2017 was a whirlwind year for Middle Child, the award-winning theatre company founded in 2011 by University of Hull alumni. Its Hull UK City of Culture commission, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, wowed audiences at Welly before heading to Latitude Festival and selling out at Edinburgh Fringe. This was followed up with I Hate Alone, which toured pubs and clubs in Hull, and their annual Fruit pantomime, Cinderella.
This month, Middle Child welcomes new chairman and former Hull 2017 CEO Martin Green to its board of directors and joins Arts Council England’s national portfolio, alongside the likes of Hull Truck Theatre and Freedom Festival. This status ensures core funding until 2022 and now, with the security that brings, they are looking to inspire a new generation of artists in the city with the launch of a new development programme, Louder Than Words.
Actors, writers, directors and even aspiring critics will benefit from workshops, residencies and funding pots. There’s even a new library for those who enjoy reading theatre.
I spoke to artistic director, Paul Smith, about the company’s exciting plans.
What’s the inspiration behind the Louder Than Words programme and what are your ambitions for it?
Louder Than Words exists to ensure that artists in Hull are given top-class development opportunities across disciplines without needing to leave the city. We also want to put talented new artists at the centre of our own productions. This means that, when working with Middle Child, artists at all stages of their careers will be given opportunities to develop while actually making work, instead of undertaking hypothetical situations. You will see a direct link between the Louder Than Words programme and the people who are on our stages and working behind the scenes.
We have been directly inspired by the amazing work the New Diorama Theatre in London have been doing, proving that with a bit of creativity and a lot of passion you can make a real difference for artists.
What’s on offer for the people of Hull?
We want there to be something for everyone to get involved in, regardless of experience. We wish to put new voices in a room with established ones and take it from there. Whether you are – or want to become – an actor, a critic, a writer, a director, a musician or a maker there is something for you.
Our New Critics programme aims to improve discourse in the city, by giving two new critics a year the chance to participate in masterclasses with the best writers in the country, as well as free tickets for a number of shows to review.
For actors, we are resuming our Acting Gym and supporting new performers with our Career Kickstarter Fund, which covers the cost of head shots and a Spotlight subscription, as well as offering free audition workshops.
Writers will have a range of residencies to participate in, as well as our new Writer’s Group in association with the Royal Court, which will be led by the brilliant Tom Wells.
Directors, makers and musicians will have many chances to get involved with creative processes – from residencies to our annual Lock In short plays festival – as well as receiving financial support for the creation of new work, through both our Middle Child Match Fund and First Show Fund. We are also holding a number of introductory workshops designed to ensure more voices can be heard in Hull’s creative sector.
There is also our new Theatre Library, in association with Oberon Books and with support from Nick Hern Books and Paines Plough. The library is free to use for all Hull residents and offers access to the best modern plays, as well as a number of classics and theatre reference books.
Why is criticism important to theatre companies?
Proper discourse around work is vital for the development of any artist. We, as artists and as a city, need to feel comfortable discussing art – how it made us feel, how it relates to the world around us – and be aware that there are no wrong answers. Doing so will ensure that Hull continues to be considered a place for world-class culture.
Currently, theatre companies often have to go to Edinburgh Fringe to receive criticism from further afield, but we believe that shouldn’t be the only way. Anyone can have an opinion on a piece of art and in order to make work that is truly popular and progressive it is important that artists receive feedback from a diverse range of voices, not just the usual crowd of theatre writers. We want to encourage a more thorough, varied and democratic analysis of art here in Hull which will, in time, benefit the work being made.
Who are you looking to reach?
The whole programme is designed so that people from any discipline, with any level of experience and confidence can participate.
We don’t want the programme to be seen as only designed for people currently involved in theatre, and want to be clear that anyone in the city can get involved. We wish to put new voices in a room with established ones and take it from there.
Tell us about Darley’s, your current base.
It’s an old pub on the Thornton Estate, owned by the brilliant Goodwin Development Trust. We’ve worked out of a rehearsal room there for the past six years, but are now taking over the entire building and have already decorated, with the help of Crown Paints. It will become a theatre hub for Hull, full of new ideas, new opportunities and new ways of doing things. It will hold rehearsals, social events, showings and is of course home to our new library.
We have an unshakeable belief in the brilliant people living in Hull and want everyone to feel welcome to pop-in for a chat, have a cup of tea and make use of the facilities. 2017 proved that there is a real thirst for creative engagement in the city, and we want Darley’s to be the place where that feeling is encouraged and continues long into the future.
What else do Middle Child have coming up this year?
Lots! As well as Louder Than Words we’re also making three new gig theatre shows, working on touring All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, heading back to Latitude Festival and the Edinburgh Festival, as well as continuing with our regular quiz events and pantomime. Keep your eyes peeled for further details on all of that and much, much more!
Keep up to date with Middle Child and find out more about Louder Than Words.