ISAN Member in the Spotlight:
David Rose, Grand Theatre of Lemmings
David Rose is Co-Director of The Grand Theatre of Lemmings and has been performing pioneering Outdoor Arts for over thirty years. The Lemmings now look after the legendary Smallest Theatre in the World, which continues to tour and over the years has been graced by Meryl Streep, Billy Connolly, Jim Carter, Bob Hoskins and Ken Campbell. (First published: Sep 2014).
How did you get involved in Outdoor Arts?
I was literally dragged into The Smallest Theatre in the World and a career in Educational psychology vanished into the mist as I was inducted into the ways of the itinerant performer. This is ironic as we are now the new custodians of the Smallest Theatre.
Why is it so important to you to be involved in making Outdoor Arts?
Outdoor Arts connect with real people in real places.
What inspires you? Where do your ideas come from?
The best inspiration comes from working with other people. A few years ago I decided to ‘up’ my prop making skills on a course with Forkbeard Fantasy. I’m not sure if my prop making skills have improved but I came away with the concept for a multi-media show based on the pages of a book that came to life allowing characters to move from the stage into film and vice-versa. The show eventually toured rural arts venues. Ideas pop up all the time but the skill is working out which ones to run with and actually making them happen.
What piece of artwork, artist or company, indoors or out, would you recommend?
Smashed by Gandini Juggling, which is curious because I don’t find juggling interesting.
What’s the best thing about being professionally involved in this sector?
The seemingly endless variety of creative challenges; in recent years we have created a garden of curiosities, put together a team of actors to improvise an outdoor touring show around two metaphysical creatures on chariots, produced festivals, taught teachers how to be creative and, of course, created our own shows.
What’s your most bizarre memory of Outdoor Arts?
In Diyarbakir, a Kurdish town in Turkey, we performed a show for the British Council, although the British government declared it a ‘no-go zone’ for tourists. As the audience laughed at our comedy morris dancers the police decided they were getting unruly and started hitting them with batons. The show ended in chaos and a cloud of dust arose around a band of marching bagpipers behind us who were then mobbed by the crowds. Mandy (Mandy Medlicott, Co-Director, Grand Theatre of Lemmings) was ‘goosed’ as we tried to clear the space of props and eventually everyone departed en masse as eager ‘fans’ pounded the sides of the mini-buses.
What’s your funniest Outdoor Arts experience?
Not hilarious, but always makes me laugh. We were lucky to work with Avanti Display on their prototype ‘spurting man’ show. Four men with shaven heads in lycra body suits connected to a massive water pump created a large-scale human fountain. We performed it in Stockholm with amazing success; the shows went down a storm. Then an organiser told me she was at the back of the crowd as we built up to the explosive watery climax – she watched some young lads trying to discover what the fuss was about. The tallest looked over the crowd and said to his mates ‘it’s just a bunch of old blokes dancing’.
What’s the biggest blunder you’ve ever made in your working life and how did you resolve it?
Possibly taking our new untried show to Japan. It was the wrong show in the wrong place. These days we turn down bookings rather than perform something in a venue that we don’t think it suitable for.
What’s the best artistic advice you’ve ever been given?
Simply, to stay true to yourself and trust your instincts. Five years ago we had to showcase work-in-progress to the arts officers who were funding it. Three days before the event I went through the script with Mandy and I said “what do you think?” There was a slight pause before she answered… which said everything. I went away and started re-writing. That day I decided to swap our roles and with just two days to go we started work on a new script. It was the right decision despite the burst blood vessel in my right eye.
What’s your top tip to someone wanting to work outdoors for the first time?
Just do it and don’t be too judgmental on yourself. Until you perform your work in front of a live audience you can never be sure what will happen… even with thirty years experience.
What’s the most recent Outdoor Arts experience that has really made an impression on you?
Circo Rum Ba Ba‘s Hotel Miniscule, a mad little show and I love its immense audacity in both concept and execution.
Describe a current company project or future work that you’re really excited about.
We have just taken The Smallest Theatre in the World on its first summer tour in fifteen years and now, rather than put it into storage for the winter, we have decided to take her to India. As yet, there is nothing completely fixed about the Indian adventure, but that is the magic of Outdoor Arts. It feels like ‘alchemy’ to say “this is what we will are going to do in four months time.” To seemingly reach into thin air, grasp an idea and say “yes this is real” and know it will happen.
How has ISAN been most helpful?
ISAN has been most helpful to us as a social and networking tool; at the 2013 biennial conference in Birmingham, it was a mixture of meeting friends who we sadly don’t see that often and to meet people from organisations like Articulture Wales and Appetite.
How are you planning to face the current challenges and make the most of future opportunities?
During the last major recession in 1994 everyone seemed to downsize and one-man shows became the trend. We decided to head in the opposite direction and scaled up our productions with a spoof human cannonball show. We made less money but, unlike many other Outdoor Arts companies, we were still in business at the end of the recession. This time there is a lot of funding going into large-scale productions but also a trend towards a European style of performance.
In this recession we plan to focus on being peculiarly British in style, as well as very theatrical and our mission to rehabilitate The Smallest Theatre in the World has given us the perfect vehicle.
How do you follow what’s happening in the world – what blogs, websites, forums do you recommend?
I remain a Guardian reader, to be honest, for most things (when I get the time to sit down with a paper), but tune into the Xtrax website for a regular review of who’s who in the world of Outdoor Arts, as well as the main UK festivals. I am a member of the closed Facebook group, Performance Magazine, and most of the companies and people we follow on Twitter are strangely Indian since making the decision to go to India this winter.
What’s the best book/film/concert/other that you’ve encountered in the past 2 years?
The Reluctant Escapologist by Mike Bradwell; the first half is a very funny account of the early days of alternative theatre. It is a wonderful reminder of how utterly anarchic the world of Outdoor Arts was in the early days. Still haven’t quite got to the end. I was also bowled over by the film version of Life of Pi in 3D.