Author Archives: Roger Werner

  1. Full steam ahead for UNEARTH

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    Our Heritage Lottery Fund-supported project, UNEARTH has enabled villagers in Whimple, Starcross, Rattery and Cheriton Fitzpaine sharpen their local history skills with the help of the South West Film and Television Archive and Devon Heritage Centre. Four professional artists have been commissioned by Villages in Action to collaborate on a multi-media performance inspired by each village’s research. The artists are Peter Marjerum (visual artist), Charlie Coldfield (actor), Lucy Bell (playwright) and Jim Causley (musician) and they will be starting their visits to the UNEARTH communities very soon.

    Although an autumn 2017 season is not planned, it is great that ViA will be continuing to commission professional arts through UNEARTH. The office has been inundated with supportive messages from our volunteer promoters, artists and audience members since the board announced the scheme being on hold.

    We hope the scheme that started back in 1993 to entertain isolated Devon villagers will rise like a Phoenix from the flames in the coming months or years, albeit in a different format.

  2. Villages in Action announcement

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    Those promoters who were at The May 2016 Menu Launch will be aware that Villages in Action has been coping with an 80% reduction in its funding in the last five years.

    Catherine Devenish, The Chair of the Board of Trustees, has regretfully announced that the scheme will be taking a pause in its activities after the end of the current spring season. The Board hopes to provide more information about the legacy of Villages in Action this summer. Please go to the promoter area to find out more regarding the background to this decision and what the implications are. As our Unearth project is separately funded, we hope that it will be unaffected.

    We want to express our gratitude to the promoters, audiences and artists who have made our events so special and memorable over the last 24 years.

  3. A standing ovation for ViA’s Spring 2017 so far…

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    We have just had so much fun at our events this season and we’re not even half way through.

    Our first show of the season, Neil Maya Quartet in Mary Tavy, brought a full house and a standing ovation at the end of their set.  Moscow Drugs Club, a sultry swing ensemble of “Reds singing the Blues”, sold out both Chudleigh and Clyst Hydon.

    Children were delighted to meet the beautiful puppets in Malina’s Dream after Angel Heart Theatre’s magical show in South Zeal. How often do you get to stroke a living breathing polar bear and live to tell the tale?! We were particularly honoured to bring Townsend Productions to Devon. Their musical play about derring-do in the Spanish Civil War prompted (another) standing ovation in Buckerell and rapturous praise in Cadeleigh.

    There really is something very special about local rural people making these exceptional, high-end performances happen on their doorsteps. The Villages in Action initiative extends its tentacles into 90+ communities in rural Devon. Its hard to think of another arts provider that has that kind of reach. Thank you to our stalwart volunteers for making it happen!



  4. UNEARTH is the perfect name for our Heritage Lottery Fund project

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    As many of you will know, ViA was funded earlier this autumn to start an ambitious two year heritage project, culminating in performances celebrating the local history of 4 wonderful communities in the first year (Starcross, Rattery, Whimple and Colyton).

    ViA’s Creative Communities officer, Kate Green, has been thoroughly enjoying herself supporting local history enthusiasts to dig up staggering stories and long-forgotten materials.  In Starcross, an individual from the school’s board of governors blew the dust off a very old “Punishment Log Book”. It’s pages detailed the names of children who had received “3 cane strokes of the buttocks for stealing fruit…2 strokes of the buttocks for receiving fruit”. On another page, one poor soul had received 2 strokes for nothing more than “a devil-may-care attitude”. How times have changed (thank goodness), but this is the value of the project: enabling villagers to see where they live from a different vantage point and deepen their relationship with the the place they love.

    As part of the project, Stacey Anderson, the director of the South West Film and Television Archive, presented a well-attended film archive night in Starcross. Villagers enjoyed footage depicting locally know figures and rural activities from the area…locals haymaking, cider making and the rest. Anyone is able to visit the SWFTA and ask to see footage recorded in their community, so wherever you live in Devon, it’s worth exploring what has been captured on film. The film screenings are happening in the other three villages, and each evening provokes more memories.

    For instance, Kate heard the touching story of a nun from a neighbouring abbey with a passion for gardening. Her splendid blackcurrants were anonymously displayed at the annual show by a supportive villager and won prizes year on year…though she could never leave the abbey to collect them.

    “Unearth is absolutely the right name for this project,” Kate said, “We are shedding light on so many wonderful stories and evocative objects. It makes me appreciate the rich history of Devon more than ever before.”

    At the start of February 2017, Key Stage 2 children at Starcross Primary will become local historians when they spend a day learning heritage research techniques through the UNEARTH project. Kate is expecting lots of “wow moments” as the penny drops, and children connect the history in books with where they live now. Who knows if she’ll encounter “devil-may-care attitudes” among the kids…but she’ll certainly be leaving the cane at home!

  5. Spring 2017 programme is revealed!

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    If you’ve already had your fill of lack lustre performances by amateur Santas, and hanker for some real performing talent, fear not! The ViA spring is just around the corner. All our events January through April are now on our “What’s On” page, and you can download a PDF of the programme (to ping over to any friends) here.

    You’ll find hard copies in your local libraries and community hubs the other side of Christmas…when all those Santas are taking a well-earned rest.

  6. Number-crunching our Autumn season, before ViA Spring gets underway…

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    A autumn of diverse professional entertainment on your village doorstep comes to a close with Angel Heart puppet theatre in Lympstone on 4th December. Our audiences have ranged from 7 week old babies to music lovers pushing into their tenth decade. Funding cuts last spring forced us to reduce how much we subsidise the shows, but the vast majority of promoters have still made an income from their events, which they’ll use to support their hall and community.

    At time of writing, ten villages had events that were totally sold out, though there are more expected as we receive event report forms. The feedback on these sheets has been especially delightful to read, with some audience members describing Told by an Idiot and Ninebarrow as the best shows they have seen in their hall in 22 years of ViA.

    That said, it is important to note that 22 villages felt it was too much of a financial risk to host an artist in their hall this autumn, given the revised costs of doing so. In many cases the villages in question were the very locations where a ViA show can do the most good (isolated villages with decreasing public services and an ageing population). Please do continue to advocate for our charity with your local district council, the Arts Council of England and anyone who might be able to donate. We want world-class arts to be available to all the communities in our scheme.

    After a brief hiatus for Christmas, our spring season will get going in January. The Neil Maya Quartet will be in Mary Tavy on 19th January, bringing you jazz from the repertoire of Dave Brubeck among other legends. Book ahead to avoid ending up on a waiting list as so many others did this autumn. Have a wonderful festive season.

    With warm wishes,

    The Villages in Action Team

  7. A licence to dig up buried treasure!

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    As hinted at in our last newsletter, we have some great news in times of funding scarcity. We are delighted to announce that we have just been awarded a two year grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for our project – ‘UNEARTH – Discovering the Hidden Histories of Devon’s Rural Communities’

    The project will involve eight ViA rural communities researching and exploring their local stories, customs and traditions, with a particular focus on stories connected to their village hall. Kate Green, our Creative Communities Officer, has already heard some fabulous stories, including one about a villager who used to embrace and whisper sweet nothings to his cider barrel.

    Only in Devon.

    The villagers’ research will be supported by the South West TV and Film Archive and the South West Heritage Trust, based in Exeter’s Great Moor House, including a special film night in each place. (Some promoters who are longer in the tooth will remember with fondness the film nights that SWFTA used to run in village halls across Devon.)  

    The part of the project that makes it extra special and definitely a ViA project is that the stories unearthed in each location will be shared with commissioned performers and artists. They’ll then create original multi-media performance pieces to be performed in each hall.

    A great all-round project for those taking part – Brentor, Buckfastleigh, Chagford, Colyford and Colyton Parish, Crediton, Rattery, Starcross and Whimple.

    We will keep you all updated with progress and hopefully you will be able to catch up with all that is going on if one of your neighbouring villages are taking part. You will definitely be able to go along to the film nights and the final performances. 

    We are very excited to see what gems of local heritage are soon to be UNEARTHed!


  8. Theatre on your doorstep!

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    In the current arts climate it is increasingly difficult to stage professional theatre in village halls. So we are super proud to be offering two fantastic theatre pieces, with high production values, this autumn. Have a sneaky peak here at My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding (Black Dog 22nd October 01363 866434 and South Brent 23rd October 01364  72617) here.

    and Heads Will Roll (Crediton Arts Centre 17th November 01363 773260 and Talaton 18th November 01404 822234 and Brentor 19th November 01822 810425) here.

    ViA continues to offer contemporary professional theatre a stone’s throw from your cottage/barn/caravan/two-up-two-down/manor house* however remotely you live in rural Devon.

    (*Delete as appropriate)

  9. Autumn 2016 is launched!

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    Look out for the Villages in Action autumn programme in your village (with the delightful Kali Theatre on the cover). All events are listed in the What’s On section but you can also feast your eyes on the programme here. VIA Autumn 2016 proof3

    You can choose from acrobatic contemporary dance by Panta Rei, fantastical kids’ puppet plays, the world’s finest time-travelling magic act, Morgan & West, performance poet Murray Lachlan Young (“A Noel Coward for the Noel Gallagher generation” – Times) , hilarious and “sublime” (Independent) theatre company, Told by an Idiot…And that’s before we get onto the music.

    Tap your toes to multi-award-winning duo Ninebarrow (“fantastic” – Seth Lakeman), shake your tail feather to Cuban ensemble, Son Yambu, and cross continents with accomplished folkies, Cosgrave & Banks, who open our season.

    Happy autumn from the Villages in Action Team


  10. Villages in Action to stage thirty-eight shows this autumn…

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    The jigsaw is almost complete. Through a flurry of emails between the office and villages in the scheme, our programme for the autumn has slotted together. We can announce we have tentatively contracted ten performing artists/companies to put on a total of thirty-eight shows in thirty-seven villages. Those figures add up to plenty of world-class entertainment to go see as the nights draw in. Thanks to our local promoters for undertaking to entertain their villages in such large numbers.

    Please check out regular posts on Facebook for more details, and look out for your freshly-printed programme at the start of September. In the meantime, if you love new theatre, West Country folk, theatrical magic, live poetry and more international music than you can cope with, you are in for a treat!

    Morgan and west