News - Red Ladder Theatre Company

Red Ladder Theatre Company

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GOOD NEWS: RED LADDER IS BACK

Having postponed our latest touring production My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored in 2020 due to Covid restrictions, we are delighted to tell you that we’re back on and opening in our home city of Leeds in November
2021.

My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored was developed as part of a year-long writing commission for Manchester’s Box Of Tricks Theatre and staged as a rehearsed reading at HOME, Manchester, in January 2020 where our Artistic Director, Rod Dixon, was part of an invited audience.

“I felt that it was such an important piece of work exploring race and identity; it thrusts the audience into the centre of a discussion and asks ‘if you see something you do not agree with, do you intervene?’ says Rod.

The stage debut of writer Nana-Kofi Kufuor; My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored is an interrogation of black identity for which he has drawn on his own experience growing up in Stockport with Ghanian parents and working in education with young people from a range of backgrounds.

“The crux of this play is how two people react to the same situation,” Kofi explains. “They go on a journey, a journey a lot of people of colour go on, a realisation that where you are now isn’t necessarily where you come from.”

My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored opens with 15-year-old Reece (Jelani D’Aguilar) being roughly accosted by police. His young, Black teacher Gillian (Misha Duncan-Barry) witnesses it all but doesn’t question or intervene as the disturbing scene plays out. The consequences of her lack of action erupt the following day when Gillian finds herself locked in a classroom with Reece.

Director Dermot Daly says: “I was really taken by the conceit and breadth of themes and ideas. Thematically it’s huge, but ostensibly it’s about the meaning and creation of identity which is something that affects us all. Neither character is who they want to be but both appear to be trapped, robbed of agency, this perception in them and hopefully of the audience shifts quite dramatically as we progress. Worry not, there are a few gags in there.”

“For five decades Red Ladder has been producing new writing by voices whose work is often unheard,” Rod concludes. “So we’re very excited to be working with Nana-Kofi Kufuor on a piece borne of a real life experience.”

Opens at Leeds Playhouse on 11th – 13th November then on tour.

Book Here>>



Update: My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored postponed tour

Due to the government announcement that West and South Yorkshire will go into Tier 3 restrictions, meaning that all indoor entertainment and tourist venues must close, it is with great sadness that Red Ladder is unable to tour our new production My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored.

Rod Dixon, artistic director of Red Ladder Theatre Company said,

While this is the news that none of us wanted, we are proud of our cast and creative team, company and freelance staff who have worked incredibly hard to create this new production. Whether adapting to making this new work in a Covid-secure rehearsal room or working remotely, everyone has put an incredible amount of time, passion, dedication and hard work into bringing Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s powerful debut play to life.

More than anything we wish that circumstances were different and that we were welcoming our audiences on tour of our new show. We press on with hope and optimism to bring this work to the stage in 2021 – and Red Ladder stands in solidarity with all our fellow theatre-makers in these difficult times. We hope our audiences stay safe and well

Director Dermot Daly added,

Whilst this clearly isn’t what we had in mind when we started on this project we have, during this period, done something remarkable and proven the viability, value, and virtue of theatre and storytelling.

An amazing cast coupled with a nuanced and beautifully rich script complemented by the most dedicated, hardworking, and talented creative team has created something, that, when it’s seen by a wider audience (and it will) will do all of the things that good storytelling should do.

Persevering – as many of our colleagues have – through this period has proven just how resilient and adaptable our wider industry is and can be.

If you have bought tickets for any of the venues on the tour dates, they will be in contact.


Introducing Nana-Kofi Kufuor

English-Ghanaian writer Nana-Kofi Kufuor is the writer behind My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored, a gripping new play which Red Ladder Theatre Company is producing for its world premiere tour. Find out more as we caught up with Kofi during rehearsals of our new production.

What inspired you to write My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored?

I worked at the PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) and once had a student try to take a knife to stab another student. Once I’d calmed him down, we sat in the canteen and he explained to me he wasn’t going to go quietly. The police were outside and they took him. I saw him a few weeks later, and he asked why I didn’t help him. That rush of guilt changed to anger and then quickly to sympathy as he saw me as his protector. But I knew I couldn’t do anything.

Please tell us about My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored in your own words.

There’s a continuous debate between black people in this country – how much of ourselves do we actually know? How much of ourselves do we give up to fit in? My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored is about the argument of blackness, and who gets to define it. It’s basically about being black and having to navigate all spaces.

On one side black people almost code to fit in. The other side of that is black people that feel like they can be themselves and want to enlighten other black people, free them of that societal burden. This play enters those ideas in an almost frenetic manner.

Both characters represent me in a way – Gillian represents the younger version of me that was more hesitant to engage in politics or to see the world for what it really is. Reece represents aspects of me now, where I have read up on my history and cultures and I am more vocal and engage in black activism. They represent different viewpoints, but they are two sides of the same coin.

If you could use three words to describe Gillian and Reece what would they be?

To describe Gillian I would say guarded, aware and tired. Reece is self-assured, witty and cocky. By the end of the piece you could argue the words would be switched. Gillian helps Reece understand a lot and vice-versa, but Gillian already knows these things; she has learnt the ability to code-switch and fade into the background to fit in. They both go on a journey, a journey a lot of people of colour, or people from different places, go on – a realisation that where you are now isn’t necessarily where you come from.

How important to you was it to have authenticity in these characters?

Every play strives to be authentic and this one is no different – the language is massively important for this piece. Reece cannot sensor himself. It wouldn’t work, you’d feel he is holding back. He would be holding back for the some of the audience who may be offended by some of the language. It would negate the whole point of the play, the whole point of his character, his arc, who he is and what he is trying to explain to Gillian.

Working with Box of Tricks [Kofi was a year-long writer-on-attachment with the company] helped when I was developing the play; they let me be free. They never once said this may offend or can you tone it down. That helped me keep some raw anger and energy.

What are your cultural influences and main inspirations on your creative work?

My mother and big sister have shaped my outlook on life. My mother worked two jobs when I was a kid, and she was always happy, always laughing and joking. She loved tv shows like Keeping Up Appearances and Only Fools and Horses and Last of The Sumer Wine. Now I’m older and look back, I feel like this was her way of acclimatising to a completely different culture from her own as Ghanaians. My big sister Mammy also taught me I would say my outlook, and I also think I get my temperament from her.

My culture influences have to come from my family in general; it was almost like being in two worlds growing up. We had Ghana in the house – the food, the language, the rules, and then outside I had Stockport, which has less rules. I would say my writing influences if honest do not come from theatre but from films, especially what would be considered world cinema. I owe my writing style to my favourite teacher Julia Wilde from Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form college who introduced me to films like City Of God, La Haine, London To Brighton, Once We Warriors. The films she showed me were about people from those countries, but their stories are rarely told as people of colour or different religious backgrounds or working-class people. It showed me my voice was important and I could write the stories of people I know or have interacted with or things I’d seen, and people would care

As an exciting new voice in theatre, how have you found your experiences of the industry so far?

An exciting new voice? Hahahahaha, no pressure! I originally had no intention of writing theatre until I met Suzanne Bell at the Royal Exchange Theatre, who insisted theatre was for everyone. She kept hammering home the idea that all voices needed to be heard.  Eventually I joined a writer’s group she had in the summer of 2018, and the rest is history. Oldham Coliseum have taken me under their wing and given me advice and space to write and help. I’m always learning but I haven’t really changed my style that much.

Is there an intention you hope for the production of My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored?

If I say what I hope people will take-away from this, I would be doing a disservice to the play. There are so many themes and everyone will take away something different. The only thing that I ask is that no one watch it and say it was okay, because then it hasn’t done its job. I would much rather someone say “bloody hell, Black Lives Matter again, I saw it on Britain’s Got Talent too”. That shows you had a reaction and a connection. I want people to feel something when watching this, positive or negative – otherwise it hasn’t done its job. I just hope people come with an open mind. I want them to come up to me after and say I didn’t like this, or I loved this. I’m not precious about my work in the sense I want to invoke a reaction, otherwise why write?

To book tickets for My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored and for tour updates, click here.



Join our board!

We are looking for new people to help play a part in shaping our future by joining our existing Board of Trustees!

Update: We have now closed applications to join our Board, but we’re still searching for a new Chair (please see below).

We want people from all backgrounds, communities, and experiences to be part of Red Ladder, both in terms of how the company is run and in the stories that we tell.

We know that lots of people aren’t really sure what being on a board of trustees means or what the requirements are – so if you haven’t been on a board before, please don’t let that put you off! We have created a pack with all the information you need and also a bit about our current board members. 👇

Also our current Chair, Tessa, is looking to step down after six years, so we are also looking for someone in particular to take over this key role, to co-ordinate and lead decision-making on behalf of the Board at this crucial and exciting time. We have another pack below if you are interested in our Chair role. 👇

Interested?

If you are interested in coming on board then get in touch! When you do, we would love you to consider these three questions:

• Who are you?
• Why does the role interest you/what would you like to achieve from being part of the Red Ladder board?
• What relevant skills or experience do you have that you would bring to the board?

We would expect no more than a couple of sentences for each question. You can provide links to existing work/CV or social media profiles if that helps to introduce yourself and give us a sense of your past work and experience.

You can send these answers over by email to chris@redladder.co.uk. Or if you could prefer to record a video or audio file, or send your answers to these questions in any other format then just get in touch.

There is no official deadline for getting in touch – we are hoping to go through a ‘rolling’ process of recruitment from October 2020 – March 2021.

Next Steps

Once you’ve got in touch, we’ll organise a short informal chat – 30 mins on video conferencing software at a time to suit all parties. This will be with a member of the existing board and/or staff team to hear a little more about what is involved, discuss the current priorities of the board and the role in more detail.

If we feel like it’s the right fit for both parties, then we’ll invite you to come to a board meeting, so you can make sure you are happy before officially joining the board.For more details on the induction process for new board members, visit our website: redladder.co.uk/about/governance

For more details on the induction process for new board members, visit our website: redladder.co.uk/about/governance


New Commissions, New Beginnings!

It’s September time: new beginnings are brewing, and hope is in the air. There’s no denying that this is a difficult time for our industry, but we have some good news to share with you! We are thrilled to announce our support of two brilliant Emerging Writers…

It is with huge pride that we announce our latest commission – ‘My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored’ by emerging playwright Nana-Kofi Kufuor!

In January this year, Rod attended a rehearsed reading of Nana-Kofi’s play ‘My Voice Was Heart But It Was Ignored’ as part of Box of Tricks’ PlayBox Writers’ Scheme. Since then, Red Ladder has been working closely with Kofi to develop the piece further. 

It is our pleasure to announce that, despite the uncertainties of Covid-19, we have been able to move forward with plans to commission Nana-Kofi to produce his hard-hitting first play!

Nana-Kofi’s writing is influenced by his experiences growing up in Stockport with Ghanaian parents, alongside his background working in educational provisions. ‘My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored’ is a gripping and eye-opening two-hander that explores black identity in a highly racialised world. Tensions are played out in real time via a fraught confrontation between a black teacher and student, locked in a classroom together, after the student is violently apprehended by the police.

We are so excited to develop this work with Kofi, and can’t wait to share further news about the production with you soon. Watch this space!

We are also delighted to announce our support of emerging writer Bea Webster as part of a partnership with Sphinx Theatre Company.

Red Ladder is one of fifteen Partners working with Sphinx Theatre to launch the Sphinx Lab: a brand new writers’ development programme for female playwrights.

We have nominated Bea Webster to take part in the programme, which will support fifteen female playwrights to receive a £1000 seed commission and attend the Lab, which aims to equip female playwrights with the information, skills and dramaturgy necessary to support the advancement of their careers.

Bea is a familiar face to Red Ladder, having played Kattrin in our 2018 production of ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ – a role for which she was a Best Actress nominee in The Stage Debut Award 2019. Her previous writing includes ‘House of Ladies’ for On The Verge festival at the Citizens Theatre, and her published poem ‘Long Lost Lover’, which is written both in BSL and English. We are thrilled to be supporting Bea to further develop her craft!


Defining Red Ladder – with a little help!

Over the past year, we have been fortunate to work with the multi-national award-winning media agency M&C Saatchi, following securing in-kind marketing and communications support alongside our 2019 production of ‘Glory’ – in conjunction with the Home Office’s ‘Building a Stronger Britain’ initiative. The bulk of this support has involved staff training, planning sessions, and scoping out a new social media strategy. 

We had some really exhilarating and thoughtful discussions surrounding Red Ladder: what we want to achieve, who we want to connect with and how we want others to view us. It was heartening to learn the like-mindedness of the entire team, who rallied behind a handful of cornerstone attitudes and ideologies that we believe make Red Ladder – well – Red Ladder!!

A culminating project has been the production of two wonderfully reflective videos encapsulating these discussions. Both short films engagingly tell Red Ladder’s story, from different perspectives, succinctly conveying our mission, and celebrating all that we do and intend to build on.

Whilst we wait with bated breath for our industry to emerge from the grasp of Covid-19, we are delighted to share these films with you in the meantime. We invite you to join us as we appreciate the successes of the past, encourage hope for the future, and look forward to a time when we can welcome live audiences back to our shows once more.

We give you: ‘We Are Red Ladder’…

You can find the second video, ‘Support Red Ladder’, on our Why Support Us page.


Making Smile Club: A Performer’s Perspective on Whelan Recording Technique

By Andrea Heaton

At the beginning of March (remember those carefree days?) I opened Smile Club at Leeds Playhouse, written by Adam Z. Robinson and myself, produced by Red Ladder Theatre, and directed by Rod Dixon.

Adam and I spent months carefully crafting the Smile Club story, with expert guidance from dramaturg Lindsey Rodden. Back in R&D we decided that Smile Club could and should be a one woman show. By the time we’d completed the script there were a total of 6 different character voices.

In the run up to rehearsals Rod spoke about his plan to use the Whelan Recording Technique (if you know Rod you may have heard the pitch!). I had watched one of Rod’s workshops on Whelan but didn’t have any first-hand experience. Broadly speaking the technique involves reading through the text to identify where the gear shifts happen then splitting it into manageable units. Then working through one unit at a time we recorded and, leaving the script to the side, played back the dialogue a total of 5 times. Rod is strong advocate of the technique from a director’s point of view so I thought I’d offer my perspective of the process from the stage.

Stage 1: Play back. The first play back is about listening and responding emotionally to the text. What is happening to the character(s) emotionally in this scene? What is the driving energy? This was hard at first, the temptation to ‘do’ is massive especially as the only person on stage. This was further complicated by playing multiple roles, often in the same scene. However as we worked through the play I really enjoyed the opportunity to just listen, to momentarily visualise the story from the outside- not ordinarily an option for a solo performer!

Stage 2: Finding the scene in the space. During week one we had a taped footprint of the stage and from week two Emma Williams beautiful set. I have always been more confident vocally than physically on stage so give me a script and I will hang onto that thing like a life raft. Stage 2 allowed me to make the stage space my own, develop conventions in the way each character inhabited it and the further we progressed through the script, have an increasing sense of what might work well.

Stage 3: Mapping the scene. This is the point of realising how much you’re taking in. Bringing together the emotional and physical movement through the space the 3rd playback is followed by talking through everything that the character is doing in the third person. Again an opportunity to take an outside perspective on my solo performance: assess what was working, and discuss that with the director. Often I would find myself vocalising intentions and sub text that I hadn’t previously considered which in turn fed into the next recording and ultimately the final performance.

Stage 4: Improvisation. After listening to the fourth recording, listening and walking/mapping it on set the task was to improvise the scene. I have to admit this was sometimes quite hard, as the writer I found letting go of ‘getting the words wrong’ difficult- I’d spent so much time with the script. As we got further through the play I got better at relaxing into this stage. The sense of achievement performing the scene off book, without standing on stage with a script in my hand once, was amazing.

Stage 5: Consolidating. This final stage brings everything together. A chance to cement everything you’ve learnt about the character journey, how to operate in the space, and the key moments in the text before beginning the process all over again for the next unit. Returning to scenes a week later I had retained way more that I think I would have done otherwise.

Whelan recording technique really worked for me. I felt trusted in my instincts and in a genuinely collaborative process with Rod as the director. Working this way allowed me to put down the script, and my role as writer. The emotional, physical, and storytelling journey was tightly knitted together from the start, giving me an invaluable map as an actor. The Whelan structure gave me the freedom to explore and push my performance further than I had thought possible. Working with Rod was a real pleasure, he helped me understand and interrogate the technique and brought out the best in my performance.

Due to the current global situation Smile Club is on hold. We hope it will open its doors again, and we hope you will all come and join the club.


Smile Club – A Warning for Tomorrow?

Meet Lisa, a Smile Club attendee. Lisa’s been through it all and she now knows – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that nobody likes a girl who makes a fuss; nobody likes a girl who can’t take a joke. She knows too, that life is simpler when you let things go. And she certainly has. All of it.

Join Lisa as she presents the perks and rewards of being a Smile Club Member. Hear about her descent into dejection, rage, and bloody violence, before her remarkable transformation into the smiley, well-adjusted human you see before you today.

Smile Club, from writer/performer Andrea Heaton and writer Adam Z. Robinson, takes place in a dystopian world, in which a government drive exists to tame and prune unruly women deemed unable to fit into society. Like most classic dystopias, Smile Club is set in the future, but rarely are the classics about anything other than the time in which they were written. 1984 by Orwell, as published in 1949, was as much a reflection on the nationalism, censorship and surveillance of the time as it was a warning for the future, during the onset of the cold war. So how much of Lisa’s experience of the Smile Club is present in the lives of her writers, and how much is this show about the present state of things?

Andrea Heaton, Smile Club writer and performer.

Andrea tells us that she loves finding inspiration for story telling in both truth and fiction, “the ambiguity so often found in retelling of real life events is fascinating. We spent a long time crafting the universe of Smile Club, drawing on the dystopian excellence of The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Mirror to develop the history, the social context, and the ways in which it might differ from our own world”. Adam reflects that the original concept drew from two things, “firstly, a story about a friend-of-a-friend of Andrea’s who had been stopped at a barrier in a train station until she gave the man a smile. Secondly, a particularly chilling image Andrea had found on the internet of a woman with a cartoon smile strapped to her face. The accompanying story was about ‘smile clinics’; places somewhere in Europe in the 1950s where husbands could send their wives if they were ‘struggling to get along’ in society. It turned out to be a fake story – but the idea and image really resonated.” 

“The best stories leave you feeling changed”

In developing the show, Andrea and Adam ran a survey, asking people about their experiences of being told to smile by strangers. Most people who responded were women, and most of the people telling them to smile were men. They were struck by the way these experiences made people feel much more self-conscious. Adam explains, “we wanted to explore, in a fictional universe, what that – and what so many of these micro-aggressions – mean and say about our society, our gender politics and where it may lead to in the near-future. We hope that Smile Club will be an interesting contribution to the conversation”.

The show also finds resonance amidst contemporary conversations around the #MeToo movement, the gender pay-gap, and the proliferation of sexual harassment and everyday sexism. On what this show can do in this setting, Andrea goes on, “I want audiences to connect with the human struggle of the characters and experience something that resonates beyond their evening in the theatre, creates conversations and sparks stories and debate. The best stories leave you feeling changed, even in some small way, be that personal political or a little of both; I hope Smile Club can do that”. 

Smile Club will tour nationally and locally from March. See details and book to see via our show page.


Chris O’Connor on The Parting Glass

Playwright Chris O’Connor has written The Parting Glass, Red Ladder’s new touring production exploring mental health, masculinity and how we connect in a social media-obsessed world. He tells us about the story behind The Parting Glass and why this authentic new play is vital in opening up a conversation about men’s mental health…

Let’s start with an introduction to you. 

I was born in Leeds but moved to Kilburn in London at four-years-old and my family are Irish, something which is a theme in The Parting Glass. I moved back to Leeds when I was 19 and have been here ever since. In addition to writing, I work with Mantality, an organisation promoting positive mental health set up by Stevie Ward of the Leeds Rhinos and his lifelong friend Dom Smith. We have a podcast, run men’s groups and also have a Mantality Club where men can open up, share and help each other achieve their goals.

What is The Parting Glass about?
The Parting Glass is the story of Jim, who fancies himself as a bit of a character, and Sara, an adventure loving Leeds lass with a great sense of humour. The play follows Sara at a special gathering she has organised telling us her story, whilst Jim tells us his story down the pub over a pint. They seem like the perfect match but we get the sense that maybe the timing isn’t right and perhaps there is a lingering darkness in Jim that will thwart any potential happiness. The piece looks at issues such as mental health, masculinity and also how we connect in an increasingly social media-obsessed world.

The play is a development of your 2016 play for Red Ladder, The Life and Soul. Can you tell us a bit about how The Parting Glass builds on the story?

The Life and Soul is a 30-minute one-man play telling Jim’s perspective of the story. Red Ladder often toured it with a Q&A after the performance and one of the things which came up was that people were interested in some of the experiences of others in response to Jim’s darker moments. The Life and Soul deals with themes such as male depression from the perspective of the person experiencing it. The Parting Glass adds in another perspective – that of a loved one – in considering how these issues can have a ripple effect.

The Life and Soul has resonated with audiences. What reactions have you had?

I have received numerous emails and messages from people who have seen the play and, unfortunately, have had direct experience of the subject matter. A common thread seems to be that the suffering of young men isn’t always depicted accurately, so it has been hugely rewarding to reflect that and show people they are not alone. Very sadly one of my close friends lost his brother to suicide two years ago. His family have come twice now to a performance of The Life and Soul and it makes me very aware of the responsibility to treat this issue honestly and accurately. The reason I wrote this play was to raise awareness and reflect these experiences authentically.

How important is it that The Parting Glass opens up conversation around mental health, particularly men’s mental health?

The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics has just under 6,000 suicides a year in the UK, which means we are still doing something wrong with regards to mental health, for both men and women. Of those suicides, males make up around 75% so there is still obviously something wrong. There has been a lot of research to show that the reasons for this include men’s inability to deal with negative emotions, their lack of openness and their viewing suffering as a sign of weakness. I’m hoping this play can help provoke some people to think a bit differently about these issues.

How has your own experience fed into creating The Parting Glass?

After suffering from a head injury, I experienced quite severe anxiety and OCD. I often used to fantasise about not being here as I couldn’t see a way through it. It is important to note that at no point did I consider suicide, it hadn’t got that bad for me, but instead I used to hope that I wouldn’t wake up or a bus would hit me and it would just stop. Eventually through therapy, opening up to friends and getting into meditation it all changed for me. This first-hand experience of knowing what it is like to not believe you will ever get better, even though I still had hope, has massively fed into this piece and I hope its authenticity resonates with others.

The Parting Glass is designed to tour into non-theatre spaces. What does taking the performance out of a traditional theatre setting and into community spaces achieve?

It gives people who might not go to a theatre a chance to experience it in a local venue. Quite a few people who have taken a punt on The Life and Soul said they wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t in their local pub or community centre and that they were thankful they had seen it, which is often the best praise you can hear.

The Parting Glass

How does The Parting Glass reflect Red Ladder’s values as a theatre company?

Red Ladder was the first company to produce my work and give me a chance as a writer and I am eternally grateful for that opportunity. I feel there is a lot of lip service paid to going out and bringing theatre to communities who don’t normally interact with it, but Red Ladder actually lives and breathes that. They have been doing this for years and have a loyal core of supporters in communities all over Yorkshire and the North. The nature of this play, its setting and my own personal history perfectly match with Red Ladder’s values and aims.

The Parting Glass will tour in Leeds, Wakefield and Barnsley this September and October to community venues on the Red Ladder Local circuit. It will then tour nationally in spring 2020. Click here for more information and to book. 

The Parting Glass has been developed with funding from Leeds City Council, through Leeds Community Foundation.

Photos: Playwright Chris O’Connor and cast Tom Swift and Alyce Liburd. Photo credit: Anthony Robling.