The Theatrical Spectrum: Privilege And Pressure

By Ethan Taylor, Stagedoor Team.

On their website, Old Sole Theatre Company refer to something they call the ‘theatrical spectrum’. This is something that most are aware of but still like to pretend does not exist; theatre’s overwhelming tendency to categorise and pigeonhole. This is a musical. This is a ‘straight’ play. This is mainstream. This is fringe. Looking to see a comedy? Will that be satirical, political, restoration, bedroom, surrealist, deadpan, farcical, physical or improvisational? There are frankly more genres in theatre than there are celebrity castings.

So the real question is, where does Old Sole sit on this theatrical spectrum? In their own words:

“The answer is — we don’t.”

HOMESTEAD, Old Sole

While categorising and labelling theatre can be beneficial in terms of the marketing of it, it can also be inhibiting to companies like Old Sole who have ‘an insatiable appetite for creation and possibility.’

Speaking to their Executive Producer, Darius Thompson, ahead of the opening of their latest show, Glockenspiel, he tells me about why they created the company in the first place:

“By forming a company, with a name and a logo, suddenly you have a home. You have an ethos at the foundations, you develop a style and a taste.”

The last thing a company should want is that their ethos be tampered with in order to conform to the wider strictures of the industry. And there lies the problem; the term ‘industry’.

Working in a creative capacity within a body that refers to itself as an ‘industry’ can lead to, according to Darius, ‘losing the spark of imagination and the boundless pool of empathy that are essential in making art.’

But Old Sole are ready and equipped to combat the workings of the industry as their creative process well shows.

“Our way of developing work is fluid and adapts to what the piece requires and who is involved. One project will begin around a piano whilst another begins during a ‘heated discussion’ in a pub. We love working with text, sound and music, seeing how they blend and clash.”

Such processes have helped them create incredibly varied pieces tackling a diverse range of issues from the American military and ‘terror’ to inequality within theatre itself. And here the driving force behind their ethos really comes into play. Their pledge to ‘readdress the gender imbalance in theatre’ has seen each of their projects have at least as many women as men (if not, more) on the production team, crew and cast as well as creating and curating The Unapologetic Feminist Festival.

Glockenspiel, Old Sole

For Old Sole’s team of ‘three young, white, university-educated men with all of the privileges and pressures that this entails’ this was about following the advice of a mentor and making sure that they:

‘“Check our privilege” and use it.’

With women making up only 36% of the actors employed across ten of the country’s top theatres (including The National, the RSC, the Curve and the Royal Court) as recently as 2013 it is great to see young companies such as Old Sole leading the way in combatting gender inequality. And their latest production, Glockenspiel, is to be no different. With a predominantly female company of performers the show promises to offer an ‘ambitious and challenging look at America and its relationship with its armed forces.’ This production is certainly looking like one not to be missed!

Old Sole are living in the future and looking at the present to catch up. Here stands an exciting new theatre company that refuses to be pigeonholed, producing bold and challenging new work whilst affecting great change in the ‘industry’ from the inside out.

Glockenspiel runs at The Tristan Bates Theatre from January 4 th — 14 th . Tickets are available at:

https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/glockenspiel

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