A Response to the Emma Rice Arts Council Funding Controversy

UPDATE: Wise Children release NPO application and all ACE correspondence.

https://wisechildren.blog/2017/08/16/f-y-i/amp/

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I’ve been watching the comments from both sides of the argument about the Arts Council’s decision to fund Emma Rice’s nine day old company, Wise Children, to the tune of £2mil with interest. The controversy started with an article in Arts Professional.

The agreement to fund Emma Rice’s new company is allegedly part of the Arts Council’s attempts to redistribute £170mil to the regions.

Emma as a professional is incredible. Her early departure from the Globe was a travesty and short-sighted by the management board – why employ someone to do a job in a unique and new way and then get rid of them for being too unique and out there? It was a ridiculous situation – but Emma’s work has rightly received acclaim from those in the industry and her track-record with Kneehigh speaks for itself. So this is not about the her or her integrity. Absolutely not.

When asked to argue the economic benefits of the arts we are always told to use the Arts Council stat – for every £1 invested in the arts it returns between £2 and £7 into the local economy.

Wise Children have announced a residency at the Old Vic Theatre in London. Great for them. But London is not Bristol where the company claim to call their home (they have just re-registered the company from London to Bristol). What I personally want to see is any work they produce premiering here. Them using local, south west-based practitioners, actors and crews in their productions and rehearsing the work here in the South West. If they don’t then I’m sorry but their “being based” in Bristol is having no benefit to the cultural economy of Bristol or the South West and therefore they should not have received the funding. The benefit of opening work here would be that people would come and see shows and spend money at local businesses surrounding the venue and it would give much needed work to local practitioners and stop theatre becoming completely London-centric. Already they have a website designed by a London-based company (Bob King Creative) – again I’m not questioning the company or it’s reputation but the South West is home to many amazing web design companies – if Wise Children is going to make a home here then I would like to see them making use of local companies and bringing employment to talented individuals in the regions.

Where has the money for this funding come from? If it does not benefit the South West then which companies that could have received funding are loosing out instead?

Emma herself has an amazing track record but for the Arts Council to fund an entirely new company is a little iffy to say the least. They do not seem to have met the criteria which any other organisation would have to meet to join the National Portfolio. Would any other organisation with no track record be accepted into the National Portfolio in the same way? I do not believe they would.

A lot of companies who continue to be in the National Portfolio have not received an increase in their funding over the next four years. Whereas I am certain they are happy to remain in the National Portfolio – having funding at the same level is basically the same as having a funding cut. It could effect these companies moving forward and lead to job cuts and less output. There will be inflation and an increase in prices of other items and services they pay for but that is not reflected in the funding they have secured. Once more they are being asked to do more with less.

Bristol organisations have recently come together and agreed on funding cuts with Bristol Council. This in my opinion was a bad decision. Opening the door to any form of funding cuts only leaves it open for more funding cuts in the future. The pinch of this will be felt most by the smaller companies working in Bristol.

Whereas I applaud the fact Bristol Council are actively engaging in talks and discussions with cultural organisations unlike B&NES Council who are currently burying their heads in the sand, ultimately to accept any form of funding cut will have a detrimental effect on the long term sustainability of arts in the region. It was a bad and foolish decision. I believe the organisations should have come together to fight cuts not openly accept them.

The Arts Councilemphatically denies any form of favoritism in the case of Wise Children or on any of their funding decisions. But unfortunately I do not believe them. Having seen first-hand the dramatic collapse of the relationship between Bath and North East Somerset Council and the Arts Council which ended with voices raised on both sides. It is having a massively detrimental effect on cultural organisations with B&NES. I would call for the Arts Council to not deal with our Council and to deal with us, the artists directly. Our Council does not understand culture or have any buy in for its economic benefits, shown recently by our 100% funding cut to the arts budget. I do not care what the problem was or is.

I’m not interested. I just want ACE to stop punishing us for a disagreement with our Council. There has been a definite bias regarding funding decisions that have been made. The relationship has slowly been getting better but I cannot help but feel there is still an unconscious bias towards those of us working in Bath.

In the latest round of NPO funding central Bath was unsuccessful in securing NPO funding for any of our organisations. The only organisation in B&NES to receive NPO funding was the incredible Creativity Works headed up by the inspirational Oliver Jones. I know of at least three organisations who are good, strong cultural bodies that were not successful in Bath. The lack of support from B&NES and the Arts Council is quickly turning Bath into a graveyard for the arts.

There has been a lot of outcry about it only being organisations that haven’t received funding complaining about this decision. That is certainly not the case with me and has not been the response I’ve heard on the ground from professionals working in and around the South West region. I do not work for an ACE subsidized organisation and I certainly did not apply for NPO funding.

To say it’s just sour grapes from other organisations does a massive disservice to the many individuals I’ve spoken with who have genuine concerns about the processes involved with this application and the integrity of the Arts Council.

What we need is some transparency from the Arts Council about these sort of decisions. At the moment we have more questions than answers. I personally have a good working relationship with individuals in the Arts Council but there are obviously discussions happening around the closed-room tables that are to the regions’ detriment and it has to change. And I would like reassurances that all applications are given equal treatment because I’m sorry but I find that very hard to believe at the moment.

I do wish Emma every success with her new company and I really do hope they support artists working in the South West. One thing is for certain – all eyes will be on them now – what a hideous pressure to work under. I hope they do not let us, and the region down.

 

Please find below links to relevant articles with arguments from both sides (please do feel free to message me with any I’ve missed and I’ll update the list):

Arts sector demands answers over funding of Wise Children – Arts Professional

ACE Statement on funding Wise Children – Arts Council England

Wise Children Website

Arts Council England to spend £170m more outside London – The Guardian

Globe director Emma Rice embroiled in new funding controversy – The Guardian

Arts Council and Emma Rice address controversy over Wise Children funding – The Stage Newspaper

£2m in Arts Council funding for Emma Rice’s new company is everything that’s wrong with the arts – Arts Professional

Emma Rice defends new Bristol theatre company amid funding controversy – Bristol 24/7

Editor’s View: Don’t kick the Arts Council for funding Emma Rice – The Stage

 

 

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

#Theatre2016 – Let’s Talk About The Elephant In The Room

Billed as being “For everybody who cares about the future of theatre in the UK” the Theatre 2016 conference organised by 13 partners runs for two days in London’s West End.

Upon arrival we were allowed into the Piccadilly Theatre to find our seats. Upon every seat was a canvas bag containing literature from partners of the conference and a printed version of the programme.

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Unfortunately I could only attend the first day as I went down ill but here are my thoughts and provocations.

 

The Elephant in the Room – PRICE

Let’s get straight into the bone of contention, as one lady commented first thing Thursday morning:

We’ve been talking about accessibility but no-one has mentioned the biggest elephant in the room – class”

I have seen multiple arts professionals take to Twitter and Facebook to talk about the cost of this conference. At over £400 a ticket I’m not surprised. This is a big issue and unfortunately I feel is a reflection of theatre in the UK as it is today. When we price out our own artists and professionals then we have a serious problem and theatre elitism shines through.

I was about to write “I felt privileged to have been there” and then stopped myself, because actually no – all theatre makers should have the right to attend a conference which aims to discuss it’s future.

I couldn’t afford the ticket price either, (even with a significant discount from being a member of a partner organisation), so I emailed Bon Culture months ago and said this to them, I offered to pay in instalments and they came back to me and very kindly offered me a bursary place funded by the Arts Council. So yes it was far too expensive but did anyone who is complaining approach the organisers beforehand to mention this? I did and it worked out well for me and I thank David and the organisers for this.

Personally I would have liked to have seen a pricing structure similar to the No Boundaries conference run by the Arts Council where there were different tiers depending on what level of organisation you were from. As it is, I cannot honestly say that the views of the whole sector are being captured or aired via this conference and that feels like a missed opportunity to me.

One of the most poignant moments was in a quick provocation from Benjamin Monk who took to the stage and mentioned the fact that people had been excluded from this conference based on price. The reaction of a lot of the audience speaks volumes. There were lots of eye-rolls all around me. But he did gain a small ripple of applause at the end. But the point he made has largely been ignored and gone unnoticed in coverage of the event so far.

“Perhaps if we ignore it – it will go away?”

Yinka Ayinde hit the nail on the head in his speech – how can we possibly claim to be accessible when the make up our organisations does not include those who we claim we are trying to attract. And what right have we to tell people what they should and should not be attending. The top down, hierarchical, management framework is in my opinion the most broken about theatre in the UK at the moment. We need to reach out to communities and people on their level and ask them what they want and get them involved with our decision making. Only by making them feel a part of what we do can we ever possibly hope to gain their support and make work that is relevant for them.

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Yinka Ayinde – “Adapt our theatre to our audiences. Let’s not tell them how to behave.”

General Accessibility & Digital

One of the key themes of the conference was accessibility – yet the conference was not that accessible and from watching Twitter today when people tried to make it more accessible by using Periscope to live stream they were shut down.

There was lots of talk about how to integrate digital more into theatre but this conference fell short on actually managing that.

At the first No Boundaries conference which showed incredible technical ingenuity, Marcus Romer (who was present at this conference) stated at the time “The accessibility of this conference should become the norm. There is no excuse for anyone not to make their conferences this accessible” (Note I’m paraphrasing).

Yet whilst we heard brilliant keynote speeches about digital and accessibility we were told there was no video recording of the conference and no live streaming. There would be an audio recording however. Very basic things which could have helped those who couldn’t attend access what was going on.

Also there were basic operation errors with PowerPoint presentations that led to delays, awkward show stops and slightly embarrassed speakers.

Maybe some points to address is this conference happens again?
EDIT: I forgot to mention (and I apologise profusely for this) the incredible work that STAGETEXT did with the subtitling of the event. It really helped as a tool to catch up, if, like me, you were busy taking notes you could look up and catch what had been said on the screen. Hats off to STAGETEXT and the amazing work they did.

Round-Up of the rest of Day 1

Conference chair Vikki Heywood took to the stage and offered an inspirational talk about the state of the industry and the way forwards:

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If theatre can’t lead the way in working together more effectively, who can?”

Dan Rebellato launched into a talk about statistics, statistics and more statistics. Many of which did not come as any surprise to those present. Great that we have more data but it doesn’t show much that we don’t already know or haven’t known for years – the question is what do we do about it? Action needed.

A brief panel discussion was then had with different provocations.

Discussion Panel

 

Kully Thiarai said “We don’t understand that difference is something not to be ashamed off… At some point somebody gave people the opportunity. We don’t take enough risks. We don’t support enough people taking theirs. You have to be bold about supporting a new generation.”

Eleanor Lloyd reminded us: “More people go to the theatre than watch football matches”

Alistair Smith talked about the importance of using the skills of people we already have.

Jenny Sealey: “We have to take some of the costs away to enable things to happen”

 

Stream 1 – How Will The Art and Practice Of Theatre Need To Adapt To Thrive In The Next Ten Years

Richard Lee from the Jerwood Space talked about being hard of hearing and how theatre workers rolled their eyes at him when I asked why there was no hearing loop. He made one of my favourite quotes / observations of the day:

You’re not disabled… Theatre has disabled you!

Sheena Wrigley from Home talked about “dismantling the regional theatre model” and how the work that she is involved with at Home includes three arts producers working across art forms and all departments working together creating a central vision provided my audiences.

If we were a company without a building – what would we be?

She talked about the festival model and how that could work for theatres and how audiences could cherry pick what they wanted to do.

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Sheena Wrigley “It’s time to start dismantling our regional theatres and reassemble them in a more collaborative, non-hierarchical way.”

Ian Stickland from Charcoal Blue discussed the digital experience to audiences that already exists today and showed us what can already be done with the apps we have on our smart phones and facial recognition in theatre foyers.

Ian Stickland

Ian Stickland “Theatre must be relevant to current audiences… Arts must embrace the digital world. We need to manage the interaction between analogue and digital. 87% of people who watch television also look at a second device. We need to apply theatre technology to the digital world.”

Libby Penn from Spektrix – “People want everything now and on the cheapest terms”.

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Libby Penn – “We have to realise that the world has changed and we have to adapt. We need to try new things or optimise existing things more than just tweaking them. We have to take risks. Great isn’t good enough. Embrace failure as part of the process.”

Day one ended with us being asked to vote on preconceived resolutions, which we weren’t allowed to change which caused some out-cry from those present. Having watched Twitter today it looks like it has been agreed to scrap all of them which I think is the right decision.

 

Conclusion

Overall this was a good conference. There was a brilliant selection of people there and all of them friendly and approachable. Yes the pricing needs work and the demographic of those who attend needs to shift to enable anyone involved with theatre to be given the opportunity to join in.

There was not enough time for discussion and as brilliant as the keynote speeches were there was far too much emphasis on listening and not enough on discussing potential solutions to problems and the practical application of opening our doors to each other and working together.

It’s a step in the right direction but I only hope the ideas and provocations have legs after the conference has ended and don’t just become another collection of thoughts which sit gathering dust on the top shelves of our “cultural leaders”.

Let’s not forget how great an achievement it is to bring so many theatre people together and thank you to David and team for all the hard-work in making it happen.

I look forward to seeing the reports from day 2.

 

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.