Third Angel

Where do your ideas come from.

Company Profile

Third Angel makes entertaining and original contemporary performance that speaks directly, honestly and engagingly to its audience. Established in Sheffield in 1995, the company makes work that encompasses performance, theatre, live art, installation, film, video art, documentary, photography and design. We use styles, techniques and interests discovered in our more experimental work for other spaces, to create new theatre that plays with conventional forms while remaining accessible to a mainstream audience.

Third Angel has shown work in theatres, galleries, cinemas, office blocks, car parks, swimming baths, on the internet and TV, in school halls, a damp cellar in Leicester and a public toilet in Bristol. The company has shown work at festivals and venues across the UK and mainland Europe, including Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal, France and Spain.

Third Angel's artistic work is supported and invigorated by an active Creative Learning programme that includes practical projects with students and other artists, project supervision, mentoring, lecturing, after-show talks and discussions.

Artistic Policy

The work is devised, directed and designed by the two Artistic Directors and founders, Rachael Walton and Alexander Kelly, and carries a range of influences from the culture around us: visual art, current affairs, novels, magazines, comics, film, television, music, radio chat shows.

We are interested in the small, intimate things in life, the things that often get overlooked or swept under the carpet: the value of individual experience, the beauty to be found in the tiny details of everyday life, and the surprising emotional power of memories and places. The work draws on both fact and fantasy, autobiography and fiction. We are drawn back to the theme of escaping, or attempting to escape, from everyday life, through an exploration of memory, imagination and fantasy: the gap between your dreams and ambitions, and the reality of your day to day life.

The performers' relationship with the audience is direct and intimate, but also playful. The audience are implicated, by turns, as conspirators, voyeurs and witnesses. Whilst committed to exploring ideas and asking questions, the work is not afraid to entertain and engage an audience.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are questions that we are regularly asked by email or in after-show discussions or when we are teaching... If you have a question that you would like us to add to the list and answer, please email us.

Who / What is Third Angel?
Where does the name Third Angel come from?
Why are you based in Sheffield?
How did you get started?
Do you describe your work as theatre or Live Art?
What/Who influences you?
Where do your ideas come from?
How much writing or preparation do you do before devising starts?
What's it like in the rehearsal room? What techniques do you use for devising?
Which do you prefer - performing or directing?
Is the work autobiographical?
Does the work have a message? What is the work trying to say?
How do you choose who you collaborate with?
Why do you use technology and new media in the work? How do you decide when to use it?
How many shows / projects do you make each year?
How are you funded?
How can I join the company?
Can I come and do a placement for work experience or degree module?

Who / What is Third Angel?
Third Angel is the collaboration of its two Artistic Directors, Rachael Walton and Alexander Kelly. The two of us work together devising, writing, performing, designing and directing. Usually a project will be led more strongly by one or the other of us, and the exact roles on each piece vary from project to project. It can be that the one of us who is performing is still the lead director or devisor of that particular project.

We have a group of collaborators, or associate members, who we work with frequently, but not on every project. Usually collaborators are brought in for a particular specialism, but have an influence on other areas of the project.

Hilary Foster (who has also worked with us as researcher, camera operator, technician, workshop leader and performer).

Associate Artists:
Christopher Hall - Film & Video
Rachel Newman - Creative Learning

Current/recent collaborators:
Chris Thorpe - Performer, Devisor and Writer
Lucy Ellinson - Performer, Devisor
Gillian Lees - Performer, Devisor
Jeremy Killick - Performer, Devisor
Paula Diogo/Teatro Praga - Devisor, Director, Performer
James Harrison - Lighting Designer
David Mitchell - Sound Designer and Composer
Martin Fuller - Technical Manager
Helen Fagelman - Stage Manager
Andy Eccleston - Photographer
Jacqui Bellamy - Photographer
Mark Cohen - Photographer
Robert Hardy - Cinematographer, Photographer (and occasional Performer)
Studio Dust - Web & Graphic design
DED Associates - Web Designers

Previous collaborators include:
Performers: Phil Richford, Jamie Iddon, Tim Hall, Cathy Naden, Claire Marshall, John Rowley, Juliet Ellis, Henry Sargeant, Stewart Lodge, Jorge Vasques, Pedro Almendra, Heather Burton, Abigail Davies, Gautier About and Renaud Bechet.
Companies: Drei Wolken (Germany), Ao Cabo Teatro (Portugal)
Writers: Geraldine Harris, Dee Heddon, Jorge Louraco Figueira
Graphic Designers: Ben Weaver and Rocca Creative
Photographers: Helen Sharma and Kate Boddington
Composers: Alex Bradley, John Avery, Paul Keatley, Lee Sykes, Digitonal, Louie Ingham & Rob Langley
Editors: Annie Watson and Leon Ballin

Where does the name Third Angel come from?
It's a double quote, from Mike Leigh's film Naked, which in turn quotes the Book of Revelation. On the Day of Judgment the Seven Seals are broken, and seven angels blow their trumpets, and "when the Third Angel blows hers, wormwood falls from the sky and poisons a third of all the water and a third of all the land", and many people die. And the Russian translation of 'wormwood' is Chernobyl.

Apparently some people believe that the Chernobyl disaster was the third seal being broken on the 'Day' of Judgement. This isn't a religious thing for us. In 1995 we were pretty interested in a lot of that apocalypse culture stuff - the installation we made in 1996 called Barcode made reference to all barcodes containing three sixes. We came up with a shortlist of possible names, and in the end we chose Third Angel as a name because we liked the sound of it - and we had to get the poster for Testcard to the printers.

Why are you based in Sheffield?
Alex came to Sheffield to do an MA in Film Production at the Northern Media School. The course took longer than expected, and by the time Alex graduated the two of us had made several pieces of work as Third Angel. We were getting support from NMS, Sheffield City Council and Yorkshire & Humberside Arts, as well as a network of other performance companies, promoters and audiences in the city, so it seemed sensible to stay.

How did you get started?
We didn't set out with the intention to set up a company. We came up with a project together to pitch for the ROOT Festival 1995 in Hull, which turned out to be fairly inappropriate for their 'civic pride' theme that year. But we liked the idea, and decided to do it in Sheffield. The Workstation in Sheffield took a risk and let us take over their gallery space for a week, and that project became Testcard. That led to us being asked to contribute to the Quarterlight Festival in Sheffield (with two installation pieces, Barcode and CandleTable) in March 1996, and being commissioned by the Lovebytes Festival to produce The Killing Show in May '96. In amongst all that we made our first short film, With The Light On.

By this point funders were starting to ask us where we saw the company in five years time, so we started thinking more long term. We drew up a five year plan, and set ourselves aims and objectives both for both artistic practice and business development.

It's worth mentioning that in this period we were already collaborating with Robert Hardy (as photographer and cinematographer) and Christopher Hall (film editor). Both now have their own successful freelance careers, but have had a big influence on our development over the years. Chris is now an Associate Artist of Third Angel, and we still work with Rob occasionally.

Do you describe your work as theatre or Live Art?
When we set out to make a piece of work we don't define what the outcome will be. We don't really have an interest in the categorisation of any art, that's for the funders and the promoters. We attempt to challenge preconceptions and established forms in both genres.

We think of what we do as 'work' or as 'projects', and have always been interested in making work that challenges those definitions and explores the territory between them. Clearly some projects are more easily recognisable as theatre pieces, whilst some are definitely in the territory of live art. Most projects are a hybrid of the two, along with elements of film, video, music and installation...

What/Who influences you?
It really varies from week to week, project to project, but the list includes:
Edward Hopper
Francis Bacon
Hal Hartley
The Wooster Group
Marina Abramovic
Pete Brooks
Bill Viola
David Lynch
Bill Drummond
TV documentaries
TV drama
Contemporary visual art
Some contemporary theatre, live art and comedy
Contemporary fiction
Newspapers and magazines
Graphic design

Where do your ideas come from?
Initially ideas for projects spring from stuff we're interested in. Stuff that bothers us. The news. Things going on in our own lives, and our friends' lives. Some might be sparked off by seeing other work or reading - fiction and non-fiction - or seeing something on TV. We might have an image (found or drawn ourselves) in a sketch book.

We develop project ideas over time, through research, discussion and negotiation. We try to make work that is experimental for us, so often we're trying to do something we haven't done before. We see some of our work as an ongoing series of explorations, so often one project leads onto another. Some projects are equally an exploration of form or theatrical techniques and these lead the initial process. Sometimes ideas are changed or borne from the restrictions that are placed on the project due to money, time or space.

Once we're devising or rehearsing, ideas often come from having to solve a particular problem, or through serendipity in the devising process, someone trying something off the top of their head, accidents happening and creating something new. It's important for us to research, develop and discuss ideas, but we also trust in chance and coincidence.

How much writing or preparation do you do before devising starts?
This varies from project to project, and has changed over the years. At present we usually work on a piece for up to a year, part time, before the devising/rehearsal process starts. This preparation includes research, discussion, writing, drawing, collecting images and music, watching films and going to galleries. We keep individual sketchbooks and share a company/project sketchbook that we pass between us as our ideas develop.

All of this is brought together as we get ready to start devising, so we might 'begin' devising with a few pieces of text, some images we want to try out and a couple of devising exercises to get us going. Some of these ideas get into the work, some of them are simply starting points to kick start some other ideas, some of them become irrelevant as the devising progresses.

What's it like in the rehearsal room? What techniques do you use for devising?
Again, this varies from project to project, but the rehearsal/making room will usually feature lists of ideas on big sheets of paper, some sort of set or defined space to work in (might be a stack of twenty filing cabinets, might simply be a table and two chairs), piles of research material (books, magazine and newspaper articles, printouts from the internet), a video camera and TV monitor.

The devising process is one of discussion, improvisation, argument, research, writing, drawing, video watching. We do use some rule based devising exercises and games to get us going, and often someone will bring in a bit of text or a task or an idea for an image or piece of action that we will try out. We try to push some of these improvisation ideas for a long time, to get past the initial obvious ideas. Sometimes a great idea or piece of material doesn't come until we're getting bored and frustrated with an exercise because we've been doing it so long that we're knackered. Sometimes great ideas come along when we're just having a laugh in the rehearsal space, playing with a new toy. Often material comes through concentrated analysis of a problem or effect we want to achieve, and many attempts to solve it.

Which do you prefer - performing or directing?
We both like both. We like writing, devising and designing, too. We view them all as elements of our making process.

Is the work autobiographical?
Most of the work has elements of autobiography (and biography) in it, as we often draw on our own experiences in making the work. This might mean that we tell a story that is true to one of the people making the piece, but this will not usually be signposted to the audience as a true or autobiographical section. Or it might mean that a piece deals with an issue that is of particular concern to us in our personal lives.

This does not mean that the work is confessional theatre. Often a performer can end up telling a story that comes from someone else. We mix elements of fact and fiction all the time.

Some of the work is more personal or clearly auto/biographical than others. The most clearly auto/biographical are Class of '76 and The Lad Lit Project, although some would suggest that Shallow Water, Hurrysickness, Where From Here, Presumption and 9 Billion Miles From Home actually say more about us as people.

Does the work have a message? What is the work trying to say?
We used to say: The work does not try to make statements, on the whole, but endeavours to explore issues and ask questions. That isn't to say that there aren't opinions in the work, indeed there are many - sometimes contradictory ones - as the process is one of exploration for us.

More recent work, though, clearly has more specific agendas. However, even with these more conspicuously themed pieces, the work is still trying to ask the audience what they think as much as exploring what we think.

When talking about it, we frequently say that our work is a process of us saying: We're interested in this, this bothers us, how about you? And these are the things we've always been more interested in making work about - the personal, the human, the social, rather than work that deals overtly with political structures or the powers that be.

How do you choose who you collaborate with?
We usually collaborate with practitioners whose work we have seen, who have seen our work and who we have been talking to for a while. Early on in a project we will be thinking about what other skills we need to bring to the process - how many other performers, whether we want an original soundtrack, if we want to use film or video - and then who we might want to work with in those areas. Often we find that we have been talking to people about working together for one or two years before we actually collaborate on a project. As we develop an understanding of what people will bring to a project we will return to work with them on the right projects. We've been working with Lighting Designer James Harrison and Editor Chris Hall in this way for several years.

Why do you use technology and new media in the work? How do you decide when to use it?
We view video, film, photography and digital media as some of the tools we have at our disposal - alongside lighting design, music, set/environment design, writing and improvisation. We use the technology necessary to achieve particular effects. Frequently as a project develops, the way in which video (for example) is used will change. This can mean that projects in which we intended to use video (such as Where From Here and Believe The Worst) end up with no video in them, because it does not add anything to the work.

How many shows / projects do you make each year?
Historically we have made a new work that opens in the autumn (often a touring theatre piece), and a smaller-scale new piece in the spring. However, in recent years, as shows have had longer lives, our personal circumstances have changed and as we try to develop projects for longer before making them, this routine has changed. These days we are often working on two or three pieces, but will open one new piece a year.

How are you funded?
Third Angel is a Regularly Funded Organisation, which means we have a funding agreement with Arts Council England, Yorkshire. It lasts for three years and guarantees us a set amount of money per year. In addition to this we go down all the usual funding avenues for additional funds for individual projects: national touring money, commissions, bursaries, trusts and the lottery.

We used to receive funding from Sheffield City Council which was invaluable when we were starting out. Sadly and depressingly SCC no longer has that fund for creative projects available to apply to.

How can I join the company?
The company doesn't have permanent members, as such, but if you want to be considered for future collaborations, send us a CV and a letter. Follow it up with a phone call. Invite us to see your work. Come and see our work and stick around and talk to us about it.

Can I come and do a placement for work experience or degree module?
We do offer professional placement opportunities, but we're pretty rigorous in our selection process, and we ask students to think very carefully about why they want to work with us. We're looking for bright, committed, and interested individuals who will cheerfully, and with initiative and attention to detail, take on tasks from photocopying to cable running to taking rehearsal notes to lugging large pieces of set in and out of vans to filing to research to booking train tickets, who aren't above the little jobs or intimidated by the big ones.

If you want to be considered, write to or email Hilary Foster (General Manager) outlining your interest in the company and the type of work we do, what you hope/need to experience during your time with us, and what you can offer us. Be honest. If what you really want to do is to sit in on rehearsals, or learn how to book a tour, then say so. If you say 'happy to do anything', we just won't believe you. We may not be able to provide you with everything you want, but we will do our best to offer you a good deal, and make ourselves available for questions on our practice and management. You won't be asked to perform or direct with us on a placement, but there are usually other ways you can be involved in the creative process.
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