It’s 11pm. He’s been on stage for three hours, alone, performing three shows. In between each one, he’s had a glass of water, changed out of his clothes and gone out again. It is a mammoth effort, for Ed and his audience. And we’re just sitting there.
The Self Trilogy consists of Ed’s three shows about, well, himself. Except, of course, they’re also about us. And it’s that exchange – the artist/performer exploring the depths of his existence, sharing it with us as though we’re his longest and oldest friends – that makes his work so brilliant.
For me, he perfectly encapsulates what our space can do. Much larger, any more people, and it’ll be impossible to feel personal. The informality of the space makes it feel as intimate as a podcast. And yet the theatricality of it, the glorious visuals and the humour, which relies on us being live, responsive and complicit, gives it another level. The words and images stay with you – “ha ha, that’s you Ed, ha ha”, climbing the ladder, “just do the material”, a room full of bouncing balls, Ed lying on the ground, “I know I have”. They echo back, inform your world view, and make it make it a little more sense.
Ed hasn’t performed at the Bike Shed for two years, but when he comes back next he’ll be most welcome. Besides, that performance, that night, those three shows, that language and those pictures – they’ll keep me going for years to come.
“They’re fifty quid each.”
“For all of them?”
“Well, there’s sixty of them. So, um, three thousand pounds.”
“Right. Give me a couple of minutes”.
It’s September, 2012. Following a tough nine months, Fin and I have redesigned the way we’re going to programme and run the venue. Gone is the focus on work developed by writers, in comes a more company-orientated way of programming, based around residencies. Companies will come in for three weeks to show existing work whilst developing something new. This allows us to cut staff back to the barest minimum to keep functioning. We’re opening in the daytime. And we’re turning to our loyal supporters to help us out.
To celebrate this reboot, we invite in companies that will perform throughout the season, open some wine and throw a party. John is one of those who comes. I’m not sure how he got an invite – to my memory, neither Fin nor I had met him before – but the more, the merrier, and all that. John is small, Scottish and, we later discover, generous. He’s made some money from some health equipment and wants to spend it. We’ve decided to get named sponsors for the sixty chairs we’ve been given by Oldham Coliseum. Each going for fifty pounds. John wants all of them. In the end, we settle on £1000 and he gets his name on just one of the seats, allowing us to get sponsorship for the other fifty-nine.
John is currently caring for his mother-in-law which makes him a less frequent visitor to the Bike Shed than he was a couple of years ago. And in many ways, I’m not sure he’d appreciate being drawn attention to. But I think it’s important that I do. There are many people like John in the history of the Bike Shed, people who’ve found ten, fifteen, twenty pounds to support our activities. They are often people with very little money themselves, but who value the importance of what we do. What makes John a bit different – beyond the size of his donation – is that he is a man with money to spend. Bizarrely, it is more difficult for us to successfully make the ask to people like this.
Something is wrong with our society. John is the exception that proves the rule.
It is the best short play I’ve read. Exposure arrived through my letterbox, delivered by hand. The dialogue is varied and perfectly observed, the characters honest and flawed, the humour gentle and true. Nothing is superfluous. The subject matter is dealt with sensitively, the ending consequently gently moving. We showed it in a rehearsed reading in April 2010, directed by Charlie Coldfield.
In our first full season, we wanted to do a play set in Exeter and invited suggestions. Sam’s idea was a play about friendship and magic, set during the Second World War. I pushed Sam to consider the characters’ contemporary equivalents and encouraged her to play more with the mystical elements. The resulting play, Serendip, became a production directed by Nick Stimson. The theatre space not yet being signed off, our bar was filled for eighteen nights with packed audiences watching from sofas and bar stools.
I had the pleasure of working with Sam again for Theatre West in 2013, before she took a break from writing. Her voice is developing wonderfully and she’s exploring supernatural elements that had become unpopular in the twentieth century British theatre. Her next play, when it comes, could well be phenomenal. I can’t wait to read it.
The Colin above is not our Colin, but another Colin. He is a Colin from The Fast Show.
If you’ve been to the Bike Shed, there’s a good chance you’ve been Colin-ed. To be Colin-ed is to be approached by a nearly-blind man with a small book. In it, is a list of the shows Colin has been to see. He’s seen hundreds, not just in his lifetime, but in the last handful of months.
Colin first came to the Bike Shed on our opening night and has probably seen more shows than anyone else. His tastes err on the side of the conventional, but I think he secretly likes to be pushed. And he certainly likes to talk. Whether you want to listen or not.
He lives alone, save with his hamster (who has been replaced at least once in the last five years). He is retired and has, by all accounts, a small pension. We’re not alone in considering Colin a regular. Other theatres in Exeter, along with those in Sidmouth and Exmouth, are also frequented by him.
Yes, he’s odd. Yes, he can be annoying. But, as we found out when he’d not been in for a couple of months and I phoned the police to check he was ok, we miss him when he’s not there, clutching his half pint of ale and telling you what he saw in Sidmouth last night.
Last week, I heard Anna would be Exeter Northcott’s new Marketing Manager. Her brother Luke posted on Facebook that he was “incredibly proud of his little sister”. I was surprised by how similarly fraternal my feelings were.
Anna joined the Bike Shed straight from Exeter University. She had directed an imaginative interpretation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, integrating live film for close-ups of the performers. It was shown in the venue as part of the Exeter Fringe Festival in 2010. After a performance, we got chatting at the bar and I asked her the question everyone gets asked as they’re about to enter the big wide world: “so, what next?”.
“I think I’d like to work in marketing”.
Two months later, Anna was thrown into the deep end of the turbulent months of our first Autumn. Four in-house productions, ten-odd visiting companies, no effective line-management. Looking back, the lack of support Anna was given was shocking. If I was being generous to us (or naive, or lying), I’d say that it was all part of a master plan in learning self-motivation and initiative. More realistically, it was a cock-up of poor leadership and we were unbelievably lucky that Anna had such reserves of patience and inner strength. She has a remarkable toughness of character. She doesn’t give up.
Over two years, Anna grew in confidence and ability. In 2012, she left us to join Circomedia in Bristol. But her heart remained in Exeter and fortunately the right job lured her back. It is a great coup for the Northcott and fantastic for the city. I hope she’ll forgive the diminutive, but I’m incredibly proud of little Anna.
On the first of April, we will become part of the National Portfolio. We owe this to Charlie.
First, let me put that into perspective. Becoming a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) means joining Arts Council England’s (ACE’s) exclusive gang of 650-odd organisations. These include the National Theatre (NT), Royal Opera House (ROH), English National Opera (ENO) and Compicite (C). It means that we have three years of secure funding, or as secure as any government funding is at the moment (right, kids?). It means a whole change of mindset for us, developing deeper relationships with artists, schools and other partners.
And this is why we owe it to Charlie. When we held the interviews for the position of Executive Director, back in the dismally dark and damp January of 2014, Chair of our Board Emma Stenning asked each candidate the same question: “should the Bike Shed apply for NPO?”.
“Yes. Of course. Other organisations are. The Bike Shed is at least as good as them.”
This answer showed off a number of attributes in Charlie that have proved constant in her year and a bit with the Bike Shed. It showed a positivity of outlook. It showed an external confidence that inspires others, not least me. It showed ambition. And most importantly, it showed an appreciation of the Bike Shed. Charlie and I have spent a lot of time recently talking about people “getting” the organisation. We’re an odd venue – like the child who all the teachers describe as “difficult”, the child that consequently some people end up rooting for the most. Charlie has always got the Bike Shed. She’s always rooted for us.
Her certainty that we should apply for NPO was soon put to the test as we set about writing it. We locked ourselves away in Exeter Phoenix (who play the role of the kindly sixth former who looks out for our troubled friend). Three weeks later, through long weekends and longer budgets, we’re half an hour from the deadline. Only Charlie’s laptop keeps on crashing (our lack of funding meaning we can’t afford to replace it for another four, painful months). At five minutes to, we submit. And wait.
Charlie has excelled in her role as Executive Director. She’s been effortlessly collegiate and worked tirelessly to keep the doors open. Moreover, she’s a fantastic producer, an unseen but essential part of the success Tortoise and Hare and Edgar and the Land of Lost. Quietly, she supported the artists, holding things together on two productions that contained ridiculously large amounts of risk. She’s a great asset to the cultural scene in Exeter and we’re lucky to have her.
Charlie Parker (CP): happy birthday. And thanks.
I didn’t think much of Rachael first time I laid eyes on her, as Morgan Freeman almost said. This is because she was late. I mention this now as it is so out-of-character and its always worth remembering when your first impressions were so hopelessly wrong.
Rachael had been recommended to visit us by, I think, Kirsty Cox. It was the Spring of 2010 and we were still finding our feet. She lit Still, our second production and stage managed it too. She’s incredibly efficient as a stage manager. Punctual, too (see above). But underneath the ruthless efficiency and punctuality, lurks a quirky creative. She’s got one of the most fantastic eyes for detail, making minuscule adjustments right up to opening night.
I love her calmness in the rehearsal room. I heard last week that in the rather drawn out technical rehearsals for Edgar and the Land of Lost, an issue was taking a little longer than normal to resolve. One of the directors was getting a little stressed. Saying nothing, Rachael reached out a hand and placed it on his knee.
Perhaps surprisingly for a lighting designer, she’s also great improviser. This makes her a joy to work with – someone who rolls with the punches, firing back ideas, finding the most creative solution. Everything is achievable, however impossible it sounds. Moreover, Rachael can interpret your ideas in ways more articulate than you can express.
I hope to work with Rachael again soon. I hope her lighting is the same shade of blue as it is in my dreams. I hope.