Today marks 21 years since Theatre-Rites premiered its very first production, Houseworks, as part of Out of LIFT.
It all began after I met Penny Bernand, an artist and director of young people's theatre, who wanted to change the way children experienced live performance. We sat on her sofa and talked about how wonderful it would be to create a site-specific show in a normal house for under- fives. We wanted to create work, which was as carefully crafted as some of the work being made for adults at the time. Then we laughed and thought it would never happen. Only a week later Penny met with LIFT who were seeking such a project!
Shortly afterwards, The Young Vic approached us asking if we could take the object/puppetry and installation approach we had used on Houseworks, to create a show for their theatre space. This became our first touring Show, The Lost and Moated Land. Since that memorable time, regardless of the fact that I was challenged by an immune disorder and Penny was battling cancer, Theatre-Rites continued to create work in the UK and internationally for young audiences that stirred the imagination and stimulated thought; constantly trying to re-define what theatre, which includes children in its audience, could be.
Penny sadly died in 2001 but she was very clear that she wanted the company to continue with its mission to create work, which would stimulate young peoples imagination. Fourteen theatre shows and 12 site-specific shows later I can honestly say it has been a thrilling and inspiring journey.
We are hugely grateful for our Arts Council NPO funding and deeply thankful for the co-producers, commissioners and funders who have embraced our mission and ignited so many wonderful productions with us.
The aim was always to create work, which had ritual at its heart and celebrated the power of visuals to bring people, especially children, and ideas together. This has allowed us to liberate ourselves from the constraints of existing commercial successes and set scripts. We have been able to enjoy and enhance the skills of cross art-form, cross-cultural and cross-generational approaches. It has meant we have collaborated with a stunning array of people including our Associate Artists (with special mention to Sophia Clist), actors, puppeteers (including our regular collaborator Mohsen Nouri), visual artists, dancers, choreographers, musicians, beatboxers, poets, installation artists, designers, film artists, animators, technicians, production managers (with thanks to Simon Sturgess), producers, administrators, Boad Members, scientists, psychoanalysts, economists, charity workers, social workers and educationalists. I thank them all for being so generous and inspiring. It has been such a joyful and rewarding experience to collaborate with you all.
Of course, most importantly, we wish to thank the thousands of audiences who have embraced our work. It feels like it is more important than ever to respect young people and offer them access to the power of creativity at its best. As we saw last week, if we inspire and recognise young people they are an amazing force.
So on our 21st birthday I want to say the biggest thank you to everyone who has contributed to the success of the company and to our ever-changing audience of young people and the adults with them, for coming along.
We are now approaching our 27th show - The Welcoming Party - which celebrates inclusivity on so many levels. Please come and see it in Manchester and celebrate with us.
Much love and many, many thanks
Theatre-Rites Artistic Director
The Welcoming Party is co-commissioned by the Manchester International Festival, Theatre-rites, Z-arts and the Ruhrtriennale Festival.