Article written by Pentabus Theatre
We’re based in an old schoolhouse on a farm in South Shropshire, where we commission, develop and produce professional theatre. Our work has toured internationally, but it’s always aimed at, and begins in, village halls.
We have toured to village halls in every county of England, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our work has rural stories at its heart. We’ve been making theatre for over 45 years, and touring in this way. We were set up in the ‘70s to provide the five rural counties of the West Midlands with access to theatre.
The mainstay of our audiences are in villages. Some have seen many of our productions, for others it’s their first professional theatre experience. This presents a huge difficulty for us, in that without live theatre touring, it is hard for us to exist. It is hard for us to fundraise; whilst we are lucky to receive 60% of our funding from the Arts Council, the rest comes from ticket sales, foundations and donations from individuals. And it is hard for us to share our work with our audiences.
So, in response to the current crisis, we have had to think differently about how our audiences can access our work. We don’t know when village halls will be programming theatre again, we’re not sure when the rural touring schemes that we work with will be able to promote our shows to their halls.
Pentabus was the very first company to live stream directly from village halls. We have streamed our plays into theatres in London like The Royal Court, so that everyone in a city gets to experience the wonder, intimacy and delight of watching a play in a rural community.
So, as the country is locked down, we thought we’d fire up living rooms around the country with brilliant rural theatre. #ruralrecordings was born.
Every week since the lockdown, we have released one of our past productions as a Rural Recording on our website. These are completely free for audiences to watch, direct from a village hall (recorded in the past), onto your home screens. We follow each release up with online question and answer sessions from the artists that made the work, so that audiences can discover where and how and why the plays were commissioned. So far, nearly 60 village halls-worth of people have watched the show online, they’ve been reviewed with sparkling responses by national press, and, most importantly, we are able to get our work out to audiences in some small way.
And this is only the beginning. We have more plans afoot for making and sharing rural stories before people are able to get back out into their village halls.
To view the shows as they’re released:
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