In so many ways it's not been a great year - Charlotte Jones from the ITC (Independent Theatre Council) captures that brilliantly in this blog '2016 has been an unprecedented b*****d of a year'. Her search for hope and inspiration from the work of ITC members, reminds me of this inspiring key note at Collective Encounters Rediscovering the Radical Conference here in Liverpool Now is the Moment to learn Hope, by John Holloway
So as I sit here in our temporary offices in Stanley Buildings (as we prepare for the Build Unity Better capital project to begin) I thought I'd look back, in a hopeful way, at some of my Unity highlights from 2016. Its certainly been a busy year - 116 different shows, 298 performances and 23,766 attendees.
It would be difficult not to start with Nina - a story about me and Nina Simone, our co-production with Riksteatern which sold out Unity and is still touring Sweden. Searing honesty, breath-taking performance, brilliant music and an urgent, vital message which seemed to get more and more vital as the year went on.
Nina - a story about me and Nina Simone
2016 also saw us 'launch' three very different shows which toured the length and breadth of the UK. First up was the quite brilliant mash up of puppetry, hip hop and spoken word in the Broke n Beat collective. Theatre Rites and 20 Stories High collided to create something very, very special.
Launching shows into the cultural stratosphere
Then came our magical co production with Up The Road Theatre Bardolphs Box - part of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations - which toured libraries, schools and rural venues across the North West and South East....and Up The Road Theatre were also able to take the show out again in Autumn 16.
And finally Autumn also saw us launch Tmesis Happy Hour - an hilarious look at self help, and our 21st century obsession with happiness and success.
All of these shows - and many more across the year - were , in some way, Made at Unity - and there is nothing better than the building buzzing with artists 'making stuff', as this blog Less a factory more a cottage industry notes. As a side note one of the artists R&Ding with us way back in Jan 16, Hetan Patel, brings the show he was working on American Man to Our Out of Space season in March (details here).
Talking about new talent our participation programmes - including Splatts and our brilliant Youth Theatre keep on going from strength to strength. The Youth Theatre have spent the year experimenting with different styles and writers resulting in performances across the City as well as at Unity concluding with a very special show in The Dark Dark Wood (see below).
Breaking out onto Hope Street
In May Unity led much of the work around Hope Street Pentecost Pageant, which saw the street transformed into a stage filled with a cast of over 300 including street performers, a multitude of singers, choirs, clergy, dancers, artists and musicians all uniting to celebrate Liverpool’s Pentecost Pageant. Which is only right and proper for a street that boasts two Cathedrals, three Universities, three major arts organisations and a whole host of creative and independent businesses. Such a great street!
Earlier that year the Liverpool Acoustic Festival had broken out of its usual Unity home, onto Hope Street and into the new Philharmonic Music Room, where we saw the first scratch sharing of another Unity commission - Lizzie Nunnery Horny Handed Tons of Soil which will form our contribution to the 2017 Mersey Beat anniversary.
Talking of festivals .......Unity is the home to many of Liverpool's boutique festivals and this year thanks to Physical Fest, Dada and Homotopia in particular we were witness to some quite extraordinary and often breathtaking work. No one who saw Project O's Swagga will forget that night, and I only need to think of Trygve Wakenshaw to burst into laughter. And that's not to mention Penny Arcade, Claire Cunningham and so, so many more!
This video comes with a health warning - if you look hard enough there is some unfortunate coverage of me taking part in a workshop, and here I am getting characteristically excited by the Unity take over in November by Dada and Homotopia!
The news of a Catalyst award enabled us to throw ourselves into two unusual events. First up came Future Assembly a national project,a project imagining the future so we can build a better world today. You'll notice the front page of Future Assembly's web page is an image from the work of Liverpool (and London's) fab More Than Minutes. That was followed in September by Hackstage which brought together artists, technicians and digital disruptors in a stimulating three day exchange of ideas and thinking co-ordinated by the hub.
Christmas CollaborationsLast but by no means least our year has been book-ended by two beautiful seasonal shows created with our long term collaborators Action Transport.January saw the last performances of Princess and the Pea with Pea Mania quite literally taking over the theatre. And of course we are now currently mid way through Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf (tickets here) which has been wooing artists and audiences alike. Its a beautiful, clever and fun re telling of the traditional tale and a perfect introduction to theatre for younger audiences!
Inspired by Little Red, and with some help from the PRS foundation., designer Katie Scott and the the Splatts transformed Unity Two into The Dark Dark Wood. An immersive space it became home to a host of new music (from the Aleph, Jason Singh and Patick Dineen), the Youth Theatre and Splatts. . Come back to see some video from the shows soon!
Heres to a creative, generous and all together better 2017!