Modest embedded artist: Celeste Richardson

By | Blog, Shows

What would happen if we invited a visual artist into the Modest rehearsal room to observe the process of creating a play, and then respond to it through their preferred medium?

That was an idea posed by Jill Howitt and Thomas Robinson of the Critical Fish, an artist-led project in Hull which promotes critical but accessible writing about art and visual culture.

And it was an idea we loved. We’ve paid for an embedded critic to join us in the room before, so why not an embedded artist?

Step forward Celeste Richardson, an artist living and working in Hull, who is studying for a BA in Fine Art at Hull School of Art and Design. They graduate in summer 2023 and make figurative oil paintings.

Celeste’s practice is a continuous investigation into making sense of and expressing one’s own queer identity. Their paintings examine compartmentalised, conflicting versions of self and converge them on the canvas, celebrating gender non-conformity and fluidity.

They are influenced by contemporary drag performers, and Michael Warner’s writings on Counterpublics. Perfect for Modest, then.

Celeste joined us for a full day of rehearsals on Tuesday 9 May, when the company was working on staging the final few scenes of the show, as well as recapping choreography so far.

Below are their sketches from that day, accompanied by some thoughts on the process.

Celeste Richardson

“I immediately noticed the collaborative nature of the rehearsal process. The actors and creative team work together, generating ideas all the time and listening to every voice in the room.

“This allows the scenes to be delivered in a way that feels authentic and representative of the people who relate to the story, because the actors have a say.

“Because of this, the rehearsal room was a completely safe space. Everyone has the confidence and support to be themselves, make suggestions, experiment, try things, fail, try again, free of judgement.

“This environment of total acceptance is something I have not experienced to this degree of completeness, and I felt an atmosphere of optimism, excitement and electricity from this that was hugely inspiring and affirming for me personally.

“I would describe the actual process of constructing the scenes as representative of queerness, not just the themes of the play.”



Drawings #1 and #2 were responses to this. I was focusing on that idea of a concentration of energy and that being a catalyst for playfulness, freedom, fluidity, identity evolving/shifting and elevating queer voices. I loved how everyone was taking up space in the room, being loud, vocal and unapologetic.



Drawings #3 and #4 respond more directly to the material and characters. The inclusion of the top hat is a clear subversion of gender roles at the time, so these drawings were playing on that breaking down of the categories of gender, with references to classical busts with the statue-like figures. 



Drawing #5 responds to the ‘Bossy Women song. I felt an intensity and strength that gained amplitude as the song went on and as the characters realised their power and ambition. I wanted to capture the feeling of a collision of energy. 

Drawing #6 responds to the scene where Elizabeth gets rejected by the RA. This scene, to me, was an abrupt reminder of the boundaries in place for the characters.

I started with the imagery of a business suit and exaggerated the harsh lines of that image, playing off my initial drawings that focused on energy, freedom and fluidity, and directly opposing that: the dark, opaque marks absorb and diminish energy, and the jagged lines are sharp and unforgiving. 



Drawing #7 responds to the feeling of empowerment for women and queer people that the play champions. I quickly sketched different iterations of gender presentation, trying to embody that same sense of energy and potential.

My material selection was important for all the responses, e.g., graphite and charcoal naturally refuse detail, which allows me to suggest shapes and focus on the overall feeling of the drawing and not get caught up in details within the figures that do not matter.

Drawing #8 responds to the scene where Malais and Elizabeth talk after her rejection. I was intrigued by the actors’ positioning in the space; being across the room from each other amplified the tension between them during this emotional scene.

I felt the lack of colour was important here, as this scene is another moment where the characters are grounded, reminded of the reality of the boundaries at play for them. 

Middle Child would like to thank Celeste for joining us in the room, as well as Jill Howitt and Thomas Robinson of The Critical Fish for suggesting the idea and then putting us in touch with Celeste.

It’s the first time we’ve shared our process in this way and found it hugely inspiring to see a visual artist respond to our work and with such immediacy.

The Critical Fish will also be running a free workshop at Ferens Art Gallery, on Saturday 27 May, to view and discuss Elizabeth Thompson’s painting The Return from Inkerman.

Book your place when buying a ticket for Modest at Hull Truck Theatre.

Why we’re adopting the four-day week

By | Artistic Director, Blog

Artistic director and chief exec, Paul Smith, writes about our move to a four-day week, from piloting compressed hours to reducing hours with no loss of pay

As part of our adjustment to the start of the pandemic Middle Child made the decision to pilot four-day working, based on a recommendation from outgoing executive director Lindsey Alvis.

This was an attempt to address work-life balance at a challenging time, exploring a different way of living and working when everything was up-for-grabs and everyone seemed to be talking about how our industry had to take the opportunity for change.

It was also a time where the number of parents and carers in the Middle Child team and our wider network was predictably growing in line with our arrival at our mid-thirties.

The four-day working week is a growing trend in the UK and for good reason. Studies have shown that a shorter working week can lead to increased productivity, better employee wellbeing and lower rates of absenteeism.

I must admit, I was sceptical. Could we really make such a huge change? Would we get less work done? Would people think we were slacking, or taking our foot off the pedal? How could I possibly lose a whole day from already tight rehearsal schedules?! And anyway, these 9-5 Monday to Friday structures exist for a reason, right?

On the other hand, isn’t the reason you set-up your own company to be able to do things differently? Be the change you want to see in the world and all that. At Middle Child we’ve always prided ourselves on being a forward-thinking company that finds a way to translate our values into action.

We believe in the power of art to create positive change in the world, but also recognise that change can also start with rethinking how we operate as a company, including our approach to work and our employees.

A successful pilot

And so our pilot began. We would compress our hours and introduce four-day working across the team, with most of us saying goodbye to Mondays, but with freedom for people to choose their own hours across the team in-line with our flexible working policy, developed with the support of our pals at PiPA.

I quickly found that my initial misgivings were unfounded. Four-day working was a revelation, both personally and professionally.

I have always worked hard, sitting somewhere between “I love what I do, so it never feels like work” and a genuine obsession with all things Middle Child. I find switching off difficult and spend the majority of my waking hours plotting, planning and problem-solving.

In recent years I developed an anxiety condition which manifested in both intense panic attacks and a general state of constant lower-level panic, forever bubbling underneath.

While I believe this will always be a part of me in some form, my ability to manage it has increased massively since trialling four-day working. Not just that but I now feel able to find more time across every area of my life – from seeing friends and family to tidying the house, walking the dog and, yes, work.

Because my biggest revelation amongst all of this is that working ‘less’ allows me to work more. When I return to work on a Tuesday after a three-day weekend, I feel more rested, better nourished from time to cook properly and buoyed by my tidy house and time well-spent with loved ones.

Suddenly, travelling the four and a bit hours to visit my much-missed family now feels endlessly more achievable without sacrificing any chance of rest and frantically rushing back to be in the office for a 9am Monday start.

All of this adds-up to allow me to give the Tuesday to Friday working week my everything, with sharper focus, more energy and less guilt at all the things I didn’t previously have time to do.

My fear about getting less work done has been proven false.

I can confidently say that I am getting through as much as I ever have, and in my mind to a higher standard than before due to my extra energy and focus. The feedback from actors, creatives and production teams has been hugely positive too, with actors no longer having to spend every waking hour before and after rehearsals looking at lines or squeezing-in life admin.

Those working away from home for long periods now have the opportunity to make meaningful returns to rest and recharge.

People now don’t have to leave the office anywhere near as regularly for trips to doctors, dentists or doggy day care.

Those with caring commitments are saving money on one day less of nursery and have more time to spend with young families.

The company saves money on energy and working four days is much more beneficial environmentally.

The flip side

Of course, as with everything there are two sides to this. Sometimes I still wake up on a Monday catch up on some e-mails, join a meeting or read a play, though I should say there is no expectation for others to do so and it remains a personal choice.

I sometimes still find my mind wandering to the stresses of work on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and of course at times the Middle Child office still has as much stress, panic, fear and exhaustion in the air as most arts offices. But there is a big difference too and, let’s be realistic, it’s going to take a lot more than losing one day a week to fix everything.

We have also yet to crack the issue of long hours often associated with tech days, though hope to think about this more deeply in the near future, while acknowledging the requirements for getting a show off the ground.

Following a successful piloting of this change we have decided to stick to it permanently, and introduce actual four-day working hours across the organisation – reduced hours with no loss of pay.

Everyone in the team has found different benefits and different ways of making this work for them. It’s by no means perfect yet, and we’re constantly striving to make further improvements and adjustments that help to make Middle Child the best it can be while better supporting the people who make it happen.

We know first-hand that the theatre industry can be a demanding and often unsustainable workplace, particularly for those working in production and technical roles.

By moving to a four-day week, we hope to create a more sustainable and equitable workplace for everyone we work with. We want to create a workplace where everyone can thrive, both creatively and personally – and we want to retain people who may otherwise be lost to our industry.

We’d love others to give this way of working a try in their organisation too and, if useful, are always happy to have a chat about our experiences.

Top tips for trying a four-day week

Below are a few top tips from our experience over the past few years:

    • Some people will treat the idea with complete conviction it simply cannot work and that Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm is the minimum requirement for success. Of course, it may not work for you, but there is no harm in trying it out – and at the very least let’s acknowledge that we can all be more creative in finding working patterns that support a more positive work/life balance and help us do all the things that come with being human.
    • Others will think it is a way of working less or avoiding hard work. This requires confidence, belief and trust in yourselves and those you work with. I’m still yet to meet many (any?) artists or arts organisations who avoid hard work. I’ve found that a four-day week has no relationship to how hard people work, only a change to when people work hard.
    • Find a way that suits you and your organisation. There is no one-size fits all method. Speak to people, offer flexibility, trial different options. For example, we moved from compressed hours in our pilot to genuine four day working. We have also now developed a more flexible model where we shift to working longer hours, 9am-6pm, in rehearsal periods to deal with the additional pressures that come with making shows.
    • One of my initial fears was that I would miss vital meetings that happened on Mondays. Again, I’ve found this not to be the case – you just need to develop confidence in saying ‘I don’t work Mondays’ and there is always an alternative.
    • Don’t be ashamed. At first, I felt the pressures of capitalism and would constantly excuse or work extra hard to justify why it’s okay that I don’t work on Mondays. Now, I am proud of our new way of working and have developed the confidence to talk passionately and honestly about its benefits. I’ve now started to find that the majority of people are really intrigued about how it works and begin listing their imagined benefits. Become an advocate, share your successes and failures with others.

In other people’s words

To widen the perspective on four-day working, see below for a few short quotes from different people we work with about the impact it has had on them.

Lindsey Alvis, executive director:

“Whilst I have always worked four days a week for Middle Child, extending this to the core team and adopting it on productions seemed like a big ask. It is hard to put your head above the parapet and ask for big changes and it’s important to recognise that it takes a lot of emotional labour to drive change, particularly when the outcome will have an impact on you. The biggest shift at Middle Child has been creating a culture of caring, where we can talk about wellbeing, what it’s like being a parent and what we need to do our best in the job, at board meetings, at our desks and in the rehearsal room. I hope that doing this authentically from my own point of view has paved the way for others to say what they need and will serve the company by retaining staff and attracting and better supporting freelancers.”

Jamie Potter, audience development manager:

“The shift to a four-day week has instantly made me feel lighter, more relaxed and less guilty about spending my Sundays climbing, knowing I have all of Monday to catch-up on other life stuff. It’s actually a new change for me, as I initially worked throughout the week when we trialled compressed hours, but I finished at 5pm and had Wednesday afternoons off, instead of a full Monday. That later 6pm finish never worked for me and the caring commitments I had at home, but the four-day week of reduced hours is such a breath of fresh air. It especially feels welcome given that we, as a country, still haven’t taken stock or acknowledged the trauma of Covid-19 and seem far too willing to continue as though nothing has happened. Now, however, I feel like I’m coming to terms with that and finding more energy.”

Erin Anderson, assistant producer:

“I love working a four-day week with Middle Child. Being able to take the space to fully decompress from the work and build back up work again with enough space for myself in the middle is so lovely. Monday is the Sunday you always feel like you need. I don’t know how I would ever go into working a full week.”

Josie Morley, freelance theatre maker:

“I really appreciate a four-day working week because as a freelancer you often have a second or third or fourth job. Working a five-day week I rehearse Monday to Friday and then often had to work Saturday and Sunday to keep my secondary job. A four-day working week means at the very least I can have one full day off. It leads to a better work-life balance generally, because even now I’m fully freelance and don’t have a second job it allows more time to catch up with life stuff and socialising. Also as an actor it allows more time and space to learn lines, which I’m very grateful for as in a five-day working week I’d be going home and cramming lines with a tired brain of an evening. It feels like you have more time to breathe and I feel much more productive.”

Jack Chamberlain, freelance theatre maker:

“The four-day working week has helped me achieve a greater work/life balance in a profession that often challenges these boundaries. It gives me a weekend off and then that extra day to either relax or catch up on work in whatever way that can be helpful. My experiences have inspired me to integrate the four-day week into my work in the future and I can’t recommend it enough.”

Get in touch

I’d like to close this reflective piece with a thank you to Lindsey Alvis for raising the possibility of four-day working at all.

I now recognise that it’s not an easy thing to advocate for and that systems are hard to change. But Lindsey’s absolute belief in this alternative way of living and working has been of huge benefit to Middle Child and has radically changed what we do and how we do it.

As Lindsey moves onto pastures new with our friends at PiPA, it is clear that Lindsey’s impact will continue to be felt through our new way of working for a long time to come.

If you would like to discuss anything raised in this blogpost in more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact me on

Four performers wearing overalls with hoods contort around each other as they paint a large square upright canvas

“My queer heart is full” – Assistant directing the Modest R&D

By | Artist Development, Blog

Evie Osbon writes about their recent experience in the rehearsal room with Middle Child and Milk Presents at the National Theatre Studio, developing new show Modest.

Hey – I’m Evie (they/she)

I had the best time working with Middle Child and Milk Presents for the R&D week of their new show, Modest by Ellen Brammar. As a Genderqueer, Nottingham-based, early career theatre maker/director, it was personally and professionally a gift to work on:

  • celebrating queerness (tick)
  • championing regional theatre makers (tick)
  • supportive, collaborative, welcoming (tick, tick, tick)

It was my first time assistant directing for the National Theatre Studio as part of the Kindling scheme, nurturing early career directors to develop their practice through assisting established directors. 

Any nerves and ‘need to prove’ was quickly washed away when, on our first morning, we did a check-in led by co-directors, Leo Skilbeck and Paul Smith and, although I can’t speak on behalf of everyone, it felt that we were all genuinely heard.

Everyone would share their pronouns each morning, which is inclusive of gender fluidity and acts as a gentle reminder so that no one is misgendered. Open to my suggestions around varying the check-ins, I led some breathing exercises and grounding techniques to encourage a ‘self’ check-in, ahead of sharing feelings and checking-in with others in the space. 

Two favourite check-in examples: 

  • If I were the weather, I would be…
  • If I were a drink, I would be…
Four performers wearing overalls with hoods contort around each other as they paint a large square upright canvas

The R&D cast play with paint in the National Theatre Studio. Photo by Evie Osbon.

A little intimidated by the assignment of assisting two directors, I fulfilled a variety of roles including ‘vibe assessor’, time-keeper, researcher and collaborator, navigating the requests and needs of both directors.

Thankfully they made this pretty easy, because what a duo Leo and Paul are: respectful of each other’s skill sets, boundaries, ways of working and access needs. This harmonious partnership set the tone for the most non-hierarchical rehearsal room that I have ever been in. One that I hope to replicate in my future projects.

Phrases I observed that encourage collaboration and equality:

  • I would like to offer…
  • Could we try…
  • Let’s test/explore…

I was able to flex my creative muscles and use a range of skills on this project. I directed a monologue that was performed in the work-in-progress sharing at the end of the week, entrusted to work one-to-one with a performer, discussing context, subtext, characterisation, exploring body language and movement. I also carried out research including checking historical dates and finding music from specific time periods. Lover of spreadsheets – no irony – I was also thrilled to fill in a scene tracker to help track the characters’ journeys, clearly showing when they were on and off-stage. 

As we unpacked the first wave feminism story of painter, Elizabeth Thompson, examining scenes, characters and intentions with a queer lens, we used music to celebrate queerness, compiling a collective playlist that served as backing tracks to warm ups, improvised scenes and movement exercises. I will definitely use music in this way in the future.

Overall, I will remember this R&D week for its playfulness and its celebration of process over outcome.

My queer heart is full and inspired. Thanks for having me!

Modest is a Middle Child production in collaboration with Milk Presents, developed with the support of the National Theatre’s Generate programme.

A 3x3 grid of book covers surrounding a trans flag in the centre panel

Eight plays and anthologies for Trans Awareness Week 2022

By | Blog, Uncategorised

This week, 13-19 November, is Transgender Awareness Week, in which trans people and their allies advocate around the stories and experiences of trans lives, in the run-up to Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday 20 November, which memorialises victims of transphobic violence.

Below is a selection of plays and anthologies by or featuring trans writers, which are available to borrow for free from our Theatre Library in Hull’s Old Town. We are always looking to expand our collection, so if you have any recommendations please do get in touch with literary manager, Matthew May.

As always, we extend our love and solidarity to trans people across the world.

Joan / Bullish by Leo Skilbeck

In Bullish, ancient mythology meets modern gender negotiation. Inspired by Ovid’s Minotaur, a gender fierce ensemble of hopers and renegades try to pass, pack and blag their way out of the labyrinth.

Joan is an earthy story of courage, conviction and hope, with Joan of Arc retold as a modern gender warrior. A fearless solo play with uproarious songs about what it means to stand out, stand up and stand alone.

Leo penned a song for our 2021 cabaret, we used to be closer than this, and is co-directing our 2023 project, Modest.

Since U Been Gone by Tabby Lamb

Brought to life with storytelling, an original pop music score, and way too many America’s Next Top Model references, Since U Been Gone is a moving and powerful autobiographical account about childhood co-stars, teenage rebellion, growing up queer in the mid-noughties, and finding yourself while losing a friend, by Middle Child associate writer, Tabby Lamb.

A Generous Lover / Boy in a Dress by Lauren John Joseph

A Generous Lover is the true and very queer tale of one soul’s journey through the wasteland of mental illness to deliver their lost love.

Boy in a Dress follows the life story of Lauren John Joseph: a trans, fallen Catholic, ex-fashion model from the wrong side of the tracks.

Monlogues for ‘Others’ by Charlie Josephine

This book is for the ‘others’. For anyone who’s ever felt othered. For us lot. Who deserve celebration and opportunity. Each one is written with love, with the actor in mind. I hope they make your body feel fizzy, I hope they get you all the jobs, I hope your flowers bloom.

Global Queer Plays

A unique anthology bringing together stories of queer life from international playwrights, these seven plays showcase the dazzling multiplicity of queer narratives across the globe: the absurd, the challenging, and the joyful.

Book of Queer Monologues, edited by Scottee

The first collection of its kind, The Book of Queer Monologues chronicles over one hundred years of queer and trans performance. Combining stage plays with spoken word and performance art, this anthology features over forty extracts from some of the most exciting stage works in the English-speaking world.

Burgerz by Travis Alabanza

Hurled words. Thrown objects. Dodged burgers. A burger was thrown at Travis Alabanza on Waterloo Bridge in 2016. From this experience they have created a poetic, passionate performance piece based around the ‘burger’: the texture, and taste of being trans. Their experiences include verbal abuse, ostracisation and being thrown out of a Top Shop changing room. The piece also explores the black trans experience.

Overflow by Travis Alabanza

Cornered into a flooding toilet cubicle and determined not to be rescued again, Rosie distracts herself with memories of bathroom encounters. Drunken heart-to-hearts by dirty sinks, friendships forged in front of crowded mirrors, and hiding together from trouble. But with her panic rising and no help on its way, can she keep her head above water? Overflow is a hilarious and devastating tour of women’s bathrooms, who is allowed in and who is kept out.

A young white woman sat in a giant striped deckchair branded with BBC Radio Humberside

Cuts to BBC local radio would affect arts and culture

By | Blog

Audience development manager, Jamie Potter, writes about the value of BBC local radio to arts and culture in our region

A young white woman sat in a giant striped deckchair branded with BBC Radio Humberside

Ellen Brammer visiting the BBC Radio Humberside studio during Hull’s year as 2017 UK City of Culture

News broke last week that the BBC intends to make sweeping cuts across its local radio stations – a proposal that would lead to multiple redundancies and reduce local broadcasting.

Powered by talented and knowledgeable staff and, most importantly, free of commercial restraints, BBC local radio can cover communities in a depth and breadth that few other regional media organisations would even consider.

Covid-19 highlighted the importance of such a service, as did recent bouts of flooding in our region, when the BBC kicked into action to report throughout the night, from the ground, to concerned residents affected by rising waters.

It’s their contribution to arts and culture in our area that I particularly want to draw attention to, though.

From regular appearances with Burnsy, the breakfast show, Culture Night and No Filter to premiering show tunes on BBC Introducing and hosting reporters who traipsed up to the Edinburgh Fringe, Radio Humberside has been an important platform for Middle Child and countless other local artists looking to share their work.

During the Christmas lockdown of 2020 we even pitched the idea of broadcasting an audio version of that year’s digital panto on their airwaves. Radio Humberside leapt at the chance and, as a result, we were able to spread a little festive cheer, while giving several newly commissioned writers exposure on an even greater scale.

BBC staff are regularly spotted in the audiences of our shows and those of many other theatre companies, musicians, comedians, artists and more. They know what makes culture tick and, as well as providing a regular platform for arts workers in the region, they do the hard work of holding publicly funded organisations’ feet to the fire.

Producers, researchers and reporters at Radio Humberside are some of the few newshounds who reach out to Middle Child, even when we don’t share a press release. They have their ears close to the ground, as any good journalist does, and live and participate in the communities from which they report.

There is no clearer example of this than when Liz Truss toured local radio stations  days into her premiership.

Pundits and commentators in Westminster circles scoffed at what they assumed would be an easy ride and questioned why she wouldn’t face the “big guns” on national channels.

Those of who listen to our local stations knew it would be quite the opposite. When faced with presenters who understand the reality of their audiences’ lives and don’t rely on access to the powerful to further their careers, Liz Truss came unstuck.

Making redundancies and wholesale changes to stations who put in this kind of work then, across multiple sections of our society, would have a notable impact on communities in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, and no doubt many other regions.

For the arts especially, in an era of clickbait reporting and the disappearance of specialist reporters, BBC local radio (alongside Hull’s 107FM and West Hull FM)  is one of the last bastions against media oblivion. Without their particular support, we risk public arts coverage narrowing even further.

I hope that those in charge see and understand the folly in their proposals and commit to maintaining jobs and a service that is valued by so many people.

Two men and two women pose in the theatre library

Reflections on Concrete Retreat

By | Artist Development, Blog, Uncategorised

Earlier this month our Concrete Retreat writer residency returned for its first in-person gathering since covid-19 upended our artistic programme in 2020.

Joe Hakim, Natasha Brown, John Booker and Lydia Marchant joined us at our rehearsal space and theatre library in Hull for four days to explore new ideas, without the pressure of having to create any actual work.

Below, John and Lydia share their reflections on their time in Hull, developing new ideas from scratch, discovering chip spice and visiting The Deep.

Two men and two women pose in the theatre library

Clockwise, from top left: Joe Hakim, Natasha Brown, John Booker and Lydia Marchant

John Booker

Having never been on a retreat before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I tried to approach the week with an open mind. I wanted to end the retreat with some developed ideas on work I’d like to write in the future. I had a long list of thoughts, ideas, and musings, but I wanted to turn them into something concrete.

It took me a day or two to get my head out of regular work annd other projects and into the room. A lot of the first day was taken up fighting the urge not to spend the time replying to emails for that small serotonin hit.

Morning walks through Hull, chatting with either Joe, Lydia, or Tash, felt like a perfect start to the day and got me thinking creatively from the off. Check-ins on arrival helped bring clarity to how I would structure my day and a check-out to wrap the day would help to track my progress.

Having artistic director Paul and literary manager Matt on hand to ask questions and get dramaturgical support made a huge impact on my work. With their help I was able to sort my ideas, organise my thoughts and I left with a new creative outlook. Ideally, I would have taken them back home with me, but unfortunately, I couldn’t fit them in my suitcase. Instead, I had to make do with  a shaker of Hull’s famous Chip Spice. If you haven’t tried it, you really should.

I had a chance to work out what’s important to me as a creative, why I do it and where my dislike of Paddington Bear comes from. Sometimes the process of creating can feel lonely and like you’re just screaming into an empty void, hoping someone will respond. I was lucky enough to share the space with three talented artists, who helped to create a comfortable and relaxed environment, where ideas and conversation could flourish. Having the chance to discuss different topics, problem solve and vent felt like the perfect relief.

After reflecting on the week, it showed me how important it is to stop and think. How rare it is for a person to just be allowed to exist and think, rather than have the weight of expectation on their shoulders. In an industry going a million miles an hour, with constant deadlines and pressure, this couldn’t have come soon enough, and I didn’t know how much I needed it until I was there. The only thing that could have improved the process would be more time. Having felt so at home, I had to fight the temptation not to bring my pillow and stay for another week.

Lydia Marchant

Early on in the Concrete Retreat week, we were asked to think about what did well as writers and what we felt we struggled with. For me, without doubt, one of the big things I struggle with is coming up with ideas. It feels like we’re expected to sit on ten brilliant ideas we can pitch at any moment, when it can take me a year to come up with one.

But, during the Concrete Retreat, there was no pressure to come up with or pitch ideas. In fact, there was no pressure to do anything. In the mornings we kicked off with a walk-and-talk conversation, with prompts ranging from “How does where you’re from influence your writing?” to “What does success look like for you?”

After the group discussion, the time was ours to do whatever we wanted – and I mean whatever we wanted. I read plays from Middle Child’s incredible library, had research chats, made spider diagrams and went to The Deep – research, I swear! For whenever we got stuck, Paul and Matt also gave us insanely useful folders full of writing prompts.

In this environment, which was so creative but without pressure, I found, for the first time in months, that nuggets of two or three ideas started to form. Sometimes in the room; sometimes at 2am when I was trying to get to sleep. Most of them are just bullet points in the notes section of my phone but, for one of them, I managed to come up with a two page treatment.

On the last day, I took this treatment to Matt to chat over. Because I’m so used to pushing things forward to meet tight deadlines, I was really hung up on what the story structure could be, but Matt pulled me back into thinking about what the story I wanted to tell was, really interrogating my central dramatic question. This really deepened the characters and a much richer story began to emerge from there.

If we want to pay bills working in the arts, we have to be working on loads of things at once. We never get time to just pause and think. Or certainly we never get paid to pause and think. Until Concrete Retreat, I didn’t realise how much I desperately needed that and I’m so grateful to Middle Child for giving me the opportunity to hit ‘creative refresh.’

A young white woman in purple bathrobe and wig, holding a water pistol, stood back to back with another young woman dressed in a fox onesie

Reflections on the Kickstart Scheme

By | Blog, Uncategorised

There will be tears in the Middle Child office today as we say farewell to Erin Anderson and Lucy Foy, who have been working with us over the past six months as part of the Kickstart scheme.

During that time, Erin and Lucy have played key roles in the success of our first ever outdoor show, There Should Be Unicorns, as well as the opening of our new home at Bond 31 and preparation for upcoming shows, including this year’s panto.

The energy, enthusiasm, care and attention they’ve brought to Middle Child will be much missed. Read on to see, in their own words, about their experience working in theatre for the first time.

Erin: hit the goodbye playlist!

A blonde, white woman smiling at the camera wearing a brick red top and black jeans.

Erin Anderson, digital marketing assistant

Six months ago, I found myself looking for work again as my previous job come to an end. Up until this point my work history had been varied, having never stayed in one field for very long, and a lot of employers didn’t find that too appealing. I began applying for Kickstart roles on the advice of my government-appointed work coach and one of the jobs I applied for was production assistant with Middle Child. 

As things started feeling like they weren’t going to look up, I accepted a job offer I had been avoiding in sales and lettings. I was ready to bite the bullet and resign myself to a life I knew I didn’t want. I started that job with a warning not to let the boss know I was vaccinated and to expect to have to work through my unpaid lunches – but what choice did I have? I’m about the furthest thing imaginable from the ‘trust me with your property investments’ type, but this was just what was on the cards for me.  

That was until a few days later, when I had an email in my inbox from Jamie, Middle Child’s audience development manager, asking if I would be interested in interviewing for a different position within the company, as digital marketing assistant. I had never done anything close to marketing before, especially anything digital, at which my skills were admittedly rusty and questionable. I didn’t even have a great love of theatre on my side. Still, I knew that I couldn’t pass up this chance.  

I accepted an interview at the latest possible date Jamie offered and, to the disappointment of my parents, quit the serious job that was about to get me off abhorrently low Universal Credit to make that interview. It was a risk I had to take, for my own sanity. That week I met Jamie and Hattie Callery, who was then maternity cover for exec director Lindsey, in what was one of the loveliest interviews of my life. I didn’t think I would get the job, but in preparing for this I was reminded that I did have a lot more to offer a role like this than I had first thought.  

I pitched my general love for the arts, talked about the transferable skills I could bring to the table and chatted about folk music my way through the door. That afternoon, Jamie called to offer me the job. I would be getting straight to work on There Should Be Unicorns, a show I can probably quote backwards and forwards at this point.  

I was instantly welcomed into a fold of amazing people doing amazing things in my city. How had I never realised all of this was on my doorstep? Each day I further explored my capabilities and understood there was a reason I always swam in the deep end of the pool – life was better when I felt like there was something to swim for.  

Those first six weeks of marketing, rehearsing and opening a show felt a lot like floundering. This was all completely new to me, but behind me I had Jamie reminding me that Middle Child was a place for people who hadn’t tried things before. I did my best to get stuck in and push my way past the awkward phases of getting to know a company, and a show, and a whole bunch of people who are suddenly in the rehearsal room next door.  

I’m now a far-cry from the person that took a risk to interview with Middle Child back in March. The past six months have been a huge professional and personal journey for me, in realising that there are little pockets in the world that I do in fact fit into. I definitely won’t be selling you a house anytime soon. I’ve surprised myself with how capable I am, and I am forever grateful to Middle Child for helping me realise it.  

A young white woman with blonde hair in a white jumper and brown coat

Lucy Foy, production assistant

Six months ago, I was almost completely clueless as to what I wanted to do with my life, both short-term and long-term. I’d dropped out of university (I managed this twice in one year, somehow), flushing my passion for a career in psychology down the drain. I felt the simultaneously lonely, yet very common feeling of being lost and the fear that I would never find a path that excited me, that I genuinely had a passion for pursuing.

All my close friends from school had gone off to university, studying courses they really enjoyed. It seemed everyone around me had it together. However, contrary to my views amidst what I’m making out to be a quarter-life crisis, nobody has it completely together, almost everybody is just making it up as they go along, and that’s okay.

I’ve always had very fond memories of performing and being in theatres as a child: attending youth groups, the adrenaline of putting on a show and the shared sense of community it brought. Around the time I started secondary school, I began experiencing anxiety and panic attacks that caused me to quit the majority of these hobbies I’d loved growing up. Then, shortly before coming across the Middle Child Kickstart job advert, I began considering going back into theatre, from a different angle to performing. Why should I deprive myself of something that brought me so much joy?

I had many of what I now realise are misconceptions about theatre before going into this role. I believed I was ‘too quiet’, ‘too introverted’ and that the type of people who work in theatre would be too overpowering for a personality like mine. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In terms of both work and education, Middle Child is the first place where I haven’t been criticised for being ‘too quiet’. They recognise that everybody’s differences should be celebrated and can be seen as strengths, rather than weaknesses that need to be improved.

If you’re interested in this topic, I really recommend the book ‘Quiet Power’ by Susan Cain and her Ted Talk ‘The Power Of Introverts’. At Middle Child, although everyone has varying levels of experience, they acknowledge that everyone has wisdom and experience to share: everyone you meet, you can learn from.

Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this company and the amazing work they do, it hasn’t been the easiest ride. There have been a fair few tears shed on days I’ve not been feeling on top form, when I’ve felt anxious about certain tasks such as meeting new people, attending meetings, or just for no particular reason at all.

Each time I’ve felt this way, I’ve been met with nothing but kindness, encouragement and empathy. Even in times where I felt a bit hopeless, no member of the team ever gave up on me. After a particularly bad panic attack, artistic director Paul even went as far as to go out of his way to buy me a book, which I highly recommend, called ‘Anxiety: Panicking About Panic’ by Joshua Fletcher. The support I’ve received here has been unmatched.

Thanks to my time at Middle Child, I have now found real enjoyment and a sense of excitement for the theatre industry and have begun studying Drama and Theatre Practice at Hull university.

Skills I’ve developed at Middle Child, both work-related, and personal development-related, have transferred really well to this course and have already come in very useful. I now make conscious decisions to step out of my comfort zone more, bringing me a newfound confidence I would have never imagined I could have before working here. I couldn’t be more grateful to Middle Child for helping me get to the headspace and mindset I have now and will carry with me into this next chapter.

Panto, football and ticket prices

By | Blog, Panto

Audience development manager, Jamie Potter, explains some of the decisions we’ve made around Robin Hood, our panto this Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – panto launch day!

Yes, it’s only July and we’re all slowly digesting barbecue food, but our minds are firmly set on Christmas and the recurring matter of what costume Marc Graham will wear on the stage at Social.

Robin Hood is the story, as chosen by you, and in a year of Jubilee extravagance the script almost writes itself, as our hotshot hero gallivants around town, robbing the rich and giving it to the poor.

We can’t wait to share it with you, especially after the incredible nights we had back at Social last year. It definitely feels like panto came home.

On which note, we wanted to be open about a couple of things: football and panto ticket prices.

Marc Graham as Pattie Breadcake in Rapunz’ull (2021). Photo by Studio Blue Creative.


This year we have the small matter of the men’s world cup to address, as FIFA, in a completely out-of-character episode, decided to award it to a country where it is simply too hot to play in the summer.

That meant they had to reschedule it for the winter. For December, in fact. With the final on Sunday 18. The weekend we usually open panto.

For many people, seeing the country grind to a halt to accommodate Our Boys amid endless renditions of Three Lions is a special circle of Hell that Dante could never have conjured.

We also know that many of our audience are huge football fans and, for a company who need full houses to make panto pay for itself, we can’t risk competing for people’s attention, especially with England among the favourites to lift the trophy this year.

That’s why we’ve decided to wait until the final whistle before we open Robin Hood and perform either side of Christmas, so that everybody can have the best time inside a packed out Social, cheering and booing. Like the football.

We were able to make that decision safe in the knowledge that we had your backing, thanks to the many, many people who took part in our survey about scheduling shows.

Your responses let us know there is a huge appetite for something to do in the weird week between Christmas pudding and Auld Lang Syne, so we’ve decided to fill it: with panto dames, live music and people dressed as woodland animals.

That’s the biggest response we’ve ever had to a survey and it genuinely helped us fix a problem, so we really do appreciate everybody taking the time to share their thoughts.

Andrew Ross as a squirrel in Rapunz’ull (2021). Photo by Studio Blue Creative.

Ticket prices

The other matter we wanted to be upfront about is the ticket prices, which this year are going up by £1.50 each.

Middle Child exist as a company to change who gets to see and tell their stories on stage and affordability plays a huge part in that.

Many theatre prices are simply too expensive for ordinary people and a significant barrier to attending.

That’s why we do a lot of work to provide free tickets to local charities and community groups, supported by our audiences through our solidarity ticket scheme, as well as keep ticket prices as low as possible.

We’ve blogged before about the difficulties in making subsidised theatre and how expensive it is.

This year, with inflation a word on everybody’s lips, it’s no different, which is why we’ve had to increase prices for our panto.

To balance out some of the increase though, we are able to offer the first 400 tickets on-sale, across both family and late-night shows, at last year’s prices, as an ‘early bird’ deal.

These will be available when tickets go on-sale on Monday, until the end of August or once the first 400 are snapped up – whichever comes first.

Our solidarity scheme will continue this year, so that you can chip in a little extra to help fund tickets for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy a Christmas show.

We have also been awarded funding from the Hull and East Riding Charitable Trust for our walking bus programme, to partner with a local school and bring pupils to see a show.

If you are an individual, business or charity who would like to work with us to extend our free ticket schemes, please do get in touch.

Alice Beaumont in Rapunz’ull (2021). Photo by Studio Blue Creative.

The Middle Child panto, now in its eleventh year, is one of our proudest achievements and a highlight of our programme.

We absolutely love seeing people come together, often reuniting as family and friendship groups for a Christmas ritual, to make the show their own.

Staging it is rarely easy, but that’s part of the charm: putting on a low-budget panto that’s full of heart and community and that all comes from you. We couldn’t do it without you.

See you down Humber Street in December!

Like what we do? Here’s how you can support our work

Join our community of Middle Child Mates by subscribing to our pay what you can supporters’ scheme and help create a world where anybody’s story can be told or heard.

A small boy holds a sign that says "Be kind imagine" from the set of There Should Be Unicorns

Making Middle Child a family-friendly workplace

By | Blog

A work-in-progress list of the things we do at Middle Child to support people with caring responsibilities

6-12 June 2022 is Carers Week and this year’s theme is “making caring visible, valued and supported”.

Over the past few years we’ve been working hard to make Middle Child a family-friendly employer, whether a full-time member of staff or a freelancer working on a one-off project.

It’s important to us that the people we work with can maintain their creative practice and fulfil caring responsibilities, which is why we become a charter partner of PiPA (Parents and Carers in Performing Arts) in 2019.

PiPA campaign to enable and empower parents, carers and employers to achieve sustainable change in attitudes and practices. You can find out more about the amazing work they do on their website.

With PiPA’s support, alongside input from the people we work with, including our Imagine the Future day in 2021, we’ve introduced a lot of family-friendly practices into our workplace – and continue to make improvements all the time.

We haven’t shouted about them much in the past, so with Carers Week 2022 upon us we thought we’d let you know what it means to work with Middle Child as somebody with caring responsibilities.

A small boy stands next to his mum, who is operating a camera on a tripod
A small boy sits by a camera mounted on a tripod

Luca joins his mum, Katie (Fly Girl Films) to film Rapunz’ull

Adjustments for people with caring responsibilities

We ask everyone we work with if they have any caring responsibilities so that we can support and make adjustments as necessary; whether that’s schedule, working times or within our budgets.

Flexible hours and four-day weeks

We have a flexible working policy that is available to everyone we work with, so we can be responsive to people’s preferences and needs. Our core team work compressed hours in order to work a four day week, in order to bring better work-life balance and help with caring responsibilities, and have now introduced this to our rehearsal schedule.

Wellbeing allowance

We allocate a percentage of our annual budget to a wellbeing allowance so that we can offer additional support to freelancers with caring responsibilities, who need it, in their work.

Interviews and auditions

We always offer alternative arrangements to face-to-face interviews and auditions where necessary and are open to dependents also attending an interview or audition.


We are a breastfeeding-friendly organisation for the staff, freelancers and audiences who use our spaces, including our new creative hub, Bond 31. This includes providing breastfeeding parents with breaks when required.

A small boy holds a sign that says

Finn inspects the set for There Should Be Unicorns

Bring children to work

We accommodate children in the workplace where appropriate. Six-year-old Finn already has a rounded knowledge of technical rehearsals.

Timely sharing of schedules

Production schedules are shared at least three weeks in advance with all freelancers and staff members so they can organise their work around any caring responsibilities.

Travel and accommodation

We make a reasonable effort to adapt any travel and accommodation plans to the additional needs of pregnant people and parents of babies, such as when a show goes on tour.

Flexible working and job shares

We include the option for flexible working and job shares across job and artist development opportunities. This ensures we are open and accessible to carers and parents from the widest possible talent pool, reducing possible exclusions.

PiPA case study

Middle Child are working with PiPA to create a case study to assess our processes and policies for maternity leave within our executive team. This case study will be used to pass on learning and develop best practice within the industry. 

Enhanced parental leave

We offer an enhanced parental leave package to members of staff.

Free parenting coaching

PiPA have offered us a free parenting coaching session to core staff and freelancers for parents working in the arts.


We keep up-to-date with changes in the sector and use our platform to encourage other organisations to underpin their work with the same principles. Like this blog!


This list isn’t exhaustive and we constantly review our practice. This includes plans to run a survey about caring responsibilities, for both freelancers and audiences, later this year, so keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime though we’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions on other things that we can do to support people with caring responsibilities in the arts.

Feel free to contact our PiPA champion, Paul Smith, with any ideas or feedback on our work.

An excitable seated audience bathed in pink-red light, in front of giant lit-up letters that spell NSDF

National Student Drama Festival 2022: a “utopia that theatre could be”

By | Artist Development, Blog, Uncategorised

Middle Child company member, Marc Graham, writes about his experience of attending this year’s National Student Drama Festival as an associate – and why the festival matters so much

This was the first National Student Drama Festival back in-person since 2019. In the time between then and now it went digital, winning a Digital Trailblazer Award at the Digital Culture Awards and continued to do what it does best: working with young people and allowing a space for the future generation of theatre makers to flourish.

I first came to NSDF as a student in 2009. I straightened my hair for the show and was mainly carried around on the shoulders of my mates, while we reached for stuff in the distance.

I came back to do another show with the same mates a few years later, after we had graduated and were at the start of our careers, this time with curly hair and this time I shouldered their weight, whilst reaching for more stuff in the distance.

I became an associate in 2019, after having worked with that year’s festival director, James Phillips, in 2017, on Flood. I sacrificed my body by jumping into a freezing cold body of water in an old dock in Hull that winter, while a heavy set, boats and fire swirled around me. That was the job interview. They took two years to get back to me, but I got it.

So, April 2022. NSDF is back for its 66th year, it’s survived the pandemic, it’s a digital award winner, back in Leicester at the Curve and I arrive for kick-off. That in itself is a remarkable achievement and all down to the tireless effort of James Phillips, Lizzie Melbourne and Ellie Fitz-Gerald. JLE.

Under team JLE, NSDF has shifted from a competition to a festival that celebrates and cultivates great work.

This year the festival was free to attend. This year the festival also had access at its heart.

An excitable seated audience bathed in pink-red light, in front of giant lit-up letters that spell NSDF

NSDF 2022. Photo by Beatrice Debney.

First show, DJ Bazzer’s Year 6 Disco, from Chewboy Productions. As I sit down for this I realise that I haven’t seen any live theatre since the pandemic began. I was feeling a little emotional about this, but then the year six tunes began, I settle in, I’m a little too enthusiastic on the audience call and response stuff and I’m just enjoying a night out at the theatre. Then I get really sucked into this world, this character, the performance, the sound design, lights, everything. The show is great, see it if you can.

My first workshop, “Creating a Character from Very Little”, was the next morning. I was led to the space by one of the many incredible NSDF management team, who had forgone writing her dissertation to be at NSDF, a decision I wholeheartedly approve of.

The workshop basically uses some rehearsal techniques that Middle Child use today and some from our early years – before the police fines for disturbing the peace (not joking).

The session ends with me asking the performers to “take their characters for a walk” around Leicester on a sunny Sunday morning, before coming back to partake in a group improvisation. No one gets fined and they all approach the workshop with such drive and passion. Of course they do. They are all excellent.

Next I’m on a panel discussing “Is Theatre Shit? And How Do We Fix It?”

Topics discussed include de-funding the Royal Opera House and subjects of heavier weight, and a lot of this came from students themselves. That’s the best thing about these. Young theatre makers are unafraid to ask the big questions, the necessary ones. They’re inquisitive and it’s needed.

One of the big things here was, where are the routes for emerging theatre makers now? Edinburgh is unaffordable and Vaults has been shut down again. From 2020 we have lost two years of crucial development for emerging companies and, unfortunately, we have lost many companies completely. We didn’t have a specific answer for this right now.

Two performers on stage in front of a multicoloured kaleidoscopic background.

NSDF 2022. Photo by Beatrice Debney.

In between the scheduled programme, films are filming, emerging critics are critiquing, tech teams are teching. Conversations are happening: in the bar, in cafes, in outside venues, in the toilets, between associates, emerging theatre makers, students, professionals, writers, designers, academics and the people of Leicester. This is the real value of NSDF.

Ali Pidsley and I are treated to a viola rendition from Chris Thorpe. Without the viola. He declines every request I make. It’s fine, another show is starting and we’re gonna be late.

It’s also here where you meet emerging theatre makers of NSDF past who have now emerged. I meet the brilliant Definitely Fine Theatre, here with another show. I saw Ezra at Edinburgh uni pre-pandemic. They’re a company finding their voice, experimenting and it’s wonderful. We say hi, they tell me I’m the reason that they’re here, I play it down but only half-heartedly. I discovered them first okay… no I didn’t. But, you know, I sort of did. No, I’m joking. But also yeah, it was me.

RESERVATION. DaDaFest x NSDF. Box of Frogs. A group of young disabled, Deaf and neurodivergent performers having FUN on stage, sometimes at each other’s expense. Is some of it uncomfortable to watch? Absolutely, and that is the point. It is genuinely one of the most joyous experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre.

At the Q&A I’m buzzing and say things really loudly about how I just wanted to join in and dance with them onstage at the end. I later raise a second point which is basically the same as the first because I’m just so pumped up.

This show must have a further life.

It’s captioned, audio-described and BSL-interpreted – as is every show this year. #PissOnPity

An audience invades the stage to dance with their hands in the air under various coloured stage lights

Reservations. Photo by Beatrice Debney.

After their last show, I meet Nickie Miles-Wildin in the bar, on the way to hosting the spoken word night. She says she encouraged the audience to do what I suggested in the Q&A and they joined the performers on stage. She said she got in trouble, something about the Curve’s health and safety protocols. That’s rock’n’roll. I’ll take responsibility for that.

Nadia Emam and I host the spoken word night. It’s on the purpose-built NSDF stage in the bar at Curve. The mic is live and ready to go. Nickie Miles-Wildin is now halfway through a bottle of champagne and is trying to heckle me from the front row, but unfortunately for her 11 years of being a panto dame means I shut her down without giving it a second thought.

The standard is phenomenal. We have actors, producers, technical staff, NSDF alumni, management staff all standing up in front of 100 people and speaking their words. Then we have Viktor. Viktor asks me at the side of stage if they can perform, I say absolutely. Viktor is second from last, Viktor steps up to the mic. Viktor says:

“I’ve never performed my work in front of anyone before. I’m a dentist from Leicester. I don’t know what this is. I’ve been out drinking and was passing by and saw the lights and heard the noise. Sorry, I’m nervous. This poem is Untitled. Thank you.”

It was about how they thought they could never be loved, that they didn’t fit in, in a strange body and a foreign land.

It was one of those true moments of magic.

The day after I ran a second workshop on drama school auditions, with a last-minute offer of help from Hannah Miller, head of casting at the RSC. The second panel discussion was also about drama schools. The main takeaway from that: schools are not doing enough to push for access. It must start there, they could be the industry leaders, if they step-up.

A group of people chatting with drinks in hand at NSDF 2022

NSDF 2022. Photo by Beatrice Debney.

NSDF is partly about the shows, but it’s more about the conversations over coffee, the sharing of experiences, providing a safe platform to experiment and discover.

It’s a place where theatre professionals meet student theatre makers as equals. I mean, many of us were all them at some stage. And if we weren’t students, we had to learn somewhere.

This does not happen in this industry enough. Some of the professionals I met 13 years ago I still work with today. I always say: find the people who share your values and opinions and hold on to them tightly. NSDF is a place where this happens.

It is the utopia of what the theatre industry could be. Every year that goes by in this career I get a little more jaded, a little less hopeful, but each year the next generation of theatre makers at NSDF revitalises that. It may only last a week, but I take the values of NSDF with me for the rest of the year.

On my last morning I’m sitting with Chris Thorpe at breakfast. We both have our phones in hand. He looks at me across his plate of hash browns, he slumps his phone down after losing to me at chess online and says:

“The reality is, is that we probably get more out of this than the young people do.”