought forward by
Barney Colehan who worked
for the BBC and who was ‘the
creative force behind it’. 35 A
further event saved the City
Varieties, at least as a
premises, in 1960 when it
‘became a scheduled protected
building of special architectural
Figure 2 City Varieties Courtesy of Discovery Leeds
and historic interest, with a
Grade II* listing’ which meant it could never be demolished without the council’s
permission.36 Joseph’s sons took over the running of the hall after his death in 1962
and they eventually ditched the strip shows, replacing them with family entertainment
including a very successful pantomime season each year. 37 However as the
Varieties past shows no theatre can remain economically successful consistently,
and during the 1980s there was the threat of closure looming. 38 Leeds Council
stepped in and bought it in 1987 and Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd
were charged with running it, as well The Grand and Hyde Park Picture House, and
they still run it today.39
Survival
The City Varieties is now one of the last remaining music halls in the country and it
has to be asked, why did the City Varieties survive when so many other music halls
did not?40 Survival of a theatre can cover a lot of different aspects but in the case of
the Varieties it survived because…
•
It could adapt to a changing entertainment climate.
34
Yorkshire Post, Good old days just keep going for the music hall show that refuses to die (2013)
<http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/features/good-old-days-just-keep-going-for-the-music-hallshow-that-refuses-to-die-1-5489020> [accessed 11 August 2014]
35
Yorkshire Post, Good old days just keep going for the music hall show that refuses to die.
36
Riley, p.70.
37
Discovery Leeds, The City Varieties.
38
Discovery Leeds, The City Varieties.
39
Discovery Leeds, The City Varieties.
40
Yorkshire Post, Good old days just keep going for the music hall show that refuses to die.
8
•
•
•
The building was of historical interest.
There were plenty of willing managers and proprietors to lease the Varieties.
Luck!
The entertainment industry has changed considerably since ‘Thornton’s New Music
Hall and Fashionable Lounge’ opened, in the present day the entertainment industry
has become a multi-billion pound business with most people accessing
entertainment at home through television. The change from having to go out to
receive entertainment to receiving it in your own home through television had a
catastrophic effect on many theatrical establishments. Leeds and many other cities
like it became ‘ghost towns after six o’clock’ and as the theatres were already
competing with one another they came under even more strain. 41 The closures
began in the early 1950s showing how crucial the timing of BBC’s ‘Good Old Days’
was, with the show beginning its 30 year broadcast in 1953.42 Alongside the threat of
television was the threat of the cinema. Many theatres in Leeds including The
Coliseum and the Queen’s Theatre became cinemas heralding the beginning of a
new entertainment era.
The theatre arguably looked like it had run its course, but the City Varieties prevailed
because Harry Joseph was willing to centre the halls programme on strip shows.
These shows were admittedly an act of desperation by managements across the
country to keep their theatres alive, but the fact was audiences were attracted to this
new novelty and it kept business, somewhat, booming.43 On the City Varieties tour I
found out that many parents took their children to the strip shows as a ‘rites of
passage’ into adulthood.44 It was taking decisions like these which kept the City
Varieties going as it was responding to the audience demand and what was
attracting people in, even if productions were not representing the music hall era of
which the Varieties originated. Likewise when the decision was taken by the Joseph
brothers to axe these strip shows in 1968 due to lack of popularity, the management
was adapting to the times and what audiences wanted and expected the Varieties to
give them.45 Now the City Varieties is famed for its pantomimes, however in a few
decades if this decreased in popularity the Varieties would respond to this and create
something new that would attract audiences. One of the reasons the Varieties has
survived for so long it because it focuses on what the audiences want.
The Varieties building gaining a Grade II* listing was crucial to its survival as well as
giving the music hall another aspect of interest for audiences it gave them a further
barrier against closure if they ever found themselves in economic difficulty. This can
be seen when Leeds Council saved the music hall in 1987, as the evidence suggests
that it was largely due to the music hall being a building of historic interest that it was
saved. Nonetheless this grading only occurred in 1960 and the Varieties had
41
Riley, p.69.
42
Riley, p.69.
43
Riley, p.70-71.
44
45
9
City Varieties Tour
Riley, p.71.
survived many rough periods before then. The reason for it surviving to the point that
the building became of historical interest was because of their being so many willing
people to attempt to manage the City Varieties. Even in the tough periods when the
hall changed hands dozens of times, it still kept going because there was, usually,
always someone interested in taking it on. Also the Varieties have had its
considerable share of luck especially concerning ‘The Good Old Days’ and its timing
in relation to the surge in theatres closing down.
Is the City Varieties Music Hall influenced by its theatrical heritage?
As previously mentioned City Varieties Music Hall is a part of Leeds theatrical
heritage as it is the oldest theatre in Leeds and one of the last remaining music halls
in the country. The discussion above demonstrates that the City Varieties is proud,
as it should be, of its history and this influences them as a theatre.
A key example of this is the 2009 refurbishment project which was funded by Leeds
City Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, Friends of the City Varieties and other
fundraising efforts.46 The refurbishment was ‘carried out in the style of the 1890s’ as
this is the period where music halls were most popular.47 The Varieties wanted to
‘celebrate the Victorian Heritage of the Music Hall and return the venue to its former
glory’ which they succeeded in doing. 48 By making their venue a historical time
capsule they are keeping Leeds theatrical heritage alive in a permanent way. On the
tour I truly began to realise how much detail had gone into the refurbishment to recreate the 1890s music hall style. For example the ceiling had 19 layers of wallpaper
and they based the final red floral design on one of the wallpapers they discovered,
fitting with the era.49
The tours themselves are further evidence that the Varieties theatrical heritage
continues to influence them. They celebrate the Varieties from its very beginning as
a singing room to the present day as a world renowned music hall. The tours are
available to everyone of any age and show the parts of the theatre usually
unavailable to the audience. During the tour you discover many unique anecdotes
about past prolific performers including Charlie Chaplin, Eartha Kitt and Lillie
Langtry. A new addition to the tour this year is a video which is played before the
tour begins, to give a contextual understanding of where the Varieties originated
from and how it has progressed. The tour leads from the stalls, to the stage, to
backstage, to the circle, to the upper circles ending in Circle Bar.
Circle Bar itself is full of photos of past performers as the Joseph brothers used to go
around all the theatres in Leeds if they knew a famous face was playing.50 They’d get
46
BBC News Leeds and West Yorkshire, Leeds City Varieties' £9.9m refurbishment ready (BBC,
2011) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-14556387> [accessed 11 August 2014]
47
BBC News Leeds and West Yorkshire, Leeds City Varieties' £9.9m refurbishment ready
48
City Varieties Guide Tour Notes, p.1.
49
City Varieties Guide Tour Notes, p.2.
50
City Varieties Tour
10
their picture and a photograph and then put it on the walls of the Varieties even if the
performer was not playing there.51 The walls also display past playbills and a unique
picture of the audience during a past production. The acts that now grace the stage
of the Varieties are not necessarily what would have been shown decades before, as
previously there were many animal shows which are now acknowledged as being
unethical. Yet the Varieties still show comedy acts, singers and performers and host
a successful winter pantomime season.
City Varieties are currently having all their historic items catalogued so they can be
accessed by researchers at Leeds West Yorkshire Archive Service, making these
exceptional items available for those who want to see them. The Oral History
Company have also recorded a sound archive of the Bramley Elderly Action Group,
staff, volunteers, construction and restoration team’s memories of the Varieties
which can be accessed by anyone on the internet.52
Nonetheless City Varieties does not rest on its past success as despite the nostalgic
décor they are a modern day theatre supplying youth theatre and educational
opportunities which music halls of the past did not. As previously mentioned this is
the Varieties responding again successfully to the times with theatre education
taking priority in a lot of other Leeds theatres including The Grand and West
Yorkshire Playhouse. Also there is the inclusion of modern facilities like a lift and
they also discarded the Stalls bar in favour of toilets.53
Conclusion
The evidence suggests that the Varieties is strongly influenced by Leeds theatrical
heritage of which it is an important part. The management and staff keep the
Varieties history alive through the building, acts, tours, bar and focus on archiving its
historical items. The management and staff have modernised the Varieties to keep
up with the times and current state of affairs, and this shows itself in the modern
facilities, education programme and youth theatre. The combination of flexibility to
audience demand alongside the promotion of its history as an institution has proved
a winning formula for this institution.
51
City Varieties Tour
52
The Oral History Company, City Varieties Archive (The Oral History Company)
<http://www.theoralhistorycompany.com/CityVarieties/> [accessed 11 August 2014]
53
City Varieties Guide Tour Notes, p.1.
11
Slung Low Holbeck Underground Ballroom (HUB)
Synopsis of Slung Low HUB
Slung Low were created in 2000 by Alan Lane and Matthew Scott.54 The first few
years of the group have been described by Lane as the group making “disconnected
theatre pieces wherever we could and certainly were nothing that could be described
as an organisation”. 55 The group then began to grow and become more of a
collective with all eight artists sharing the administration tasks.56 They also toured
around from Liverpool, London to Singapore. And as time went on their funding and
ambition grew until finally it was necessary to take the next step and obtain a
premise that would become their centre.57 Thus in 2010, ten years after the group
was created, they obtained the HUB in Holbeck Leeds although they still work in
other locations regularly.
In 2011 Slung Low made a statement of intent for their use of the HUB which they
then modified in 2013.58 The statement says Slung Low HUB will try to make as
many of their performances a ‘Pay What You Decide’ and they will share their space
and equipment with other theatre groups.59 Slung Low’s philosophy,
‘is based on good will, on favours, on the benefit of the doubt, on creating a company
of people with shared intention and mutual respect. On creating and working within a
community of like-minded, dedicated artists; and it seems like a good time to make
the bit of that community we engage with bigger. The HUB makes it possible for us
to do this.’60
In my interview with Alan, artistic director as well as co-founder of Slung Low, I
asked where he felt Slung Low fits within the current theatre landscape and in a word
he said it is to be ‘counterpoint’. For every Opera company Alan said ‘you need
scrappy little buggers’ who do not charge people for tea, however if the Opera
Company were to move then Slung Low he argues may have to become something
else. Slung Low’s ability to adapt is reminiscent of City Varieties, and shows they are
company here to stay who can withstand the constantly progressing nature of Leeds
city. The HUB itself is a physical manifestation of Slung Low’s philosophy and how
they view themselves as counterpoint. The HUB is among garages in Holbeck, an
area somewhat abandoned by Leeds city, and is not what a stereotypical theatre
54
Alan Lane, Blog Post: Slung Low and 10 years of organisational evolution (Wordpress, 2010)
<http://alanlaneblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/> [accessed 12 August 2014]
55
Alan Lane, Blog Post: Slung Low and 10 years of organisational evolution.
56
Alan Lane, Blog Post: Slung Low and 10 years of organisational evolution.
57
Alan Lane, Blog Post: Slung Low and 10 years of organisational evolution.
58
Alan Lane, What is the HUB? (2014) <http://www.slunglow.org/holbeck-underground-ballroomhub/hub-2/> [accessed 12 August 2014]
59
Alan Lane, What is the HUB?.
60
Alan Lane, What is the HUB?.
12
looks like: it has swapped red velvet seats and a chandelier, for an allotment and
theatre with fairy lights across the ceiling.
Slung Low are a subsidised theatre and survived the funding cuts this summer and
will continue to receive grants from Leeds City Council and Arts Council England,
which makes their performances possible. Their funding for 2015 means they will be
focusing a lot on Leeds.
Year
Amount
2012 – 2013
£99,000
2013 – 2014
£101,376
2014 – 2015
£104,012
Arts Council Funding received by Slung Low61
Community Projects
Alan Lane defines community projects with examples of what Slung Low has done,
for example when they gave away 3000 free tickets for their 2014 show The White
Whale, which he says may not be the traditional model of community show.
Definition of community projects and community theatre has been widely discussed
with Peter Bazalgette (currently Head of Art Council England) commenting at a
conference in 2014 in Leeds that defining community theatre ‘is a bit like pinning jelly
to the wall’.62 Jo Caird however argues that those who try and define community
theatre are ignoring what community theatre actually is, which is a flexible model of
theatre.63 As a company Slung Low are ‘inherently project based’.64 Alan explained
that it feels like they are on a ‘series of missions’ which are continually evolving, now
that they have the HUB their mission has expanded from pushing art further out of its
boundaries to creating an art centre outside of commercial practice. Slung Low want
to benefit their local community through their work, and get more people involved
with the theatre which they have successfully done, for example they ‘have done a
walk through an underground car park in a show about vampires’ which ‘brought in
an audience who wouldn’t’t be seen dead in a theatre’.65
61
Arts Council England, Slung Low <http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/browse-regularly-fundedorganisations/npo/slung-low/> [accessed 12 August 2014]
62
Jo Caird ‘Put theatre at the centre of community’ International Index to Performing Arts Full Text,
(2014), 30 – 31
<http://search.proquest.com/iipa/docview/1534487324/fulltext/6C1E983BF48A4039PQ/1?accountid=
14664> [accessed 31/08/2014] p.30.
63
Jo Caird ‘Put theatre at the centre of community’ p.30.
64
Alan Lane, Blog Post: Slung Low and 10 years of organisational evolution.
65
BBC Leeds, Holbeck the new home of Slung Low theatre company (BBC, 2010)
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/leeds/hi/people_and_places/arts_and_culture/newsid_8567000/8567686.
stm> [accessed 27 August 2014]
13
Slung Low have done several shows in Holbeck and Leeds since opening the HUB.
These include:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
2011 Original Bearings
2011 15 Minutes Live
2013 Moby Dick
2013 15 Minutes Live at the HUB
2013 The Parade
2013 The Johnny Eck Dave Toole Show
2013 15 Minutes Live
2014 The White Whale
I will explore Original Bearings, 15 Minutes Live and The White Whale more closely.
Original Bearings was Slung Low’s first project in Leeds in 2011, the year after they
had obtained the HUB, and it was in partnership with the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Furnace programme.66 Slung Low has strong ties with the West Yorkshire Playhouse
as many of the artists and staff used to work there. The event was,
‘An exploration of Holbeck and how the myths of a city are created, and how those
stories are told. 100 signs each with a different tale of Holbeck appeared in the area
over a week. Some were verbatim from local residents, some were pieces of history,
some were made up.’67
Original Bearings is described as being in two parts, one being installation and the
other being the performance itself.68 The stories on the signs became integrated into
Holbeck’s psyche until no one was sure what was fact or fiction.69 This project was
Slung Low’s first one in Leeds and they focused on their new home ground of
Holbeck. Holbeck has been described by one of the contributors to Original Bearings
as ‘a broken community’ because after an initial boost in funding to the area, to make
it an extension of Leeds city centre, it was abandoned and now Holbeck is ‘in a
weird, half-demolished limbo’.70 Holbeck was clearly an area that needed someone
or something to believe in it, and Slung Low have created a new dynamism in the
area. By focusing on Holbeck specifically Slung Low were allowing Holbeck to
explore their own history and talk to interested parties about their stories, which
previously no one had given the time to listen too. Slung Low’s philosophy of
engaging with the community clearly prevails in their first Leeds project.
66
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Furnace (West Yorkshire Playhouse) <http://www.wyp.org.uk/aboutus/what-we-do/furnace/> [accessed 28 August 2014]
67
Slung Low, Original Bearings (Slung Low) <http://www.slunglow.org/original-bearings/> [accessed
27 August 2014]
68
Alan Lane, Holbeck is magic 05.10.11 (West Yorkshire Playhouse, 2011)
<http://www.wyp.org.uk/about-us/our-blogs/furnace/holbeck-is-magic-051011/> [accessed 27 August
2014]
69
Slung Low, Original Bearings.
70
Mark Catley, Boom Years 11.10.11(West Yorkshire Playhouse, 2011)
<http://www.wyp.org.uk/about-us/our-blogs/furnace/boom-years-111011/> [accessed 27 August 2014]
14
Another project which Slung Low has revisited a few times over the past 4 years is
the 15 Minutes Live Project. This project was a series of plays, commissioned by
Slung Low and I Love West Leeds Festival, and recorded with a live audience.71 In
2011 it was performed at Sunny Bank Mills, in 2012 it was played at The Town Hall
Leeds and the HUB, in 2013 it was played Theatre in the Mill Bradford and Holbeck
Working Men’s Club. There were different plays performed at each event by different
writers and the plays can be listened to on Slung Low’s website when looking at 15
Minutes Live Project in the websites archives.72 The plays cover a variety of topics
with Alice Nutter’s ‘His Letters’ exploring the effects of war on soldiers and Judith
Adam’s ‘Sista Icarus’ exploring the experiences of disadvantaged children. The
recordings where then put on CDs and given ‘to Old Age People in West Leeds’.73
This project explores everyday topics which will likely have affected many of their
audience, and by revisiting the project every year in new locations with new stories
more and more people in Leeds, and the surrounding area, are experiencing a
unique and fun style of theatre. Unlike Original Bearings, which focused on Holbeck
and bringing back its community spirit, the 15 Minutes Live Project is dramatizing a
variety of topics to different audience getting as many people from all different
backgrounds involved as possible.
I was fortunate to be able to watch The White Whale, a revised version of Moby
Dick, on its opening night this September. This can also be classed as a community
project with 3000 tickets being given away on a pay what you decide basis. The
show was performed at Leeds Docks with the audience standing, although suitable
arrangements were made for wheelchair users or disabled persons, and the
audience were given headphones so they could hear the action. It was a fantastic
production bringing a classic story into the modern day, with the script referencing
iPhones, Wi-Fi and phone signal.74 By bringing it to the modern day some audience
members might more easily find a way in to the story through its modern remodeling,
as it includes modern issues such as oil supplies and sustainable energy. By
choosing to produce a revised version of a classic, Slung Low are opening up
classics and their equally impressive revised versions to an audience who may not
have considered reading them. This project was giving the people of Leeds the
opportunity to explore a unique theatre production without the pressure of how much
it would cost, this made the play accessible to those who perhaps cannot afford The
Grand and other Leeds theatre venues.
What these examples show is that Slung Low is truly a community focused theatre.
Alan says he always considers the statement ‘you serve an audience’ which he
learned when employed as an assistant to Ian Brown (ex-Artistic Director of the West
Yorkshire Playhouse), he added that the statement gave him a lot to think about, in
how he could attract a community to the theatre. Community, Alan said in the
interview, is at the heart of what Slung Low do.
71
Slung Low, 15 Minutes Live Project (Slung Low) <http://www.slunglow.org/15-minutes-live/>
[accessed 27 August 2014]
72
http://www.slunglow.org/15-minutes-live/
73
Slung Low, 15 Minutes Live Project
74
Philips, James, The White Whale (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) p.16.
15
Leeds Theatres Community Focus
Slung Low are a community orientated Theatre Company, but is there any way
Leeds’ theatrical past influenced this choice of direction? From the research I have
conducted on Leeds theatrical past none of them even came close to a pay what you
decide show. This is partly due to theatres, prior to the 1940s, being commercial and
non-subsidised giving little leeway for this generosity in tickets prices. Profit was
immensely important to past theatres as they relied on the money they made to
survive, and due to lots of competition it was even more crucial than if they were a
lone theatre in Leeds. Subsidised theatre like Slung Low also arguably tend to be
more community focused producing ‘a mixture of classic revivals and urgent new
plays which address the world we live in’ which can be seen with their retelling of the
classic Moby Dick in The White Whale.75
Theatres of the past focused on community in the sense of creating shows that
would attract their local community into the theatre, however this was for their
personal economic benefit rather than the theatre-goer’s benefit. Their shows unlike
Slung Low’s did not go out to the people and make a city a stage but instead wanted
to draw people in to shows that provided escapism, rather than tackling the issues in
the theatre-goer’s lives. 76 This
occurred within City Varieties,
with the video I saw on the tour
explaining that in the early
years of the music hall it was
escapism for the lower classes
from their hard live. 77 The
shows produced in Leeds, for
example pantomimes at the
Theatre Royal from the 1800 –
1900s and circus performances
at the Coliseum in the late
1800s, had a large focus on
providing light entertainment.78
However in recent decades
75
Figure 3Slung
Low
Tommo Fowler and Eleanor Sharman, DEBATE: This house would
support
state funding of drama
and the arts (The Oxford Student, 2013) <http://oxfordstudent.com/2013/10/24/debate-this-housewould-support-state-funding-of-drama-and-the-arts/> [accessed 29 August 2014]
76
77
BBC Leeds, Holbeck the new home of Slung Low theatre company.
City Varieties Tour
78
Discovery Leeds, Amphitheatre, Theatre Royal (Leeds, Leeds City Council, 2003)
<http://www.leodis.net/discovery/discovery.asp?pageno=&page=2003218_251720608&topic=200321
9_253704250&subsection=2003625_66524685> [accessed 1 September 2014]
AND
Discovery Leeds, The Coliseum (Leeds, Leeds City Council, 2003)
<http://www.leodis.net/discovery/discovery.asp?pageno=&page=2003218_251720608&topic=200321
9_253704250&subsection=2003625_326427639> [accessed 1 September 2014]
16
other theatres in Leeds, besides Slung Low, have opted to do more community
projects understanding its importance in today’s society. An example of this is the
West Yorkshire Playhouse’s In Our Neighbourhood project which focused on Ebor
Gardens their local neighbours, and trying to build a ‘sustainable relationship’
between them.79
Additionally did past theatres try and develop innovative theatre that pushed artistic
boundaries? Arguably yes as due to strong competition in Leeds between all the
theatres, each tried to develop something new and exciting that would bring in the
audiences. The Empire was successful at this, with the Tivoli and City Varieties
closing temporarily as a result, as it brought in popular performers like Charlie
Chaplin and Gracie Fields. 80 However the performances they included were still
familiar, being animal acts and variety, so although The Empire became one of the
most popular theatres in Leeds for a time it did not exceptionally push art further.
This analysis shows that Slung Low have been inspired by Leeds theatrical past as
what they do as a company is so different to what Leeds theatres previously offered.
They are being counterpoint to other Leeds theatres and make a conscious effort to
ensure that this is what Slung Low continues to represent. So although it may not
play a conscious role in their organisation and running, it does influence the
company albeit unconsciously. Alan believes Leeds does not advertise a theatrical
identity the way cities like Liverpool and Manchester do, with Liverpool constantly
discussing Bill Kenwright (a famous theatre producer) and the Everyman cast. He
did not believe this was a failing on Leeds’s part but rather just a statement of fact as
Leeds do not focus on their past the way other British cities do. Nonetheless Slung
Low is influenced by their contemporaries in Leeds especially the West Yorkshire
Playhouse, who as previously said they have strong ties with, and Red Ladder
Theatre Company. Alan commented on what he had learnt from Ian Brown at the
West Yorkshire Playhouse and how he felt inspired by Red Ladder and how it has
tackled being a political theatre in different ways throughout its history. Slung Low is
influenced by the Leeds theatres in the sense that they want to be different to what
more traditional establishments provide. They want to offer something unique to
Leeds that has not been seen before in its theatrical history. This is perhaps why
they feel that Leeds theatrical past, which is not greatly celebrated in Leeds, does
not have a strong effect on their work as they are trying to create something
completely dissimilar.
Conclusion
This is one of the more complex theatres in my case studies where the answer is not
black and white, as their focus on community is reflective of certain traditions in
Leeds theatre and how they provide a counterpoint to other theatrical
establishments. Yet despite this they do not feel they are in a position where Leeds
79
Downing, Dick, In Our Neighbourhood: A regional theatre and its local community (York: Joseph
Rowntree Foundation, 2001) p.13.
80
Discovery Leeds, The Empire Palace (Leeds, Leeds City Council, 2003)
<http://www.leodis.net/discovery/discovery.asp?pageno=&page=2003218_251720608&topic=200321
9_253704250&subsection=2003625_219188869> [accessed 1 September 2014]
17
theatrical past influences them. The effect of Leeds theatrical past is clearly subtle
when concerning Slung Low but the evidence suggests it is definitely there.
18
West Yorkshire Playhouse
Synopsis of the West Yorkshire Playhouse
In 1964 a campaign began in Leeds for a repertory theatre as they were ‘the largest
City in the country without a regional theatre’.81 The group, which started at just
thirteen people, felt a theatre was needed to contribute to Leeds’s educational
facilities. 82 In the Theatre Campaign Committee’s letters it was argued that a
repertory theatre ‘could be a tremendous cultural asset’ to Leeds and that by not
building it they ‘risk…losing the prestige it has enjoyed as one of the most eligible
and stimulating centre of English provincial life’.83 The campaign steadily grew and
began to receive support from influential people in the entertainment industry
including Dame Judi Dench, Keith Waterhouse and the late Peter O’Toole.84 In 1965
Professor Newlyn from the Department of Economics at the University of Leeds
published ‘Economic Analysis of the Prospects of a Repertory Theatre in Leeds’
where he looked at the capital costs, recurrent costs, revenue, capacity and
competition in building a repertory theatre.85 Newlyn later became a member of the
Playhouses Theatre in Education Companies Committee.86 Funding was raised for
the new theatre with £20,000 alone coming from the public’s pockets.87 However
economic difficulties during this period meant that public spending was not a priority
and this could have been the end of the plans for a theatre. 88 Nonetheless the
committee continued fighting, and they decided to try and find a temporary site to
save costs.89 Plans fell through until the University of Leeds stepped in and offered
the Theatre Campaign Committee the use of a site where the university wanted to
build a sports hall, the Committee would have the site for ten years rent free and
81
Leeds University Library, From the Leeds Playhouse to the West Yorkshire Playhouse (Leeds:
University of Leeds, 2012) <http://library.leeds.ac.uk/resources/specialcollections/handlists/Handlist123.pdf> [accessed 1 September 2014], p.1.
82
Oliver, W, ‘How Leeds got its Playhouse: The Long Campaign’, in The Leeds and West Yorkshire
Playhouses, Deborah Holland (Leeds, 1995) unpaged
83
Brotherton Collection MS 20c Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds Playhouse Campaign
1964 – 1995, Leeds Playhouse Campaign Admin Papers 1964 – 1968, Box 11 Main Committee
Letters accounts April 64 – Jun 67
84
Oliver, W, ‘The Leeds Playhouse’, in The Leeds and West Yorkshire Playhouses, Deborah Holland
(Leeds, 1995) unpaged
85
Newlyn, W, Economic Analysis of the Prospects of a Repertory Theatre in Leeds: Undertaken for
The Leeds Theatre Committee, Front Page
86
Brotherton Collection MS 20c Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds Playhouse, Leeds
Theatre in Education Company Publicity and Miscellaneous 1971 – 1980s, Box 22 Brochure Theatre
in Education Company Leeds Playhouse Leeds Metropolitan Area Autumn Term 1975, p.8
87
Oliver, W, ‘The Leeds Playhouse’, in The Leeds and West Yorkshire Playhouses, Deborah Holland
(Leeds, 1995) unpaged
88
Anonymous, ‘Playhouse celebrates a century’, in The Leeds and West Yorkshire Playhouses,
Deborah Holland (Leeds, 1995) unpaged
89
Anonymous, ‘Playhouse celebrates a century’, in The Leeds and West Yorkshire Playhouses,
Deborah Holland (Leeds, 1995) unpaged
19
have to build the theatre themselves.90 As Newlyn noted in his economic analysis ‘it
is essential if these very encouraging expectations are to be fulfilled that the theatre
should start unencumbered by the costs of site and building’ and with proposed
arrangement with the university, site and rent costs would be taken out of the
equation making the theatre a viable possibility.91
Leeds Playhouse opened in 1970 under the direction of its first artistic director Bill
Hayes who wanted the theatre to get the audience involved and bring in younger
audiences who were unfamiliar with theatres, which is similar to Slung Low’s
philosophy. 92 The theatre was very successful during its twenty years on the
university campus, creating outstanding productions like Willy Russell’s Educating
Rita. However the Playhouse really did need permanent premises and it was
eventually decided the Playhouse would move to Quarry Hill, previously occupied by
tenement flats, with the Leeds City Council providing the site.93 John Harrison, Bill
Hayes successor as artistic director, remarked at the time,
‘after years of uncertainty about the future of the Playhouse, we are now entering an
exciting new era in the history of our theatres, with a permanent home at last, and
the public and technical facilities we so desperately need to continue and expand the
work of our company’.94
Before the opening of the new Playhouse it was given a name change to the West
Yorkshire Playhouse as thank you to the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Council who
gave them a significant amount of money towards the new theatre. 95 It is a
subsidised theatre receiving grants ‘from Arts Council England, National Lottery and
Leeds City Council’ however they do have to make their income as well and do this
through ‘ticket sales, fundraising and donations and other earned income’.96 The
West Yorkshire Playhouse’s artistic policy focuses strongly on ‘classic and European
drama and new writing, with a special focus on community’ with the Playhouse
currently showing The Crucible by Arthur Miller.97 From the Playhouse’s opening in
1971 their Theatre in Education Company, now Schools Touring Company, was a
subsection of the theatre and it is this part of Leeds Playhouse and the West
Yorkshire Playhouse I will now explore.
90
Oliver, ‘The Leeds Playhouse’
91
Newlyn, W, Economic Analysis of the Prospects of a Repertory Theatre in Leeds: Undertaken for
The Leeds Theatre Committee, p.15.
92
Brotherton Collection, Box 11 ‘Theatre aims to involve audience’ by Desmond Pratt
93
Anonymous, ‘New Playhouse for Quarry Hill’, in The Leeds and West Yorkshire Playhouses,
Deborah Holland (Leeds, 1995) unpaged
94
Anonymous, ‘New Playhouse for Quarry Hill’
95
Leeds University Library, From the Leeds Playhouse to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, p.2.
96
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Biography (West Yorkshire Playhouse) <http://www.wyp.org.uk/aboutus/what-we-do/biography/> [accessed 05 September 2014]
97
Anonymous, ‘Major Cultural Centre’, in The Leeds and West Yorkshire Playhouses, Deborah
Holland (Leeds, 1995) unpaged
20
Theatre in Education Company
The committee as previously mentioned wanted the new Playhouse to benefit Leeds
educational facilities, and a big part of this was bringing theatre to local
schoolchildren and getting them to the theatre.98 So when Leeds Playhouse opened
in 1970 their Theatre in Education Company (T.I.E.) duly followed opening in the
same year.99 The company’s first director was Roger Chapman and in his letter to
head teachers within the first T.I.E Brochure he described the organisation as a ‘free
inspirational teaching service’ where ‘a group of actors and teachers will offer their
service by presenting programmes especially designed for specific age groups using
theatre as the major vehicle’.100 Over its long history the T.I.E has created plays
aimed at primary schools, middle schools, high schools and schools for children with
learning difficulties. Chapman was apologetic in his termly brochure letters if a group
could not be covered, for example in his Autumn Term 1974 letter, ‘to the primary
and middle schools, I am sorry that we cannot accommodate you this term, but come
the New Year we’ll be offering you our latest programmes for your age range’.101 The
company was always fewer than ten, with some members like Annalyn Bhanji
working with the company for years and some members not staying for very long.
The feedback from schools was vital for T.I.E, with Chapman’s successor John
Surman commenting in his 1976 brochure letter that they were going ‘to review the
service that has been created, its uses
to you the teacher and your class’ he
added that they would also organise
meetings with teachers for personal
feedback.102 To truly understand what it
is T.I.E do I will explore a few of their
past plays in more detail starting with
the hugely successful Raj.
Raj was created for older primary
school children and is set in 1942 India,
when British colonial rule was still in
place.103 It was positively reviewed with Figure 4West Yorkshire Playhouse Courtesy of Discovery Leeds
one student from John Blenkinsop
98
Oliver, W, ‘The Leeds Playhouse’.
99
Brotherton Collection, Box 22 Annual Reports 1972-73 1978-80 1981-87 1988-91, Leeds
Playhouse Theatre in Education Company Autumn 1979.
100
Brotherton Collection, Box 22 Publicity Theatre in Education 1971 - 1977 Leeds Playhouse T.I.E
Spring Term Brochure 1971
101
Brotherton Collection, Box 22 Publicity Theatre in Education 1971 – 1977, Leeds Playhouse T.I.E
Autumn Term 1974
102
Brotherton Collection, Box 22 Publicity Theatre in Education 1971 – 1977, Leeds Playhouse T.I.E
Autumn Term 1976
103
Bhanji, Annalyn, Biddy Coghill and Harry Duffin and co, Raj (Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1984),
p.7 and p.63.
21
Middle School thanking the company for a ‘marvellous performance’ and another
member of the audience from Bedford Field Middle School explaining how he liked it
when a ‘cup broke into three pieces like India broke up into three pieces’.104 The play
was instigated by the company as they realised that their work with children whose
second language was English was not supporting their cultural needs. 105 They
researched intensively on the subject however the majority of resources they found
were not from an Indian perspective. 106 They found talking about their own
experiences of race and class with one another beneficial to the project as they all
came from varied backgrounds.107 Within the production ‘the Indian characters are
not victims’ with the protagonist Nandita in particular ‘forced to face the realities of
British rule in India’ which has a momentous effect on her relationships with her
British surrogate family and friends.108
Accident of Birth was another successful production which as well as touring Leeds
schools was actually staged within the West Yorkshire Playhouse and is based on a
true story about a young servant Mary Morgan, who was raped by the head of the
aristocratic Wilkins family she worked for in nineteenth century Wales leading her too
kill her unwanted child. 109 Andrew Staples in his review of the production was
complimentary calling it ‘a powerful play’ but he was also critical saying ‘if the cast
had allowed the story to tell itself rather than explaining each step it would have been
far better’.110 T.I.E aims for this particular production were too explore the themes of
‘education, identity, class and society’.111 The play was aimed at years 9 and 10 and
like with most T.I.E programmes there were three stages to the production, the first
being a teachers meeting, the second the production itself and thirdly student
tasks. 112 The teachers meetings, from what I have read in the archives, were
incredibly important to the company as these workshops meant teachers knew what
to expect from the production and how to discuss it was students afterwards and set
tasks for them.
T.I.E. were somewhat of a separate entity to the main Playhouse during the 70s and
80s when the Playhouse was in Calverly Street on the university campus, with T.I.E
104
Bhanji, Annalyn, Biddy Coghill and Harry Duffin and co, Raj, p.63.
105
Bhanji, Annalyn, Biddy Coghill and Harry Duffin and co, Raj, p.5.
106
Bhanji, Annalyn, Biddy Coghill and Harry Duffin and co, Raj, p.5 and p.6.
107
Bhanji, Annalyn, Biddy Coghill and Harry Duffin and co, Raj, p.5 and p.6.
108
Bhanji, Annalyn, Biddy Coghill and Harry Duffin and co, Raj, p.7.
109
Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Education and Community,
Box 96 Productions 1990 – 1994, Accident of Birth 1991 – 1992 ‘Lessons in dramatics for cast and
class’ by Andrew Staples
110
Brotherton Collection, Box 96 Productions 1990 – 1994, Accident of Birth 1991 – 1992 ‘Lessons in
dramatics for cast and class’ by Andrew Staples
111
Brotherton Collection, Box 96 Productions 1990 – 1994, Accident of Birth 1991 – 1992, Accident of
Birth Aims and Objectives
112
Brotherton Collection, Box 96 Productions 1990 – 1994, Accident of Birth 1991 – 1992, Letter from
Deb Collet Director of T.I.E to a colleague
22
also physically separate as they were situated in Quarry Mount School which was a
nearly half an hour walk away from each other. However when the Playhouse began
its move to Quarry Hill the situation changed as ‘the company seized the opportunity
to be more closely involved with the Playhouse and ended up moving into the main
site, removing the physical barriers.113
In the year 1979 T.I.E were being funded by the Arts Council and Leeds Education
Authority, with the Arts Council funding coming from the main Playhouse to the
company.114 Funding was sometimes a cause of concern for T.I.E with the director of
the company in 1992 Deb Collett writing to Ian Brown of the Arts Council to check
about their budget.115 She was anxious after discovering ‘that the company does not
have nor has it ever had a relationship with the Arts Council of Great Britain’ with the
funding granted to the Playhouse ‘not earmarked’ which could potentially put T.I.E at
risk, she asked for acknowledgement of a partnership between the Arts Council and
T.I.E as they have funded them indirectly since the very beginning and they relied
heavily on that funding.116 Funding has unfortunately turned into a major problem for
the company in recent years as they have lost their grant from Education Leeds in
2012 after the organisation became non-operational, the company is now at risk and
is trying to gain support to keep it going as its impeccably high standard.117
Education in theatre in Leeds
The Playhouse was following a trend for theatres when it began its T.I.E Company,
as the first one began five years earlier in 1965 at the Belgrade Theatre in
Coventry.118 Oliver Turner who researched the Belgrade Theatre’s T.I.E. Company
argued that ‘TiE reflects a learning that is child centered and experiential seeking to
engage young people with and through their humanity’, this makes T.I.E an
important educational tool, especially with students who may have not been able to
113
Brotherton Collection MS 20c Theatre, Leeds Playhouse Leeds Theatre in Education Company
Publicity and Miscellaneous 1971 – 1980s Box 22 Miscellaneous Correspondences between Leeds
Theatre in Education and the Arts Council, ‘The Development and Potential of the Leeds Theatre in
Education Company as an integral part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’ anonymous
114
Brotherton Collection, Box 22 Annual Reports 1972-73 1978-80 1981-87 1988-91, Leeds
Playhouse Theatre in Education Company Autumn 1979.
115
Brotherton Collection, Box 22 Miscellaneous Correspondence between Leeds Theatre in
Education and the Arts Council, letter from Deb Collett director of T.I.E> to Ian Brown of Arts Council
of Great Britain 7th April 1992.
116
Brotherton Collection, Box 22 Miscellaneous Correspondence between Leeds Theatre in
Education and the Arts Council, letter from Deb Collett director of T.I.E> to Ian Brown of Arts Council
of Great Britain 7th April 1992.
117
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Touring Company (West Yorkshire Playhouse)
<http://www.wyp.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/touring-company/> [accessed 10 September 2014]
118
Oliver Turner, A History of Theatre in Education at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry (2010)
<www.belgrade.co.uk/files/downloads/192/TIE+education+pack.pdf> [accessed 10 September 2014]
p.1.
23
access theatre without these companies.119 As Turner notes in his report ‘a formal
recognition that drama and theatre might be valuable as learning methods did not
emerge until after the Second World War’.120 Therefore Leeds theatre prior to this
date may have not considered bringing educational facilities into their theatres.
Despite this progression in events this type of theatre work was not well respected
within the industry; however Susan Elkin wrote an article in 2011 arguing this was no
longer the case, as people have now begun to realise how beneficial theatre can be
to a student’s education.121
Therefore the Playhouse T.I.E was not new in the context of Britain, however in
Leeds there was no other theatre that toured schools with specifically made theatre
performances for a specific audience. That is not to say other theatres did not have
education programmes as many of them now do. City Varieties for example offer
youth theatre, youth summer schools and learning programmes and this year along
with The Grand Theatre and Opera House they hosted The Young People’s
Takeover Festival. The Grand also host workshops based on local schools
curriculums and other types of projects. 122 Despite theatres in Leeds being
committed to education, none as far as my research has found, have toured schools
and gone directly to Leeds students. T.I.E is unique in Leeds and crucial to Leeds
theatrical educational facilities, as they are going to students who may not have the
money or inclination to attend a theatre, but who may gain the greatest benefits from
experiencing theatre. It then appears that the Playhouse was filling an educational
gap in Leeds when they began T.I.E and that still needs filling today, as not all of the
education programmes in Leeds theatres go out to the students who could really
benefit from the programmes.
The West Yorkshire Playhouse when it originated as Leeds Playhouse was
significantly influenced by the Belgrade Theatre whose TIE scheme they replicated,
however this is not to say that Leeds theatrical past has had no influence. The West
Yorkshire Playhouse has found its identity within Leeds theatre current scene, and
this relies on an understanding of where the current scene originated from. The
Playhouse also has their Furnace scheme where they collaborate with other theatre
makers, including Slung Low, showing they are continuing to take a keen interest in
what is occurring in other theatrical establishments in Leeds.123 Also in their original
campaign for a repertory theatre in Leeds they would have had to have a clear
119
Oliver Turner, A History of Theatre in Education at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry, p.2.
120
Oliver Turner, A History of Theatre in Education at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry, p.2.
121
Elkin, Susan, ‘Learning from the best’ International Index to Performing Arts Full Text, no volume
(2011) 6-7
122
The Grand Theatre and Opera House Leeds, Schools and Colleges (The Grand Theatre and
Opera House Leeds)
<https://www.leedsgrandtheatre.com/Online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOp
aram::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=E62E43CB-90E2-467F-8036FDE80D5AC25D&menu_id=AE64177A-2DEB-4BEE-8B6E1BAEDCE33CC7&sToken=1%2Cb4ec52d0%2C541055a6%2C81EFDF00-1411-4635-802595FBCF20816B%2Co4VrL3aty7eSngE3KwUBKhYEDuc%3D> [accessed 10 September 2014]
123
24
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Furnace (West Yorkshire Playhouse)
understanding of Leeds theatrical past, to know that they were missing out on a key
style of theatre production.
Conclusion
The evidence suggests that although the Playhouse was significantly influenced by
the Belgrade theatre in setting up a TIE company, they have still been influenced by
Leeds theatrical past. The original theatre campaign was a response to lack of a
repertory theatre and the move from Calverly Street on the University of Leeds
campus to Quarry Hill shows that the theatre wanted to be in the heart of Leeds and
its theatre scene. Since then they have done numerous collaborations and have
solidified their identity as a key theatre in Leeds. Like Slung Low the situation is
complex as influence can be seen in a number of ways, not just by filling in what is
not there or replicating what is available.
25
Analysis and Recommendations
So to highlight the key findings from my research
• City Varieties, the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Slung Low have all been
influenced in some way from Leeds theatrical past.
• Leeds theatre scene has progressed and expanded significantly since the first
theatre in 1771, culminating in an enriching theatre scene.
• Leeds and its theatres should be proud of its history and backstory and be
unafraid to explore its past in further detail. As they could find aspects of
Leeds theatrical past which could be utilised in a manner of ways for new
audiences.
These findings open up more questions for me about the influence of Leeds
theatrical past on the current theatre landscape than they answer. I have found
evidence of influence in my case studies, however would I come to the same
conclusions if I focused on The Grand Theatre and Opera House and The
Carriageworks? Additionally if I were to explore Leeds theatre groups for example
Red Ladder would I find evidence that they were influenced by past theatre groups?
There are so many past theatres to be investigated for example The Theatre Royal
and The Empire which offer exciting histories, and it would be interesting to find out
why they did not survive compared to City Varieties and The Grand. There is a
clearly a lot more to be investigated within the local history of Leeds with many
sources available for this investigation including the West Yorkshire Archive Service,
Special Collections at the University of Leeds Brotherton Library and the Local and
Family History Services at Leeds Central Library.
26
Bibliography
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Box 11 ‘Theatre aims to involve audience’ by Desmond Pratt
Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse,
Leeds Playhouse Campaign 1964 – 1995
Leeds Playhouse Campaign Admin Papers 1964 – 1968
Box 11 Main Committee Letters accounts April 64 – Jun 67
Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds Playhouse
Leeds Theatre in Education Company Publicity and Miscellaneous 1971 – 1980s,
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Metropolitan Area Autumn Term 1975, p.8
Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, Leeds Playhouse,
Leeds Theatre in Education Company Publicity and Miscellaneous 1971 – 1980s,
Box 22 Publicity Theatre in Education 1971 – 1977
Leeds Playhouse T.I.E Spring Term Brochure 1971
Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, Leeds Playhouse,
Leeds Theatre in Education Company Publicity and Miscellaneous 1971 – 1980s,
Box 22 Publicity Theatre in Education 1971 – 1977
Leeds Playhouse T.I.E Autumn Term 1974
Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, Leeds Playhouse,
Leeds Theatre in Education Company Publicity and Miscellaneous 1971 – 1980s,
Box 22 Publicity Theatre in Education 1971 – 1977
Leeds Playhouse T.I.E Autumn Term 1976
Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, Leeds Playhous,e
Leeds Theatre in Education Company Publicity and Miscellaneous 1971 – 1980s,
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Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, Leeds Playhouse,
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Brotherton Collection MS 20c, Theatre, Leeds Playhouse,
27
Leeds Theatre in Education Company Publicity and Miscellaneous 1971 – 1980s,
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28
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30
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31
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