Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Origins of Belt Up

A number of people have been in contact recently asking about how Belt Up was set up and how we’ve got to where we are today. Here is a potted history of Belt Up…

We were set up in January 2008 after a little meeting in the foyer of York Theatre Royal. As part of the drama society at the University of York we were about to collaborate in a production of Steven Berkoff’s ‘Metamorphosis’ so we thought we should have a go at using this as a launch pad to start a theatre company. This production went on to the National Student Drama Festival where it received a lovely load of attention and awards and spurred us on to attempt an ridiculously ambitious project at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that summer. This manifested itself as ‘The Red Room’, an immersive environment that hosted a huge programme of shows and secret-catch-them-if-you-can events. ‘The Red Room’ went on to win the ThreeWeeks Editor’s choice awards and the Edinburgh International Festival award 2008. Then throughout our final year at Uni we experimented more and used the Drama Society venue, The Drama Barn, as a developing house before returning to the Fringe in 2009 as a professional company with our second immersive environment, ‘The Squat’. This hosted our productions of ‘The Tartuffe’ and ‘The Trial’ as well as a late night bar. These two shows transferred to York Theatre Royal (where we were made a company in residence) before heading to the Southwark Playhouse for our proper London debut.

That then brings us pretty much to the end of 2009, the previous post outlines what we’ve been up to in 2010 so now documented for all to enjoy is a brief history of Belt Up.

Our production timeline so far...

Metamorphosis (Steven Berkoff') - York/NSDF - Jan/Mar 2008
Morbid Curiosity (Dominic J Allen) - York - May 2008
The Grotesque Tea Party - Shunt, London, June 2008
A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess) - York Theatre Royal - June 2008

THE RED ROOM - Edinburgh Fringe - August 2008:
The Tartuffe (James Wilkes after Moliere)
The Park Keeper (Nikolaus Morris)
Volpone (Dominic J Allen after Ben Jonson)
Women of Troy (James Wilkes after Euripides)
Macbeth (William Shakespeare)
Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)

William & Octavia (Alexander Wright and Jethro Compton) - York - October 2008
The Pitchfork Disney (Philip Ridley) - York - November 2008
Instinct (James Wilkes) - York - December 2008
The Oresteia (Dominic J Allen and James Wilkes after Aeschylus)- York Theatre Royal - February 2009

The Tempest (William Shakespeare) - RSC Dell - July 2009

THE SQUAT - Edinburgh Fringe - August 2009
The Tartuffe (James Wilkes after Moliere)
The Trial (Dominic J Allen after Franz Kafka)

The Tartuffe and The Trial then transfered to the York Theatre Royal in September 2009 and then to the Southwark Playhouse, London in November 2009.

The Atlantis Project (in collaboration with Punchdrunk Enrichment) - NSDF - March 2010
Lorca is Dead (Dominic J Allen) - York Theatre Royal - May 2010
The Tartuffe (final performance, James Wilkes after Moliere) - York Theatre Royal - May 2010
A Midsummer Night's Dream (William Shakespeare) - Rowntree Park, York - June 2010

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Halfway through 2010...

It’s been a busy 2010 so far for Belt Up Theatre but life is about to get a hell of a lot busier at the end of the week when we enter our boot camp style rehearsal process for our ‘The House Above’ shows this coming Edinburgh.

It’s about half way through the year and so we thought we’d do a little bi-annual review of everything we’ve been up to so far...

Our first official show as residents of York Theatre Royal, playing throughout February on the very cold streets of York. This intimate play, based in the context of a traditional haunted walking tour, accidentally became our most controversial show with about two complaints per night (out of an audience of 20). The reason being that a lot of people weren’t aware it was a play and thought it to be just a normal Ghost Walk. When the main character had a mental breakdown over the recent loss of his father, audience members complained to the York Theatre Royal for making this poor man work in such an unstable state of mind – often people refused to believe it was a play even when they were told.

In 2008, Belt Up debuted at the National Student Drama Festival with a production of ‘Metamorphosis’ (a new revamped version of which with a brand new adaptation is returning with Belt Up to The House Above) and two years later we were invited back to the festival as visiting artists. We were set the task of collaborating with Punchdrunk Enrichment’s Peter Higgin to devise a durational piece that demonstrated an alternative form of theatre. The result was the Bensalem B&B otherwise known as ‘The Order of Atlantis’. The premise was that 14 or so weird and wonderful characters had arrived in Scarborough as a sort of a waiting area before passing on to a mythical world. Throughout the week they would meet and chat with the festgoer’s (those brave enough to approach them) and the lucky ones were invited to the Bensalem Bed and Breakfast to learn more about the Order. The really keen audience members ended up spending a great deal of time in the ‘B&B’, a huge, beautiful empty Victorian house learning about the intricate stories connecting these strange characters. It was received extremely well with audience members immersing themselves almost entirely in the world we had created – one audience member possibly solved time travel in a bid to uncover the villainous Professor Higgs...

As a Research and Development period for ‘Lorca is Dead’ (one of the shows heading up to Scotland for ‘The House Above) we inhabited the York Theatre Royal studio and foyer for most of a week at the beginning of May. The purpose was to experiment with audience interactivity and how they can best gain agency over a piece of theatre. This involved many talkback sessions, four public performances, open rehearsals and lots of hanging around York as the Paris Surrealist group. The result was a transformation of the play that we performed at the beginning of the week; ending up with a show where the audience could be accommodated to do whatever they wanted, even play the protagonist. This period was vital in the shows development and certainly means that audiences in Edinburgh are in for quite an incredible experience come August.

In mid-May, we had the delightful task of coordinating the opening ceremony of the new Joseph Rowntree school building in York. This involved working with almost 100 secondary school pupils towards a spectacle of song, dance, singing and of course some Belt Up style grotesquerie.

The Tartuffe was performed a handful of times in 2010 in everywhere from Bude to Great Wyrley, South Staffordshire though it received its final performance in the York Theatre Royal main house on the 25th of May. In the previous post is a more detailed farewell to the show. The final performance saw the main character, Orgon Poquelin, head of the anarchic troupe kick the bucket onstage in an incredibly self indulgent (within the context of his character of course) death scene set to ‘Zadok the Priest’. 600 screaming fans and a handful of disgruntled people expecting Moliere were present to see the end of a Belt Up era.


As part of the National Independent School’s Drama Association conference in June, we were invited to be the resident practitioners working with the NISTC (National Independent School’s Theatre Company) towards a short performance at the end of the weekend. This was a lovely process in an extremely sunny Warwick with a brilliant troupe of actors. The end product was a meta-theatrical and interactive production of Pinocchio performed by a group of ghostly performance types ranging from puppeteers to 60s rock gods.

In what has now become a Belt Up tradition (if two years running can be called a tradition?) we assembled a huge company of actors to perform an outdoor family friendly Shakespeare in the sunshine. This year’s was A Midsummer Night’s dream directed by Marcus Emerton (Tartuffe in ‘The Tartuffe’, Andre Breton in ‘Lorca is Dead’) who also took on the role of Bottom. The show was a wonderful success with beautiful sunshine in York’s Rowntree Park and very enthusiastic audiences. A perfect summer’s day out!

That brings us pretty much up to date for 2010. Now we’re preparing ourselves for 12 hour work days and a month of rehearsal... It’s going to be worth it though. There’s no place like our home.

‘The House Above’ programme begins on the 4th of August in C Soco as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe