In the autumn months there is a flurry of cultural offerings within the villages and small towns of Cornwall via an agency called Carn to Cove. Cornwall has been hosting this kind of touring for years and it’s extremely successful partly because of the dearth of large scale theatres in the county. During the summer months there are many different outdoor performances to choose from but as the nights draw in where do you go? Carn to Cove is an arts scheme for rural communities where local people select the shows they want to see in their village halls choosing from music, dance, poetry, comedy and drama. The success of the scheme is down to the village communities, each venue has a promoter who are invited to a ‘menu party’ twice a year, where selected shows for that season get pitched [sometimes even by the performers themselves]. Once a show is selected by a venue then Carn to Cove administrate contacting the performers and deciding on convenient dates for everyone. Then, bar some paperwork and marketing the event for the village, the company will turn up and then it’s down to the village to run the event.
Me and Him Indoors went along to two such evenings this week, one in a local village hall on the Rame Peninsula via Carn to Cove and one in St Austell Arts Centre, both were packed with audience. There were volunteers running the front of house [issuing or checking tickets], staffing the raffle table and running the refreshments. In the Rame village hall the refreshments were through a hatch off the main hall that led to the kitchen, from where the wine and bottles of local beer were dispatched; in St Austell they had a separate bar. Both had raffles, which are an added way of making money for the community and I was disappointed not to win at either place, there were the usual bottles of wine but also some tulip bulbs, which I had my eye on. Both shows were female led and both performed by mainly Cornish based professional actors; being local to the area can often help to bring in a bigger audience.
Having been on the other side of the stage at such evenings I know how adaptable you need to be, you may not get the designated dressing room you would have in a theatre, you may be changing in someone’s office, or a sports changing room or, like in one case when the venue was a museum, we had to share changing facilities with life size waxworks dressed in medieval costume [with the small addition of moths]. Sometimes depending on the size and lay out of the space you may have to share the toilet facilities with the audience and you may have to mingle with them ahead of the performance so you can use all the facilities. Aside from all these small compromises I also know how enthusiastic communities can be about these evenings as some villages become quiet in the autumn months after a busy summer holiday season and a show can bring a bit of life back into the place and, most of the audience know one another so there is a buzz going on before and after the show. The best thing about it is you are far more able to talk to the audience afterwards than in a traditional set up where you finish up back stage and by the time you have navigated your way out most people have left to get home.