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 email@example.com 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.
At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021, there was a significant reduction in the number of shows, with the majority of venues deciding either not to take the risk, or to take a limited risk with a small number of shows. This meant that many companies & artists wouldn’t have an opportunity to perform in either 2020 or 2021.
theSpaceUK was one of the few venues to provide artists & companies with a platform for their work either in-person or online. At an early stage, they took the risk of building venues, creating a programme, and supporting companies in producing their work. It was a huge risk, and they were at the forefront of helping the UK’s weakened arts sector back on its feet. With support from ScotGov, the city council and their venue partners at Surgeons Quarter, they jointly took the risk to make something happen.
They built a platform for both in-person and online shows, using the last twelve months to help develop their online presence and ensure that shows were supported throughout. They offered a nominal fee to online companies to be part of our platform, Online@theSpaceUK, helping ensure that they received support without breaking the bank.
In this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, theSpaceUK accounted for 25% of all tickets sold with sales of 64,000 tickets. They hosted 65 In-Person shows and 25 Online shows with an average capacity of 78% (a record for the Fringe).
theSpaceUK worked with the media in a collaborative approach – they had an open door policy to build positive relationships with people who give freely of their time to review shows. They supported publications & reviewers by welcoming them to their press launch, providing a physical programme, press releases, images, hot-desks, and wifi. theSpaceUK shows received over 500 reviews.
They also adopted a cautious and concerned approach to the safety of audiences. Venues were completely redesigned to ensure that social distancing precautions were at the very heart of the audience experience.
This OneOff recognises that theSpaceUK have had a very special month, which is a testament to the appetite, passion and commitment shown by their staff, performing companies and audiences. theSpaceUK family should be proud that they pioneered the return of live theatre at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021.
Footprints Festival at Jermyn Street Theatre
OffWestEnd is delighted to make a OneOff award to the Jermyn Street Theatre for their ambitious and successful Footprints Festival held almost immediately the lockdown restrictions began to be removed, from 17 May to 1 August. Footprints presented over 40 productions encompassing drama, music, poetry, and comedy. For in person audiences, they maintained social distancing but they also enabled audiences to watch from home as they live-streamed every single event. Overall, the statistics are impressive:
- 22 world premieres including full productions and scratch nights
- Over 110 freelance artists appearing on stage
- Over 90 freelance artists working in creative and production roles
- A team of 25 freelancers working behind the scenes producing, marketing, production and stage managing, and filming
- Almost all of the 15 Jermyn St Theatre Creative Associates wrote, directed, or starred in productions
- Around 2000 At Home (streaming) tickets were bought
- Over 3000 In Theatre tickets were bought
In addition, 10 of the short run theatre and cabaret shows received an OffFest award (see https://offies.london/offfest-fringe-festival-award/ for details), and there were 5 Offie nominations for “Lone Flyer” one of the longer run productions presented during the festival.
Little Angel Theatre for their online programme during the pandemic
“This is how you build an entire generation of theatre goers without a theatre”
OffWestEnd is delighted to make a OneOff award to the Little Angel Theatre for their highly successful effort to make an impact online in the light of the Covid pandemic. Since they closed their doors during the first lockdown in March 2020, Little Angel Theatre has been providing free content via their YouTube Channel as part of their Watch Make and Share programme, which has included 26 digital puppetry shorts, 73 video stories, 95 craft-making videos/activity packs, 2 digital series (over 50 episodes in total) and 2 shows (for YouTube’s “12 Days of Christmas Culture” Festival).
They have had over 1 million views on their own channel since lockdown and an additional 112,000 views of their content hosted on partner sites (e.g. Clever Cakes – a finalist for the OnComm award – on the Michael Rosen YouTube channel. Their subscribers have soared from 900 at the start of the pandemic to almost 14,500. They have had around 48,000 watch hours (the equivalent of 5.5 years of viewing) from 95 countries.
Their work has been featured on the BBC news website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/entertainment-arts-52583126/making-puppet-theatres-from-lockdown-parcel-packaging as well as in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Metro, Evening Standard and the i.
Responses to their work include “Fantastic, imaginative performances to help us, and our kids, get through lockdown” and “It is incredible the joy that your theatre brings, and inspiration to children and adults alike.” One local parent has said “Throughout lockdown, Little Angel Theatre managed to keep the arts alive by creating beautiful, high quality and captivating shows that kept thousands of little ones (and their families!) entertained.”
Their online work with local schools has also been important – one local school has commented “When we first went into lockdown in 2020, the theatre was quick to adapt shows and teaching resources so that they could be accessed online – some shows were live and others were recorded. Their website had great resources that tied in well with our Art and D&T curriculum and provided a great platform for teachers to use. These were used by schools across the borough.”
An extraordinary online achievement by one of OffWestEnd’s smallest theatres.
You can visit Little Angel Theatre on their YouTube Channel:
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.