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Production Overview: Joan Eardley: A Private View

Impact

From the perspective of all involved, the touring production Joan Eardley: A Private View was an enormously worthwhile and fruitful project, and was a success beyond Heroica’s own expectations. The project was well received across a wide spectrum of geographies and interest groups. It spanned a good range of local authorities and a wide range of venue-types: in all, 26 performances were given in 17 venues, considerably more than originally planned. At four larger venues, performances were seated; all the remainder were promenade. A third of venues offered two performances. It played to approximately 1580 people across the four weeks.

As a cross-border project, it was hugely successful: Scots – who attended in droves, contending with multiple early-sell-out performances and creating many disappointed late-bookers – took pride in attending, exhibiting, identifying with and owning a woman who was projected by the play as not only one of the most passionate and brilliant of Scottish painters but one who was moulded and influenced by a range of other fascinating, successful and even more ‘unsung’ Scottish artists: Margot Sandeman, Audrey Walker and Lil Neilson; whilst the English, for the most part, had their eyes newly opened: through the play itself and also seeing accompanying Eardley works for the first time (authentic Eardleys on simultaneous display at Reading, Coventry and Huddersfield, for example) to a British artist who was not previously in their lexicon and yet whose life/career story and works resounded with a modern-day, almost present-tense vibrancy.

Our performance venues comprised: a national gallery, a parish hall, two theatres, nine regional galleries, a literary festival marquee, an art school, a former rope works, an art auction room and a banqueting room. Two of the galleries were close to Heroica’s base in West Yorkshire. As well as London and Edinburgh, we performed in smaller towns in both countries.

As projected, the premiere two performances at Modern 2 (SNGMA Edinburgh) were performed within the 2017 NGS retrospective ‘Joan Eardley A Sense of Place’.

Out of 26 performances, 13 were sell-outs in advance.

We received four reviews: one five-star and three four-star in the Edinburgh Guide, The Glasgow Herald, Broadway Baby and the Wee Review. Joyce Macmillan previewed the production, in a related article which interviewed Anna Carlisle, in The Scotsman; and Janice Forsyth interviewed our main actor and our writer on her BBC Scotland programme.

You the audiences:

We provided two key channels for online feedback: NGS online and the Heroica website (the latter represented opinion across all other venues/audiences). ‘Outstanding’ (68%), ‘excellent’ and ‘very good’ were the only overall responses, none lower.

The public responses were overwhelmingly positive. In addition to the many sell-out performances, many people travelled long distances and reported feeling greatly rewarded for their efforts. Venue personnel were without exception hugely supportive and welcoming and most of them efficiently promoted the event locally; we also benefited from word-of-mouth from previous venues and our own ongoing marketing.

The venues:

Six venues exhibited their Eardleys as part of the show and these added a powerful dimension to performances. For other venues, thanks to copyright permissions from the Eardley Estate, we created transportable copies of three key Eardley paintings to support and illustrate distinct phases of her painting career.

Venues exhibited their own Eardleys with pride and generosity and they formed a moving and living backdrop to the play, as each was used as the focus of a scene. At Modern 2, the Lillie Gallery, Gracefield House, Huddersfield, Coventry and Reading, the confluence of action and dialogue with the ‘real thing’ gave a whole new purpose and meaning to the galleries’ very possession of their Eardleys and it was a beautiful thing to watch the venue directors’ reactions to the combined artistic and dramatic experience unfolding before them. The venues – whether in possession of Eardleys of their own or who relied solely on our copies to create the backdrop – helped us tell Joan Eardley’s story and further her legacy.

Two venues requested our touring production: the Boswell Book Festival, Ayrshire and Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh: these were not in our initial touring schedule; we responded positively to their request, in March/April 2017, to be placed on our touring schedule and, as promised, excellent audiences and organisation were delivered by both venues. In addition, Lyon & Turnbull offered to help secure us a second venue in London: they approached The Caledonian Club where they believed there would be high interest and a plentiful audience. These were indeed the case, and the performance there was also hugely successful.

The creative workshops:

In eight venues, artists from the Thrive Archive offered Eardley FoC drawing workshops prior to performance(s). There was good take-up, a productive and happy atmosphere and brilliant, moving work produced as a result. The workshops and the artists conducting them and thereby promoted the event in advance, reached some new audiences and ensured that the production left a lasting legacy. More information here.

Overall:

The play moved and inspired people: those who had minimal prior knowledge of Eardley, those who had personally known her or her friends (including and especially Eardley’s relatives and her Glasgow ‘children’), as well as people from the art and painting worlds, and those who had never previously visited an art gallery for a theatre experience.

We pride ourselves on having brought Joan Eardley alive and into the room for a wide range of people – who either knew her, knew of her or didn’t – all were equally affected. We offered them a very private view and news ways of seeing her works. Above all, we inspired people to seek out Eardleys for themselves and to add a whole new dimension to their own cultural knowledge and understanding.

Equally proudly, we would say that – by developing this piece of theatre within an art context – we successfully connected people across borders. Amongst our audiences – especially in Scotland – were many artists, art historians, textiles and mixed-media artists, writers and theatre practitioners either whom we had not previously met or in some cases known of before, all of whom are now staunch Heroica followers and devotees. With them, we are maintaining cross-border conversations about Joan Eardley, her associates and new subject matter for possible later collaborative projects. The conversations remain ongoing through the power of social media and thus too our production lives on in many, many people’s imaginations and memories. Above all, our overarching stated aim of ‘keeping Joan Eardley in the UK’s sights for many years to come’ is already being borne out.