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Oily Cart’s Associate Artist Scheme: Spotlight on Rachel Betts

13 August 2018

A vital but often unseen part of what we do here at Oily Cart is supporting and nurturing artists creating theatre for early years audiences, and young people with complex disabilities. This is the last in our series of blogs shining a light on the individuals and theatre companies who are or have been part of our Associate Artist mentoring scheme - you can catch up on our blogs with Debbie Bandara here and FEEL Theatre here.

Rachel Betts is a director, teacher and theatre maker. Here, Rachel reflects on her time as an Oily Cart Associate Artist - which began with training, followed by working as an Associate Director on a production, before most recently receiving mentoring and rehearsal space during the development of her own show – and how this experience has impacted and shaped her career.

My first opportunity to work with Oily Cart came in October 2013 when I was selected to be part of a week-long workshop Dream: The Joy of Creating. This project, run by Rose Bruford College’s TYA Cnetre in association with TYA UK, Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council, offered us the opportunity to become resident artists and researchers in a school for children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties and on the autism spectrum. Over this week we were immersed in the process and performance styles of Oily Cart; the musical world of Max Reinhardt, the design aesthetic of Claire de Loon and the artistic direction of Tim Webb. In groups we experimented with ways to create a connection with our specific audience exploring what delights them, what hooks them in yet doesn’t overwhelm them, and what immerses them in a sensory atmosphere. We developed a series of multi-sensory engagements that culminated in a very watery promenade performance on the final day.

Directly after this project Tim offered me the opportunity to work alongside the company as an Associate Director on the show There Was An Old Woman at the Southbank Centre and I was delighted. This was a unique opportunity to experience how the company develop a show from concept to performance through writing, directing, casting, design and music. I was able to see their approach to working with performers who wanted to build rapport with an audience, their desire to create atmospheres that engaged all the senses and their acute observation of their audience’s needs. Oily Cart work with very small audiences (no more that 50 at a time and as few as two) and I could see how this intimate approach allows everyone the opportunity to touch, feel and interact with the performers. The company are continually interrogating what theatre is in relation to a specific target audience and the shows, set, music and preparation are adapted appropriately. Tim watches the children just as much as the performers and I took this approach into my next project, which I developed with their kind support and mentorship.

Out of Nowhere is an immersive, interactive and multi-sensory performance for children aged 3-6. In 2016 it received funding from Arts Council England for 3 weeks of research and development and I feel this bid was successful due to Oily Cart’s kind support in time, encouragement and belief. I chose to work alongside other Oily Cart’ers Susannah Austin-Whitlock as Musical Director and Alice Kristina Rose as Designer as I’d met both of these amazing women when working on There Was An Old Woman and wanted to get into the room to put some of our learning into action. Out of Nowhere is made up of 3 performers and 1 live handpan musician who take the audience on a journey of sights, scents, textures and sounds to explore the imaginary worlds that can come out of ordinary suitcases. Oily Cart supported me on script development, with rehearsal space, and by coming in and watching us work and offering feedback before the piece was shared with 280 children across schools in Croydon. Reflecting on that project I felt I wanted to develop the writing side of my practice and so this year I’ve been a participant on the John Retallack Playwriting Course, completed an Arvon retreat with Tim Crouch and Chris Thorpe, attended Bryony Kimmings’ workshop and visited Tweetakt in The Netherlands as I was very keen to see some of the work for young audiences being made there. My most recent piece is a mosaic play about childhood for teenagers and adults. As if you are infinite explores aspects of our duty to care for each other, the desperate love of parenthood and the responsibility we might share for the development and protection of children.

The opportunity to work with this brilliant company has been fundamental for my development as an artist and came at a crucial time when I was wanting to transition from making work as a practitioner with young audiences to working as a director and theatre-maker for young audiences. It’s why I remain passionate that experienced companies and artists make time for workshops with emerging artists because it’s vital for our own development and allows new partnerships and pathways to emerge. Oily Cart takes this seriously and I am extremely grateful for all their time, support and belief.

My experience with the company played a large role in igniting my passion for seeing, reflecting and questioning the parameters and potential of theatre for young people. I was able to take this curious, investigative approach into my teaching on the Theatre for Young Audiences course at Royal Holloway University of London, which Tim also kindly supported by coming in to visit and offering feedback. Oily Cart made work for children when they were called ‘impossible audiences’ and still do so today with the same flair, respect and artistic and emotional integrity. It’s been such a gift to experience the valuable work this company make close up and it’s definitely made an imprint on me. Thank you, Oily Cart.