Want an antidote to lockdown? Then go and see a performance in your local village hall, writes Katie Jarvis.
That’s the message from a Gloucestershire arts charity celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Arts in Rural Gloucestershire (also known as AIR in G) underwrites the cost of putting on high-quality performances – theatre, dance, music, cabaret, family productions – in village halls and community centres throughout the county: small venues that might not be able to stage such quality acts without the charity’s support.
Indeed, says founder Ed O’Driscoll, AIR in G’s work has never been more vital.
He said: “We’re all about bringing a superb artistic experience to people’s doorsteps. We’re also about helping to strengthen communities. In the past, we’ve had lots of examples of neighbours who’d never even spoken before, meeting at a village hall performance and forming fast friendships.
“That need is stronger than ever. Many communities have pulled together throughout the pandemic but, even so, people just haven’t seen much of each other in person. And most of us are now thoroughly bored of Zoom meetings or TV.’ Watching live entertainment, he says, is the perfect way of re-bonding.”
As ever, this year’s Air in G programme has something for everyone. There’s Moscow Drug Club – a unique 1930s Berlin cabaret-meets-gypsy campfire combo – for the musically adventurous. For a dose of comedy, Paulus is staging Looking for me Friend, a tribute to the late, great Victoria Wood. Michael Lunts’s cabaret Roll Over Beethoven features numbers as diverse as Alan Sherman’s Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah and Tom Lehrer’s Wienerschnitzel Waltz, as well as Flanders and Swann and Joyce Grenfell.
In a particular ‘coup’, Air in G has secured performances from Mr and Mrs Clark, whose show – Louder is Not Always Clearer – combines contemporary dance with theatre: a one-man show by a deaf performer, highlighting the importance of connection.
And there’s plenty more, too.
Ed – himself a musician-performer – fell in love with rural touring doing gigs throughout the UK during the 90s. In 2000, he got a job in Gloucester, producing a pantomime at the Olympus Theatre. “I remember driving past the Air Balloon [at Birdlip], seeing the view and thinking, I could live here!’ After moving to the Forest of Dean with partner, Lynn – also a performer – he realised Gloucestershire didn’t have a rural touring scheme. As a result, they set about establishing Air in G with support from the county council and Everyman theatre, and funding from Arts Council England.
“A lot of performers say of rural touring that it was the first show where they ever saw the whites of an audience’s eyes,” Ed says.”When you’re playing a theatre, with its blinding lights, you have much less of a connection with your audience. Village halls, by contrast, involve having 50 people in front of you, in a warm, intimate atmosphere. At the end, the performers will often be helping put away the chairs, having a chat, drinking a pint with the organisers and audience members, and making lasting friends.
“Many artists, of course, have had a hellish time over the past 18 months. I even know top West End theatre directors who spent lockdown stocking shelves in Asda. That’s a perfectly good job but it’s not what they’ve spent years training to do.
“They’re thrilled to be out working again; doing what they enjoy; doing what they’re good at; having audiences support them. And for those audiences, it really is a case of: Use it or lose it. What better way than to do that sustainably – walking to your local venue to enjoy a top-quality act at a really affordable price.”
You can find out what’s coming to your nearest village hall by visiting airing.co.uk