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.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE -

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.

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