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so this is christmas and what have we done?

20 Dec 2023

Yes, yes, we know: we didn't send out a newsletter last month. We're sure you were all devastated as you refreshed your inboxes hourly to await our update. Please accept our humblest apologies, and this bumper end-of-year newsletter as a token of our remorse.


2023 has been a Big Year for Barrel Organ (or BYBO, as it's known in the biz), so we wanted to celebrate all the brilliant artists, communities & audiences we've engaged with this year. So get comfy, make yourself a brew, and get out the popcorn.


The year began with us heading to sunny Grimsby to hang out with our BO&Co cohort lowercase theatre (there we all are, smiley and lovely in the above photo). From then on, we met with them throughout the year, and helped them to shape their new show Is It Dead Out? in two work-in-progress events at NSDF & LIVE: Scarborough (of which more below). Honestly, these guys are the bees' knees. They are a company firmly rooted in their corner of North-East Lincolnshire, and the way they speak about and work with their community is a genuine inspiration to us at BO Towers. And not only that, Matt, Lisa and Owen are PFAs (Proper Fucking Artists) whose show is gonna blow your socks off.


March was a busy month, starting with LIVE: Barnsley at The Civic, which was our most packed LIVE programme to date, and included a livestreamed show from mainland Europe, a galaxy-hopping choose-your-own sci-fi adventure, and an interactive playspace. Shoutout to Alanna, Beth, Erin, Hopefully Maybe, Verity and Zoyander.


Then we wrapped up our first year of Campfire at Cast with a showing of Harry, a brand-new script written by a group of participants at Doncaster Mind. It was one of those rare nights you get in the theatre, when you feel warm and fuzzy and hopeful inside about the power and kindness of humanity. And there were chips. Last month, thanks to repeat funding from the Postcode Neighbourhood Trust, we began Campfire 2.0 with some more folks who wanted to use writing and creativity to improve their mental health, and we can't wait to see what they come up with over the coming weeks and months.


In April, we went straight onto NSDF in Leicester, spending a week working with a group of young artists to make a new show. The Bolts of Being was made in five days, semi-improvised, livestreamed, and took place all over the Leicester Curve building. It was as wild as it sounds.


In the summer, we wrapped up Town Squared Leighton-Linslade with a night of short plays and texts written by local people at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre, generously supported by Bedfordshire & Luton Community Foundation. The conversations we had afterwards proved that we only scratched the surface of the myriad stories from the town, and the value of community-driven theatre-making. This unique project will be kicking off again next year in a different location and a whole new cohort of groups and stories.


Then after stopping off at the Stephen Joseph Theatre for LIVE: Scarborough (big up JJ, Lel, lowercase, Maddy & Gabe, Michelle and Raina), we kicked off our pan-Yorkshire Arthur project in earnest, working with young people across Yorkshire to explore what leadership means in the twenty-first century. Ali got knighted, but we don't like to boast about that.


And for the second half of this year, we've been joined by the eight brilliant minds on our Youth Advisory Panel, who have been pushing and provoking us in all sorts of exciting directions. Expect to hear more from them next year.


So yeah, we're looking forward to a bit of a break over Christmas.


Not to get all Californian about it, but we're pretty proud of what our small team has achieved in the past twelve months (also, big up Arts Council England for helping us to achieve a load of this). All across the country, we've worked with dozens of artists, engaged with hundreds of participants, and shared their work with thousands of audience members.


Next year, Barrel Organ is ten years old. Expect 2024 to be worthy of a company now in double-digits.


We'll see you then.

Ali, Rosie, Dan & Jameela x


PS if you're feeling generous and want to give us a Christmas present, don't forget you can always donate via our website.

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