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An invitation from Anna Coombs - Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Tangle:

 I am Artistic Director of Tangle, an African Caribbean theatre company with a special focus in South West England. We are a respected NPO, a Registered Charity and a hub for literally hundreds of artists to come together not only to create work but to share ideas and experiences. However we are a very small, remote-working organisation, with a team of part-time staff all operating at capacity.

 Setting up the company alone, from a standing start, as a newcomer to the scene, with no income backup and a limited support network has been both an achievement and a challenge. It has led to periods of extreme over-work, anxiety, stress, and monetary insecurity. It has led to the breakdown of relationships and friendships, and entailed relocating away from my home. I have been very lucky to avoid complete burn-out. Leading our company has brought me closer to incidents of injustice, prejudice, and mental strain than anything else I’ve done. 

 I ask myself why it’s been like this, and I can see so many others having the same kinds of experience across the performing arts. There is a culture of ‘put up and shut up’ in our industry. Stress, anxiety, burn out are too often a part of our work. We have become far too good at accepting too little – poor pay, no proper pastoral support, and the pressure to self-promote, self-manage and push, push, push all the time. We have been conditioned to accept bullying, racism, prejudice, pressure, harassment and a spider’s web of other negatives far too easily; they are seen as ‘part of the job’. 

 Does this have to be the case? What are the alternatives to long and unpredictable hours? To so much unpaid time preparing for just one audition or just one self-tape? To exploitation through poor pay? To dealing with increased living costs? For those that run companies, what are we doing to manage massively increased bureaucracy and administration? How do we look after those backstage or on creative teams as well? And, if ‘outside jobs’ are seen as a mark of failure by gatekeepers, (you’re not a ‘proper’ actor, are you?) then how do you finance yourself in a sustainable way?

 What can artists do to work together to promote better attention to personal well-being? How can we at Tangle, and how can other companies, help to change the landscape….for good? 

 The solution has to come from artists, organisations and funders changing their approaches and practice, so please come to this event and let’s find out what we can all do together to support each other mentally, emotionally and physically in our art practice, in our careers, in our inextricably linked work-lives. Nothing is censored, you set the agenda.

 See you there.

 Anna