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Slung Low’s Alan Lane: ‘These are incredibly challenging times… if we are not careful, we will end up managing our own decline.’

Alan Lane

Alan Lane

‘I am the worst yoga person in the world – I’m terrible at it,’ announces Alan Lane.

(FYI Lane is currently participating in a 30-day yoga challenge).

Lane is the artistic director of the brilliant Leeds theatre company Slung Low, you might know him from his dismantling of all-comers and bearing of emotions on social media – often tongue in cheek.

Long story short, Slung Low’s signature style is spectacle: large scale, site specific & off-the-wall. They make work look as easy as breathing. It isn’t, of course.

We are talking at the end of a long day that has involved Lane stripping asbestos at Slung Low’s new home: The Holbeck Social Club.

Holbeck / Slung Low Sign

Holbeck / Slung Low

How would he describe the atmosphere of working in a social club? ‘Firstly, very comfortable, – that is mainly the nature of being in a Working Men’s club – equally if we’re open as a bar you an easily end up having a 3-hour meeting about which ales to serve. But we know this community, we’ve been a part of this community for nearly a decade now,’ Lane says.

‘We get it wrong sometimes, of course. But in occupying the club we ensured that we met with all the active members – these things take time and care. It’s the same with our shows, we see people working hard to make it work it is a huge team effort. So, we are really open about how hard this is.’

Slung Low recently unveiled a thrilling new programme of Pay What You Decide cultural classes for their second term, which starts next month and offers an array of cultural activities including Woodwork, podcasting, T’ai Chi and Mental Health First Aid.

‘When we had the idea for ‘Pay What You Decide’ classes some people thought we were mad,’ he says. ‘The first term was really successful with a decent take up and people were genuinely enthusiastic about the opportunities. It just worked.  It’s well exciting.’

The timing is significant. Figures reveal that children living in the most deprived areas are the most likely to lose their option to study arts subjects when the EBacc becomes compulsory.  What this means for a whole generation is grim, if you’re a young person. Slung Low are embedded in and speak directly with their community.

Critical success and an innovative approach to arts participation have seen Lane included in the annual 100-strong power list recently published by the Stage.

So different is the company’s innovative approach, I wonder how much it matters to someone like Lane. As in, he is responsible for a double decker bus that has been converted into a classroom and his idea of success doesn’t necessarily adhere to the typical structures of glory.

I congratulate Lane and ask him what it means to him.

‘Number 43! What it is, is useful to my mum and our neighbours here,’ Lane says, with a knowing laugh.

‘But seriously it is very welcome to receive coverage and recognition across the industry for work that is happening outside of London. These lists are, of course, problematic in the sense that they are always likely to exclude certain people and groups no matter how hard the creators try but it is really lovely to be included’.

There’s something wildly open about Lane, from the sincerity in his voice  to the tongue in cheek Tweeting about Michael Ball and Hull Trains. He has a fervour that you perhaps call wildly disconcerting: a certain vulnerability, too.

Anyway, as things get bigger, career-wise, does he still feel like he is in control?

He umms for a second.

‘We spend a lot of time on everything that we do,’ Lane explains. ‘We are incredibly productive and it is a big engine and team with brilliant people all across the organisation. We’ve worked really hard to be never surrendering and we are steering our own fate. How you do what you do is as important as what you do.’

Does he think the industry rewards a certain type of personality?

Lane begins. ‘I think it rewards serious types of leadership – we’re comfortable with certain types of leaders, less comfortable with those who want to question more fundamental elements of the theatre industry, not just what is on stage – it’s a bit more sophisticated now – especially the changing identity of artistic directors across prominent London theatres which is really positive. These are incredibly challenging times, though, and if we are not careful, we will end up managing our own decline.’

Recently the company produced the epic award-winning Flood by James Phillips as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. I ask him to tell me about that experience; geographically as well as being afforded substantial subsidy. ‘Hull is genuinely an amazing and magical place,’ Lane says, emphatically.

Man in Orange trousers - Flood

Man in Orange trousers – Flood

He continues. ‘On a personal and company level it was glorious. The investment and resources that a lot of companies never get – half a million people witnessed it – it was a rare thing. Some of that is to do with financial support, but a lot of that is to do with charismatic thoughtful courageous leadership. We were lucky with Martin Green as head of Hull 17. And we’ve been fortunate elsewhere to work for similarly inspiring leaders; Daniel Evans, Kully Thiarai, Erica Whyman. There are huge swathes of northern England that are forgotten, both culturally & politically, which is a scandal’.

As funding is wiped out on a local and national level, so too are the people trying to make it work. For Lane, it is a case of desperate times. ‘The system we have currently requires areas of the country to be abandoned and reduced to next to nothing,” he says, as exasperated as he gets. ‘We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world and the government is wrong to say that work is a route out of poverty, it isn’t for everyone; the age of austerity is a political choice. [The North East is forgotten by national government; it hasn’t even got a motorway]

What, I ask, is the most challenging aspect of making this kind of work? ‘Hard to achieve impact,’ he continues, ‘I’m 40 and it is still so vital to keep that personal artistic ambition driving on too– (a number of our principles it definitely like limited resources is what we’ve always wanted to do) Much of the freedom of the club is the community nature of it – real people using the space. The cultural sector is getting less ambitious, in terms of scale and I would say that we are making less…’

Team Slung Low- credit Joseph Priestley

Team Slung Low- credit Joseph Priestley

‘But we have so much ambition, I remember discussing an idea for a show with someone at The Barbican that involved a Land Rover charging across the stage…. It wasn’t possible to do it there. It can’t be done on stage and it needs the space and time that we’ve found in the north. The work we make might not be to everyone’s taste but it is purposely designed to fly in the face of the mundane. We make work for audiences outside of conventional theatre spaces; we are a gang,’ Lane says, with a knowing laugh.

He says he hopes he has explained himself well. I just appreciate his honesty.

 

Slung Low theatre company to launch new cultural community college in Leeds in September

Slung Low
Slung Low

Slung Low

This September the acclaimed theatre company Slung Low will unveil a new Cultural Community College in the city of Leeds offering a diverse programme of Pay What You Decide cultural classes to participants from the city and further afield.

The college, which will start its first term on Wednesday 12 September, will be supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England.

Located at The Holbeck Underground Ballroom (The HUB) in South Leeds, the Cultural Community College will offer an array of cultural activities; from stargazing to South Indian cooking, from short film making to carpentry and much more.  

The courses will be led by artists from the region, of the highest standard, who will share their skills, experience and passions with the students. Free at the point of use, all the courses, sessions and classes will be Pay What You Decide.

For the first instalment of classes from September, the curriculum will be programmed by Slung Low in consultation with the college’s Community Advisory Board and other local stakeholders and then after the first year the course content will be chosen by the participants themselves who will automatically become a member of the Cultural Community College.

An advisory board made up of educators from across the education spectrum including universities, theatre education departments and the private sector will support the team at the college.

The idea for the new college has been drawn upon the proud history of civic cultural education in Britain; inspired by the past cultural classes and lecture series in northern working men’s club, Quilliam’s Liverpool mosque and women’s institutes throughout the nation.

Slung Low’s Artistic Director Alan Lane said:

There have been various calls from the theatre scene for arts education to be better respected by the government and they are all absolutely correct.

We do need an education system fit for the 21st century that champions the country’s creativity as a foundation of its collective mental health, as a foundation of its collective sense of worth, as a foundation of its ability to take a moral leadership role in the world, to imagine better futures for our children, for other people’s children, and for ourselves.

You are what you do. And so, in our little part of the world in Holbeck, we are going to make a varied, high quality creative education available to everyone who wants it regardless of financial status. Because that’s what we want to be- people who think that is important- so that’s what we’ll do. Hold the space to create the opportunity of a cultural education beyond the market place.

Exploring education for enjoyment’s sake, distinct from the demands of employment and operating beyond the access restrictions of the market the Cultural Community College is the creation of a place designed to disturb the barriers to engagement in both adult education and culture.

Finally, with the introduction of the Cultural Community College we feel it is our continued core mission to attempt to be as useful as possible with public money in as many imaginative ways as we can.”

Slung Low are a company that make adventures for audiences outside of conventional theatre spaces. The company’s aim is to make unlikely, ambitious and original adventures for audiences, each with powerful, moving story at its heart. Shows that re-examine how audiences go and see a piece of theatre. The company are based in their home The Holbeck Underground Ballroom (The HUB), five railway arches in South Leeds which they make available to other artists. Recently the company produced the award-winning Flood by James Phillips as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017.

The Cultural Community College is a major part of the company’s long- term ambition to create Leeds People’s Theatre: a major new citizen theatre producer of epic, outdoor political theatre for the city combining Slung Low’s trademark staging style with a permanent programme of participation and citizen training.

To celebrate the launch of the new Cultural Community College, Slung Low will be hosting a Ceilidh Dance on Saturday 8 September.

For further information on the Cultural Community College and the launch event please visit https://www.slunglow.org/cultural-community-college/

Slung Low’s Flood Part Two: Abundance by James Phillips gets underway on floating stage in former dock as part of Hull 2017

Flood Abundance Part 2
Flood Abundance Part 2

Flood Abundance Part 2 © Thomas Arran

The first live performances of Flood Part Two: Abundance, the latest chapter in a major new work by the acclaimed theatre company Slung Low, have now taken place as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017.

Directed by artistic director Alan Lane and written by award-winning playwright James Phillips, Abundanceis the next stage in Flood, an extraordinary year-long epic commissioned for Hull 2017, which is being told online, live in Hull and on BBC television.

Flood Part Two: Abundance is being performed until Saturday on a series of specially constructed floating stages in Victoria Dock, a historic location now surrounded by the homes of local people, with the night sky and the Humber as a backdrop.

This exceptional production features a cast of professional actors and a chorus made up of people drawn from the local community and across Hull. As well as spoken word and live action, there is song, a specially recorded choir and special effects, including projected moving image.

Flood Part Two: Abundance follows Part One: From the Sea, a film that was released online earlier this year. This can still be seen at hull2017.co.uk/flood and begins with a woman being pulled from the sea:

Flood is the story of what happened when the world was destroyed and how the people who lived tried to make it new again.

One day it starts to rain and no-one knows why. And it doesn’t stop. Far out on the North Sea a fisherman raises a girl in his net, miraculously alive from the deep sea. Is she one of the migrants now washing up on English shores? Or someone sent for some higher purpose?

Slung Low make adventures for audiences outside conventional theatre spaces, each with a powerful, moving story at its heart. The ground-breaking Leeds-based theatre company, have over the last weeks and months set up home at Victoria Dock in Hull, building a relationship with local residents as they have developed thissell-out production.

Flood is their most ambitious and experimental project to date, mixing live performance, special effects, film and digital elements to tell the story in four compelling parts across an entire year. People seeing it will be able to experience each section as a stand-alone piece, or follow the entire series with each part enriching and linking to every other.

All performances of Flood Part Two: Abundance are sold out, but people will be able to see the follow up,Flood Part Three: To the Sea, when it is broadcast on BBC television this summer.

The final, live instalment, Part Four: New World, will be performed at Victoria Dock in October 2017. Further information, including how to buy tickets, will be released in due course.

Flood’s epic adventures come to audiences in Hull and beyond with support from The Space, Arts Council England, BBC Arts and Spirit of 2012.

Alan Lane, artistic director of Slung Low, said: “Working with Hull 2017 has allowed us to imagine a larger, more engaging adventure for audiences than ever before. Flood is theatrically and politically the most ambitious work we’ve ever made and the chance to tell that story in Hull throughout this most thrilling year for the city is something we’re really excited about.”

Martin Green, Director Hull 2017, said: “It is wonderful to be working with Slung Low, one of the most brilliant companies in the UK. As our second season gets underway Flood embarks us on an extraordinary journey, which over the next months will stimulate, challenge and ask questions of the audience in an epic piece of storytelling.”

Debbie Lye, Chief Executive, Spirit of 2012, added: “Spirit of 2012 is delighted to help bring The Flood to Hull. This hugely ambitious theatre piece further raises Hull’s profile on the cultural map during 2017 and will resonate in the memory far beyond. It is bold, world class art that people across the entire city can also recognise as part of their unique heritage and enjoy together. I’m excited that Spirit is a part of it.”