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.

We all need friends….

In this time of isolation and lockdown we need friends. We need to feel that we can reach out by phone, zoom, skype, or good old fashioned letter and make connections.  I describe the role of the next generation of creative producers as inventors, employers and facilitators.  My intention is to help the cohort of producers who decide to take the DipCP with me to find the friends they need for the future. The people that they may collaborate with as co-inventors. The people they may employ, or be employed by, as they move forward with their career. And the people who they will help and facilitate to make work into the future.

At this time of inventing the CGO Institute, I really need friends. I am blessed to have a long list of people I have worked with in the past and connected with in so many different jobs and worlds. This morning Kath and I took time to go through our mutual contacts and make a humungous list of people who might, just might, help to spread the word about this course.

Last week Julia Mucko and I interviewed our first applicants for the DipCP and we are delighted to have the first few people now signed up to be with us and the rest of the faculty of mentors and teachers when we start on November 2nd.   It is both a strange and a perfect time to be starting a new training course for theatre and other arts producers. Strange in that we are in such a place of stasis and confusion. Perfect because the way out of it and into a new dawn will be taken by the next generation of inspired and inspiring creative practitioners.  I can’t wait to be part of the classroom helping them find their way and make the friends they need.   Anyone reading this who thinks a course might help them become the producer they think they might be, do get in touch.

At the start of someone’s career there is always trepidation that no-one knows I exist and maybe no-one will care anyway. ‘They’ (other people) are already making great strides. ‘They’ are inside their clubs and connected worlds and I am just a nobody trying to make theatre.  Part of my work is to dissuade new creatives of this mis-apprehension.   I was delighted to see one of our new cohort putting up a facebook and linked-in post about joining the CGO Institute in November and immediately he had some of my colleagues in his country congratulating him and making connections for his future.

Most established practitioners, especially most producers and programmers (ok maybe not all) are looking out for the next generation, the next great idea, the next project which can ignite their programming and inspire their audience.   The next generation is needed. Especially where their voices may not have been heard enough, and where they can speak to and for a sector of the audience or community who may feel marginalised or not included in the ‘mainstream’ of arts practice.  Most producers and programmers truly want to reach all the communities in their patch – but we will need the next generation of producers and theatremakers to help to make that happen.

So my task this week is to reach out to many of my friends and ask them to help me amplify my message, and especially reach communities where there could be aspirational creative producers and makers who could benefit from the training we are offering.  I will continue to run online workshops entitled Producing – Proper Job – Honest (next one Fri 3rd July) to talk about pathways into the business. I will continue to be inspired by the passions and concerns of the next generation of producers.  Last week I was with 20 students from Durham University who want to make theatre and film and a difference in the future. I have a ‘proper job’ workshop booked to run bilingually with Tania Azevedo in Portugal in a week or so.  Shout if you’d like a workshop for your network.

Thank you to all those friends who are helping me to spread the word. It can be a lonely business to invent – every producer knows that feeling. Having a group of people to turn to for help, support, and to share the load is so important.

Here’s to friends at this time – and may we be able to hug again very soon.

Thinking differently with a purpose

Black Lives Matters / Edinburgh 7th June

I was at a Men’s workshop yesterday where 18 of us from 3 countries and diverse heritage each took 3 minutes to explore where we were in the world, in the time, in this moment, with ourselves. I have never been in that company of men before and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a bit of a timekeeper for the event and a lot of a listener. The struggles across America, the protests for the world to be different and acknowledge that Black Lives Matter, and the three pandemics of covid19, racism, and greed were making us all wonder what actions and changes we could/must make to heal our communities.   In reflecting at the end one host suggested three themes – Mission, Purpose, and Responsibility.

Today Kath and I were at the Black Lives Matter personally distanced gathering in the vast Holyrood Park in Edinburgh where testimonies were shared to an audience of, I guess 5-10,000.  It felt very safe from a health perspective, everyone in masks and gloves, everyone staying in tiny family/friend units with a good 2m + apart from each other.  Respect for the risk, but way safer than shopping in a supermarket.   I came away knowing that I need to do more. I need to read. I need to understand the past to inform my present. And I need to double my efforts in my mission and purpose.

I have a Mission – to create the best possible training programme for Creative Producers who wish to access an online classroom and collaborate with aspirational peers to make new theatre in a new world which is necessary and works within the needs of access, equity, and the planet.

This gives me a Purpose at the moment, isolated in my tiny office near Edinburgh, using the internet to reach out as far and wide as I can.  That purpose is to find ways to talk about the job of producing, and the pathways into the profession to the widest cross section of possible future inventors, employers and facilitators for the theatre of the future. I cannot not be a ‘cis white dude’ creating this course (to quote a challenge on twitter). I add to that ‘old and English’ living in Scotland.  But I do have a multi-cultural faculty, which I will grow further, across 4 continents, who will explore with the cohort of aspiring producers how to make work and change the world one show at a time.  

My challenge is to be heard, and to find colleagues to explore with me how best to make the Diploma and the workshops which go with it most effective and useful to a future community of producers.  On Friday I did a 2hr workshop for inspiring members of the Mousetrap Foundations’ Youth Arts Leadership Conference exploring what the world might look like for them as young multicultural theatremakers in the future, and pathways to being a director or producer or movement director.  Over the weekend I got a phenomenal buzz of energy from connecting with Dollie Henry and Paul Jenkins, the founders of the BOP Jazz Dance Company who have challenged me to  connect into the London based FE sector to see how I could help young people there.  The UK needs more theatre producers who are going to make work happen – whether that is in a small fringe venue or a massive dance and music gig at the O2 Arena.  Here in Scotland I start working with Ruth Marsh on a PR/Media push to build awareness of producing pathways here especially to communities not currently represented enough in the theatre community Step by step on my purpose. 

Reflecting on my Responsibility and opportunity to make a difference, it is to the audiences of the future, and especially those who do not at the moment feel that the theatre is for them.  Those who do not see themselves represented in the work which is being made – either because they are not represented, or because they are not in the room when it is shared.

The Board tables, the management structures, the programmers and the producers of the work for our stages need to reflect the diversity of our extraordinary ever changing population, and to be seen to represent and champion that diversity.  The industry as a whole is working to make a difference, and my part is to help the new aspirational, emerging, or already emerged producers and theatremakers to find ways whereby their voices can be produced loud and strong – and welcomed by all.

I can’t wait to be out of my little locked down room and meet people face to face on the ground, but for now I have my Mission, Purpose and will take my Responsibility forward  with my little office and laptop.  And I have some reading to do, and understanding to soak up, about the world I have not looked at enough for the last 60 years of my life.

If you can help me, do shout.  If there is someone I should be talking with, please let me know.  If I should be thinking differently, acting differently – tell me.  Thank you.

Changing the world – one producer at a time

The world is a troubled place and there are many stories that need to be told and need to be heard. I am hopeful that some leaders get the need for the arts. In sharing an article about New Zealand’s arts recovery boost I wrote – The arts heals, the arts enriches life, the arts educates, the arts gives employment, the arts boosts community, regional and national economy, and artists pay taxes and generate revenue for the treasury. But in the UK overall the arts are seen as a drain, a luxury, almost an annoyance, and not a vote catcher.

I am preaching to the choir. And I worry that the arts is still, too often, preaching to the same community. In creating the Diploma in Creative Producing, and trying to nurture the next generation of inventors, employers and enablers I want to feel they can change the world. That they can make the stories which flow from their good hearts, and reach the un-expected ears of those who need the stories, and need to feel healed and enriched by those stories.

I have a problem. I am a white, middle class, privileged male who has spent 40 years working with other privileged folk supported at times by government funding, or held safely within the ‘club’ of a venue or a big producer or an educational institution. I am not a world changer, but with your help, I may be an enabler of others to understand the tools and the rules (which they can then break and find better ones), and fashion new theatre for new audiences.

As Erica Whyman said in the Stage last week “We have an extraordinary theatre culture, battered by underfunding and riven with inequality, but also bursting with ingenuity, skill, mischief and profound engagement with and respect for our audiences. In recent years – too late too slow – we have fought for much-needed diversity in who makes and leads work, and these gains must not be lost

May I ask for your help. I want to feel that by the time we have run 2-3 courses of the Diploma, that the alumnae reflect the true diversity of the population of the UK and that enough of them are out there making stories and reaching diverse communities that we will never again be too late or too slow in making change.

In years to come no-one will doubt Lyn Gardner’s assertion that their “real purpose is to work for and with the widest possible range of people. Like a spider’s web, the theatre organisations that are strongest and most necessary are the stickiest – those that gather, support and work with the most people around them” Help me to find producers of the future who will not let any communities slip through the web, using ingenuity, skill and mischief to reach a place where the arts is seen to be a vital part of the rebuilding of our countries and a true healer.

Please help me by being an amplifier of this aspiration. Here is a message you might consider passing on through your networks. Thank you, hopefully.

Applications are now open, and places being awarded, for the first cloud-based Diploma in Creative Producing from the CGO Institute. A new way to study deeply the tools and the rules of producing, whilst balancing life or starting your own business. Ideal for a new entrant into the business or someone shifting/returning to the arts with a passion for making a change they want to see in the world, one show at a time. A 16-week course from Nov 2nd. Maximum 14 Scottish, UK and International students led in classes, seminars and tutorials by experienced current practitioners from UK, US, Australia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that the participants in the first few cohorts on the Diploma really reflect and champion the diversity of the UK population, and take up the challenge to replicate that diversity in the stories they help to bring to the stage and the audience they attract into the theatres and spaces we perform in. How will theatre be different post-covid? Join us and think about a new future in which you will be the inventor, employer and enabler of theatre and the performing arts.” Chris Grady / CGO Institute

“The course is vital in the current state of the world today, to act as guiding lights for artists who have ideas that can impact change… Producers support artists in charting journeys and pathways to realise stories that are yet to be told and to offer reflection to the world” Mohamad Shaifulbahri / Joint Artistic Director, Bhumi Collective / Singapore & UK)

If you have a moment to cut and paste this, share it with any networks that you have, I would be most grateful. In teaching marketing 101 I talk of reaching out to your ‘Christmas Card List’ for help – that is what I am now doing. Help me reach people and communities I don’t know where the world-changers may be wondering what the pathways might be to becoming a theatremaker or producer and shaking up this old world of ours.


Producing – Proper Job – Honest

Workshop Participant: “I learned tonnes of answers that i didn’t even know the questions for…! Really exciting to hear about the industry beyond student theatre as well, and have a chat about the big post-covid questions… thank you thank you thank you!” Student / Bedlam Theatre

It is fascinating meeting the next generation of theatremakers and creative producers during my ongoing magic-cloud tour of University drama societies and festivals. Last week I was in Edinburgh. This week Chichester and then Durham. Last month the National Student Drama Festival and Exeter.

My Zoom Q&A/talk is around the massive world of understanding the role of the producer, considering career paths into that job, and looking at the world in which we live in a new way.  Each session I am struck by the comment of at least one person in the room, making me think differently about the world I live in.

Here are some of the topics we have covered in the order the Agenda was set in various talks: What is a Creative Producer ? Difference between Production Manager and Producer, Pathways to the career, Prepare ourselves for the real world of theatre producers, Is an MA worth doing – what’s involved, Interview for Creative Producing Courses, Do you need to do a Masters, Building v Theatre Co producing, Options for training, Corporate and Sponsorship, Accessibility – courses and programmes, Leadership tips,  Rates of pay – for the producer, Agency / Talent Management, Programming a post covid world, Programming and producing differences, Post Covid Theatre, Fundraising – sources not ACE / CS, Producers’ Pool.

These talks have led to enquiries from trade bodies, career guidance organisations, theatre access groups, international networks, a think-tank, and other universities – and I look forward to meeting many different aspiring people wanting to make a difference in our industry in the future.   They are leading to enquiries for our Diploma, and I hope for other pathways which I discuss in every session.

What is becoming clear to me is that those creatives who are 16 to 25 at the moment, just hoping to make a mark on the arts, are the advisors we the 40-70 yr olds need to help us think differently. Before they get drawn into the expectation of grants and funding and systems and rules which all may be broken in the new world.  I am lucky. I do not have a building to worry about, or staff to care for in the way so many of my colleagues do. I came into Covid with a relatively clean slate [The project I had been working on for 2 years had just been cancelled, and since this was intended to be 50-75% of my working life for the next couple of years, it left me pretty free (if a tad bruised)].  The CGO Institute is the result of my blank sheet of paper.  I am not sure whether we, the Faculty will end up being the students, and the trainee, aspiring creatives will be our teachers.  They will, most definitely ask questions which challenge the old-ways. We will work together to make new ways possible.

What the old guard (and here I am talking of a Faculty aged 28 to 65ish) can bring is an understanding of some of the tools we used in the past, some of the audience expectations there were in the past, some of the things we failed to address in the past. I was struck by this quote from a BBC interview with Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre in London “When theatres do turn the lights back on, those who have often been excluded in the past must be present. From class to race to gender, we have made great progress over the last few years in our sector in trying to equalise it. I’m determined absolutely that all of that progress that we’ve made cannot go for naught. We have to rebuild with that as a fundamental.”  The first few cohorts of the DipCP will be at the vanguard of supporting this determination.

I keep coming back to the tension between the public’s ‘need for community’ and ‘fear of gathering’.  I sense it will be a theme for the next two-three years across the industry, around the world. 

Last Thursday I was in an audience of 30-40 people clapping along to a lone piper in the heart of our village theatre/square, as the sun tipped golden through the clouds, and we all shared thoughts engendered by a single performance and a communal gathering. (Thursday 8pm NHS clap).  How easy it will be to go one step further and welcome some barnstormers/ travelling players into our midst. To bring out some chairs for our family groups. To have a glass of wine, beer or a cuppa, and to enjoy some fine theatre and good laughs.   I hope there are producers doing a proper job all over the UK thinking about these ‘full houses’ and gatherings which are possible.

For now I continue to offer my “Producing – Proper Job – Honest” workshops and am looking forward to getting dates in the diary with the Mousetrap Foundation, a network of theatremakers in Kazakhstan, a bi-lingual version with my colleague in Saudi, and some other University networks who have said they want it for their members. Cheers (and yes I would love to be propping up the bar of The Lobster Pot in our village or a gathering of the Producers’ Pool network and tasting a freshly poured pint of Proper Job)

Brake or Accelerate ? – A Creative Producers’ dilemma

Confusion, overwhelm, unrealistic expectations, and uncertainty of what to do next seem to be very understandable emotions as we all check that, if you are living in England, you understand any aspect of the instructions from y/our leader. I am so grateful that here in Scotland we have the joint leadership of Jane Godley and Nicola Sturgeon saying it how it is.

Over the last week I have once again checked in with producers in other countries and continents and felt a heavier vibe of balancing a desire to be creative with the realisation of the challenges of picking up a project which existed in the ‘old days, the old ways’ and re-fashioning it for the ways in which we may, must, can, will work in the new world.  One theatre is taking their 1000 seat theatre and effectively creating a 250 seat socially distanced safe house in which work can begin to be created in the coming few months (in a region of the world which has managed the process locally and clearly). Another company has taken a solo work for piano and, in a responsible socially distanced way, brought a creative team and artists together and broadcast the song cycle for a new global audience. Another has put together a small hardship fund and is reaching out to all the artists on its books and making an offer of a small stipend for a piece of outward facing (in the end) creative practice – developing a new script, using technology in new ways, gathering actors for a virtual event which enriches practice. These are small examples of the work which is going on all over the world to make sense of the new theatre methods.

One of the assignments I always give students on the Creative Producing and Arts Management courses I have run is to invite them to picture a time in 5-6 years from now when the world is in someway different, and to think how they would market the show, a theatre, their work in a new way.  Even the most extreme essay only pictured the destruction of the internet.  But now we are dealing in real-life and wondering how we will market theatre and performing arts in 6 months or one year, rather than 5-6 years.

This is the time for the Creative Producer to really come into their own. At this time of ‘confusion, overwhelm, unrealistic expectations, and uncertainty of what to do next’.  The producers that we will be seeking to inspire and train with the Diploma which starts in November will be people who can take the challenge. They are flexible enough to see things differently. They have the ability to play the role of an informed potential theatregoer/ consumer of the artistry which someone wants to bring to the stage.  They/we can think laterally and wonder how the work may be realised differently, how it might be brought to the consciousness of the audience in a new way, and how we can make the potential audience stretch a wee bit to reach our juicy creative fruits, but not panic that they may topple over or be upset by any risk.

I am concerned that so many people are sharing work for free at the moment. It may have a knock-on effect in the future to undervalue the cost of artistry needed to create work. In a discussion this week there was also shared concern over the quality of some work being rushed up online to fill a perceived vacuum in supply, and whether that on-line roughness will put some people off in the future. Audiences may believe that the roughness will be replicated on the stage, so why bother when I can watch a blockbuster or a heavily subsidised massive show from the NT or the Met.

Creative Producers at this time, and at all times, need to have these concerns in mind. They may not always plan the direction of travel (the artistic director may be in the driving seat), but they are the keepers of the brake and accelerator pedals. They can encourage a slowing down and taking time to ensure quality, or indeed a speeding up to catch a moment or a potential audience with some extraordinary work.

I am talking to a lot of individual artists and theatremakers at the moment who are maybe running out of steam and ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you are in England this is even more worrying. Here at least in Scotland I sense there is clear messaging, we may take longer, but we are following a collectively shared path.

May I make a call out to creative producers, coaches, mentors and those who help artists to stay creative and positive.  If you have capacity, reach out and see how you can help them move some of their ideas going forward. Do the thing we do best, think differently, think laterally, inspire, support, and help them see that their artistic practice is going to be, once again, an essential part of our landscape in the future.

I’m looking forward to doing a producing session with the University of Edinburgh producers this week, and then a gathering with some of the 550+ global independent producers who make up part of the Producers’ Pool.  We keep moving forward with these collective conversations as we find new ways to market and develop new work. If you fancy knowing more then I have a Chocolate Cake workshop for creative practitioners on Fri 29th. Have a look.  

Collectively we will come through to educate, entertain, heal, offer joy to, and celebrate with audiences the world over.  Now we have to take some time, keep ourselves safe, and do what we can in our current stay-home-cation. Slow down, apply the brakes, look both ways, and then lets find a creative way forward.

Gratitude – what’s your lockdown gift to yourself ?

I have in front of me a card from a glorious pack of inspirations by Ghata Engels called ‘creative gateways, inspirations and meditations’ Today’s card is Gratitude and it suggests reflecting on what I can be grateful for in my world at the moment, and what I can be grateful that I am manifesting or being in the world.  It seems a good time to think about this.

The world has changed for me, and for many many (maybe most) people beyond recognition.  Looking back at my blogs – it was only a few weeks ago that I was celebrating being in Russia, excited by a show heading to the Edinburgh Festival, and talking about my many upcoming workshops with aspiring creatives around the UK.  Now I sit in my little office and think ( and Zooooooom rather a lot)

This week I have much to be grateful for.  A young theatre producer from Exeter University, Suzi Bramwell,  heard a Zoom session I did with the National Student Drama Festival and asked whether I’d do a session with the Exeter University Theatre / Drama Society.  This week I had a fascinating Q&A with 16 locked down theatremakers exploring future careers under the banner of ‘Producing – Proper Job – Honest’   Now I’ve booked dates with Durham and Edinburgh University.   I am grateful for the chance to share my old grey-haired knowledge, and be challenged and inspired by the next generation of theatremakers. Happy to do more of these.

My gratitude goes out to 19 amazing experienced producers, theatremakers and marketing/development experts who have agreed to be part of the first Faculty of the CGO Institute   We met for the first time across 6 time zones and many countries to discuss the progress on the course, the joy that applications are already coming in, and the challenges to ensure that we will be delivering a creative and playful space to work and learn in when we arrive in the cloud-based classroom with our first cohort on November 2nd.  The passion and knowledge around the room was humbling and I honestly believe that we nearly have the expertise in all artforms and fields of endeavour which may be presented to us by the first cohort. 

So my question to you, dear Reader, is what are you grateful for, which is caused by, or part of, the present strange and unexpected situation ?   What might you take forward when we are once again allowed to speed on with our lives, or rebuild our worlds ?    What are you doing now in the quiet spaces, the boring spaces, the child-care overwhelming spaces, the cramped spaces, the virtual spaces, which you might want to keep in the new world when it happens ?

I’m aware of the increased reach of Producers’ Pool meetings each month now we are on Zoom rather than a welcoming café or bar in London.  I want to keep that global connectivity and see how we can grow it. 

I’m reminding myself it is OK to go and make the soup, or read a book, or go for a walk getting away from the zoom and desk.  I’m really aware of the people I am missing that I can only meet on messenger or skype or the phone.  And I miss the Lobster Pot in Blackness and the Railway in Clapham North where I could nurse a pint and do emails and work.

Thank you Ghata for the light you shine on this blog and my life. Thank you to Kath’s amazing Authentic Artist collective who I meet each Sunday for a zoom workshop and realise each week the power of connection that is possible even on remote platforms.  And thank you to Lewis Barfoot, Mhairi Campbell,  and Original Theatre for giving me access to concerts, ceilidhs and theatre which I might have missed in my rushed diary, rushing, rushing.    Take it slower friends and enjoy moments of Gratitude.

Unlocking Creativity – a vital Role of the Producer

Each week I am looking at my work and my path to starting the Diploma in Creative Producing in November.  Yesterday I received our first completed application and assignment, and I am awaiting a number of others.  I am delighted by the interest in CGO Institute and the ways in which the organisation may develop training globally in many different fields of the theatre/events over the next few years.  The first of our new short-courses for senior creative practitioners is now with one Country for potential bi-lingual delivery.

Each aspect of my life, and I believe the lives of most producers, resolves around unlocking and then realising, or supporting the realisation, of a vision.  At this time of lockdown an inspiring yoga instructor in Clapham is using the simple question – what can you unlock in lockdown?

This week I undertook 16 tutorials with 4th year graduating theatremakers who are locked down and trying to make their final showreels (without live showcase, kit or mates), websites, and professional cv’s. They have done good innovative work – why not film a monologue in a bath (clothed but trapped), where the speech reflected the struggle of this time of lockdown. That theatremaker was unlocking their potential with a propped up iphone and a first try at using imovie. 

This time for these 16 people is intense as they hand in their work away from campus and each other. For some the motivation is immense to get on with the planning for their theatre companies, but for others there may be a creeping sense of lethargy and pointlessness in it al after the rush of deadlines.

The role of the producer with these aspirational theatremakers is to help them see opportunities and understand that there are ways to make connections with other locked down folk who, in time, may be the casting director, agent, producer or director they most need.  We as creative producers can help them unlock their possibility to be creative.

The Creative Producer must be, sometimes, pessimist and pragmatist – raining on the parade of uncontrolled, unrealistic, unaffordable ambitions of another creative. But sometimes, and in fact now more and more times, we need to be optimist and enabler.

No work, no money, nothing in the diary, and nowhere to go can be debilitating. And we have to give ourselves a hug, and time to be kind to ourselves. But then the creative producer can help others to help themselves with harnessing the creativity of the slightly crushed.  We have each other. We have zoom. And for once in our lives most of us are in the same boat in terms of work/fees/projects for the next few months.  So we can invent together.

On Tuesday it is Producers’ Pool monthly meeting where 25-40 of us will share experiences and look forward. From this meeting will come confirmation of some regional Producers’ Pool networks which have been bubbling. Places where producers can talk more locally and regionally about the uncertain future. And then later in the week I do my first open workshop/Q&A with a University drama society and local arts community. Under the banner “Producing, Proper Job, Honest”, I will be meeting many in the cloud who would normally be around the Exeter campus. I now have dates in Durham and Edinburgh and look forward to more invitations.

So producers one and all – think how you can use your skills for unlocking creatives, networking, idea generation, listening to the next generation and peers, and making stuff happen to help anyone out there who is slightly crushed by lockdown.  Let’s continue to share great stories of small achievements through CGO Institute, UK Theatre Producers, and Producers’ Pool pages on Facebook and through Twitter and other outlets.

Wonder at a ‘new normal’

From all the devastation of the fires across New South Wales and beyond last year, I was struck by a series of photos taken by my sister-in-law who went off to volunteer with BlazeAid for many weeks helping farmers to repair their land.  The photos were of tiny shoots of natural recovery amidst the wipe-out.  Now, just a few months later, we have our own devastation to our livelihoods and infrastructure amidst lockdown. Nature, here, continues unaffected and I hope everyone wherever they are can take some moments to look out of a window, take a walk, or get into the sun, and see the beauty of our world.

I am looking forward, to November 2nd when the first cohort of creative producers will gather from around the world to begin study with the CGO Institute on the very first Diploma in Creative Producing.  At this point we have no idea whether UK theatres will be open, whether audiences will be returning.  I understand from a zoom session with an international flock of young producers that some countries have already decreed that their theatres and public spaces will be closed until 2021. 

In the words of Charles Eisenstein in an extended article The Coronation, he talks of “feeling that humanity was nearing a crossroads”…and “all of a sudden, we go around a bend and here it is”…“We are right to stop stunned at the newness of our situation. Because of the hundred paths that radiate out in front of us some lead in the same direction we’ve already been headed. Some lead to hell on earth. And some lead to a world more healed and more beautiful that we ever dared believe to be possible.”

The 20 diploma studying producers will be joining us to look at a new landscape. Some theatre and producers around the world will be aiming to re-create the same, because that is what the public loved before.  Some of our closest friends and theatremakers will have chosen, or been forced, to shut up shop.  And some will be contemplating new pathways to reflect on, champion for, and be part of a new more healed world – daring to believe.

Nicholas Berger in The Forgotten Art of Assembly argues for “the urgency and value of our form”. “There are undoubtedly going to be casualties. Theatre companies won’t survive, and the ones that do will be more strapped for cash than they already were. But this environment of scarcity must not be a time for artistic safety, rather a time for leanness and daring. Provocative, risk-taking, unabashedly theatrical work is going to be critical when we are finally allowed within six feet of each other again. Only in our excellence will we make a full-throated argument for the urgency and value of our form. We can use this surplus of time to prepare for that triumphant return, not just to distract ourselves while we wait for it. “

My question at a gathering of the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) last week with fellows from the UK and Australia was to wonder about the audience. I was wondering about the conflicting emotions between the fear of gathering and the need for community.   One expert talked of “furlough as a form of methadone” another the hope that we may see “the folly of so much that was normal’ and come out of our isolation with a desire to witness and be part of a more healed world.

These are big topics which the students gathering in November will be tackling as they learn the tools and rules of creative producing, and work with our faculty of 25 international practitioners.   Each of these people, working in the business, will be coming to terms with the need to understand their audience.

There is hope “history suggests that the performing arts world will be resilient. Bringing venues back on-line and reassuring audiences of their safety is not going to be an easy process, however people will be hungry for culture and engagement once lockdowns and self- isolation end “ says Byron Harrison of Charcoalblue in Performance Buildings in the Post-Pandemic World.

I wonder how strong and resilient theatre and the performing arts’ own natural ecology is. I too am hopeful.  But I sense (with absolutely no research or grounds for sensing this) that the first tiny shoots to grow out of the scorched landscape will be the theatres that are rooted in community. The producers who know their audience personally They will understand their fears and can adapt to grow an offer to feed the hunger for engagement.

As a marketing person I ask many many directors and producers Who do you want on your front row ?  Who are they? Describe them in great detail. Where have they come from? What else do they do with their time? What has drawn them to this particular event at this particular place at this particular time.  Now I think the question has another fundamental level to be explored.  Where is the front row? How are they getting to this place of gathering? How are they feeling about life and this adventure to join community?   Can we ensure that their desire for community and entertainment/inspiration is greater than their fear of gathering?

Felix Salmon in Axios Edge reminds us “A mistrust of mingling with strangers — or even with friends — is likely to linger for a generation” He then adapts Weisberg’s Law to suggest “Everybody more paranoid than you has gone way overboard, while everybody less paranoid is not only putting themselves at risk but is acting in a deeply socially irresponsible manner.“   We have to remember this knife edge balance may be deep in the core of many of our potential audiences. 

But Bryan Harrison believes” We will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a new appreciation for how connected we really are, irrespective of the availability of global travel. At our best, we’ll find a “we’re all in this together” attitude that will embrace new and adventurous artistic work. …Our industry must find ways to be resilient; our humanity depends on it.”

Tonight I go to my second private house concert/international ceilidh produced by Edinburgh based musician and theatremaker Mairi Campbell.  Last week she had artists playing from their homes in Mexico, Nova Scotia, London, Los Angeles and across Scotland. Tonight we will gather again and celebrate the artistry created in community.  It is a glorious gathering without fear.  It is from these seeds that a ‘new normal’ arts and theatre community will grow, I believe.

I can’t wait to work with creative producers in November to explore the new normal. Between now and 6 months time the world will keep changing, and nature will keep growing. Let’s see who amongst the next generation of producer will choose to take roads less travelled.