MY YEAR: Alphabetti Theatre | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Words: Ali Pritchard

Fringe Theatre is a beast unto itself – held together by duct tape and powered by coffee. Artists and staff work tirelessly to ensure that everything ticks as it is meant to. It’s an exciting place where careers are started; a space to experiment, evolve and discover excellence for artist and audience.

Alphabetti is an independent, artist-led, award-winning intimate theatre (80 seats) in Newcastle upon Tyne. On average each year we hold 300 performances, provide work for 2,000 artists and welcome 13,500 audience members. We believe that great art should be for everyone, regardless of financial situation, so 60% of our tickets are part of our Pay What You Feel Scheme.

2020 started so well for Alphabetti, when we were shortlisted for – and subsequently one of the runners up of – the prestigious Stage Awards ‘Fringe Theatre of The Year’. We then produced Rocket Girl by Steve Byron, an incredible community-minded, family-friendly show funded by Arts Council England and Community Foundation. This production brought over 700 children and families to the theatre over five days, and provided a free creative workshop designed around STEM subjects and themes in the show. We also had a two-week run of excellent LGBTQ+ show Fitting by Matt Miller and Peader Kirk, a production Alphabetti had been supporting since 2016.

It was going to be a good year, and then the pandemic hit – with huge theatres and venues struggling to stay afloat, how were Alphabetti expected to? With social distancing our capacity had reduced from 80 to 8 and this would still require three staff and only allow one artist on stage at a time!

Alphabetti Theatre has thus far not just survived this global pandemic (without making any redundancies) but stuck by our aims of entertaining, challenging and improving lives for our artists, audiences and participants.

We’ve been proud to continue our work through online productions throughout the year, including Betti Recommends, a curated selection of free cultural and community activities/tasks for individuals to do whilst the theatre and world is closed. We have done 22 weekly selections recommending 132 activities/tasks. Since the end of June 2020 we have offered at least two free online performances exclusive to, or in partnership with, Alphabetti each month. We also ran a competition for nine micro-commissions. The aim was to develop relationships with artists and start to improve the representation of the diverse voices in North East theatre. These nine short audio plays are currently in rehearsal and will be released fortnightly from 6th January 2021 until April 2021. Alphabetti Theatre were one of the first organisations to join the North East Culture Stand Against Racism and put out a joint statement made by the North East cultural sector on the 4th June 2020 and continue to be part of the movement.

Our festive theatre film – Love From… is being released as part of our Pay What You Feel scheme on Monday 21st December. Originally, it was intended to be an immersive, promenade Christmas production for one household/support bubble at a time. We then had the new tier system announcement!

The performance was always going to be filmed and released online as part of our Pay What You Feel scheme for those who were unable to attend – whether that was for financial, health or geographical reasons. So we’re are still releasing a filmed version of the performance – this will be available to watch on our website or our YouTube channel from midday on Monday 21st December. Audiences can donate what they feel they can pay, with instructions at the end of the film. The film will be captioned and we’ll also be releasing an audio described version as well.

Although 2020 has not been the year we had planned, we at Alphabetti are still really proud and pleased for the work we have been able to achieve. Who knows how 2021 is going to going to present itself and whether the good ship Betti is battle hardened enough to get through it? However as long as we can continue to stick by our aims of entertaining, challenging and improving lives for our artists, audiences and participants. We’ll be happy with any outcome of the year.

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