Guest Blog: Barrel Organ

live 1
Joe from Barrel Organ talks to us ahead of LIVE1 – a new scratch night curated by Barrel Organ on Sun 24 April. 

In many ways we’ve been wanting to run some sort of scratch night for a long while. I think as much as we are interested in making work, a lot of the conversations we’ve been having as a group have been about the ways and means new work is created and shaped in the UK.

For many makers, artists and companies the liveness of theatre is what makes it so special – it certainly is for us. As we look to develop more work as a company it seemed important to be able to develop this and test it in front of an audience – it is after all the audience and the live form that we are so interested in, but is also such a difficult form to work towards and with. Especially if there are no spaces and places you can test your material and learn about it and discover how it is received.

There are a lot of great nights for new work in the UK- but a great deal of them centre around new writing. The problem with this is that, whilst in many ways there are lots of spaces and chances for new writing to be tested, I think for a lot of artists and companies, a text or a script is not the starting point.

New writing scratch nights can support writers to repeatedly shape and re-work a piece- but for artists and companies who ‘make’ work rather than ’write’ work it is also important to find spaces and places where this ‘live’ work can be tested. I say ‘live’ work because I think it is a form of work that fundamentally and necessarily needs an audience present and responsive in a way that written work may not necessarily need in the same way.

That’s not to say that the artists we’re interested in hearing from don’t write; don’t use a text; don’t make it an integral part of their work; rather it is simply another element in a broader form that includes a great deal of other performative elements. It is often these ‘non-script-based’ elements that require a great deal of care, time and, crucially (and where a night like LIVE can help) trial and error. Much as a new writing night can help shape a script, and night like LIVE can help shape a performance.

In caring so much about having the chance to actually test work and material in front of an audience, we also spoke a great deal about feedback. So many scratch nights I’ve been to and/or been a part of have seemed to tack on feedback, and the idea of feedback, to the end of the night- a scrap of paper or a scribbled email. We’re hoping to develop a range of different feedback forms, channels, approaches – whatever you want to call them, for the artists who perform as part of the LIVE nights. Hopefully in offering a broad range of feedback ‘channels’ to both the audience and artists/company then both groups can come together and have some good, worthwhile and mutually beneficial conversations about the work both parties have just either seen or performed. After all – surely that’s partly (if not fully) the point of a scratch night, to actually try something new and learn about it/learn how to maybe improve it.

We’ve got some mad ideas from massive boards for post-it-notes, to a pseudo-feedback-speed-dating (no actual painful speed-dating ‘fun fact swapping’ will actually take place) where the artists and the audience can actually chat about the work in a relaxed way and not simply leave feedback as one line on a form scribbled on at the end of a night. We’ll see. We’re still learning about how to run a night like this – so no doubt there’ll be all kinds of fun, games and steep learning curves for all involved. But we’re keen to see the night go on and on and change and develop. Hopefully see you there!

Join Barrel Organ and five other artists and companies at LIVE1, a new pay-what-you-can scratch  night, curated by our Associate Artists Barrel Organ.