Caro Meets Festivals Interview

Tablespoon Theatre: Potluck 2021

By | Published on Friday 19 March 2021

Winter is behind us, spring is beginning, and festivals of online content are popping up everywhere, which is marvellous news. One that really called out to me when I heard about it is Tablespoon Theatre Company’s Potluck Festival, a collection of six events created specifically for the online space.

This young company is led by Alice Nottage, Jess Paris, Gioia De Martino, and Ellie Janes. I spoke to Alice, to find out more about the the festival, the company, and what to expect from them in the future.

CM: Can we start by finding out a bit about Tablespoon Theatre Company? When and how was the company formed? What are your aims and ethos?
AN: Tablespoon Theatre Company was born out of an original play performed in 2018. This piece was taken to the Edinburgh Fringe, following which the current company members bonded over a shared passion for contemporary physical performance. It was from here that the four of us decided to begin working together to put on shows in Glasgow, where we are all based.

This involved a variety of live events, including theatre performances, spoken word nights, life drawing events, as well as running theatre workshops. The company is now firmly operating within the digital realm, focusing on digital performance and our quarterly e-publication ‘Mouthful’.

Collaboration is at the core of Tablespoon Theatre’s artistic ethos. Collaboration is the driving force behind all projects we undertake, whereby we operate through an open call-out system. This is with the aim to actively oppose the ‘gatekeeping’ that can exist within the arts and instead focus on meeting and working with as many creatives as possible.

As an emerging company ourselves, we are readily aware of the limited opportunities available to ‘unestablished’ artists. Therefore, we want to offer a space for people to showcase work that may otherwise not have been produced, as well as helping facilitate its production. Whilst we are passionate about and determined to create high quality content, we are committed to creating work in a way that is enjoyable for everyone involved!

CM: So now let’s talk about your upcoming online festival Potluck. Is it a completely new venture or did it previously happen ‘in the flesh’, so to speak?
AN: Potluck 2021 is a digital festival that pays homage to our previous live Potluck festival in 2019. Whilst the central tenets are the same, we are not trying to mimic the live event. Rather, we are creating an experience that is truly digital performance, that uses the affordances of the medium to be something in its own right.

The way Potluck works, and where its name derives from, is the notion that everyone is bringing their own piece or ‘dish’ to the table, and Tablespoon Theatre is simply hosting the feast – and, where needed, helping out by lending the odd ingredient or two.

CM: What made you decide you could make an online festival work? What inspired you to do it? Who are the creative people behind it?
AN: We would be lying if we said the transition to online work wasn’t prompted by the lockdown restrictions.

Whilst we already had somewhat of an online presence, this certainly was the catalyst for us working so feverishly to create digital content. We worked on a series of digital events, including online poetry, our monthly feature of ‘Tablespoon Tuesdays’, and our e-publication ‘Mouthful’.

After the success of the 2019 Potluck, our intention had been to make it an annual event, so this was always something we had in the back of our minds. With each online venture we were learning more about the medium and gaining confidence with it, which is what culminated in the decision to re-invent Potluck as a digital festival.

There are four company members, Jessica Paris, Gioia De Martino, Ellie Janes and myself. We run the company and are involved in every project; we are not collaborators but what we call ‘the core creative team’. In addition to that, the festival comprises a further 34 members working on six online performances.

CM: What challenges did you meet in creating an online festival?
AN: The challenges we faced were largely about working out the format. Working with such a variety of pieces meant that we had to come up with a way to present the festival that lent itself to the differences of each piece rather than forcing them to homogenise. We overcame this issue by using our website as a host for each director/creator to springboard their own performance page from, which in turn allowed them the freedom to not only create their content but curate it too.

CM: What are the benefits of staging work this way?
AN: The biggest benefit we have recognised is the ability it gives us to collaborate with people from across the world. Without the need to meet face to face, we are not barred by geographical, or even temporal, distance. This has opened us up to meet people from not only across the UK and Europe, but across the pond in the US and South America. This exciting development for the company has not only cemented our commitment to our core value of collaboration but has meant that for the first time we are creating content for a truly international audience.

CM: Has the festival been programmed with specific genres or themes in mind? How did you choose what would be included?
AN: When we did the initial call out we gave the concept of ‘periphery’ as a stimulus for submissions. We invited applicants to submit work at any stage in its process, be that a fully formed script or simply an initial idea. Some chose to adapt existing pieces to this format and others used the call-out as the starting point for a whole new piece.

Whilst the ability to work within the stimulus brief did factor into our decision making as we sifted the applications through to the interview stage, once chosen and in development, we no longer felt the need to keep each piece wedded to this theme. Instead, we let each project team, who were now working together for the first time, develop the piece in whatever direction they felt best.

CM: Can you tell us a little about what to expect from each of the events?
AN: ‘Medusa-Vitiāre’ is a collaborative digital installation reflecting on the complexities of bodies that are othered. ‘Self-Portrait’ is a semi-autobiographical piece exploring the struggle of building a portrait of your body in a society obsessed with surface-level appearances.

‘Casa Etera’ is an intimate and immersive live digital experience that invites you to meet the people you can’t remember. ‘Arcade Gym’ is an exploration of an all too familiar future and our relationship with bright, colourful, digital friends.

‘Small Time Payback’ explores the impacts of everyday racism and misogyny in a progressively absurd scenario that culminates in potent revenge. Finally, ‘Dear Dead Jason’ is a black comedy that uses popular culture to explore suicide, young widowhood and the dangers of toxic positivity

CM: We’ve covered lots of online performance over the last year, and I feel as though many companies can see a post-COVID future where online stuff continues alongside live performance. What do you think? Do you think you might do this again even after the pandemic is over?
AN: We have absolutely loved the challenge of shifting to online performance and have relished in the new opportunities it has offered us. It has also helped to make theatre more accessible, as people can watch and engage with it at their convenience.

Obviously we are itching to get out there and create live work, but we feel returning to exclusively live performance would be a regression for the company, which has moved so far in the digital direction and benefited so heavily from it.

We currently have the largest number of people interacting with us and we are working with a fantastic group of global collaborators who we would otherwise not have known. And who knows, maybe soon we could find ourselves meeting with our digital friends to create live projects too!

CM: What aims and ambitions does the company have for the future?
AN: Our biggest aim is to be able to make the company a full time occupation for the core team. At present we are either in full time education or employment. Tablespoon Theatre is our passion and it would be a dream for us to be able to invest all our time into it and really see what we can do!

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
AN: Our immediate plans are to get on with producing another instalment of Tablespoon Tuesdays and releasing another ‘Mouthful’ publication. We also have our live performance piece ‘Surplus To Requirements’ ready to go for when venues open up, and we have plans to return to running workshops too. But as soon as the dust settles on Potluck I am sure we will be coming up with something new to get our teeth into, so watch this space!

Tablespoon Theatre Company’s Potluck Festival takes place online from 26-28 Mar. For more information and to book tickets see the company website here.


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