Guest blog: Susan Burns on LeanerStrongerFaster auditions

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Andrew Motion’s ‘What If’. 

Guest blog: Susan Burns, Artistic Director of Chol Theatre: 

It’s Thursday 15th March, the last day of casting for LeanerFasterStronger and what’s more it’s a beautiful day. Heading to the Lyceum, I walk the route from Sheffield railway station to Tudor Square that cuts through the City campus of Sheffield Hallam University. I was a student here on the Writing MA in 2007 when the then poet laureate Andrew Motion’s poem for travellers to this city ‘What If?” was installed on the side of SHU’s Owen Building on Howard Street. There’ll be two more laureates in this story but for now I’m a little early so I stop to read its familiar tall stanzas. The poem reflects on how a traveller might feel on arrival in a new city and I feel inspired to be working in the city.

Andrew Loretto, Kaite O’Reilly and I are working on a new play by Kaite called ‘LeanerFasterStronger’ and it’s the culmination of a series of creative projects ‘Extraordinary Moves’ that Chol Theatre and Sheffield Hallam University are delivering as part of imove, for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. That’s always a deep breath and a mouthful of partnership layers to explain. For us, ‘Extraordinary Moves’ began back in 2009 at a speed networking event in Bradford and it’s a partnership journey which has propelled all of us on a roller-coaster ride working with venues, communities and artists from around these islands and around the world: via our home towns of Huddersfield and Sheffield via Vancouver, Birmingham, Ireland, Madrid, Manchester, Sydney, Leeds, Wales, Barnsley and Harrogate, to name but a few places of connection. Now we’re back in Yorkshire again. It’s the last lap and thrilling for Chol to be working on this last leg of our Extraordinary journey with the brilliant team at Sheffield Theatres as it’s been a massive year of ‘what ifs’ for our company.

It’s fabulous to have Kaite O’Reilly with us for these audition days and I’m beginning to learn that it’s typical of her generosity to give up her time in this way and to offer up extracts of her draft script for our auditionees to perform..  I have sat on many a casting panel but this is the first time we’ve been able to include the writer in the process. I am here to contextualize the project as part of the Cultural Olympiad and within the region’s imove programme; director Andrew Loretto introduces the rehearsal process and it is great to have Kaite to talk about the emerging script, to bring it alive in a way only a writer can.  It’s one of the many ‘firsts’ that this project has witnessed. For Chol, it’s our first co-production with Sheffield Theatres. For Andrew, it’s the first time he and Kaite have worked together. Kaite and Andrew plan to spend a lot of time in the rehearsal room together. She explains how her background in directing and dramaturgy means that this is a process which helps her in the final stages in the creation of new work. I love new things and so I’m looking forward.

Each short audition brings a unique interpretation to the material and acts as a window into an artist’s larger creative life.  Kaite was the 2010 winner of the Ted Hughes Award for poetry, an award created by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, for her new translation of ‘The Persians’ and it’s the lyrical quality of the work that resonates with me today. How I wish today everyone we see could be given a part. There’s something about the Lyceum rehearsal room that’s lofty and hopeful: it must be the panoramic view of the city rooftops from the windows. In between calls, we speak of women artists, writers and poets; the lack of plays by women on our stages and the brilliant people we know and have in common.  Decisions taken, Andrew has to head back to his desk.  For Kaite and I, our narrative of criss-crossings and connections continues into the evening. Work done, we can gossip over some dry white, in other words.

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