Getting to be a Gang: Barrel Organ and NSDF

"On a really basic level, NSDF meant that Barrel Organ came into existence"

Getting to be a Gang

In May 2013, Barrel Organ didn’t exist – we weren’t a theatre company. What we were, was a group of mates at Warwick Uni who had come together to make a show. We were all slightly frustrated by the systems and bureaucracies around making work as part of a University Society, so we decided let’s do it separately, let’s go it alone. We didn’t have any infrastructure or money or support, but we had each other and a show that we really believed in. So, we clubbed together and asked NSDF to come and see us. When we filled in the form, we needed to give a title to the show and a company name. We entered ‘Custard’, made by Blood Axe Theatre. Needless to say, at the time of submission, we hadn’t given a great deal of thought to what we wanted our Company to be called, or even what a good title for the show was! But we had been working pretty hard on the show and making something which felt new and flexible and like it might just have a life outside of the University Seminar Room we first performed it in. By the time our NSDF Selector – the wonderful Psyche Stott - came to see the show, we had thought a bit harder about our names, and the show had become ‘NOTHING’, made by Barrel Organ. Hopefully, you’ll agree that that was an improvement. I’m not sure Psyche entirely knew what to make of our show, but fortunately for us she saw something in our idea which showed a bit of promise and maybe the potential of a half-decent thing. So almost a year later we were asked to bring our strange little show to the Festival, and we packed our bags and trekked up to Sunny Scarborough (or “Scarbella”). We had had so much time away from the show that it had really developed in our minds, and we took the advice of the Festival to really push ourselves and the show. We re-worked it – the whole cast learnt whole new parts, and we refined what our process and our relationship with our audience was (or, at least, we refined it a bit further from the days of ‘Blood Axe’, and we’re still refining now, five years on).

On a really basic level, NSDF meant that Barrel Organ came into existence. It gave us a platform to share our work, and from NSDF we went on to the Edinburgh Festival and to a national tour and we made another show, and then another, and we’re still all making work together now. Somehow. And that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for NSDF. But what the Festival also did for us was they encouraged us and let us be us. They put wind in our sails and told us we could do whatever we wanted, so long as we followed what felt right for the work. We came to NSDF 2014 and we shared our show, we did (some) workshops, we took part in the discussions, we drank too much in the bar, we won the NSDF Quiz Night (just saying), we met some amazing fellow students and some amazing artists and makers who made us believe that we could make what started out as a group of mates at Uni together, throwing ideas out into the void, a “proper thing” – we could make this work. But the best thing that the NSDF did for us do was letting us be ourselves, and working out who we were as makers, and what our collective identity was as a company. It felt a bit like being in a Punk Band; we weren’t nearly that cool but it did feel like that, and that was a really valuable experience. We were allowed to be a gang. We’re still a gang, and when I posted on the Barrel Organ WhatsApp group, asking what everyone’s memories of NSDF were, here are the responses I got. I think that these best express what NSDF can be for a young company as they’re starting out:

Me: Gang, been asked to write a blog post for NSDF about being a company. What are the things you feel were important about our time at the Festival?

- Sneaking tins in to the show and lecturing you on the beauty of my legs.

- It was my first festival experience, so, like, getting to understand what it’s like running at a crazy schedule and adapting to a different creative environment.

-Meeting other new companies

-And also Joe’s legs

-Basically all just getting to hang out together and properly feel like a company that was good

-Like, the best bits were longing off some of the actual festival stuff and just hanging at that weird flat with some pasta and cards against humanity

-Meeting people like Chris who took the time to get to know you and what you were about

-Getting to re-rehearse the show. You never really get (or give yourself) the opportunity as a student to try something again, make it achieve what it’s doing more successfully. It’s always on to the next thing

-It being an environment where you as a company can take the first significant steps to show your work publicly, and take first steps as working and showing material professionally

-Fun, meeting people, talking and arguing and laughing

-Ignoring the hob-knobbing and just making *actual* friends

-Fish and chips, paddling, being together as a group and spending that time together – “the invisible work” which is all being in one place together and how good that is for you (NB I know it’s not in Scarborough anymore but you can probs still get fish and chips if you wanted)

-Yeah I was going to say standing on the roof and staring out at the sea when the constant socialising gets too much

-Carving out your individual time in an intense environment – learning how to take care of yourself personally/ creatively in a hectic and sometimes intimidating environment

-Yes to all of the above – espesh paddling and fish and chips. Also the feeling of being part of a wider theatre community and the excitement of that – to this day still get “I think we met at NSDF”

-And learning the value in supporting each other’s work

-Also I can’t remember what it was called – was it Last Orders or something? – where people got up and performed stuff they’d written during the festival – that was cool

-Spending time together representing something you’ve made together makes you feel tighter as a company

-And meeting people who inspire you.

-And that all the industry bollocks is not necessarily how you have to go about stuff

-Def – and NSDF kinda made you feel like you *could* call yourself a company 

 -Also the fact that we all still follow Christ, Lucy’s work etc

-I love Christ’s work

-BIG fan

-We do all still follow Christ

-Loved that thing he did with the wine and the fish

-The 40 nights in the desert is a classic too

-Oh and that time he wrecked the temple. Mind-blowing

-I was in to Christ when he were just a little boy in the carpentry workshop. He made his best work then

-Before all you lot got into his mainstream miracles

-But yes – def mention self care and time spent as a company as mates often more important than doing ALL THE WORKSHOPS

-Joe’s legs, the NOTHING in the big hall with Kieran standing in front of the sea, nearly throwing myself off the scaffolding during Road, the 50p cans of coke

-Yeah getting to find all the hot nerds in theatre in one place is gr8

-Sneaking in cans of Stella

-Seafront escapades?

-“building sandcastles”

-Basically, it was pretty good