Howard Barker

World Premiere made possible via unique partnership

In a time of financial austerity, leading to reduced investment in the Arts, the University of Exeter has taken an innovative approach to the challenge of getting experimental playwriting commissioned and performed on stage.

British writer and international dramatist, Howard Barker will premiere his new play BLOK/EKO as a result of a unique partnership.

The world premier of Barker’s striking new play, set in a world where all the doctors have been killed in order to let the poets become the healers, opens at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter on the 9 June. The staged performance by Howard Barker’s Wrestling School Theatre Company, involving student actors and community members, was made possible by a new collaboration between Barker, the University of Exeter and the Northcott Theatre with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Barker is part of the AHRC Creative Fellowship programme which has enabled the University of Exeter’s Drama department to collaborate with artists of national and international repute whose works have high public and popular profiles. Described by the media as “Britain’s greatest living dramatist”, Barker has a remarkable output of plays and worked with many great British actors and institutions like the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is due to celebrate both his 65th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the publication of his first play. This most recent play is driven by Barker’s research, an investigation into what is too much and too little on stage. He will be transforming his artistic vision from page to stage, as he has not only written but is also directing the performance of BLOK/EKO.

Dr Sarah Goldingay, drama lecturer at the University of Exeter, said, “The creation of this work is an unusual collaboration which combines the resources of its partners to create an event that each of them could not produce independently. A new play by a writer as accomplished as Barker is a remarkable event at any time, but what is particularly significant about this world premiere, is that it marks a new collaboration between universities and theatres, the AHRC and writers.”

Barker’s work is central to the research of a worldwide community of scholars, which will be reflected in a one-day symposium at the University of Exeter. Academics and practitioners will discuss, and later write about, Barker’s new play in relation to wider questions of theatre and culture. In addition to the publication of the script, a recording of a performance will go into the Howard Barker archive and will become part of an ongoing body of research. His archive forms part of the Drama department’s Arts Archive, an international digital moving image resource for performance practice research. Alongside the archive’s recent conversion of analogue recordings to a digital format, BLOK/EKO will form part of this legacy for future generations.

There remains an unabated curiosity in Barker who continues to explore the edges of what theatre might be. He said, “Without a building to house it or regular funding to support it, the Wrestling School is not like other theatre companies. It is more a tent of sticks held together with goodwill. Yet it persists, its work affecting more than one generation. With this new generation, BLOK/EKO has created one of the best companies the Wrestling School has ever assembled in its twenty-two years. Their voices create a sound like a fine-tuned orchestra.”

Date: 7 June 2011

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