#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

Bridging The Gaps – A few thoughts and provocations on us and the arts

In 2011 I set up a twitter account to retweet information on shows in Bath, little did I know that four years later it would become a central hub of information with a large following and lots of support from all over the region and the country.

I am incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved so far and humbled by the support that we’ve had from a whole range of different people and organisations. In the same way that we try to keep our door open to everyone, many organisations and people have been willing to the same to us. That is why we exist. That is why I am so passionate about what I do and why I truly love doing it.

Over the last four years we have done the best we can with limited resources and bags of enthusiasm to try our very best to help support not just the theatre community but also the wider arts community in Bath. It’s not always been easy. We’ve come up against many obstacles, many closed doors and a fight with some negative mindsets – but yet we carry on, we learn and we grow stronger with each new connection we make, each new person we reach out to or who reaches out to us.

Theatre Bath is not just about the four of us on the team who run things. Our team extend much further than that. In fact the only reason that Theatre Bath works in the way it does is because of the involvement of the wider community surrounding us. That community is part of Theatre Bath. Without them there would be little point in us existing. Everyone who likes a post, shares a post, retweets us, comments on something, writes us an email or chats to us is a massive part of the Theatre Bath family.

We have already seen positive changes coming from the work that we do. Perhaps nothing that is measurable by local authority or Arts Council logic, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less worthwhile – in fact I would argue that because we’re falling outside those tick boxes we’re actually doing exactly what we should be doing. How do you measure success? What scales do you use? Why do we have to always neatly fit in little tick boxes and bend what we do just to keep the ones in power happy? The answer is – we don’t. And we are the proof of that. There is life outside the sterile world of ridiculous application forms and faceless grant makers. Why should a small select few have the right or the power to tell us whether what we do is good enough to be funded or not? How can they truly know? Why do we place such high esteem on their opinions? Why can’t we just create great art and let that be good enough to speak for itself? We shouldn’t need their justification… But yet we’re stuck in limbo because without money we can’t create the work. Or rather we can, but we can’t get paid for it. Therein lies the catch 22.

Certainly it puts us in a bit of a predicament. The organisation is growing. The workload is growing. The want and need for information is growing. So much so that it’s incredibly hard to keep up with demand. We are wanting to expand on what we have been doing. To run more skill based workshops at an accessible price. To support all theatre within the Bath area and further afield. And we can do it, the team are amazing and I think we can cope with anything. But we’re all trying to work other jobs (some of us working a number of different jobs) on top of trying to expand and help out everyone we can. We are all totally committed to the ideas and ethos behind Theatre Bath – but can we survive on love alone?

I’m not sure. That’s the honest truth. 

We’re currently balancing delicately on the edge of the cliff top. The lightest of breezes could potentially topple us over the edge. Whether we fall or fly is the choice that we have to make. Personally to fall backwards at this point would be a massive blow to me personally and I’m not prepared to let that happen. So therefore, how do we move forwards?

At the No Boundaries conference in Bristol recently there was an underlying tone from the Arts Council which should worry us all. The message, bigger is better. My worry is that over the coming years many smaller organisations are going to be led to the sacrificial alter of funding and sliced straight down the middle. Which will not only be damaging for them but also for the cultural and creative ecology of the areas that they serve. Personally I would prefer a handful of smaller, more worthwhile organisations who show real benefit to the people they serve rather than an elitist few who guzzle up more of the money for less return and investment.

So how can we prepare? What can we do?

That’s where Bridging The Gaps comes in.

We have to look at new ways of working. We have to look at new ways we can support each other. We have to open our doors to each other, share our knowledge, our resources, our people and our commitment to the arts. We have to see each other as friends and not as competition. If we truly understand and embrace the benefits of working together there is nothing we cannot achieve.

If the Arts Council want to fund larger projects and organisations then let’s join forces and create ways of working together that can bring large sums of investment in to our different localities. By pooling our resources we may be able to join up some of the work we’re all dong separately and get help from similar organisations or individuals to make these ideas happen. Of course we have to have our own ideas and ways of working – that’s what makes us unique. But by creating a large scale support network we may be able to benefit each other in ways that we may not realise.

I’m not advocating for amalgamations – just more open doors, more support and more sharing. Sure it may not be the easiest thing to achieve – we’re all artists, we’re all unique and we all have our own individuality and strong opinions. But it’s not impossible and it can be done. Other areas are already proving this and the benefits are very obvious throughout the counties.

Our tagline for this conference is “Together We Can” and we strongly believe this.

Our door will always remain open, it’s your choice whether to enter through it or not…

       
For more info on the conference and to book tickets visit:

www.conference.theatrebath.co.uk

   

Why not view our promo video…

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

The No Boundaries Conference 2015 – Initial Thoughts

I shall keep this brief as it has been a long day and I’m exhausted!

Today’s conference felt much better than last year. I was very critical of last years for a number of reasons all of which seem to have been addressed this year – so that’s great.

My one little gripe – I would have loved some forced networking. (That sounds weird to say as we all hate networking but some ice breakers would have been great). It’s great having a delegate list but I would like to actually see who is who without craning my neck to stare at people’s lanyards. There is still a separation from us at the bottom of the industry and those at the top. I would love that boundary to be broken. I have no problem barging in and introducing myself to people but that’s hard to do when you don’t know who is who. I’m hoping the open discussions tomorrow will allow for this.

The Speakers

The speakers so far have been great and really diverse. There is a real international feel to this years conference and it’s great to hear perspectives from different parts of the world and different cultures.

There have been some provocative speeches but also a lot that aren’t perhaps saying anything that is particularly new. A lot of the ideas we have heard before and will hear again. And they are great ideas. What I really want to know is how we put them into action and particularly get buy-in from larger organisations to make them happen.

It’s great having ideas but let’s see an implementation plan. Lets see large organisations pledge to not only listen and take these ideas onboard but to find ways of making them happen. If we can make that happen then we’re stepping in the right direction and it will feel like all of these inspirational talks have really and truly been worth something other than just ideas.

  
Personally it feels very frustrating being at the bottom of the cultural food chain. I would love to take these ideas and make them work (and some of them we can and will make happen) but actually a lot of this really needs to come from the top – from our “cultural leaders”. And perhaps we need to assert more pressure on them to open their doors and their minds to look at the challenges we’re facing in fresh new ways.

  
I’ll try and add more details about the different speakers and some quotes at the end of the day tomorrow as there have been some amazing things said so far.

  
Thanks No Boundaries for an inspirational and thought provoking first day.

A Response From A “Normal” Participant To The No Boundaries Conference 2014

10 March 2014 at 02:30

It has taken me a few weeks to sit back and think about everything I have learned from the No Boundaries conference before writing this response. I was originally going to post it to Theatre Bath as an article but decided that actually that’s not what Theatre Bath is about and my personal rants and views have no place there. So here it is on Facebook instead!

 

I may edit this again in the near future when more things spring to mind (this is draft 6 I believe), but for now here it is!

 

 

No Boundaries 2014

 

Having never attended any of the State of the Arts events before I didn’t have any preconceptions about what this would be like. I wasn’t quite sure what the conference was going to be about or how it would work so I went into the experience with an open mind.

 

The title itself, “No Boundaries” is a very large ask of any conference. In fact by drawing attention to the word boundaries in the title it makes you acutely aware to look out for any boundaries that do arise – and they did. A few technological boundaries were broken but how much were the boundaries actually stretched when it comes to talking about arts and culture?

 

 

The Ticket Structure and Pricing

The idea behind the tiered ticket structure was to allow“a wide range of Arts and Cultural professionals”  to attend the conference. The tickets were priced at different tiers depending on the size of the organisation, everything from £60 for independent artists up to £234 for large organisations. This, for me, created the first boundary of the conference. In trying to spread the tickets “evenly” it actually excluded a lot of people from attending. I would particularly have liked to see a ticket bracket for arts organisations that are not funded by public money, so for example the many profit share theatre companies in this area and also the voluntary organisations. And perhaps a tier for low-income individuals and practitioners. The conference was very much weighted from the top downwards with the preference seeming to be on getting the big names and “Cultural Leaders” there rather than those of us on the bottom rungs of the ladder. For a conference whose focus was on “doing not funding”, I think this needs to be addressed next time – just because we don’t have public funding does not mean we don’t have an opinion or anything valuable to bring to a discussion on the arts and culture.

 

 

Technology

Technology played a huge part in this conference – in fact you could not get away from it. It could have easily been mistaken for a digital conference rather than an arts and culture one. I’m sure some people will argue that this was the point – bringing the two things together in a more cohesive way. I’m not sure – the technology, as brilliant as it was, actually sometimes acted as more of a distraction. Now don’t get me wrong, I love technology and gadgets coming from a technical background but perhaps at times they were just trying to be too clever and showing us what they could do, rather than what they should do. The production and technical teams did an amazing job in keeping all of the technology involved with the conference working – and there was an awful lot of technology to maintain. The whole event was broadcast live over the internet between Bristol & York so that both cities could see and hear everything that happened. This was no mean feat and hats off to the production teams for making this work smoothly.

 

It was also brilliant to see that subtitles and a British Sign Language interpreter were used to make the content more accessible to all. This was a brilliant achievement and certainly broke boundaries. As one participant said – this has raised the bar and set a benchmark. There is no way back from this now. It can be done and should be done for all future events.

 

They produced a book, overnight (WOW!), which contained all of the keynote speeches from the first day, a breakdown of all the speeches for the second day and a whole host of responses from Twitter. These were distributed to every participant and will serve as a legacy of the conference and a useful resource for those of us who wished to revisit the speeches later. After the book went to print they were planning to keep updating the online version so that it included the second day of the event as well. I was amazed when they handed me the book – again another brilliant innovation that others should try and replicate in the future.

 

 

 

The online version of the finished book can be found online here:http://nb2014.bookkernel.com

 

 

The Conference Itself

Supported by the Arts Council England, British Council and the Local Authorities of Bristol & York you could not get away from the impressive scale of the conference. It was massive and must have cost many thousands of pounds to stage. I was assured by a few of the attendees that it was much better than the State of the Arts conferences that the Arts Council had run before. Having never attended one of those I cannot comment on that.

 

The organisers hoped that “By sharing provocative ideas from a diverse range of sources, new models, methods and collaborations will grow to shape the future of the arts.”

 

 

I would question part of this statement. What provocative ideas? The only time that anyone was even slightly challenged was by the brilliant and articulate Luke Wright who said he:

 

 

“Expected to be welcomed at the conference as an artist but felt like he’d wandered into the wrong office”.

 

 

A view that I very much empathise with – I didn’t tick any of the magic boxes of our “cultural elite” and floated around the fringe of conversations while our already established “cultural leaders” chatted amongst themselves. Me being me, I did try and break into a few conversations, hovering on the edges and slowly pushing in. This was met by the cold steely stares of the closed groups – who was this unrecognised young person trying to break into their elite circles of conversation. Needless to say I failed miserably.

 

 

The conference offered no ice-breakers or opportunities to be introduced into these elitist circles instead you were left wandering around craning your neck to try and read the tiny names printed on people’s shiny lanyards – this resulted in many of us walking around with tilted heads staring at each-other’s chests trying in vain to discover who was who. Another boundary! Thank goodness that there were some familiar faces there or it would have been very uncomfortable!

 

There was an underlying sense of panic and perhaps even desperation that I haven’t been aware of in the arts until this point. I think the realities of funding cuts and an uncertain future for many organisations was perhaps the cause of this. The fact that funding wasn’t anywhere on the agenda didn’t help matters much.

 

 

The argument I would make is – it’s great talking about new ways to work in the future but what point is there in discussing the future when many organisations live in fear that they won’t be there to see it? With more and more Local Authorities and the Arts Council tightening the purse strings and numerous cuts happening weekly, this is the real threat to organisations – not just that they aren’t adapting enough to meet the needs of modern audiences. How can a conference about the future of arts and culture that takes place in a time of austerity not mention funding? You may argue that it was actually refreshing not to hear people talking about money and I would agree if the conference had actually provided us with alternative ways of working that would prepare organisations for budget cuts – it offered us little in this respect.

 

 

It also struck me as weird that there was no mention of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). “LEPs are locally-owned partnerships between local authorities and businesses. They play a central role in determining local economic priorities and undertaking activities to drive economic growth and the creation of local jobs.”

 

 

See more at: http://www.lepnetwork.org.uk/the-lep-network.html#sthash.0rv0HfSO.dpuf

 

 

LEPs are looking more and more likely to be the key source of funding and support for Arts and Cultural organisations in the very near future. As continued evidence emerges about the benefits to the Economy that the arts and culture brings I believe that more and more investment will come through these partnerships and less from the Arts Council and Local Authorities on their own. LEPs are definitely worth keeping a close eye on over the next few years.

 

 

Elitism

I throw the word around as though it is a dirty thing to be sneered at. Whether people like it or not there are quite obvious hierarchies at play within all cultural and arts organisations. I have no problem with people rising to the top of their profession but I do wish that some of them would re-engage with their roots and remember where they themselves came from.

 

 

And I would ask this: “If they cannot actively engage with other members of the creative community who are slightly lower down the pecking order than them, then how can they ever possibly hope to engage with their audiences and the people who support their work?”.

 

 

Whilst listening to the keynotes and conversations I was very aware that they are full of lingo, which, in itself can create a boundary to “normal” listeners. I’m by no means saying that these speeches should be “dumbed down” but I would merely like to make the point that the language we use is creating a barrier. I look at my journey up the elitist ladder over the last two-and-a-half years (whether I like it or not I have begun this ascent). I recognise the fact that when engaging with some of our cultural leaders my use of language changes, even in writing this report I begin to realise that I’m throwing in words which some people will not be able to relate to. Perhaps it is a camouflage mechanism to try and blend in with those that society tells us we are supposed to look up to? I’m not sure but I do realise that in order for me to speak to bigger organisations my vocabulary has had to grow in an attempt to converse and gain support from bigger, more established companies.

 

 

The Speakers

An eclectic mixture of speakers were on-hand throughout the two days to share their thoughts and experiences from a cross-section of cultural organisations. All of them were brilliant in their own way. Some were perhaps more relevant than others but it was a good diverse range of speakers.

 

 

 

The speakers I related to most included Sophie Setter Jerome, an amazing 17 year old who gave a talk about social media and how to use it to connect with young people. How viewers of her YouTube videos had become more than just an audience but as key contributors to her work. She finished by saying

 

 

“If you want to engage with young people online, you need to meet us where we’re at. Don’t expect us to come to you.”

 

 

Key Themes:

One of the reoccurring themes in this conference was around the importance of the audience.

 

It reminded me of a lot of the things John McGrath discusses in A Good Night Out. McGrath says:

 

“It is next to impossible to take the existence of various different audiences into account, to codify their possible reactions to a piece of theatre, to evaluate a piece of theatre from within several frameworks. So what do we do? Well, I’ll tell you what most of us do – we take the point of view of a normal person – usually that of a well-fed, white, middle class, sensitive but sophisticated literary critic: and we universalise it as the response.”

 

Sophie Setter Jerome explained her views on her YouTube viewers:

 

 “I’ve referred to these people who watch my videos as my audience, but in a lot of ways that does them a disservice, because they don”t just watch my videos, they actively engage with them, just as I engage with other people’s content. Their contributions to what you have made are every bit as important as your content itself, it’s a group project and that’s really important to remember.”

 

Lynsey Merrick from the Lowry explained how they are attempting to embed cultural activities back into the “mainstream” by working with vulnerable and at risk young people. The Lowry is now seen as a key organisation in making this happen.

 

 

 

Vicky Haywood stated,

 

 “Artists need to engage more”

 

The brilliant Russell Willis Taylor commented,

 

 “Audiences have an increasing appetite for participation, not just passive observation. People want to pay as well as pay… Collaboration is a muscle – the more you use it, the better you get.”

 

David Lockwood who runs the highly successful Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter reminds us to

 

 “Be connected. To your audience. To your artists. And make sure you occasionally clean the toilets as well!”

 

 

Nicholas Lovell, author of the Curve talked about how to make money out of things that are given away for free. He relates this to fans and super-fans. A fan is someone who appreciates what you do, a super-fan is someone who loves what you do and wants to invest in you and your idea. He says,

 

“Let those who love what you do spend lots of money on things they truly value… Love your community. Love your free fans, they’re the heart of your community. Love you super-fans, they’re going to pay your bills.”

 

 

How much do we as artists actually think about our audience?

 

 

Do we consider what they expect from a production, what demands they may have?

 

 

Howard Barker in Arguments For A Theatre says:

 

 “To take an audience seriously means making demands on it of a strenuous nature. There are people who wish to be stretched, challenged, even depressed by the work of art, and who will make considerable efforts to experience those things.”

 

John McGrath comments,

 

 “I do believe that there is a working-class audience for theatre in Britain which makes demand, and which has values, which are different from those enshrined in our idealised middle-class audience.”

 

There was a lot of talk about audiences but it seems not a lot of talk to audiences.

 

 

Everyone who spoke identified that the audience are important but there were no real answers on how to directly connect with them. This is where being able to break into discussions would have been incredibly useful. To formalise ideas and an action plan to engage audiences across art forms would have been a brilliant use of this conference and seems like a obviously missed opportunity. Perhaps this is a gap that the My Theatre Matters Campaign can begin to fill?

 

 

Diversity

Sure we all have equal opportunities policies but how many of us can honestly, hand on heart say that we are actively seeking out new ways to ensure that we are truly diverse and equal in what we do?

 

Nii Sackey from Bigga Fish reminded us how uncomfortable we still are with diversity. He challenges us to

 

“start to get comfortable our uncomfortable-ness”.

 

He also said that

 

“The arts should be less like Downton Abbey and more like the Closing Olympic Ceremony”.

 

 

Conclusion

Nothing can take away from the achievement of this conference. It was a massive feat and orchestrated brilliantly by those involved behind the scenes. The talks were interesting and a few good points came out of them. There was nowhere near enough discussion or the physically doing of anything productive though, which seemed a shame as this was a key opportunity having so many of our “cultural leaders” in one place at one time (or perhaps that should be two places?).

 

I have certainly learned a lot from attending the conference – more what not to do, which isn’t a bad thing. I will use the things I have learned to enrich Theatre Bath’s future events and projects.

 

It has made me reflect on Theatre Bath a lot more and I want to end with a few of those thoughts now…

 

The No Boundaries conference has reminded me of how far Theatre Bath has come in the last few years and actually I think we’re doing things right. Working from the bottom upwards has allowed us to engage with more people than it would have if we’d worked from the top down.

 

I hope that everyone who gets involved with Theatre Bath feels some sense of ownership of it. It has always been my vision that it works with and through the community it supports rather than dictates what that community should do or become.

 

We will continue to be open to anyone with an interest in theatre, at whatever level that may be – audience members, students, community theatre makers, professionals. Everyone is welcome to get involved and we will hear everyone’s views no matter what they might be.

 

At a time when funding is increasingly becoming less and less we hope that the Theatre Bath network and united voice we provide can help strengthen the case for theatre and the arts in Bath. As we discovered last October – Bath theatre really does matter and it matters because of those of you who are involved with it. As audience members, as participants, as the makers of magic. For anyone who has ever dared to dream and make that dream a reality by being brave enough to put your imaginations, your souls, out there to be seen by the world. You make Theatre Bath, and without you we would not exist. So keep dreaming, keep imagining, keep pushing boundaries, keep challenging and keep creating the amazing magic through your works of art and we’ll continue to champion and support your work as best as we can.

 

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For more information on the conference and to watch all of the speeches visit:www.nb2014.org

 

 

The two books I’ve quoted from (and that I highly recommend you read) are:

 

 

A Good Night Out, Popular theatre: Audience, Class and Form by John McGrath – (1996) Nick Hern Books.

 

 

Arguments For A Theatre (Third Edition) by Howard Barker – (1999) Manchester University Press.

 

 

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