Inspired by the Twitter account Humans of Theatre, Mind the Gap presents Humans of MTG – an online campaign celebrating the people we have worked with over the past few years and beyond.
Globally we are all experiencing difficulties and challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, which are shared within the arts community. So here’s to all the amazing freelancers and artists out there who deserve a shout out!
Emilie Flower is a filmmaker who has worked with Mind the Gap for many years. Her credits for the company include the I’m Me music video, Magna Carta on Trial, My Story project and most recently the pre show films and live editing for ZARA.
Working with Mind the Gap
I’ll never forget working on ZARA. The scale, the ambition, the camaraderie, the collaboration. My strongest memory from the show is probably the moment that all the different ingredients came together for the first time in Halifax. Because of the scale of ZARA, we hadn’t run the whole show through together before the opening night so that first evening had a slightly electric pre show atmosphere of nerves and anticipation. This was somehow amplified by the giant baby basking in the evening sun in the middle of the Piece Hall amphitheatre and the surrounding hills, and the audience slowly and steadily filling up the space. It was great to watch the whole show unfold for the first time – complete with projections, film crew, choir, tank, quilt surfing and poomagedon craziness – and be part of such an explosion of technicolour creativity.
Other Mind the Gap Projects
I have many other less epic but unforgettable moments from the last few years of working with Mind the Gap; carrying a whole band set up across the moors to film the ‘Contained’ music video, improvising a medieval bathroom for the Magna Carta Summer School film set with Caitlyn in King John’s bath and a sort of dreamlike moment when Ewan stopped time in Bradford city centre by dancing across the millennium square fountains one sunny lunch break.
And, there are the smaller moments still; recording the all too often heart wrenching, and sometimes uplifting testimonies with parents for the Daughters of Fortune research and the careful and patient conversations with the team afterwards to make sense together of the things we had heard; the feeling of welcome and warmth that you get when you reach the top of the Manningham Hill and cross the threshold into the Mind the Gap Studios, and the inspiration from the ever refreshing variety of activities going on in the building.
When I was growing up the arts were a big deal in my neighbourhood. My school put on musicals each year with a part for everyone, we had free rein of the art and music rooms through the lunch breaks, and put on endless plays to no-one at our youth club in the co-op hall round the corner. I also lived up the road from Pegasus Youth Theatre. It meant I had free access to a stream of theatre, dance and arts professionals – and real theatre audiences – throughout my teenage years. I spent one summer on a contemporary dance camp, another making a shadow show, another playing a tree in a Polish play and imbetween were endless other overlapping activities. At the time making theatre seemed part of the furniture, it was easy to fall into the arts. Now I realise that theatre was an extraordinary part of ordinary life, and I was lucky enough to grow up in a time and place where we all knew that.
Jessica May Buxton played various roles including Curley’s Wife, Curley and Suzie in the adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men by Mike Kenny in 2011.
Meeting Mind the Gap
There are so many lovely memories because we were touring ‘Of Mice and Men’ for three months, but I think more than anything when I think about Mind the Gap and my time there, it was the people and the feeling of the place that stays with me. When I arrived for my audition it had been snowing and there was slush all over the ground, it was cold and miserable but I was met with huge smiles from everyone.
Honestly, I walked in to the building and all my nerves melted away. In fact I didn’t have a minute to start worrying about the audition as I sat myself down and started talking to people. I met Jack first and he was confident and kind and wished me all the luck in the world and then gradually I’m pretty sure I talked to nearly everyone in the room. There was no competitive vibe. It felt like sitting around with old friends and that’s pretty much how the whole tour turned out.
The Office team, Director, Asst Director and touring crew were just so open and welcoming. It was a very special tour for me and still to this day one of the best things I’ve done in my career.
I was encouraged during rehearsals to attend any other classes that were happening in the hub, and went along to a few dance classes which were magical. I never felt like an outsider, being the newbie I was thrown into life at the studios and everyone accepted me and supported me.
On tour we just laughed all the time, and I guess we had to because the play was so intense and emotionally draining, but I just remember smiling. We supported each other, built each other up and I think we were all very connected to Steinbeck’s story. We loved our characters and thrived on stage.
From being surrounded by live bunny rabbits green screen filming, making a documentary about the production, taking funny pics of our little mice props in tiny Director’s chairs, meeting Mike Kenny, staying in a haunted hotel, performing to thousands of people and crying our eyes out the last night of the tour at The Tobacco Factory in Bristol, it was just a beautiful experience and I’m so glad I got to share the stage with Rob and Jez.
The Bookworm Players
When I first left drama school I think because I was petite I kept getting cast in child roles, Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, Alice in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ etc and so I was performing to young audiences regularly. I fell head over heels in love with Children’s Theatre. They are the most enchanting audiences, and quite organically I began writing my own plays with young audiences in mind and this then snowballed into me setting up my Children’s theatre Company, ’The Bookworm Players’.
Since 2013 I’ve written 12 new shows (some musicals) for The Bookworm Players and performed to thousands of children in schools, parks and unusual settings. We deliver Interactive storytelling sessions and Participatory performances across the North.
More than anything I want to be able to bring theatre to new audiences, and young people who have never experienced it before.
I am so proud to still be working in the arts and I will always champion its importance in education and child development.
Katy Rubin is the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, a nonprofit organisation that partners with communities facing discrimination to spark transformative action through theatre. Katy spent some time working with Mind the Gap back in 2011.
memories of Mind the Gap
I have so many unforgettable memories from Mind the Gap. I loved the building, the joyful energy of the place, the sense of community, and the art that was being created every day. I particularly loved taking dance classes with the MTG company; I remember a hip hop class that was wildly energetic, sweaty and fun. Dance classes weren’t something that I’d usually include in my Theatre of the Oppressed practice, but I could feel how the classes informed the creativity and theatricality that were – are – so powerful in the company. I also noticed core values of mutual support, encouragement, and pure fun, which taught me a lot about how I wanted to lead Theatre of the Oppressed NYC once I returned. Fun became a key measurement of success for all our work in NYC in the years that followed!
Currently, I’m living in Manchester, England, working with the local government, community groups and arts orgs to use Legislative Theatre to develop a long-term Homelessness Prevention Strategy. Generally, my work is about supporting local communities around the US and UK in practicing Legislative Theatre – which is a fun, accessible, inclusive and creative tool for changing laws and rules that impact all residents. Some of the most impactful moments in the arts for me have been the collaborations between politicians, audiences, and actors who are impacted by structural racism and economic inequality.
The forum play brings an issue to life for everyone in the audience, and in some Legislative Theatre sessions, the policy ideas that have developed have been so much more exciting, and so much more ethical, than the policies our governments often debate in chambers. So, I’m energised to see it growing in the UK. In the meantime, being here has the added benefit of being able to see Mind the Gap’s shows, including the recent touring production of A Little Space at HOME in Manchester. Absolutely loved it!
Follow Katy on Twitter @KatyRubinTO
Manuela Benini (or Manu to us) worked with Mind the Gap in 2018 as the London Community Cast Director for our giant co-production with Walk the Plank and Emergency Exit Arts, ZARA.
Working on ZARA
There are so many unforgettable memories from working with Mind the Gap on ZARA. Creating giant conga lines with more than 100 people dancing at the community cast rehearsals will always stick in my memory.
I also remember the feeling I got when images of learning disabled parents were being projected on the walls of the Imperial War Museum in London. This building is a former Bedlam Hospital (Bethlem Royal Hospital) and it reminded me of the potential of art to challenge established narratives.
It also reminded me of Mind the Gap’s contribution in raising awareness of the challenges faced by learning disabled parents/people in the UK.
Running a project with very limited financial support reminds me of the importance of trying different economic models to develop projects. The exchange of services used to run this project and the incredible dedication of volunteers and participants who are doing something because they believe in it is something quite empowering. It shows me that we are the creators of our realities.
With the current Covid 19 and Climate Change challenges, it’s important to remind myself and each other, that another way is possible.
Maria Spadafora is one of Mind the Gap’s photographers. She has worked on various projects with the company including the promotional and production photography for Mia and Anna as well as community events such as Celebrate Manningham.
Memories of Mind the Gap
“I was honoured to do some photography for Mind the Gap’s Daughters of Fortune project, exploring learning disability and parenthood. A standout moment for me was photographing a dress rehearsal of Mia, which took a ‘science with silliness’ approach to exploring some quite pertinent issues.
“In an early scene, the actors tackle learning disability and sexuality, which took me by surprise in the best way. They launched into disco mode, dancing and twerking their way through pop-hits, complete with Beyonce hair-o-graphy, which filled me with joy. I’m a big fan of using humour to tackle serious themes, and they did this brilliantly.”
Daughters of Fortune
“My first selected photo is a promotional still from the Daughters of Fortune project, so enigmatic and serene. This photo is an example of team work – Joyce’s vision, brilliant lighting, the wonderful actors, and beautiful baby. All I needed to do was press the shutter and capture the moment.”
“Dance is always a challenge to photograph, so I’m always chuffed when it works. and I love the drama of this image I took of a group of Kathak dancers for South Asian Arts UK.”
“I’ve worked in the arts around 26 years. In my early days in the 1990s I was a community filmmaker, and worked on a couple of projects with young people at risk of offending in East Leeds. The young women in particular made a big impression on me, they were tenacious and determined, and very much a team (some would say ‘gang’, but they’d mean it in a critical, patronising way).
“At the time a lot of money was being invested in a very cosmetic way, to make the area feel less intimidating for those visiting a new tourist attraction. Road humps were built to slow down twockers, for example, but the investment wasn’t being used to support children and young people in a real way, addressing cause rather than effect, so they felt left behind.
“These girls were so determined to be heard we got them a meeting with the council, and they took them to task as part of a short video they made. This project (and many more since) really taught me the value of creative projects as a tool, not just a toy. Yes, you can learn new skills and have a lot of fun taking part, but art can be incredibly powerful in terms of giving people a voice to express and explore what matters to them.
“My work has evolved over the years into managing creative engagement projects, and I’m most passionate about working with people who are under-represented – as participants, makers, and audiences, in a sector that is still frustratingly homogenous. This is no doubt a factor in why I love Mind the Gap so much!”
Image of Maria ©Zoe Parker.
Nicola Schofield is a writer who ran a series of Play Days with Mind the Gap Artists in early 2020.
I’ll never forget seeing the huge puppet for ZARA and the spectacle of it as an audience member.
I also saw Mind the Gap’s collaboration with Gecko, a little space at Home in Manchester the week after I’d worked with the performers from the show.
I collaborated with Mind the Gap as part of Play Days and was lucky enough to work with Joyce and the actors to see how we could work together.
As a writer I could develop my skills in devising and try out ideas directly with actors rather than in the context of a writing workshop. I was made to feel very welcome from the start and that meant a lot.
I have so many moments I still carry. In one day we created a play, and then in the other we had a go at monologues. We talked about there being no right or wrong, we were playing to see what would happen.
At the end of the Play Days we all talked about what we’d learned and I drove home feeling happy across the Pennines.
I very much feel a ‘before and after’ due to the post-natal depression I had in 2015/6. Since then I’ve not had a play on a traditional stage and have worked very differently. I’ve had to, and when you’re put in that position you can’t help but analyse systems and thankfully go beyond your own career. You look at the bigger picture rather than taking it personally.
I was very insecure in my 20s and had a lot of mental health problems so I guess I never really hit the ground running despite winning awards and bursaries. I also had a very narrow idea of success. I had a Studio show on at Royal Exchange when I was 23 so became fixated on getting a main stage show. It was all about climbing a ladder and whilst I wrote what I cared about I got caught up in that ladder rather than developing my craft. Chasing what I thought I SHOULD be doing.
I constantly compared myself to others. There was so much I didn’t know. I didn’t come from a theatre background and I wish I could go chat with the young person I was then. Over the last 3 years all the work I’ve done has been site specific or made for none theatre spaces. I’ve staged work in an old Parsonage with FLIGHT and converted a room in the Royal Exchange as part of Highlight Collective to an installation and performance space for AFTER BIRTH. My last two commissions were with M6 Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre and they were for schools and Community Centres respectively. They were both such joyous collaborative jobs.
Alongside this I was working with Mind the Gap and teaching in Leigh through the Royal Exchange, working with a wide range of people. I was in my car a lot questioning why do we make theatre, who is it for, who has access to it, who gets to tell their truths? I’ve had these thoughts a long time but having a period over December, January and February where all those projects overlapped really cemented that. How we carry those questions forward into this unknown future really matters.
Rob Ewens trained with Mind the Gap in the 2000’s and appeared in some of the company’s most memorable national touring productions including Boo (2009) and Of Mice and Men (2011). He has since gone on to work in television appearing in the BBC series’ Father Brown, Doctors and most recently The Stranger. Rob also appeared the TV News Anchor in Mind the Gap’s giant co-production with Walk the Plank and Emergency Exit Arts, ZARA.
Memories of MTG
I have quite a few unforgettable memories of working with Mind the Gap over the past 14 years.
I’ve been involved in a mixture of different shows and events, but the one that stands out the most has to be playing Lennie in Mind the Gap’s production of Of Mice and Men in 2011.
It was such an honour to play him. It was a challenging role because he is a well known and loved character but I think it helped push me as an actor. I will never forget touring with the show and such a great cast – I made some wonderful lifelong friendships out of it.
When I was younger and people used to ask me what I wanted to do when I was older, I would always say I wanted to be an actor. They would always look puzzled and say “No, a real job?”.
This has always pushed me to to follow my dreams and make them a reality. Mind the Gap helped me to do this thanks to their training course – this has really helped me to get where I am today.