This year will be third time I have produced Alchymy, The North Wall’s festival of new plays, and I’m incredibly excited by how much Alchymy has evolved since its debut in 2017. That first festival kicked off kicked off with a brilliant and provocative panel discussion with six exceptional practitioners: April de Angelis, Zoe Cooper, Stella Duffy, Ellen McDougall, Ella Hickson, and Katherine Soper. The conversation was about how we make theatre and who it’s for, and how writers, directors, and other creatives can develop their craft – and what might hinder them from doing that. Young artists need time, support both financial and moral, and guidance in how to shape their work. In a way, all our decisions about Alchymy since then have been about trying to provide these things.
We began planning the first Alchymy in 2016 and the first festival was in April 2017. I had very little idea then how to program or produce a festival, but The North Wall is one of the few and very precious organisations that allows you to learn while doing (or making). That’s the ethos behind Alchymy and also behind Catalyst, The North Wall’s free, residential training course for young writers and directors, which runs in the two weeks before Alchymy. Both Catalyst and Alchymy are about making work and ultimately putting it in front of an audience, but this happens in a protected, nurturing, and encouraging environment, mentored by Co-Directors Ria Parry and John Hoggarth, and this year by writing mentors Sam Potter and Tom Brennan.
Producing Alchymy is not dissimilar to my other work in some respects – it’s about wrangling and budgeting and juggling and scheduling and making sure everyone is looked after – but there are also particular responsibilities which come with producing an incubator of new work. You have to be prepared for the unexpected and be able to view sudden developments positively – all scripts change and evolve as they’re written and the finished product can be quite different to what was initially discussed. But that’s very much part of the fun and there is always an amazing sense of community and support in the building. All events at Alchymy are open to the general public, and there’s also a balance to be found in making sure that audiences know that what they are seeing is not necessarily a finished product but a step on a journey.
This year the festival includes touring performances of work by Catalyst and Alchymy ‘graduates’, including Siofra Dromgoole’s Walk Swiftly And With Purpose, readings of work in progress by North Wall Creative Associates (Tom Brennan and Poltergeist Theatre), workshops on producing, fundraising, writing and more, the Alchymy Company Award winners Out Of The Forest Theatre with their show Call Me Fury, and much, much more. The festival opens with a bang with the Catalyst showcase: 10-minute extracts from six new plays made by the Catalyst company. I’m very proud to be part of it.