I’m Devoted, positively Disgruntled, and a little reflective

Yesterday I travelled back from D&D19 the annual 3 day convention on theatre and the performing arts which brings together 200-300 practitioners from around the UK. We were in the wonderful Warehouse of SlungLow and in the caring and heartfelt holding of Phelim McDermott and his amazing team at Improbable Theatre.

I feel whenever I talk about D&D I must be preaching to the converted – but then I come across yet another wave of folk in the arts who have never heard of it.  Phelim &/or Lee Simpson, co-founder, have opened space every year for 19 years for artists and producers and companies and thinkers and business leaders and media and all sectors of the performing arts.  But maybe, paradoxically, because it is open to everyone, people don’t get it.  People talk of gatekeepers and closed organisations and barriers to entry – and many aspire to get to be members or to be accepted or to win awards. Having something which is open to all, totally non hierarchical, and where you absolutely know you can get your problem/issue out into the room, makes some people think it is a unicorn. [Should we maybe put out that it is a secret society and very exclusive …. would that make even more senior leaders and politicians joining us to be Surprised]

But seriously, please be sure that D&D is an extraordinary place for those who make theatre, programme theatre, critique or fund theatre, or just want to continue to be employed/work in theatre. And throughout the rest of the year Improbable run satellite D&Ds and you can explore a wealth of archive notes from years and years, hundreds and hundreds of sessions.

So why Devoted – well I continue to be devoted to the principal of opening space for conversations and learning, connections and inspiration to happen.  Producers’ Pool and my own CGO Institute have at their heart the principals of Open Space. [Well in a sense they must do because they are just the principals of everyday life].  

I am positively Disgruntled – because I know that the systems and funding and world in which theatremakers sit is deeply flawed. But I also know that there is a will from enough people in positions of authority and influence to make things better, and there is a determination from everyone in the theatre and performing arts to show to the world the power of the arts and theatre and the artforms we love.

A backer to one of my graduate producers described the changing world at the moment in terms of the “sounds of shattering patterns” . Old ways and orders are changing. Old politics will be swept away.  The arts is there to inspire, support, heal and delight. We have to find a way to feed ourselves, survive if not thrive for now, and have our voices in the mix of change.

In the words of the awardwinning baker and theatremaker Elspeth Murray

Ars Vita Verissima Est, Non Luxuria Damnabelis” – art is essential to life, not a fucking luxury,

And why am I quietly Reflective – well I was sitting in a circle on Sunday afternoon when Phelim advised us that the founder/creator of Open Space Technology which lies at the heart of D&D had died.  At 88 Harrison Owen had ordered his affairs, let many friends know that he was dying, and been working and inspiring to the end.   But to learn of his death is deeply saddening. His principal of “When it’s Over it’s Over” has a heavy ring of truth to it this weekend. But that also has a flip side – as far as the need to keep opening space and being devoted and disgruntled – when its not over it is time to keep doing the work.

And my other reason, linked to my last Blog here, is the slow preparation for my handing over the reins or completion of the operation of the CGO Institute. [Edit note – I am fit and well and not intending to stop being useful anytime soon…just maybe doing something different]

I was wonderfully inspired by one of Phelim’s opening statements:

Notice the seasonality of your creativity. If you don’t notice your endings, sometimes you can miss your beginnings” 

Thank you Phelim for holding space for me to explore so many things this weekend in the company of some of those who have studied with me over the years, some of whom have inspired me with their vision and skill in creative practice, some of whom I knew by reputation but had never sat down to share ideas with, one of whom I have seen at D&D every year since they were born, and some of whom I spent time with and never learned their life/background/work – they were just fellow travellers in discussions and circles.

RIP Harrison Owen – your gift to the arts in the UK is known by thousands who have shared open space over 19 years.  I remain devoted, but just a little disgruntled that you have left us.

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