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Stage setup for Cult of K*NZO - Written and performed by Paula Varjack
Two for the price of one this week – here’s a bonus blogpost about ARC’s latest project with Protein Dance. A few years ago, I wrote this post about how appalled I was at some of the clumsy approaches we received from ‘national’ organisations who wanted to work in Stockton. Well, I say wanted, what I think they really wanted was to be seen to be working in Stockton - to chalk up an area of low engagement on their reach-o-meter, for the purposes of satisfying their funders.
I reference this because Protein are the complete opposite of this. Over the past few years we have established a fantastic relationship with them, built around their artistic integrity and commitment to meaningful engagement. Like most of the individual artists we choose to work with at ARC, Protein see their engagement activity as a core part of their artistic programme, not as an add-on.
Luca is an internationally renowned choreographer. The first time we ran a project with our local Pupil Referral Unit, he worked with the group for every single day of the three week residency at ARC. His presence and artistic leadership throughout the project clearly demonstrated the value that Protein place on this element of their work. That value was felt by the young people too - for some, participating in the residency was genuinely life-changing.
We welcome artists and companies who share this commitment. We know it is not the right approach for everyone, but we know that at ARC, offering multiple ways for people to get involved in what we do is vital, if we are going to remove any of the barriers to cultural engagement that exist in our local communities. We value the creative process as much as the end result. We don’t see participation as a pathway to being an audience member, but rather just a different way of experiencing arts and culture. We like to give people a choice of how they engage, rather than expect them to experience art in one particular way.
A few years ago, artist Paula Varjack came to Stockton to interview me as part of research for her show, Show Me the Money, which we subsequently programmed as part of an event for artists. This led to conversations about her next show, which we supported through a residency. During this, Paula talked to me about how her experience of chatting to local people about clothes in some of Stockton’s charity shops had influenced her thinking about the show. The show, Cult of K*nzo, landed at ARC last week - and I genuinely don’t think it would have been part of our programme had it not been for Paula’s willingness to visit and spend time in Stockton. It is sometimes hard to explain to artists why this is so important - I am sure it sometimes feels like we are just making it difficult by asking artists to spend time with us whilst developing their work. That’s why it was so rewarding to read Paula’s comments after the show:
"Beautiful night last night @arc_stockton! It was a particularly special one for me having partly developed the show there, so it felt like a kind of homecoming. Great audience numbers, the most intergenerational audience I have had yet, and it was thrilling to see pensioners and young people equally loving it! Then there was the added bonus of a bsl interpreter (who danced along to some tracks) and @lucyroseadams lighting, @gigigbg movement direction, @benbennybenben graphics, @jsevsevsev animation and Martin Bengtsson’s direction looking especially gorgeous with all that space. Maybe it helped that it was partly designed to fill it. I wish more theatres would take a risk and open their main spaces to residencies with early career makers. It has made all the difference to the look and feel of this show. I also now totally understand ARC’s policy to only program work that has been developed there, it changes your relationship to the space, the staff, The town, and makes it much easier as a touring artist to know how to pitch to audiences and to build local audiences for your work."