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Green Room

As the venue celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, Nicola Mostyn finds out what’s behind the Green Room door

Published on June 27th 2008.


Green Room

Here’s the strange thing about Green Room: it’s a Manchester institution, but many of us have never actually been. Most people have heard of it, but not everyone is entirely sure what they do there, except that, whatever it is, it’s – whisper it – experimental.

"While staging potentially rubbish performances might not be every theatre’s ethos-of-choice, allowing their programme this freedom means that Green Room can take a risk on a new artist, and so nurture potentially brilliant talent."

Kevin Jaquiss, Chair of the Green Room Board and full-time lawyer began working with the venue in 1996. He says: “From the start of my involvement it was about doing things that no-one in Manchester would do, taking risks.”

While this meant that some of the shows were (and still are) rather extraordinary – boxing meets poetry, two artists adopting 50 personas – this is all part of Green Room’s charm. “It is almost that, if people think that what they see is rubbish, it doesn’t matter, because it is self justified.”

That’s a refreshing perspective. And while staging potentially rubbish performances might not be every theatre’s ethos-of-choice, allowing their programme this freedom means that Green Room can take a risk on a new artist, and so nurture potentially brilliant talent in a way other venues just can’t afford to do.

The size of Green Room (it only has 165 seats) means that their focus has always been Arts Council-funded creativity rather than making money on ticket sales, and the former approach has evolved over the years so that now they feel they offer something very important. “There aren’t many organisations doing what we do,” says Artistic Director, Garfield Allen. “We have developed a whole series of ways, that, if you have artistic ideas, you could walk in off the street and translate them into a performance.

“If we do our jobs right then we are producing the people who are the next big thing. That means that the centre of what we do is being an exciting place for exciting ideas, and creating a buzz.”

Now in their twenty-fifth year, Green Room are looking to the future, celebrating what they do best and building on this to make sure that they can continue to develop the talent in the city.

“We have set up schemes with artists so they get access to organisation and technical equipment,” reveals Garfield. “And then promoters can come and see their work. We are much more a production venue now, and all the schemes we develop are aimed at that.”

Green Room helps artists at a basic level, even guiding them through the grants application process – valuable assistance for a budding performer in need of financial support. They also run schemes such as ‘Emergency’ where they programme 39 artists over two days, encouraging them to perform in every available space from the lift to the loos.

Then there’s ‘Method Lab’, where four of the aforementioned acts get access to Green Room for six months. ‘LANWest’ hooks up artists to promoters, enabling them to tour their work and then, in true anything-goes Green Room style, there’s ‘Instant Win,’ an open platform where anyone can turn up on the night and pitch their idea for 60 seconds – the eventual winner getting £500 to produce the piece.

And then there’s the work they’ve never been recognised for: “We have a lot of investment in initial phases, because people who have gone on to play the big houses such as Royal Exchange and Library Theatre started here. We have a legacy of experience. We see what has happened with people’s careers, and that’s valuable for people who are working with us now. For us, the question is ‘Where do we fit?’ because they’ve never been branded as Green Room artists. Nobody knows they were anything to do with us.”

Though, as Garfield admits, Green Room has never been exactly 'commercially minded', they have decided that the time has come to create a kind of family tree, tracking the artists who performed at there – such as Alexei Sayle and New York theatre group Blue Man – who have gone on to achieve success elsewhere. It's a tool which should help the venue shout about what they do best. Well, whisper it, at least.

More than anything, Green Room is about giving ideas room to grow, a sort of hot-house for talent. That’s why the venue is an integral part of the fabric of a city which has never been afraid to be different.

“You can see why people ask the question, 'Do we really need this?'” says Kevin. “But I wouldn’t hang around if the answer wasn’t yes. Ok, yes, you could survive without Green Room, but in three years time there wouldn’t be anything new.”

So what should the curious but hesitant do to brave it past the Green Room threshold? “Just email or call, or visit the website if you have an idea,” says Garfield. “Or, you know, we have a bar!” he says smiling. “Just come in for a drink.”

So there you have it. Green Room: not so very off the wall after all.

Green Room
54-56 Whitworth Street West
Manchester
M1 5WW

0161 615 0500

www.greenroomarts.org info@greenroomart.org

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AnonymousJune 27th 2008.

Yes - the bar! this building houses a fantastic bar, with great beers, chatty staff and a really nice atmosphere. a gem of a find of a Friday evening.

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