Kneehigh collaboration takes innovation beyond Covid

Kneehigh, the Cornwall-based touring theatre company that last week was awarded £250,000 from the government’s culture restoration fund, has joined up with the Bristol Old Vic and its former artistic director, Emma Rice, for a new production on both screen and stage.

It is the opener for Kneehigh’s Strike Out strategy for moving forward from the devastation caused to the theatre industry by Covid-19.

Rice’s last production for Kneehigh in 2016 was The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, the story of Marc and Bella Chagall, a co-production then with the Bristol Old Vic, and her new company, Wise Children, is making a triumvirate to remount the show (pictured).

“Over the last few months, Wise Children have learnt things we never thought we’d need to know, with the core team taking on new roles ranging from Covid safety officer to camera operator” Rice said. “This was our chance to ensure that ‘the show will go on’, by doing what we do best: dreaming, daring, innovating, collaborating, creating and inspiring - even in the face of a global pandemic.  This new way of working allows us to reach people across the globe and our aim as Wise Children is now to continue to offer live broadcasts of our shows - even after we return to ‘normal’.”

Writing in AI his week Kneehigh CEO Michelle Carwardine-Palmer says that the last seven months have been very hard, but that the recovery grant meant they were now able to go forward without fear of insolvency.We concluded that the greatest needs we felt best placed to make a difference with were centred around wellbeing – of ourselves, our creatives and our community”, adding that there were exciting plans for meaningful audience and community engagement. This is the first production in that programme.

Kneehigh’s artistic directors, Mike Shepherd and Carl Grose, said the company had always found it difficult to present work online while staying faithful to the spontaneity that is its hallmark, but seeing Wise Children’s recent live streaming of Romantics Anonymous, collaborating with 34 theatres across the world and selling almost 12,000 tickets for five-day run, made them realise how it could be achieved.

“It made us realise both that it is possible, and that there is a very real need from audiences to experience live theatre, even if they can’t be there in person. We’re excited about developing this through working alongside Wise Children and Bristol Old Vic: collaboration is more vital than ever and we can’t wait to learn and explore together what live streaming means for the timeless story of Marc and Bella Chagall.”

Tom Morris, artistic director of Bristol Old Vic, said that within the turmoil of Covid-19 there were opportunities for radical change and growth. “We’ve long wanted to connect better with our national and international audiences and the technology which allows us to play simultaneously to audiences in our theatre and online gives us the chance to test that ambition” he said. “Sitting alongside other experiments we’re planning in hybrid live stream theatre, the broadcasts of Flying Lovers will unlock new possibilities for us and our audiences. Through experiments like this, the theatre industry is discovering new ways to celebrate the unique thrill of live performance some of which will remain with us long after the pandemic has been quelled.”


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