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.

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