It’s always nice to know that you’re good at your job. On Tuesday, we found out that our immersive, interactive and all-round bonkers production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an official Offie-finalist (up for Best Production for Young People age 13+). The show ran at Omnibus Theatre (well, in part, a lot of it took place on the streets of Clapham) for two weeks last summer before coming home to Oxford.
To say that we’re over the moon, ecstatic, thrilled and overjoyed would be an understatement. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of those game-changing shows; a show which brought so much joy, giddiness and laughter to the audience (and the crew) whilst pushing what we as a company were capable of creating and delivering. For that, the nomination means a lot. Dream was also our first London show – as far as results go, an Offie-nomination is up there.
This isn’t all about how happy we are though – it’s about marketing. Whether we win the Offie or not, we’ve already proved our point. Firstly, Creation can take shows outside of the A34. Coming from Oxford, one of our ongoing marketing challenges is how to distinguish ourselves from heritage-tourism theatre, which Oxford has by the bucket load. Yes, we occasionally do Shakespeare in the Park, but its more Hamlet-via-Mad-Max, not tights-and-ruffs. There is obviously a place for heritage-tourism (look no further than The Globe), but that’s not us. However, for so many people our identity is tied to Oxford (and the reputation that Oxford has), and the news that we were heading to London was met with some trepidation. I think it’s safe to say we smashed it.
The second point is more of a professional pet peeve. We’ve been producing theatre for 22 years, and this is the most national recognition that we’ve received, aside from a handful of reviews in some national papers. Yet, it seems that on a monthly basis, The Stage seem to run articles praising regional theatre and bemoaning the lack of coverage of regional work. Several graduates make their debut in a Creation show; brilliant actors perform each show; our core production team design beautiful light and sound and costumes; productions sell-out. Since our last national review (Alice 2015, in The Guardian), over 61,000 people have seen our shows and yet sometimes it feels that we exist solely in a little bubble in Oxfordshire. It sometimes seems that if you’re not a theatre in London, you don’t count.
That’s just not fair. Companies like us count to so many people, both in our home cities and beyond; people we employ in both core teams and as freelancers; students taught by Education departments; families who see our shows each Christmas; local businesses who stock our bars, the families who rent rooms out to actors each show, I could go on. Across the country there are companies producing brilliant work which impacts so many people, which rarely gets picked up outside of local press.
Yet we go to London for less than three weeks and come back with an award nomination, so we know that the work we’re making is great. Why then is it so much harder to get any wider coverage?
Sometimes I wonder whether it’s the nature of the work we produce that makes it tricky to get coverage. We’re Creation Theatre, but we’re not an actual physical theatre. Explaining our nomadic existence can be tricky (particularly when I try to explain having a nomadic office) – but it’s not a hard concept. Yes, it wouldn’t hurt to repeatedly send press invites, but sometimes it feels like they’re falling on deaf ears and full inboxes. We can badger our friends to see the shows, encourage audiences to tweet/review/shout from the rooftops and yet still after 22 years, we’re only just edging our toes in the door.
I don’t know what the answer is yet. We definitely plan to bring more shows outside of Oxfordshire, but bringing shows to London just because we might snag a review somewhere national isn’t why we create theatre. We make shows for audiences to experience, we make them because we believe the story that we’re telling deserves to be told. That’s why we all do it; just sometimes, it’s nice to know that other people think we’re doing it well.