Alexander Kelly

The co-artistic director of Third Angel writes about small celebrations for the theatre company's 21st birthday

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We set up Third Angel in Sheffield by presenting our first show, the 72-hour durational performance Testcard, at the Workstation. We weren’t trying to “set up a company” – we just had a particular idea for a show that seemed timely. By “we” I mean myself and my co-artistic director, Rachael Walton, and a core team of collaborators including Chris Hall, Rob Hardy, David Mitchell, Hilary Foster and Jacqui Bellamy, amongst others – all of whom we would continue to work with to a greater or lesser extent over the following years.

We got a massive amount of help from our network of friends and contacts. We called in every favour we could have been owed, and many we weren’t. Everyone worked incredibly hard for no money – but the show was a success, combining film and video work with durational gallery performance and rehearsed theatre to explore voyeurism, the male gaze and the appearance of the surveillance society.

We were invited to apply for a few other commissions in Sheffield, with the Quarterlight and Lovebytes festivals – which we got. We made a short film, which screened at the Showroom and sent off to festivals. In a meeting at Yorkshire & Humberside Arts, as it was then, Rachael and I were asked where we “saw the company in five years’ time?” We realised we needed a plan.

We made the beginnings of that plan in a coffee shop in Bakewell, not long after that. I think this must have been late 1995. Since then we have toured work throughout the UK, Europe and further afield. We have always continued to present work in Sheffield, though, and the support of our hometown audience has been hugely important to us. We’ve been lucky enough to show work at Site Gallery, the Mappin Gallery, the Millennium Gallery, the Crucible Studio, the Lyceum, the Holt and the Hide, amongst others, most recently outside in Tudor Square.

We celebrated our 20th birthday with a revival of one of our most popular shows, Presumption, bringing it back to Sheffield after several years of international touring. But we also wanted to do something that recognised another strand of our practice: the collaborative mentoring work we do with other artists. From giving artists career advice and administrative tools, to introducing them to our approach to devising or making shows with them, this has become an increasingly important, and rewarding, aspect of our work.

We commissioned four of those artists to make us a small celebration – a performance work that could be captured on camera in some way. We’re delighted with the results. Action Hero has created a mini-ceremony for us; Hannah Butterfield has created a dance-film meditation on the strength and sweetness of childhood; RashDash has reimagined a song from its latest show and Massive Owl has made its own distorted music video. We’ve also made our own celebration. As it’s our party, that felt OK.

To mark our 21st anniversary we’ve just held Where From Here, a symposium about the company’s work, with Compass Live Art Festival and Leeds Beckett University.

And next we’re going back to where it all started, the Showroom/Workstation in Sheffield. We’ll be screening the The Small Celebrations (plus some other new work and a couple of old favourites) on 6 December at 6.30pm. It feels like a chance to take stock, to celebrate collaboration, to toast the last 21 years, to show some great films, and to think about what’s next. /@ThirdAngelUK /@AlexanderKelly

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