Photograph by Luke Galloway.
Laura Ryder is a Derby-based theatre-maker who collaborates with other independent artists to make much of her work. She is mid-way through a regional tour of The Bee Project which will soon bee buzzing into Derby Theatre (8th June 2018) and the Belgrade in Coventry (14th – 16th June 2018).
We caught up with Laura to find out more about apiary, the environmental impact of touring theatre and what makes her so proud to be an Eastie theatre-maker.
Phil: How would you describe your work for somebody experiencing it for the first time?
Laura: A mixture of storytelling and dance — I love finding ways to tell stories through movement and physical theatre. My work is messy and rough around the edges. I enjoy exploring different ways of telling stories, particularly about environmental issues, in ways that are entertaining and engaging with audiences. My current show, The Bee Project, has a real focus on care and what it means to look after each other and the planet.
Phil: Who else forms the Company in Laura Ryder and Company?
Laura: We’re a collective of artists based in the Midlands; we’ve been working together since 2016 and work through a collaborative rehearsal process. Myself and Freya Sharp perform in the work, Maria Terry is production designer, James Varney is dramaturg and Luke Galloway is sound designer. We devise the work together, with each of us taking lead on different ideas and looking at how we can integrate our various backgrounds of theatre making into the work.
Phil: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.
Laura: I love Chris Thorpe’s work. I saw his show Confirmation at Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 and I couldn’t get over how it stuck with me. It made me reflect on my own opinions and politics, my own bias. It was a masterclass in making theatre which is challenging, funny and genuinely political. I recently did a workshop with him about making political theatre and I’m still processing all the thoughts bouncing round my head from that.
Key Change by Open Clasp was an astonishingly good show, it was devised with women in HMP Low Newton prison and toured male prisons. It felt like it gave a platform for voices which are often silenced, without ever feeling exploitative. The movement sections of the piece fed into it so beautifully, really lifting the stories. I think it was a perfect example of how art can be both brilliant and moving as well as useful and a tool for change.
I love Chris Thorpe’s work. Confirmation was a masterclass in making theatre which is challenging, funny and genuinely political.
I recently saw Gecko’s The Wedding at Derby Theatre which just blew me away. The end of the show had this incredible energy that I think you can only achieve in live theatre. You could feel the audience wanting to join in by the end, the whole auditorium was just alive. I’ve seen a few of Gecko’s shows and it always astounds me how they explore these huge ideas through movement and images.
Phil: Tell us a bit about your current show The Bee Project. What inspired you to make it and what can audiences expect?
Laura: The Bee Project is a piece about friendship and care as much as it is an environmental piece about bees. I’d been interested in bees for a while, I love how honey bees dance to communicate and as a dancer I thought it was brilliant. I started researching more about their environmental importance and their decline and all of a sudden the show seemed quite political and urgent. I had a really interesting meeting with a beekeeper, and the way they described their hive made it sound like an excellent party. A hive is dark and sticky, full of noise and dancing, it really sparked our imaginations. We wanted to make a piece which looked at how we can help make a difference to our environment: as a collective, we want to leave the audience with a sense of hope. Audiences can expect a story about two friends, one which looks at the importance of caring for each other as well as the planet. Oh, and also plenty of energy and glitter!
I had a really interesting meeting with a beekeeper, and the way they described their hive made it sound like an excellent party. A hive is dark and sticky, full of noise and dancing, it really sparked our imaginations.
Phil: Would you ever consider getting some bees yourself and looking after a few hives? (You could end up with some theatre honey to sell on tour!)
Laura: I would love some bees! I worked on a farm in Italy where they kept bees and it was so exciting to learn about how a hive works and how to look after bees. I helped plant a wildflower meadow when I was there to help feed the bees.
Theatre honey sounds great! One of my favourite bee facts is that they keep bees on the rooftop of Paris Opera House, I’ve always loved the idea of the bees listening to opera!
Also not all bees live in hives, you can support wild bees by planting flowers in your garden, it’s like an invite for wild bees to come and visit. I would definitely like to keep bees in the future!
Phil: What’s unique or special for you about how theatre can get people thinking and talking about environmental issues?
Laura: Theatre is an amazing place to share stories that can make us question how we live our lives, you’re with an audience sharing a space and a conversation. It’s one of the only artforms where the artists and the audience are in the same room, you have an actual real interaction with the people who are experiencing your art. I find messages stick with me way more when they’re shared in an entertaining and fun way. I think theatre invites empathy and conversation which are two things needed when looking at how we can deal with environmental issues. We try and run Q&As after our shows so we can engage in further conversations about how we can look after the planet.
Phil: Making and touring theatre often consumes quite a lot of materials and resources – there’s often a big carbon footprint in terms of travel, or mountains of posters and flyers, for example. Where have you managed to reduce The Bee Project’s environmental impact?
Laura: Our show uses A LOT of golden glitter, it’s a really beautiful element to our design, signifying a party and representing pollen. We knew from day one that using plastic glitter would be terrible for the environment and looked to find alternatives. We use biodegradable glitter made from eucalyptus in the show so that we aren’t contributing to the microplastics harming our oceans. The show’s design can fit in a suitcase so we can always use public transport when touring. We’ve created e-flyers to share so that we can cut back on paper flyers.
We use biodegradable glitter made from eucalyptus in the show so that we aren’t contributing to the microplastics harming our oceans.
Phil: Why is being based in the East Midlands and working so much in the Midlands important to you?
Laura: I think the Midlands arts scene is thriving, every networking event/festival I go to I meet artists whose work inspires me and makes me want to grow my own artistic practice. Derby Theatre’s In Good Company artists’ network have supported us so much as a company, I don’t think I know of many other schemes like it. Events such as your amazing East Meets West Symposium showed me just how generous and exciting the Midlands theatre scene is.
Phil: You’ll soon be taking part in DART, Live & Local’s development scheme to introduce artists to the wonderful world of rural touring. What’s got you interested in connecting with rural audiences?
Laura: My grandparents live in a tiny village in Yorkshire, I mean so tiny they don’t have a local shop. There isn’t a theatre near them or art galleries or anything like that but they love art. I’d go to their house and they would play the piano, sing songs and my cousins would put on little comedy sketches. I think their community would love to have more access to theatre. Rural touring means we can reach audiences who might not be able to get to the theatre and have the privilege of sharing work with those communities. We’ve only ever shown The Bee Project in cities and I’m really interested to see the reaction from rural audiences, they may have totally different responses to city audiences!
Rural touring means we can reach audiences who might not be able to get to the theatre and have the privilege of sharing work with those communities.
Phil: Beyond The Bee Project, what are you planning or working on for the rest of 2018 and beyond?
Laura: The Bee Project was our first show as a collective of artists and we’ve all found that we’ve loved working with each other. There’s a really great dynamic in the rehearsal space, so we’re looking at continuing to make work as a company. We’re looking at different ways we can possibly reach new audiences. We’ve ran workshops alongside the show and are keen to keep running learning programmes alongside any work that we make.
Looking forward, I think our process will be about continuing to see where we can take The Bee Project, and how we can make it as accessible as possible to new audiences. This may include reaching rural communities, Edinburgh Fringe and even looking at more school and student engagement.
Phil: As a theatre-maker myself, I’m always fascinated to learn about other people’s creative processes. What main ideas characterise the way you go about creating your work?
Laura: One of the main things I think I’ve learnt through this rehearsal process is how important it is to find the joy in your work. We started The Bee Project by having two weeks of play, we explored how we could move like bees, what stories might come from creating work about the environment and really let ourselves find the passion in our work. I think that has really carried the show in its various stages of development. It’s meant that however the show has developed it has maintained its original soul as well as our excitement and intentions of what we wanted the piece to be about. I think it’s important for creative processes to ensure there is space to play, fail and learn. Having space to make mistakes has been crucial for the artistic development of this show, it’s where some of the most interesting ideas have come from.
I think it’s important for creative processes to ensure there is space to play, fail and learn.
Phil: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?
Laura: Find something you’re really passionate about and want to make theatre about. That way even when you come up against barriers or have setbacks, you will still know why you are making that work and who you’re making it for. Everyone has setbacks: first time round we didn’t get funding for The Bee Project. The day we found this out, we made some of our favourite choreography in the show, we knew we were making something we were passionate about and didn’t let the setback stop our creativity. We’ve since gone on to receive funding and it’s been brilliant to see the piece grow. Also, go see as much work as you can, get involved in your local regional theatre and let them support you.