[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.]
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
– Talk inscrutable arts jargon at them.
– 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”.
Fun Facts About Mair & Jade
Jade is a blue-belt in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. Mair speaks four languages.
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.