If you can’t get a job…make some work

I’ve just uncovered a folder which reminds me that on 27th August 2015 I will celebrate 40 years of being an arts administrator in the real world. Julian Garner created the Frog Company, wrote two amazing plays, and in 1975 I set up a short tour opening at the Ifield Barn Theatre and then heading to the West Country.

We took over a school in the holidays to rehearse, we were a company of 9 carrying sleeping bags and moving straw bales around to create a theatre on a farm, and we made a small profit.  [I also cooked for the company which is another story]

40 years on I continue to offer the same advice to actors coming out of drama school, or even whilst at school. If you can’t get a job, make some work.   In my case the Frog Company happened when I was not quite 17 and had just completed my A-levels. Crazy not least because on reflection, I realise I was working on raising money and sorting a tour of two new plays whilst getting stuck in to my revision. Hey ho I survived.

The Ifield Barn hired us the theatre at £12 for the first day, £6 for each day thereafter. Shebbear Village Hall & Torrington Public Hall hire charges were £4.50. Tickets were 50p…and people came.

Julian had mounted his own play in 1974, and then we had produced the first drama in the new Christ’s Hospital Arts Centre – “Adventures in the Skin Trade” by Dylan Thomas, and now we were on the road.   After our 1975 tour we all moved on to study and make theatre in different ways. It is going to be fascinating to see how many of the small frog ‘n toad company we can find.

Moral… If you can’t get a job…make some work.   And if you can’t do everything (which none of us can) forge connections with colleagues and peers, emerging or established players, and use each other’s skill.

The joy of starting early in life is that we have no (or at least) less fear.  We knew we would raise the money to make it happen.  We believed the hand written letters to random theatres would generate interest enough to get a tour and we knew we’d get an audience.   Get started on all this stuff before the fear kicks in…and if it already has, then find some fearless emerging talent to make it happen with you.

This weekend is Devoted and Disgruntled at York Hall, Bethnal Green where 250+ theatremakers will gather together. Old friends re-connect, new friendships are forged, and everyone has time and space to raise an issue or express a need to find a way forward.   Kath and I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Maybe Ifield Barn will hire us the space again for a reunion at 1975 rates…I can but ask.






  1. It was so good to be reminded of this little chapter, Chris. The Frog Company was a small gesture of independence in a closed community of a large, relatively isolated and tradition-rich institution. The first two productions addressed that community, but the tour saw us step out into something altogether more risky. Although the Ifield Barn and the village halls of North Devon felt terribly small after the Christ’s Hospital theatre, we were attempting to speak to complete strangers with our work. That it worked as well as it did was as much due to luck as anything else, but that success I think fueled my entire career. Certainly the barn storming ethos has always remained close to my heart. You’re absolutely right about the lack of fear: I have tried to hold onto fearlessness – it’s not always easy – because when you don’t, when you let fear in, suddenly you’re frozen. CulturaMobila which I do-founded with Hanne Horte Garner in 2004 was a similar gesture in many ways. Hanne and I are have said many times that if we’d known what we were heading into we’d probably not have dared. So, the arrogance of youth needs to be nurtured at all times 🙂

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