Outdoor performances across Somerset

25 November 2020

Six enthusiastic village communities promoted 18 performances during a month from mid-August to mid-September 2020.  Promoting outdoor work was a new adventure for Take Art but with so many village halls closed due to the pandemic, and unlikely to re-open for some time, the wonderful summer weather made performances on village greens and in gardens a very attractive option. 

The Empress and the Nightingale - The Bluebirds at Hatch Beauchamp on 22nd August

Cabaret evening from The Bluebirds at Hatch Beauchamp on 22nd August 

The Rum Tale of the Moonfleet Diamond - Tor Theatre at Curry Mallet and Beercrocombe on 31st August 

The Instruments of Joy - Tim Hill Band at Curry Mallet and Beercrocombe on 31st August 

Our normal rural touring programme involves bringing national, and international, acclaimed companies into Somerset.  This year it was going to be different. In order for our communities and audiences to feel safe, local freelance artists rose to the challenge and provided the answer. They could easily bring their work as they wouldn't need to travel far, they wouldn't need any overnight hosting and they could be fleet of foot and responsive to changing government guidance at the last minute if needed. 

A summer outdoor programme was of mutual benefit to both parties.  Local artists and companies, on the one hand, desperately needed work to aid business recovery and keep them sane!  And villagers, on the other hand, were desperate to emerge from the months of lockdown to re-engage with social and cultural life within the safety of their own neighbours and locality.

The Holland Handkerchief - Kerchief Theatre at Lamyatt on 4th September

Rime of the Ancient Mariner - David Reakes at Goathurst on 5th September

Performers came up with a wide variety of shows to offer the promoters; from cabaret and opera, to children's storytelling and puppetry; from a one-man performance of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to full length devised theatre work with 2-4 performers; from comedy and dance shows to swing music and street bands..... amongst many others.

Outdoor Performance Days

For their part, the volunteer promoters came up with a diverse and creative range of promotion models to cope with social distancing, described below:-

Trad1: 1 performance for a single small audience group
Trad2: 2 performances of the same show for 2 different audiences (afternoon & evening)
Trad3: 3 companies performing shorter length shows, one after the other for one audience group
Mini-Festival: 3 companies performing at 3 different times during the day
Promenade Safari: 4 companies performing 4 x 20 mins shows - the audience were divided into groups and each guided on a walk through their village to 4 'green stages' to enjoy 4 different short performances.

Social distancing restrictions meant audiences had to be relatively small, around 30-40 at each event and the promoting groups worked hard to make everyone feel welcome and safe. Audience feedback has been great. "Thank you all so much for your fab performances yesterday. All so different and so special - it’s so great to see LIVE performances again. Everyone who came said what a great time they had."

And from the performers. "What a positive experience we've had - working with the local promoters has been fantastic....events were so well-organised and effectively planned, which made it very easy for us to slot into two quite different models. We thoroughly enjoyed these events, and were impressed by how well all our audiences observed the social distancing guidelines."

Grandfather Jem's Little Tent of Wonders at Combe St Nicholas on 5th September

Pizza & Puppets at Combe St Nicholas on 5th September

One other exciting spin off from this initiative is Totally Local, a new network for our county. Funded by SCC Business Rates & Retention scheme, this project will formalise and encourage deeper, long lasting, working partnerships between Somerset arts companies and Take Art's village promoters, enabling more performers to present their work to more local audiences in the future.

Our first ever outdoor summer programme was a resounding success and one we look forward to repeating during 2021 when we trust the weather will be just as glorious as last summer!

Number 13 - aKa Dance Theatre Company at Norton Sub Hamdon on 5th September

Heartbeat - Wassail Theatre Company at Norton Sub Hamdon on 5th September

The Empress and the Nightingale - The Bluebirds at Norton Sub Hamdon on 5th September

The Holland Handkerchief - Kerchief Theatre at Norton Sub Hamdon on 5th September