We interview Artistic Director Caroline Clegg

Founder of Feelgood Theatre Productions in 1998, pioneer of site specific theatre in the UK, musical theatre actor and MMU lecturer Caroline Clegg certainly isn't short of things to do, but what's next...

By Lee Isherwood | July 19th '17

After founding Feel Good Theatre Productions in 1998 Caroline has continued to bring site specific theatre to Heaton Park and tour a diverse range of shows nationally, into the West End and internationally. There’s plenty going on and Caroline doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, there are plans afoot and in an MMU building where her company is rehearsing we grab 20 mins to find out more.

What’s your relationship with MMU & RNCM?
I originally began my career as a performer in theatre andmusical theatre before I was asked to lecture at the RNCM, the Univeristy of Manchester and MMU. I then moved into artistic direction and and founded my own professional company Feelgood in order to create a different kind of work that used unusual spaces as well as traditional theatres. Part of our mission at Feelgood is to encourage emerging to work alongside alongside professionals. Over the years we have given many graduates of MMU their professional debuts. In our current production which opens on Thursday we have two recent graduates and working alongside an experienced cast of actors and singers – we have the opportunity to take the very best talent trained in Manchester and give them a launch pad.

Tell us a little more about Feelgood
We are based in Manchester and create a diverse range of work from serious issue based drama to Shakespeare to classical musical concerts but one of the things that is crucial to Feelgood is embedding theatre in the community at a world class level and then exporting nationally and into the West End. We’ve also worked on a global scale to help not only our communities through our outreach work but those that need it the most, for instance we raised money to build a school in Sudan as a result of our show Slave – A Question of Freedom (based on the true story of Mende Nazer who was enslaved in Sudan and trafficked to the UK) and I have just returned from a trip there where we took £25k worth of medical aid. I made a long term commitment to help the Nuba people and highlight the plight of modern slavery.

I’m proud of the work we do, in particular the hard hitting shows like Slave and our park shows. We had families who came to all our shows and asked every year “when will you be back again.” So after a gap of 9 years we are back and have big ambitions for our future there.

A feature of our work there is that We we rehearse in the park and people sit and watch us, local children ask us why we are there, and more often than not getting turned on to theatre because its informal, accessible and in their local park.

Why Heaton Park as your home for Feelgood?
We’ve been performed in Heaton Park since 1998 and there is a wealth of historical interest and social history that we continue to discover, about the park and hall that feeds into our productions. Audiences learn about the park through theatrical storytelling, as in our current piece Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And what’s next in the park?
We are working on creating a long term programme of events in the park building on our show Whispers of Heaton in 2016 which focused on the Manchester Pals regiments that were formed in the park in the First World War. For 2018 we hope to commission a Peace Song Cycle to not only commemorates the 100th anniversary of end of the First World War but is a universal and contemporary reflection of the universal quest for peace. Later this year for Halloween we hope to have another Ghost Story in the Hall.

How do you feel about MIF / Factory and does that impact funding for companies like Feelgood?
MIF is there to raise the cultural profile of Manchester and it does a great job of that. We hope one year that MIF would embrace the work we do at Feelgood, we would love to collaborate with an international company, I could see us creating something in Heaton Park that easily transfers to Central Park. I’m an international opera director, and I choose to live in Manchester, it would be nice to be invited to work with MIF.

Nothing happens without funding however and in 2017 we received funding from the Arts Council of England, and we have some wonderful sponsors who support our work regularly; PZ Cussons, the Stagedoor Foundation, The Granada Foundation & the Manchester Guardian society Charitable Trust. The support from the Manchester City Council and Heaton Park has been brilliant. The council is regenerating the hall and park and we are a part of that. We have had a long association and we are proud to be working to create a lasting legacy for local people and making Heaton Park a destination for national and international visitor alike.

What does the future hold post 5 year plan?
Our overall goal is to create a permanent theatre in Heaton Park. It has a working title of A field of dreams – a cultural hub for music, dance and drama. An eco-structure that allows for gradual development, something that gives local people sense of ownership and a jewel in the crown for Manchester’s theatrical scene.

Feelgood’s production of a Midsummer Nights Dream starts this week and we highly recommend checking it out.
Tickets available here

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