First Art’s first event: National Theatre of Wales seminar

Date published: 27 Jan 2014

Posted by: Alison Denholm

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A dark Wednesday night saw the City Arts team set out on an adventure into Creative People and Places territory. After a few wrong turns we found our way to Cresswell Craggs, host for the evening, and partner for the First Art Creative People and Places consortium. The purpose of our trip – a seminar with Devinda Da Silva, Head of Collaboration with the National Theatre of Wales.

The National Theatre of Wales have been responsible for some of the most exciting and innovative outdoor and site specific theatre of recent years. Their approach is uniquely collaborative, with cast and crew being drawn from professional and local people, as well as digging into the histories and stories of the locality to inspire the narrative. Their most celebrated production to date was with Michael Sheen in the great Welsh town of Port Talbut, whose famous sons also include Sir Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton. The Port Talbut Passion was a 72 hour event that embraced all of the town and its inhabitants, with an online and viral presence as active as the unfolding live event.

National Theatre of Wales are not limited to one place or one idea, and in their first year produced 13 plays in 13 months, spanning the length and breadth of Wales. Their stories and events are rooted in the community that is hosting them, with individuals’ personal histories often being the inspiration and starting point for poignant and relevant storytelling.

Behind the productions is a support structure for anyone to get involved, benefit from being involved in the events and foster their own ideas. The National Theatre of Wales TEAM is a growing network of people who have been involved, have inspired ideas and who feed into the development and vision of NTW. This TEAM supports individuals to develop their own ideas, and even offers mini bursaries to get ideas off the ground.

An equally interesting innovation is NTW ASSEMBLIES, with the strap-line ‘ideas + assembly = change’. This is a chance for people to come together, debate and challenge ideas in and out of the arts – assembly topics have included ‘What is the state of Mental Health Provision in Wales?’ and ‘Where should our energy come from?’ The ongoing aim of these sessions is to bring people together, talk, debate and create.

This holistic approach to producing work ensures that NTW productions have a story to tell that is of its locality and the people who live there. It also means that once the NTW circus leaves town there are solid networks in place that can encourage individual self-expression, foster a sense of community and build creative collaborations for the future.

As Lynn Barber of the Guardian observed in her review of the Passion:

“National Theatre Wales has always framed itself as a community, and this was community in action.”

Photo by National Theatre Wales