Scratch at The Jack was set up in 2009 by Tanith Lindon (Jack Associate Director) to provide a regular platform for acts and artists, from a wide range of performance disciplines, to try out and develop new work in front of an audience. We met up with Tanith to talk about how the Scratch nights work and why the audience is vital in developing new material.
Tell us about the Scratch nights
The whole idea behind Scratch at The Jack was to provide a home for artists making new work and for audiences interested in seeing something absolutely fresh off the page. We’ve had a variety of so many types of art form: readings of plays, monologues and short films, performed extracts, physical theatre, clowning, character comedy, sketch comedy, cabaret, storytelling, spoken word, poetry reading…and probably more that I have forgotten now!
When you’re devising work, or starting out writing, you really need to see how things work in practice and the beauty of Scratch is that you can show as little as the first 5 minutes of an idea or character, and get feedback on it. We don’t charge the writers/performers to enter a piece into Scratch, so it carries a much lower risk (and time frame) than most opportunities to perform on a London stage.
What makes a successful Scratch night?
I think the night works best with a real mix of pieces; that way it’s varied for the audience and hopefully the different groups performing can get some inspiration from someone doing something a bit different to them. We get very giving and supportive audiences, as well as a lot of regulars who come back each time.
The only thing that I’ve found doesn’t work is straight stand up. It’s tough for a stand up to go on to a stage that’s just had some very quiet emotional physical theatre piece and work up some laughs; on the other side it’s also not great when an audience gets given a bit of a grilling by a stand up with an aggressive style.
The night is about support and openness to experiment with work – and I think stand ups have the toughest time as it’s hard to feel that their work has been a success unless they get laughs.
How important is the audience for Scratch?
Essential! The whole point is to test out ideas and give the acts an experience that can really challenge them and hopefully guide their work. It can be very easy to forget about your audience as an artist, as the process of creating work can be so introspective. Scratch gives the audience a chance to tell artists exactly what they liked, and what just didn’t communicate.
We give all the audience members a form when they come in and encourage them to write down and tweet @BrocJackTheatre what they think worked and what could be improved upon for each act. It’s really interesting to see the comments they make – sometimes they can be so insightful, and I’ve had performers tell me that the feedback has really shaped the development of their work – whether that be in deciding the correct direction of the piece, or dropping something altogether as it clearly didn’t work!
How do you typically programme the nights?
I used to have to spend a lot of time approaching performers and writers to take part, but now we have enough of a name that most of the people involved come to me (via email). There’s no particular thing that I’m looking for, but I try to put acts together that will complement one another, and I won’t programme something if I don’t think it’s going to work or is really not at a stage where it is ready to be performed to a paying audience.
Any success stories?
Seeing an artist return to Scratch, clearly having taken on an audience member’s idea is a great feeling. Likewise, it’s wonderful when you get to see the finished product of an idea that began its life at Scratch.
A young theatre company called Antler http://www.antlertheatre.co.uk/ scratched less than 10 minutes of a story last year; at the time it was clear that they had something special happening between them, and I was delighted to eventually see the full show at The Bush Theatre’s Radar Festival last autumn (following a really successful summer at Edinburgh festival).
More recently, there’s been exciting news for other past Scratch regulars: Rob Auton http://www.robauton.co.uk/ was made Poet in Residence at this year’s Glastonbury Festival and comedians Max & Ivan http://maxandivan.com/ have just recorded a pilot show for Radio 4. It’s wonderful to think that we have formed some part of their continuing journey!
The next Scratch nights are Sunday 5th October and Sunday 14th December at 6pm
Tickets can be booked via our website www.brockleyjack.co.uk
To take part in a future Scratch event email Tanith: firstname.lastname@example.org
Huge thanks to http://shiftworkproductions.wordpress.com/ for the Scratch video