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.