Blogs

Just the ticket…

My thanks to the Stage Newspaper for this headline

40 years ago this week a wonderful man, Ken Fraser, took the headlines with The Stage and with the theatre press announcing the invention of the very first computerised box office system ‘poised to change the face of the British box office’. At the time I was Assnt Theatre Manager at Bristol Hippodrome, spending many hours giving opinions to another system developer which would eventually create the rival RITA/RSC system, and running a 60 strong ticket agency system with paper tickets alongside our box office manager in the run up to Danny La Rue’s Aladdin. 

Over Christmas I nearly left this side of the business and went off to work on Cats but that is another story. Instead I moved down to Plymouth Theatre Royal and became the go-to person in the building site for the installation of Ken’s new invention BOCS (The Box Office Computer System).  BOCS went on to become the Industry leader for many years – but not before Karl Sydow (Barbican), Billy Differ (Glasgow Kings Theatre) and I as Chair of the newly formed BOCS user group became very unpopular pushing for improvements in the system so we could have the best possible life day & night as the computer system managers of our respective organisations.

Alongside BOCS another maverick of the computer dark arts, Peter Fuerling,  was creating MailBOCS, an integrated database system to enable selective targeting of audiences based on their actual booking history.  Now that seems so obvious. Then it was so so new.

Just a few memories: 

The backup nightly of the box office took around 2hrs. 

Lifting the master terminal over the builders closed gates and through the mud at night with Peter to get the first back up done in the air conditioned computer room was wonderful. Trying to balance a dust free environment and a building site was less fun.

The dyslexic box office manager who programmed all the abbreviations and hot keys – who would have thought JSC would take you into the plans for Jesus Christ Superstar. We never worked out what the Superstar abbreviation might have been.

And the system could not support the marketing segmentation and label printing system and the box office at the same time. So everytime I needed to run the labels for a major mailing I had to start at 10pm and, with luck, I was done by 8am when the box office team came in. So many nights locked in the theatre with just me and the nightwatchman. 

Many memories. Over the subsequent years I worked with and for many different systems – I chaired the PASS users group and later went to work for Select Ticketing Systems. I watched Databox grow as an amazing marketing system. Synchro systems kindly donated a system to me when I was at Jermyn Street Theatre. I was GM of the Pleasance at Red61 became a new market leader. And now I try and get my head around the new systems as needed. It has been a fascinating 40 years of learning…for someone who knows absolutely nothing about computers.

And now, as I develop the DipCP as a cloud based training programme, and gain my stripes as a ZJ (zoom dj) for weddings, I am learning a whole heap of new skills. I am delighted to be exploring new toys/tools with Caron Jane Lyon who has been my go-to boffin since we started cloud-based Producers’ Pool. Together we explore how to caption and transcribe sessions with new rival programmes, how to use graphic tablets which might mirror my own crazy flip chart drawing in a class room.

In my teaching of Masters and Diploma creative producing I have always set one research assignment – What might it be like to market the arts in 5 years time ? I encourage each new producer to be apocalyptic in their visions. What if computers failed. What if the internet ceased to be a tool of our trade. How would we market theatre in the future.  I am fascinated to see what my first cohort of future creative producers will predict for marketing the arts in 2025.

I’m from the old days. I’ve worked a manual box office with the 34hour year end audit at Bristol Hippodrome where every ticket and ever plan had to be counted and analysed by hand starting 10pm Sat eve at the end of March and hopefully completing by 8am Mon morning.  A long weekend, but full of many laughs. 

In the end we are theatremakers who know there is a community out there who want our creative experiences. If we end up on a cart going from village to village, so be it. Theatre will survive all government announcements, all computer glitches, and all internet failure. The show will go on. We will make others laugh and cry and think.  Maybe this blog will do all three for you.

I’m finding Unicorns

On 11th April I wrote a blog entitled Looking for Trainee Unicorns in which I explored the need to uncover the creative producers of the future – the inventors, employers and facilitators of the future. In the last 4 months I have been building a faculty of teachers and diversity guardians, and undertaking many workshops entitled ‘Producing – Proper Job – Honest’ (PPJH).

This week I am delighted to have been able to confirm with a team of future producers, who have signed up for the first CGO Institute Diploma in Creative Producing, that we have enough of a cohort to be assured the first course can run from November 2nd.

I couldn’t be more pleased by the interest in the course over this strange lockdown period. It is never easy to start something new, especially when the world is so uncertain. Each PPJH from the first at the National Student Drama Festival in May to the most recent for the graduates of the University of West of Scotland, have generated interest from one or more person to apply to study with us.  The world needs more producers, and steadily I am finding some amazing future creative theatremakers.

If anyone is reading this and wondering whether a 16 week cloud-based Diploma in Creative Producing is what they need to kickstart their creative plan, then do have a look on the website http://www.chrisgrady.org/cgo-institute-for-creative-producing/ and get in touch fast. The next (and probably final) interview date is Tue 8th September when we have 2 more places we could award.

The course has attracted UK and International applicants, those with a first degree and those without, those at the start of their career and those who are redirecting their efforts after success in another field. It is cloud-based, 2 days dedicated classes a week, and you can find out much more on the website or getting in touch. Soon I will open applications for the next course starting in April 2021. I already have enquiries for that.

My last few days have been spent preparing a grant application which could help me fast track two parallel programmes which are designed to uncover an even more diverse and glorious array of unicorns across Scotland.  It is a programme which seeks to reach communities where producers may not yet know there is a career for them, and a need for them. It is aimed to attract interest from divergent voices who can help to change the landscape of stories that are told, managements that employ, and audiences who engage –  one show and one job at a time.  If anyone reading this thinks ‘theatre is not for me’, or ‘my stories are never told on stage’ or ‘I never see people like me in the theatre’, then the programme I have been working on is designed to make a difference.

Today I press ‘send’ on a rather daunting application form which (I hope) is completed sufficiently clearly to be attractive to the reader. I hope the fund has some money to make available. And now I just have to cross my fingers for 8 weeks whilst the assessment process moves forward.

To anyone out there filling in similar forms, I empathise with you.  For the myriad readers of these forms in so many grant giving offices, I thank you for wading through them.  Now my job is to stop thinking about it, get on with championing the Diploma in Creative Producing, and writing some lesson plans.

Thank you to all readers of my Blog who have sent me such encouraging notes, and who have shared information with others about this new re-invention of my world. I am most grateful. And please keep doing it. Thanks

Finding future musicals 1998-2019..and next ?

This weekend in my diary was set aside to work for Fiona Orr reviewing 10-15 new musicals at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019.  The Musical Theatre Awards have been consistently given each year since I invented them in 2008 alongside the Musical Theatre at George Square programme. First they were run by Musical Theatre Matters, the network we set up for producers and creatives of UK Musical Theatre, and later they have been under the aegis of the Musical Theatre Review and its editor Lisa Martland.  It is always a joy cramming in a heap of new shows in the first weekend, trying to give a quick thumbnail review, and recommending a few for the illustrious judges to assess.  Sadly Covid put a stop to the festival and therefore the awards, but both will be back.

I was reminded of this by a facebook memory from composer Jimmy Jewell being shortlisted for the 1998 Vivian Ellis Awards which I had the privilege of running for 3 years before the great and the good (well two of them) decided it was an unnecessary project, and the charity shut down. So sad. But in its 15 year life the Vivian Ellis Prize celebrated, like the MTM Awards, the potential of the future. Neither were designed to find Broadway hits – although Six hasn’t done too badly and so many of the writers have had their fair share of hits over the years.

So it is fun to look back, but not to wallow in what might have been for the VEP or any of those projects my colleagues and I have created over time. Now is when I look forward. Which reminds me I have a new musical theatre writing project to prepare for my colleagues in Russia, one to explore further here in Scotland with a University, and a third which is on the drawing board for the CGO Institute.  I don’t seem to have shaken off my attachment to Musical Theatre – which is just as well because I will be teaching Creative Producing to some of the next generation of Musical Theatre producers from November with the Diploma in Creative Producing. I can’t wait.

(Thanks Jimmy Jewell for sharing your memory – now an established creative and artists agent, a successful Musical Theatre writer. In 2015 Jimmy was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music for his ‘outstanding contribution to the UK music industry’ – 20+ years of steady career growth from a young submission to a lost prize)

Until next year when, the first weekend of August, I will once again be sitting watching the first fruits of musical theatre creativity in drafty halls and wind swept terraces in Edinburgh in EdFest 2021.   See you then.

The new world of Zoom Zj-ing

Over the last few months I have moved so much of my life and work online, as so many of us have. When lockdown started, rather than cancel our monthly gathering of freelance theatre producers I worked with a tec colleague Caron Lyon to look at various platforms I had never heard of.  On Tue 24th March, with much trepidation, we opened a Zoom space and even used breakout rooms since, for a few weeks (!), it was likely we couldn’t meet together.  Yesterday someone decided I should now call myself a Zj…which sounds fun.

Apart from the monthly Producers’ Pool I have had the joy of facilitating many sessions for the Authentic Artist Collective where detailed artistic collaboration and discovery happened from a place of collective stillness and depth;  a number of Federation of Scottish Theatre meetings for producers with speakers and rich discussion;  many cloud based workshops for aspirational creatives in London, Exeter, Edinburgh, Durham, Oporto in Portugal, and the NSDF;  and Michael Dresser’s excellent Wheel of Consent workshops.  All these have taught me so much about the way in which facilitators and workshop leaders can hold space and work the room.

Nothing has ever been more scary, however, that Zj-ing a wedding.  Detailed planning by the bride and groom went into creating a phenomenal day enjoyed by guests from the safety of their own homes across 4 countries as they watched and witnessed the coming together of two amazing artists – Lizzie Crarer and Mark Heavenor.  Music came from one place, speeches from another, readings from our kitchen, scurrilous best man stories from (I think) a shed in a garden. It was magical and (praise the gods) ran smoothly and joyously.

And then yesterday, something very very different happened which came about through the passion of three performance artists for trees and the natural world. I was asked, over 1 hour, to Zj 20 artists each simultaneously undertaking a durational site responsive solo piece on the theme of Be-Coming Tree.  No rehearsal, no script, no knowledge at all of what any of the artists were going to do, we gathered at 0930 UK time and at 1000 an audience arrived and the work unfolded.  Amazing things unfolded – a detailed study of bark, glorious dancing and earthed movement, sinuous living of a tree, extensive vistas, petals anointing a face, earth covering a naked form, an internal performance art piece in response to the outside, and a mum and daughter bringing a tree to painted relief life.  It was beautiful to witness.  I loved seeing all of it unfolding before me.   

My only sadness is that something happened in my Zooming so the pictures I was seeing were not what was recorded and seen by the audience. I had thought I was bringing them back to an image of all the art on one screen, and in fact my Zj-ing gave them closeup after closeup of these amazing artists. So I am most definitely only a Zj in training and I know that I need to set up a dummy event and see what I was doing wrong.

What have I learned about Zoom and working in-the-cloud:

  1. It is possible to get a group of 15-20 people gathered in a space and focussed on a single thing. Take time to settle at the start of a meeting. Be calm, avoid distractions and focus on what is needed.
  2. It is possible to get a lot of stuff discussed and agreed. Have very careful timing and realise that everyone needs time to speak. (Giving everyone a certain length of time, or the chance to speak until complete are two forms. Try different forms, but give everyone a chance).
  3. We are all equal in the space. It is difficult to hide and just be an observer, or to dominate and be a loud chair – provided you have a facilitator who can wield a mute button sometimes.
  4. Using breakout rooms when people gather for a meeting can be an effective ice-breaker – just as people do in real life, gathering to chat before a meet. 4-6 people is enough.
  5. It is never the same as offering an artist applause, or a friend a consoling hug. But love and care can flow through the ether in this strange medium.
  6. If doing a presentation or a reading, do lots of pre-thinking. Think through timing and which screens should be on and off, as you would a filmshoot or an outside broadcast. Zoom can’t do everything you’d love, but it is a powerful tool. (mindful that sometimes, like Be-Coming Tree there is no time for rehearsal…in which case…good luck)
  7. And finally – I have a lot to learnabout this platform and wraparound or alternative platforms before I start the cloud based Diploma in Creative Producing in 3 months time.

And now, for me, early planning for a new zoom artistic project which brings some of my ground-based research into how we choose to reveal our bodies through life, performance and art. I will bring all I have learned in the last 4 months and see what can be created.  Can’t wait to work with Kath on this, and hopefully many of the artists who have explored this idea with me in the past.

Now back to the joy of writing a grant application to Creative Scotland for equality, diversity and inclusion work for the Diploma.  Thanks for reading.

Meet the Faculty No 6 – Nick Williams

I have known Nick over a number of incarnations. First as an inspiring arts manager, then as an immensely supporting lead manager in Arts Council England where, along with a mass of high profile London arts clients, he looked after the fledgling Musical Theatre Matters network I started. Then as an unexpected co-traveller to the City of Perm to see an arts festival, and now as the CEO of my nearest theatre.  He has created & facilitated theatremakers and theatre making at all scales across the UK and in international partnerships. It is wonderful he will be joining the Faculty.   

What inspires you to be a creative producer (and/or keeps you going)?

I am constantly amazed at the plethora of ideas and potentials when you get the right group of people together to talk.  My most favourite conversations are when ideas feel like they are pinging around the room – bouncing around and changing direction as more and more are explored and fleshed out.  It can be energizing and refreshing even when feeling bogged down by other less creative things.

Is there a style of art/theatre you particularly want to create/produce ?

I’ve got a strong background in new plays and am really interested in formal innovation – where it helps tell the story or explore the subject better.  I’ve worked in indoor and outdoor work, with large community participation projects and high end talent, and find that when you find the right way to tell the right story, that’s when the theatrical magic happens.

Are you someone who works on one or multiple projects – tell us a little about your style of work ?

I’m a juggler.  Constantly working across different things.

Who inspired you and/or who would you love to collaborate with/produce ?

I was originally inspired by local amateur companies performing musicals as a young child – that passion and energy at every step was infectious.  I’ve been inspired by single productions that have stayed with me for decades from all sorts of different styles and practices but all have stuck because they tell the story they want to tell in the way it is best told.

As an international practitioner, what might we not know about working in your region/country ?

As a relatively recent arrival in Scotland, I’m struck by how there is a very limited commercial theatre sector.  And that home grown work on the mid-scale here doesn’t tour much, either in Scotland or abroad when it absolutely should.

What are you working on now (which you can tell us about) ? 

A community focused range of projects to run through the autumn whilst our buildings are closed; a potential promenade panto; a longer-term way of sustainable producing for our mid-scale theatre and how to best support Scottish artists as we emerge from the Covid crisis.  I did say I was a juggler.

Within the Diploma programme/idea what are you most looking forward to helping/experiencing ?

How to balance money with ambition.  It’s been a key theme of my career to date.

Are there any inspiring/useful books or texts we should know about.

Richard Eyre’s National Service; Michael Billington’s State of Nation; David Hume’s Of the Standard of Taste (honestly everyone working in the arts should read this and reflect on relativity of taste within societies); and as many plays from different cultures and societies that are not your own as you can

[Editor’s note – the link allows a download of the David Hume]

How do you ensure your own personal wellness (especially at this time in the world)?

Tough one.  Shouting “enough” and going out into the fresh air with the dog in tow.  The occasional large glass of red wine.  Trying to listen to myself when I know I’ve pushed too hard for too long.

Any superstitions or special phrases you hold close to you ?

I never say the name of the Scottish Play in a theatre.  Legs must always be broken on an opening night.

Any lessons learnt or experiences to look back at which are amusing/lifechanging?

I toured The Golden Dragon by Roland Schimmelpfennig – a show about Chinese migration to the west – to Kurdish Iraq for the only Kurdish International Theatre Festival in 2012.  We had a wonderfully warm welcome – being met by the press at 3am at the airport for full interviews with the full company.  A wonderful older actress called Annie Firbank elbowed me in the ribs as we walked out to the (unknown to us) massed press and whispered whilst smiling radiantly – You could’ve bloody warned me about the press, I’d have put some lippy on in the immigration queue! The beginning of a magical visit involving snowball fights in the mountains with hijabed women, endless mountains of delicious grilled meats, spontaneous folk dancing on the bus between Erbil and Sulaymania, and accepting an award on behalf of the late Harold Pinter because I was from London.  Everything an international tour should do.

Thank you so much Nick, and I am sure all readers will wish you and fellow CEOs in theatres and arts organisations across the UK, every good wish as you find the way through for yourself, your organisation, your freelance artists and staff, and of course the audience.  I can’t wait to get back to Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre

Published 24th July 2020

The Happiness Choice

Photograph by Karsten Thormaehlen

The following post seems to have appeared in November 2017 on Facebook under the heading “It’s okay to be not okay”. It landed on Kath’s page yesterday. Just occasionally I use my blog to share an existing poem or article, and this seemed so right today.

This 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with her hair fashionably coiffed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home yesterday. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary.

After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window. “I love it,” she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.

Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room …. just wait.

That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice;

I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.”

She went on to explain, “Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories Thank you for your part in filling my Memory bank. I am still depositing.”

And with a smile, she said: “Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

1. Free your heart from hatred.
2. Free your mind from worries.
3. Live simply.
4. Give more.
5. Expect less, & enjoy every moment.

And from Grady here, as I sit at my desk each day inventing a future or facilitating for others, where things are not quite okay enough, I will take a moment to think about these rules.

These seem really helpful in this time of uncertainty, where we are trying to protect our elders from harm, maybe keep our children from their normal run-around source of energetic happiness for their own good, and wonder about our careers where we can generate purpose and happiness for ourselves. I have a choice…and I intend to bank a lot of happiness in my bank account of memories. How about you ??

Diversity and Aspirations

My laptop is filled with powerful statements about equality, anti-racism, equitable and positive action, discrimination, trans rights, and learning/access challenges for 13 different physical and invisible disabilities.  I am working through Layla F Saad’s disturbing workbook “Me and White Supremacy” and I have just been given a fascinating dissertation on bisexual young people exploring bi-visibility and bi-erasure. I am learning fast, and I have a lot to learn.  I wish to become a ‘good ancestor’ to quote Layla Saad, or at the very least a better one.

This work is all part of preparing the CGO Institute and to ensure that there are some clear policy statements about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) – not just so that we can work in the best possible way with faculty and students, but even more so that we can debate in class what is working, what is not, and how changes in the world may happen through activism and the arts.

Along with everyone else learning about creative producing, I want to learn how to be a better citizen in the future, and to understand what we can all (and must all) do differently. In reflecting on many policies, I am humbled by those who have battled over years and generations to reach where we are today, and the massive amount which still has to happen in my community, our country, and across the world to allow every citizen to be treated equally and better.

We have now had two rounds of interview for the first cohort, and the next date is 5th August. As well as people finding out about the course through twitter and facebook, the British Council or International Theatre Institute and regular theatre associations, I am having fascinating conversations with organisations and individuals who are set up to help young people and diverse communities to move forward in life. Whether it will be in time to make the first applicant base as fully reflective of the uk population diversity I don’t know. My personal ambition is to ensure that by the end of the 3rd cohort we are sending out into the work creative producers who are going to change the world, and will themselves reflect the diversity of that world and the audience they wish to see engaged in the arts.

I am delighted already to know that we have people signed up who are passionate about musical theatre, new playwrighting, working in inner city communities to make change, international commercial work, small scale theatre and festivals. Not a bad range of artistic ambitions to bring together and learn from each other.

If you are reading this and believe that, maybe, creative producing is a possible career pathway for you or someone you know, then you are right. We need more producers – the inventors, employers and facilitators of the future.  I have two workshops coming up which will look at all the pathways, including this diploma, to get into the producing business – please help to spread the word;

Mon 20th July 7pm Producing workshop facilitated by CGO Associate Tania Azevedo and Portugal based producer Bruno Galvão (presented in Portugese and English) exploring the industry in Portugal and Brazil and how new producers could study and work to change the landscape. go to Bruno’s page and send him a message

Fri 24th July 3.30pm Producing Proper Job Honest (presented in English only) which will offer a 2hr taster of the tools and rules of producing and how you might make it your career. book here

I am fascinated to meet the next generation of creative changemakers, and to bring them into contact with an international faculty of practitioners who want to make the world a better place using the arts.  There is so much to do, and on Nov 2nd 2020 I will start a new chapter in my life with the first cohort on the Diploma  – I can’t wait.

Ready Steady Cook

The Kitchen / Arnold Wesker

Last night the UK Government announced a package of funds for the English theatre and cultural scene which may offer a reprieve to those organisations that have not already made their staff redundant or gone into receivership.  There was also a welcome announcement 2 days ago from the Scottish First Minister which felt enormously encouraging for us here.  So the expected infrastructure crash which could have lost us 75% of our theatres may be averted. However there is little or nothing yet announced to give comfort to the creators, the freelancers, the people who actually do the cooking in the creative kitchens.  The pots and pans are saved, the cooker will still work, the managers will retain their jobs, now we need to ensure the creative cooks have the chance to produce the dishes which our hungry customers deserve and need to feed their souls and hearts.

This series of Blogs are charting the development of the new Diploma in Creative Producing from the new CGO Institute which will welcome its first creative producers to join us on 2nd November to cook up a feast.

We already have some producers signed up for the course. More interviews this week. And we have enquiries and applications coming through. If you are interested in a 16 week, cloud-based classroom exploring all aspects of producing with fellow international aspirational producers of the future, with a faculty of 20 leading practitioners – just get in touch.

It feels governments in many countries are helping the arts buildings and infrastructure step back from the brink of closure and disaster. The UK is doing is too late for some, but it is doing it.  But what these containers of artistry will need is the creative producers to cook up the new tasty feast which is needed. The next generation of producers will be the inventors, the employers and the faciliators of the future.  We who teach producing, or my contemporaries that lead organisations, are not the future of the creative industries. But we can help to guide, support, champion and teach the next generation.

So dear governments of all nations. Don’t just save the kitchens from crashing and burning, you have to help save the hundreds of thousands of freelance staff who bring these creative palaces of culture alive, and you have to give them the initial fuel to help them start a new creative fire in this country.

It is difficult to protest when the headlines are of a saviour £1.57b from the English government (and £10m from the Scottish Government plus £100m of the £1.57b for our infrastructure), but we have to keep up the pressure so that the future generations of creative producers have the skill base to invent with, to employ, and to facilitate to make a dainty dish.

This week I begin the writing of the more detailed recipies for the first cohort to cook with when they arrive in November. A series of carefully crafted lesson plans on marketing, fundraising, project planning, understanding how different countries relish their culture and how theatre and the performing arts fit into the social, political and economic interweaving of a nation. We will be looking at making shows, research and development, moving work from small tasty dishes to a position where some can be reproduced and tasted by people all over the world.  I have no idea what the new cohort of producers will cook up, but the job I have, together with the Faculty around the world, is to help them find their paths, show them what we have done right and wrong in the past, and help them make connections.

I feel more confident this morning that the next generations can step forward when the call goes out to be Ready, Steady, Cook – but we old guards will continue to shout about the need for support for this future generation, and the skill base that already exists. Support for the vast freelance community which could still be lost in the crash of the cultural sector.  Hopefully today’s announcement is the start of a better future. I hope not too many will be lost. But please remember – for some this is too little too late. This from a friend running a small arts venue in England: “Germany announces coronavirus financial support for the arts on March 26th. France does the same on May 6th. UK July 5th. Excuse me for not jumping with excitement but we’ve just mothballed our venue and made our staff redundant. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad it’s coming but as with everything else so far this year in our dear country, we are fatally late to the game. Some arts organisations have died already.”

Dear friends – keep up the pressure to support the freelancers, re-visit and re-love your venues, offer help to those who may be in an enforced coma, and know that the world needs the next generation of creative producers to find new paths and make new dishes to set before our hungry customers.

Cultural Life Support / not induced coma

A letter to Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Dear Mr Dowden

I have worked in the theatre and festival sector for 45 years, and have 5 years to try and work before retirement.  The industry has enabled me to be freelance and employed, to pay my taxes (and even at times moving to the higher tax bracket). I am now one of hundreds of thousands of workers who may be heading to join the unemployed very soon.

The theatre infrastructure has been nurtured by successive governments and inspiring Ministers across both sides of the house to be an export success story; a supporter for the wellbeing and educational aspirations of this country; a massive driver in community and urban regeneration; a growing centre for direct and indirect employment; a tourism magnet and the envy of the world. You know this of course.

I am so worried however that you and your fellow Cabinet Ministers are choosing to allow charitable and commercial organisations to move to enforced coma in order to survive and then, maybe, to restart and come back to life in a year or more.  The collateral damage will, of course be massive to individuals, to communities, to connected servicing businesses, and in the end to the Treasury coffers.

If the major employers (buildings and regularly funded companies) continue to shut down, then the freelancers (actors, designers, musicians, and administrative supporters) will join the unemployed, or will have to choose to abandon their careers and re-focus their skills.  70 years of talent development will be lost. 

All that work in the last few years to diversify the workforce, to better represent the multi-cultural society in which we all live, to create work which tackles challenging issues and give a platform for marginalised voices – all this will have to start all over again. We have so much more to do. You know all this.

I suspect that you may be having the struggle of your life getting this message across to your Cabinet colleagues before it is too late.  Many of those put into enforced comas will die. The reputation and the interconnected fibres of our culture will be severed and may die without life support.

It will then be for the next generation of creatives to start all over again, if they can find the energy and the will to make it happen.  They will never forgive us if we didn’t fight to keep ourselves and our creativity alive, so that we have a vibrant infrastructure to pass onto them to refashion and take forward, to serve the audiences and participants of the future.

One of the leaders of a major city yesterday talked to a conference challenging us not to be taken down by “the dead weight of the status quo” and described his major challenge to make change as being the “vested interests…the treacle that slows everything down.” I know you as a Minister working with, I suspect, an exhausted Civil Service department, will be trying to manoeuvre through so much treacle. Please continue. Please find a way before it is too late.

Give companies, buildings, organisations, and freelancers a financial life support to allow us to regroup and move forward. Help us move from intensive care to vibrant health without the danger of these induced comas.  Help us get back to paying our taxes, our VAT, employing more and more people, developing intellectual property to share around the world, offer healing and education to those in need. 

But also let us all listen even more to the many inspiring voices who are thinking how theatre and the arts could be better, be different, more diverse, more inclusive, and more effective within the communities we serve.  Let us all – Ministers, leaders, practitioners push through the status quo and the treacle, and reignite our cultural life.

Let us come to remember 2021 as a golden moment of renewal and repair, not a time for despair, recrimination and unemployment caused by a lack of support at this point in 2020.   

Thank you

Chris Grady

Please consider framing your own concerns to oliver [dot] dowden [dot] mp [at] parliament [dot] uk and make sure you cc to enquiries [at] culture [dot] gov [dot] uk so that it goes into the government machine.

My thanks to Louise Penn for sharing their letter and inspiring me to do one too. https://loureviews.blog/author/loureviews/

Hope & self-strategy – The theatre of the future

There are a lot of very scared people out there. Scared they may not have a job, scared they are preparing to make long-time friends and staff redundant, and scared their bulding/company may fall off the cliff edge which seems ever closer. 

But there are also the same ‘customers’ there that have always been there. People who want to be entertained, educated, inspired, moved, engaged and involved in theatre and the performing arts. They have not gone away. They may be locked-down at the moment, or fearful themselves of gatherings inside – but they still crave live entertainment,

And there are still performers and small companies, and troupes on bicycles and storytellers under trees, who are ready to bring magic to people’s lives.  My fear is that they are being hidden from view by the all-too-large and scary headlines.  Our big guns are out there trying to get on the Government’s agenda. Thank you to Julian Bird and all his SOLT/UKTheatre team, to celebrities like Sam West, Nica Burns, Sonia Friedman, Nicholas Hytner and all the commercial players for getting attention.  But their message is overwhelming Fear and the headlines are suitably doom laden.

My job as a coach and creative producer/adviser is to be there for the theatremakers who need Hope and need to see how they can re-invent themselves and reach the audiences who need them.  What we need now is Respair (the lost word meaning the coming out of despair – my thanks to Improbable Theatre for bringing us this new old word)

Last week I was doing a workshop with a theatre collective who have been producing together for 9 years. Their complete slate of touring theatre dates have gone. They have a small survival grant from Arts Council England, and they are trying to rethink and find hope. They are caught in a challenge which our system has created for so many small companies. They know they play to great audiences in towns all over the UK, but they don’t know who they are. The names are held and guarded in the box office computer systems of the locked down theatres, and even pre-pandemic this intelligence was closely guarded.  They have the names of a few friends and supporters but they need to change the system fast.

Taking a food analogy – they are suppliers of a nutritious, delicious, home grown food. Their customers love the taste and the joyful/healing properties of this food. But the wholesaler and retailers are all shut down.  How can the farmer/grower reach their customer without the infrastructure.  The answer is to start small, think differently, and go to work immediately.

This company could be playing to audiences in the way they did at the very beginning of their collective lives. Finding a space under a tree or in front of a closed down theatre,  finding the people who love their work and draw in more friends, and then make the magic of theatre happen.

The future of theatre at the moment is, I feel, so much in the hands of the small theatremakers, the freelance producers who can create opportunities, the community leaders and rural touring promoters, and the village halls and studio spaces.  We have to think small and grow again.

At present most of us are freelancers, millions of us are caught In the trap of having no sources of income and no support from the government.  But we have a driving desire to keep making and sharing theatre and performing arts, and we know there are people out there all over the UK who want it.   We need to find new ways to make that happen.

I would say this…but what the world needs is more creative producers who can think differently and help to make the connections between the theatremakers and the audience. The inspiring creative producer can help a collective of artists or a sole performer work their way from fear to hope.   And for most of us we started with no funding, no grants, no security – we can remember what we did then, and do it again.

If anyone would like to look at being a Creative Producer, and pathways which you might take into the new world order (or disorder – whichever it may be) then join me for a workshop on Fri 3rd July 3.30pm entitled Producing – Proper Job – Honest

To all those creative artists and companies out there, we have ideas to help you get to the audiences. We need to reinvent the way things are done in the short and long-term. The Creative Producers I know are working to make a difference – one show, one company, one artist and one audience at a time.  Talk to your producer. Think differently, Start with some Hope, add Your Strategy, and move forward without waiting on an establishment saviour.

And do let me know what you find is possible.