National Theatre Wales – Learning the practice of community

National Theatre WalesAll the world is a stage. Some of us are players acting our part in our story. While others are practitioners of change in the stories of others.

My 14th and 15th #WOWWales tribute goes to a group of women and men. The women of National Theatre Wales (NTW), both the founding members and current members; and the men that value and work with them. Supporting, challenging and inspiring each other.

In May 2009 I met the founding members of NTW while observing two social web designers (NativeHQ). The founding team included John E. McGrath, Lucy Davies, Mathilde LopezCatherine Paskell and Rhian Jones. Within months, they were joined by Carys Shannon, Rhiannon DavisCatrin Rogers, Devinda De Silva, Michael Salmon and Matt the Hat (aka Lawton); and  many TEAM volunteers and souls working as cast and crew.

What they set out to do in 2009 was no small task. They set out to …

Change the perception of theatre across Wales. Create a national theatre company with its roots in Wales that is innovative, international and engaging. Develop a national theatre company that is of, about and connecting the people of Wales.

Without a building and without the socialized boundaries of an arts organization grounded in tradition; or an executive team working with a established political mindset, this small but dedicated team spent hours … connecting with artists across Wales, developing and nurturing a social network to facilitate industry debate; designing and producing a theatre map of 13 productions across the country, this their first year of productions. At the same time, they managed and facilitated a sequence of community inspired local engagement activities, the Assembly programme that ran in parallel.

From the Valleys, to Swansea, Cardiff, to Barmouth, Prestatyn, to the Brecon Beacons, to Bridgend, Newport and Wrexham, Penygroes, to Butetown, Aberystwyth, and Milford Haven they travelled, ending the year in Port Talbot. The team travelled, connected, created, smiled, cried, laughed and lived what it means to be of Wales, an artist in Wales while traveling all over Wales.

I can remember one week in particular, in early 2011 , when the team had a production that had just opened in Aberystwyth (Outdoors), with an Assembly event soon to follow; while another production was rehearsing at the other end of the country in Milford Haven (Mundo Paralelo), soon to be followed by its own Assembly event. At the same time the staff were working with cast and crew planning the finale of their first production year — The Passion of Port Talbot, and generating ideas for year two.

The office abuzz with new faces and old friends; challenging meetings, stretched schedules and streams of activity flowing through a multiplicity of social digital contexts as the team travelled across the country — on trains, in buses, on foot, in cars; along and together; always connected.

All this while practicing the gritty day to day functions of running a national theatre company — answering emails, blogging, commenting and sharing on the social network, participating in Skype meetings, managing their own twitter accounts, attending rehearsals, encouraging and developing artists, having dinners, meeting for lunch, sharing creative ideas, feeding back on communications, reading scripts, jointing meetings, as well as opening their doors to hundreds of artists to hangout, volunteer and some how get involved.

Are you exhausted yet?

As I followed I saw the commitment to their work, the art and artist. I also saw the way the staff connected and shared with many  different communities across Wales — be it artist or design communities or the wider public, especially young people and people who had never been to theatre. Each member of the team with their different hat on; each with their own way of working and personality. Each sharing a little bit more or a little bit less of themselves when it was needed however it was needed.

As I watched I saw more and more evidence of an idea we often talk about — the idea of community. In what I was seeing community was not just a shared vision or shared locale; nor a shared history.

Community is a shared journey of (which is different from a community of ) …

Community is something we do together — a verb, not a noun …

Community is sharing, talking, listening, feeling, being, laughing, smiling, crying, arguing, sensing, teasing, walking, sitting …

Community is the gritty journey of shared doing ..

That said, to practice community, you need to — think, feel and importantly value the practice of community in all its diversity. And not just with audiences or funders with whom your lifeblood depends; but within your own team of staff as well the wider community you are part of and emergent from.

In the founding team of National Theatre Wales, a group that came together about this time 4 years ago, whilst navigating the challenges of being a startup (and the new kid on the block), emerged a team dedicated to the practice of theatre — of Wales, from Wales and across Wales — inspired by the practice of community.

As something facilitated and enacted. A practice provoked from the relations of cast/crew working on a production; inspired by an Assembly discussion or TEAM project; or emerging from between the NTW staff team, partners and collaborators themselves.

A core part of this practice, is the ethos behind and activities of TEAM …

Often we say when we leave an organization or a project comes to an end that it is the friends we made that we will miss. The time spent sharing, talking, being with them. This is time spent practicing community.

In their first four years, NTW has had a significant impact on the theatre, arts and creative cultural community across Wales and the UK. Last year saw NTW end its second season (YouTube), and last month NTW announced their third season of productions. While much has changed since the work of the founding team; the groups vision to support and inspire practice across Wales — the practice of theatre, the practice of community and the practice of social change … continues to remain rooted in their own practice.

To the women of National Theatre Wales (NTW), both the founding members and current members; and the men that value and work with them, I dedicate this #WOWWales tribute.

To Lucy, JohnCatherine, DevindaMathilde, StephenCarys, Catrin, Matt L., Rhian, MichaelRhiannon, Matt B., Jen, David, Julia, Abdul, KatherineGavinMichelle, YusufAnna, Jenny (I hope I’ve not left anyone out) … #WOWWales colleagues, mentors, and friends.

Who inspires you?

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Read more about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales.

You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #WOWWales OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you.

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