Hello Leeds: Theatre company committing popular productions to film to reach wider audience amidst Covid struggles

Leeds-based Red Ladder Theatre Company has committed three of their popular stage productions to film with the aim of getting their work out to a wider audience.

Sunday, 2nd January 2022, 4:45 am

Leeds-based Red Ladder Theatre Company has committed three of their popular stage productions to film with the aim of getting their work out to a wider audience.

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The Damned United, Glory, and Smile Club were each filmed earlier this year while theatres were closed due to the pandemic, but the company believes its process will have long-lasting, positive effects.

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The Damned United, Glory, and Smile Club were each filmed earlier this year while theatres were closed due to the pandemic. Picture: MalcIJ Photography.

“Throughout the various lockdowns we, like many theatre companies, turned to film,” explained Artistic Director Rod Dixon “We saw it as an opportunity to keep creating, to keep working, to keep giving to our audiences, and to keep supporting our freelancers – the latter of which was really important to us, and we are proud to have continued to do so.”

The process was slower than planned as a key team member tested positive for Covid-19, forcing delays with schedules thrown into disarray.

“The Red Ladder team were great,” Rod continued “They pulled together, pivoted, rescheduled, and worked hard to make things happen. This process naturally threw up a lot of questions – were we doing the right thing? Was it worth it? Would we be back on tour before the films were released? And that’s when we realised the power of putting our work on film – we could reach even more people, people who might feel theatre is not for them, which is something we shout very loudly about.”

Red Ladder has been taking theatre to non-traditional spaces since it formed in 1968, performing in Working Men’s Clubs, sports clubs, deserted warehouses, and community centres with the aim of reaching people who might not traditionally go to the theatre.

Red Ladder has been taking theatre to non-traditional spaces since it formed in 1968. Picture: Andrew Billington.

In 2017 it formed Red Ladder Local an initiative that works with a host of non-traditional venues in Yorkshire to present its own work and to support other theatre companies to perform in areas of often low cultural offers and low audience engagement.

“Red Ladder Local is a success story,” says Rod. “We have data to prove that we’ve reached new audiences, and we have anecdotal feedback that tells us it’s worth it.”

The company also supports other companies in doing the same and this year alone has supported five different touring productions in at least eight non-traditional venues in Yorkshire.

“Adding film to our output means we have the potential to reach even more people; people with access needs, financial challenges, people who care for others and might not be able to get out, and people who live away from hubs that might have a venue of sorts. It is our belief that everyone deserves access to theatre.”

It also allows Red Ladder to spread the work geographically without additional environmental damage – a challenge the company is striving to address.

“We don’t know what the future holds for them – we are very much open to conversations,” Rod concludes. “But for now, we hope they find new audiences and that people enjoy our work from wherever they want to watch it.”

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