The lockdown has been an extraordinary time for theatre, presenting challenges and threats to existing ways of working – to which creative practitioners and managers have responded with innovation and resilience. OffWestEnd is pleased to announce the ONEOFF special award to recognise the achievements of independent, fringe & alternative venues, companies, festivals and other initiatives in these difficult times.
ONEOFF winners are listed below and further ONEOFF awards will be announced from time to time.
Anyone can make a nomination for a ONEOFF award: all you need to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org explaining why this nominee (venue, show, individual or other initiative) deserves an award. The email should include any relevant weblinks or images or other supporting material, and details of at least two other people (not directly linked to the nominee) who can be contacted regarding the nomination.
Lou Stein is stepping down as Artistic Director of Chickenshed after 5 years at the helm.
Chickenshed brings together people of all ages and from all backgrounds to produce wonderful theatre and to celebrate diversity. During Lou’s time as Artistic Director, he has overseen a wide range of exciting and innovative productions with a particular focus on encouraging and developing new writing. He has overseen children’s and youth theatre projects and activities which have involved over 800 young people annually, as well as a number of community outreach projects. In addition, he has developed professional partnerships for touring and media activity, which has enhanced the profile and impact of the organisation.
Lou’s shows at Chickenshed have received many 4* and 5* reviews over the years, including from The Stage and Time Out. They have also had many OffWestEnd nominations over the years – Offies nominations for their live shows and OnComms for their online work. They have won Offies for “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” (Best Production for Children 13+, 2019) and “Snow White” (Best Production for Children 8+, 2020).
One of our Offies assessors has said of his visits to Chickenshed: “I have trudged my way to the end of the Piccadilly line and always found, even on the darkest winter evenings, a welcoming atmosphere – a real community spirit, engaging all ages, all abilities and disabilities, all demographics where the creative talents are nurtured and encouraged, a true beacon at the end of the Piccadilly line!”
Lou will be developing personal projects and engaging more with the professional theatre community, as well as focusing work on helping young people who have learning disabilities develop the skills to be successful in the workplace, using music and theatre techniques, and we wish him well in these future endeavours.
In the last 5 years, Chickenshed has enhanced its reputation and status as an exciting and dynamic part of Greater London’s independent theatre ecology, effectively encouraging diversity amongst its participants and its work, and particularly encouraging the involvement of young people, and we are very pleased to present our latest OneOff award to Lou Stein.
WINNERS AT THE 2021 AWARDS CEREMONY
Scenesaver is a free-to-use website which was launched during lockdown with the ambition to do something positive to help the theatre world – to support and incentivise creatives, to make theatre accessible to all and to provide theatregoers with their fix of theatre during the pandemic. It is now a hub where users can choose from over 350 performances from small theatres worldwide. Users also have the option to pay for a “virtual ticket” and this income is passed on to the performers / company.
The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh responded to the Covid challenge head-on by creating a brand new online venue – Traverse 3 – filled with new and specially commissioned pieces, making them one of the first theatres to realign themselves in this way.
A Christmas tale from Blue Moon Zoom presented via ‘Zoom’ for audiences of all ages and abilities, but especially adapted for an SEN audience through the use of Makaton and PECS (picture exchange communication symbols).
Wait For Me
A new British dance musical, written and composed by Sam Cassidy with choreography and direction from Ainsley Ricketts. One of many shows filmed during lockdown with cast and creatives in a social bubble, adhering to Covid guidelines. An extraordinary tour de force.
Northern Comedy Theatre
Northern Comedy Theatre is a relatively new company having been formed on Merseyside in 2015 with the aim of cheering us all up and boy have they succeeded during 2020. Rather than just see the pandemic as a hindrance they have embraced the opportunities presented by taking themselves online and produced (literally) a stream of work of no less than seven online plays.
Five of these formed a series called “Doing….” in which they examined how the UK had been forced to take its leisure activities online and make the best of a bad job in order to carry out their hobbies Thus they examined amateur dramatics, book clubs, online quizzes and murder mystery evenings. As a coda they also tried their hand at the online business meeting. In two “specials” they tackled both Halloween and Christmas. All the shows used a core team of six young actors who formed a tight knit repertory company which exuded fun at every turn.
The scripts for all these shows were supplied by close collaborator, David Spicer, and their Artistic Director, Shaun Chambers, masterminded all the different pieces.
All shows were first performed live using the burgeoning technology of the Zoom platform in a praiseworthy attempt to replicate the experience of live theatre. Subsequently filmed (but unedited) versions of the seven plays emerged and can be found on the Scenesaver platform – www.scenesaver.co.uk.
Northern Comedy has shown great resilience in getting this collection of shows up and running and it is hard to think of another company or venue which has done so much in such a short space of time or has provided as much fun in the process.
The Show Must Go Online
The Show Must Go Online is the brainchild of actor Robert Myles (in effect he is Artistic Director) and his partner Sarah Peachey (in effect she is producer). The project is reading its way through the entire Shakespeare canon in chronological order. In fact each show is more in the nature of a semi performed piece than a reading as they have increased in sophistication as time has progressed. Therefore lighting, scenery, costumes and props are all employed, fight scenes are choreographed and special effects are used (e.g. in A Midsummer Night’s Dream a cartoon donkey’s head is grafted onto Bottom’s head)
The first show took to the airwaves within a week of lockdown being announced in March. They are due to complete the cycle on 18th November 2020.
The shows premiere every Wednesday and then stay up on You Tube indefinitely to form a complete resource bank. Actors have appeared from all continents (bar Antarctica and they are working on that!) The shows have so far amassed over 200,000 views from more than 60 countries, featured over 350 contributors, and have won two OnComm Awards to date. They have a very loyal following (called The Groundlings). They encourage (indeed insist on) diversity of representation in casting and for a considerable time used the expertise of a professional casting director. Each show is preceded with a ten minute talk by an expert in the field (including for one show Simon Russell Beale).
The series has its own website https://robmyles.co.uk/theshowmustgoonline/ and Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Show_Must_Go_Online
Rob has been absolutely committed to and tireless in pursuit of providing a platform for the theatrical community, has directed all the shows and virtually paved the way in utilising Zoom for performances. Never mind a OneOff he deserves a mention in the next Birthday Honours!
One of the cruelest blows that the pandemic has struck against our industry has been the inevitable cancellation of all-important end-of-year showcases for graduating students. These showcases usually provide an invaluable opportunity for graduating performers to impress potential agents and to find those all-important first jobs. Most of this has transferred to online, but, courageously and against the odds, Gradfest has contrived to create genuine, in-the-flesh opportunities for new graduates to showcase their talents in front of industry professionals and also, in some cases, the paying public.
“The Odyssey” at Jermyn St Theatre
The third ONEOFF goes to the magnificent undertaking of assembling 72 actors to read sections of Homer’s 24 book ODYSSEY, completing the work in its entirety over twelve hours on 9 October – a triumph for participants and audience alike. This was an initiative from Jermyn St Theatre who joined forces with The London Review Bookshop and publishers WW Norton. The actors took as their text the recent (2017) translation in sonorous yet modernised prose-poetry by American Classics professor, Emily Wilson. The actors were drawn from a wide representational range as regards age, gender and race which, along with linking simple images of rolling mid-Mediterranean waves and the occasional timeless musical chords presented the seminal work most convincingly, despite the strictures of room-locked actors and the absence of further visual material as regards costume or setting. Amongst the many excellent performances, two whose authoritative voices struck true Homeric chords to our assessors were Dame Janet Suzman (who began the roll-call) and Burt Caesar. The readings were online for a week following the start of the reading.
Online Theatre Festivals
The second ONEOFF celebrates the various theatre festivals that emerged or adapted during lockdown to host and promote dozens of online shows in the absence of actual venues. In particular, this award acknowledges the efforts of the following online initiatives: the Online Fringe Festival, the BBC Lockdown Theatre Festival, Shedinburgh, Online@theSpaceUK, the Reading Fringe Festival, the Wandsworth Arts Fringe and the Thornhill Theatre Space Virtual Fringe Festival.
“Fanny and Stella”
The first ONEOFF acknowledges the first live “off west end” production since lockdown began back in March 2020. Against many odds, LAMBCO Productions opened “Fanny & Stella” at the Garden Theatre at the Eagle on 3 August 2020.