Gordon Stratford RIP

Once in a while I have found myself in the right place, at the right time, supported by the right colleagues, and encouraged by the right boss to make stuff happen. Never was that truer than arriving in the disused bank building beside the construction site of Plymouth Theatre Royal in September 1981.  I was hired by the General Manager/CEO of the theatre, Gordon Stratford, and for 40 years I have used, and passed on the wisdom he taught.  Sadly yesterday he died.  He caught the pesky virus and very quickly, and as I understand it from his daughter very painlessly, passed away with children Beccy and Mich having been there to show their love when he was in hospital. [Unsuprisingly for an old West End company manager, he had made detailed lists of how to deal with stuff, which his family are steadily working through]

His career was quietly important. Without him The Meadow Players which was the producing company at Oxford Playhouse would not have produced 18 years of major classic plays, tours and West End transfers. [The very first book on Theatre Administration which I bought was by Elizabeth Sweeting, the venue manager of the Playhouse, who had the next door office to Frank Hauser (artistic director) and Gordon].  I suspect without him Nottingham Playhouse under Richard Eyre would have been a poorer place. Without him modern day Arts Marketing would have taken even more years to be recognised as he worked with Glyn Robbins in Nottingham.  And without him Plymouth Theatre Royal would not have been such an extraordinary place to work, and have opened despite many of the Council’s best attempts to bungle the finances.  He delivered show after show to the people of Plymouth and, with his trusty marketing department empowered by his leadership, made the theatre a beacon for Devon and Cornwall.   

What made him special for me, as a boss, was his passion for the theatre, his quick understanding of potential audiences, and his willingness to give his marketing team the chance to challenge him on proposed prices, deals, and even show choices.  You’d know he was on his way down the corridor by the cigar smell, and then he’d pop into the office and say “Glyndebourne Opera, La Cenerentola and a new Oliver Knussen piece, how will that sell ?” and then wander onward to see other departments and deal with other challenges.  We’d settle down and predict what we thought the shows would do. What prices to charge, what discounts, what % capacity. I’d head back to his office with a predicted weekly take. He’d compare it to his costs, and think about the numbers.  We were involved in decisions.

Sometimes he completely overruled us. Another day, another cigar trail, “Ben Vereen, tap dancer, you know the one, American, just playing Plymouth and the Albert Hall, how will that sell ?”  As he left we went who ?  No internet to look at, no-one in our office had heard of him, I don’t think any of us had even heard of Pippin.  I went back saying it won’t sell, no-one has heard of him.  He told us we were wrong and just watch.   It was a complete sellout. People travelled from all over the UK to see this Broadway legend.  He was amazing,  Gordon was right.

I went to an early TMA (now UKTheatre) conference at Harrogate in 1982 and there was a big gathering of publicity people from theatres all over the UK.  The speaker asked who in the room felt they had an influence on programming and pricing. I put my hand up – of course.  I was the only person in the room with my hand up. No other publicity or marketing person in any other theatre felt that their Chief Exec gave them that influence. Gordon did.

So thank you Gordon for kickstarting my love of marketing. I went from you to Edinburgh International Festival, leaving behind a glorious team of in house and district publicity assistants, to lead on the marketing of the 1984 Edinburgh Festival.  That was the start of many involvements with the City, and now I live once again in an EH postcode and love continuing to work with different aspects of the festival.   And then in 1987 I became a General Manager myself at Buxton Opera House. I was chosen the Board told me because they were impressed by the marketing we did to make Plymouth work in those early days.  There I spent 5 years trying to put into practice what I had seen Gordon do so well.  We took risks. We aimed for excellent partnerships. And the marketing team were really important.  [ I also continued my love/hate relationships with early box office computer systems, having also been given the unenviable additional task by Gordon of overseeing the installation and support for one of the first BOCS system in the UK].

I’m sorry we didn’t stay in touch more in later years.  I’m glad I could be there at the funeral of his beloved Jan Bailey in 2016 who was his PA in Plymouth and then lifelong partner.  Jan wasn’t meant to die first, but she did. And the last few years he has been supported wonderfully by his family. I never did spend the time I wanted with him going through his amazing archives. I will pull down some of my Plymouth files and have a look.  

Thank you Gordon.  And may I raise a glass to all the quietly important theatre managers, executives, whatever title, who day in day out lead teams of people to make theatres beacons for their community.  You were one of the best.

PS – My wordpress site seems a little problematic. If anyone wants to add a message memory about Gordon, then feel free to email me chris [at] chrisgrady [dot] org and I will add it here, and pass it on to the family.

Hopeful New Year

As we begin a new year with trepidation, each of us I suspect has waves of different emotion. I have a mix of lethargy, internal emotional lockdown/freezing, anger at the political measures which have led the UK to this awful situation,  hope for the future, and confusion on how best of make sense of being a creative producer.  As a Life Coach and someone leading on the support and learning of a cohort of aspirational Creative Producers, I am working with many people to see how best to harness our energies to move forward.

The great Byron Katie talks of focussing on what is ‘my business’ – the things I can control in my own world. Not worrying about ‘your business’ – where you are waiting on a decision by someone else over which you really have no control (a casting director for example, or a grant making body where in both cases you have given your audition/presentation and now have to wait). And finally she talks of ‘god’s business’ – which in my terms are the governments and the viruses over which we really can have no individual control at the moment.  So the energy we need to focus on is on the things we can move forward with.

I was talking with a client yesterday, who is a theatremaker and wanting, like so many, to get back in front of a live audience and to work close with fellow creatives to make work happen.  We decided to focus on a few areas – not least because we have no idea how long we are going to be in the current state of lockdown and reliance on digital platforms. 

We explored eight questions, which I thought might be useful to others, or indeed spark different questions for you to explore:

One: What do you need to earn from creative/work each month to survive ?

Two: What areas of work were you doing in 2019 and before which earned money and gave you creative satisfaction ?

Three: Which of those do you want, ideally, to take forward into the new world post covid in some form or another ?

I am wishing people Hopeful New Year rather than Happy New Year at the moment. I have to hope and believe that in time we will be back hugging, sharing creative spaces close together, welcoming an undistanced audience, and singing/playing our hearts out.  It may not be spring or summer, but that time will come and in the meantime creative makers and producers need to find time to get ready.

Four: What have you learned from exploring digital platforms and working in different ways ?

Five: What sources of funding could be available to you in the interim phase ?

Six: And from this begin to look at each aspect of your creativity and plan what you could be doing in the coming months to be creative, build partnerships, and make work which is either digital or ready for the future of ground based engagement.

By taking each section of your creativity and examining it through the lens of now, the future, and financial potential,  I hope you begin to see some immediate actions and paths which you could take.

Seven: If learning and life stays in the cloud for much of 2020, what could you bring to those in need of creative experience which couldn’t be done without Zoom and other tools ?

Eight: Who could you reach with your creativity around the world who might never be able to visit one of your shows or classes ?

This all takes some emotional energy, and that is why some colleagues and friends turn to a Life Coach or a buddy to do this with.  To be productive you have to stay in the realm of Hopeful.  Doing it alone in the bedsit may not be easy.  Find someone to work with on it.

Many of you will know that I use the Wheel of Life a lot (see countless mentions in many blogs, or drop me a note for more info).  It may be useful to start with a Wheel and understand the 8 aspects of your life which, in harmony and with enough of each, will make life creatively fulfilling.  At the moment some of the segments will be very low/zero because of ‘god’s business’.  But the focus on all this is how to make some of the segments grow just a little bit to make your creative life more full and maybe your bank account a tad fuller too.

Do share in the comments any questions you think it is useful to ask yourselves. Do let me know if any of you are inspired to do some planning from this blog.  And do be Hopeful in this new year.

Thank you to so many people who give me support too.



I’m Dreaming again…

I have a rich dream life, usually a strange and very enjoyable juxtaposition of mundane and completely surreal – little taxis made of jelly running around the floor, magpies with corkscrew tails, and then once in a while I wake up having ‘invented’ something.  In the night my head has moved into work mode and developed a project to a level where I can get up and write it down fully formed.  The Diploma in Creative Producing arrived fully formed on Sat 28th March and on 5th April I announced it in the zoom cloud at the National Student Drama Festival.

Today is Boxing Day, and I hope everyone has managed to invent a different Christmas which still offers space for sharing love, friendship, and hope for the future.  I have yet more wonderful additions to my reading shelf (and I will not be including the 1200 pages of Brexit agreement…I hope our leaders will do that for us.)  We managed to connect with all our relatives from Australia to Colorado, carefully timing our zoom-ins to connect at breakfast almost everywhere.  A lovely day in a quiet household here in lockdown Scotland. Sad not to be going on our reading retreat to Mousehole, but accepting it is for the best.

And this morning I woke up again having written this blog in my head, and prepared a list of the things that needed to happen to re-launch CGO Surgeries, and bring into the daylight some new CGO Group Workshops.

Back in 2007 by Associate Producer, Tom Atkins, and I started monthly ‘surgeries’ for any creative artists or small companies, across any artform, to meet in the foyer of the National Theatre in London and talk about their challenges.  13 years on they still continue, although Tom now has a serious grownup career. I have run CGO Surgeries in Manchester, Glasgow, Colchester, Tokyo and regularly at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  This morning my dream reminded me that I had let them slip in this cloud-based year, just offering them on demand.

So – New Year’s (Dream) Resolution 1:  2nd Friday of the month starting Fri 8th January Pay What You Can CGO Surgeries – email me for a timeslot. 50 minutes of 1-2-1 cloud-based exploration of where you are, and where you want to go.  chris [at] chrisgrady [dot] org

And now to the other overnight decision – to start small CGO Group Workshops especially for SPAs – that wonderful new off-Broadway acronym for Self Producing Artists.  They will draw on aspects of my books Your Life in Theatre and The Anatomy of your Creativity.   A small gathering of 4-6 creatives who are making stuff happen, or are determined to make stuff happen, across any artform. I will focus my push with Marketing colleague Emily Ingram towards the live & visual arts rather than the recorded/broadcast arts

New Year’s (Dream) Resolution 2:   4th Friday every other month 3-5pm Fri 26th Feb, Fri 23rd April (Shakespeare’s Birthday), and thereafter. If there is demand we can make it monthly.  Again cloud-based and to start let’s see how it goes on Pay What You Can.  To book a space email me chris [at] chrisgrady [dot] org

Now to get a page on my website sorted to explain more about the workshops and get all the dates for the work up in a calendar, or something similar.

My task tomorrow is to get the adverts and promotions around for the 2nd cohort of the DipCP.  We have made 5 offers so far. There are a maximum of 12 places available.  Next round of interviews will be on Mon 18th January.  If an intensive 16 week Diploma in the art of Creative Producing interests you, or you know anyone who would/might find it valuable please send this Blog to them.

Thank you to all of those who have signed to receive these Blogs. In this strange time of invention and immense self-generation of energy, it is lovely to hear from you and to know that some of what I’m writing about, be it work or life, resonates.

Here’s to ending 2020, and turning some new pages…and welcoming new dreams into my nighttime.

It’s OK to cry

I went to Perth Theatre’s virtual live interactive family pantomime with Kath on Friday night. Hopefully last time I will sit wrapped in a duvet booing the baddie and shouting behind you to a dame. Next time I will be in a gold/red plush theatre.  (apologies to all international readers who will not understand what this is all about).

There was a moment when the young guide and ghost of the theatre took us on a walk out of the tree-lined snowy wood and into her home – the beautiful EMPTY Victorian horseshoe theatre which for 100 years at this time of the year has been filled with laughing life. I can’t have been the only person who found myself shedding a tear from the loss of community in 2020.

After the panto I was watching Graham Norton and other satire/news programmes and I was so saddened to see everyone making fun of Matt Hancock’s tears on a news programme.  Since the start of this pandemic, whether I agree with his politics or his actions or not, I have felt deeply sorry for Mr Hancock. He has been put in front of the public day after day after night after night to try and give the updates that are needed and the decisions that have been made.  As either John Crace or Marina Hyde said in the recent Guardian 2020 roundup forum – if the Prime Minister was in anyway taking this whole thing seriously he would have split this massive job amongst two or even three people.  Instead Mr Hancock is always the one to share with us the bad, and worse news.  And then, totally exhausted after 10 months of facing the camera, he had good news to share – and he cried. The small cry of joy and sadness, joy at a possible light at the end of the tunnel, and sadness at the sheer weight of responsibility still to be shouldered.  It’s OK to cry.

And then last night I was telling my mother-in-law about the Perth panto, and us all cheering the rising of the curtain in a deserted building, and suddenly I was in floods of tears, a deep feeling of utter sadness at the loss of so much artistic life in 2020, of so many careers and livings for standup comedians, gigging musicians, and all those who live hand-to-mouth to give us joy.  The realisation that our sector just hasn’t got the muscle to shout and fight for survival and its deepest essence of being needed in the UK. The pub trade, the football industry, the retail and hotel sectors seem to be open for business but Perth Theatre relies on the Ghost of Christmas Present and Zoom to bring us together in joy.

It’s OK to cry

“Falkirk producer secures lottery funding”

Thank you to the Falkirk Herald. After 8 months of trying to get some news coverage for the creation of the CGO Institute and the first cloud-based Diploma in Creative Producing, the Herald has covered the story with a special focus on being a local.  Albeit a local who has only been in the area for 3 years.

When I started CGO Institute in March, the UK arts industry papers, bloggers and reporters were not interested. This was too much a good news story I guess.  The Scottish national papers didn’t see it as worth attention at that time.  But with the award from Creative Scotland to extend the work of CGO deeper and wider into the Scottish producing and creative community, we have got our first press mention.

It is surprising how powerful a mention in a regional or national paper can be. Print still matters. I’ve been approached by other regional producers who saw the article. It has been shared on Facebook and commented on by other producers and friends across 3 continents. It gives the kernel for a short promotional push for some of our programmes by our Edinburgh based marketing & comms assnt Emily Ingham.   People write nice things, and go exploring to find out what we’ve been up to.

Thanks to the announcement of the award, there’s a bit of a flurry before Christmas with two events slotted in on Tues 15th December.  The first, one of my regular career/coaching workshops entitled ‘Producing – Proper Job – Honest’ . We look at the need for producers to get busy and make stuff happen, and various pathways for people interested in the career.   And then at 6pm there is the 2nd meeting of Producers’ Pool (Scotland) which Creative Scotland have helped to give me £time to grow. A network and conversation between aspiring and established producers, across all performance and exhibition artforms, across all of Scotland.   

Experience suggests that it takes time to grow, but it does grow. The original Producers’ Pool which is rather London and International focussed now has 600 members. The private Facebook page has grown by 45% in membership since April this year.  It started 5 years ago with a conversation which fitted snuggly around a couple of pub tables at the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden. 

I’ve suddenly realised that it too has never had any press coverage – it is a quiet, good news, steadily growing, non-celebrity, supportive network which flies below any radar. 

But this blog is to thank the press team at Creative Scotland for creating the targeted announcement of their grant awards so that a regional paper spots a local interest story and helps to spark interest across the world.  Thank you.

Now to prepare for Monday’s interviews for the 2nd international cohort for this Falkirk /cloud based CGO Institute Diploma in Creative Producing.  [And immensely pleased that the first cohort of 9 producers, just coming to the end of their first term with us does include a Falkirk based producer as well as New York, Manchester, London, Cornwall and Netherlands based producers.

Thanks to Allan Crow, Editor of the Falkirk Herald

Making management more colour-ful.

My thanks to all those who commented last week on my blog bemoaning (a little bit) the inability to get press coverage for good news.  I am now delighted to have in my corner a glass half full / marketing and comms assistant for all my work in Scotland (thank you Creative Scotland for supporting this one day post).  Emily Ingram will keep me on my toes and make me plan properly. Excellent.

So here is how you can/could/might help.  Out there across Scotland, or the UK or Internationally there are people who could benefit from being cheered, championed, trained, or inspired to be the inventors, employers and facilitators of the future – the Creative Producers of the 2030s and beyond.  They are not like me, an old white privileged bloke looking back at what I helped to create in the 70s to 00s.  They want to tell different stories, fight different fights, and get inside different boardrooms and management teams to upset the setup.  The CGO Institute and CGO is there to help them prepare.

Do you know who they might be ?  Do you know where they might gather and wonder how they can make a difference ?  Do you know where they may be based looking at the West End and Broadway and believing that the only way to be a producer is to be rich enough, free enough, brave enough to move to London or New York. ?   If so then maybe you could share this Blog with them with its links and thoughts.

The world needs more producers.  The people of the world might engage with theatre and the performing arts if the managements, creatives, and the stories they tell reflect their lives. And those who enter our profession deserve the help, support, welcome and empowerment which helps them get around the decision-making tables as soon as possible – so they can make a difference.

Here’s some opening opportunities:

Producing – Proper Job – Honest / A 90min Zoom workshop which allows you to set the questions, and get some answers on the pathways open to you, the challenges you might face, and the opportunities there might be if you decide to become an inventors, a self-producing artist, an employer of a facilitator of others.    Next open workshop: Tue 15th Dec 1-2.30pm (GMT) These workshops can also be booked for a network/university, and run bilingually. Just email chris [at] chrisgrady [dot] org

Producers’ Pool (Scotland) / a new cloud-based FREE network for and aspirational, experienced, or intrigued producers of other people’s work across all live art forms – concert producers, festival producers, children’s theatre producers, opera & ballet producers, comedy producers.  We meet monthly to consider two core questions ‘What do we need ?’ which someone might be able to help with and ‘What can we offer ?’ which could be useful to another creative producer.  Next meeting Tue 15th Dec 6-7.30pm (GMT) for Scotland based practitioners.

And then there is Producers’ Pool (UK and International) which has over 600 members who self identify as producers of their own and other people’s work.  That meets monthly and the next gathering will be cloud-based (and maybe a bit of ground-based) on Wed 27th Jan 4.30-6.30pm with a specific focus on exploring ‘who’s not in the room’ when creative and management decisions are made – and how to make the world more colour-ful . A focus on ethnic and societal diversity in who we are, who we employ/engage, leading to the stories we tell and the audience we reach.

One pathway into producing is to take a training course, and as many of you will know, over lockdown I have gathered a cloud-based international faculty to teach a Diploma in Creative Producing. As the first cohort nears its half-way point, we are about to interview the first array of applicants for the 16 week Diploma starting in April.  I am delighted that applicants are finding that they can get some funding support from their national arts councils as part of their professional development programmes – three from three different countries have been successful so far. I am also gathering funds for a Bursary programme. At £2,400 for a 16 week intensive course it is a fraction of the cost of an MA or MFA, and might for some be a stepping stone to start a post grad course later. If you can spread the word, across the world, that would be wonderful.  Early applicants for April 2021 are most definitely colourful and diverse – which is exactly what I had hoped.

It is hard to realise that all of this work has been generated as a direct result of Covid and the change in fortunes which happened to me and so many millions of freelancers when we lost all contracts and all opportunities.  

Back on Tue 10th March BC, Eamonn O’Dwyer and I flew back to London from running an 8 day intensive musical theatre writing training in Perm, Russia. We were talking about our next visits, about the shows and projects we were developing, and I was heading to validate a piece of work which had been 3 years in the planning.  Within a week I was finding latex gloves and masks to look after a wife with Covid (all well now ), realising my future projects were bottom drawer history, and I needed to learn what a Zoom was.   What a difference a pandemic makes.

I am excited by the moves we have started to make in CGO with the formation of the CGO Institute and the Scottish, UK and International expansion of Producers’ Pool. Coaching and surgeries for individual creatives continues and there is more to come on the Diploma front.

Thank you for any help you think, dear reader, you can make to spread the word.  And I hope your new world will shine bright, and some of the old projects BC will come back to joyous life soon.

Take Care

How to market good news?, and keeping the glass half full.

As lockdown continues around the world in varying degrees of severity, the only things that seem to get traction on the news are scandal, disaster, and fluffy kittens.  I am finding it impossible to get any traction on news about the invention of the CGO Institute inside lockdown, the recruitment of a Faculty of 20 global theatre leaders to teach, and the gathering from a standing start of 9 amazingly varied creative producers of the future. 

I had one inspiring theatre marketing specialist sending around a first news story when we launched, and then one of Scotland’s best PR specialists doing a 2nd push to the media when we were awarded a grant from Creative Scotland to reach more divergent producers across Scotland in the 2nd wave of development of the DipCP.   Nothing except, ‘not interesting enough to the public’, from the public facing media, and ‘we don’t cover education and new initiatives like this’ from the trade facing media.   I’m used to it throughout my career – the press tends to only react after an invention has reached a certain level of attention. They don’t seem to ‘get it’ before it reaches a critical mass without press coverage.

So maybe the next thing to do is to ask each of my creative producers to invent a story of theatre, scandal, and fluffy cat pictures – sort of Blofeld the musical !

But I am the lucky one, I have a programme running, the faculty and cohort of producers are knee deep online each week looking at new ways to make theatre, tell stories, find funding, and be the future of the industry. They are reaching out to amazing mentors who are at the forefront of UK and International theatre. They are preparing their careers.

At the same time we are growing Producers’ Pool with a new gathering in Scotland to complement the more English/London UK & International division. These monthly meetings are about harnessing the ‘glass half full’ approach to this pandemic.  SPAs (Self Producing Artists), producers, festival and venue managers desperate to get their spaces and programmes restarted, come together to ‘dream realistically’.    The South West England division of Producers Pool is looking at how they can bring theatremakers together across the region. The Scottish division will for the first time seek to welcome producers of all artforms, traditional music, exhibitions, lyric arts, gigs, comedy as well as theatre and participatory arts.  We all have much to gain from clinking our half-full glasses to the future, and finding ways to top up anyone in our midst who’s tea cup or wine glass is getting low.

Across the UK we are blessed to have this kind of informal collaborative networks.  Talking with a producing colleague in other countries there are fewer ways to connect the successful with the aspiring, the ‘haves’ with the ‘have not yets’, the new ideas with the old school.  Here we have things  like the Diploma bringing creative leaders to learn from the new generation, and through Producers’ Pool bringing anyone into the room to share collective skills.

I will continue to drive CGO Institute and Producers’ Pool forward.  I’m delighted now to be joined one day a week by Scotland based theatremaker Emily Ingram to work on the marketing and comms with me.  I am so grateful for the hard slog and time of the marketing and press specialists who tried to get press interest before.   For now we rely on word of mouth….and that has served CGO pretty well for 15 years of inventing.

Thank you for reading. Please spread the word

Applications are welcomed for the 2021 DipCP – email for application forms

Membership of Producers’ Pool is FREE to producers/programmers of other people’s work (a small charge for each meeting is levied)

And if you wonder what the fuss is about, and are an interested journalist (blog or paper) do get in touch with us.  

Inspiring Cloud Diploma

So what have I learned from the first week of running a new Diploma course online? How have I been inspired, reassured, or worried ?  How will I take this forward as I open applications for the 2nd cohort of Creative Producers who will join the CGO Institute in April? And how will it influence my  discussions for the next Diploma course on a parallel creative programme which I am conceiving with a completely different Faculty for mid/end 2021 ?

Firstly it is invigorating to be back in a classroom, and back in a structured programme, after 6 months dreaming up the idea and working on my own at the desk.

On Mon 2nd Nov 2020 I was joined by some of the Faculty of experts including Alice McGrath (Scotland), Martin Platt (NYC), Guy Chapman (London), Nick Williams (Perth), Hugh Wooldridge (London), Kate Taylor (Edinburgh) for the opening day to meet and greet our 9 unsuspecting creative producers.  Then over 2 days of classes they had creativity challenges from Alice and then David Glass, industry overviews from Guy and then Ellie Claughton, and a deeper exploration from three of the CGO Guardian Group on challenging Equality in audiences and the industry from Andi Hall, Tanya Agarwal, and Paul Whittaker OBE .  By the end of 12 hours of input from the 12 of us their heads will have been spinning, but they are already turning into a crack unit of creative producers working together to change the industry.

Zoom gave me the opportunity to have this illustrious and amazing array of Faculty talent dropping in without breaking their day by travel to a physical classroom.  It allowed us to use mini classroom spaces for smaller group discussions. It allowed a level of focus that may be difficult in a noisy classroom.  And it allowed tea breaks to be so much shorter, because we weren’t all scrabbling to make each other tea and get the last digestive.

There were other amazing advantages – the opportunity for me to be listening to an expert, knowing that we were film recording the session, and offering a transcription for later review by the students. The chance for me to look up references and links which could be added to the chat when one Faculty member mentioned in passing an amazing director or company or theatre which they wanted the class to research.  These tools give me the chance to gather the highest possible percentage of dropped wisdom from each teacher, not relying on every person to hear and understand every word.  This will become especially useful when we explore the producing landscape with people for whom English is not a regular language of conversation.

What was lacking, compared to say a 2018 classroom in Wood Green with my old cohort of MA students ?  Definitely the buzz of arriving in a space, and the sense of greetings and pairings onto sofas and chairs for pre-class chat. Definitely some of the energy and body language which help inform me about a class mate. Oh and being able to pop off for a coffee and gossip with my Faculty members after a session.  It is more business-like, less social. That is no bad thing, but it takes a moment to adjust.

What will I change for the next DipCP course which starts in April 2021 ?  Maybe a slightly lighter load in the first week, although there is an amazing sense of exhilarating exhaustion from meeting so many experts. Definitely some more time after sessions for me to unpick what has been said by a Faculty member and do some contextualising across artforms, interests and country differences.  I’m already adding in some of that to help individuals plan their own navigation routes. 

Applications are already coming in for April 2021 from around the world, and I haven’t really started shouting out about the course yet. That is exciting – the word seems to be getting out there. Now my task is to reach corners of the creative society that are not known to me, not in my extended bubble.  The Diploma programmes are designed to attract people who do not have easy routes to market, or the time/money at the moment to do a 1 or 2 year Masters course. It is designed to attract people who could be the creative producers we need to change the world one show at a time, and think differently about culture and the arts.  Time for me to go find them.

And as to the new Diploma designed to attract and serve another sector of the creative workforce, I couldn’t be happier with the Faculty who are saying YES to my invitations to be part of the programme. I need to take some time to shape it, and then get the announcement out there. It will be the first of its find in the world I think, and complement a couple of exceptional programmes available in NYC and London.  It will be, once again, pitched as at a price which is practical in this current and future cloud based learning world.   My lesson from this week – allow more time for in class discussion and unpicking wisdom from experts.

Exciting times in the office of the CGO Institute overlooking the dog walkers, beachcomers, the Outlander fans, and pub visitors in the tucked away village of Blackness-on-Sea.

On the eve of the CGO Institute

Tomorrow morning, at 10am, 9 aspirational creative producers from four countries will gather in the clouds to start the first Diploma in Creative Producing as the doors open on the CGO Institute.  By the end of the first day of orientation they will have met 7 of our 20 Faculty, and we will have considered learning styles, assignments, mentors and placements.  In just 16 weeks they will all, I hope, move out into the world with some new skills, some new confidence in their own abilities, and some amazing new ideas and collaborations to take forward.

I moved into my new CGO Institute office over the weekend (well the big bedroom rather than the box room). I have staring down at me two framed pics comprising 13 of the first two cohorts that I worked with on the Mountview MA programme which I created in 2015.  A few have disappeared into their own worlds, but in the main I watch with continuing joy as they variously ‘Get Shit Done’ [quote credit EC 2015] and manage other people to make stuff happen. As ‘Dad’ looking at their faces I think of the good they are doing in Selladoor Worldwide, The Park and Donmar Theatres in London, for the global brand of C-o-n-t-a-c-t, Drag Kings, Solo women’s voices, the National Student Drama Festival, a new investment vehicle for challenging UK and international work, and the mid- scale creative companies of Breach, Lung, She Theatre companies and Barrel Organ. 

Tomorrow’s 9 producers will make work in many different territories, in many different forms, and begin that journey in the midst of the global pandemic which is bringing the theatre industry to its knees.  I guess the only way is up.  As a ‘glass half full’ being, I believe they can change the world. There are people all over the world to entertain, educate, inspire, and challenge.  And there is a new blending of live encounter and cloud-based interreactivity. Exciting times.

In the words of Ben Moor, wonderful solo play writer and actor, “I have more trees to climb” and so do they.

We are a vital viable industry

Six / returning to electrify an audience soon

We are all living through times which most of us have never imagined, and none of us have experienced.  My chosen career is being described as part of a non-viable business, despite having earned a living in it and paid taxes to our esteemed government for 40+ years.  The theatres and concert halls are closed down…and therefore government and maybe many others, think the arts are closed down.  But just as faith does not need churches, and drink is not confined to pubs, so too the arts is not dependent on the hallowed 19c chocolate box halls or the 21c whizzy tec new builds.  At its core the arts are about storytelling, music making and visual magic. An individual writer/creator, with or without a group of interpreters, communicating one-2-one or to a small gathering. It goes beyond words, music, and artistic technique.  It is ineffable.

The future of theatre may take us back into buildings but press reviews are unlikely to talk of the space being ‘packed to the rafters’. Music may go back into gig venues but there will not be a ‘surge of the crowd’ for the next few years. My concern is hearing so much being discussed at the high levels of the Arts about buildings and major organisations. So many of us feel that freelancers, individual artists, small companies, and the innovators of the future are being abandoned. They/we are deemed not viable by the government, and so our 40+ years of tax paying, and our ambitions for new enterprises which could become the lucrative export of the future, are being abandoned. It is 45 years since I had to queue at the dole to register unemployed – so many of my colleagues are facing the 21st Century equivalent.

But I am a ‘glass half full’ creative.  In the words of the CEO of YES / Young Enterprise Scotland shared with 30 entrepreneurial spirits at last night’s Producers’ Pool meeting ‘’An entrepreneur recognises there is a problem”. So as we look to the future whilst negotiating a crisis, I’ve been working flat out to realise my new invention.

This is why I am so excited about training the next generation of Creative Producers with the CGO Institute DipCP starting in November. This is why I continue to energise and facilitate the 500+ strong membership of the Producers’ Pool network.   

Scottish Play / One Fell Swooped – Brighton

In the word’s of the great Fool Jonathan Kay, these producers will, can and must ‘upset the setup’.  The arts, theatre, music, storytelling, dance, will survive. The audience and participants for these activities will (pray to the gods) survive. And that community of recipients and experiencers will be hungry for the emotional high of the arts. They will want an ineffable experience.

I celebrate the producers of Six for fighting to re-open the West End and on tour, the work of Joanna Rosenfeld and all at One Fell Swoop for putting on not one but 6 Shakespeare plays safely for audiences in Brighton this summer, to the Bard in the Yard company and C-o-n-t-a-c-t who have given vital work to freelance actors, and ineffable pleasure to audiences safely, and to companies like Original Theatre who have made a drama out of a crisis in innovative digital ways for a paying audience.

At the darkest moments I have to believe there is a future for our industry. I have to believe we will defy our government and prove to be viable. I absolutely believe the way that this will happen is through the invention and enterprising energy of creative producers making stuff happen.  Watch out 2021, we/they will entertain you.