The Theatre Bath Bus and the Creative Process (or YES! We bloody did it!)

The Theatre Bus has launched – wahoo!

I’m feeling incredibly happy, proud and thankful for everyone’s hard work and support. Particularly to Zoe and the Theatre Bus team for putting up with my mad ideas for the last year. But also to everyone who has donated money – however much and to everyone who has donated their time, commented on ideas on Facebook or supported the project in any way. The bus is for you. It’s not for me and never has been. This is about a creative space that can be used by the whole community and can benefit so many different people in so many inspirational different ways. We have merely provided you with a blank canvas to use; how you choose to fill it is up to you! I cannot wait to see what you all come up with and supporting your creative projects going forwards.

 

I’ve had a lot of people asking me how I do the things that I do and why so I thought I’d write a brief blog about my creative process and what works best for me. Different people work in different ways and if the arts teach us anything its that we all have unique individual strengths and weaknesses. So what works for me may not necessarily work for you and vice-versa.

1. Come up with an idea

“From small acorns grow mighty oaks”

The first thing is just come up with an idea. It does not have to be groundbreaking, original or unique. It doesn’t have to be something on a epic scale. Just an idea. Any idea. Even if it’s just the faint shimmer of an idea parked on your periphery and you have no idea what form it will eventually take. Grab hold of it. Write it down. Leave it in the desk drawer for a week and come back to it. Discuss it with close friends or colleagues. Find an idea that works for you and begin thinking about where it may go.

 

2. Expand Your Idea

Brainstorm or write notes. Expand on your original idea. Use keywords or word association to expand your thoughts about the idea. Your idea will change. It will evolve. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Don’t become so fixed on one final outcome that you miss other potential opportunities. See the bigger picture. Evolve with your idea and see where it leads.

 

3. How Will You Make Your Idea A Reality?

So you have the idea. You have played with it and expanded it. You probably have a whole load of other ideas now. How do you bring it into fruition? Think about the end goal. Why are you doing this? What is your driving force behind it? What do you wish to achieve from doing it? What is your purpose? What does your idea look like in its fullest form? Visualise the end product. Once you have that clear you can begin to move backwards from there. So for me the end goal was a multi-purpose mobile performance space situated inside a bus. That was the vision. I then looked backwards from there to see what steps I would need to take to make that happen.

In my case it looked something like this:

  • END GOAL – Mobile Performance space in a bus
  • Need a bus – where do you buy a bus? How much will it cost?
  • Need someone to convert the bus – who does bus conversions locally?
  • Need to raise money to make that happen – who will fund it? How? Why?
  • Need a team with different sets of skills – who? why?
  • Need help from a designer
  • Need a timescale – how long will this take?
  • Technical equipment – what will the bus need to be able to operate?
  • Paperwork and legislation – what will we need in place? Who will insure it?
  • Where will the bus be able to go?
  • Who will use it? What is its goal?

There were several hundred more bullet points to add to this list but already you can see how once you have an idea you can work backwards and create yourself steps. Each step raises more questions. More questions lead to more knowledge and more answers. Question EVERYTHING. Do not stop questioning. The more you question the more different ideas you’ll come up with and solutions you’ll find.

 

4. So I Now Have An Idea And A Massive To Do List – Help I’m Overwhelmed & A Tiny Bit Scared!

Good. If you’re not scared your project or idea is not ambitious enough. You’re being too safe and playing within your comfort zone. It is absolutely okay to be terrified. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. And it’s okay to not know where to start and what to do first.

Create yourself a to-do list. Actually create yourself several. We broke the project up into different sections and had to-do lists for each of them. Breaking the project down into manageable sections allows you to really focus on the details and not feel completely overwhelmed with looking at the project as one whole thing.

Our sections looked something like this:

  • Conversion work – stage one – emptying the bus
  • Conversion work – stage two – creating the wooden structures within the bus
  • Conversion work – stage three – electrics, cabling and distribution around the bus
  • Conversion work – stage four – painting the inside of the bus
  • Conversion work – stage five – Curtains, Seating and other fixutres
  • Conversion work – stage six – Technical equipment
  • Paperwork
  • Fundraising
  • Materials and sourcing
  • Research and ideas
  • Launch party
  • Marketing

There were more sections but this gives you an idea. Under each of these headings we then could look in more detail at what we needed to achieve each thing. So for example the first stage – emptying the bus. We knew that we needed to take out the chairs. All the metal vertical poles. Barriers around the front wheel arches. Old fluorescent lighting. Old display boards in the front, back and sides. Once all of that was done we then knew we could move on to the other sections.

A lot of these sections over-lapped and were running concurrently at the same time. But it became more manageable because we had a plan in place that we could follow.

 

5. My Plan Has Gone Out Of The Window What Do I Do?

Sit and cry!!!

No.

Projects evolve. They change all the time. You are constantly challenged by different things that come up and surprise you. No project ever goes 100% smoothly. That’s a fact. What you have to do is be able to adapt to the changes and challenges when they arise in a positive way. Don’t focus on the problem. If you focus on the problem it won’t go away. Focus on the solution. Or better still focus on different solutions. Rome was not built in a day. Which is just as well as the Roman’s would have all been knackered and wouldn’t have been able to enjoy all they had achieved. There is always a way forwards. Don’t become so obsessed with something having to be a particular way that you allow it to stunt and damage your end vision. Be open to change, embrace it and see it as a natural evolution of you idea.

 

6. Ask For Help & Share With Others

This is a biggy. Do not try and do everything yourself. You will burn out and the project will probably whither and die or will not live up to expectations. Two heads are definitely better than one (and four or five is an explosion of creativity). Be open to others suggestions and advice. A fresh pair of eyes on an idea can bring solutions that you would have never dreamed of. It can also help identify problems before they crop up. When you’re passionate about a project you become very close to it, attached and somewhat protective. Don’t be scared to let others in. Step out of your comfort zone and collaborate. Use other people’s knowledge and experience and fuse it with your own.

 

The Theatre Bus has changed constantly. In fact it’s still changing now even after the launch we already have a list of things we can do to make it better. To improve upon what we have already done. This has come from seeing the bus in action at the launch and also from the suggestions and ideas of those who were present. Their feedback, both positive and negative has been a massive help to us and will allow us to move the project onto the next level.

 

7. People Tell Me It’s A Bad Idea And It Will Never Work

You always get negative people with small minds who have the creative ambition of an overripe peach and if you leave them in the sun they start sprouting little hairs and grow moldy.

There will always be negative people.

There will always be those who doubt you.

But you know what – they don’t matter. Not an iota. Who knows why they like to put others down or rubbish their ideas. The fact is they exist. Acknowledge that fact and move swiftly on. Focus on the people who do believe in what you are doing. Focus back on why you are doing the project in the first place. Don’t let them suck the life out of your creativity and ambition. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you too. When met with negativity always go back to your idea, find that inspiration, find that drive and hug it a little tighter.

 

8. Just Do It

Seriously. Stop procrastinating. Stop reading this blog looking for answers you already know and have inside you. Get off your arse and start work. No, put Facebook away… no more posts of hilarious cats or cute dogs… No… Twitter will still be there in a few hours… Put that phone down… Pull out your notebook and just get on with it. There never will be a right time or a good time except right now. Just get on with it. If you want my advice. Turn off the electronics. A notepad and pen (or pencil) are your best friends. Get away from distractions. Allow yourself the time to work. And then just do it. It will only happen if you make it happen. Do not wait for anyone’s permission but your own. Allow yourself the time and get on with it.

Happy creating!

xXx

 

Why Save The Arts? Is Bath Council about to kill the goose that lays its golden eggs?

I wrote this as a very ranty blog post last night – which isn’t necessarily useful for you but it certainly helped me to put things in perspective. Below is the new version which I hope will be much more useful and productive.

Bath and North East Somerset Council have proposed to cut all arts grants as part of their bid to save £49 million over the next few years. The arts and the library were  at the top of the chopping block, whilst foolhardy schemes to decimate a local meadow and build a Park and Ride (against all the evidence to the contrary) to the cost of £11 million pounds remain a priority. And this is just the first year of cuts – much worse is yet to come.

Currently the arts budget funds a wide range of programmes. Their focus shifted to the outlying areas in Bath and those that perhaps don’t experience as much culture as people living in the central area.  Those areas that have just had brilliant programmes of arts will end up with next to nothing. At least there may still be some life left in the city centre but the affects for the outlying areas could be devastating. Other organisations that receive funding include Bath Festivals who run (or perhaps I should say “ran”) the International Music Festival, Literature Festival and Children’s Literature festival. Recently it was announced that two of those festivals would combine to create The Bath Festival. How will the cuts affect them? In honesty they, like many larger organisations have chosen not to speak out against the cuts so far – so we don’t know how this effects them.

The trouble is if your Local Authority doesn’t show any faith in the arts then why should anybody else? It sends out a very negative and damaging message to our audiences and to people living in the locality of arts organisations. We don’t want to become a city that says “We used to have that and it was great. But now all you can do to entertain yourself is get into debt at the shiny new white elephant, I mean casino! And why not park on a field first whilst you’re at it?”

As “artists” (I hate that as a buzzword!) we understand the importance of funding the arts. What we don’t understand effectively is how to convey that message to everyone else.

Today I was sent a brilliant documentary about arts cuts entitled “Making the Cut” which was created shortly after the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton closed its doors. It focuses a lot on Somerset where they had 100% arts cuts, but it makes the case for the arts in a brilliant way looking at all the different effects to local areas. If you haven’t seen it I really suggest you give it a watch.

I could quite happily sit here and reel-off statistics to you about the economic benefit of the arts. But you will probably stop reading and fall asleep. So let’s tackle this in a different way.

I’m going to tell you a story…

Meet Emily!

(Come on now say hello, don’t be shy!).

Now Emily runs a small arts organisation in Bath. She is currently working on a theatre production using local arts professionals and members of the community. On her team are a director, actors, set designer, lighting designer, stage manager, writer and musicians. Emily has to pay all of them. Out of their fees they all pay tax and national insurance which goes back into the treasury.

Now because Emily is local she needs a place to rehearse so Emily sources a rehearsal space. This happens to be at a small community hall. She pays rent on that rehearsal space which helps those running it to get income. They rehearse for two weeks.

Some of the professionals don’t live locally so they need somewhere to stay. So they book accommodation with local B&Bs. Some of them drive to rehearsals so they pay for parking locally.

During that rehearsal period Emily and her team have regular refreshment breaks. They use the local cafe for teas, coffees and snacks. During lunchtime they use a local pub and eat food. After rehearsals they all pop into a pub for a few drinks.

The show itself requires a set and props to be made. They book and pay for a workshop to build the set and props. So Emily’s set designer Bob and Stage Manager Laura get on the phone and buy timber from a local timber merchant. Laura also needs to find props and what’s the best place to find props? Charity shops. So off she pops to visit all the local charity shops and buy some props.

The lighting designer is the next one, off on a mission. They design the lighting for the show and realise that the theatre doesn’t have all the lights needed for the production. So they phone up a local hire company and book some lanterns for hire.

Now the show needs advertising. So they get a local designer to create posters and flyers which are then printed by the local printing company and sponsored by local businesses with their logos and support shown on them.

Finally it’s show week. Emily pays for the hire of the theatre or does a box office split with them. The theatre employs front of house staff, box office staff, technical staff etc.

The show opens and members of the public come along and see the show. They travel to the theatre either by public transport or by car (again they pay for parking). They spend money on tickets (again the VAT on these goes back to the treasury) and money on refreshments at the theatre bar (which just so happens to use a local brewery to source it’s beverages from). Maybe they purchase a programme. Maybe they make an evening of it and arrive early to have a meal at a local restaurant. After the show they pop to a local pub for a final drink before getting a taxi home.

The show week ends and another company moves in and the process begins again.

 

This is just one slightly exaggerated example from one theatre company. Removing funding from arts organisations cause large ripples throughout the wider economy. If you stop funding a large number of them at once these ripples become much more obvious and the waves reach further. It’s damaging to everyone – not just “artists”.

Bath could become a culture vacuum. Where art isn’t for everyone but only for those who can afford it. If you cut out all the smaller companies and venues you are left with something that is not accessible to everybody.

A cultural event draws people to it. For example the Bath Carnival. People will come out just to watch the beautiful colours and spectacular dancing. It’s visual and it attracts attention. But by attracting that attention, by engaging with the community and tourists alike it creates opportunities for businesses around the event to benefit from it. Draw people in with the arts and culture and the whole city benefits.

For every £1 invested in the arts it brings back between £2 and £6 into the local economy.

That is huge!

 

Empty Shops

We currently have a lot of empty shops in Bath that quite frankly make the place look run down and like it’s dying. Which it will if the rates on the shops imposed by the Council keep forcing small businesses out. Why not allow local arts organisations to take over the spaces temporarily and generate at least some income from these disused spaces?

 

Arts Council Grants

A lot of smaller organisations use the arts grants to enable them to match fund larger funding bids to organisations like the Arts Council England (generally you must have match funding of 10% from somewhere else). If there is no investment from the Local Authority there is less chance of getting investment from the Arts Council for projects. Although the Arts Council try to remain positive in their response to the current situation it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they will be more inclined to support areas where their Local Authorities engage with them and support local artists.

 

Wellbeing

The arts benefit people’s wellbeing. They bring communities together. They promote diversity. They can help tackle social issues. They can rehabilitate people. They teach empathy – the term emphatic arts is being banded around a lot at the moment.

 

Creating Good Art

Even taking it back to the basics – we just want to create good art that everyone can experience and that this enriches the city culturally.

 

Students

We are also home to Bath Spa University which is an artistic university. Will students want to come and study in a city where there is no support for the arts? It won’t matter how good the courses may be (and they are very good, by the way). If you have a choice of going somewhere that you will be supported through your development by a wide range of external cultural experiences or go to a city where the arts are dying and it’s becoming a living museum – which would you choose? Not to mention what happens when these students graduate? If there is no infrastructure there to support them they will take their creativity elsewhere. We should be supporting these artists. They want the opportunity to perform and give back to a city that they have become familiar with. Now they are moving to Bristol or other places because as an “artist” there is very little chance of working here.

 

When the funding is gone we stand very little chance of every getting it back. Looking at some of our neighbouring counties the effects of this are far-reaching and devastating. I’ve used the term before but Bath could become a graveyard for the arts.

 

This all sounds a bit doom and gloom doesn’t it?

 

Well let me assure you we’re not out yet – not by a long shot. There is an ever-increasing number of us that see the bigger picture and will carry on fighting and battling for an industry that we believe in. The support is growing hourly at the moment. And you can all help too!

 

Please sign and share the petition:

https://www.change.org/p/cllr-tim-warren-scrap-bath-and-north-east-somerset-100-arts-cuts

 

ThunderClap

We’ve set up a ThunderClap to go out on the day of the decision. A ThunderClap is basically a scheduled post that goes out on a set date and time. It is the same post from multiple accounts which helps create a lot of noise and draw attention to a particular subject. Please sign up and share our ThunderClap as well:

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/52323-scrap-bath-arts-cuts

 

Your Stories

We need your stories of how the arts have benefitted you personally. We need to show all of the benefits of the arts to everyone in the community and from every angle. You can either leave that story as a comment on the petition or email it over to us: info@theatrebath.co.uk

 

We need to stand together on this and fight as one and we need to make our voices heard. If we don’t then the future of arts in Bath is looking bleak and the knock-on effects will eventually filter through to all organisations – even those who think they are sitting comfortably at the moment. It will eventually affect you as well. It’s not about one organisation, or one group, it’s about Bath as a community of culture and creativity.

 

Don’t let B&NES kill the goose that lays its golden eggs.

 
All thoughts are Luke’s own and do not represent the views of any organisation he may be associated with.

#DandD12 – Final Thoughts & The Power of the Open Space

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It’s taken me a day to process Devoted and Disgruntled 12 and I’m not sure the enormity of it all has completely sunk in yet. At the end of day two I was feeling inspired but I had no idea how emotionally powerful it would feel by the end of day three. At some point I’ll try and write the notes for the two sessions I attended as well.

It’s really hard to put into words and I’m not sure they’ll do it justice but I’m going to try.

There’s something amazingly empowering about being in a room full of like-minded people. All passionate. All engaged. All wanting the best for the industry that they love. All talking about making the future better. Creating possibilities instead of obstacles. Opening doors.

The space, and the openness of the circle or perhaps circles as when one is broken many others form, break down the normal boundaries and titles than confine us in our everyday roles. It’s a space without job titles and hierarchy. A space where anything can happen, anything can be discussed and everybody has an equal voice. Where artistic directors can sit opposite new graduates and talk. Where actors and makers can share ideas. Where established professionals can impart knowledge to those breaking into the industry.

At the end of three days of intense discussion and inspiration a room full of strangers felt like old friends.

Before D&D I had lost a bit of my spark. The state of the world was playing heavily on my mind and the future looked very uncertain. But now I feel inspired, reinvigorated, empowered, connected and ready to face anything.

I felt high on the energy and creativity, the ideas and inspiration and completely buzzing from all of the thoughts racing through my mind.

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At the closing circle I choked up. I had an overwhelming sense of euphoria. Empowerment. And a humbleness and thankfulness that I had the opportunity to be in the room with so many inspirational and generous people. To fill my mind with the richness of their conversation, be inspired by their stories and journeys and hope that together we can make a difference and move forwards.

I’m not sure I made much sense to anyone I talked to when the circle closed. All the ideas came babbling out of my mouth at a hundred miles an hour. I couldn’t sit still. I was dazed. Exhausted but energised at the same time. I felt like I was radiating a glow not too dissimilar to the orange light of that we had gotten accustomed to over the last few days.

The closing didn’t feel like an ending. It just felt like a “see you later”. Like these ideas and discussions weren’t over yet. That the next chapters were still waiting to be written. And I hope that all the things we discussed and all the action we committed to take bear fruit and that many wonderful things come from the last three days.

Thank you to all those I knew before and who travelled with me, thank you to those of you I met along the way and to all those I didn’t get to chat to – thank you as well. Thank you to Flo for the hugs when I was a bag of emotions at the end of the circle and thank you to Improbable and the organisers for enabling this to happen. What happened was the only thing that could have happened.

Here’s to the future.

x

 

Contact / Social Media:

Personal Twitter: @LukeJohnEmmett    –   Website: www.lukejohnemmett.co.uk

Theatre Bath @TheatreBath    –   Facebook: www.facebook.com/theatrebath

Theatre Bath Bus: @TheatreBus

 

Email: info@theatrebath.co.uk    –   mail@lukejohnemmett.co.uk

#DandD12 – Day Two – Empty Shops, Female Leadership and other bits

Another empowering day of intelligent, thought-provoking open discussion… and a poetry reciting badger – only at D&D!

 

Session 5 – Empty Shop Theatre

A brilliant discussion which led to lots of easily obtainable action points. Lots of links to discussions that happened yesterday; particularly to the session entitled: Bristolians/city-dwellers: How Can We Share More With The Regions That Surround Us? (Link to the report from that session here: http://www.devotedanddisgruntled.com/events/devoted-disgruntled-12/reports/bristolianscity-dwellers-how-can-we-share-more-wit/

 

Key Action points:

  • Help create a website which contains user-generated content about setting up and running pop-up venues.
  • Establish a network to help each other and to tour work between venues.

 

Useful organisations/Downloads:

The ABTT – Association of British Theatre Technicians

http://www.abtt.org.uk/shop/books/

Free guide to non-conventional theatre spaces
http://www.abtt.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Non-Conventional-Theatre-Spaces-17-Aug-2017.pdf

Free safety guide for small venues: http://www.rusafe.org.uk/#download

ISAN – International Street Artists Network

Edinburgh Fringe Festival have a lot of documentation about setting up temporary venues, licensing, health and safety etc

Quotes/Provocations/Inspirations:

  • Learn council speak – speak to Local Authorities using terminology they understand – find language that’s not arts language i.e. Placemaker Activation
  • Realise that it’s not about always climbing up the ladder and heading for a big producing house – remember that we should be proud to produce good small scale work and that we should accept our work is good and not make it into something it’s not just because its the “normal” way of doing things
  • Take pride in the work that you do
  • Create relationships with property developers, town centre teams and councils
  • Don’t be put off by people telling you it won’t work
  • Revitalise thinking about business use that highlights the work
  • Holding more events across an area on one day attract more audiences than running different events over different days
  • Work with an experienced project manager
  • Social responsibility – Look at the larger impact of what you’re doing and understand the positive and negative connotations of doing this i.e. arts can help revitalise a city centre – but inevitably once that area is revitalised there is seen to be no longer a need for the art that helped it get there in the first place. Think about how the success of revitalising a city centre can impact on poorer areas of the city.
  • Licensing: No licence unless selling alcohol and under 500 people. Toilets and fire exits denote audience sizes. PRS music licensing. Insurance.

 

Session 6 – Female Leaders In The Arts: A Norm Not A Niche

I joined this session part of the way through after butterflying around for a bit and catching snatches of other conversations along the way. To begin with I was the only male there which was daunting as a lot of the talk was about men – but also a really great experience for once to be in the minority. I purposely stayed at the edge of the circle for this one – mainly because I just wanted to listen and learn and quite frankly there are enough white, straight, middle class men talking all the time and making their voices heard and this session was not about me and my voice. It was an opportunity to listen and learn and see what I can do to help the situation and to really discover how the gender divide has effected women in the arts and in society in general. And it was incredibly eye-opening. Thank you to those present for being so open and honest and allowing me to observe. I’ve made a few notes that people raised during this conversation and I hope out of context they make sense (please do suggest better ways of wording things if they do not!).

Notes/Key Points/Quotes

  • Self-empowerment – give yourselves permission to go for roles
  • Gate keeping – other women in leadership roles bringing women up through
  • Creating a new model of leadership which isn’t patriarchal
  • Women to take responsibility for how women are viewed in the arts
  • Women talking and advocating for each other – name dropping other women in conversations, twitter, interviews etc
  • Leadership qualities – how to change the male orientated view of leadership so that it better represents women and their qualities
  • Remembering that emotion is the sign of a strong leader and not a weakness
  •  Start empowerment through schools – governing boards – education
  • Need to change the vocabulary that we use – not just in the arts but in everyday life as well
  • Look at the Iceland model for equal rights of the mother
  • Get rid of preconceived and deep rooted ideas of what a mother should be
  • Equal childcare / paternity
  • Why should women have to fight their way back into jobs from the bottom after having children?
  • Change the culture of male language and put an end to questions such as “do you think you can deal with men” being asked in interviews to female only candidates

After this session I sat down and thought about everything I’d heard and discovered and one thing I’m going to do much more of is shouting about and name-checking the brilliant women that I work with or have conversations with. Especially on social media via my personal account and the Theatre Bath account. I’m also going to look very closely and the vocabulary I use and keep taking stock of how I say things to see if I can make them more gender-neutral. This discussion resonated and reverberated long after it finished so thank you again for letting me listen.

 

img_1523Session 7 – Making things easier to understand (or f**k art speak)

I accidentally wandered into this session and I’m so glad I did. Personally I hate jargon. It’s one of my massive bug bears. I work or have worked with a lot of large organisations that are full of acronyms and slang terms and I absolutely loathe it – just call things what they are and quit labelling them all the time. I also hate that we are expected to speak in cultural tongues in order for us to ascend the cultural leadership ladder. No! Just no! Talk proper like… :p

 

Notes/Key Points/Quotes

  • Whatever we say or think – not everyone has internet access – not everyone is computer savvy
  • Why do we rely on past success to sell shows? Are audiences really interested in some obscure production that someone they have never heard of by a company they don’t know has produced sometime in the past? Why not just write good copy about the actual show
  • Some venues use Skype/Facetime to get artists appearing their to talk about their forthcoming work
  • Realise the value of actual contact with artists creating the work
  • Getting people who have been involved with or seen the “product” to advocate for it and help to write the copy for it
  • Reconnect with why you are involved with a company. Why are you involved with doing the work? This shifts the ownership of the work.
  • Use of the word “Artists” – has it become a dirty buzz word? Is there a certain snobbery or elitism associated with the word? Search for a title within the word that represents what it means to us as individuals
  • Have a bullshit filter or a friend/colleague that can act as a bullshit filter to help us better describe our work
  • Use the 25 words or less method of describing the show / work

 

Session 8 – Want to perform a show in Bath? What can we do to help?

I called this session to try and help connect people who want to perform in Bath with the right venues and organisations and to share what I know with anyone who was interested.

The key points that came from the discussion were that Bath and Bristol do have bubble and cliques that from the outside can be very hard to penetrate. Theatre Bath is going to look at how we can help with this including potentially re-starting our informal networking nights / tweetups so that people can meet with other theatre makers and get the advice/help/connections that they desperately need.

Also pointed out that there is very little scope for development of new work in Bath or showing of new work. So to address this we’re going to look at potentially starting scratch nights so that anyone wishing to show work and get feedback on it from audiences or other professionals locally have a platform from which to do this.

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Closing Thoughts for Day 2

Usually at the end of D&D I feel exhausted and emotional. Today I felt empowered and ready to take on the world. The power of openspace and the ability to connect with so many people on an open playing field is empowering and beautiful.

I’ve spent the last two days walking around the space smiling at strangers, them smiling back and saying hello to lots of different people. I became very aware as I left the circle this evening and headed to catch a train that the feeling of open space didn’t exist in the world that I’d just stepped back into. The reality of walking up the approach to Temple Meads Station and for a moment forgetting that the people milling around me going about their daily lives don’t yet contain the open space magic that the rest of us get to take away with us. I forgot for a moment that if you smile at normal people sometimes they don’t react in the same way as they do in open space. I got some very weird looks from those loitering outside the station as I began adjusting back to the real world but still smiling madly at them. It just reminded me that we’ve got more work to do yet and that we need to spread the open space magic a little wider. Am I going to stop smiling madly at strangers… occasionally saying hello… not a bloody chance. We are all responsible for creating a change and being the change that we want to see in the world. Open space has again re-ignited something within me that I can now keep and take forward in a positive way and implement in the work that I do in the future. From small acorns grow mighty oaks and all that.

I can’t wait to see what the final day brings and I look forward to it with a heightened sense of optimism that things can change and be made better.

Until tomorrow.

 

Contact / Social Media:

Personal Twitter: @LukeJohnEmmett    –   Website: www.lukejohnemmett.co.uk

Theatre Bath @TheatreBath    –   Facebook: www.facebook.com/theatrebath

Theatre Bath Bus: @TheatreBus

 

Email: info@theatrebath.co.uk    –   mail@lukejohnemmett.co.uk

#DandD12 – Day One – thoughts and other ramblings

It was great being back at Devoted and Disgruntled and being surrounded by intelligent and interesting conversation and ideas about the theatre industry.

For those of you who don’t know what Devoted & Disgruntled is or who would like more information visit their website (where you can find reports on all the discussions happening there): http://www.devotedanddisgruntled.com/

 

As a bit of a preface to coming along today we have just learnt that B&NES Council are about to cut all Arts funding by 2020 and also we risk losing our library in Bath (or should I say it’s getting downsized to not much more than an internet cafe). So before coming to D&D today I attended the protest about that, but with the new information about Arts cuts weighing very heavily on my mind. So I was in a strange place. Fired up by the brilliant protest but despairing about the imminent and deadly cuts that were creeping upon us like a thick black depressing shadow, reaching out with its chilling hands to rip away the cultural heart from the city I love. Dramatic much?!?

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So with that in mind I somewhat curled up into my introverted and contemplative protective shell and sat back and listened more than joining in with the discussions. Below are a few of notes and observations.

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Session 1 – New Venue – How/What/When Licensing

This was a really interesting session which featured a range of experience of setting up and running venues. I forget the openness and the willingness of people to share best practices and advice. D&D really enables these discussions to happen on an equal playing field.

We discussed everything from finding audiences / users of the space to setting up boards, legislation, subscriptions and everything in between. Below are a few quotes and notes.

“Sweat Equity – Time Banking” – doesn’t always have to be a financial arrangement for using spaces

“No group is too small to be contacted about using the space – go everywhere in the community and talk to everyone”

“Always have a brand leader”

“Make sure it’s the right space for the right show”

Important question – “Why are you actually doing it? Why are you setting up the venue”
This leads on to forming mission statements and business plans.

Artistic Policy = Soul of the venue

Trustees – get them to buy in to your vision. They don’t have to donate financially but they should benefit the organisation.

Create really good art and build a family of support around you.

 

Session 2 -How Can We Help Straight, White, Middle Class, Able-Bodied, Cis Men Know They Are The Minority And The Not The Norm?

Stella Duffy called this session and it was great to be able to sit and listen to the items discussed and how we can all help be part of the change that needs to happen. As someone who ticks most of the boxes for the title of this discussion I wanted to know what more I can do and I felt that this discussion has helped open my eyes to a few more areas that I possibly wouldn’t have considered before.

Some of my favourite quotes were:

Diversity – the Highlander effect. Everyone is fighting for power and to see who can be the most powerful by going around chopping the heads off of others and taking their power.

 

“By empowering others you gain power by power growing”

 

And my absolute favourite quote of the day from Stella herself:

“If men are manspreading – start C**t spreading.”

 

img_1518Session 3 – Collaborate to support Bristol Artists making new work

I have to say I left this session part of the way through when it was made very clear that Bath organisations weren’t particularly welcome to collaborate here. Which is a real shame as our doors are open to Bristol artists and we would love to work with you. Is this the infamous Bath/Bristol divide in action again?

What became abundantly clear though was the feeling of elitism and hierarchy within Bristol that was leaving some Bristol artists feeling excluded from “the club” and left looking in from outside the bubble. This was discussed at some length with talk of gatekeepers and allowing entry and then curation of that entry.

A brilliant idea was raised which was the most simple and effective idea of all that Theatre Bath has used to great effect – although the idea seemed to be somewhat dismissed. What artists need is space to talk and to meet with people running the venues in and around the city. This just means opening up one of the spaces and getting the right people there and allowing conversations and networking to happen. We used to run Tweetups which were informal meetings at a pub where anyone with an interest in theatre would show up, share ideas and ask for help. From these sessions connections were made by companies with local theatres and practitioners which then led on to those companies being able to take their work into the venues and stage it. And all we did was to arrange a time for people to meet with the right people and enable this to happen. It truly is the simplest thing in the world to do and I hope someone grabs the idea and runs with it.

For any Bristol artists reading this if you want to bring a show to Bath get in touch and I will put you in touch with the right people at the right venues. I will help promote your show via the Theatre Bath website and I will also put you in touch with people who know about flyer distribution and marketing of shows in Bath. We welcome you with open arms and will do everything we can to help support you and your work. Drop us an email: info@theatrebath.co.uk

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Session 4 – Bristolian / City Dwellers – how can we share more with the regions that surround us

This was an inspired session discussing creating a smaller inner-cities version of the Rural Touring framework to help link venues from the outskirts and regions together.

A few key points:

“Neighbours not community” i.e. people that pass us by on the way to work.

Collaborating more with tours to surrounding areas. Creating satellite suburb towns.

The power of rural touring is word of mouth – value of audience from communities spreading the word about shows. How can we capitalise on this free publicity? Longer runs of work?

Transport to venues for audiences and practitioners a real issue to regions. Lobby to help change this and get councils etc to see the importance of good transport links.

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Day 1 Conclusion

A real mixed bag. I’m exhausted. I’m inspired. I’m definitely fired-up for day 2.

See you tomorrow!

 

Contact / Social Media:

Personal Twitter: @LukeJohnEmmett    –   Website: www.lukejohnemmett.co.uk

Theatre Bath @TheatreBath    –   Facebook: www.facebook.com/theatrebath

Theatre Bath Bus: @TheatreBus

 

Email: info@theatrebath.co.uk    –   mail@lukejohnemmett.co.uk

The Snow Child at the Rondo Theatre and the Accessible Theatre Experience

Snow Child Poster ImageWe have reached the end of week one of Butterfly Psyche Theatre’s production of the Snow Child at the Rondo Theatre in Bath. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster of a journey which started over two years ago, but one which is proving to be an incredibly rewarding experience for everyone involved and I find myself feeling very emotional at the end of our first production week.

When I was first asked to be involved with an accessible production I had no real concept of what that meant. What is accessible theatre? What makes a production accessible? So we’re just putting on a children’s show right?

What I have learnt is that actually making a production accessible is not as scary or hard as it may first sound.

This production is fairly unique in the fact that accessibility has been included from the very start of the process, not as an add-on at the end or something extra that may happen if you get chance. Including accessibility into the initial planning stages and getting the right consultancy from Include Arts has enabled the entire company to dispel our preconceived ideas of what theatre is and to work in a very open and honest way breaking through the traditional fourth wall and removing it completely.

Firstly you have to have the right team on-board and Artistic Director and Writer, Alison Farina has assembled an amazing bunch of people and has gained support from a wide variety of different sources. This has been really integral to the process – having a team that says “yes, we can make that happen!” has made a huge difference. And it truly is the whole team that have been involved including the Rondo Theatre. All areas of access have been considered and planned for in great detail.

All of the actors, crew and staff at the venue have undergone accessibility training and Alison has worked Makaton into script itself. Makaton is language programme which uses signs and symbols to help people communicate. It is designed to support, rather than replace spoken language. I have to admit I was sceptical about how this would work when I heard about it – I felt that perhaps it would jar with the performances and make them seem unnatural. But actually it has the entirely opposite effect and is so integrated into the production that it feels like it is truly just a part of it, a natural extension to what the actors are doing on stage.

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From my point of view, I was tasked with creating an accessible lighting and sound design – the thought of which slightly terrified me. Having never done anything like this before I had no idea what to expect or how to achieve it. The reality  – it was actually really easy to accomplish and I needn’t have worried. We had a lot of meetings and discussions about sensory items and how the show could be visually stimulating. The lighting design itself contains lots of bold and bright colours, a mirror ball, snowflake gobos (a gobo is a metal disk that has an etched shape on it which is inserted into a lantern and projects the pattern), a series of hanging light-bulbs to represent stars and a Northern Lights effect (created using a dual gobo rotator with a glass gobo in the back set to rotate slowly clockwise and a steel gobo in front with a soft focus to give the image a blurry look). There is always plenty to look at and hopefully capture the imagination. We also have a Packman snow machine which creates a realistic and safe snow effect over the stage (backlit with a couple of led batons).

Creating the main design was only part one. Because we have different types of performances (relaxed performances and performances with integrated British Sign Language), I also had to consider how these elements may change the overall design. Again I needn’t have worried, with a few very simple tweaks we managed to add in extra elements to make this work.

When you think of BSL interpreted performances you normally think of a signer stood in a spotlight at the side of the stage. That is not the case with this production. Our signer, Simon is completely integrated into the show and joins in with the action, in effect becoming the 6th member of the cast and another storyteller. We held a special rehearsal to work him into the show and make him a part of the action and it is an incredible thing to watch. Certainly it is something I have never seen done before and really adds to the piece. From a lighting point of view the main consideration was making sure that his hands were well lit at all times and that was it… Easy!

The relaxed performances were a whole different ball game and I don’t think any of us really knew quite what to expect. Relaxed performances are designed to allow ANYBODY to attend. The audience are encouraged to make noise and it is made clear from the outset that this is absolutely fine. There is also a safe soft-play area, filled with sensory toys which is outside the main auditorium and anyone can leave at any point they feel like to go there and calm down. The audience are allowed, and that’s the key thing ALLOWED to respond however they want and by giving them permission to do so creates a really friendly, open and relaxed atmosphere.

Snowflakes

From a lighting point of view all that was needed was to keep the house lights in the auditorium on at 30% throughout the entire show so that if anyone wanted to get up and wander about they could do so safely and also so that the auditorium was never in darkness so it felt safe for those sat watching. Instead of just having house lights on I also put snowflake gobos around the auditorium which were also left on. This again created a friendly atmosphere and gave something visual to look at throughout.

From a sound point of view all that was needed was to drop the level of all the sound by about 20% to make sure there were no really loud noises that might have startled audience members. It really was as simple as that.

As a technician who has worked in a variety of different job roles including stage management and event management everything you are trained for goes out of the window. Allowing audience to invade the stage, even for the stay-and-play at the end of the shows would normally be a big no-no. You immediately just see all of the risks involved and all of the paperwork and risk assessments. It does take a while to adjust to the fact that actually this is okay to do and it does mean dropping your preconceived ideas and putting aside some of the ways you’ve been trained to be open to working in different ways. But that is just the thing – if you are open to it you can achieve anything and the fact that a small company in a small fringe venue can do this makes me question why a lot of larger theatres and companies aren’t doing more to help with the creation and integration of this type of work. It is not as hard as people think – it just takes an open mind.

Sunday was our first relaxed performance and we were all a little nervous. But actually it was one of the most beautiful things to experience and witness. Because the cast had worked on accessibility from the outset they were prepared that anything might happen. It was a very emotional experience. Here’s what I posted on Facebook about it:

“I know I keep banging on about the Snow Child but it really does feel like this production is making a huge difference to families that wouldn’t normally be able to attend theatre and is achieving more than we ever dreamed it would. Today was very emotional. A young lad kept jumping up onstage and holding hands with the actors during the show – and you know what it was totally fine – fine with the other actors who were prepared for it and fine by the rest of the audience who just accepted it. It was a really welcoming and friendly environment. A boy with severe autism came to the show. He normally wouldn’t play with other children and would run away scared. At the end he came up onstage and joined in playing with the other children. His dad, who was almost in tears said it was a massive step for him and something he would never normally do. THAT is why we do this. So proud of everyone involved right now!”

Stay and Play

I’m still feeling very emotional writing this now, but seeing that everything you stand for and believe in can become a reality is a truly amazing experience. The arts CAN be accessible to everyone and they can help transform lives and we MUST encourage more companies to embrace this and help create opportunities for ANYONE to experience the magic of theatre and to feel that they can be included in it.

 

For more information about the accessible aspects of the show visit Butterfly Psyche’s Access Page

To book tickets for the production please visit the Rondo Theatre’s website

 

The production runs until Sunday 20 December at the Rondo Theatre in Bath with plenty of relaxed performances, BSL performances and a Big Scream performance as well.

 

Set Design by Natalie Remington.

Photos by Owen Benson.

No Boundaries 2015 – Inspirations and Revelations – #NB2015

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NB2015 1Thank you No Boundaries for an inspirational, thought-provoking and connected couple of days. There have been so many great thoughts and ideas it will take a while to process them all and for them all to sink in but below are a few of the things that have inspired me about the conference and a few of the ideas that I now have because of it. I will probably expand on these a few more over the next few weeks but here is an over-view of some key points.

Possibly one of the most emotional pieces came from Kully Thiarai, Director of Cast in Doncaster. It was emotional for a few reasons. Having heard Kully speak before it felt like we were personally part of the journey that they had been on over the last year. It was amazing to see how far they had come and all of the wonderful things that they had achieved.

“It’s all about people and place – not buildings.”

Kully Thiarai, Director – Cast in Doncaster

“I was sitting downstairs having a coffee and some little 10 year old kids with skateboards came and pressed their noses up against the window and said ‘Mister, what’s this?’ and I said “It’s your theatre!” And they didn’t really know what a theatre was, so I told them. It’s out of those little moments that you know. Because that’s what I remember as a kid, someone taking the trouble to say: ‘Come and have a look at this’!”

Kevin Spence, Board Member, Cast

I was totally inspired and felt very emotional and close to tears watching the film from Cast in Doncaster, it actually made me well up and gave me a huge sense of belief in all of the ideas that I personally stand for. Arts and culture really can transform a city and the joined-up thinking by Doncaster and true inclusion of the community was incredible to watch. What an amazing journey they have come on in a year – my wish is that other Local Authorities and businesses would take their example and roll it our across the country. What an inspiring model and it proves that when we work together we truly can transform communities with the power of the arts and culture.
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Censorship in the arts

This section was very alarming. With a number of shows hitting the headlines this year and being cancelled due to censorship issues it really is an area that we should all be concerned about.

“In my country artists fear for their lives. In the UK artists fear for their funding”

Natalia Kaliada, Belarus Free Theatre

“Pre-emptive censorship by the police is a clear infringement of civil liberties.”

Julia Farrington – Index on Censorship

So what can be done? What power do the police really have to stop a production from happening? I think that we need to find a better way of opening up communication with the police and unite as organisations to talk to them about any fears they may have. What we cannot do is stand by and allow our work to get censored because it “might upset someone”. I also worry that we are living in a culture where we have a tendency to self-censor as well. Some of this comes from having to twist and bend ourselves to fit certain tick-box criteria on funding applications. It’s a totally bonkers and backwards way of working that is completely soul destroying. Why can we not simply just produce good art? Why do we have to constantly fight and justify our existence in order to survive. Why do we bow down to the restriction imposed on us by funding bodies? Why do they presume that what they want is actually what is the best thing for our audiences – the people we are creating the work for? Maybe it’s time for a shake-up and to find new, more forward thinking ways of working. Perhaps a change in thinking is needed – but this has to come from the top and a big part of that is helping the Government to realise the true benefit of arts and culture. Not in financial terms. But in terms of good quality art. The benefits of arts and culture to towns and cities should be obvious for all to see without having to set criteria against them to measure them. Some of them are simply not measurable and again take away from the work itself. We are being forced to spend too much time ticking boxes and not enough time focussing on what is really important – making good art.

“Diversity is inviting someone to a party, inclusion is asking them to dance”

John Dyer

Possibly my favourite quote of the whole conference and John Dyer clearly highlighted that more needs to be done to promote diversity within our arts organisations. We think we are diverse but are we actually? How can we change this? How can we change years of ingrained thinking and ways of working. Of a culture where we instinctively recruit and work with other people who are similar to ourselves because of unconscious bias. It’s a big challenge to undertake but it needs to be done.

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“We shouldn’t be frightened of a big idea just because it threatens our patch”

Maria Balshaw, Whitworth Art Gallery

A running theme of this conference was collaboration. It seems like an obvious thing but why don’t we all work together more? How much more could we achieve if all arts organisations across a city came together and opened their doors to each other? We seem to live in a culture that is very over-protective of our own ideas. We don’t want to share what we’re doing for the fear of someone stealing our ideas and doing it themselves. This culture needs to change. In Bath we have started breaking down these boundaries in a number of ways, and we’re by no means perfect but a few of our ideas are working and having a real benefit to the whole cultural sector in the city. Our organisation, Theatre Bath (not to be confused with the Theatre Royal) is a grass-roots organisation. We run very much from the bottom upwards. The ideas for the work that we do comes from the community around us and their suggestions. We are social media driven and it’s through that engagement with the people in Bath that most of our best ideas come. Through our conferences and open meetings and networking events we have helped organisations within Bath to open their doors to each other. Sure there is still much more that can be done but simple things like shows in different venues advertising in each others programmes, companies sharing props and sets, actors auditioning for each others shows have all helped to create a shared ecology which is of benefit to everyone. There can be some adversity to working together but it is worth battling through it and continually trying to push boundaries and make things better for everyone.

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Does Size Matter?

According to Darren Henley of the Arts Council – yes it does. He commented that we should be focusing on bigger audiences. I disagree with this statement. In my opinion having large audiences is not as important as engaging with the right audiences. That’s the largest part of the battle. How many of us are making work with our target audience in mind when we work? Like it or not theatre in this country has a certain audience and until we find a way of changing that you could argue it would make sense to make work for the audience that is there. Certainly financial sense and let’s face it that’s what a lot of our friends in the commercial sector are doing. But what more can be done to connect with new audiences. When our stereotyped audience is no more then who will watch our work then?

I went to London a few weeks back to watch American Idiot – the Green Day Musical. It was loud and proud, the book was poor (as you unfortunately tend to expect with a jukebox musical) but the execution of the songs was brilliant. What struck me most about the audience for this show was that they were predominantly young people. A lot of them who looked like fans of the music. But the show had successfully broken down the normal boundaries of musical theatre and was engaging with a whole new audience and it was an amazing and inspiring thing to see. So perhaps alternative audiences are there… We just need to learn to talk to them and ask them what they want occasionally rather than telling them what they should see because we think that it is “worthy art”.

David Lockwood

David Lockwood

What Does Success Look Like?

“The message, whatever happens we go on, we adapt, we come back stronger… Is it possible to learn how to stop interfering? When is the right time to leave an organisation, especially one you’ve founded?”

David Lockwood,  The Bike Shed Theatre

My favourite speech of the two days came from David Lockwood of the Bike Shed Theatre who have recently become a part of the Arts Council’s National Portfolio. His speech rang true in so many ways. “Is joining the club such a good thing?” The struggles of fitting in the time to complete the monstrous funding application forms of the Arts Council, perhaps to the detriment of the organisation in the short-term as your attention is distracted, to adapting to jump through some of the ridiculous hoops and red tape that they can set you. Perhaps the most poignant moment was his own personal reflections on his journey and where he goes from now. Thought was all have at some point or other – when is the right time to walk away and move on. David showed a self-awareness which other “cultural leaders” would be wise to learn from. Sometimes the best thing is to leave an organisation and move on – for yourself and the organisation’s future. It takes a very brave and honest person to be able to admit this and I applaud David for his openness.

“Are we living in a monastery or a public square?”

Vasif Kortun – Salt Gallery, Instanbul

A really interesting discussion about buildings and spaces. Are the spaces we work in actually a barrier to the work we create and the audiences were are trying to reach? Should more be done to break down the boundaries of these institutions and bring the work out to the public? One comment we have heard locally is that a child was part of a youth theatre here in Bath and her mum would always wait outside to pick her up. When the child was asked why she did this the reply was that the mum didn’t think she would fit-it in the theatre. She had no idea what was expected of her. How she should dress or look. The building in itself became a massive boundary to her personally. This is a real shame and we need to do more to open up our doors to the public and to people who feel uncomfortable with our elitist, grandiose organisations. I would like to see more open days, more events which these members of the public would feel comfortable attending. We need to make an effort to engage with people who are scared of crossing our thresholds.

Rebooting Museums – Cooper Hewitt Museum

WOW! That’s all I can say! When a cultural organisation just gets things soooo right. The inspiration behind the very simple idea of the Cooper Hewitt pen is something to behold. The way that the interactive pen has changed the way that people engage with the museum and exhibits is an incredible thing. It totally inspired me. I began thinking about things on a larger scale. What if ALL cultural organisations in a city signed up to a scheme like this. Using pens across venues and organisations to create a really unique visitor experience with content they can download and share at home. Everything about this museum was incredible. It was boundary breaking and it’s great to see a large cultural organisation not being afraid of innovation and forward-thinking. The BEST part – everything to do with the project, down to the font they use has been made Open-Source (available to everyone). What a gift to the cultural world they have offered – I only hope that people engage with it and understand its full potential. I, for one would LOVE to play with one of those pens. Having a technical theatre background the potential uses I can see for it are pretty limitless. They should be used to transform visitor experience in all organisations, Theatres, Museums, Galleries. Let’s embrace the new technology and allow it to enhance our futures rather than remaining stuck in the past.

I encourage you to read more about it here: http://mw2015.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/strategies-against-architecture-interactive-media-and-transformative-technology-at-cooper-hewitt/

NB2015 7Arcadia

I can’t leave this blog-post without mentioning the incredible guys behind Arcardia. They were so inspirational. Proof that if you dream big you can make anything happen – you just have to be brave enough and trust in your vision. What they have created out of scrap is nothing short of amazing. I wish more organisations would be brave enough to take the sort of risks they do. Imagine how many amazing things we could create if we just said “yes” occasionally rather than being afraid to take risks. It’s one of my pet hates. I’m a massive believer that you can achieve anything if you go into it with a positive mind-set. Sure the plan will evolve and change along the way but to not risk creating something out of fear of failure is criminal. It’s an attitude I wish we could change in many of our cultural leaders. Many of them are sitting far too comfortably. A quote that comes back to me from last year’s No Boundaries conference is: “Let’s get comfortable with our uncomfortableness”. Let’s take some risks. Let’s try new things and lets open our doors and say yes to each other, to our audiences, and to ourselves. Give yourself permission to fail. It’s really okay not to succeed every time because actually you learn so much more because of it. Theatre Bath wouldn’t exist at all without this mentality. We don’t say no we say how can we. I would issue this challenge to all artists – “Be the change”. Together we can do it. We can change the future direction of the industry. We can be more open. We can be more diverse and we can help each other out and work together.

Our door is firmly wedged open (okay we don’t have a physical door but go with us on this), and at any time we welcome you to step through it. We would love to work with you whoever you are and wherever you’re from. So what do you say? Let’s be the change together… We can’t rely on our “cultural leaders” to do it for us. The change starts with us. Together we can. Feel free to email us (info @ theatrebath.co.uk), tweet us or contact us via Facebook.

For more info on the No Boundaries conference and to watch the brilliant speeches visit:

www.nb2015.org

Or search the hashtag on Twitter #NB2015

My first post can be found here: No Boundaries Initial Thoughts