David Jubb, Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre, tells Kat Hopps about Scratch’s pioneering art form and why the arts organisation has forged a cultural partnership with Battersea Power Station
It’s been a turbulent year for Battersea Arts Centre [BAC] following a fire in March, but the cultural hub is once more making headlines for the right reasons. Its pioneering drama initiative, Scratch, is celebrating its 15th anniversary and progress on the former Battersea Town Hall’s salvage operation continues apace. David Jubb, the BAC’s artistic director, is in a suitably buoyant mood. How does it feel for Scratch to have reached 15 years? ‘Wonderful,’ he says. ‘It’s an important thing for the organisation and the way that we work. It’s nice to think what Scratch will do as a teenager.’
If you have missed its formative years, Scratch, which evolved from a conversation between David and director/writer Tom Morris, has been a game-changer for theatre’s continued evolution. Audiences view six to eight work-in-progress performances, which last up to 10 minutes each, after which they can offer feedback to the artists. The show then has the opportunity to get reworked or ‘scratched’ over a period of time, with many going on to become fully-formed pieces of theatre.
David says feedback isn’t intended to tackle whether something is good or bad but how an idea has been experienced or perceived. ‘It’s an iterative process,’ he says, ‘but over time you build up the strength of your idea and, hopefully, if it gets better you also tend to build up an audience because people become contributors to the work.’
Audiences have been supportive, he tells me. ‘It’s taken people a while to get their head around Scratch. As people have done that the audiences have grown’. However, critical success has been constant. Brand New Ancients, which won its author Kate Tempest the Ted Hughes prize for innovation in poetry, started life as a Scratch show, as did Paper Cinema’s Odyssey, a live animated and musical retelling of the Homer classic, which has toured internationally since. Richard Thomas who wrote the award-winning Jerry Springer: The Opera has said that his idea would have failed were it not for the support of Scratch in building an audience and allowing time to develop the material. Scratch differs from other processes in that it enables non-writers, from dancers to directors and sound engineers to visual artists, to develop an idea, often using unconventional forms.
Take the forthcoming A House Repeated by Seth Kriebel, a show that’s already been scratched three or four times. The play pits two audience teams against one another to unlock the secrets of a building – in this instance the BAC’s Grade II-listed building is reimagined with half-real and half-inspired spaces. Audiences have to retrace their steps, negotiate dead ends and make new discoveries. ‘At the heart of much of our work is a live relationship with the audience,’ says David. ‘I can’t bear it when you go along to watch a piece of theatre and it doesn’t really matter if you’re there or not.’
Scratch is increasingly instrumental in other ways. ‘We’ve also used it to help us develop our building and even on ourselves. We’ve changed our organisational structure using Scratch,’ says David. In its latest incarnation, the programme is being used to develop arts on a wider scale in Battersea as BAC joins forces with the Battersea Power Station Development Company to develop the incoming Village Hall in Circus West as a cultural resource for the Wandsworth arts community. There will be workshops, activities, services, play spaces – ‘a mixed ecology of community activities.’
‘What’s interesting about BPS is that they are going to manage the site and I think that means they want it to be a success,’ says David. If, like me, you’re concerned about the effect of too much competition having a detrimental concern, David draws an analogy between coffee shops and increased competition. ‘It’s absolutely insane in the arts that we somehow think that if we have more arts organisations locally we would somehow compete with each other so I’m up for as many art organisations as possible moving to Wandsworth. The more we enjoy a piece of art, culture or community experience, the more we will want, the more we look for choice and for organisations that are doing that.’ That’s a few urban myths scratched then…
BAC’s Scratch 2015 autumn season starts on 2 October. A House Repeated runs 7-24 October. For more information visit bac.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7223 2223
Work on the capital project, in the building’s middle section, is due be completed by summer 2016 resulting in a 30-person lift, an outside courtyard theatre and nine artist bedrooms. In addition, major work on the Grand Hall continues: a temporary roof will go up this winter.