Birmingham Rep

With Christmas fast approaching, Vita Fox updates us on all she’s been up to in the first few months of her internship at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre…

Here at The REP, they want the foyer to be more digitally engaging. At the moment it is mostly a thoroughfare: people walk through it on their way to or from the library without necessarily knowing that they are in a theatre at all. My job is to encourage people to engage with the space, understand where they are and feel at home there. The idea is to change the perception of theatre as exclusive; instead they want people to know that theatre is a place where everyone is welcome, that theatre is just stories, and we all like stories. That’s Trina’s vision – she’s the formidably brilliant General Manager here – and it’s my job. So people from inside and outside the building now email me to ask about the front of house area and all its digitalia and what I can do with it. Which is a fun responsibility, like it’s my baby. A more accurate metaphor might be that I’m its nanny. Maybe I’m its Mary Poppins: here to look after it, come in with a few stranger ideas of my own, have some fun with them, and then I’ll fly away when the wind changes/in March.

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Welcome to the Rep

Two months ago I began researching new ways of making the front of house area digitally engaging, and now we’re coordinating five or six exhibitions which are going to take over the foyer, so things may have accelerated a little. For One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, there will be a Marley exhibition throughout the front of house areas, and I’m helping with that. I have also helped to coordinate a new scheme of engagement with the Visual Communications students from Birmingham City University, creating briefs for the students who will create digital content that will be displayed in the REP foyer, inspired by shows we have coming up in our next season. There will be an exhibition from BID and Manfrotto during The Who’s Tommy, and I’m helping to sort out how the We’re Here Because We’re Here exhibition is going to come here during the run of the REP’s latest Furnace project, Stadium. We’re also looking at what can be in the foyer during the run of comic masterpiece What’s In A Name? So there is a lot that’s going to happen. But before all this started, I was just getting to grips with what we could do with the foyer in the first place.

When I was researching at the beginning of my placement, I went to the Museums & Tech conference in London, which was a real highlight. It was great to be surrounded by people who had experience in all the things I had digital engagement questions about, even if it was slightly bizarre to be the only person there from a theatre. The next day I went to The Science Museum and the British Library and the V&A; the latter was doing a terrific exhibition about 1960s rock & roll and was doing some really clever and inspirational things with technology (movement-sensor headphones were particularly brilliant – depending on where you stood with them they played rock music, video-clip audio, interviews with icons from the sixties – a cornucopia of content). The trip was ace and gave me loads of ideas of what we could have in the foyer and a much better idea of what would work and what wouldn’t. Armed with new ideas and knowledge, I came back and designed my plan for the current season’s exhibition.

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Art Class paintings and treasures from Barbara Nice forming treasure slideshows

The theme is Treasure! This is largely because of Treasure Island being the big Christmas show here, but I was also influenced by the idea that theatre in general is full of treasures, and that treasure is where you look for it. I have put up new content in the digital screens, so they now display art work from the Learning & Participation department’s art class, and display stories Barbara Nice collected from the public talking about what they treasure. I have plans for the touchscreens and the iPads in terms of content, but the thing I’m most excited about is the foyer floor. I have created desire paths, which lead people to the interesting parts of the foyer. Really what I’ve done is turned the REP into a treasure map. So if you go to the REP now, you will see pathways trailing in all directions, you’ll see children running up and down them loving the changes in colour, and you’ll see adults who may not be even looking at the floor but their subconscious has registered something, because they are weaving around the place, inadvertently following the paths. So that’s fun, some casual mind-control there.

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Follow the yellow lino road

I am surrounded by people who are passionate about the work they do and who are kind and clever and welcoming, and I admire so much the diligence and creativity with which they address their work. I’m learning more and more about how these arts organisations work and how they continually seek to progress. I get free tickets to the REP shows, so am seeing so much theatre, which is what I want to spend my life doing. I’m learning how to be a grown up, with grown up emails and phone calls and meetings and agreements and negotiations and planning. And there are times when I can see the influence I have, the difference I’m making. I was iceskating the other week on the rink outside the REP, and I looked up and saw one of the roof signs I’d made publicising next season’s shows. The Marketing department make these all the time as a matter of course, I was just helping them out for the launch of the new season, but there was something really satisfying in seeing a finished product I’d made.

The internship scheme itself is really brilliant and I feel very lucky to be on it. The support from Laura Milner and Rachael Yardley, who run the programme, means so much and makes all the difference. I do feel much more part of the city of Birmingham and its culture. From the beginning, I had a feeling it was going to be a crash course in all the aspects of theatre I was previously less interested and engaged with, but am going to have to learn about in order to make my career in this field. And that’s okay. Along the way, I became a bit shy, which was unusual for me, but I’m learning that I can make this internship what I want the more proactive I am. Which of course makes sense. Because I asked the Marketing department if I could help them out with anything, I have now made posters for the upcoming season, I’ve made various promo films for them including their Christmas trailer, and am now working on their Spring Trailer. I’ve now been invited to Arts Team meetings, so I’m going to learn more about programming and how that department works, which I’m really excited about. And I put up one of the Christmas trees when we started decorating the foyer for the holidays. And the next exhibitions are going to be brilliant and really rewarding to put together. It is a complete lifestyle change for me, working in a building like this, but life is what you make of it, and so are internships.

The Christmas trailer, with the new Christmas REP logo I designed to look like a bauble and shimmer in the animation!

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