Could this be the end for Feelgood Theatre Productions after 25 years?
Is this the end for one of Britain’s most adventurous Manchester based independent Theatre Companies as it celebrates 25 years of theatre at the cutting edge?
From their very first show, which involved the cast arriving aboard a World War II bomber, to performing an anti-slavery play in the House of Lords, Manchester-based Feelgood has continued to push the boundaries.
On Remembrance Sunday, November 10th they may perform their last show These Days - The Manchester Peace Song Cycle.
Ironically on November 9th founder Caroline Clegg is nominated for 2 Cultural Awards at the glittering Manchester City Council event. And that is not the first award. Over the years Feelgood and Caroline have been honoured with: The Horniman Award for outstanding service to theatre; The John Thaw Fellowship at the University of Manchester, the Angel Award for Artistic Excellence, the Pete Postlethwaite Award, Manchester Evening News Awards for Best Opera, Best Production, Best Special Event, Best New Play. The inaugural Human Trafficking Foundation Media Award, Lancashire Woman of the Year, and in 2018 a High Sheriff of Manchester Award for great and outstanding services to the community.
When other theatre companies and festivals have taken their final bows, Feelgood and founder Caroline Clegg have continued to fight on however, after 25 years is this the last show? Feelgood have never had a regular funding stream from the Arts Council so every year have had to re-apply and go far and wide for business and in-kind sponsorship.
Arts funding is constantly being reduced by the government with the regions gaining less and less. Feelgood, luckily thanks to the skill and ingenuity of its founder has managed to cling on regardless with two or three generous sponsors and individuals until now.
In the last decade the landscape for independent companies in Manchester has changed. Since the inception of Manchester International Festival the headliner has shifted focus on revenue and sponsorship funding streams that traditionally would have been awarded to smaller grass roots companies.
This year in Feelgood’s 25th year sadly the Arts Council declined their 3rd year of a three-year Vision of new work in Heaton Park where they have done accessible shows since 1998. This was the important lifeblood funding the company so often relies upon, especially when it comes to undertaking the important outreach and educational projects involving local schools and the community in regeneration areas like North Manchester. This year also saw their energizing and rewarding 10-year sponsorship partnership with PZ Cussons come to an end.
Caroline Clegg founder of Feelgood has been described as a ‘maverick’ and is ‘bloody minded’ enough to overcome hurdles and major challenges. Now she is facing private health battles of her own after being diagnosed with Temporal Arteritis a year ago. She has continued with Feelgood this summer struggling to keep the show on the road, having to walk with a stick for the traditional open-air summer show ‘Dracula - The Blood Count of Heaton’ due to a second condition of bi-lateral tendinopathy.
Caroline Clegg said “I am passionate about theatre and want to share the real joy of what it can do for individuals and communities. Over the last 25 years we have been valued by the people of Manchester and have received many accolades and awards for our work. We have engaged, trained and employed all ages and have been a catalyst changing lives through art. To continue, knowing the environment gets harder each year is miserable. Each year I say just one more, it may get easier, but the hill gets steeper. I wonder in the future if companies like ours will be able to emerge or, as is often the case, it is one person’s driving passion and one day they can no longer start their engine.”
“If you don’t have a building you don’t have a support network and you are often invisible. Every year the never ending round of applications takes up months of voluntary time to enable us to create work. This year, as in other years, we will have employed 35 people, offered paid internships, professional debuts, a youth programme, schools programmes and 2 stunning shows that enable regular theatre goes’ and non-theatre goers alike to enjoy great art. Our summer show getting people out of the city and into beautiful surroundings to experience theatre at its best. Our true site-specific work has given people a new perspective on Heaton Park and Hall the ‘Peoples Park’; once again people are cherishing their heritage and contributing to the parks regeneration.”
“25 years of the Catch22 situation of applications, rejections and now miniscule word counts on online funding portals take its toll. In the industry independent artists and companies suffer from what my colleagues and I describe as ‘funding application sickness’. It ruins months of your year, wastes great work and in the end it becomes a lonely place despite deep levels of fortitude.”
“My long-term vision is called ‘A Field of Dreams’; to build a theatre in Heaton Park, a cultural space for world-class theatre and music to rival that in London’s Regent Park. To build a lasting legacy to ensure that theatre can be accessed by everyone in the natural environment was our goal. I’m unsure if this vision will ever be realised. I can’t drive that through alone against bigger organisational developments in the city - we need a catalytic partner with muscle and nerve before it’s too late.”
It’s a real shame. Feelgood theatre specialise in theatre with a sense of risk and adventure and social content. They have spearheaded inspirational theatre in the UK with Cameron Mackintosh and Jim Cartwright being fans. Raising important awareness of issues such as modern world slavery and helping to campaign for new legislation in government.
After Slave – A Question of Freedom in a covert trip Caroline took medical aid to war torn Sudan to people who had escaped enslavement and are trying to re-build their lives; it was hoped that the show would be revived in 2021.
Last year Caroline commissioned Tony Walsh to write These Days – The Manchester Peace Song Cycle, to commemorate the city’s 100 years of war and peace, an ambitious undertaking with 9 renowned composers which had its premiere in Heaton Hall and world premiere at RNCM. This unique piece has been gifted to the city of Manchester for use in schools and community groups with all future royalties going to the charity Forever Manchester.
On Remembrance Day this year it will be performed in Manchester Cathedral and it may well be the last hurrah. We hope that as many old and new friends can join her with Tony Walsh for this moving show. Enabling Caroline and her board of trustees to thank everyone for the support and love Feelgood have been shown over the years.
This show was originally supported with small grants from the Arts Council, the Ralph Vaughn Williams Trust, the Leche Foundation and Heritage Lottery. The show on the 10th is financed purely by Feelgood Theatre and Caroline Clegg.