Friday, 25 March 2011

York Press Review of THE BEGGAR'S OPERA

'Such moments of blissful theatricality make Belt Up stand out from the new radical theatre crowd'
Click here to read the full review.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Beggar's Opera - some instructions

It’s now only two weeks until opening night of THE BEGGAR’S OPERA so here’s a little revelation for you in the form of some instructions.

Like all Belt Up shows, you as an audience member will be able to make your experience what you want it to be. This time around we’re giving you a few fun ways to get more involved.

Essentially we want you to bring all your friends, family, neighbours, pets (no animals allowed), lovers, enemies, idols and other types of people you’re affiliated with along to the show and make your voice heard.

The show is set in the 1980’s so by all means set yourself as an audience member in the 1980’s. Come in full costume if you’re really up for it. Or you can come dressed as a parody of a famous political or entertainment figure from the 80s (or any time period for that matter, if you’ve come dressed up at all then that will make us happy*). You may find yourself more involved in the show than you expected if you truly throw yourself into it all – just a little hint there.

Really feel free to add your voice to the mix. Sing along. Dance along. Clap, laugh, boo, hiss, wail in terror, shout, weep; essentially don’t sit back and relax, get involved, we really want you to!

You might also want to pick your seats as soon as possible. Where you’re sat may mean you get an extra special experience of the show...

So what better way to spend an evening (or an afternoon, we’ve got matinees on the Friday and Saturday) than to bring a load of people you love to the theatre dressed in cool clothes and have a really good time laughing, singing and dancing?

Spread the word. Bring as many people as you can. As the Prime Minister says, ‘We’re all in this together’ so let’s have a bloody good time together!

THE BEGGAR’S OPERA runs from the 24th to the 26th of March at the York Theatre Royal as part of the Takeover festival.

Performances at 7.30pm with 2.30pm Matinees on the Friday and Saturday

Book online at or call the box office on 01904 623 568

*There may be special repercussions for those in the most elaborate costumes

Monday, 7 March 2011

Theatre as Protest

I don’t know how much you might know about Belt Up. I guess at least enough to have lead you here. This is long, but please hear me out.

If you know us, have seen our shows or just know us socially; if you like our work or hate our work; if you have just heard some things about us for better or for worse – for whatever reason you might be reading this – I would ask you to read on. And once you have read on I would ask you to get a friend to read this, or a colleague, and another and another, and get them to get someone else to read it. Whether you agree or disagree, I think this is important and I hope you do too.

Belt Up Theatre is a young company. We set up whilst still at University of York, where we all met. We all studied English. We all grew up at the Uni’s Drama Society. We went to NSDF and had a blast. We were went up to Edinburgh Festival and made a hell of a lot of shows. We were a part of TakeOver at York Theatre Royal. We were given a residency at York Theatre Royal. We have, time after time, thrived on the generosity and community spirit that exists within the arts. We have met wonderful and inspirational people.

We are in our early twenties and running a theatre company. We were featured in The Observer. We are contacted by people at schools, in sixth forms, at drama schools, at Unis, studying for MAs and PhDs who want to ask us about what we do and how we do it because they find it interesting or exciting. We provide workshops in schools too and offer any advice we can to anyone who wants it or needs it.

We are in our early twenties but are starting to make some headway in to the world of Modern British Theatre. We aren’t trained, we have had no one looking after us, we have learnt from our mistakes. The other people in our company are our age too, our peers who want to act and perform and create, we are able to offer them that opportunity. Sure, we don’t pay well, but we get by.

We aren’t exceptional. There are lots of companies doing the same thing. Companies like Little Bulb, Rash Dash and Catapulting Cacoon. Other people our age who have just thought ‘Fuck it, we’re going to make our way in the arts.’ I take my hat off to you. It’s the most bloody fun in the world, but it’s hard and is soon to get a lot harder.

I am concerned: Are we the last of a dying breed?

Everything I listed above, every reason why Belt Up is able to exist, is soon to disappear. Why? Because of this Government. Because this Government is, step by step, royally fucking the arts.

Perhaps a lot of this comes down to University Fees. We met at University; NSDF is populated by University Students; Audiences for companies like us, Rash Dash etc are made up of students; TakeOver focuses on the under 25’s, of which many are students. If no one can afford to go to University then all this student network breaks down.

More than that, people won’t be able to afford Artsdegrees because a job in the Arts is never going to pay off the debt they will be left with. So the infrastructure and management of the Arts is going to disappear and become corporate. Theatres aren’t going to be able to afford to create and offer such generous opportunities as York Theatre Royal has to us, or Slung Low have to Rash Dash. It is going to become harder and harder to carve a path in the Arts. It’s appalling. The whole structure and generosity of the Arts is going to crumble, not because the people will change, but because the necessary infrastructure will no longer be possible.

And the audiences. A Night Less Ordinary has gone, ticket prices will go up, the demographic will narrow and people like us who live of the minimum possible will no longer be able to access theatre. Companies like Belt Up will be forced to up our ticket prices, which means we lose our core audience, which means our theatre means less and has less impact. It means that people won’t get in touch from schools, Universities and Drama Schools. Why? Because no one will be able to afford to see our work, because no one will be coming in to the arts wanting to know what we might have found out, and because no one will be studying Theatre or English because they will no longer be viable options.

It’s sad. Very, very sad.

We are currently in rehearsal for The Beggar’s Opera for TakeOver Festival at York Theatre Royal. Take a look at that sentence and see what’s at stake.

Our Beggar’s Opera is fun, irreverent but important. It’s a big ‘Fuck You’ to the ConDems.

It sounds obvious, but I feel quite strongly about this:

The very act of people like us putting on a show like The Beggar’s Opera for people like TakeOver at somewhere like York Theatre is, for me, an act of protest. All the components of this production – the people involved, those who have programmed it and supported, the venue, the crew – everything about it is at risk. To make a show that stands up and says ‘Look at what we are doing. We are young and able to do this because all the people around us have made it possible. And you, Mr Cameron, and you, Mr Clegg, are going to slowly burn us to the ground. Well, if you do, we’re are going to go down kicking and screaming and making a bloody big fuss.’ I think this, regardless of whether the show is any good, is an important thing to do. For me this is a gesture of protest. We are displaying a whole stratum of society that is going to disappear. I don’t want that stratum to disappear because it is a fucking good stratum.

I’m not suggesting that Belt Up can change the world. But we are making work by twenty-somethings and, as above, we are making it for so many reasons, ones that we care about. And I don’t think it’s just us. Belt Up, Rash Dash, Little Bulb, Catapulting Cacoon, TakeOver. These are all exciting and important and generous people who all flourish in a strong and thriving network of artists. We need people like York Theatre Royal, NSDF, Slung Low; we need the people who are able to be generous. By doing so it means that we can be generous too. It’s a cycle and a damn important one.

The Beggar’s Opera, for me, stands up to Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg and says ‘Look! Look what this network can do, look what this network can create and support.’ I am more than willing to use this network of wonderful people to tell the ConDems that we are pissed of, and they are risking a lot.

Like I say, even if you know nothing about us, you must know someone in the arts, or at University, or who goes to the theatre, or makes work, or who goes to a youth theatre; the list is endless.

Let’s keep it endless.

Alexander Wright

Co-Artistic Director & Director for The Beggar's Opera

TakeOver Festival runs at York Theatre Royal from 14th - 26th March

The Beggar's Opera runs as part of TakeOver from 24th - 26th March

Pushing Belt Up's Boundaries

We are into our second week now of Beggar’s Opera rehearsals and things are starting to look good, we had a stumble through this weekend and everyone seems to be gaining a sense of how the show hangs together. As rehearsal goes on however I think we all become more aware of how much we are pushing Belt Up’s own boundaries.

One of the many ways in which we are doing this is by attempting a piece of ‘Political Theatre.’ While other shows such as Lorca is Dead have necessarily touched on politics in the process of telling their stories, this is the first time that the company has attempted to make anything with a definite agenda. This brings very specific challenges.

For one the amount of research that has gone into the show is huge and I have spent a significant amount of the last month reading articles, watching videos and listening to opinions to make sure that the show is informed, current and relevant. My research has taken me from the Anglo-Spanish war of the early 18th Century , through the 1984/5 miners strike by way of the bombing of the Belgrano and onto the current debate over voting rights for prisoners. This research won’t stop until the curtain goes up on the final performance at the end of March, if some huge event happens on the day it will go into the show that evening.

One of the most important parts of the research process began last week when we asked each actor what the show, and in particular the politics of the show, meant to them. While I would never expect all of us to be identical in our political views, I was surprised to hear the wide variety of reasons people had for being involved in this piece of overtly political theatre.

For many people there seemed to be a real feeling that our version Beggar’s Opera might be able to achieve something, that by creating a piece of theatre we might be able to encourage people to question or change their own political views. For others it was about creating something that reacted to arts cuts and a real concern that opportunities might not be available to people of our generation in the future. At least one member of the company was excited about turning their hand to a piece of political and social satire, perhaps as they are a huge Monty Python Fan! There was even one of us who admitted that the show for them was far more about the chance to perform on such a big stage rather than any political agenda.

These reasons have been as important in the way we’ve interpreted our characters as all of our combined historical and political research. The question we have been asking ourselves is how the opinions of George II might sit alongside those of Margaret Thatcher while taking into consideration Nick Clegg’s beliefs (or lack there of) and Laura’s/Dom’s/Serena’s own personal reasons for being in the show. It is a huge challenge as Belt Up isn’t used to tackling political issues, however there is a feeling that if we pull it off we might have created something really quite special.

Joe Hufton

Assistant Director