Pens and a simple feedback form are placed on the tables at the top of Hackney Picturehouse as the artists are given a 10-minute opportunity to try out their new material. The audience get a variety of performances and in turn the performers receive feedback to keep in mind when developing their work.
This is the concept behind Scratch That Hackney: a monthly event to help artist’s work in progress. Eleanor Barr is one third of the organising trio and she says they welcome artists of all kinds; acts have included cabaret, physical and musical comedy, live music, spoken word and even a comedy act disguised as a game show. Perhaps the only thing they had in common is that they were ready to be put to the test.
The last event saw a lot of comedy but Barr insists there is no typical Scratch That night. “It’s interesting because we seem to go through trends, it has meant everything from short films to spoken word,” she says.
Rather unexpectedly she says clowning is something they see more and more of at the moment. “Not necessarily clowns with red noses, but very skilled character clowns that has been trained in Gaulier”, she says referring to École Philippe Gaulier in Paris, the prestigious clown school.
Barr herself along with Amy Costello and Katie Payne all come from acting backgrounds and after graduating from drama school together they felt that they were lacking somewhere to communicate their work.
She talks about the struggle to stay motivated: “We found that we weren’t supported. We were auditioning and auditioning and we were losing the passion for theatre and live performance.”
They set up Scratch That for fellow actors but soon opened up for other artistic expressions. The Hackney event runs on the first Thursday of every month and it’s been going for two and a half years. For the past 12 months they’ve also been organising one night a month in Brixton.
Barr speaks fondly of Hackney Attic that is usually filled with friends and family as well as people who are curious to see what the night is about. The space is ideal for the purpose, especially as it’s set out as a theatre space, she points out.
“Our dream would be to identify ourselves as a service to artists,” she says. “The next step would be to apply to Arts Council for funding and make it into a company rather than just a monthly event, because we don’t want to let go of the amazing people that we meet.”
They’re enthusiastic about going further to help develop the artists and she talks about putting on a festival and workshops, and especially reaching out to young artists in the area. “I would like to find a way to connect the Hackney community with the night, that’s my aim,” Barr adds.
Hackney raised Troy Fletcher, 20, or ‘Terror Troy’, is an independent artist that produces his own music. He performed at the March event as a way to get back into performing. He says: “It’s not just speaking to a certain genre, it’s for artists that want to get their work right. It’s nice to have a platform where you don’t have to think ‘oh no, I’m not this, I’m not that’; if you have an art and you want to show it, Scratch That is the best thing out there.”
Barr says they never expected to find the talent that they have. “We’re overwhelmed with all the magical people that we’ve met; they’ve got creativity that will blow your mind.