Meet The Humans #1: Emma Bettridge
[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 Her Jobs Are:
Bristol Ferment – Producer
Arts Council England – Artistic Assessor
Wivelisccombe Town Hall – Chair of Board / Manager-in-waiting
Move & Gather, Annie Siddons- Freelance Producing Consultant
The Countryside – Dog & Horse Trainer
What She Programmes
Bristol Ferment – All of these things, plus some performances of finished work at the Studio of the Bristol Old Vic. (no current Programming Policy page on their website)
Wiveliscombe Town Hall- Eventually, a mini-Ferment Festival, more residencies, cinema, ceilidhs and lord knows what else.
How She Programmes
Bristol Ferment – Curated programme made up of artists she has met and/or seen the shows of.
Wiveliscombe Town Hall- As above
When She Programmes
Bristol Ferment – Year round – festivals usually booked 3-6 months in advance
Wiveliscombe – When it’s finished (currently in the planning stages of a major refurbishment project)
Bristol Old Vic Studio – No touring work until Spring 2019 (also in major redevelopment).
Do’s and don’ts of talking to Emma
- Send template / mass emails.
- Spell her name wrong
- Get angry or defensive if you don’t get what you want
- Show your personality as possible in an email – be informal and don’t be afraid of banter (warning: may not be transferrable to other programmers)
- Do your research on Bristol Old Vic
- Ask for introductions to programmers you don’t know, or even to programmers in general who might like your show.
- Send a film of your show if she can’t make it to any of your performances. It doesn’t have to be super-high production values (iphones and handycams are fine), as long as the action on stage can be clearly seen and heard. Emma, and a good chunk of her programming peers, WILL book something off of seeing a film.
- Try and set up a chat before you pitch anything.
Fun Facts About Emma
Strangers are always approaching her to tell her their secrets. Her dog is called Hobbs.
When I was finishing my studies at Bath Spa University (90th best uni in the nation, get in!) I had no marketable skills, no major postgraduate prospects, no work experience beyond ushering in a dark red waistcoat at the Theatre Royal. One of my professors gave a lecture where he said “most likely, you won’t make a living as a writer”. What I had was buckets of White Straight Cis Man Confidence, and a meeting I’d set up with a woman who worked for a thing I’d never heard of called Bristol Ferment who had seen me do some spoken word. We chatted for about half an hour, and she offered me £350 to make something and try it out at the next festival. I didn’t really know what a work-in-progress was (cheers degree), and I’d never seen that much money before, so I used it to spend the whole summer making a full 45-minute storytelling epic with stop-motion animation and original music. I think my deeply earnest, slightly over-the-top response to this tiny commission made a good impression. This woman was not Emma Bettridge (gotcha good!), but Kate Yedigaroff, Emma’s predecessor as Ferment Producer. The two of them kept giving me small commissions, advice and gigs until I left the southwest four years ago. My career simply wouldn’t exist without them.
When a person hears that two folks who work in the arts are dating or roommates, or have some other unexpected connection, regardless of whether said person is in the art world or not, their comment is very often “gosh, the arts is very incestuous isn’t it?”. I’m always aback a bit: it seems a bit of an escalation to compare two people who work in the same industry going out to The Full Jaime & Cersei. But it nods to a different truth, an open secret: opportunity in the art world is overwhelmingly defined by personal connections.
This is what me and Emma talk about for a bit. As someone who manages a curated (aka closed) programme, she makes an articulate case for this way of doing business. “I have to understand the art to confidently sell it” she says. Theatre is about human relationships, and to help develop the artist-audience one, she has to have to have a relationship with the art herself, and thus also the artist. I sort of get this, but I still think there’s so many unanswered questions there. What if you find chatting with certain people a bit difficult, but are excellent at making theatre? Sophie Willan brings this up in a Guardian article this week. You might feel like too much of an outsider to hobnob with everyone in Theatreland, whether because of class, ethnicity, disability or plain shyness. But I didn’t ask her about that, so more fool me.
We also talk about Development Hell – the limbo brought about when early career artists can access small pots of money from venues to research and develop shows, but not the chance to actually put anything finished in front of an audience. I heard Paula Varjack coin the phrase at a conference in 2016 and I realised I’d been in Development Hell for years: in the 5-and-a-bit years since my explosion of paint and words in a Bristol summer in 2011 I’d made seven shows, out of which only one had been seen by more than a thousand people. I was scraping a living, but who the hell was I working for? I’m always grateful to the organisations who’ve backed me in any way, but the public who were paying for me to make art, through them, didn’t know I existed. Surely the best thing for me to develop would be, y’know, the bit where people look at it?
Emma is not responsible for creating Development Hell, but of course, as a person working in artist development, she is more than aware of it happening. She names several companies that have been in the same predicament. Ferment is a rare exception to most artist development schemes – you can actually progress from there to proper gigs in the Studio (although the Main House is out of bounds – don’t get too many big ideas, you uppity maker you). She’s also usually frantically giving advice, cajoling other venues and making introductions to try and get artists on in their career, whether they’re in or out of the Ferment squad: “I might not be the Yes Guy, but I can often find the Yes Guy for what you have”. And in this world, who could really ask for more than a Fredo of Yeses?