Albany Associate Company, Teatro Vivo, transforms everyday spaces such as a supermarket or tattoo parlour into unconventional theatre spaces, working with communities to tell classic tales. Their latest work The Hunters Grimm is a promenade performance that will take audiences through Deptford, using cafés, shops and even the streets as theatrical playgrounds for the beloved tales of the Brothers Grimm. Grandmother-eating wolves and pompous Princes will be on the loose when The Hunters Grimm begins, starting tomorrow until 8 November. Teatro Vivo’s Artistic Director, Sophie Austin, tells us a bit more about why keeping community close is vital to their work.
‘All the world’s a stage…’
These words from Shakespeare’s As You Like It have always resonated with me.
I grew up in a small village where the local am dram company encouraged me to act when I was six and inspired me to direct my first play when I was 11, theatre has been woven into my life and is an essential part of my existence.
From seeing a touring company perform on the village green to the RSC performing at my comprehensive, I was brought up to see theatre as an inclusive experience: entertainment for everyone, not an event just for those who could afford it.
I moved to London 14 years ago and was lucky enough to go to drama school to do a directing degree – this was before the fees would make it impossible for someone like me to attend. When I graduated I set up Teatro Vivo. The aim was simple – to make magical and inspirational theatre accessible for all irrespective of income, background or age. This has lead the company to stage plays outside of theatres: from parks to cafes, museums to supermarkets, we have brought Chekhov, Shakespeare and Homer to diverse audiences across London, and in the last two years we have been touring our work nationally. I am always overwhelmed by the hunger of our audiences. Wherever we perform the response is the same: ‘more please!’
What can be frustrating is that despite our eager audience and the growing number of high profile partners keen to collaborate with us including the Albany Deptford, the Watermill in Newbury, and international company Dash Arts, our work is sometimes pigeon-holed as ‘community theatre’, and therefore not treated by press and industry in the same way that other productions might be. I’m interested to know when ‘theatre’ becomes ‘community theatre’ and why this title has negative connotations for some.
I am keen for our work to collaborate with the community, its venues and residents. This challenges us in many ways, but always strengthens our output artistically, whilst enabling businesses and locals unique access to a professional creative process. I am proud to create theatre in this way, but as it rarely involves a stage and often pops up in hard-to-reach areas, the mentality can be that this means the work is of lesser quality than you might experience in a Central London venue. I consider Teatro Vivo’s work a gateway to encouraging audiences to see more and get involved in more, and like my own experience, I want our work to be a part of the rich theatre tradition that is our British cultural heritage.
At the moment I am writing this at the Deptford Lounge, a library and community hub in the heart of Deptford, which is also the ‘Spinning Room’ for our new show, The Hunters Grimm. This play will take the audience on an adventure around the dark streets of Deptford as they hunt for stories. This is the perfect place to tell tales of princes and kings, anarchic frogs and bloodthirsty wolves. And with themes of poverty, loneliness and love running through them, it’s a piece that will resonate with all who experience it.
I love my job and feel truly privileged to be embraced by the communities we are working in. The Halal butcher and the publican, the hairdresser and the cafe owners as well as the writer and designer: all are part of my creative team. I think our work benefits greatly from their involvement, but don’t take my word for it, come and join us in Deptford and see for yourself.
Sophie Austin, Artistic Director, Teatro Vivo
The Hunters Grimm runs Wednesday to Saturday, 22 October – 8 November, 7.30pm. For more information and to book tickets, click here.