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Here’s What You Could’ve Won #3: An Airship Fleet

[Part of the Here’s What You Could Have Won series, where I take issues from the news and make whimsical fag-packet calculations of things that the £205 billion due to be spent on replacing the Trident programme of nuclear submarines could buy, in preparation for the tour of my show Nuketown]

Guys. Bear with me.

In 1930, the last British airship to be made in the 20th century, the R101, set off into the skies over Cardington, Bedfordshire. It really was the Titanic of the Air: a bevy of high-profile guests were on board, including the Air Minister Lord Thompson. There was a full dining car painted with a faux marble effect, a kitchen, and a promenade section with huge glass panes. It was 200 metres long, an unsinkable ship, designed to set a new passenger line between England, Egypt and India.

Unfortunately, the R101 met a similarly Titanic-esque fate, crashing in an unexpected storm over France, killing 48 of the 54 people on board.  The British government almost immediately abandoned its airship programme, followed shortly after by nations the world over.

Now. Am I saying we should send government ministers out to die in flimsy death-balloons? No. Not in this blog anyway. Like I said, hear me out.

80 years on from the end of the era of the airship, new ones are emerging. Companies are attracted to the same virtues that once drew governments to lighter-than-air travel: the ability for vertical take-off and landing to obviate the need for landing strips, their potential for greater energy efficiency, and their increasing possibility for greater speeds. Two years ago, the Airlander 10 became the first airship to be inflated at Cardington for more than three quarters of a century, with a top speed of 100mph and the ability to carry thirteen tons of cargo. That ship was made with an old airship model the US had got bored of and sold them for cheap, and backed by Kickstarter, its most high-profile donor being Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson. Imagine what could be achieved with investment from more than just legendary metal singers and the kind of people who will spend $50,000 backing potato salad.

The Airlander 10 cost £25 million. Assuming some efficiencies from mass production are counterbalanced by the costs of R&D and some bigger ships,  our £205 billion gets us a fleet of 8,200 ships. At home, you could hop on one from your local station at any city in the country, and tear through sky with electric engines on a beeline to your destination, soaring above our decrepit rail network, and our choked-up roads, held in serene suspension over the moors and beaches. Abroad, China’s terrifying New Silk Road project would be met by a smaller, quirkier English version, with driverless ships taking raw materials, machinery or even whole buildings and dropping them into parts of the developing world hampered by poor road access. Even if safety wasn’t greatly improved you’d still be more likely to die in a car accident. And they’re so pretty. Wouldn’t it be worth the risk?

The Imperial Airship programme behind the R101, for all its flawed thinking and the ethical vortex of the Empire behind it, signified a people that believed in a future. A future that we would be a major part, perhaps the leaders of. That attitude seems vastly absent from people across the political spectrum. We used to think we were inches away from colonizing mars, flying cars and 1-hour work days. Now there are only competing images of decline and dystopia. This blog miniseries has been me trying to recapture some of that 20th century optimism. And maybe giant balloons is a weird way to start. And no, it’s probably not the best use of £205 billion of public money. But its still better than nuclear bloody submarines. And, to me at least, its an interesting comparison of like for like. Of course if that money appeared today it should go on housing, healthcare and education. But if it were ringfenced for quixotic, unwieldy future tech, wouldn’t a Skytanic or two be so much more fun? Or, as the man Bruce Bruce himself put it: “I told my wife, I’m about to put £100k into a big bag of helium. It may go up in smoke. She said, people have to dream, and unless you can dream something it’s never going to happen.”.

 

On Theatre, Socialism and Projectile Vomiting (Meet The Humans #5, feat. Christina Poulton)

 [Part of Meet The Humans, a series of blogs investigating how artists and programmers in the theatre industry can talk to each other without anyone screaming or crying. Supported by Unlimited. Christina’s views are her own, and not necessarily those of Strike A Light]

1

“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that every-one does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system. Yet the fact that we have got to face is that Socialism is not establishing itself. Instead of going forward, the cause of Socialism is visibly going back.”

– George Orwell, The Road To Wigan Pier.

 

2

 

Back in February, the night before the last date of a tour of community venues in North Kirklees, I fell violently ill. I vomited nine times in the night, first food, then bile, then blood. I couldn’t even keep water down. I called 111, crawled into an overnight care centre at 5am, was given anti-emmetics and sent on to A&E. When I got there, I was told the wait time was approximately seven hours. My performance was in seven hours. So I had a choice: use the last 1% of my phone’s battery life to call up the venue and team to cancel, or go back to my digs, try and bag a quick nap and head out for the getin. I chose the latter. I’d like to say that chief among my motivations were lofty concerns, like high professional standards that condemn cancellation on principle, a will not to let the creative team down, a concern for the audiences that were banking on me to provide them with art and entertainment. In reality, my main concern was that cancellation would make the programmers of the tour not want to book me again. And this was a REALLY good gig.

Given its sudden onset, I was convinced that I had food poisoning, and thus wasn’t infectious. I was wrong. Both of the other artists on the tour later told me they caught whatever gastrointestinal bug I had the next day. Given the 100% infection rate among my team, how many of the 50 or so audience members gathered caught it? How many days of productivity were lost, how many others infected, how many more hours added to A&E wait times? What if I’d popped during the show? What if the fatigue made me crash my car on the way back to my digs? You’d think I’d be the only person in my peer group of theatre makers with a did-a-show-between-bouts-of-projectile-vomiting story. But I’m not. By any logical appraisal, both me and this unnamed peer should’ve called to cancel. Why didn’t we?

 

3

 

The world is in crisis. The postwar liberal-capitalist orthodoxy, for all its staying power, is falling slowly apart, and there is no clear contender for its replacement. Inequality is soaring with the sea levels. The ever-present threat of nuclear apocalypse stalks us as brittle, toxic apes head up the global superpowers. At home, the NHS flails and suffocates with underfunding, millions of children live in poverty, the streets of London are flooded with stabbings. In my own hometown, and on the culture front, a venue that was the heart of the indie theatre world for seven years has closed for ever. We are on a raft floating through space. Who gives a flying fuck if some small-scale theatre makers don’t feel they’re getting their emails answered enough?

4

 

Last week I was heading through the Gloucester docks at night to catch the last train home. I’d just been talking with Christina Poulton from Strike A Light (info on them is in this document. Info on everyone in this blog series is in it in fact. I probably should’ve packed it in the day I found out about it. But here I am.). I was walking past the towering warehouses that 150 years ago took in corn from the banks of the Danube, timber from the Baltic, and shipped out good old English salt to ports around the world. Now it’s mostly chain restaurants. I was feeling sad. Christina had taken an hour out of an incredibly hectic festival schedule to talk with me, and our conversation was illuminating, and then they comped me for an excellent show, but I still felt melancholic. With these blogs I’ve tried to stimulate a debate with the programmers I’ve talked to, along the lines of “small-scale touring is fucked, what are we going to do about it?”. Given that I kind of sprung this argument on the unsuspecting interviewees, their responses were admirably thoughtful, and largely in agreement that there was a problem. As someone who spends about half her week when she’s not with Strike A Light working as an independent producer, Christina backs up my diagnosis: “runs are getting shorter and shorter, which means the opportunity to engage audiences in unusual work is being reduced…you might be one of only two or three small-scale shows an arts centre books in an entire season”. But her suggestions for treatment are where we enter an interesting disagreement.

“We live in an extremely corporate world, and the arts industry in the UK is largely sheltered from that”. She argues that, if anything, people in this industry don’t think enough in business terms. There is an unavoidable element of salesmanship in pitching a show, and if artists aren’t clear and targeted, giving the venues some sense of how they can sell their show to the public, the level of response they get is likely to suffer. “If I set up a florist tomorrow and no-one bought my flowers, I would close the shop and be sad, but I wouldn’t be out saying ‘you SHOULD be buying my flowers’”. When the above document full of venue info came out, Christina’s inbox was flooded with emails asking her to book shows. Clearly many artists had trawled the document for email addresses, copied them out and fired off speculative tour packs, without doing any research on what Strike A Light was about or whether their show would fit with their programme. She replied to each of them, even though this led to her staying late in the office several nights. The word “entitled” came up, not for the first time in my conversations with venues. Artists expect venues to fit their world around them, rather than the public they are supposed to be serving. And then she says something that, through no fault of her own, hits me right in the neuroses – “I don’t know how many genuinely artistically brilliant artists there are out there that don’t get programmed.” There’s so much I wanted to discuss about this statement with her. But she needed to help with front of house. And then, understandably, as it was near the end of the festival, to go home and sleep.

 

5

 

Dinner table conversation at my parents’ house last week:

 

MUM: So you’re rehearsing the new show for four weeks?

 

ME: Yep, and working with maybe eight other people.

 

MUM: And you’re only doing three performances?

 

ME: Yeah. Maybe four.

 

MUM: That seems bit of a waste.

 

ME: It is. There might be more next year, but who knows?

 

MUM: Your job is a mystery to me, Jack.

 

ME: Yeah, me too.

 

6

 

I’m white. I’m male. I’m middle class. I’m highly educated. I have a disability and some sporadic mental health issues, but neither impair my day-to-day functioning in any major way. I’ve been lucky enough to be a theatre maker full time for four years now. I have close to every possible conceivable advantage that could be handed to someone. Am I just bitching? Do I just have inadequate product and/or sales technique? Do I just suck? Has no-one had the confidence to tell me that yet? Am I doing that thing that socialists always get accused of, pinning their personal inadequacies on an imagined social problem? A sort of “I can’t get laid because of the Patriarchy” whiny passive-aggression? Should I quit? Maybe it’s not just when I have nasty viruses that me doing shows is a net loss to society. Maybe I’m projectile vomiting my self-indulgence on every stage I’m on, taking up funding, space and audience attention that could be better directed somewhere else.

 

7

 

When I get on the train at Gloucester station, there’s an email from Christina. Instead of eating or sleeping like she should be, she’s sent a long email full of ideas on how to improve the theatre touring world. She’s clearly a lovely person. Everyone I’ve met making this blog is a lovely person. That’s why talking about this shitty system is so hard.

 

8

 

Here’s what I believe:

 

– Every time someone comes to see a piece of theatre, it is an exercise in trust. It might be their first theatre show altogether, or their first time seeing something devised, their first time in a studio. If it isn’t, they may yet still be in a place where they can get put off these things for life. They may have invested a proportionally large amount of their income in the ticket, travelled a long way, navigated difficult parking or public transit. Theatre is a live medium, so on some level they have invested in the show without really knowing what it is going to be like.

 

– Venues (I include producing organisations in this) are the guardians of this trust. For better or worse, they are the ones in our system who have the resources and skills to reach out to audiences, and when they do, it has to be with something that they find trustworthy.

 

– As it stands, with some small exceptions, there is no organised system for theatre programming that is open to all. Instead there is an informal, network-based market, with no standardised rules. The problem is, artists are generally crap salesmen. Or, at least, quality of salesmanship and networking ability has no guaranteed correlation to quality of art. It also creates an inherent incumbency bias that is potentially disastrous for diversity: if white, middle class people book someone they know, chances are it’s going to be another middle class white person. Venues are completely within their rights to not programme something they haven’t themselves seen live. But the only place they gather in any significant numbers to do this is in the nightmarish overcrowded artistic Hades that is the Edinburgh Fringe, where access to this market might cost you £10,000 a pop. Artists unwilling to do that are likely to barrage venues with waffly tour packs, grainy videos, invites to shows miles away from them and earnestly irritating follow-ups (“just checking you got this?”). Venues rarely have the spare capacity to filter through this stuff, or to go and see things outside of the Fringe. This means either working overtime like Christina does or just ignoring it. In the face of enough of the latter you’d think artists would change tack. But artists are desperate. Getting or not getting a gig can swing a tour plan, which can swing a funding application, which can decide whether or not they are employed for several months. We don’t even cancel when we’re walking chunder-vesuviuses for fear of losing a future gig. We’re not going to stop sending unsolicited emails. The ensuing breakdown in communication leads to confusion, hostility, and cyclically, to worse communication.

 

– Venues don’t owe artists anything. Not gigs, not money, not even necessarily a reply to an email. To assume otherwise is entitlement.

 

– Artists don’t owe venues anything. Not unpaid time, not putting their own health second, not even to personally care about the venue and its mission. To assume otherwise is a different kind of entitlement.

 

– We both owe everything to the public. The people that fund us, directly or indirectly. The people who we all do it for. The people whose trust is placed in us. The Arts Council’s moniker is Great Art For Everyone. I actually think that’s a wonderful goal. It’s also, I’d say, a socialist one. We can’t accomplish that goal if we don’t fairly, democratically and transparently decide on what Great Art is, and we can’t make it For Everyone if we waste our energies on this flimsy, nepotistic pseudo-marketplace of theatre shows.

 

9

 

Here are some possible solutions that me and Christina came up with (although not necessarily agreed on), in descending order of how actually useful I think they would be.

 

a)  The Arts Council pay the best artists salaries to make art. It commissions the best producing organisations to make sure their work (shows, workshops, whatever) gets in front of the right audience in the right way at the right time. We work together to give the public what they want and deserve, and no-one has to harass anyone. And we can all take sick days when our holes are exploding without fear of penury.

 

b) A new set of annual theatre festivals, one in each Arts Council region, that are open to apply to anyone. A jury of the public goes through applications, whittling them down to maybe 100 per festival on set published criteria, with equal opps monitoring. The artists are paid and given accommodation. A new organisation manages the festival, promotes it to the public and handles the technical and production. A venue delegation comes by for two weeks of it, and shows are scheduled in such a way that they can see everything. The festival goes to different cities each year, like the Olympics without the White Elephant stadiums. I reckon this’d cost the Arts Council about £5m a year to do nationwide, or less than one new foyer (Credit due to Simon Day, who kind of came up with this idea in his blog).  But even if it was completely unfunded and just free to enter it would be vastly cheaper than the current Fringe.

 

c)  Venues adopt a job-interview-like process for each season they programme, advertising exactly what they want, holding showcase-interviews and picking the most appropriate candidates, again with equal opps monitoring. They could club together to make this more efficient. Artists asking for a gig outside this process would be like in the 90s when you went around shops in town dropping off copies of your cv speculatively – nobody would do it anymore.

 

d) Venues use, and perhaps share, a “programming@” email address with an out-of-office that explains how and when they programme, giving whatever response time is realistic for them (even if its three months, at least then its clear). If artists send the wrong info, or don’t wait long enough, or try and get programmed by chumming it up with a specific staff member instead, they are hit with sticks.

 

Whether you agree with any of these, we have to have this debate. That involves getting away from the pervasive myth of the arts that we all agree on everything. It means being honest and open and willing to change, whatever side of the divide you’re on. And when we reach consensus, we need to take action, not just complain about how bad it is. We are on a raft sailing through space. None of it ultimately matters. But this is our industry, our patch of the raft and we know we can do better. We are the creative ones, the ones who understand the transformative power of art, if we can’t fix this problem, who the hell is going to fix anything?

 

As an artist, I’m going to keep making the best stuff I can, and try and not let the desperation push me into doing more harm than good. Together, we can win, even if socialism doesn’t. Yet.

 

[Addendum: the Arts Council is currently holding an online public consultation on what it should do from 2020-30. If you agree with the above, or have your own ideas, why not go here and tell them about it?]

 

 

 

Here’s What You Could Have Won #2: Nationalising Facebook

[Part of the Here’s What You Could Have Won series, where I take issues from the news and make whimsical fag-packet calculations of things that the £205 billion due to be spent on replacing the Trident programme of nuclear submarines could buy, in preparation for the tour of my show Nuketown]

Ah Facebook. Where else can you humblebrag about your new job, post your new avocado workout and furtively masturbate over pics of university acquaintances? People are getting increasingly vexed about the rise of Facebook, both in terms of its monopolistic control of social media, and the, um, intriguing applications of its technology by home-grown old-school British villains Cambridge Analytica. Now even the mega-rich are turning on it, as Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook throw shade at each other, like, well, two nerds in a Facebook comment war.

If domestic geeks are going to use Facebook data to rig elections, they might as well do it for MI6 and, y’know, rig them the right way. On the real though, nationalisation would offer the potential of far greater transparency on how data is used. At a bare minimum, it would mean some elected officials would be snooping on your late-night drunk-messages and not a private company. And it would give the British taxpayer access to a slice of its tasty $4.7 billion per year in profits.

But Jack, you comment while Timehopping back to that Amazeballs Night With Fiona And the Squad, would Zuckerberg want to sell? He wasn’t very keen on sharing the fun when he was Jesse Eisenberg learning dance moves from Justin Timberlake in that one movie, was he? Well, it’s complicated. Normally, on a publicly traded company like Facebook, for every share you buy you get one vote at shareholders meeting, where the companies big decisions are made. So if you buy more than half of the company’s 2,986,000,514 shares, you get a controlling stake: you’re the boss. Our £205 billion doesn’t quite buy us all of Facebook, but it gets us a 62% stake. But Facebook, as in most things it does as a company, does things differently. They have two different classes of shares. Class A (one share, one vote) and Class B (one share, 10 votes, owned exclusively by company insiders). Through owning a shit ton of class B shares, he has 60% of the votes despite only having 16% of the shares. This, for some reason, is perfectly legal, meaning a company gets the liquidity of trading its shares on the stock market that being a public company provides, with the same total control by one or a few people that a private company does. Isn’t Capitalism a BLAST?

So our majority stake would get us the money, but not the power. But does Zuckerberg really want to be in charge of the monster he created? As Trevor Noah from the Daily show riffed: ‘Mark Zuckerberg started out by basically making a “hot or not” website for his college ,and now America is counting on him to protect the integrity of its elections”. Mark, I implore you, let go of this Atlas-like burden, go focus on philanthropy and Farmville, and leave us to counter the post-Brexit lapse in trade with some super-targeted pork pie ads.

Meet The Humans #4: Mike Tweddle

The Biz:

What His Job Is

Artistic Director, Tobacco Factory Theatres

What He Programmes

All genres of live performance that can “tell epic and extraordinary stories in an intimate, atmospheric setting and to reflect, inspire and engage people of all backgrounds” (Programming policy here).

How He Programmes

At weekly meetings with three other staff members, where they review tour packs, videos and things they’ve seen live.

When He Programmes

9-10 months in advance

Do’s and don’ts of talking Mike

Don’t

– Send overly long emails

Do

– Read the programming policy and find out about the venue before contacting.

His Email

mike@tobaccofactorytheatres.com (but you should send show proposals to programming@tobaccofactorytheatres.com )

Fun Fact About Mike
He and his partner got engaged while out rollerblading.

The Waffle

What do you do when you’re too successful? Not a question that many people who aren’t rappers will ask themselves, but one that seems to be on the minds of the Tobacco Factory. The venue draws 80% of its income from its box office, an unheard-of amount for a subsidised theatre. They average 80% of capacity for their shows, which range from the more mainstream to the weirder. They are coming to the end of constructing a new, smaller theatre so that they can programme even more from the weird end.

If I was in Mike’s position, a position I’d wager many venues would do violent crimes to be in, I’d just want to coast. But of course, Mike doesn’t just want to coast. “You only have to walk ten minutes from this building to get to places where educational attainment, life prospects, social mobility are some of the lowest in the country”, he points out. “There are loads of people we want to work with more, and listen to more”. It’s always worth remembering as arts professionals that success for us (usually defined as big audiences and/or plentiful funding) is not always success for the places we live and work – not if the people most in need of a lift are still not getting through the door, as is so often the case. Your average theatre audience (can’t speak for Tobacco factory’s) is 93% white , their average age is 52 and only 10% of actors are from a working class background. Mike is trying to expand the venue’s engagement activity, and make their programme more inclusive (a previous season was programmed almost exclusively by a group of young people). This is one hell of a mountain to climb, especially when trying to fill the void left by the vanishing of the arts in state education –a mountain that, on reflection, makes the fight to sell 80% capacity look mole-hillish. Certainly I don’t have the foggiest on how we get there. But it’s a mountain that we must climb somehow: no matter how well an individual theatre venue or company does, theatre as a whole is in poor health if the faces and walks of life that come with the bums on seats don’t match those that fill up our country as a whole.

This isn’t abstract for Mike, but personal: “When I was a kid, getting involved with theatre saved me”. Me too, actually. If I stopped working in the industry tomorrow, the outlets, the self-belief, the values and creativity that the art form gave me would still form an essential part of who I am. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of you. So let’s save everyone we can.

Here’s What You Could Have Won #1: A Thousand Years of Grit

[Part of the Here’s What You Could Have Won series, where I take issues from the news and make whimsical fag-packet calculations of things that the £205 billion due to be spent on replacing the Trident programme of nuclear submarines could buy, in preparation for the tour of my show Nuketown]

I write this in the middle of Storm Emma, a rare Siberian weather pattern that has crept its way west like Kutuzov’s armies fresh on the heels of Napoleon. I am snug indoors with the dog, but outside the world is collapsing. Non-essential travel is discouraged. Chatham ski slope has closed due to too much snow. A great yellow penis of frosty doom drags itself over the land, and all the English doth lose their shit. At times like this a uniquely English clash of weather and local politics emerges over the subject of gritting. In Sheffield, the ongoing furore over the private contractor Amey’s destruction of thousands of ancient trees continues to bubble over, with the council apparently prioritising gritting access roads for tree-cutters over important traffic routes. One things for sure – there’s never enough grit and never enough people to spread it. It’s a spicy microcosm of the debate around prioritisation of public resources that I’m getting sticky with in Nuketown.

Grit (which is actually rock salt), helps snow and ice melt faster and helps car tyres grip the roads. It is mined domestically and distributed by local authorities, who are compelled to grit their roads under the 1980 Highways Act. The UK puts 2 million tonnes of it out every year. So if we spent the £205 billion purely on materials, how much would we get?. The BBC recently found out the cost of rock salt per tonne in different parts of the UK, with the priciest being Torbay at £38 per tonne. Setting the cost at that of the fancy, fancy riviera salt of my southern neighbours, we get 5,394,736,842 tonnes. Stacked into cubic metre bags one on top of each other, this would stretch to the moon and back 54 times.  Spread evenly, it would slather the entire island of Britain 173 metres deep. True Grit.

But Jack, you howl from the avalanche-hole you are trapped in: what use is all this grit with no-one to do the gritting? Right you are, these sturdy guardians of our fine minerals must be taken into account. This article put pre-austerity spending on gritting across the UK at £150m per year. I’m not sure if this figure has since been cut, but let’s give it a one-third increase either way and bulk it up to £200m. Ignoring inflation (because that’s no fun), and assuming a steady and unlimited supply of grit from our nation’s mines, as well as ruling out savings from automation by increasingly powerful and hilariously named machines, the new Royal Chartered Institute of Gritters could keep churning grip-dust onto our lanes and byways from now until the year 3043. But then what would we complain about?

 

 

 

Meet The Humans #3: Mair George & Jade Campbell

 [Part of Meet The Humans, a series of blogs investigating how artists and programmers in the theatre industry can talk to each other without anyone screaming or crying. Supported by Unlimited.]

The Biz:

What Their Jobs Are
Jade: Co-Director & Co-Founder, Doorstep Arts.

Mair: Co-Parent & Lead Producer of Platform, Doorstep Arts.

 

What They Programme

Theatre from “national touring artists, emerging local theatre makers and regional young people” in venues around the Torbay area. Most shows that are booked come with some kind of participatory element that is accessible to young people.

 

How They Programme

Mostly through the Collaborative Touring Network, an open-application touring scheme led by Battersea Arts Centre, which programmes two tours a year.

 

When They Programme

In line with Platform, a festival that takes place in spring and autumn, (coinciding with CTN tours), booked 12 months in advance.

 

Do’s and don’ts of talking to Mair & Jade

Don’t

– Talk inscrutable arts jargon at them.

Do

– Make your copy accessible to a general audience.

– Bear in mind that your show will usually be pitched as whole evening’s experience – often with a meal after – at non-theatregoing audiences. “A show can challenge an audience, but it has to also welcome them”.

 

Their Emails

mair@doorsteparts.co.uk

jade@doorsteparts.co.uk

 

Fun Facts About Mair & Jade

Jade is a blue-belt in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. Mair speaks four languages.

 

The Waffle

The more I think about the process of theatre tour booking, the more it seems analogous with the world of dating. You meet, sometimes in the real world, more likely these days on the internet. You try and woo them, usually presenting your best self rather than the reality. Maybe you go on a date (one-night booking). This might grow into something larger (run, commission, co-production) or might not. Some venues are poly, some seek exclusivity (I’m thinking of contracts with the biblical-style “thou shalt not perform within 40 miles for 40 days forsooth” clauses).  This similarity might go some way to explaining why I kind of suck at both (in this part of the Sex and The City episode, I look from laptop to the window as a voiceover goes “I couldn’t help but wonder”…)

After doing some more research, I find that a lot of the common pitfalls of online dating replicate themselves identically in tour booking. There’s “Ghosting”, when someone just stops contacting you completely and without explanation, “Breadcrumbing”, where someone feeds you a minimal amount of attention and correspondence but actually He/She’s Just Not That Into You, and “Zombie-ing”, where someone will disappear off the face of the earth for months and then contact you again as if nothing has happened. I dare say if you’re a theatre maker talking to venues you’ve experienced at least one, if not all three, of these. And while ghosting in the dating world is done pretty much equally by men and women, I’d wager a pack of Tinder Super Likes that artists are more ghosted that ghoster. (Prove me wrong in the comments! Flame war on!).  Either way, ghosting of all kinds is whack. And though it isn’t on the surface a gendered issue, it seems possible to me that it’s a feminist one.

Doorstep Arts describe themselves several times as a female-led organisation in our conversation, and big up other ones that they know as well. I ask them why that’s important to them as a label, and how it differentiates them from an organisation led by the penis-havers. “We value the process of working together, as a web, rather than a hierarchy” says Mair. “Jade is a Director for putting on forms, but on the day-to-day my input is valued equally”. There certainly seems to be a different culture – people are given “parent” roles over projects (like Mair’s) rather than management ones. Staff can bring their babies and small children into the office whenever they like “We have a list of tasks, and we trust that they will get done”. They don’t view these elements as something a male-dominated workplace couldn’t have, but they’re vocal in declaring its uniqueness and its value. “We might have a meeting where Erin is breast-feeding, and some of the men are uncomfortable, but you know what, eat that. We’re going to breast-feed our children and we’re still going to crush the meeting”.

If we work together as equals more, we are pushed to use trust rather than coercion to achieve our aims more. If we trust people more, we communicate with them more, and we develop more empathy. Hierarchies fill the void where trust is absent. The three avoidance techniques above come from a fear we can all relate to – the fear of being cruel. A director friend said a literary manager once told him he didn’t ever like to send script rejections because “I don’t want to be the person that says no to the next big hit”. We all like to keep our options open, and we all find it hard to let people down at times. But we invariably prefer an honest rejection over evasion when we’re on the receiving end. A study in 2012 identified seven strategies people use for breakups, and out of all of them, people who were broken up with ranked “openly confronting your partner, expressing your feelings and your desire to break up” as the best strategy, and “avoidance” as the worst – worse even than “using manipulative tactics” and “becoming unpleasant and picking fights”. I know first hand how much I’d rather get an honest no from a venue than months of being ignored. But in the position of power that venues often are in over artists, and the hierarchical thinking that comes with it, many will opt for avoidance in the belief that they are within their rights to do so. Even venues that make a documented commitment to respond to emails, as the Venues North group did and the new Venues South West group have, can fall short of these declarations. And technology makes it so much easier – ignoring an email carries so much less emotional baggage than binning a letter, hanging up a phone call or blanking someone in the street.

People of the theatre world, whatever your line of work, artist, manager, officer, executive or co-parent, I implore you – answer your emails. You may have hundreds of the fuckers, but “no” is a wonderfully short word, and will be the stitch in time to save you from nine thousand followups. Let us walk, arm-in-arm like Gilbert, Yates and Holtzmann in a film that had no controversy whatsoever, to bust these ghosts once and for all.

Job Opportunity – Technical Stage Manager, Nuketown

Background

 

Nuketown is a combined storytelling and protest-art piece about cities, public money and the possible end of life as we know it. It underwent a pilot in 2016 and now is going out on tour. The show involves 2 elements – a participatory build session with Lego where audiences add to an imaginary city equal in value to the proposed £205 billion Trident nuclear submarine replacement programme, and a live show where live camera feeds are used to explore this utopian city and tell the tales of its inhabitants.

 

We are seeking a Technical Stage Manager to support the touring and delivery of both elements of the project, manage the props, set and technical equipment, handle technical communications with venues, lead on getins & getouts, and operate sound and lighting.

 

Person Specification

 

Essential:

 

  • Experience of working stage management on small-scale touring theatre shows.
  • Experience of using Qlab 3 for playback.
  • Ability to work with studio theatre lighting desks to plot and program lighting cues.
  • Strong communication and organisational skills.
  • Based in or able to commute to Exeter.
  • Availability for all tour and rehearsal dates

 

Desirable:

  • Full, clean driving license.

Tour Schedule 

16th-20th and 23rd-27th April: Rehearsals in Exeter

28th April: Performance at Farnham Maltings, Farnam*

14th May: Performance at Exeter Phoenix

16th May: Performance at Norwich Literature Festival*

18th May: Performance at Bridport Arts Centre

19th May: Performance at Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton

24th May: Performance at ARC, Stockton*

1st July: Re-rehearsal day in Exeter

7th July: Performance at Theatre Shop, Clevedon.

 

*Travelling from Exeter the day before.

 

Fee

£1995 representing 19 days work at £105 per day (1 day prep, 11 days rehearsal and 7 performances). Travel and accommodation for all non-Exeter tour dates will be covered, alongside commuting costs of up to £20 per day for rehearsals & performances in Exeter.

 

How To Apply

Send a cv to jackdean1989@gmail.com . Deadline for applications will be 5pm on 4th March. Interviews will be held in Exeter on the week commencing 12th March.

 

 

 

 

Job Opportunity: Producer – Jeremiah and Audience Development

FEE

£6000 to cover fees and travel expenses for Producer and any subcontractors they use on a freelance basis, based on 50 days between March & November at £120 per day.

 THE PROJECT

 Jeremiah is a loud, rambunctious new show with live music by rap storyteller Jack Dean. Created with a full band and original score, it will tell the incredible true story of the much-misunderstood Luddite rebellion. Having completed an initial R&D commissioned by Unlimited, it will go into production in Exeter in September 2018, followed by a series of launch performances across the UK in October & November 2018. Alongside this, Jack Dean will undergo an audience development programme supported by confirmed funding from Arts Council England. We are seeking an individual or company to deliver both of these projects to a high standard, working alone or with specialist subcontractors of their choosing, with the hope that the role will develop into a long term producer-artist partnership.

 

THE ROLE

 Jeremiah

– Managing the nationwide callout, auditions, recruitment and contracting of the show’s band and creative team.

– Inviting programmers to performances and booking the show’s 2019 tour

– Writing and submitting interim reports and evaluations to funders

– Managing and executing a comprehensive press and marketing campaign for the performances

– Production and tour management for rehearsals and performances – arranging travel and transport, booking accommodation, writing production schedules, purchasing & hiring tech equipment, etc.

Audience Development

– Working with tour venues to gather audience data, using Audience Finder or similar software, over the course of Jack Dean’s April-July tour of Nuketown.

– Analysing the data to identify existing and potential new audiences for all of Jack Dean’s repertoire, and drafting a strategy to develop them in the short, middle and long term.

– Using this strategy as the basis of Jeremiah’s press and marketing campaign.

 

PERSON SPECIFICATION

Essential

  • Strong communication skills, and ability to set and meet deadlines consistently and delegate effectively.
  • Extensive experience of UK tour booking for small-scale theatre work
  • Track record of delivering successful marketing campaigns for small-scale touring theatre work.
  • Experience of delivering audience development projects for performing artists or arts organisations.
  • Experience of production and company management on small-to-mid-scale productions.
  • Ability to attend regular face-to-face meetings in Exeter (likely to be monthly for April – June, fortnightly for July-August and October-November and weekly for September).

Desirable

  • Experience of raising funds from Arts Council England, trusts and foundations and crowdfunding.
  • Experience of promoting digital content, especially podcasts and Youtube videos.
  • Knowledge of mid-scale and/or rural touring.
  • Strong relationships with audiences and/or venues in the South West.

 

HOW TO APPLY

Send a cv or company bio and a brief cover letter outlining how you meet the person specification, alongside a description of any subcontractors you will use, to jackdean1989@gmail.com.

 

TIMELINE

Deadline for applications: Sunday 4th March, 5pm

Interviews: Week commencing 12th March in Exeter.

Contract term: 26th March – 30th November

 

 

 

 

 

Meet The Humans #2: Becca Gill

[Part of Meet The Humans, a series of blogs investigating how artists and programmers in the theatre industry can talk to each other without anyone screaming or crying. Supported by Unlimited.]

The Biz:

What Her Job is
Live Art Programme Manager, Dartington Arts

What She Programmes

Live Art (her definition of this is “all art that is live”, including theatre, music, spoken word, etc) that can “tackle some of today’s very real challenges and explore the ‘big’ questions in an imaginative, innovative and transformative way.” (No current programming policy webpage, but hopefully one is in the works).

How She Programmes

Curated programme of touring shows and residencies by artists she feels meet the above criteria best.

When She Programmes

 9-12 months in advance. No shows in summer.

Do’s and don’ts of talking to Becca

 Don’t

  • Try to trade off your track record instead of focusing on the show you’re touring. “I don’t care how established you are.” 

Do

  • Send videos if she can’t make your shows
  • Be visual – send pictures or information that really demonstrate how the show looks on stage
  • Pitch a show that isn’t made yet if you want to, but make sure it meets the above criteria.

Her Email

Becca.Gill@dartington.org

Fun Facts About Becca

She’s doing a sculpture course, and wants to move to Berlin.

 

The Waffle 

It’s a good show, but we just couldn’t get an audience in for it”. This is the perpetual cry of the programmer. Or at least, it’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot of times in response both to any and all of my touring shows, and many other artists’. This feels deeply frustrating at times on a political level – the public funding intended to allow organisations to take risks seems to stop short before it reaches the artist – the theatre gets a guaranteed income as a recipient of NPO or local authority funding, but the artist must live or die by the market. Socialism for the theatre building, capitalism for the theatre maker.

“But Jack”, says the straw-man I have constructed to try and give this article a false sense of balance. “Why should a venue be responsible for the fact that people don’t like your weird shit? They have financial pressures too. You are the supplier, and if the product was more marketable, and not feature-film-length monologues investigating town planning or grime musicals about the textile industry the 1810s, it would fly off the shelves and the vendors would clamour for it.”

Whether you agree with my hay-based colleague or not, there’s an assumption in his statement that underpins a lot of thought in the small-scale theatre world. Programmers are usually curatorial in their role. This usually means that, like a séance leader or shaman, they channel the thoughts of their potential audience members, their tastes, their interests, their reaction to a piece of art, and the audiences speak through them to give their pre-emptive verdict on the show you’re pitching. Sometimes this voodoo mastery is backed up by genuine audience data, sometimes by anecdotal experience, sometimes by programmers deploying their personal tastes with the confidence that enough people out there will share them. But either way, the logic dictates that this gauntlet of audience astral-projection must be run before the show can meet the public.

But at Dartington Hall, something quite different is happening. In a remote village in south Devon, on the grounds of a country estate, in a repurposed college building, someone is programming weird shit. Belgian game-theatre about banking elites. Seances inside shipping containers. Underwater contemporary dance. Panto at Christmas? Fuck off, get some of this epic fairytale bloodbath with unabashed bestiality in it. Becca is finding the most provocative, challenging stuff she can. And it is selling out. Between November and January, 4000 people have been through their doors to see stuff.

I can’t get my head around how exactly this is happening, and neither, it seems to a degree, can Becca. When I ask her what the secret is, she replies “I have no idea”. Clearly the unique situation of the programme plays a role. It’s funded entirely by the Dartington Hall Trust, meaning some of the constraints of public funding are absent. Becca knows this may not last forever: “In the long term, I’m going to have to prove that the whole thing can break even [on ticket sales or other funding], but at the moment we’re in a real halcyon time”. There’s also clearly something gained from the legacy of Dartington College, a centre of body-painted performance-art weirdness founded in the sixties and sadly closed in 2008. But I’m still in awe as to how much these numbers buck the apparent trend of my industry. I ask her if there’s any audience development tricks she’s using to drum up trade that she could pass on. Her advice? “Just do it, and tell people about it”. Surely it can’t be that simple?

Perhaps it could. Perhaps we’re framing our thought about audiences wrong. What if we viewed attracting audiences less as a perpetual balancing act between high art and the lowest common denominator, between what “we” like and what “they” like? What if instead we view it as our job, our mission, to provoke, to challenge, even to be controversial? What if we provided the weird, and let the market handle the normal? That way, whatever the box office sales, a civic function would be served, conversations would be had. Public funds would be explicitly supporting a non-commercial kind of art, rather than commercially unviable organisations. Is this idea naïve? In one place at least, it seems to be working. And not in north London, in fucking Totnes.

Becca has further radical plans in terms of audiences. She’s going to do the unthinkable and ask them what they want. A big town hall meeting is planned for April with artists, staff, stakeholders and the public to figure out what they should do next. This concept really gets my inner anarchist going. What if every major theatre in the country did this at least once a year, and was bound by its results? What would their programmes look like? They might have even more panto and cover bands and less weird shit than before. But if we learned anything from recent times, it’s that democracy throws up some unexpected results.

 

 

 

 

12 Rules For Making Theatre With People Who Have Anxiety

This fun-time list was inspired by my own recent experiences with anxiety, and various conversations with people about how it fits into the kind of work I do (most of whom are credited below). It is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive: suggestions for more “Rules” are welcome. It is intended for theatre directors or companies who are new to working with people with anxiety, or who have been working with them for a while but are unsure about what access provisions they can make for them. It has a specific focus on rehearsing and performing shows, since it didn’t seem like that info was out there. Enjoy!

  1. Start each rehearsal session (ideally morning and afternoon) with something calm – meditation, yoga or just stretching and breathing.
  2. Honour their requests to work alone, even if group activities are planned. It won’t be productive to force interaction on them if they don’t want it.
  3. Avoid games and warmup exercises where people can’t sit down until they’ve done the thing well. This creates a lot of potential performance anxiety around being perceived as inadequate. (Contributed by Emma Baskeyfield)
  4. If they are contributing less suggestions than others, ask them how you can make a framework where they can make offers more easily. This might involve allowing more input in an informal or one-to-one setting, or working / writing alone, rather than improvising or talking to the whole group on cue. Quietness doesn’t mean apathy or hostility to the process.
  5. Conversely, loudness or humour doesn’t always mean confidence or arrogance, and can be a different kind of anxious reaction. Find an outlet for excessive nervous energy without sandbagging or shutting them down.
  6. If they have a concern about a problem, challenge or task in the rehearsal process, LISTEN. No matter how seemingly unimportant or unfounded the worry might be. NEVER dismiss them outright. Once the anxieties have been noted, discuss strategies for ameliorating them, but DON’T BE A FIXER. Even if a simple solution is visible, allow them to process their worry about the problem in their own time.
  7. Create and share a very clear rehearsal schedule well in advance, but offer the most flexibility possible within it. If a session is being unproductive, consider a long break or calling it a day, and making time up on more productive days. (Cribbed from MAYK’s mental health policy, written by Alice Holland)
  8. Allow time off for doctor / therapist appointments, however much notice is given, and don’t discuss what they were for unless invited to. (As above)
  9. Be extra clear about when and how payment will happen. (As above)
  10. In moments of stress/conflict, spell out exactly what you mean. Someone suffering from anxiety will likely put the worst possible connotations on ambiguity. (Contributed by Mimi Thebo)
  11. Don’t EVER tell them to “calm down”, “relax”, “chill out”  or “don’t panic”.
  12. Try and apply all these rules to everyone on the team. Being singled out as a special case can cause a lot of discomfort and awkwardness for people with mental health issues. If done right, these principles can make everyone more productive.