Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Bare Dramaturgy: Jonathan Woodhouse , Rachael Owens and Liam Fleming @ Seven Dials Club

The time has come! London's best reviewed new writing night makes its West End debut...with a 'best of' edition!

A critically acclaimed series of events staging new plays by established and emerging theatremakers from all around the world, BARE ESSENTIALS has transferred into the heart of theatreland at the Seven Dials Club, Covent Garden. Enjoy an evening of stunning theatre at its most elemental - all for just a tenner!

Expect thrilling drama, hilarious comedies and more, fresh from the pens of award-winning playwrights and the hottest up-and-coming talent. Join Encompass Productions for ‘an outstanding international new writing night’ (London Pub Theatres) and experience stripped back, bare bones theatre at its best!

The interview is with Jonathan Woodhouse (director), Rachael Owens (associate artistic director) and Liam Fleming (creative producer).

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The initial concept for Bare Essentials was very simple - to bring new writing to the stage. Producing short plays was a way to keep us creatively engaged between our more complex and demanding main house shows (which can take several months to produce) whilst keeping up our profile as a company and continuing to bring something fresh to London theatregoers. A few years ago we had noticed the demand for 'new writing nights' and 'scratch nights' was increasing and in turn, so was the competition. 

We felt very strongly about differentiating ourselves from the crowd. To do this we had researched extensively on what was on offer not just in the UK but around the world. What we found is that we had to decide what kind of show we wanted to put on: either artist-led or audience-led. Artist-led shows tended to be presented in a 'scratch' format, where scripts are worked and reworked through feedback processes and script-in-hand performances. As a company we weren't entirely comfortable with delivering a show in this format. Not only would it likely be logistically too complex for an independent company like us to produce, but we have found from attending a number of these that the end product can sometimes be hit or miss. We also thought that for an independent company such as ours to produce a scratch night we'd be putting ourselves on a bit of a pedestal - 'your script is great, we think it needs a bit of work here' etc. - for short plays (our submissions can be anything from 5 minute delights to 30 minute mini-masterpieces) we didn't want to have a process that could potentially water down the work. 

Not to say that we don't appreciate the brilliance of scratch nights such as those at the BAC or Brockley Jack - those certainly are important. But we have worked with a number of writers who have submitted to other new writing or scratch nights who have felt disenchanted by the whole process. We felt that the simple act of submitting your script somewhere means that you as a writer has enough faith that it can somehow be produced as it is. And with the right combination of actors, writers, directors and producers it can be something great. So with the focus on creating an entertaining night of theatre we took the audience-led approach and created Bare Essentials - it's now one of the longest running independent new writing nights in London, and currently the best reviewed(!).

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

The company's core team are two artistic directors (Jonathan Woodhouse and Rachael Owens) and creative producer Liam Fleming. We three produce and direct our main house productions, whilst Liam's main focus outside of those shows is producing (and hosting!) Bare Essentials. Because it is always the same team and we all treat each Bare Essentials as a proper production (albeit a minimal one with no budget!) it allows for a level of consistency and quality control that we feel the work deserves. 

Having produced theatre as a company since 2010 we're fortunate enough to have a large collective of talented and enthusiastic directors and actors - no Bare Essentials cast or crew is ever exactly the same which keeps things fresh and exciting. Even if you spot an actor you saw last time, the chances are that they were in a different genre of play. For the creatives involved in the show we liken it to going to the gym - you get to challenge and push yourselves each show you're a part of, in new and different ways.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Like many companies the foundations of Encompass started at university. Our focus was on producing new work inherently cinematic in style and initially we started out with large-scale, surrealist dramas. Adapting to the artistic climate we decide to scale down, expand to other genres (including comedy) and get to the real essence of what theatre can be; our plays now are minimally produced and have a rawness to them that we think there is a real market for. That doesn't stop our ambition - our last main production Stasis was an epic drama set in space - but it does challenge us to innovate and entertain in ways that don't necessarily require a big budget. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

The name 'Encompass' stands for ambition, inclusion and accomplishment. And in that sense even though Bare Essentials is minimal in style, it still retains that mission. How far can we stretch the audiences' imagination on no budget? That's the ambition. How can we make sure that each play is a culmination of a collaborative process? That's the inclusion. How can we provide audiences with a fantastic theatrical journey that will stay with them long after they leave the theatre? That's the accomplishment. In essence, it's not treating the plays any different to how we'd produce a full-scale show. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

With Bare Essentials audiences can expect to see theatre at its most elemental, with established and emerging talent put on the same stage. We've produced plays from all around the world and are in the privileged position to have staged work not only by exciting new talent, but also by BAFTA winners, Netflix and Dreamworks producers and published playwrights. We hope that by presenting new writing in the way that we do that we'll not only attract repeat theatregoers, but also people that wouldn't normally go to see theatre - particularly with today's lower attention spans. Without giving too much away, we feel that fundamentally we are offering 'a great night out' - theatre can sometimes be so absorbed in itself that us theatremakers forget about our audience. Entertain them - make them laugh, make them cry - create something unforgettable that leaves them wanting more.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

By taking the audience-led approach, we created a new writing night that was true to our purpose as a company: to produce new theatre and deliver it to audiences in as complete and as polished a form as possible. We still work very closely with writers but are strict on how we work with them - our job is to deliver their work, not tell them how it should be done. This thus eliminates parts of the creative process that can slow things down - the emphasis is far more practical, on how we can make each play as entertaining and thought-provoking as possible for the audience. In between each play the job of Liam as a compere is to make sure the audience feel part of what they're seeing, to make them feel at ease - we know we have the audience on side with us when he gets a friendly heckle(!). Plays go through a proper creative and production process and whilst we do not want to give away what that is, we take pride in the fact that many writers seem to be satisfied with how their work is produced. And luckily audiences and critics so far seem to agree!

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
When deciding what type of new writing night we wanted to produce, we looked at micro-theatre produced in Europe and other parts of the world, as well as the emergence of pop-up and site-specific theatre. Our main-house productions are known for being bold, visual and cinematic whilst Bare Essentials allows us to go back-to-basics. Nevertheless our creative approach to full-scale shows informs how we approach these smaller scale plays. Bare Essentials is designed with the philosophy that all you need to make great theatre is a room and an audience - and so far, we'd like to think that that's what we've achieved.

We put established and emerging talent on the same stage. We've previously staged work by exciting new writers, BAFTA winners, Netflix and Dreamworks producers and published playwrights. We're one of London's longest-running independent new writing nights, answering the demand for fresh new theatre right here in the theatre capital of the world.

Encompass Productions presents



Fridays: 8, 15 + 22 July, 7.30pm

Seven Dials Club, Covent Garden
42 Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LA

Nearest Underground: Covent Garden (2min walk)

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