Thursday, July 07, 2005

Footsbarn's Floating Tempest

We’re going into our 35th year of doing this,” says Paddy Hayter of Footsbarn theatre company, “and it’s still tough to survive.” The life of any theatre company can be precarious, but as Hayter and Footsbarn have built a company to produce theatre built to travel the world, that achievement seems even more admirable.

“We spent ten years when we were completely nomadic, so when a gap came in our schedule we would rest up, or go out perform on the street. But now everything has become much more formal, there are salaries and social contributions to be paid, we have to approach thing quite differently. Now any gaps can be quite frightening,” says Hayter.

In 1990, the company bought an old farmhouse in Hérisson in France, when, through good fortune, they happened to meet a local landowner with an interest in acting and a building for sale. It became La Chaussée, Footsbarn’s home base.

The origins of the company, however, lay in a post-sixties experimental theatre based around Cornwell. Many cast changes later – Hayter is the only direct line to those days -- the company still manages to maintain strong elements of a family business, while at the same time welcoming new talent from around the globe. What everyone in the company hold in common is a belief in the particular merits of the travelling show.

“In France the travelling theatre companies survived for quite a long time. In the 1950s, there were still 200 of them moving about the country, putting on show wherever they stopped. But I think the thing that killed it off in the end was the paperwork. There just started to be too much regulation…it seems it’s getting a bit like that in Ireland now…”

The company’s style has always been strong on physically theatre, using extravagant acting and brash storytelling techniques that hark back to bawdy Elizabethan theatre. But what Footsbarn aren’t famous for is using high-tech techniques to tell their stories. But that has been changing. Perchance to Dream, which has played at George’s Dock over the last few weeks, and now The Tempest, see the company incorporating little films into the drama, cleverly integrating them live action.

“My stepdaughter, Sophie Lascelles, who has performed in previous Footsbarn shows and now works as a visual artist, makes films as her gallery work. So we had the idea of using of her films in a production and it turned out to work very well. We use a real 16mm projection – no video, or anything like that – and all the films are made back on the farm in Hérisson.

But while the company has been updating its arsenal of theatrical techniques, there are some things that Hayter and company feel are working just fine. “That Shakespeare guy, he seemed to know what he was doing. There don’t seem to be a lot of complaints about his work. You don’t hear people saying it’s gone off…”

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