I called a session on a project which I know to be very ambitious, and hardly anyone turned up, which in Devoted and Disgruntled land means either it's a rubbish idea, or it's an ok idea but everyone has something more interesting/important to do, or you're a misunderstood genius. I quite like the latter interpretation, personally. My notes are below, though they're also on the website which is worth a visit if you want to read up on a wide variety of conversations had by theatre makers at the event.
I want (to make?) a project which pays people to make connections and come up with ideas
SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION, CONCLUSION AND/OR RECOMMENDATIONS
Not many people came to my session and I still can’t decide whether that means it’s a bad idea, not needed, too good to be true (I did choose Utopia as my location) or whether I just worded it badly. Certainly there feels like there is a lot of context I struggled to get into my punchy title. I probably could have (there have been other conversations about what we can and can’t do this weekend) but didn’t manage to.
My idea came from several observations verging together about which I also still haven’t quite decided whether they come together meaningfully or not.
- Trying to make work independently for the first time aged 32 feels difficult. Lots of schemes which help people are for those under 25 or under 30. I think my experience of working for organizations for the last 10 years is helpful but I don’t think it makes it SO much easier that I don’t still need (want?) help! And there are others for whom this will be so much more true
- Even development funding needs a strong idea – a creative idea and an idea of key people you want to work with. This takes time, energy and often money, and until you have an established organization this usually means doing this unpaid
- An article in the Guardian about how many old Etonian actors there are
- Feels to me like there is a gap between being encouraged to get involved in the arts as a young person and being able to move into employment. Audiences and workforces in mainstream theatre are not getting bigger or more diverse. I don’t think anything will change until we genuinely empower people from more diverse (culturally/socio-economically and otherwise?) backgrounds and that means giving equal employment opportunities. If people can’t afford to do the frequently unpaid schemes which are on offer and they need to get experience to get paid jobs then that is very exclusionary – equally if they can’t afford to give the time energy and money to coming up with ideas they’ll struggle to get started independently
This would have an emphasis on process over product though I was imagining some form of sharing.
There doesn’t seem to be such a scheme (though China Plate? does seem to operate a scheme slightly similar for devising companies to have paid time with new writers) so I want to try and make one. Ideally I’d like this to help people from a variety of disciplines – producers, actors, directors, designers, writers, other artists. Everyone should be paid but as equally as possible.
- Who owns the idea afterwards if you bring different people together
- What’s the role of the producers in that space?
- Who gets involved / who really needs it / how do you make sure those people are the ones who get involved
- Will anyone fund it? (I reckon it could be done for £25k (or smaller and cheaper) if space and some other venue-type support was in-kind)
- Who decides who takes part – do I have the expertise/experience to choose?
As already mentioned, one piece of feedback was the lack of people at my session.
I spoke to three people, one other producer and two artists. Both artists agreed this would be useful and that they have ideas which they need help to get off the ground. This seemed to be partly about them needing a producer (and a producer that doesn’t need to be paid until the idea has mileage) and partly about a desire to collaborate and work ideas through.
Won’t be able to note whole conversations but these were key things for me:
Dan and I talked about how it would be important for it not to be too restrictive with too many conditions or caveats. We said both that there must be loads of empty spaces around but also that space really seems to be at a premium (I have seen various possibilities for space during DandD so that’s been interesting)
Zoe mentioned lots of things that would be helpful that I hadn’t even thought of (as I had a practical workshop style thing in mind) eg phone, computer, wifi, conversations, planning and strategy sessions, advice on what makes a show workable etc as well as practically trying out ideas.
This was good because it slightly answered my question as to what the producers might do in that space without becoming glorified stage managers. I felt strongly they should be involved (ha, of course, as I'm a producer!) as that feels like an important relationship to allow people to create as well as artist to artist relationships.
I also realised during discussions that ideas can take a long time to develop and maybe my thought that ideas could be come up with during the session is overambitious. Aliki and I talked about how lots of artists will have an idea but they may be unformed and not in a state that’s fundable. Maybe I should be looking for artists who have ideas they want to bring in to explore.
Another thought that came out was not to have to know answers was positive – to have a space for trials, where a sharing was the ideal end result but not necessarily performance, not audience focused and that the possibility of no sharing at all was an option.
I was also assuming a theatre venue was the space I was looking for but other spaces could be a possibility especially if a performance (even a scratch one) is not going to be a necessary end result of the project. Even scratch performances are quite formal in a sense if they’re in a theatre space so maybe more beneficial not to be.
OTHER THOUGHTS WHICH DIDN’T COME OUT OF THIS SESSION BUT OUT OF OTHERS
I’ve been interested in who leads with an idea and I went to some sessions about post-dramatic drama and design-led theatre which all questioned who can lead a process. I’d be interested in having people come in with ideas who are not directors.
Piloting would be a good idea and this could be possible in a much smaller way than I was originally thinking I’d want to pilot. Maybe one group made up of one artist with an idea and others in a venue which has very close links to a diverse community and could bring in emerging artists (of any age) to see how the week itself works and what’s useful before looking at the wider format of applications etc.
In fact not having applications per se in an open way but referrals might get the “right people” – or even better a mix, not to ghettoise?
Might be useful to bring in some established artists who might not need the project so much but benefit from reinvigoration of practice from working with new people or having a test space for an idea (or working on someone else’s idea) and again meet less ghettoisation, more useful for emerging artists to meet a mix of people. Would it then be even more important that everyone gets paid and everyone gets paid the same?
Seth Honnor (hope he doesn’t mind me quoting) said creative practice is a constant tension between openness and quality and though I need to think about that a bit more, I think that’s a good context in which to set the above – have some known quality and some unknown openness (which doesn’t mean either isn’t risky but to different degrees?)
Again possibilities for space came from other sessions eg the Theatre Lab session about people in Streatham Hill who have space and want to encourage use of it for artistic collaboration and no-one came to that session either – interesting!
And that was it - if you're interested, let me know!