Here is a list of our activities to date. Scroll down if you’d like to read it in chronological order:
During summer and autumn we put together a proposal for the second Dialogue festival, to take place in the south-west: initially the idea is that it will happen in Plymouth and Exeter, but when that funding application is rejected, we reapply for the festival to take place only in Exeter. Unfortunately that application is also rejected, and our plans for the second festival are put on hold.
We hold our first workshop for the Independent Theatre Council, Get the Best from the Press.
Maddy travels to Preston for Derelict, a festival of contemporary performance, to give a writing workshop and host a discussion titled: ‘How do we create, facilitate and fascinate in the public realm?’ alongside three brilliant women: Jenny Rutter, executive director of They Eat Culture; Tamsin Drury, director of hAb, and artist Lowri Evans. Maddy also led a writing team, whose responses to the festival can be read here.
We travel to Lancaster on the invitation of producer Leo Burtin to attend Hear Me Roar!, a festival of feminist performance and discussion. We discussed the festival, and our role as its ‘critical friends’, with Leo: a shorter version of that discussion can be read on Exeunt, and a longer version here.
Maddy collaborates with IBT15 (In Between Time) in Bristol to create the digital project Gathering Storm, capturing conversations happening through and around the festival programme, responding to work and commissioning the team of young festival writers to respond to its theme of storm.
We collaborate with Amber Massie-Blomfield (Head of Communications at the Albany and Executive Director of Camden People’s Theatre) on an informal discussion event, Who Are Our Audiences and How Can We Engage with Them Better?, bringing together people who market theatre and people who write about it to think about how we can forge stronger relationships – with audiences, and with each other.
We deliver our biggest project to date: Talking/Making/Taking Part, a two-day festival of discussions and interactive performance at Ovalhouse in London. Across the two days we get people involved in big conversations about what it means to participate and what the politics – especially of privilege and sometimes unconscious exclusion – are behind that; we invite audiences to engage in one-on-one and small-group work, and to have fun in large-scale interactive works in the main theatre; above all, we provide a free lunch (cooked by Maddy’s mum!) so that theatre work happens in an informal living space that encourages people who don’t know each other to start up conversations together. You can read reviews of the event on Everything Theatre, Culturebot and Lee Anderson’s blog. Our own documentation can be read here.
Maddy leads a writing workshop in Darlington with Jabberwocky Market. One of the workshop attendees, Val, has never written about theatre before, but goes on to contribute some writing to the New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood blog.
At the invitation of Greyscale, we lead a writing workshop at Northern Stage in Newcastle.
We’re invited to host discussion sessions at the Independent Theatre Council‘s 40th Anniversary conference, Spirit of Independence. Titled “How To Get the Best From the Press”, our sessions cover relationships with mainstream criticis and bloggers, best practice in social media, and new ideas for audience engagement.
In collaboration with Forest Fringe, Dialogue presents a series of Small Talks at the Edinburgh fringe festival, informal discussions with theatre-makers in the Forest Fringe programme to which anyone is invited to join in. Small Talkers include Action Hero, Bryony Kimmings, Christopher Brett Bailey, Sleepwalk Collective, Chris Goode, Louise Orwin and Selina Thompson. Maddy also makes a hand-drawn fanzine responding to the festival: if you’d like a copy, please email Maddy[at]welcometodialogue[dot]com.
We’re invited to speak at In Battalions, a one-day festival organised by Fin Kennedy to look at arts funding and how we can best nurture the theatre ecosystem. The text of our speech can be read here.
Maddy contributes an essay to the Theater Communications Group website (which exists to nurture and promote American independent theatre) on the whys and hows and roots of Theatre Club.
Maddy collaborates with LIFT2014 and IdeasTap to lead a Critical Writing Workshop for 12 aspiring theatre-writers. You can find out more about the materials Maddy used for the workshop, and read our unedited reviews of the shows, in the Projects page of this website, while the edited reviews have all been published on the LIFT website.
Cambridge Junction takes the first step in establishing and nurturing a local critical community with a three-part workshop event that invites participants to take part in general discussions with a trio of established theatre-writers, then write about specific productions in the Junction’s programme. Maddy leads the second workshop (in between Matt Trueman and Donald Hutera), and discovers how very full of contradiction her thinking on criticism has become. Find out more in the blog post Up the Junction in our News section.
We hold a gathering at Camden People’s Theatre for theatre critics to meet, share practice and dream about the shapes criticism might take in the future.
Maddy takes part in a discussion on the relationship between digital and theatre at Battersea Arts Centre, alongside Annette Mees of Coney, Katherine Jewkes of National Theatre Wales and Sarah Ellis of the RSC.
Maddy is invited to Brock University in Canada to take part in a conference on criticism alongside Andy Horwitz of Culturebot and academic Jill Dolan, aka the Feminist Spectator. Maddy talks quite a lot about Dialogue and being critic-in-residence with Chris Goode & Company, memorably and usefully inspiring one avid theatre-goer to recognise herself as an “audience practitioner”, and a director to describe “embedded” criticism as a variant on biography.
Maddy takes part in the Live Art Development Agency’s “15 Minutes With…” podcast series, talking with brilliant writer and producer Mary Paterson about the relationship between critical writing and live art. Listen here.
We’re invited to engage with the second RADAR season at the Bush, mostly to explore how the platform discussions might reach beyond the theatre auditorium across the country, but also to think about how the programme’s community-based activities impact on the local area. We hold two Twitter debates to discuss ideas that emerge in the second and third platform events, spend a very chilly and ineffective afternoon attempting to talk about theatre to people in the streets, and Maddy documents the ripple effect of Inua Ellams’ Midnight Run. Our residency is rounded off with a speech delivered at the final platform event, entitled One Brief Conversation at a Time: Reaching Out To a Wider Community.
We’re invited to take part in a networking event organised by House, based at Farnham Maltings, for venues based across the South-East, to talk about our work and particularly our experiments with audience engagement through different types of post-show discussion and theatre clubs.
Maddy spends a week at the Bike Shed in Exeter with Chris Goode and Company, during their residency working on a new large-scale ensemble piece, Albemarle. The residency ends with a Dialogue discussion night, at which we discuss the value of presenting, not rough showings of a work-in-progress, but “ideas in progress”: conversation nights, poetry readings and monologues that link thematically with the thinking behind Albemarle.
We visit Mayfest in Bristol to hold a conversation with theatre-makers, programmers, producers, writers and theatre-goers on the need for localised critical communities to work alongside artist communities, watching and critiquing performances within a local as well as national context.
We’re invited for our second residency at Battersea Arts Festival in London during the month-long scratch festival. We attend a variety of scratch performances, from “Freshly Scratched” talent-show events to rough initial sketches of an idea to work-in-progress showings of almost finished pieces. In a programme of Small Talks, we meet with people creating work at BAC in the cafe for hour-long conversations about their work and their relationship with BAC and Scratch, to which passers-by are invited and encouraged to join in. And we stage our second Speakeasy event, to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of Scratch as a development process.
We visit the Transform festival at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, and host a panel discussion on the subject of theatre’s ability to transform cities and enliven communities. But it’s a panel discussion with a difference. We call it The Speakeasy: five speakers sit around a long table, with the audience all around; at any point, audience members are invited to take a seat at the table and contribute to the conversation. The idea originates with performance artist Lois Weaver, who conceived the piece as a kind of staged dinner party: we hope to keep using this format, as the dynamic it creates in the room is fascinating.
Our first Dialogue Theatre Clubs, inspired by the Two Boroughs Theatre Clubs set up by Lily Einhorn at the Young Vic in London, co-hosted by Maddy. We hold two different groups at Battersea Arts Centre, London to discuss Ring; our participants include people from across the theatre industry, an architect, a child protection officer and a bus driver. A list of all the Theatre Clubs we’ve hosted since can be found here.
Maddy attends the In Between Time festival in Bristol as writer-in-residence, leading a team of five emerging writers. Together we have writing published in the Guardian, Exeunt, A Younger Theatre, This Is Tomorrow and Urban Times.
Maddy begins working with the production company Fuel on a new audience engagement programme, New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood, working with local engagement specialists in Poole, Preston, Stockton, Colchester and Malvern to think about some of the barriers to theatre attendance, and different models of talking about theatre with audiences.
We’re given a week-long attachment at the National Theatre Studio, during which we publish our BAC documentation and spend time answering a question/challenge set by Tassos Stevens: The specific reasons why or why not dialogue makes better theatre criticism.
Chris Goode invites Maddy to take part in Thompson’s Live, a series of podcast recordings, and talk about Dialogue and the shifts we are advocating in critical practice and engagement.
We’re invited to take part in the Radar season at the Bush Theatre, London, in a panel discussion titled: Is Critical Discourse Keeping Pace with Contemporary Theatre? Maddy gives a provocation titled What Are We Afraid Of? arguing that theatre criticism would benefit from writers engaging with the making process.
Residence, an artists’ collective based in Bristol, invite us for a two-day Hideaway: time in which we can work on our own projects but also discuss our work with the Residence group. We take part in a Tiny Ideas session, and share an idea for an interactive, enthusiasm-based website in which participants can send postcards about work they’re seeing around the country.
We join up with the Young Vic in London to start a Theatre Club, informal gatherings to discuss shows in the Young Vic programme, inspired less by post-show Q+A events and more by book groups formed by friends. This is part of the Two Boroughs scheme, an audience engagement programme that gives tickets to local residents who might not otherwise come to the Young Vic.
Dialogue residency at Battersea Arts Centre in London for the duration of Autumn Cook-Up. From our base in the BAC cafe, we spend the three weeks discovering how BAC operates, watching rehearsals for Scratch shows, watching all the work programmed in the season, and thinking about new ways to engage with audiences.
For the Love of Theatre: the second Dialogue discussion, held at BAC. We talk about what different readers want from criticism, whether press nights are useful for theatre-makers, and the strange parent-child relationship that exists in traditional critical practice.
We’re invited to give a provocation at the Risking Together conference discussing strategies for more supportive and effective touring, at Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham. We advocate critical horizontalism, and dream of theatre coverage based on communication between theatre-writers and -makers, not star ratings.
We join up with Northern Stage at St Stephen’s during the Edinburgh festival to hold our first Dialogue discussion. We have the thrilling feeling that we’ve created a space in which theatre-makers and theatre-writers can talk openly and honestly about their own frustrations and desires with theatre criticism.
Dialogue begins as a collaboration between Maddy Costa (then mostly a theatre and pop critic with the Guardian) and Jake Orr (then mostly a writer, and founder/artistic director of A Younger Theatre). Our conversation begins at Devoted and Disgruntled (February 2012), at a session called by Maddy: “What new dialogue can we set up between people who write about theatre and people who make it?”
It’s further fuelled by:
- an essay on the New York website Culturebot, on the New Criticism, which contains a manifesto for “critical horizontalism”, arguing that: “The writer’s response is the continuation of a dialogue initiated by the artist.”
- an essay by Andrew Haydon on “embedded” criticism,
- and a dare to theatre-makers by Daniel Bye.
We set up the Dialogue website as a playful experiment and begin trying to rethink what theatre criticism is, how it’s written, who writes it, and what it’s for.