Saturday 30 January 2010

Class of '76 Programme Note: Still Telling This Story

So here I am, about to embark on the 10th Anniversary Tour of Class of '76. Ten years later, still telling this story.

In those ten years the idea of the show has almost become an anachronism. The show started as a 15 minute sketch, in which the things we said about the children in the photograph, including some of their names, were completely made up. And although we had the idea for a second version in 1999, it was in January 2000 that I set about trying to find the other 34 children in my infant school photo, before performing ‘Version 2’ of the show in Chuckery Infant School Hall in May of that year. That's the anniversary that this, final, tour of the show marks.

In January 2000 I had an email address, and connection to the internet at work, but, despite our later publicity tag of 'fresh and funny live art for the friendsreunited generation', there was no Friends Reunited yet, let alone Facebook, Myspace, Bebo or Twitter. I had a mobile phone, but had only had it since I was 28 – so no immediate connection to my old schoolmates. The process of tracking people down, therefore, involved phone calls, mainly to land lines, and a lot of 'going back home' to Walsall. Of course this massively affected the nature of the piece. Had I been able to do all the detective work remotely, I think the work would have felt quite different. It would probably have been more about the lives that the people are living now, as I would be able to visit, or at least observe, a lot of those lives online.

Which is why the idea of the show feels like an anachronism - kids at school now, and anyone who left school within the last - what, 10 years? - wouldn't need to track down most of their classmates; they'll already have contact with them.

‘Version 3’ of Class of '76 - the version that talks about the process of making Version 2 - has been in repertoire since 2001, although it was temporarily retired for a couple of years in 2006. Reviving the work in 2008, I suddenly felt this historical aspect of the show much more keenly. And this feeling has informed the decision (or is ‘realisation’ more accurate?), that the performances this year will be the last ones of 'Version 3'.

At post-show discussions over the last 10 years one of the most frequently asked questions has been: Why that photograph? What that year, why that collection of children? The answer is pretty simple: it is my last school group photo. I've got two infant school class photos – the second year one from 1975 and this one from May 1976. The following autumn we moved up to junior school, where we always had individual, or sibling group, school photographs taken.

So although most of the children in the photograph moved up to the same junior school, this later photo is the one that marks the end of an era – the end of infants school. Our last class photograph. That was the one I had to use.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Class of '76 at Northern Stages

The 10th Anniversary tour of Class of '76 opens at Northern Stage next month as part of their Northern Stages season - marking their own 40th Anniversary with a great line up. Northern Stages is a series of 40 'conversations' about Northerness, of which Class of '76 is one.

There are several ways of engaging with the season, other than coming to see the work live. The Northern Stages project is seeking thoughts and input about Northerness/Southerness, through the Northe research project. I'm also mentoring another of the 'conversations', Faye Draper's Tea is an Evening Meal - for which she is looking for input from the public, so if you have thoughts on, or stories about, regional dining rituals, Faye would love to hear from you.

As part of the programme I was asked to think about the relationship between Class of '76 and my adopted Northerness, and write something for the Northern Stages site. Here's what came out:
When we were first making Class of ‘76, (Version 2 - the version for Chuckery Infant School), 10 years ago, my initial thought was that this was a show about how a group of 35 kids happened to be in the same class at the same time, and how they happened to have their photograph taken together, and how, 24 years later (as it was then), they could have ended up anywhere, doing anything. They could have chosen to base themselves anywhere. How many would still be in the Midlands? How many would have moved South, North? And for how many would that have been a conscious decision, and how many would have just followed circumstance. How often, in fact, do we decide to exercise the control we have about where we live? And of course, does that ever change where we are from?

You can take the boy out of the Midlands... My moves North were accidental – I went to university in Lancaster, then Sheffield. That was because they were the courses that let me on. Plenty didn’t. But I had chosen to apply for those courses partly because I liked those cities. And most significantly, I stayed in Sheffield. There are all sorts of work, friends and family reasons for that, of course – but we have talked about moving over the years, and it was always going to be further North (the exception being some talk of moving to Bristol, because it “feels like a Northern city but with Southern weather”), maybe to Scotland. (The other exceptions being some talk of Spain. And Portugal.)

As a person somewhat obsessed with maps, I am very aware that the Midlands are not in the middle of the country, they are geographically in the South. (Sheffield, in fact, feels to me more like the centre of the country Рbut I know that there are several towns and villages that would dispute that, depending on how you measure it). The clich̩ when I was growing up was that Southerners think of Midlanders as Northerners, and Northerners think of them as Southerners. The other joke was that in England, the North-South Divide runs across the country south of Birmingham, but loops up around Solihull.

The reality, naturally, is more complex that either of those suggestions, and certainly being a Midlander, I think of the Midlands as a separate entity. Or should that be ‘originally’ a Midlander? I lived in Walsall for 19 years, and I’ve now been in Sheffield for almost 17. These days I refer to myself as being ‘from Sheffield’ as much as I do as ‘from the Midlands’. And being a father now, I am aware that, unless we do move, my girls will think of themselves as ‘from Sheffield’. My daughters are Northerners, with a Midlander dad and a Southerner mom.

As we prepare for the 10th anniversary tour of Class of ‘76, I’ll be thinking more about this, about the other 34 children in my class photograph, about when we were all from the same place, and where the adults they grew up to be are now.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Plans for 2010

In 2010 Third Angel turns 15. We're not sure exactly when, because we're not sure exactly when the company was born. Certainly in the summer of 1995 there was a conversation in a shared house in Withington in Manchester, where Rachael was studying for her PGCE, about making a piece of work together. Then by the time that the poster for that show, Testcard, went to the printer's (early September?), we had the company name.

So at some point in 2010, we're fifteen. Before that we're celebrating another anniversary - 10 years since Class of '76, 'Version 2', was performed in Chuckery Infant School Hall - "on the spot where the photograph was taken," in May 2000. Class of '76 'Version 3.1' (as seen at Forest Fringe last August) will open at Northern Stage on 4 & 5 February, tour through into March, and then go out again in May. Full details of the first leg are on the newspage now, here. I know we've said it before, but these really will be the last UK performances of this version of the show. Most performances will be followed by post-show discussions, so if you do come along please stick around afterwards for a chat. More on this 10th Anniversary production soon, no doubt.

We'll also be showing Words & Pictures again in the first half of this year - slightly revised and updated - at Prema Art Centre, the National Review of Live Art (celebrating it's 30th Anniversary with an amazing line-up we are proud to be a part of) and Sheffield Theatres' Forge Festival.

There will also be a Sheffield screening of A Perfect Circle, as part of The Sheffield Pavilion at The Showroom Cinema on 2 February at 6pm.

However, we are also making a new work this year: What I Heard About The World is a collaboration with the excellent mala vaodora (Lisboa), our good friend Chris Thorpe (who worked with us on Presumption, Parts For Machines That Do Things amongst others) and We are delighted that this piece will be a co-production with Sheffield Theatres, Teatro Maria Matos (Lisboa) and the Pazz Performing Arts Festival (Oldenburg).

We'll be showing work-in-progress versions of this piece at Pazz in April and Forge in May, and the show will premiere in Sheffield in the autumn before transferring to Lisboa. We'll be asking for help researching this project, looking for true stories of fake things, so watch this space.

So, Happy New Year, and more on all of the above soon.