Back in September, we announced the ten local artists we'd be supporting in collaboration with Unlimited, a national arts commissioning programme set up to fund new work by disabled artists.
Following a call-out for proposals from d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists living within CV postcodes, the artists selected have been working with our producers to develop their ideas further, covering a wide range of themes and art forms.
Among the artists selected was actor-writer duo Richard and Rishard, whose soap opera-inspired film project The Square draws on co-creator Rishard Beckett's experience of working on the long-running BBC series, Doctors.
With work on the film currently underway ahead of a planned premiere later this year, you can now watch a short trailer for The Square below, and read on to find out more about the project from co-creator Richard Walls.
In June 2016 I was asked by producer Lou Lomas to collaborate with the actor Rishard Beckett on a show he was creating for the City of Culture Launch at that year’s Godiva Festival. It was to be the start of a beautiful friendship.
In the nearly five years since then, Rishard and I have gone onto create work for the Shop Front Theatre, Belgrade Theatre and Coventry Shoot Festival, as well as performing for the City of Culture judges when they visited the city in 2017. We have been featured on both local and national radio, and are now artists on the Belgrade Theatre’s Springboard talent development programme.
Rishard and I are both a comic duo and a kind of magic. A lot of our work is improvisatory, like jazz. As a writer and dramaturg, I try and lay down a certain story structure (a harmonic progression, if you will) in order that Rishard may steal the opportunity for a virtuosic solo.
Often it can feel like a high-wire act, with Rishard and I constantly trying to test and wrong-foot each other, so as to stay sharp and on-point. There’s fun in that for the audience of course, seeing the two us flirt dangerously close to taking a fall. But at its magnificent best, performing with Rishard is like flying. As I say, magic.
Rishard is perhaps best-known for his recurring role as Lawrence in the BBC soap opera Doctors, and it was out of this that Rishard and I struck upon our latest idea. Rishard asked: ‘What would a soap opera in Coventry look like?’ Specifically, what would a soap opera look like on the square where Rishard lived?
There seemed only one way to answer the question. Rishard and I would have to make that soap opera ourselves. All we needed to do was assemble a large enough creative team and we would be good to go.
Never ones to be deterred, Rishard and I set about ‘adjusting’ our modest proposal. We would film a pilot episode of our new soap opera (tentatively titled, The Square) in which Rishard and I would play all the parts. We secured a micro-commission from the Coventry City of Culture Trust, who had partnered with Unlimited, a national arts commissioning programme that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. Then for three days in November 2020 we set about filming our cinematic masterpiece on my iPhone.
You can see the results of that filming when Rishard and I premiere The Square later this year. At a time when all of us are experiencing the physical and mental crush of lockdown and social-distancing, we hope the film will raise a few smiles and speak to that part of us which longs to create, to laugh and to persevere.
So much of what makes us human only becomes apparent in the face of great adversity, when our common humanity can shine at its brilliant best. Coventry has always demonstrated that and in 2021, with its year as City of Culture, it shall do so like never before.
Coventry is synonymous with its cathedral, but this year it will also be synonymous with its artists. In Raymond Carver’s short story Cathedral, a sighted man tries to describe to a blind man what a cathedral looks like, but is unable to find the words. Undeterred by this, the blind man suggests they draw a cathedral together, with the sighted man drawing as the blind man holds onto the back of the pencil, using his imagination to build the cathedral in his mind’s eye.
Yet as the men draw their cathedral together it is the sighted man who has the epiphany, gaining new perspective and insight on himself, the world he inhabits and those he inhabits the world with. ‘Put some people in there,’ says the blind man. ‘What’s a cathedral without people?’
Filming our soap opera on three dreary days during the November lockdown, Rishard and I tried to capture what it was that makes these soap operas so engrossing. The melodramatic plots, the twists, the cliff-hangers. But more than anything we tried to capture the people, even if on screen it’s just the two of us. At its most basic, art is one human being trying to explain to another human being what it is to be a human being. That too is the stuff of magic.
When Rishard and I set out on our first collaborative endeavour back in 2016 we had no idea where it would lead. As we approach the official start of Coventry’s big year, now is your opportunity to get involved and take the chance we did. Take it from Rishard and I – it is and always will be a chance worth taking.