Interview With… Laura Harling

The Artistic Director of Longfield Hall talks to us about the recently announced Lockdown Live season.

For those who don’t know what can we expect from Longfield Hall’s Lockdown Live? The Lockdown Live season will house four very different evenings of entertainment, tailored to be shown live online, fully embracing the nature of the ’digital’ performance world we have now become accustomed to. The four events will have one common factor; staying connected. Whether that is within the arts community, the local Longfield Hall community, our audience’s personal community, or the need for a community if you’re feeling totally alone right now. My intention being that these shows will bring both performers and audiences together with joyful entertainment during these challenging times. Our first event, ‘Best of Our Lives’ will showcase performers that have been streaming their own live shows during Lockdown – sharing samples of their work. ‘Love is Live’ an LGBTQ+ cabaret was originally planned to take place at the hall the eve before London Pride weekend. So not to lull in the disappointment that we can’t parade the streets this June, we will bring together some of the most fabulous cabaret artists for a very proud event that should definitely be watched with a cocktail in hand. Going into July, we have ‘Movers and Shakers’ celebrating dance, now in it’s forth year. Slightly different this year (for obvious reasons) we’ve commissioned three professional dancers to create a bespoke ‘Lockdown’ piece and have set a challenge for under 18 dancers (selected through a submission process) to create their own response piece. There will also be an opportunity for the audience at home to get up and dance! Our final event ‘(Un)Scene’ is going to be some outrageously bonkers Bard. Reverting to the original method used by Shakespeare’s actors, the company will work from a ‘cue script’ having only their immediate cues and lines. They will never rehearse together. They won’t know whom they’re performing with. They will find it cruel. They will also have many a surprise thrown at them with the added bonus of it all being live online! Directed by Co founder of Open Bar Theatre, Nicky Diss, What could possibly go wrong?!

How did the idea for the programme come about?I am desperately trying to hold on to my job? Um, no (yes) no. Seriously though… Like most arts venues, we had productions programmed for the rest of the year and the trustees of Longfield Hall asked me ‘what are you going to do now?’. I’m pretty sure my initial response was a tumbleweed kind of silence. I felt a huge responsibility to my community, our audience and the efforts we’ve made to establish Longfield Hall over the last 16 months that I have been in position. The arts and theatre is fuel for so many (including myself), and these are such uncertain times. I found myself feeling pretty numb to it all, and unable to create anything but a G&T. In the second week of lockdown I was invited to my first online event, and it was troublesome. The nature of live streaming meant the tech was all over the place, the acts difficult to see or follow at times but blimey it was impressive. This event went from one performers living room to another’s living room across Europe, 300+ people were watching from all over the world, and most importantly it had charm that really warmed the soul and made me feel connected. That catharsis that I relate to seeing the ‘best play I’ve seen in ages’ or when you go to see a musician play live and they perform the song that holds all the memories for you, and you’re standing with a loved one and you’re a bit drunk and high on adrenaline and you sort of choke back the tears. It felt like that. I wanted to hug them all. I also immediately knew my answer to ‘what are you going to do now?’ –  to add to these online events and endeavour to encompass that feeling, that connection – bringing some joy to all those artists and audiences that are self isolated and feeling a bit destroyed right now. I felt inspired by early lockdown online events: Facebook Live Cabarets, Instagram Live music nights, chat shows and the many artists who were burying their fears for the future and going full steam ahead into discovering what the online world of performance can offer. I began to see a whole new form of an arts community opening up. Some of those events I watch regularly, and they have become part of my self-isolated routine or should I say, these events are my only sense of routine! So I decided to get on board.

If this programme goes well – do you hope to add more digital content for people to watch? I think the digital platform will be a permanent feature in some form for many arts companies now. Clearly we’d like to be in our venues but we’re not, and who knows when it will be viable to do so. We’re incredibly lucky to have access to this digital world, and I personally feel so grateful and comforted that I can connect with other arts practitioners during these times. It also means we can reach audiences that perhaps wouldn’t get to see the work in house, so looking at the positives here, I think it’s definitely something we will continue to produce. Both during lockdown and beyond.

How can the public help to support Longfield Hall during the difficult situation? Spread the word. Watch an event, (YouTube: Longfield Hall or Facebook @LongfieldHall) and share the info. I promise you it will all be great and worth your time. And if you don’t agree with me, then please keep the show playing when you leave the room so we still get the viewing numbers, you’d be surprised how supportive seeing the ‘eye’ count stay high can be! All events are free to watch but there will be a donation link should people want to donate. All donations go to the performers and our chosen LGBTQ+ charity for the ‘Love is Live’ event.

What are your hopes for the future of Longfield Hall? Longfield Hall is a very special place, it really is what it says on the tin ‘where community and creativity meet’ and its heart is serving that community both local and artistic. We want our programme of events to be accessible for everyone and we will continue to build and connect our communities through the arts. Over the last 16 months we’ve held performances of touring productions as well as our own in house shows, youth projects and a range of classes for all ages including our wonderful 50+ programme. We also opened up our unique Victorian upper hall as a rehearsal venue. I hope when we reopen (in whatever form will be permitted) we can resume and expand our classes and offer our space to a range of arts companies including those with financial difficulties that need support to get going again. We began plans to install rigging suitable for aerial circus in our upper hall, with hopes to house a south London circus scene. This plan is still underway, but right now construction has begun to make the venue fully accessible, so by the end of the year we will have a shiny new glass entrance, lift and accessible toilets.

By Emma Clarendon

To find out more about Longfield Hall and its Lockdown Live season visit:

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