Post by: Diana Atkins
Well this is a first for me…I’ve never written a blog post. For someone who has reluctantly become a tweeter and Facebook-poster, it seems quite scary bearing your soul to the world in a permanent form but here we go…gulp!
For me, I’m not afraid to step onto stage as a character or to tweet from behind the anonymity of a theatre company, but doing anything publicly as ‘me’ produces paranoid procrastination. I think musicians are very brave for this reason.
It somehow helps that I am writing under my stage name, as though Diana Atkins herself is a sort of character – one that boldly goes where Diana may not dare tread!
I began my acting career when living in Australia (no Hannah and I never met there! I love Aussies – they have a ‘yes’ attitude to life and I knew for this and for many reasons, Hannah and I would get on like a house on fire). I then had a brief stint in Sheffield where I have lived previously before going to the Big Smoke. There I founded the Acting and Directing Partnership, which is where we get our name from. At that time it primarily organised workshops for actors and directors (hence the name), with Robert Marchand, who teaches Mike Leigh’s film-making methods. I did Robert’s workshop as an actor in Australia and loved it so I brought it to the UK for the first time. (He’ll be back again this year for his second European tour). In London, I was also part of a group called Actors and Writers London. This organized fortnightly play readings and I performed for them a few times. I was really touched by the warm welcome I received from Paddy Gormley as a newbie but also impressed that they had regulars who have been members since they began in1973! I loved being able to perform great roles with minimal commitment!
I moved to Manchester almost exactly one year ago. I looked around to see if there were any play reading groups. I went along to Conor’s Scriptworks, which was good but I couldn’t find anything regular. What I loved about the group in London was how regular it was, as it gave an opportunity to make genuine friendships. Also most play reading groups seem to sit around a table and read, rather than have performances and of course, I love to be on stage! I also think it helps writers to visualise their work and see what works and what doesn’t. So I tentatively posted on Manchester Independent Theatre Network to see if anyone would be interested in a regular rehearsed reading group. And I got inundated! Actors who wanted to perform, writers keen to see their work on stage and everything in between. I hadn’t really decided when I posted whether I would actually start something and then when I saw how much interest there was, I thought, ‘Well I better do this now!” And so Manchester ADP was born.
Lisa Connor from the Kings Arms got in touch and we have had a sort of residency there ever since. We love it there! And we’re so grateful for all their support.
The wonderful Hannah Ellis Ryan saw my post and got in touch – and now I cannot imagine ADP without her. I was so lucky to have someone so experienced in producing (and so lovely) get in touch. We have such a laugh. We make all our decisions jointly, right down to the wording of important emails so this is a first for me – going it alone to write this!
We had some awesome scripts and actors involved from the get-go. Our first night was on August 31st 2015. We’ve been on with short plays or monologues on the last Monday of the month ever since (apart from leap years causing puzzling scheduling clashes). In January we expanded to launch our full length readings which are great for really getting your teeth into and settling in for more in-depth audience discussions.
Although we do put an enormous amount of work in, we are very lucky that many of our developments and volunteers come about without us trying. We’ve had great venues get in touch interested in having work performed there if we ever tour. Casting directors from ITV, reviewers asking if they can come and review and so on. We are really fortunate to have our resident directors Craig Sanders and Dan Jarvis, who help us maintain the quality of performances. Craig Sanders is resident director at Buxton Theatre whilst Dan Jarvis is Manchester Musical Youth’s director. We now have an awesome team with Lisa Connor, Mark Russell, Andrew Ruddy, Andrew Glassford and most recently Sophie Coward. Sophie is our twitter guru. I can only watch in awe as she doubles our twitter following with every week she’s involved.
Every month I am blown away by ADP. I was really keen to build a genuine community, not a pretentious one, where people get to know and support each other but without becoming cliquey. I am so pleased to hear time and time again and to experience for myself how warm and welcoming ADP is. We’re always open to applications of new actors, writers and directors. Without compromising on quality. I’m amazed at what is produced in 3 hours rehearsal time and often I can hardly notice the script. It really feels like a safe environment to experiment, take risks on stage and give authentic constructive feedback.
I love the range of audience members. We have those that can ream off different theatre practitioners like they’re bessy mates and those who’ll watch something and simply say “I didn’t get it!” And both are so important. We’ve had heated debates on gender bias, sensitive discussions about mental health and last month we even had audience members bursting into tears as they shared with us how much a particular piece meant to them. We were so moved. The audience feedback is what makes the night so special. Every month I get anxious at 7.29 pm, as we are squeezing in extra stools and seats but somehow we’ve always managed to get everyone in.
It is such a buzz after every show that is carries me through all the hard work (I volunteer two days a week of my time to run ADP). The downside is I generally can’t sleep for hours on Monday nights after our shows!
For me, my main love is still acting, which is my primary motivation for self-producing through ADP. I am extremely fortunate to be able to play some awesome roles. I feel like I need to pinch myself every so often to make sure I’m not dreaming all of this. If you haven’t yet been involved and think we’re exaggerating, we hope you’ll come and join us and experience ADP for yourself. Then you’ll get quite why we all love it so much.
I am so grateful for the generosity of everyone involved. I do hope that as we expand, we will secure sponsorship and funding to be able to give back to you all. Thank you also to all those who have supported me in setting this up: Angela Peters of the UK Actors Tweet Up for your unshakeable faith and optimism and The Actors and Writers London for your words of wisdom.
I hope we’ll be around for many years. We have really exciting plans for expanding Manchester ADP this year so watch this space!