Live Lab at The Yard Theatre: An interview with associate director Cheryl Gallagher
The Yard Theatre is launching an exciting new programme, called Live Lab, that will provide invaluable support to directors looking to expand their knowledge and gain practical experience in the field. Live Lab is a four-month paid opportunity for six artists who will take part in workshops and masterclasses and then have the chance to devise new work.
We spoke with The Yard’s newly appointed Associate Director Cheryl Gallacher who, sharing the role with Anthony Simpson-Pike, will provide mentorship to the participating artists. She explained to us how the role of director is more fluid than generally believed, revealed what she believes makes a director truly outstanding, and opened up about the challenges of artists during the pandemic.
What would you say is the mission of The Yard Theatre?
The mission of The Yard is to produce ambitious new work that tells stories in new and innovative ways. This is why The Yard’s programming includes theatre, live art, performance, nightlife and work by artists working with local young people.
What’s Live Lab’s approach to directing?
For us at The Yard, a “director” is someone who leads a team of people to make a show for a live audience. They may work with a writer, or they may not. They may work with actors, or people who have never performed before. We believe a director is someone with a strong idea and vision for a show, who can communicate a story and simultaneously embrace the live potential of theatre. With Live Lab, this year we opened the call-out to a wide range of artists – not just those who call themselves directors. This is because The Yard doesn’t just work with artists who work in theatre, but also performance, live art and nightlife, so we wanted to open up this opportunity to those who don’t necessarily have directing experience but have the potential to make strong, exciting work. Live Lab aims to challenge and redefine their existing practice, whilst supporting artists involved to strengthen their directing skills with text and collaborators. We’ve also provided budget and resources for each artist to research and develop an idea, which they will work on throughout the programme.
What, in your opinion, makes a director exceptional?
Instinctively I feel like an exceptional director is someone who makes work that is unmistakably theirs – where, over a period of time, there are certain themes, or ideas, or aesthetics running through the work, so that as an audience member you experience something they’ve made and go, “That’s by so and so.” It’s also someone who can embrace what is live about theatre, and make that a strong part of the work. I also feel that the way they treat other people is important – they need to be respectful and trusting of others, with an approach that is firm and fair.
The programme was set up in memory of Howard Davies. What would you say are the most valuable lessons that can be drawn from his legacy?
His kindness is a valuable lesson. When we were preparing the course, we spoke to a range of people who knew Howard. All of the conversations mentioned this, including his “360-degree approach,” which involved treating everyone on a production with respect, and where even those with the smallest role felt included and an important part of the creative process.
This is a time of uncertainty for most industries, but the performing arts are facing a particularly challenging moment. What’s your message to those who are just starting out in this field and who may feel discouraged?
It must feel very tough to be starting out in theatre right now. It’s difficult to know what to say, and I don’t think a simple message of “keep going” will be sufficient or useful to those facing real challenges. I personally feel angry and frustrated by how young people have been treated before and during this pandemic by wider society. As a theatre sector, we need to listen deeply to what this generation of artists need, and think hard about how we can support them – otherwise we are going to lose people, particularly those who can’t afford to work within it. This is one of the reasons why, for Live Lab, we offered a bursary of £1,200 to each artist taking part. With the cost of living still being so high and income streams for artists drying up, it feels important to give artists the resources to afford the time to learn, as well as the opportunity itself.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Working with artists and young people, The Yard staff team… hearing and developing interesting ideas on and off stage.
What does The Yard have in store for audiences in 2021 (pandemic permitting)?
The first part of 2021, while we’re still locked down, will see us focus on supporting artists to develop and create new ideas – through Live Lab, of course, and also a programme of Live Drafts, and our Young Artists programme for young people aged 4-19. But we can’t wait to be making work again for audiences, whether in our theatre, our bar or our two community centres. We hope to do this as soon as we can so watch this space!
In 2020 you organised The Yard Online festival. Do you think digital platforms are worth exploring further, even with live performances resuming, or is online theatre just a last resort when no other option exists?
I don’t think it’s a case of either/or. Both live performance and online performance offer different things, and I think, as The Yard, we’ve discovered brilliant things through Yard Online. Of course, the specialness of theatre is its ability to bring people together in the same physical space, while with digital, artists can try new approaches to making art and engaging with audiences that are super exciting and innovative.
There was no shortage of obstacles this year, but did you encounter any silver linings as a company?
One silver lining was definitely Yard Online. It involved singing Total Eclipse of the Heart on Zoom with artist Christopher Green, dancing on Animal Crossing with nightlife collective Eastern Margins, doing a work-out for the apocalypse, led by Marikiscrycrycry, and holding Stacy Makishi’s hand as part of a one-on-one performance over the phone. Another silver lining was the Freelance Taskforce. As the theatre was unable to put on shows, we had more space and time to really learn from and listen to the feedback and learnings harvested by freelancers. It was great to be able to look at and review our systems, processes and ways of working to support freelancers better in the future.
Why is it important to support theatres at this time?
I think theatres have enormous civic potential, and at their best, become important spaces to the lives of people who live locally. At The Yard, we have a Local programme, which is about artists working with children and young people in school and beyond – and it’s a vital part of our programme. We also run two community spaces: Hub67 in Hackney Wick and The Hall in East Village. Both venues offer space for community provision, including but not limited to a food bank and fitness/wellbeing classes run by local people. With the pandemic forcing all of us to have a stronger relationship with our immediate community, it’s a useful time for us in theatres to review the relationship. I think theatres can do two things: one – listen deeply to their local communities, recognise the culture that already exists and provide space for that, and two – provide opportunities that are designed and led by artists in response to people’s needs.
For further information about The Yard Theatre and future events visit here.