Frantic Studio  

Established almost 30 years ago, Frantic Assembly has launched an online subscription platform to benefit students and drama teachers. Susan Elkin investigates…

When Scott Graham, then a student at Swansea University, saw Volcano Theatre Company’s early 1990s production of Christopher Hampton’s Savages the scales fell from his eyes. “I had no idea that theatre could be that physical and that alive” he says. “I wanted to devour it”. That experience sowed the seed for the emergence of the Frantic Assembly which he co-founded in 1994 with Stephen Hoggett and Vicki Middleton.

“We’d already taken a couple of shows to Edinburgh. Above all we wanted our work to be visceral, immediate and raw. Theatre doesn’t exist until performance meets audience” declares Scott. “Then we toured a production of Look Back in Anger which, by then, had been around for 48 years. Ours was a new take and we took risks with it but there was no disrespect. It was simply that, by the 1990s, the play, once so angry, had become part of a canon and we wanted to reignite the fire. Ironically John Osborne, aged 75, died during the tour.”

Scott and I are talking in Frantic Assembly’s sparkling, glassy white new office space in Brixton House, near Brixton Station. It’s very tidy and I can smell new paint, so I’m not surprised to learn that Frantic Assembly moved into this recently renovated building only three weeks earlier. There’s a theatre, known simply as Brixton House, on the ground floor and plenty of well-equipped rehearsal space so it promises to be a useful creative space for Lambeth. “Yes of course we shall be making use of these facilities too” says Scott.

Today Frantic Assembly has an ongoing relationship with writers such as Bryony Lavery, Abi Morgan, Sam Holcroft and Mark Ravenhill. “We usually take an idea to a writer and then it goes through our own process – it’s a very different from, say, a Royal Court commission.” The written plays are then published by, for example Nick Hern Books, Methuen Drama and Oberon. Scott fetches an impressively big pile from a bookshelf on the other side of the office to show me.

The Frantic Assembly Book of Devising by Scott Graham and Stephen Hoggett was published in 2009 with a second edition in 2014. “A third edition is sketched out” says Scott, telling me that Frantic Assembly also offers support in studying set texts and the work of practitioners which students need for A Level Theatre Studies. Then he goes off piste and tells me a rather alarming, if wryly amusing, anecdote about being in a school in a non-professional context and spotting a poster on the drama department wall which purported to summarise how Frantic Assembly works. “It was absolute nonsense” he says. “Not what we do at all. And I do worry about the misinformation which seems sometimes to be being fed to students.”

Frantic Assembly works a lot with the education sector. “We’ve always done workshops in schools in which we share the process” he says. “It’s a simple matter of declaring ‘This is what we know and this is how you can use it.’ We reach around 16,000 people a year though our workshops and our way of working is studied as far away as Australia. This is partly about helping students and teachers and partly about building future audiences. “The two things feed each other” says Scott.

Of course, the pandemic and what Scott calls “the devaluing and poisoning of the arts” have made it much more difficult to reach students which is why it has now developed Frantic Assembly Studio – an online subscription platform pitched between student and teacher and intended to be the missing voice in the classroom. The aim is to bridge the gap between the school drama studio and the professional rehearsal room. 

Content will include practical guidance on, for example, warm-up, devising, choreography, text and movement. Then there are interviews with leading theatre makers and access to some of Frantic Assembly’s production along with a teacher-only advice centre. At the time of my conversation with Scott a prototype of Frantic Assembly Studio was being trialled in a small number of schools. The plan is to make it generally available for September 2022. “It isn’t, obviously, intended to be a substitute for face-to-face work, it complements it” says Scott.

Meanwhile the company’s core work goes on. A new tour of Frantic Assembly’s adaptation of Othello, co-produced with Curve Leicester where it launches on September 19th, is scheduled to go to Liverpool. Plymouth, York, Guilford. Oxford, Salford, Southampton and London. Metamorphosis is scheduled for 2023. 

“Tours sell very well” says Scott “But the economics are always tight because you have to keep ticket prices low for school parties, so we need to find ways of widening our audience.” Frantic Assembly Studio will, naturally, have to be an income stream for the company because of the investment in it.

Frantic Assembly, Brixton House, 385 Coldharbour Lane London SW9 8GL  

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