Creative furnace shapes new work
A short festival of bold and exciting new theatre work is coming to West Yorkshire Playhouse. Nick Ahad on the heat of the Furnace.
FURNACE: noun; an enclosed structure in which material can be heated to very high temperatures.
Well, in this specific case, sort, of, but not literally, and also so much more than that.
Furnace is the name of a new, short season at West Yorkshire Playhouse and it is going to be full of searingly hot new work, so hot that some of it hasn’t yet even come out of the creative oven.
It is also frustratingly difficult to actually pin down and define.
It is the idea of one of Yorkshire theatre’s most exciting new additions, a young producer in her early 20s who is breezing through the West Yorkshire Playhouse like a blast of fresh air.
Amy Letman has the fearlessness of youth and the passion to get things done. She was the mastermind behind the Playhouse’s Transform, a festival of exciting new work held earlier this year.
Like Furnace it was fustratingly difficult to pin down – attempting to get a pithy, or even easily understood, sentence out of Letman to explain Transform was like catching the wind in a hairnet.
Once you went through the doors of the Playhouse during Transform, it made sense. It was also clear why it was so hard to define. The best word to best describe it was eclectic – in a single night I watched 20-plus new, short plays, saw a piece of work that had begun life in a studio at the National Theatre take a more definite shape and sang karaoke with a serving soldier in a box as part of an art installation.
Furnace faces a similar problem when it comes to simply being described. “The difficulty in saying what it is, is that a lot of it hasn’t been created yet,” says Letman.
“I can say that it is an opportunity for the Playhouse to support different ways of creating theatre and it is also an opportunity to bring new and exciting artists into the building to discover the work that they want to create and give them a space to do it.”
Letman arrived at the Playhouse following Arts Council research which looked at how theatres could expand work and take a look at doing things differently.
“Traditionally the Playhouse has a lot of pressure to sell tickets and put on shows that will draw in an audience, the Action Research Grant looked at how it can support work at an earlier stage, work that might not be ready to go onto one of its big stages, but is the sort of theatre that the Playhouse might be able to give its own space and allow to flourish,” says Letman.
“I can feel a real sense of community about the work that is being made here and about the companies in and around the city.
“A project like Furnace gives them a chance to come into the Playhouse and work together with the people in the building here.”
One of the exciting companies working out of Leeds and heavily involved in Furnace is Unlimited Theatre. Led by Chris Thorpe, the company creates bold and exciting work that is perhaps best described as a new type of theatre. Unlimited’s piece for Furnace is a perfect example of why the thing is so difficult to explain. That is because it hasn’t been made yet.
“Audiences seem to find it exciting to be involved in a piece of work from the early moments of its creation,” he says.
“With this piece of work, we don’t even know what it looks like. We are asking audiences to come and see what we have, to be playful with the ideas and then we will go off and develop the work.
“ Furnace is a way for the Playhouse to work with some of the companies that it hasn’t traditionally been able to have in its programme because of the more experimental nature of the work.”
Furnace: you can’t quite define it, but you’ll regret it if you miss it.
NEW KIND OF THEATRE: Chris Thorpe whose company Unlimited Theatre is taking part in Furnace.
FRESH APPROACH: Producer Amy Letman, the mastermind behind the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Furnace.