David Byrne’s AMERICAN UTOPIA screens on SkyArts on Saturday December 18th

David Byrne’s AMERICAN UTOPIA is broadcast on Saturday December 18th at 6.00pm (UK time) on Sky Arts Freeview channel (11)

Starting as a 2018 album that Byrne, of Talking Heads fame saw become a chart-topper and the following year was used as the bais for a stage presentation, opening on Broadway in October 2019 to unanimously positive reviews.

The concert utilises the music from the album and blends them with the rest of Byrne’s catalogue of material from his time with Talking Heads to his solo work. The show’s choreography and musical staging are by Annie-B Parson.

AMERICAN UTOPIA will be broadcast on Sky Arts (channel 11) on Saturday 18th December at 6pm

VIEWS: Christmas 2021 – uncertain season piles on stress for theatres and producers

As mask mandates return to attempt to head off a Winter wave of new Covid variant Omicron, the theatre industry once again braces itself for cancellations and no-shows.

Brave producers getting shows out to the public are experiencing considerable resistance as the new variant causes a change in people’s behaviour, especially as regards being in a large hall with many hundreds of others at close range and feeling as though they have little control of their situation.

We really must all salute the courage and optimism of producers, working against a headwind of ever-morphing risk, to bring employment to creatives and entertainment to audiences.

Theatres who produce their own pantomime make a huge investment in order to financially front-load their year ahead, and the news that pantomime bookings are significantly down across the board will cause difficulty for all those brave venues trying to service their local communities and their creative community too.

But things can change very rapidly these days, and it is still hard to see how this new variant will act – and in what ways it will be different from the last prevalent variant. The incompetent UK government’s about-face in asking us to all wear masks again is too littl, too late yet again – it’s doomed to failure, thanks in most part to their abject lack of responsibility or leadership by example over the last 18 months. They really are an utter waste of space.

The sudden requirement for theatre audiences to wear masks again has reportedly caused a wave of requests to theatres for refunds. How theatres deal with this will be yet another thorny issue for producers, theatre owners and their hard-working and under-praised box office staff who have to square the circle with the public.

The plain fact is that that the mask requirement is patently unenforceable, even by the nicest and most eagle-eyed front of house staff. It is simply not doable for a handful of staff to enforce mask-wearing of hundreds of people – and of those who actually bother to comply, a fair proportion will be using the masks as a chin guard after 10 minutes – that, I can guarantee you.

Current audiences will mostly be those who calculate their own risk and of those around them and feel it “worth the gamble”.

However, I sincerely feel for all those parents and grandparents who feel genuinely unsure about taking their little ones to experience the joy and fun of pantomime, feeling desperately uneasy within themselves but feeling an obligation to act in a certain way for others, causing them untold stress and perhaps even illness.

Personally, I won’t be back inside a theatre until the case numbers have dropped significantly. But I am looking forward to getting back to the theatre we all love.

Have a very happy Christmas, and please enjoy theatre if you feel able, but please wear your masks (properly) and by respecting others, I sincerely hope that others will respect you, so that we can all have the Best Available Christmas once more.

Weekly online catch up for creatives

Creatives, here’s a great opportunity to join Relish Theatre each Friday for industry chats, script support, fundraising guidance and much more at their online coffee mornings. Giving and receiving help and advice in a friendly and supportive environment sounds just what creatives need right now. And it’s all free!

Coffee and a Creative Catch-Up – what could be better? Get signed up!

Happening every Friday from 10am-11am, until 10th December.

You can find out more here

Performing Arts Journal issues call for submissions

SINAIS DE CENA is a performing arts journal which has issued a call for submissions relating to the theme “Migrant Theatre- Practices of/for resistance and resilience”.

The past decade saw a wealth of migrant theatre and refugee performance initiatives from across Europe, addressing issues of displacement, identity and belonging, social inequalities and legacies of colonialism. Migrant artists and ensembles are at the forefront of decolonising dominant aesthetics, institutional practices, structures and canons – asking us to critically (re)examine our own positions and privileges, to resist established power (in)balances and hierarchies.

The journal says:”This Thematic Dossier of Sinais de Cena invites article submissions that reflect on the artistic practices, activism and collective actions fostered by migrant theatre initiatives after the so called European ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015.

We seek articles that examine artistic and institutional trajectories created by migrant theatre-makers and ensembles to rethink host-guest relations and the social-cultural asymmetries especially in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do migrant artists and collectives create or reconfigure spaces for resistance and resilience? What are the artistic and institutional means to address marginalisation and promote an inclusive change on and off stage? What is the role of theatre and performance in nurturing collective recognition and solidarity?

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

Aesthetics forged through (political) activism
Artistic and institutional practices and positions of/on inclusivity and diversity
Performances of belonging and non-belonging
Theatre-making and migrant rights
Migrant theatre and protest
Cultural participation and the position of migrant artists
Migrant theatre and shifts in cultural structures and canons”

Find more details and submission guidelines here

West End’s ex-Saville Theatre purchase strengthens hope for theatre return

Odeon Covent Garden, ex-Saville Theatre (photo courtesy David Simpson)

A company called Yoo Capital has bought the Odeon (ex-Saville Theatre in the West End for around £30million, it was recently announced.

Opened in 1931, designed by the noted firm of T P Bennett & Sons, the originally 1400-seater mid-sized venue was in theatrical use until 1970, when it was remodeled as a twin-screen cinema, split horizontally, as which it continues today.

Thankfully Camden Council rejected several recent attempts to get permission to gut the building for a 90+ room hotel adding extra floors to the building. A recent inspection showed that there was much more of the original interior still existing than originally thought, with quite possibly more to be uncovered as the 70s additions are stripped away.

This is the second time that we have heard of Yoo Capital in relation to London theatre; they are also one of the investors behind the new complex at Olympia which will build a large, brand new theatre which Trafalgar Entertainment will lease. Interesting too that Trafalgar have expressed interest in the Saville building before, so this may signal that the renovation of the Saville may well be run by Trafalgar.

The most easily appreciated original elements are on the original facade which has an incredibly detailed bas-relief frieze by sculptor Gilbert Bayes. Measuring 129 feet in length, depicting ‘Drama Through the Ages’ with representations of ‘St. Joan’, ‘Imperial Roman Triumphal Procession’, ‘Harlequinade’ and ‘War Plays’ etc. Sections of this frieze were displayed at the Royal Academy in 1930-1931, prior to their installation on the building. Along the top of the façade are a series of plaques, again sculpted by Gilbert Bayes, which represent ‘Art Through the Ages’.

This lengthy, arresting frieze remains intact and is Grade II listed.

Original auditorium of the Saville Theatre in 1931. Courtesy Martin Clark, via Ken Roe

No doubt we will hear more about this interesting development in the months ahead.