Popular Theatre

Popular Theatre was a module at university. I didn’t take it. I studied unpopular theatre. It’s not that I’m AGAINST Popular Theatre, I’m very happy for theatre to be poplar, especially when it’s our theatre, but I value more highly theatre that sets other priorities above popularity.

All Our Money, a show dramatising Birmingham City Council’s budget, is our attempt at Popular Theatre. The challenge was to take an unlikely subject and make it as popular as possible, so this piece is fast and funny and clear. It uses no special lights or set and is designed to be performed anywhere.

Dominic, who is producing the project has been hounding venues around the city to make sure that this show about local democracy visits as many different places as possible.

We start tonight at The Warehouse in Digbeth where our friends at Friends of the Earth are running a Buy Two Get One offer in which people buy their own ticket and donate another to someone who can’t afford it. The show is just 50 minutes long and we hope this will allow time for people to talk with each afterwards.

Tomorrow we have two performances for Year 11 in Saltley Academy. Theatre companies are known to support elements of the Personal, Social and Health Education curriculum. We’re there to help deliver the Local Democracy elements of their Citizenship Curriculum – what a visionary school! We also have a private performance for Applied Theatre students from Birmingham City University.

As the tour progresses we start visiting community centres and youth clubs in Handsworth, Quinton, Sutton Coldfield and Ladywood. We are mixing lunchtime and evening performances for people out of work and in work.

Unusually the tour includes two swimming baths. Our first visit to Stirchley Baths and a return to Moseley Road Baths, site of 1993’s Canute The King. On that occasion we performed on and in the water of the main pool – we’re hoping for an altogether drier experience this time.

We are experimenting with performing in venues that may more usually have music or comedy acts. On Thursday we ‘return’ to the New Irish Centre in Kings Heath (which wasn’t the site of our rock musical Lurid and Insane – that was at the old Irish Centre). On Wednesday we visit the nightclub Sector 57 in Deritend. On Sunday we return to our old stomping ground of the Jewellery Quarter for a performance at 1000 Trades bar after an afternoon performance at the home of our friends Purbanat CIC in Small Heath. Next week we are at the Legacy Centre of Excellence in Newtown before the tour concludes with a gig at The Attic in Stirchley which has already sold out.

Perhaps the tour’s most glamorous gigs are at The Exchange on Centenary Square, almost opposite The REP, which is where you would more conventionally expect to find us. We’re there because our research for the show has been aided by the City-REDI team, who are part of the Business School at University of Birmingham and this is their high profile city centre venue.

Dominic is performing his own mini-version of the show as he tries balance its budget. The Sir Barry Jackson Trust have helped subsidise the tour. Birmingham City Council’s Neighbourhood Development Support Unit have paid for the Stirchley Baths and Ladywood gigs. The University of Birmingham have helped with The Exchange. For other gigs we are relying on box-office takings and here and there we’re just asking for donations. Hopefully, just like the budget we are dramatising, it will all balance out in the end. More importantly, hopefully it will prove to be popular Popular Theatre.

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