Up … Up … and A Play!

Written for the London Theatre Blog, 13 February 2009

The Gate Theatre is thirty years old this year, and they’ve been involving their fans in the celebrations. As a fan of the theatre myself, I decided to take part.

After a little prompting from the Gate Facebook group and mailing list, I dropped the theatre a quick email with my postal address. A week later, an envelope dropped onto my doormat. Inside was a Gate postcard and a red balloon.

As instructed by the postcard, I inflated the balloon, took a photo of it and emailed the photo back to the Gate. Within a few hours my balloon had joined a host of others in a Flickr stream. Then, on Wednesday 11th February, it went up on the wall in the theatre foyer, along with 130-odd others, in an exhibition the Gate are calling Up … Up … and A Play!

The foyer walls are newly occupied by large blackboards. One lists the names of everyone that contributed a photo; another shows the locations of contributors on simplified maps of London, England and the world; the others all bear neat arrangements of photos. The pictures that have travelled the furthest are framed and hung along the staircase. Gate balloons have reached as far afield as Paris, Spain, Finland, Australia and Alaska.

Taking part in the exhibition engenders a strange feeling of connectedness, something like the six degrees of separation theory. The people and places pictured have little visibly in common, in the same way as the pictures themselves vary widely in terms of subject matter and photographical skill. But they all have one obvious common factor – the presence in every photo of a red balloon, and each photographer’s connection (whatever that may be) to the Gate.

If you’re interested in viewing the exhibition, arrive early. The doors open at 6:30pm; at around 7:00 the foyer will start filling up with people waiting to see that evening’s show, and you’ll have to fight your way around the tiny space to take in all the material. Take your time on the stairs – the framed pictures all have attached labels that provide a little context.

As a birthday celebration, Up … Up … an A Play! steers clear of self-congratulation and instead acknowledges the people without whom a theatre cannot exist. The Gate are still sending out balloons, and plan to re-exhibit with additional photos at the end of the year, once again turning an appreciative spotlight on their loyal audience.

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