Hello! We are still here... The big Lyric doors may be closed but we are still working inside on a part-time basis. Speaking of the doors, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed they’ve had a facelift, courtesy of young artist Imi Neylan. Colourful smiling faces now adorn the doors, which Imi painted as part of the recent Portrait Challenge. Did you take part?
For five weeks over the summer we championed the Portrait Challenge in partnership with Bridport Rights Respecting Town, with additional support from Bridport Museum, Magna Housing, SEAFAIR, Bridport Open Studios, Bridport Contemporary Gallery, T Snooks, Bridport Hat Festival and various shops and businesses in town. The premise was simple - draw a portrait of yourself or a loved one and display it in your home window or a shop window, and/or online, using the hashtag #theportraitchallenge, and spread a smile. Various artists in town led a number of free pop-up portrait drawing sessions to encourage portrait making between each other, culminating in a mass (socially distanced) portrait drawing event on Bucky Doo Square, on a sunny August bank holiday Saturday.
We estimate that around 500 portraits were made over the five weeks, whether displayed in windows, shared on social media, drawn in pop-up drawing sessions in various areas around town (as well as online) or drawn in cafés, where we had left out materials for people to draw portraits as they sat for a coffee. It was a truly intergenerational project involving a wide range of ages and diverse backgrounds. Professional artists and people drawing for the first time all took part, looking at and learning from each other, often while enjoying conversation. After several months of social disconnect, the Portrait Challenge offered our community a chance to reconnect with each other, to see and be seen. After a period of having been hidden away we could make each other’s faces visible again through the power of a portrait, an analogue antidote to a selfie! The process of selecting 12 portraits to go into Bridport Museum’s archive will shortly take place, after being on display at the Tourist Information Centre, one a month during 2021. You can view some of the portraits on our Wakelet page here.
The Portrait Challenge was one of the first projects to come out of our Curtain Up On Communities initiative. Thanks to the generosity of many supporters, in June/July we raised £1550 via Crowdfunder for this initiative, to find ways of bringing the arts out of the theatre while we cannot invite audiences in and to use artists’ skills within the community during the coming months while the theatre remains closed. The Bridport Black Lives Matter banner was the pilot project of our Curtain Up On Communities initiative. We wanted to help be a voice and a place that could contribute, so as a community-rooted enterprise we donated stage curtains to make the backdrop for the banner. The banner was hand-stitched together by local people (observing social distancing) who discussed issues of race and privilege as they sewed and were reminded that it is possible to have friendly and enlightening conversations about these vital issues. The banner was then carried through Symondsbury in a cortege style procession and unfurled on iconic Colmer's Hill, where it was filmed by a drone cameraman. The banner has been hosted by other villages, schools and rural sites, and can be draped in the landscape to be filmed by a drone camera. In this way small rural communities can show solidarity with their urban counterparts without breaking pandemic restrictions.
Our next project as part of Curtain Up On Communities is in the planning stages at the moment, for taking place over the winter months across Bridport. Watch this space!
While theatres have only recently been allowed to reopen to the public for very restricted performances, many small venues like The Lyric cannot yet viably stage performances. We hope soon we will be able to before long, we very much miss welcoming audiences in, watching live performances and enjoying the buzz of events here. Instead we have been using this time offering the space to artists needing somewhere to make, rehearse or livestream work, and we’re thrilled that artists are using the building; individually, as duos or in small groups, again complying with safety guidelines. As a theatre maker herself, one of owner Niki McCretton’s aims for The Lyric when she bought it was to create space for artists to make work in. There is a distinct shortage of theatre creation space across the country, and we felt it important to support artists and offer them the resource of space we have here, at a time when presenting live work and touring was so uncertain. We feel very proud that 31 artists, half of whom are young people, have welcomed using the space for their creative practices since July. So when you walk past the Lyric on Rax Lane you may hear the piano or trumpet being played, or people rehearsing a show for the day they can perform it for you. Or maybe they are live streaming it!
A very different use of the theatre has been for stallholders as part of the Farmers Market and Vegan & Craft Market to Barrack Street. There is a one-way flow for visitors through the building, with safety measures in place.
Some very positive news announced last week is that our resident company Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company has been awarded £94,000 as part of the Government’s £1.57billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) to help face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and to ensure they have a sustainable future. Stuff and Nonsense is one of 1,385 cultural and creative organisations across the country receiving urgently needed support. £257million of investment has been announced as part of the very first round of the Culture Recovery Fund grants programme being administered by Arts Council England. Further rounds of funding in the cultural and heritage sector are due to be announced over the coming weeks. Stuff and Nonsense are a long-standing, national touring company who create large theatre productions for families to enjoy together, who also work with young people in schools across the South West. Based at The Lyric as Company in Residence, Stuff and Nonsense create their work in the building (filling the hall with their sets!) to then tour to larger theatres such as Theatre Royal Plymouth. The lockdown meant that all the company’s touring was suddenly cancelled. This grant enables the company to get back on its feet to prepare shows to be seen at Christmas in different parts of the country, and to put on socially distanced performances of its acclaimed adaptation of The Gingerbread Man at Lighthouse Poole during October half term. There is much needed money to cover essential overheads, such as rent to the Lyric, storage and insurances plus support the many freelance artists that the company work with over the next six months to give them jobs and stability.
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