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After two and a half years at Contact, my time as Audience Development Producer has sadly come to a close. But I couldn’t leave without sharing some of my highlights with you all. I had so many great times here that it’s hard to narrow down my experiences to one blog’s worth!

After two and a half years at Contact, my time as Audience Development Producer has sadly come to a close.

Here are my 5 favourite projects from my time at Contact, how many were you in the audience for?!

Number 5: CYC & Young Identity: Old Tools > New Masters ≠ New Futures

I’ve always been a big fan of Manchester Art Gallery. When I first moved to Manchester, I spent most of my Saturdays doing Highlights tours, led by MAG volunteers who show visitors around each of their favourite artworks. If you haven’t been before, I highly recommend it; every tour is totally unique and I don’t think I’ve ever met a more enthusiastic group of people.

Needless to say, I was excited about the prospect of a collab between Contact and Manchester Art Gallery, and I loved Old Tools from the moment I saw the first promotional images. Contact Young Company breathed life into pieces of art I’d never noticed before, imagining Manchester Art Gallery’s post-colonial future.

Contact Young Company and Young Identity

Number 4: Vogue Ball

I think Vogue Ball might be the most talked about Contact show amongst staff. One of the longest running events in our repetoire, it’s kind of become the stuff of legend. I took on a different role to support Vogue Ball, picking up a camera and documenting some of the incredible costumes and gravity-defying death drops on film.

This was the end result:

Number 3: The Forest of Forgotten Discos!

This should probably technically count as two shows, since we’ve performed Forest both in-person and online in my time at Contact. It was just as magical over Zoom as it was in Hope Mill Theatre, where it was first performed back in 2018.

Forest was a dream to work on, and the kind of show that only comes around once in a blue moon. Built with accessibility at its heart, Forest was one of the few Christmas shows I know of that integrates BSL, visual storytelling, audio description and relaxed performances. I was able to work with some amazing schools, and with pupils from all walks of life.

This show was so good that nobody wanted to leave at the end. One young person was so emotional about having to leave the forest that the cast wrote him a letter from all the characters so that he had something to take home with him.

I’m not crying, you are…

Dancing bears in a forest

Dancing bears in a forest

Number 2: coletivA ocupação: When It Breaks It Burns

I wish everyone could see Coletiva Ocupação in action. After the many powerful protests we saw throughout 2020, we all have a lot to learn from the young people of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who fought back against public school closures in 2015 and 2016. When It Breaks It Burns is a story of civil unrest and the impact that creative protest can have on oppressive regimes.

This was the first show we performed in our temporary home at Moss Side Millennium Powerhouse. I was proud to welcome so many different groups of people to see the show, from Moss Side locals, to UoM Portuguese students, to groups of young refugees making theatre in Liverpool, even some of my family from Ireland!

Number 1: Barber Shop Chronicles

This was by far the most ambitious outreach project from my time at Contact. We worked with the teams from Fuel and the Royal Exchange to distribute 1,000 free tickets to Manchester audiences from the African diaspora who had never been to the Royal Exchange before.

To do this, we ran mass recruitment drives; setting up a choir in the foyer of Asda Hulme, visiting barber shops and takeaways across South Manchester, running free music and dance workshops for young people, and straight up calling everyone we knew to invite them along. Big shout out here goes to the powerhouse that is Sharon Raymond, who was probably responsible for about half of the tickets we ended up distributing.

I’ve never seen a show bring so many repeat audiences! It seemed like everyone who came wanted to see it again, inviting along family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, distant acquaintances, people they met on the street, anyone they could get hold of.

There are too many great moments from this run to choose one favourite, but I particularly enjoyed seeing groups of young people stepping into the theatre for the first time, and immediately taking the stage to dance with the cast at the start of the show.

Barber Shop Chronicles original National Theatre cast

Barber Shop Chronicles original National Theatre cast

So that’s it from me! Although I’m really going to miss all the staff, participants, audiences at Contact, I’m sure I’ll be hanging around for a long time to come. You can’t get rid of me that easily!

Much love, Ailbhe x