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Open Lab: Ones to watch in 2021

photo of pink suits
14 Jan 2021
3 min read

Always on a mission to find and support exciting new talent, our Theatre team has selected six must-see artists for our Open Lab programme.

The scheme gives artists the chance to research and develop a new project. As well as a cash grant, we offer training sessions with our staff and industry experts on topics including marketing, fundraising, and creative learning; sessions with a mentor; access to one of our Theatre producers for advice and support; and rehearsal spaces at our Centre.

This year we’re supporting six new works which will be experienced by audiences in a socially-distanced manner . We’re delighted to be working with the artists we’ve chosen, and wanted to introduce you to these exciting talents from across the country who have been selected by our Theatre team. Let’s meet them.

Open Lab is made possible thanks to support from people such as you, through donations, and Arts Council England. Find out more about how you can support this important work.

photo of Yolanda Mercy

Yolanda Mercy

Writer and performer Mercy’s award-winning shows include Quarter Life Crisis and On The Edge of Me. ‘I create work that is inspired by the world that inhabits me, and the questions I have,’ she tells us. ‘It usually incorporates elements of text and visual projections.’ Interested in live performance and different ways of telling stories, she says she’s a big fan of audio books. This was the inspiration behind her Open Lab project: ‘I was wondering how do I combine theatre and audio formats?’ Inspired by the realisation that the whole block of flats in the holiday rental she was staying in was sharing a landline connection, she’ll be exploring the concept of attending a live theatre performance on the phone.

Image: Polly Bycroft-Brown Photography

image of Peyvand Sadeghian

Peyvand Sadeghian

With a background in acting and puppeteering, Sadeghian makes socially-engaged theatre that frequently breaks the fourth wall to engage with the audience. ‘I always acknowledge them,’ she says. ‘It’s not just to get them doing stuff for the sake of it, but to acknowledge that they’ve come to see this production because they’re interested in the topic, and that means we’re all interested in it, so I want them to place themselves within it and consider their proximity to what’s being discussed.’

Sadeghian will be developing Dual دوگانه, her play that explores ideas of identity and belonging to two cultures. She aims to develop it into a modular format, so it can work in different mediums and platforms. ‘What happens if you just do a design-based version that can exist as an installation? What if you make it just spoken word? I want to explore the different ways it can be pulled apart and also what happens when they come together,’ she says.


Image: © Ray Roberts

photo of Nicole Vivien Watson

Nicole Vivien Watson

Technology will be central to Newcastle-Upon- Tyne based choreographer Vivien Watson’s new production. As well as the Western-focussed Cunningham and Graham Techniques, her practice incorporates Japanese Butoh dance theatre – and British Sign Language (BSL), which she learned in 2007. ‘After my first class, I wondered why my cheeks were hurting – and realised it’s because I’d been smiling the whole way through,’ she recalls. It was at that course where she met her Surface Area Dance codirector, native BSL user Paul Miller.

For Open Lab, she’ll be developing work using tactile audio system, SUBPAC, which allows people to feel music by wearing a device strapped to their back. ‘I’ll be working with a collective of Deaf and hearing artists to unpack the capabilities of SUBPAC; understanding how the system can support access to sound and choreographic composition with Deaf and hearing artists.’ She says it will also shine a light on the Deaf community’s relationship to music and sound.

Image: Nicole Vivien Watson and Yoshito Ohno at the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio, Japan. Photography by Paul Miller.

photo of Malik Nashad Sharpe

Julene Robinson

Born and raised in Jamaica, Robinson has a degree in Chemistry, and came to the UK to do a Masters in Theatre. ‘I found studying chemistry at university quite isolating compared to the camaraderie of high school. And then someone put me in a musical, and I discovered I enjoyed theatre. It really helped me get through my undergraduate years.

She says her academic background means much of her work is research based or explores some kind of scientific concept. ‘The piece I’m working on at Open Lab, The Night Woman, is about darkness – not just as a social construct but as a scientific idea. I want to look at questions such as what darkness is; the historical and cultural concepts and the relationship we have to darkness itself. That intersects with issues of race and history.’

The work will be explored through Jamaican music, dance, sound and technology. ‘I’m also trying to figure out how to make it a compelling digital experience. I’m toying with the idea of using Augmented Reality, and looking at ways of integrating it into the live experience.

Image: Henry Robinson

photo of Julene Robinson

Malik Nashad Sharpe

Nashad Sharpe, who works under the alias Marikiscrycrycry, creates dance that’s experimental, and ‘tries to expand what choreography can be and can do’.

‘I’m interested in ways of moving, or dance, that aren’t in the “traditional canon” of making dance,’ they say. ‘I learn more in my community than when I was at the conservatoire.’

Their project during Open Lab is an exploration of the terms “hope and progress”. ‘I’m interested in giving those terms a new lease of life – I feel they are very much hollowed-out.’
Nashad Sharpe will be working with other artists - and they even hint there could be a motorbike and live band involved in the final production, which is expected to premiere in May.

photo of pink suits

pink suits

The queer feminist punk duo from Margate make loud, aggressive political music as well as dance, physical theatre, film and visual art. Their work often explores sexuality, fantasy, and is a resistance of the gender binary as well as addressing politics, mental health, activism and rebellion. ‘We use our art to question how our voices and bodies can be used as a form of protest,’ they say.

For Open Lab the duo will be working on a new multi-disciplinary project called Closet Bodies, which brings together live dance theatre performance and a visual arts exhibition of film, photography and sculpture exploring closeted identities. ‘These are the parts of ourselves that we repress growing up in a heteronormative society, both physically and emotionally. We want to examine how we can re-find the parts of ourselves we have stifled as we adapt for acceptance. The project is an exploration of how coming out of the closet can lead to changes in our physicality and psychology.’

They’re working with designers in music and visual arts to create an initial dance performance and a series of artworks to accompany it, plus exploring live improvisation and cinematic theatrical imagery. ‘The performance and exhibition aims to be loud, punk, wild and liberating.’

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