Empty Shops Projects

And the upcoming Cold Writing theme is…

Due to the wonders of scheduled blogging, this post will be reaching the the world whilst I am in the middle of leading the workshop with our fine Cold Writing writers.

The theme of the festival should just be settling in with our writers now and (right now) I will be leading exercises with them as they explore the possibilities of the theme.

So without any further ado, I give you:


Yes, our third Cold Writing festival is to have the theme of ‘Reinvent’.

To see what our writers come up with, don’t miss Cold Writing: Reinvent at Jill, the Community Hub on Thursday 21st March at 7.30pm and Saturday 23rd March at 12.30pm and 3.00pm.


Cold Writing: We have chosen our Writers!

So it has been a bit of a slog through, and it has probably been the hardest choice yet due to the quality of applications we received, but we have finally chosen four writers to be involved in the upcoming Cold Writing Festival at Jill, the Community Hub in Sydenham.

These writers are:

Ella Ashman
Kymberly Ashman
Judy Upton
and Richard Walls

I can’t wait to run the workshop next Monday with these four fine writers, I’m even more excited to see what work they produce in just 48 hours and, I can’t deny, I’m intrigued to find out if Ella and Kymberly are related – or if it is just a coincidence that 2 of our final  4 share the same surname!

Stay tuned to the blog for when we reveal what this festival’s Mystery Theme will be (which will be approximately 5 minutes after I inform the writers as to what it is)

And stick in your diary the festival itself:

Thursday 21st March at 7.30pm
Saturday 23rd March at 12.30pm & 3.00pm

Charlie of WBN

WBN News: We’ve got shows coming up!

Write By Numbers are going to be busy bees in the next couple of months, so I thought I would just let you people who read blogs know about a couple of projects and shows that are happening soon:

Joseph Mills Presents…Reasons For Listing: 16 Facts and One Story About Things That Make Me Happy

Reasons for Listing is going to be popping up in a few places in the next couple of months. It is first going to be at Jill in Sydenham on the 16th and 17th March at 12.30pm, 2.00pm and 4.00pm.

The venue is part of the SEE3 Portas Pilot in Sydenham, Kirkdale and Forest Hill. The space is well worth a look, especially as such Portas Pilots might end being the future of our  High Streets… (I’ll let Corinne blog about that properly in the future as I’m sure she will have plenty to say about such things – especially as she has managed to get herself involved in this one.)

We are also excited that Reasons will be part of Scarborough Literary Festival, with Joseph doing his presentation in a Library for the first time (details here if you are in the North come the 11th April). It is great that Reasons is getting a run out in a Library. Way back, when Corinne and myself (with invaluable help from our friend Olly Hawes) started developing and working on Reasons, we always felt it would have a home in libraries so it is exciting that is starting to happen.

Cold Writing

We have also got another Cold Writing festival coming up. If you fancy applying to be a writer, you have just one day to get to it! If you fancy seeing what plays some lucky writers come up with (which I will maniacally direct in one day), then please come along to the performances. These will be happening at the Jill in Sydenham, just the week after Reasons is there, on 21st March at 7.30pm and on Saturday 23rd at 12.30pm and 3pm.

We gave got other coals in the fire as well which we will let everyone know about as and when. In the mean time, hopefully we will see you at one of the above!

Charlie @ Write By Numbers

Theatre41 – To The Future

Saturday marked the day which, when I curated Theatre41, envisaged would be our final day. I’ve much, much more to say about the month (and a little bit) that WBN have spent making theatre for Wood Street Market. But that shall have to wait because there’s something slightly more pressing at hand: we’ve been asked to extend our residency at Wood Street Market until the 16th June. That’s five more weeks.

So, just in case you’re not listening at the back: FIVE. MORE. WEEKS.

As CharlieWBN might say, CRUMBS.

In the next five weeks we’re going to do something a little different to how we’ve run the space until now. We’ve had our go at working out what a festival of new performance writing for Walthamstow might look like and now we’re looking for people who might want to use the space to test/ experiment/ make their own mildly crazy plans. We can offer Theatre41 for rehearsals, readings, scratches, workshops, get-togethers – and probably a few things that we don’t know the name of yet. Along with all the fixtures and fittings of Theatre41 (including lights and seating and a fully functioning, and attractively purple, kettle) we can offer various degrees of support in kind. Thanks to the support of Wood Street Indoor Market we can offer Theatre41 to you entirely free of charge.

You can see photos of Theatre41 here and there’s more information on Wood Street Market here.

We’ve got a variety of days still available between now and 16th June (including a couple of Saturdays and Thursday evenings where you can run performances if desired). I’m interested in hearing anything you might want to do with/ to the space but I’m particularly interested in helping projects/ ideas that are new and might not be able to find a home elsewhere (yet), things which support/ encourage new/ emerging theatre practioners of any discipline, anything that might come under the term ‘new performance writing’, projects that engage with empty shops and ideas which engage with the area/ community the shop is in. We’re also interested to hear from people who might be interested in running/ taking part in empty shop pop-ups in future (even if you can’t at this stage).

If you are interested please contact us at corinne@writebynumbers.co.uk.


The one where Corinne has a lot of ground to cover

I’m not sure if the above tweet is exactly the correct way to introduce Theatre41. But I guess it’s a way. Because it acknowledges that I’m incredibly excited about the project (hang on, I’ll get to what the project exactly is in a second or two) whilst also acknowledging the OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE I AGREED TO DO? nature of the endeavour. Maybe it’s just me (though, talking to friends that haven’t abandoned me because of the crazy that is just below the surface at any given moment currently, I think it’s the same for everyone who runs around wearing different work hats) but all my projects smack a bit of this. At some point I’d probably like to make some stuff in a sedate, ordered, non-seat-of-pants manner. See: PROFESSIONAL.

Just before Christmas I was told about a regeneration project which was happening in Wood Street Market, Walthamstow and it was suggested that I should pitch something. I initially scoffed a little for three practical reasons i)The occupancy of the shops was for a minimum of three months. Starting in February. That’s a LOT of shop space to fill with performance. ii) Walthamstow may well be in London but it is a London a long, long way from where I live. It’s the end of the Victoria Line for starters. And I don’t even live on a tube line. And finally iii) I’d made some sweeping statements about getting down to some serious writing in 2012, 2011 having mainly been made up of three house moves and the behemoth of taking a show to Edinburgh Fringe. I then either made a big mistake or did the right thing (depending on how you loook at it) and mentioned this to Charlie WBN and he looked at me like I was a bit daft for having any other thought about the idea. Of course we should pitch. And so I did – and then had at least one of my reservations soothed when it was suggested that there might be a system where a rolling programme of artists was created for one particular shop and, would I be interested? Yes I promptly replied (but I’d quite like to start in April). Given that we turned The Brixton Project round in six weeks (which included Christmas and New Year during which, apparently, it’s rude to make people work when you’re paying them in love and cake) anything later than mid-February would take on the sheen of all of the time. Thus when we were offered the shop for near to five weeks from the second week of April  I did a little dance around my living room. That screamed SO MUCH TIME.

And in some ways it has been. We’ve had time to curate something on a scale I’ve never quite attempted before, time to approach people we wanted to work with and cajole/ bully/ bribe them into working with us. There has been time for funding applications and for us to start working with groups in Wood Street even before we’ve got anywhere near the shop itself (just this week we held our first workshop with a class of Year Three pupils at the local primary school). There’s also been time to think about what we want Theatre41 (as we have named our shop) to be and do – both for the writers and theatre makers we’re working with and for the regeneration project and community we’re going to be part of. It sounds a bit ridiculous to say that working as part of the project to regenerate Brixton Village Market changed the way I think – I know, point and laugh, point and laugh – but it did. It made me think about my spending habits and localism and small traders versus big corporations and community – and what my role as a theatre maker might be within that (for, I have firmly concluded, we can have a role to play). I’m sure, in between the minute-by-minute blog posts peppered with capitalised words about some aspect of the project that is freaking me out, I’ll return to this subject in a less flippant manner. So time has been nice.


*blows into a paper bag*

See what I said earlier: professional.

Regardless, I have little time for sanitised blogging (read also: I’m absolutely incapable of doing it) so we’ll be documenting the process from this point onwards in all its terror, pain and (hopefully) glory.

The other thing to note is that in the expanding WBN family myself and Charlie have been officially joined by Drama Facillitator/ Theatre Maker Estelle Buckridge and Scenographer/ Theatre Maker Emily Harwood (and I’ll be making them blog here in some manner, though they don’t know it yet). That Estelle had to deal with the fallout of the whole launch-party-venue-has-flooded trauma of The Brixton Project and Emily made me a boat at 5.30am on the floor of a flat in Edinburgh last summer and they still want to work with us I shall take as a good sign.

Finally, our official programme of events is here. We’re waiting on a couple of funding/ inclusion decisions which is also why I’ve not indicated what’s happening on every day, do not worry: there will be something. Even if that something is tea and cake and over-excited chatter about theatre. There’s a couple of things we’re actively seeking writers to participate in so if you’d like to make some work for the shop see Cold Writing: The Forest or if you’ve got a short play you’d like to be read then Cold Reading might be the one for you. Any other questions, suggestions or offers of things to keep us warm – give us a shout.

An Open Letter On Empty Shops

Today I took myself, my phone and a bag of nibbles (a girl needs to eat after all) and, in aid of Empty Shops Day, walked around my neighbourhood taking photos of – well, as the title of the day may suggest – empty shops. There was a bit of added fun in there as I only moved to Lewisham – South East London – three weeks ago (obviously I had to leave Streatham – in South West London – just before it turned into a political hotspot). Lewisham, or to be more specific Forest Hill, isn’t entirely an unknown quantity for me – I lived here for seven months when I first moved to London. So I was intrigued to see what has (or hasn’t) happened to the area in the time I’ve been away.

First the good news – there was a cute coffee shop in what had formerly been an empty shop at the bottom of my old street.

And – well, that was that. None of the other shops that had been empty back in 2008 had been occupied. And there was now a whole new bunch of empty shops to go with them. Empty breeds empty – after all why would you choose to open a shop in an area that is pretty much deserted?

Empty Shop (Clothing Retailer)

It seemed even more acute to me after attending Brixton Village’s first late night opening the previous week. I think everyone involved in the #BrixVill project knows this is still a work in progress but if I think back to the space merely six months ago it’s difficult to comprehend how much has changed. As well as some of the start-ups continuing after the rent-free period has finished there are new businesses that started independently of the project. There’s a real buzz about the place. And I’m incredibly proud that Write By Numbers got to be part of the story (as much as I blushed hideously when Lovely Julia introduced me to one of the new shop keepers as being from the theatre company who were instrumental in getting people into the market for the first time, I’m intensely proud that we – and the other brilliant, crazy, hilarious art projects that occupied the market over the course of the three months – made a difference).

Empty Shop (Blockbusters)

In two days time I’m going to be voting for people who are going to have to take responsibility for what has happened to Forest Hill’s shops. As I see it nothing short of something on the scale of Brixton Village will do. It doesn’t need to be the same plan – but it does need to be as audacious, to take risks, to look to the surrounding area, to see that trade and arts and communities are all bound up. Empty shops speak loud for a community. What we do with them speaks louder about who we are – and who we’d like to be.

Empty Shop (Post Office)

The odd thing in my walk was that the area with the biggest concentration was, without doubt, Forest Hill – an area notoriously full of reasonably comfortable commuters. Where do they shop? Sainsburys aside, not in Forest Hill that is clear. If this decline isn’t halted what will Forest Hill be in ten years time? A notch on the East London line with a fabulous museum, a lot of flat conversions and a population who spend their money in chain stores in central London.

Empty Shops (Pets, Cafe, Junk)

I think as a theatre maker I react to all this space with the awe of endless possibility. What I could do with just one of those spaces. What we could enable other people to do. All the ideas and experiences it could generate – not just for me, but for others too. The arts matter in lots of ways but I think the Empty Shops movement shows how they have a real, direct effect on communities. Waiting for what Friday morning will bring, that’s the challenge we all face.

NB: You can see all of my photos on the WBN Flickr page whilst all of the photos from Empty Shops Day are here.