Portland Works Makerspace set to host Live Theatre

Portland Works Makerspace set to host Live Theatre

02 June 2021

A former cutlery works in Sheffield is set to open its doors to theatre audiences later this month, as resident theatre company Only Lucky Dogs host promising performers in the Makerspace at Portland Works.

In February 2020, Sheffield-based emerging theatre company Only Lucky Dogs had just begun work on a partnership with the team at Portland Works, to become the first ever resident theatre company at the historic cutlery factory, turned creative hub.

More than a year later, the plans that were first made before the pandemic are finally coming to fruition, with six productions and five workshops set for the Makerspace, in a programme curated to showcase the work of performers early in their career.

The opening season of work, taking place 18 June - 24 July, features a comedy-drama about conspiracy theories from local company Dear Hunter, a physical theatre-based production about the challenges of modern masculinity by Dorset-based Off Piste, and an LGBT+ scratch night from Sheffield’s Sounds Queer collective.

Many of the performers have found innovative ways to rehearse despite the challenges of restrictions over the past few months. The Moonlighters Collective wrote and performed the first version of their show Dear Beryl entirely over Zoom, using socially distanced filming to share their work with online audiences. Meanwhile, Radio 2 award-winning folk musician Rowan Rheingans has been rehearsing her show, Dispatches on the Red Dress with other performers outdoors, entertaining Sheffielders in the process. 

Meanwhile, the Makerspace has also begun to host other behind-the-scenes work, from rehearsals for the company’s own show, Crazy Gary's Mobile Disco taking place in July, to workshops and digital festivals by well-known local companies such as Forced Entertainment.

Before the pandemic, the Only Lucky Dogs team planned to programme artists who struggled to get noticed by larger venues without a track record. With the theatre industry hit particularly hard by coronavirus, venues have closed and opportunities to attract attention to new work have dwindled even further. The need for a space to showcase work made by artists just starting in their careers in Sheffield, has therefore become even more vital.

The unique partnership between Only Lucky Dogs and Portland Works means the theatre company, and the performers invited to take part in the June-July season, become part of a burgeoning community of people who work in specialist creative industries at Portland Works.

From woodworkers and silversmiths to fine artists, photographers and even Opus Independents (the notable team behind Now Then Magazine and the Festival of Debate), it is a true hub of creative activity. This special atmosphere is what the producing team hope audiences will find so attractive when they visit. 

Audiences attending a show at the Makerspace can expect an intimate and inspiring venue with its history evident in every performance. Set against a backdrop of exposed original brickwork and beams, the building’s historic features will enhance this unique atmosphere even further.

Thanks to Arts Council England funding for the project, and a Culture Recovery Fund grant for Portland Works to install new technical equipment, the Makerspace is a fully functioning theatre venue. The visiting companies, who are from across the UK as well as based locally, will benefit from brand-new live-streaming equipment to share their performances worldwide, and a new sound and lighting system.

Technical innovation to solve the challenges presented by the historic space, and by the pandemic, has been central to the development of the Makerspace. Technical Director of Only Lucky Dogs, Isabel Potter, has even used her Aerospace Engineering masters at the University of Sheffield to develop a Virtual Reality version of the Makerspace.

The purpose of this virtual venue is to help visiting companies try out their lighting and set designs before arriving in Sheffield, saving on travel costs, designers’ time and set materials. The team hope that this experimental system can be expanded to be used on cheaper VR headsets that work with a mobile phone, allowing even greater accessibility.

The challenges presented by ongoing restrictions have made staging these events more difficult, but measures such as rapid testing, hand sanitiser made onsite by Sir Robin of Locksley Gin, and socially-distanced rehearsing have helped theatre to recover, ready for the hopeful ending of restrictions (Monday 21 June TBC).

In the event that restrictions continue, the team remains positive. Since theatres were allowed to reopen on 17 May, venues have been allowed to host audiences at up to half their usual capacity. On dealing with this challenge, Theatre Producer, Pippa Le Grand, explains: We’re only selling tickets up to half the Makerspace’s already-intimate capacity, which will give the shows a very special atmosphere, even though audiences will be seated in their household groups

We’ve been working really closely with the Portland Works team to plan how to welcome everyone safely, and it will still be hugely exciting to have audiences in the Makerspace, no matter how many there are.”

For theatre performers who have suffered heavily during the pandemic, the chance to showcase their work in venues like the Makerspace can be a lifeline to help them stay in the industry and develop their career.

Only Lucky Dogs hope their venue will become a go-to for every Sheffield theatre-lover keen to support emerging artists and hope to begin programming for a second season soon. The full programme of shows, along with tickets for both live-streamed and seated audiences, are available at: www.onlyluckydogs.co.uk.