Research Visit to Back to Back Theatre, Australia

2018 VA week Lachlan Woods 81.jpg

This is a blog post by Artistic Director, Nathalie Carrington

In July 2018 I travelled to Geelong, Australia to attend Back to Back theatre's secondment week. This project was funded by the British Council and Arts Council England's Artist’s International Development Fund.

Back to Back is a world renowned touring learning disability led theatre ensemble. Over the course of the secondment week I participated in the company's process of how they make and tour their large scale work co-created by an ensemble of learning disabled artists. During my visit, I gained insights into Back to Back’s innovative approach and distinct company aesthetic. I had firsthand experience of the methods and strategies behind not only the work itself but the infrastructure of the company, forging relationships with leading practitioners in disability arts and gathering learnings that will be crucial to my future work as an inclusive practitioner.

The extensive insights I've gained from this activity has directly influenced my work as Artistic Director of This New Ground and as a result I have developed a vision and clear direction for the future work of the company as well as developing a deeper understanding of how an inclusive company can create ambitious, globally significant theatre.

Drawing on Back to Back’s models of working. I have been able to identify four pillars to inform and guide the future of This New Ground.

  • Ground-up Aesthetics - Putting the Collective at the heart of all creative choices

My core aim is to achieve true collaboration that is authentic to all contributors in the theatre-making process. To work responsively to the people and communities I work with – ensuring the work evolves, rather than being pre-planned using co-productive methods ensuring the process is about enabling and not leading.

  • Distinct Identity - Creating a recognisable and ownable brand

I believe the way to bridge community work to mainstream audiences is to create a bold creative aesthetic. I aim to create this aesthetic collaboratively with the Collective and make them the voice of the company. This aesthetic will provide the foundation to create an ownable and recognisable identity from a single post on social media to a large scale stage production.

  • Strategic Initiatives - Finding innovative models of work, producing strategic content

The future is about embracing digital whilst being centered on the arts. Finding low cost, efficient ways to create high impact and reach the widest audience. This has the potential to diversify the company's portfolio of work and extending the repertoire to touring installations, creating digital campaigns, theatre productions and films for festivals and cultural events.

  • Organisational Resilience - Establishing a diverse income base and sustainable growth

I plan to develop organisational structures, practices & values needed to scale This New Ground sustainably & responsibly. As well as how to execute multi-faceted projects with impact goals across sectors.

The secondment week has given me the opportunity to introduce new areas of enquiry to my practice. I’m now looking to explore my insights and develop working methods that will inform This New Ground’s development of a professional integrated theatre ensemble.

  1. How can we develop methods and frameworks for actors with learning disabilities and speech and language difficulties to perform text and narrative based theatre?

  2. How can integrated theatre collaborations influence and enhance traditional methods of making theatre?

  3. How can technology be used to frame and enhance the performance?

  4. How can we develop authentic, inclusive collaborations that culminate in high quality theatre productions for ever more mainstream audiences?

  5. What role could theatre aesthetics play in making impactful integrated work on a large scale?

    Over recent years I have studied and practice as an inclusive artist, forming strong foundations for my work . I’m now looking forward to immersing myself in new ways of thinking, developing strong methodologies and pioneering new models of working. I plan to continue my research throughout 2019. In February I will be taking part in a masterclass of Vanessa Brooks' Silent Approach - a Stanislavski based technique offering learning disabled actors the opportunity to explore text-based work. And in May I will be assisting the development process for Mind the Gap’s ‘Daughters of Fortune’ - a multi-faceted programme of workshops, training opportunities, research & a giant outdoor theatre event exploring learning disability and parenthood. The learnings I'll gain from these development periods will provide me with a blueprint for ambitious, inclusive productions & models for social impact that will not only be pivotal to my personal and This New Ground’s organisational development but could be shared as an open resource for practitioners across disciplines and communities.

Nathalie CarringtonResearch