Katie-anna Whiting remembers thinking it was ridiculous to believe any actor could make a living in Norwich. Years later, with her first full-length play debuting here, she says it's an inspiring time to be working in the arts in East Anglia.
There’s no place like home… to make and create theatre. Growing up in a small village in north Norfolk, the "buzzing metropolis" of Norwich was always enticing to me. That is, of course, until I moved here. Then I set my sights on Brighton. Alas, it was too far to travel for castings in London. I eventually ended up in London because, as we all know, it’s the only place to act and make theatre, right?
I had many an argument with my mum about my determination that no actor could make a living in Norwich. Ever. I thought it was a ridiculous notion that anyone would make a career here. Fast forward nearly 15 years and a part was offered to me in a play asking for - I couldn’t quite believe it - someone who could do a native, Norfolk accent.
No actor gets asked for this. Ever. Unless someone, somewhere, has decided to create a retelling of either Arnold Wesker’s Roots or Goodnight Mister Tom. I love you John Thaw, RIP, but that accent?
The company was fEAST Theatre, for their production of Salt. Working on the show was very special to me for many reasons. Based on Jeremy Page’s book of the same name, it’s set in the north Norfolk coast with characters that have an almost symbiotic relationship with the landscape in which they live. I both fell back in love with my home and realised the extent of exciting, professional work happening in the region.
It’s an inspiring time to be here. In my brief time dipping my toes into the arts scene of East Anglia I’ve felt nothing but warmth, welcome and support. It’s the antithesis of much of the same scene in London. People are making excellent work, without the need for ruthless competition. Work can be made in the region through networking and support and I believe is all the better for it.
I’m extremely lucky to be in the position I am in now. I pinch myself now and again and, yup, it still hurts. I am writing, producing and performing in my solo show There’s No Place Like Cromer. I’ve been mostly working in market research for many years, alongside the odd commercial or theatre tour. This will be the first full-length show I’ve written and produced. Eek.
Its beginnings were 12 years ago when I had a vague idea I’d like to make a one-woman show about the pull between Norfolk and London. I knew I wanted to celebrate the Norfolk dialect. I knew it was set in Liverpool Street Station and that magical things happened there. I knew the pigeons might be able to talk to my protagonist. That’s all I really knew.
Its real beginnings were when I decided to enter the idea for All-In Productions and The Garage’s Scratch Night in June 2018. Scratch Nights invite local artists to develop their work for six days, use their rehearsal space for free and share their work with an invited audience for feedback.
Having a great working relationship with them already I asked fEAST Theatre’s Dawn Finnerty and Robin McLoughlin to act as director and dramaturg respectively. The audience feedback was constructive and positive.
As a result of that night I also gained a production mentor in Lucy Enskat of Hocus Pocus Theatre, who were performing an early version of Clown about Town; and a director for the full piece in Daniel Burgess of All-In Productions.
The Garage and All-In Productions, alongside those already mentioned, kindly offered encouragement and advice on an Arts Council England application. Three attempts, much tenacity and an eight-month-old baby later and here I am. I have a beautiful family and am making the work I love most. I’m exhausted, but so very happy.
There’s no better place to make theatre than one’s home. I’ve also learnt that this does not mean the work itself has to be inward looking. Norfolk’s arts organisations have many international relationships; the Norfolk and Norwich Festival is an obvious example of this. Importantly, my work has never felt more relevant to me and I’ve never felt so supported to make it.
Here’s to all the artists new and old yet to come out of the woodwork. I’ve had an idea bubbling away for a long time - scraps of paper with lines and phrases lying around in the bottom of drawers, cabaret nights performing spoken word poetry in the Norfolk dialect to an audience in London who told me “I loved it, but had no idea what you were saying”. It’s never too late to fully commit and give it a go. No excuses.
There's No Place Like Cromer, presented by The Whiting's On The Wall, is at 7.30PM, Thursday 27 February. It's a showcase performance, with the chance to share feedback afterwards. It lasts 50 minutes, is for ages 14+ and tickets are just £10.