Month: October 2022

Propa Penniless

3 actors perform on stage.

“I genuinely did not expect to laugh as much as I did, or be as profoundly moved. That ending was so powerful, and retained its power each time I watched it.

– Cathy L Shrank – Professor of Tudor and Renaissance Literature at University of Sheffield

If you ask someone ‘have you heard of Thomas Nashe?’, we’ve found that people will probably say ‘no’.

If the name is new to you, Nashe was a writer mostly active in London during the 1590s. After coming out of the Elizabethan version of higher education, he found a total lack of employment opportunities and struggled to be seen, heard and read. His frustration with the world comes through strongly in his very nihilistic and scathing works. He managed to get by with the help of various patrons and work as a ‘hack’ writer (a pen for hire) until his death at 32 while in exile in Norfolk.

Researchers from Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield have been looking into Nashe’s writing and making strong connections between his own situation and what young people are facing today – the changing world of work and economic precariousness brought about by the hoarding of wealth and outside factors like pandemics (just as we had Covid, Nashe had to deal with outbreaks of plague).

As part of the wider ‘Penniless’ research project (one of Nashe’s most famous works was called ‘Pierce Penniless’), Cap-a-Pie was asked to devise a piece of theatre that responded to Nashe’s works and looked at those modern-day themes. What was created (a work co-devised by performers Emily Corless, Rachel Stockdale and Mahsa Hammat Bahary) was ‘Propa Penniless’, a mixture of Nashe’s words, our contemporary take on him as well as sections involving the actor’s own experience of work and the difficulty of trying to be an artist.

‘Pierce Penniless’ is a dense and difficult text but the researchers knowledge of it and the world that Nashe lived in was invaluable to us when we were devising. We were really proud of what we made – feedback from the audience showed that the piece both amused them and moved them.

Sections of the piece were filmed to be part of a short documentary about the project that will be released soon.

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19th Century Coal Mining in Newcastle

Exterior shot of the seating and parachute ceiling at outdoor theatre at Hedley West Farm in Gateshead.
Outdoor Theatre at Hedley West Farm, Gateshead

In June 2022, we delivered a project in partnership with Newcastle University Education Outreach team at the Robinson Library, inspired by some archival material about coal mining disasters that took place in Heaton and Wallsend in the 1800s. In both cases, many men and young children lost their lives.

Over the course of a week, Year 5 and 6 students from both Carville Primary and Chillingham Road visited the University to see some of the historical documents and artefacts, and learn more about coal mining and the local history. After this, they created a performance devised from everything they had learnt and found interesting or fascinating. The students were intrigued and moved by the fact that children as young as 5 were sent down the mines to work. These pieces of theatre were performed outdoors in a beautiful venue in Gateshead, West Hedley Farm. Luckily, the weather was on our side and both schools did really well. 
To create a piece of theatre in a week is a huge achievement and to do it outdoors in the round too! Well done to all involved. 

“The children were incredibly proud of their achievements, and it was great to see the child-led learning take place.”

– Year 5 Teacher

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