Blog: Coal production team

As Gary Clarke’s Coal celebrates a nomination for Achievement in Dance at the UK Theatre Awards, cast and creatives tell us how it came to the stage

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Gary Clarke, director
Coal to me is an extremely personal and even autobiographical piece of work.

It was only after I had been away from the Dearne Valley for quite a while that I started to really understand what my village went through in 1984 and how it had shaped the future of generations.

I was shocked, sickened and educated, and those feelings compelled me to try and expose this and show the story of mining and the impact of the Miners’ Strike through the medium of contemporary dance and movement.

I felt it was time to create a dance work that looked at the mining industry, its work life, its domestic life and its disputes – something which to my knowledge had never been done before.

And even more importantly I wanted the work to act as a mark of respect and add to the coal mining legacy that is too easily being forgotten.

TC Howard, dancer
I am from a working class background myself, have danced all my life and have been drawn to jobs and people who create work that tries to make a difference and that has meaning beyond the confines of a theatre and the theatre audience.

Before the making of Coal began Gary and I spent many an hour in the company of extraordinary men and women from the local mining communities.

We were invited into homes, watched tears being shed and had our hands held tightly.

We listened to tales of fear, of bravery, of laughter, of camaraderie, determination, anger, sadness, passion and dignity.

The women’s story rang out loud and clear. They had fought emotional, economic and political battles as well; they had proudly stood by their men, were the backbone of the community and became a force to be reckoned with.

“My involvement in Coal has changed my entire interpretation of theatre.”

No matter what obstacle lay in their way they emerged on the other side and have had an immense impact on the future of working class women up and down the country.

Not only was I going to represent these women from the mining community on stage, I was going to perform alongside them.

We were to be united, stand together, tell our story and tell it well. The women’s presence, their gravitas, their instinctive knowledge and commitment to the subject matter elevates the work.

It is a seamless and energising collaboration. They are the missing piece of the jigsaw and from the moment they join us the show is rooted and renewed. They shine an authentic light on our theatrical world and I am proud to have the wealth of knowledge given to me personally by the women I have met along the way.

Steven Roberts, musical director
Using live brass as part of the soundscape to Gary Clarke’s Coal made absolute sense to me.

My early musical education was playing in brass bands and this formative experience has always stayed with me.

The sound of brass was also never far from many of the mining communities, so the sound is evocative and provoked a strong memory for anyone involved in those communities.

Being musical director for Coal has reunited me with two worlds that are very special to me.

As former head of performing arts at Barnsley College, where Gary studied initially, I was a champion for contemporary dance. Being back in the same space as players from many of the most well known championship section bands is an absolute joy.

The show is emotional and thought provoking, but also an important legacy. The sights and sounds of the mines are masterfully portrayed in Gary’s piece and I feel honoured to be a part of this tremendous show.

Kelly Leighton, original community cast member
I’m a cleaner from the mining village of Kellingley and I was one of the team of volunteers taking part in a special preview of Coal at Cast in Doncaster when Gary was developing the show.

It was exciting, exhilarating, emotional and rewarding. The team could not have been more welcoming and understanding and it really did feel we were in it together.

The bond we developed with the professionals was beautiful. My involvement in Coal has changed my entire interpretation of theatre.

I feel immensely proud. To anybody with the opportunity of taking part, I would say go for it!

Coal is at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, 18-19 Oct, and Contact, Manchester, 7-8 Dec

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