Bara Caws (meaning ‘Bread and Cheese’ in Welsh) is a Welsh-language community theatre company who present original, relevant work to the widest possible cross-section of society, in the society, offering theatrical experiences of the highest quality, bringing entertainment and excitement, ingenuity and relevance to the hearts of the communities of Wales.
Since its inception almost forty years ago, Bara Caws has become one of the cornerstones of the theatrical world in Wales, and by now we are the oldest professional community theatre company working in the Welsh language. We continue to offer an unique service to grassroots audiences, fulfilling the need for high quality professional theatrical and artistic activities at the heart of the nation’s communities, and that, mainly, through the medium of the Welsh language.
Artistic director Betsan Llwyd on Theatr Bara Caws’ response to lockdown…
How was 2020-2021 for artists in Wales and the UK?
Overall it has been dire. Many artists have left the profession, though some have seen opportunities not available or not given to them before.
What was the effect on Bars Caws?
We were fortunate in retaining our grants from Arts Council Wales and our local councils, which enabled us to honour all contracts for 2020 and to employ a good number of actors to partake in various projects throughout the year. We have also been able to invest in writers and new work instigating a scheme which we wish to develop in the future – though we had to work remotely for the most part.
Our modus operandi has altered completely as we are primarily a community touring theatre – two tours were cancelled and the projects since then have been delivered online. It’s difficult to plan our programme for the future as we don’t know when it will be viable/possible to visit community venues (we have a strong network of community organisers with whom we have been in touch regularly; they inform us of any developments in their localities and what the general ‘feel’ is like for audiences to return to watch live theatre in small-ish spaces).
What aid was made available?
From our point of view: Arts Council Walesa released funds for freelancers – though some found it impossible to access. Companies were given the opportunity to apply for extra support from local councils. Specific grants/funds were offered e.g. Connect and Flourish, but sums could be fairly modest and these were obviously over-subscribed (many had to submit applications to two separate rounds, which takes time and effort, leaving a sense of despondency when unsuccessful).
How did you resolve the problems you faced in doing work during lockdown?
As a team (of 5) we worked remotely holding weekly company meetings via Zoom. We have also been able to go into the workplace when neccessary (following strict guidelines).
It was vital for us to maintain our accessibility and to keep the theatrical vibe going so we:
I) Delivered different projects online and via phone apps e.g. actors were asked to record speeches of plays we had produced on their phone which were released weekly along with relevant images (#LlwyfanDrosDro – ‘Temporary Stage’).
ii) As we were established over 40 years ago we have a wealth of posters for plays past and present which were released on social media every day (#HenBostarBobDydd – ‘An Old Poster Every Day’)
iii) We released the occasional song (#HenDracBobHynaHyn – ‘An Old Track Every Now and Again’)
iv) We adapted a script which was to tour to Clubs and Pubs in the run up to Christmas 2020 and delivered an on-line version of Dawel Nos (‘Silent Night’) filmed in a Zoom-like way which was phenomenally successful
v) In the past few years we had been working with Fuel and Uninvited Guests on Gair o Gariad, a Welsh-language version of Love Letters Straight from the Heart, and they invited us to create our own online version – this has enabled us to reach new and diverse audiences both home and abroad. I think I’m right to say that this is one of the few productions shown online with the audience present and playing its part in each show.
We had planned a tour of a specific Welsh language piece which is on the WJEC curriculum and as this wasn’t possible we worked with an education and arts practitioner to deliver live workshops along with an education pack – we hope to present the live production next year.
We had launched a project called Sgen ti Syniad? (‘Any Ideas?’) inviting new, emerging and experienced writers to submit 1 – 2 person plays. We have commissioned 2 to be developed for future touring, and 3 further monologues were rehearsed and filmed which will be released later this Summer.
How did you assess your connection with your audience?
We have been receiving regular feedback from our audiences via social media, email and phone conversations. When delivering on an on-line platform it has been possible to collect specific data relevant to productions.
Any general thoughts on the future?
We have scheduled two live performances of a new play in October – there is an excitement and nervousness about returning to the rehearsal room proper and presenting a live piece to a capacity audience (we will be live streaming for audiences unable or unwilling to travel, which also helps us in our ethos of reaching as many people as possible wherever they are). We are a small company so cannot afford to employ understudies etc, so we’re taking a leap of faith that this will happen!
I think this general feeling of ‘crossing fingers’ will be true during 2022, and everything we plan for will need two or three possible ways of delivery so that we can realise our aims as a company. But really, we just want to get back on the road!
Geiriau (Words): Aled Jones Williams
Actor: Phil Reid
Llwyfran Dros Dro (y gyfres) – Temporary Stages (the series)
A variety of speeches from productions recorded at home by the actors and released along with images relevant to the plays.