Theatre producer, writer and performer Ali Pritchard is anything but bitter about his university days, as Rosie Willan found when asking about his latest play
Ali Pritchard, founder of new writing theatre company Alphabetti Spaghetti, was fresh from performing at Scotland’s Audio Soup festival when I caught up with him in between rehearsals for new show Best Bitter.
The hour-long verse comedy, funded by Arts Council England, is set in a pub, The Meat & Tackle, where the clientele are gathered to watch “yet another woeful performance by a lacklustre England team in the World Cup”.
Despite his writing and performing talents, Ali is producing this show so isn’t on stage. Allowing other emerging performers to showcase their talent is something Ali is passionate about. It is ingrained in the Alphabetti culture.
“Alphabetti creates a space for anyone to come and have a go at performing,” says Ali, who is 24. “The Open Stage events we have run for the past year allow performers five minutes’ stage time to perform all kinds of pieces from drama, music, poetry and stand-up comedy. Last year we had 600 new performers – this year we want to make that 800.”
This attitude and enthusiasm defines Ali. In the past year, Alphabetti have gone from strength to strength, touring to UK festivals and securing dates at Live Theatre this September.
None of this could have been achieved, he stresses, without the support and encouragement he received while studying for a BA in drama and scriptwriting at Northumbria University.
“I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today if I hadn’t studied at Northumbria. The lecturers have a wealth of experience and many still work in the industry.
“Richard Stockwell has had a successful career working on EastEnders and Steve Gilroy is the associate director of Live Theatre.
“Northumbria have so many cultural partners, too – from Baltic to Live Theatre – which help you grow relationships and network throughout your course. Studying at Northumbria has opened lots of doors and, in hindsight, was definitely the right decision for me.”
Richard Stockwell, Ali’s programme leader at Northumbria, was keen to sing his praises.
“Ali is the perfect example of what the drama and scriptwriting programme aspires to instil in its graduates – skilled in their specialist area but with a breadth of knowledge and a real entrepreneurial flair too,” he said.
“He really took the opportunities offered here with both hands. He has since employed a number of graduates, showcased many of our students’ work and still runs workshops to support our current students.”
These workshops began when Ali joined Northumbria’s graduate fellowship scheme. In return, he benefited from staff mentoring and the university provided rehearsal space for the company.
He also guest lectures on a module called Professional Directions. This is the same class in which Ali, as a final year student, wrote Teeth in Eggcups, the show which earned rave reviews on the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and started the Alphabetti journey.
“The module gives you the freedom to decide what you want to work on and then lecturers support you in developing this,” he recalls. “I wrote a sketch show, found a venue and played one night in Newcastle which sold out. Two of my lecturers came along and loved it, and they were the ones who really pushed me to take the show up to the Fringe. After that, I started Alphabetti and the rest is history.”
Aside from his studies and passion, Ali attributes his success to hard work and some pretty crazy ideas.
“We’ve recently purchased a 16-foot speedboat and converted the deck into a stage, with a jetty which will run down into the audience,” he laughs. “Essentially, we now have our own stage which we can tow to festivals and shows around the UK.”
Although this is a move to greater mobility for Alphabetti, there’s no doubt in Ali’s mind that Newcastle is the place he and his company will continue to call home.
“We’ll definitely be staying in the North East. We’re the only fringe theatre venue in Newcastle and it’s exciting to be at the forefront of something like this.
“I’ve maintained many of the contacts I made during my time at university and there’s so much creative talent in this region. The aim over the coming months, aside from the projects we are focusing on, is to work towards getting our very own venue.”
Best Bitter, directed by Lee Rosher, runs until Friday above The Dog & Parrot pub on Clayton St West, Newcastle. The show starts at 7.30pm (9pm tonight after a free comedy show). Tickets are £5 and are available in advance from www.alphabettispaghettitheatre.co.uk or on the door.
For those hoping to follow in Ali’s footsteps, Northumbria University has some places for high-performing students on the BA (Hons) Drama and Scriptwriting course available through this year’s clearing system. Details on www.northumbria.ac.uk/clearing