What is Scratch?
Scratch was invented at Battersea Arts Centre 15 years ago. Scratch is a way for artists to share ideas and unfinished shows with audiences at an early stage and to get feedback. Battersea Arts Centre’s Scratch events derive from a rich history of experimentation and audience collaboration.
In January 2000, then Artistic Director of BAC Tom Morris (now Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic) and BAC Development Producer David Jubb (now Artistic Director of BAC) programmed and presented the first BAC Scratch Night.
Tom Morris, traces its development all the way back to 1996. “Scratch started through talking to Improbable Theatre, who was just starting out then,” he remembers. “We came up with the notion of them developing a show called Animo by performing it live before the company really knew what it was to an audience who weren't paying very much.
On the back of that, we introduced a strand into what was then called the British Festival of Visual Theatre, which was called Sights Unseen - performances of works-in-progress that were open to the public. From that, the principles of showing work to the public before it was finished and trying to find out how the work should grow from that experience became part of the general practice at BAC.”
The final catalyst was a three hour night in the British Festival of Visual Theatre in 1999 called The Lion & Unicorn Night of Glee in which a lot of artists tried out their ideas.
Five artists each performed around 10 minutes of early ideas for a new piece of theatre and invited a small audience to feedback on specific questions. Since then ‘Scratch’ has become integral to everything Battersea Arts Centre does not just in terms of the development of new theatre shows but also in the way every project in the organisation is run.
This first Scratch Night was part of a season called The Shape of Things to Come. It followed much debate with artists about how best to support the development of new work and many years of work in progress shows.
Scratch is a process and a way of thinking at Battersea Arts Centre. It means artists sharing work-in-development with audiences and audiences helping to enrich the work through their immediate response, through their feedback, and sometimes even through getting involved and creating the work themselves.
When Scratch Nights began the audience was made up of the networks of the artists who were showing their work. There was a healthy cross-fertilisation of audiences. Scratch showings were based around the idea of the 5 rungs on “ladder of development” which enabled artists to take work from a Scratch Night to a Finished Show.
Battersea Arts Centre Ladder of Development
The most famous of these Scratch Nights was Jerry Springer – the Opera, which started out as a ten-minute improvisation led by the musician Richard Thomas, inviting audience to shout out ideas for songs offering them a beer in return: a beer for an idea! By 2002 Jerry Springer was a word of mouth hit, selling out Battersea Arts Centre’s main house. It went on to success at the National Theatre, a two-year run in the West End, and after that on Broadway starring Harvey Keitel. As Tom Morris put it in an interview: “It grew from a tiny but brilliant gem of an idea into a hilarious monster.”
By opening our doors and providing a creative platform for artists to experiment with their ideas, Battersea Arts Centre has given the opportunity to a lot of artists to develop their ideas into successful shows. Jerry Springer the Opera, Inua Ellams’ spoken word performances, The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey, Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients and 1927’s The Animals Children Took to The Streets are some of the highlights to have emerged from our Scratch programme.
To celebrate Scratch's 15th birthday, we asked producers that have worked or are currently working at Battersea Arts Centre, to choose one scratch show for each one of the 15 birthday years and share their memories.
Hungarian Bird Festival, Niall Ashdown (2000)
We programmed Niall Ashdown’s idea for a show about birdwatchers or “twitchers” in the first ever Scratch Night. It was also the first idea to grow out of a Scratch Night in to a fully finished show. Whilst it was fifteen years ago, I can remember the moment very clearly when Niall shared a couple of sketches of what turned in to Hungarian Bird Festival. In 1998 Niall went to Hungary on a bird-watching holiday with his father. Niall described the minute details of the holiday including the sheer boredom, the excruciating frustration that you can only experience with a family member, and moments of absolute elation. Many hours after traipsing across the Hungarian landscape, not speaking, Niall described the silent moment when they spotted a group of 1 metre tall, Great Bustards, transforming himself in to this proud and majestic bird, arms folded behind his back, strutting across the stage of the Council Chamber. Hungarian Bird Festival became a wonderful show that explored Niall’s relationship with his father and the art of growing older. I think the reason I can remember the Scratch so clearly is because when something emerges for the first time it is like magic, it burns itself on to your memory: an exhilarating experience when an idea breathes its first breath in public and you get to be part of imagining its future. It makes Scratch very addictive.
David Jubb, Artistic Director BAC
Feast your eyes, Fevered Sleep (2001)
In 2001, I saw 'Shore' at BAC by Fevered Sleep. The show was simple and gentle, with a magical quality. It had a generous, open connection with its audience. I thought the company's ideas and style would be interesting to test within a children's environment. David Harradine and Sam Butler, the artists involved, were intrigued but surprised - they'd never considered working with children before, but were up for trying. Around me, Tom Morris and David Jubb were starting to scratch ideas with artists making theatre. I could pay a workshop leader to run something that would be good in its own right, or I could use the money to experiment and play with David and Sam in the company of twenty, new, devisor-collaborators aged 4-7 years. I took a risk - definitely the best way to start a scratch. Over the course of a week, David and Sam led their ideas with the children in the mornings, supported by an experienced workshop facilitator. In the afternoons, they squirreled away, developing their own piece for those children to enjoy. At the end of the week, the parents were invited to watch the sharings of the work. We were given golden crowns and were shown to our places at a table in a banqueting hall. Sitting at the end was a curmudgeonly old Queen. The children were told her story by a beggar, who became a giant before our eyes. When it had finished, we all feasted on the food that was part of the show, celebrating the roles we had played within the story, but also the end of our working week together. That week showed me that children can feed back and input critically - scratch - if they have a trusting relationship with the artists involved. Feast Your Eyes went on to become the first of Fevered Sleep's many pieces for children, successfully scratching two further times within our programme and via our schools' work; playing for a three week run over Christmas at BAC (Dec 2003) and subsequently touring nationally for a six week period to 8 UK venues (2004). Feast Your Eyes has had a lasting impact on Fevered Sleep , who are now recognised as one of this country's most exciting companies making work for young people within their portfolio. The show's development still forms the blueprint upon which work for children and young people is created at BAC.
Sarah Golding, Associate Artistic Director BAC
Taylor's Dummies, Gecko (2003)
I first saw 20 minutes of what was to become Taylor’s Dummies by Gecko in 2002 at the Lion and Unicorn pub in Kentish Town which was then run by Tassos Stevens (now one of the directors of Coney). The physicality and theatrical trickery in a tiny pub theatre was some of the most exciting I had seen. When a woman’s (Helen Baggett) legs appeared outside the window (two storeys up) and walked along the window sill and an awesome drummer (Dave Price) appeared in a tiny box, I knew I wanted to work with these people. The inventiveness of the design and production management prowess by Stuart Heyes was most impressive. I invited them to develop the ideas and present them as a scratch performance as part of BAC’s Octoberfest 2002 which used the space at BAC in an unexpected and brilliant way. The audience response was electric. Gecko then presented the finished show for three weeks at BAC, on tour in 5 UK venues as part of This Way Up, for a 6 week run in the main house at BAC and as part of the British Council Showcase in Edinburgh. Fun times indeed.
Louise Blackwell, Fuel Theatre Co-Director (ex-Senior Producer BAC)
Jackson's Way, Will Adamsdale (2004)
Scratch nights at Battersea Arts Centre have been incredibly important to a large number of Fuel shows, particularly Will Adamsdale’s Jackson’s Way. The show started life as a 10 minute scratch back in 2004 as part of Oktoberfest at BAC. Will got great feedback which helped him craft the show over several more scratch performances.Part theatre, part comedy, the show is a modern day parody of American motivational speakers and a satire on the world of self-help and corporate jargon.
The show premiered where it was born, in the BAC, and went to the Edinburgh Fringe to be performed at the Underbelly winning the Perrier - Edinburgh’s most coveted award – on its way. Will has scratched three more shows at the BAC: The Receipt, The Human Computer, and his new show in development Adventures in Packaging. We hope that artists we work with can create more surprising and inspiring shows in the fantastic workshop that is the BAC Scratch night in the future.
Kate McGrath, Fuel Theatre Co-Director (ex-BAC Producer)
Trilogy, Nic Green (2005)
For anybody who came in to contact with Trilogy, during one of its many different stages of development, now have an inner-Nic-Green. Often, in moments of moral dilemmas, the Trilogy-makers ask ourselves; what would my inner Nic Green do? What is compassion in this situation? Trilogy, led by Nic Green, an artist of extraordinary vision, and her ever growing group of courageous female volunteers, showed audiences that together anything is possible. It really is. In those moments, in that room, together we could change the world.
Laura Collier, Head of Studio National Theatre (ex-BAC Producer)
Particularly in the Heartland, The TEAM (2006)
I was a trainee producer in 2006 and The TEAM were a new American company who we had just seen in Edinburgh. They came for a two week residency to work on “Heartlands” after presenting a one woman show with us called “Give Up Start Over”. We didn’t have bedrooms then so they were staying on the floor of BAC staff all over London. The company had so much energy but it was risky as we didn’t really know them or the work yet. I knew they wanted to explore what it was to be American and that they were all pretty impressive performers.I will never ever forget the scratch of “Particularly in the Heartland” though. It happened in Studio One (now the Bees Knees) and without wanting to over egg it - that night totally blew apart for me what scratch and theatre could be. “Heartlands” was this huge over long glorious mess of ideas, music, theatre, love, hope, notions of home, of family, of a country failing to see outside itself, of the American Dream, - and they had used this scratch to just put it all out there -put it all on the table, warts and all. It looked at the personal and political and it used song/text/dance/visceral movement/mess and the Wizard of Oz. It had too many ideas in it and lots of it went over my head but I found it totally exhilarating. Months later and they had worked and honed the show but still managed to retain the visceral, heart stopping quality that shines throughout all their work. It went on to become a smash hit in Edinburgh, win awards and run with us and tour both in the UK and US. Nearly 10 years later and The TEAM are for me one of the most important companies making work today, and I know that scratch remains at the heart of their process.
Shelley Hastings, Senior Producer BAC
Rotating In a Room of Images, Lundahl & Seitl (2008)
Rotating In a Room of Images is an early work in the joint practice of Martina Seitl & Christer Lundahl. It was created for a particular room in BAC. Over five years later the piece was restaged in Edinburgh but still ghosted the proportions of the original space. The work uses a combination of video projection, audio guidance, lighting and shifting curtains to create an overlap of physical and virtual spaces – extending one’s imagination and distorting memory. During my first encounter a familiar space was made alien and unknown to me, unearthing worlds within worlds.
Harun Morrison, Joint Artistic Director of Fierce Festival (ex-BAC Producer)
The Good Neighbour, Various (2009)
The Good Neighbour is an incredibly important example of how BAC developed a process of scratching work for young audiences and families through its work in primary schools. Starting life as a project with 8 different Wandsworth classes and 6 professional artists, the idea to take audiences on a trail across different spaces in BAC was developed by Producer Ruth Dudman as a solution to the sheer number of installations created as part of the project. It was the excitement in which young audiences and their families explored the building and opened each new door that led Ruth and Sarah Golding to see this formats theatrical potential. I joined the team as a junior producer in 2010, and together with artist Tom Bowtell we would develop the show through a series of scratches in partnership with local schools. These scratches enabled us to hone a complicated frame reliant on plotting intricate journeys for 9 groups of 10 children to move safely through the building staircases, corridors and attics. The strong and trusting relationships we built with our local primary schools meant we had an incredible resource of young adventurers, who helped us test and perfect the piece, and the multiple mini artist lead pieces within it. By the time the first families saw a public performance when we opened in October 2012, we already had a show we knew held space for children to imagine, to explore, and to fall in love with our magical building. The show was a massive success, and returned for a second run Christmas 2013. It was a scratch process which involved over 18 different professional artists, and also acted as an incubator for ideas, giving artists the space to test them our alongside young audiences. Many of the ideas seeded within these scratches went on to have lives as full length shows for children, independently of The Good Neighbour. These include Polarbear’s Mouth Open, Story Jump Out, Little Bulb’s Antartica, Inspector Sand’s Rock Pool, and Kirsty Harris and Matthew Blake’s Momentorium.
Bethany Haynes, BAC Producer
A Cat Escapes, Coney (2011)
A Cat Escapes is probably one of my most favourite projects to date. It originally emerged from the Artist Teacher Exchange Programme I was producing at BAC around 2009. I wanted Coney’s Co-director Tassos to spend some time in a primary school (because I knew it would be a bit of a challenge!), so paired him up with a local year 3 teacher Clare Lound. After the first observation session the ideas for A Cat Escapes had begun, at the centre of them was a book the children had been reading called Varjak Paw by S F Said.
In the summer of 2009 we piloted a six week project in school, giving Coney’s Co-directors Tassos and Tom a chance to write and test a Coney style adventure for 7 and 8 years olds, in close collaboration with Clare. A ‘Cat Escapes’ was further developed via BAC Schools’ Programme over several years. Each time the content was refined and developed.
The end result of this slow burn process is an incredibly fun and quite extraordinary project for both teachers and children. The premise of A Cat Escapes is that children communicate with characters from the book Varjak Paw (largely a talking, typing cat called Jasmine) via email, live chat and royal mail. They are cast as the heroes in the narrative and solve curriculum-based challenges to help said cat escape her captors. The mechanics of the show include a live writer assigned to each class (and in cahoots with the teacher) who personalise and respond directly to the children after each challenge. A twist in the narrative brings two live performers who arrive in class to deliver the finale.
‘A Cat Escapes’ has a lasting impact on the teachers that take part. They report significant benefits from this kind of narrative based learning for the children, and for their own teaching practise. The Scratch process gave rise to the relationships and collaboration between the artists, teachers and children and ultimately the success of the project.
Ruth Dudman, Producer (ex-BAC Producer)
Brand New Ancients, Kate Tempest (2012)
Kate Tempest was one of the very first artists I invited to make work at BAC, soon after I had been made a Producer in summer 2011. It was an exciting time and full of firsts for both of us. I had followed Kate’s work for quite a few years prior to this; enraptured, like most people, by her raw and enigmatic gigs. Kate had never shared work in progress before and I remember she was pretty nervous before her first scratch at BAC, although she had no reason to be. The Surveyors Office (now the Scratch Bar) was packed – word had got around - and we all waited for Kate to begin with baited breath. The was an electricity amongst us all; we were being allowed to witness the beginning of something hugely special, but it was fragile because it will still so new. And then Kate began. And her work was so powerful; even as a very early idea it was clear to me as a producer that the central theme of her idea - that we are all gods - was so socially charged that audiences massively connected with it and were left inspired. Watching Kate perform these ideas made you want to make the world a better place. It was magnetic. It felt almost spiritual.
As we developed Brand New Ancients, Kate continued to scratch the piece throughout the making process many times; at BAC, the Albany and Latitude Festival. Audiences always feeding in through the scratch process. And then came the point where scratching was no longer useful and we just needed to get on and finish the show. So we did, but scratch had got us to a crucial point and I believe the show might have been different if made in another way without scratch. Brand New Ancients premiered at BAC in September 2012 and played to sold out audiences, to critical acclaim and won several awards including the Ted Hughes Award.
Sophie Bradey, BAC Producer
Orpheus, Little Bulb (2013)
Ideas for Little bulbs Orpheus started through conversations in 2011. All their shows since their graduation piece Crocosmia had been presented at BAC and David Jubb thought it was time for them to make a bigger piece for a bigger stage in coproduction with BAC. Alex and the Bulbs were excited by he provocation and ideas started along the lines of a building wide promenade steam punk opera! Their first scratch was in the new committee room and they landed on the 'world' their show would inhabit -1920s Paris. They had transformed the room into a glorious junk shop - there was a gramaphone, an old cello, a bottle of red wine with an Art Deco label. They had spent the week making music. They had landed on what their story would be too. It was Orpheus. But there was little story in the first scratch just incredible gypsy jazz music and the start of some characters with loads 1920s of make up on!
They next scratched in the Grand Hall and the world suddenly made sense. It was possibly the first time any of our artists had used he grand hall stage and little bulb had found what it was made for - the voices and strings were naturally amplified around the room and suddenly I could see it - a smokey parison music hall covered in red velvet as the backdrop to the story. Although it was a scary idea - the spar had dictated it - we would be making our first ever show from scratch for our largest space rarely ever used for theatre productions before - the cavernous, intimidating, problematic but majestic and dripping with history - the grand hall. We would we bringing it alive once more! Little bulb scratched for almost two years working mostly on the music. They went from theatre artists who could play music to virtuosic musicians who all played several instruments and sang in complex harmonies. The story and the movement was fitted to the music in the very final stages. And then the show opened. The grand hall filled with tables and wine and smells of cheese and onion soup. It was an epic two and a half hour show which cut to the core of human existence - great love, longing, death and pain. All told with incredible humour and warmth. To whoops, audible cries and standing ovations.
Liz Moreton, BAC Senior Producer
London Stories, Various (2014)
London Stories brought together 35 true stories told by the individuals who lived them, offering each audience member the chance to journey through the building to hear 6 stories live. As Producers, myself and Richard Dufty had the challenge of balancing care for the group of storytellers, a collection of extraordinarily diverse - lively, intelligent, sometimes fragile - individuals with the logistical challenges of getting enough audience members through the door every night to balance the budget! It was the most amazing project to be involved with because it felt so live - really we were scratching it up until it opened (well, and beyond). One performer was admitted into an eating disorder clinic directly before the show opened and was adamant that she still wanted to remain involved, so we took the decision to film her story. That changed the whole fabric of the show. The project felt completely amorphous until about the third night after opening - it crystallised into its final form as we went along. For that reason it was one of the most exciting, affecting projects I have ever worked on.
Rosalie White, Producer (ex-BAC Producer)
Odyssey, Paper Cinema (2015)
At BAC we get invited to see shows all the time. We have a weekly meeting when we look at these invitations and decide what to go and see. Paper Cinema was a company that used to get mentioned quite a lot in these meetings, usually in the context of art party nights around London. They would be regulars at some of these nights. They were great at creating worlds and atmospheres that you could lose yourself in for a short while. After a number of experiences of their work at these sorts of nights, including at our version of those art-party nights – the long since retired ‘Trashy Multi Art Form Bingo Blowout’ nights – we started to wonder about whether we might provoke the company into making something that engaged with narrative more directly and that sustained an audience’s attention in a more committed fashion over the length of a traditional hour-long theatre show. So we started thinking about what stories we might suggest to the company as ones to engage with. I thought that The Odyseey would be a good fit. There was something about Nic’s drawing style, his interest in conjuring fantastical worlds, his interest in journeys (road trips and other kinds of journeys often seemed to appear in PC’s work) that seemed to chime with everything in Homer’s epic. Over a long period of time another producer, Liz Moreton, guided the company through a process of Scratching the show and the rest of us watched it evolve from being a brilliant seed of an idea into the excellent show that has now toured to x countries. Like a lot of shows that have gone through the Scratching process it has proved incredibly popular with audiences and has had a long life – it began life in 2007 and is still going strong.
Richard Dufty, Senior Producer BAC
Scratch Feedback Form
Since 2006, we have used Scratch in different contexts: to develop our building, to change our organisation, to develop new ideas by teachers and young entrepreneurs and to expand to the digital world.
We have been engaged in a project to architecturally develop the Town Hall through a process we call ‘Playgrounding’. Playgrounding was inspired by the Scratch process of testing ideas and collaborating with audiences. Punchdrunk changed the way we are using the building. Prior to The Masque of the Red Death, Battersea Arts Centre used three black box studios. Punchdrunk enabled us to look at the Old Town Hall Building with fresh eyes, seeing the potential in every room, corridor, stairwell and cupboard, opening up areas that had been shut away for years. It became the first Playground Project and enabled us to test out a series of ideas across the site.
The Artist Teacher Exchange project pairs artists and teachers in a co-mentoring programme resulting in the design and delivery of a school project addressing a curriculum element. This exchange allows artists and teachers to co-design and deliver work side-by-side as both educators and facilitators, focusing on a specialist area of artistic practice and of pedagogy. The co-mentoring programme is divided into 3 phases: ‘Learning’, ‘Making’ and ‘Sharing’
Initially set up in Rio de Janeiro in 2011, the Agency is a theatre based methodology that engages cultural organisations in offering young people living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods the possibility to realise their ideas and create projects that impact on the lives of their own community. In 2012, Battersea Arts Centre, Contact Theatre and People’s Place Project piloted the use of Scratch methodology with young people in disadvantaged areas of London and Manchester.
BAC Scratch Online is a new digital project that Battersea Arts Centre is running with The Space CIC. Battersea Arts Centre is adapting the Scratch process to support the development of great new works of digital art. Every day millions of people engage with the arts and cultural sector through digital media. This engagement comes in many forms and is in a constant state of evolution, driven by technological change.
Scratchr is an online tool, which Battersea Arts Centre is developing for artists and audiences to collaborate on new digital projects. It is a radical new digital initiative which is very much an extension of the Battersea Arts Centre's Scratch methodology, whereby artists expose work-in-progress to audiences at various points in the development process and build on the audience’s feedback.
Curator—Battersea Arts Centre