In this, the first of soon to be many special feature articles, The Greater Manchester Reviewer delves deep into the fringes of the Northern theatre scene in search of grassroots performances and off-the-beaten-track venues.
Under the spotlight first are Postcard Theatre, who will be bringing their new production, A Grey Divide, to Manchester’s Nexus Arts Cafe in November 2017.
Director John-Mark Reid answers the questions, revealing a rather unusual story as to how this new show came to be ….
Who are Postcard Theatre?
We’re a small, fringe company based in the North West. We’re made up of a few consistent members led by myself, bringing in a few trusted people into each project before opening auditions to find our casts. We put a large emphasis on quality of product and to do that we keep our team numbers small with key trusted individuals working closely and honestly together. We are doing our best to make good drama that we can be proud of whilst enjoying the industry we all love.
How did it all begin?
In terms of the company, we first and foremost were trying to create opportunities for ourselves and have since developed a desire to provide further opportunities for other like minded individuals.
For example, on our current project our producer, Kate Portman, is doing the role for the first time and learning her craft whilst doing so. We have also worked with production assistant Jade Haslam on the last two projects, an extremely talented theatre maker who has just left college, she is looking to pursue Stage Management and Production training, so we are giving her experience to use and develop her talents with us whilst also giving her the opportunity to add experience and make her competitive for the best courses in the country.
I think it can be difficult for talented people to break in if they don’t know the right people, if we can help a couple people on their path then that is a delight to us. On top of that we were originally based in Preston and Lancaster, where fringe work is limited, we wanted to bring these shows to these cities, which is not always easy but we are doing our bit where possible to develop a more creative and accessible environment whilst also giving entertaining and interesting productions.
Why are you called “Postcard Theatre”?
Haha, honestly? There are two major reasons, one which sounds really good and one which is a bit more cringeworthy! The good reason is that we like the idea of Postcards, a short, inexpensive message sent back home to family to share the positivity you are experiencing. Showing those people that you are thinking about them and want to share your experience with them. That is an analogy we liken to our work. We are creating unflashy but sincere, genuine pieces of work and want to share those heartfelt experience with audiences and company members. Fitting into our ‘family’ atmosphere we like to create.
The more cringe worthy reason was that in the very first show we produced, when we were a collective of people rather than a named company, we used the song Better Together by Jack Johnson. The very first line of that song is ‘There’s no combination of words I can put on the back of a Postcard’… over that production, this line was one which we all hooked into and first brought the Postcard idea to our minds.
So how did your new production A Grey Divide come about?
We first came across the script for A Grey Divide in 2015 when the Cuban-American playwright, Juan C. Sanchez, entered it into a writing competition we hosted.
We had more than 200 entries from all over the world, at the time we felt we wanted to go with another script, so we subsequently developed the two winners into full productions, Virtual Reality and Children of Cain.
However, the characters of Jason and Anna Maria never left our mind. So in January of this year we revisited the script and had a conversation with Juan about what we wanted to do with the piece to develop it into a production of ours. He has been fantastic, supporting all of our developments of his work, over the next few months we worked with his script, workshopping it, adapting the Americanisms into British reference points and playing with the scenes to see where they could go.
So a Miami-based playwright entered a writing competition organised by a Northern English theatre company, he didn’t win but you eventually took on his play anyway? How did that work?
We would send our thoughts to Juan who would help us redraft the work into the piece that we are now taking on tour. It has been a great process to be part of and we have had a fantastically supportive playwright who has made this a fulfilling and exciting process. We are completely in love with these characters which is a constant frustration as we also hate them both! We have never really decided who we think is in the right, they’re both so unlikeable! But through working with them, we can’t help love them for their flaws and insecurities.
This piece is completely of Juan’s conception and we have simply developed and worked his story and characters and whilst working on it we had the idea to set in the cafes and coffee shops. The fact the opening scene is set in a coffee house made us question why make a ‘set’ when we could just have them perform there for real? It also allows us to give the audience a different experience, they really will be a fly on the wall of this developing relationship. They will be in the same coffee house where the characters meet, they will be there in the flat with the two characters and we hope this immersive experience, combined with the controversial and challenging subject matter will provide a memorable experience for the audience.
An unusual start to the project then, who else is involved?
Our producer Kate Portman came to watch our show Children of Cain last November. We talked after the show and stayed in contact through the year. When the opportunity came up and we discussed the role with her it all came together very quickly to bring her on board and we have found her a delight to have in the team.
Jade Haslam, our production assistant, has worked with me before when I directed shows at a local college in Preston. Jade co-designed my set for a production of Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock; and she also designed all the make up when I directed Alice by Laura Wade. Noticing her natural and instinctive talents as well as having a great attitude we were happy to offer her the opportunity to keep working with us and add to her portfolio through our Children of Cain and A Grey Divide projects.
Our cast came simply from an open audition process in which we spoke to a number of performers before eventually deciding on Marcy Hazel and Neil Procter, who we are very happy with and can’t wait to see them take on the challenge of these performances.
So, given that A Grey Divide is set in a cafe, I guess that explains the choice of Manchester’s Nexus Art Cafe as a venue?
Yes, we were just looking for cafe and coffee shop type places. We went to each of our tour cities and found that Nexus was ideal, a great size, fantastic service and welcoming feeling and had a great arts vibe which we loved the moment we walked in. As soon as we knew we could secure that venue we were so excited and are delighted to be bringing the story of Jason and Anna-Maria to this venue.
You’ve been going for three years now, where do you see yourselves in the Manchester / UK theatre scene?
We are not that well known, we don’t have the biggest financial backing but we are honest, genuine and committed to the company and the processes we undertake. Our projects always have a great feeling about them and we have stayed in contact with all of the performers we have worked with and all of whom speak highly of their time spent with us.
Where do you want to be taking Postcard Theatre next?
We would like to enhance and develop the recognition of the company, to have more people hear of us and experience the work we produce as we are very proud of it and the reviews we have had over the years have always favourable. The more we grow our circle the more we can develop and produce and take these processes to a wider audience.
What’s good / bad about theatre right now (especially up North), where should it be going?
There is so much to love about our industry and every project we take on shows us why we love it. Would we like to see greater opportunities for less privileged people? Would we like people from outside of the major cities to experience work and theatre the same as everyone else? Of course we would.
But that won’t change overnight, and until it does, we will keep working in and visiting the Prestons, Lancasters and Wigans of this world and we will keep working with people who don’t have the contacts or opportunities to otherwise get a start whilst producing work to be proud of and work to take on tour.
Finally then, what’s coming up next for Postcard Theatre, any new ideas?
Ideally, we want to get ourselves up to Edinburgh. We need to work out the financial implications and logistics of the project but we have a script currently being developed by my brother and local script writer Andre Reid, who is changing tact and trying his hand at writing for stage over screen. We don’t want to give too much away as its an idea we really like and want to protect, but we have the working title of ‘The Quartet‘ and we think it could be an interesting Edinburgh project.
Nexus Art Cafe – 2 Dale Street, Manchester, M1 1JW
Situated in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, the Nexus Art Cafe sits hidden away amongst dozens of other trendy bars, pubs and restaurants; yet this is a venue with a rather unusual difference.
Nexus is a registered charity, operating as a not-for-profit enterprise. An exclusively alcohol- and drug-free venue, the cafe aims to create a safe place where the public can relax without the pressure of drinking. With strong, core values of creativity, community and spirituality – all born from a broadly Christian spiritual origin, Nexus Cafe regularly hosts events, exhibitions and performances such as Postcard Theatre’s A Grey Divide.
Postcard Theatre take A Grey Divide on tour from October 2017 onwards, the show will be performed in Manchester’s Nexus Arts Cafe on:
- Monday November 6th, 19:30
- Tuesday November 7th, 19:30