Sherman Cymru recently underwent an 18-month redevelopment. Chris Ricketts describes how collaborative work opened new doors for the theatre while it was homeless
Capital projects are an adventure in so many ways. As the redevelopment project at Sherman Cymru moved from its many years of preparation into a construction phase we wanted to make sure we kept the company together and used the opportunity to create and perform work in a variety of locations and environments. While thinking about what shape our programme away from home might take, we were also aware that there were other companies we were interested in working with, some very local and some from further afield. Taking the opportunity to co-produce became an important element of our offsite programme. Practically, co-production would mean more projects, a bigger profile and a broader audience – all things we aspired to achieve.
We worked on five co-productions over the 18-month-period our building was being gutted and put back together again. Each was very different and each taught us something new about our own strengths and how to work in a creative relationship with other organisations. Financially some projects shared cost in a simple way, for others we provided production and marketing support and invested less cash. We were involved in creative discussions and script development on every project, but there was a point at which the creative team took the helm. There wasn’t a model that worked best; there couldn’t have been when the satisfying elements from different productions were so varied. We strived to be clear, throughout each partnership, about why we were involved and what we wanted to achieve for Sherman Cymru, beyond the immediate imperative of making compelling theatre.
Collaborative projects included: the production of a Scotsman Fringe First winning production with Shared Experience; an exposition of the influence of contemporary Welsh language music with new project company, Dan y Gwely; a play involving local young people, staged in a rock club in Bridgend with National Theatre Wales; a back-to-back English/Welsh play for our annual under 7s production, with Theatr Iolo; and a production performed as part of the British Council’s Edinburgh Showcase, through working with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh language national company.
Alongside the productions we created, the notion of collaboration took root in our creative learning work and a large part of the activity we are now working on is being run in conjunction with partner agencies and companies. All propelled by the belief that we will make stronger connections and achieve greater social impact working with other organisations, particularly where they can offer fresh knowledge and invigorating perspectives.
Back onsite and with the building reopened we maintain a real desire to continue to co-produce and work creatively with other companies. Our antennae are inevitably better tuned to what the shape of future projects might be, and we have a sharper understanding of where creative leadership can, and should, sit at different points in a shared process. The benefits of collaboration won’t be forgotten and co-production will remain a strong element of how we realise our ambitions.