The Journey of Farm Boy

This week, one of the company’s highest profile productions of recent times has headed out on it’s fourth tour to date.  Farm Boy, adapted and directed by our former Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd will play at 60 venues across the UK over the next six months. It’s a huge tour, infact probably the biggest single tour in my time with the company.

It’s also the culmination of an amazing journey for our replica Fordson Tractor that is as much a character in the piece as the two actors are and I thought I’d take a look back at the journey that this production has been on.

The Old Fordson Tractor

At the beginning of 2009, the year in which the show first took to the stage, Farm Boy wasn’t even a part of our plans for the coming year.  Daniel and I were focussing on an autumn revival of another New Perspectives production; The Farm that we’d toured in 2008 across the East Midlands. For a variety of reasons the ambition for that piece was never realised and we were left with a gap in our schedule.

Daniel came up with the idea of adapting the story of Farm Boy and developing it for a small tour to schools in the East Midlands; that was the original limit of our ambition, a four week tour to twenty or so schools in the region that sold out almost immediately and took place in October 2009.

John Walters and Matt Powell in Farm Boy 2009

And that might have been that… had we not bumped into James Haddrell from Greenwich Theatre at the Pulse Festival in June 2009.  We’d taken two productions to Greenwich Theatre previously – The Hired Man, and Sir Gawain And The Green Knight – and we started chatting about upcoming tours. He was intrigued by the idea of Farm Boy and asked if we wanted to try it out in a theatre space over the half term period. Why not? We thought. It had already entered our minds that there might be more life for the piece.  Michael Morpurgo’s work was (and remains) hugely popular, War Horse (to which the book of Farm Boy is the sequel) was already playing to packed West End audiences and we thought that our production could easily sit in small to mid-scale theatres.

So we went to Greenwich for three performances. The theatre arranged for Michael to come and talk after the last performance and he was lovely about the show. We also invited a number of colleagues to see performances in Greenwich to get a sense of whether it was something they’d book for their venue – the reaction from the majority being a resounding Yes!

Most importantly I think, was that we invited Scamp Theatre to see it with a view to working with us on a theatre tour partly because they had already had success touring another of Michael’s works Private Peaceful and also they had better contacts with the type of venues we were seeking to reach.

And from that moment we haven’t really looked back. Co-producing with Scamp, we planned for a summer run at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe followed by an eight week autumn theatre tour.

In the wonderful Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh we played to consistently packed houses selling 98% of available seats and earning the official festival ‘sold out’ laurels. Crucially we received a great range of national press reviews – most of them 4* – that helped with sales on the subsequent tour. Over 9000 people saw the show on that tour meaning that in 2010 alone more than 12,000 people had seen Farm Boy – more than had seen our whole programme of work the previous year.

John Walters and Richard Pryal at 59e59 theatre New York

And it didn’t stop there. In Edinburgh the show was seen by Peter Tear from 59e59 Theatre in New York and by June 2011 an agreement had been reached to take our tractor across the pond to the Brits Off Broadway Festival – Christmas in New York City!

Our audiences in New York were very different from what we’d been used to touring the UK, with a lot more adults seeing the play rather than the family and schools audiences that the 2010 tour attracted. But again the feedback was largely positive (even if some of the critics tried to make too close a comparison to War Horse).

And so on to 2012 and another co-production with Scamp that will deliver over 100 performances by March 2013. John Walters, who has played Grandpa since that first performance in 2009 and Gareth Bennett-Ryan who follows in the footsteps of Matt Powell and Richard Pryal in playing Grandson, will tell this wonderful story in venues from Berwick to Bridport, Colchester to Cardigan.

John Walters and Gareth Bennett-Ryan in rehearsal for 2012 tour

It’s an incredible journey considering this was a production that started out by ‘filling a gap’, but that has gone on to achieve so much for New Perspectives.  We’re really excited about the next few months and we hope our audiences will be as well.

Catch it if you can!

Chris Kirkwood, Executive Director

Full details of the Farm Boy tour can be found on the New Perspectives website.

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The Edinburgh Festival Fringe

A few thoughts about my slow burning relationship with the Edinburgh Festival.

I’ve just about recovered from a whistle stop visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the end of last week.

Although I graduated from college with a drama degree way back in 1994 and have spent my working life in the theatre and arts sector, my first ever visit to the festival was as recently as 2010. (I decided not to join a group of friends who took a musical version of 100 Years of Solitude there just after we graduated!).

It was in 2010 that we took our production of Farm Boy to the Assembly Rooms on George Street with a great deal of success. We received the official sell-out laurels for selling 98% of available tickets and garnered a raft of great national press reviews. These were a huge help on the subsequent national tour we undertook that year.

I’ll be quite honest and say that I really didn’t like my first experience of Edinburgh. Despite the success of Farm Boy I found it a very claustrophobic place. The Royal Mile was to be avoided at all costs and not being able to walk more than a few yards without having another flyer shoved in your face was hugely frustrating. I saw some good shows, but the bottom line was, I was glad to get out and go home.

Image

In 2011 we returned, but this time with not one but two shows. Those Magnificent Men ran at the Cowbarn on Bristo Square, part of Underbelly and How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the F.A. Cup was at The Gilded Balloon – both prior to national tours.

Again I spent five or six days there overseeing our own shows. We were working hard to sell them both; scouring for reviews, constantly reprinting stickers to attach to flyers and posters and convincing people wherever we went that ours were the ‘not to be missed’ shows of 2011.

I had approached my time at the festival with trepidation, based on my first experience but I was much better armed for this second visit.  Again, I got to see a lot of other work and with more colleagues there to share the experience with it was a far more enjoyable week. I’d go as far as to say I had a (mostly) good time.

New Perspectives were planning to take a show to the festival again this year, but circumstances meant that in the end we decided not to. Instead a number of our staff visited at different points, just to see a selection of the work on offer. This is hugely important for anyone working in theatre. The chance to see what our peers are producing is crucial both to individual staff and company development.

My own visit started at lunchtime on Thursday 23rd August and ended at 4pm on Saturday 25th. A perfect amount of time; 48 hours, twelve performances (it would have been 13 save for an unavoidable delay to the last performance that would have meant I missed my train).  I saw some real gems; from companies I’ve never heard of to events by those travelling up as part of larger programmes of work such as Old Vic New Voices or Escalator East to Edinburgh. I also managed to catch up with colleagues from Nottingham and the wider rural touring sector, and before I knew it I was on the train back to Lincolnshire.

Maybe short and sweet is the way to play it. Don’t give yourself too much time between shows to think?

It was a boon going towards the end of the festival as I planned a programme largely based on the recommendations of friends, colleagues and from the wider world of Twitter!  It helped not having to worry about tickets for the half price hut, or whether we’d fit that four star review on a sticker or whether the rain had caused our posters to fall from the wall.  I could just pound the streets of the city going from show to show.

And I’ll let you into a little secret. I loved it. I am a convert. I am already anticipating next year whether I go just to see work or whether we decide to take a show there.  It’s taken a while, but I’ve been well and truly won over.

Long live the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Chris Kirkwood

Executive Director

A REFLECTION ON 2012 SO FAR…

It doesn’t seem like five minutes since New Perspectives staff packed their bags and took the Farm Boy tractor to the bright lights of New York and the Brits Off Broadway festival last December. Yet as we head towards the summer holidays so much has happened to the company in 2012 it’s worth taking a moment to reflect.

New York...

It was this year that we produced our biggest show yet, working with Curve Theatre , Leicester and Derby Theatre to mount The Butterfly Lion in the studio in Leicester and on the main stage in Derby. For a company more used to performing in beautifully intimate village halls this was a real shift in our emphasis and one totally in keeping with our ambitions to extend our touring work to new markets. We experimented with new ways of engaging audiences through drawing competitions, behind-the-scenes films and trailers, along with a dedicated website www.thebutterflylion.co.uk  – and received wonderful feedback from press and audiences alike. That we can confidently state that we can produce work to such a scale is a testament to the dedication of our small staff team, who deserve much praise.

For those who missed it but are fans of our work – or indeed of Michael Morpurgo stories and novels – watch this space as our plans for The Butterfly Lion don’t stop there.

The Butterfly Lion

The culmination of three years of development on new work for rural touring by BME writers came to fruition when we co-produced The Honey Man with Derby Live in March, prior to a national tour in April and May. Again, we received lovely press reviews, trumped only by the overwhelming support of audiences who saw the show out on tour. Once again, the production extended our engagement with a series of filmed talks and discussions that were made available online for audiences who hadn’t managed to catch them first time round.

The Honey Man

In addition to this we completed the first year of STEP UP, our training ensemble programme which is currently being evaluated. Twelve hugely talented emerging theatre makers from across the East Midlands joined us over a period of a year to improve their knowledge and skills; taking part in a number of master classes and concluding the year by devising, rehearsing and touring a production inspired by scripts from our DREAM UP Writing Competition. The outcome for each of the participants, if social networking and their regular blogs here are anything to go by, has been huge and already we’re planning for next year’s ensemble. We’re immensely proud to have mentored and supported the Nottingham based theatre company The Gramophones, helping them to secure funding and touring dates for their work whilst simultaneously working with them to develop their financial and business tools as the company continues to develop.

Alongside our touring work, in April we stopped being an RFO and became an NPO! Part of Arts Council England’s new National Portfolio of funded organisations and a lot of hard work went into agreeing our plan of activity. Alongside this in June we were successfully awarded funding from Arts Council England’s Catalyst programme to support and develop our fundraising activity over the next three years. The Ernest Cooke Foundation awarded us funds to support the Talent Development and Engagement work carried out by our Associate Director Tilly Branson and we were also successful in a joint Doctoral Award with the University of Nottingham for Tilly to undertake a PhD that will ‘re-examine the rural tour’. Our commitment to leading the way for small scale and rural theatre sector knows no bounds.

And yet, in amongst all this activity the most important driving force behind New Perspectives is the people who make it all happen.  And for the last nine years that team has been led by Daniel Buckroyd.  We were saddened in April to learn that he’d be leaving us, but pleased for him as the opportunity to become Artistic Director of a major regional producing theatre doesn’t come along every day.  Good luck to him in Colchester.

A lot of time was invested by our board and senior management team in undertaking a thorough recruitment process and we’re delighted that Jack McNamara will be joining us in September to lead the company into what we know will be a bright new future.

So yes, already a lot has happened this year… but Christmas is a long way off and with three more shows in pre-production, two of which will tour in the autumn, exciting projects in development and new scripts from some great writers due, we know that we can’t and won’t rest on our laurels.  Our audiences certainly won’t allow it!

Chris Kirkwood.

Executive Director.

July 2012.