A note from…Nicky Webb
26 April 2011
Nicky Webb, Artichoke Co-Director, has written exclusively to you, our generous Hearts. Please read, enjoy, and reply if the urge takes you. We love to hear your thoughts.
When we decided to relaunch the Hearts scheme a while ago, one of the things people told us they’d value was some inside information on what’s happening at Artichoke. This, then, is the first of many occasional newsletters for our supporters which I hope you’ll find informative, and perhaps even entertaining. Please do let me know what you think so I can write about the things you find interesting, and leave the rest out.
It’s all go at Artichoke right now. Our core team of eight-and-a-half has been supplemented by Kate Harvey, who is working exclusively on Dining with Alice and our regular PR guru, Anna Vinegrad, who first worked with us on One & Other and has become an invaluable part of the furniture.
Many years ago Helen Marriage paid a visit to the stunning Larmer Tree Pleasure Gardens in Dorset. At the time she was running the Salisbury Festival (where I was her Marketing Director) and was in the process of reading Alice in Wonderland to her (then very small) daughters. Inspired by the setting and the story, she asked the director Hilary Westlake to create a show for the 1999 Festival; Hilary came up with the concept of Dining with Alice and the rest is history. We produced just three performances – which seems insane now! – and people loved it. And ever since we’ve been looking for an opportunity to do it again, but better. In the intervening decade and a bit, we’ve looked at gardens all over the UK, but never found anything that would provide the perfect magical backdrop to Lewis Carroll’s story. Until now, that is…
A couple of years ago, having been asked to produce something for the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, we revived the idea of Dining with Alice and began the search for the perfect location. Some of us spent happy Sunday afternoons scouring the Norfolk countryside, but it was only when Helen asked a Salisbury friend – in fact, one of our very own Hearts – for suggestions, that Elsing Hall was mentioned. When we visited, we all fell in love: it just felt absolutely right. And its owners could not have been more accommodating and delightful, and are busy themselves, planting extra bulbs to ensure that the gardens look perfect in May.
Dining with Aliceis a theatrical event, but has, at its core, a lavish dinner. Our Development team, led by the fabulous Sarah Coop, have been working on this side of things for months. Sarah has persuaded Barefoot Wines to donate the wine, and another country estate just up the road, Holkham Hall, to donate meat and vegetables for the main course. The extraordinary Bompas & Parr – they call themselves ‘architectural jellymongers’! – are collaborating with catering students from the City College to create a memorable Victorian-style dinner, to be served simultaneously to every member of the audience. B&P are also working with local firm Frank Dale to create a special (and top-secret) Alice-inspired course that’s sure to delight everyone who eats it. And so it goes on… The latest challenge is to find hundreds of tables, chairs and tablecloths and the cutlery and glassware to go with it: we’d really love to hear from you if you can help!
Most of our shows involve an element of public participation, and Alice is no different. We’re looking for no fewer than six girls of different heights and ages to play Alice herself. Next month we’ll be holding auditions in Norwich, so if you know any girls in the Norwich area – especially tiny ones or very tall ones – who would be interested in a starring role, please do put them in touch with us!
A still more difficult challenge is to find adult participants who will act as extras, performing in the show itself. So far we’ve signed up thirty or so people, but we need to find many more. We’re trying to get the word out as widely as possible through evening classes and drama groups, book clubs and choirs. For anyone interested in doing something memorable, this is a great opportunity: volunteers will work with the professional director and cast, and be part of something on a large scale that promises to be truly unforgettable.
I’ve been working closely with my team - Communications Associate Anna Cook and PR Anna Vinegrad - on creating a website and marketing materials for the event and on securing press coverage. We’ve just heard that Lyn Gardner has been commissioned to write a piece for The Guardian and that Harpers & Queen intend to feature Artichoke in their April edition, which is great news. And tickets are already selling very fast, especially for the two Saturday evening performances. If you haven’t already booked, and would like to come to one of those performances, do please let us know and we’ll do our best to find you some tickets. And if you are planning a trip, do have a look at our list of hotels and guesthouses.
Aside from Alice, things are full steam ahead with plans for the next edition of Lumiere which will take place in Durham this autumn. Helen and Associate Producer Hannah Standen are working with literally dozens of artists, ranging from the well-established to the just starting out. They’re trying to match the many proposals they have with locations in the city, in a bid to create an exciting and well-balanced programme which will delight as well as challenge and stimulate! At the same time, Sarah and her team are fundraising to ensure that we can present the best possible event this autumn. Do make a date now: Lumiere will make a fabulous opportunity for a pre-Christmas winter break in one of England’s most beautiful cities. Watch this space for more information on the programme and a special offer with a hotel too, but do put 17-20 November in your diary.
Before I get back to work, I’d just like to say thanks once again for your membership of the Artichoke Hearts scheme. Quite apart from your subscription – which is hugely helpful, especially in these uncertain economic times – we really appreciate the knowledge that we have a small band of really enthusiastic supporters who value what we do. And in the next few days you should receive another token of our appreciation – a beautiful lapel pin especially designed by Antony Gormley for members. Even if it’s many years since you’ve worn a badge, I’m sure you’ll find this one, designed by one of our most eminent artists, a joy to wear!