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  • Info OFS

What Old Fire Station Does For Us, We Try And Do For Them

First and foremost, I'm a performer. I'm part of a comedy duo, Nathan and Ida, and we've performed our shows here. We've premiered a couple of our shows at the Offbeat festival that we've then taken on tour. And we've also simply said, ‘Can we just put our show on? Because we know we've got the Oxford audience and we just want to fill it up.’ 


I think it was 2016. Ida and I had decided we're going to do a show together, just the two of us. A comedy. It was like a narrative, theatrical show. Offbeat, the arts festival came up. And we thought let's just go for it. And we didn't know what we were doing. We'd always worked with a big group or someone else had directed and written. And we applied and we got in. You know, we're rehearsing in each other's lounge rooms and stuff like that. And we performed the show in the studio, just a forty-five-minute show. And we were just – even though there was only like, forty or fifty people in the audience, and most of them were friends – absolutely terrified. In the studio, people can see us right up close. There's no dressing rooms, fifteen minutes to get in and then out. And, yeah, I just remember in the lead up to it we were both so nervous. We couldn't remember our lines. We were forgetting everything. It was just going really difficultly – that’s a word, isn’t it? ‘Difficultly.’ It's a word now! 


We asked our tap dance teacher to choreograph a dance for us; although we’d taken the tap class at OFS, neither of us had tap-danced in front of people before. There were puppets, and Ida’s husband had made the set, and it's unwieldy and, uh, you know, all over the place. It was just like I said earlier, the staff here at the theatre were really welcoming and calming. And everyone was so supportive, and the technician knew what he was doing. And the front of house team was great. And, you know what, all this fear and worry just evaporated, and we came out on this massive high. And I think that cemented our love of this place. 


OFS is where we come back and say, ‘Let's recapture that feeling, because that will make us happy and get us to create a new show.’ It's almost like a safe place. And we know that we can turn up and the lighting will be sorted, the front of house will be sorted, and you know, seeing old faces when they go: ‘Hey, how you doing?’ And so, we can just come in and do the show. Every time we do a show, we think about what worked and what didn't. And if we've got a place that can take all the pressure off us, that will really help us create something wonderful. 


With Nathan and Ida, we've performed in very odd spaces. And we just have to roll with the punches. So, you know, we don't always have the really nice theatre. We once performed in a car park, in a sort of inflatable tent, which was horrific. So, we were shouting, and it was a car park, and there was a train station nearby. It was horrendous. But you know, we powered through it and said: ‘Let's never do that again.’ This is part of the training of ‘we can fit in any space’. And if we do a show in a space at OFS we know what the basics are and what we need. So, we just say, ‘That's all we need. Let's go for it.’ 


Artistically, it means that we can just focus on the show, it just lets us express ourselves in the way we hope to every single time. And it's just comfortable. In yourself as an actor, you want to feel safe to express yourself. And I think that's a good thing. 


We’re also part of a comedy improv group called The Dead Secrets. And we've performed our shows here; we approached the Old Fire Station and said, ‘Can we do a show here?’ They said, ‘What about the café?’ We said, ‘Yeah.’ 


We set up against one wall, we've got lights, so we put them up. And then it's all cabaret tables. And you know, whether there's twenty, or I think forty to fifty is the maximum, it just feels so much more intimate. And we do these improvised murder mysteries, like horrible Agatha Christies. And we've got a very clear format, but everything's made up on the spot, based on audience suggestions. And we turn up, put the lights up and then start the show at eight and then we just let loose and it's like a big release for us. The café is just a great little spot. 


We run the comedy scratch night, too. And we've tried to almost replicate how OFS treats people, to pass that on in a way. Whatever the Old Fire Station does for us, we try and do for them. It's usually stand up. But we're trying to get other kinds of comedians in. And we just say, ‘We're going to give you a ten-minute space,’ and we just want this kind of ethos that's really relaxed. It's a chance to try new material, ‘You can be completely new, you can be well-rehearsed. It's up to you. And we’ll provide the audience, who're not expecting much because they're only paying £5.’ 


And we just try to foster that kind of atmosphere. We've had a lot of feedback from the comedians, like, ‘We love coming here, because it's just welcoming, really relaxed. It's a good chance for us to try new jokes. And if they bomb, they bomb. But we don't feel bad about it. Because the stakes are really low.’ 


The comedy gigging world can be really intense. And especially for women or for queer people, it can be really horrible. And I just do not want that. I don't want that kind of attitude here. But it's just, you know, people come and they feel comfortable. And that's really important. And I think that's due to the Old Fire Station as a kind of a welcoming place. You know, and people who've never done it before, they'll try five minutes. There's no tough application. ‘All we need to know is your name, how long you want.’ If someone's going to talk about microwaves and someone's gonna do religious jokes. That's fine. We'll put them all together. No curation in that way. And I think that really suits the ethos of the Old Fire Station, as well. 


I’m on the programming committee as well where you meet other people, talk about shows and exhibitions, and help OFS decide what to programme. It's just good to come in and meet other people and talk about shows and exhibitions. Some artists don't know about theatre, some theatre artists don't know about art. I love going to an art gallery, but I'm not necessarily a visual artist, so I don't know what I'm looking for. It's just, it feels like a way to support the Old Fire Station and keep it community based. 


They must get loads of applications from companies saying, ‘We can bring the show to you, or we've got this, would you like this or that?’ And they'll print out their blurb, and a photo of the company or the show. And then sometimes they'll show us a preview of a video preview. And then we go through each one and just say do we like it? Would we see it? Do we think the locals will see it? And is it value for money? Is it worthwhile for them to come to the Old Fire Station? 


The arts should be a massive part of your life, everyone's life, everyone should have access to it. Whether it's just being an audience, whether it's creating it. For me, I could not enjoy life if I didn't have it there.


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