What’s the point of surgery…

As Tom, my colleague and CGO Associate creates a new version of the website, I get to write some blogs.  Tom suggested the first subject should be about the CGO Surgery process. And I’m delighted to do that.  We started these rather unexpected events a couple of years ago because we both like meeting emerging, new, stuck, world weary, wonderfully experienced, inspiring, special, and troubled creatives. We like to see whether there’s something we can do in an hour to help.  No money changes hands. Its not about getting CGO work.  Its about seeing what happens in the moment when we settle down and talk about a project, a life, or an issue.

Tom and I are not experts in most things. Indeed some of our most successful surgeries have come when we literally know absolutely nothing about the visitors’ specialist subject. However what we are is easily excited and inspired by someone else’s world.  Certain standard patterns emerge over time.   We often find our guests stuck at a crossroads, or even hurt by the number of brick walls they have hit, or maybe just bemused by a section of the arts business about which they are totally unfamiliar.

Each session is, of course, confidential. The deal is that we talk for 45 minutes with them – Tom and I then have a few minutes to regroup and think about whether there are any people we could connect with our guest. Then we turn over the page and start with the next person.  It seems to work. We seem to get some quite wonderful feedback at times. We have even helped to bring a couple of people together and a whole project has grown out of it.  We arrive with no expectations (we hope most of the visitors arrive with few expectations), and we take it from there.

Last Saturday, sitting in our usual table in the foyer of the Lyttleton Theatre (which Tom and I now think of as our CGO office) we saw 7 different people through the day.  Although the details will remain confidential, the strands might be interesting to anyone thinking of visiting:

First I met an emerging producer who had a cracking success with a show in Edinburgh, was beginning to get connected around the scene in London, had had a rather nice “offer” from a theatre, and wanted to explore deals, copyright protection, ideas for touring, thoughts on marketing and what scale to pitch things at, and a little bit about money.

Next we switched to an actor who wanted to be a creator (maybe film, maybe radio) and had found the perfect book by a new author. They were not sure whether they wanted to be the writer of the project, or the producer with a commissioned writer. They wanted to rehearse a meeting scheduled for the next day with the author – and then to think around who else they needed (or might) bring on board to help her open a plethora of doors needed to take this international project forward.

Over our third coffee (or Roibosh tea) of the day we settled down to explore Performance Art and the realm of what it is to be a male in a feminist world, how that might be shown through performance, and how a single highly experienced but relatively unknown creator of performance pieces could step up to the next level where their work would be noticed by someone who might, in the right circumstances, commission new work, and allow the artist to eat/pay rent.  We ended up creating an idea together for a whole gallery event, and touched on some of the people who might be drawn into the project to make it “noticed”. It is amazing how, in 45 minutes, you can uncover people that the visitor knows, but doesn’t know they know. This is always part of the exploration.

It’s a long day…its a long blog…it doesn’t get to any staggering conclusion, so you’d better keep skimming through !!

Next came a fascinating exploration of the installation of major art from found objects in stately homes. Understanding for us how there could be potential sales and longer life for some of the work which this sculpture has created.  I felt we did not find an instant hook into this world, but I for one will be keeping my eye open for serpents in strange places next summer.

Our exploration now moved to visual art for people with learning difficulties and the extraordinary work being undertaken by an ex-art teacher/lecturer to help groups in their own homes to find a voice visually. One of those projects which feel as though everyone should know about it, everyone should be supporting with some funding, and it should be a beacon for what is possible in letting out the creative forces of adults whose voices and visions may not be seen and heard.  Tom and I both want to see whether we can think of the right connecting person to help make things happen.  Not least, as with so many people we see, those doing the art don’t have time to find the money or run the business.  But then there are an equal number of people who want to make things happen but don’t have the creative spark to do it themselves.  Hopefully bit by bit we can bring these two groups together.  [If there is any grad student in arts business out there who wants to help champion and grow something very special, please get in touch – London base would help]

Then, 10 minutes later, we met someone who comes completely from the business side – a mathematician turned arts business professional [there are more of you out there…please get in touch]. In this case we were exploring a gallery space where the lease was coming to an end and the success of 2yrs creative work might be lost. We focussed with this bizperson on their final exhibition and exploring some of the marketing potential to get the right people to know of the challenges they had.

And finally waiting for us was a composer who had had a great idea, brought to the world too early and horribly savaged by some critics who were game for a laugh.  How do you recover from that, all too common occurance.  We explored the market potential for the piece (big), the ways to bring it to that market (as far away from London as possible), the potential international arena for musical theatre (right title, great market), and the time it will take to move step by step to recover the confidence of potential presenters who would get a fun laugh if they google their favourite critic.  The piece most certainly deserved better. Let’s see whether a steady approach will help.

Darkness had fallen and icy winds blew as we left the National Theatre, awash with coffee and inspiration,  to go and have a very quiet evening where we didn’t have to listen quite so intently.  Yet again we had had a great day, and hopefully we will have done a bit of good for a few people.

People who know Tom and I may be suprised by some of the topics we covered in the day – oh we’ve looked at international dance companies, video installation, performance poetry,  playwriting,  mime, children’s theatre, buildings, light work, and a goodly smattering of composers, lyricists and producers. They all have something to gain from sitting with someone (not just us) and exploring for 45 minutes where they are and where they want to go, and a few markers along the way.

We’re back at the National in March (oh I like that phrase), but before then we’ll be doing a session in Nottingham, and we’ll be at D&D (Devoted and Disgruntled) to talk and listen and giraffe and butterfly.  Check the CGO website for what we’re up to.

That’s all folks for this first blog – more to follow – suggest topics if you like.