An Open Access Workshop (where you make things not a show)

Lee Simpson, 23 June 2012

Convened by: Lee Simpson

Present: Kate Gibson, Lee Simpson, Matilda Leyser

A confession: the title of this session is not the session that was originally posted on the wall and I didn't originally convene it.

Here's what happened.

Kate and I turned up at the same time to a session called “How can we make sure young performers are not underestimated?” There was no one at the session and no notes to indicate that anyone had been there, so we decided to hold the session anyway.

We were shortly joined by Matilda. This meant that we had 3 people of 3 different generations: me the oldest, Kate the youngest and Matilda in the middle.

We asked Kate in what way she felt underestimated as a young artist. She said that even though she won a Blind Summit award (she works with puppetry) which meant she got to work with the company for a while, now that has come to an end, as someone who has recently left university she can't see a way for her to get some sort of break that would lead to her getting theatre work that would be paid which could force her to do non theatre work.

When we asked Kate what would alleviate this situation she talked about more funding for young people in the arts. Then me and Matilda talked about how when we were young the less draconian welfare situation meant that the standard thing for young performers was to live on benefits while you developed as an artist. This meant that back then (eighties and nineties) even though there was less arts funding than now (even after the cuts) there was more support for artists.

This was all kind of interesting, but to be honest it felt like a conversation that wasn't going anywhere.

Then Matilda asked Kate the question that changed everything.

“If funding was not a problem. If you won the Lottery say, what would you do?”

With no hesitation Kate answered, “I'd create an open access workshop”

My first thought was that she meant something like an acting workshop or a puppetry workshop but no, she meant a proper workshop.

“It would be a workshop with benches and tools and any member of the public could come in and with a minimum of training they would be able to use the space and the tools to make whatever they wanted to make.”

We all got very excited by this idea so we changed the title of the session. This was

what we really wanted to talk about.

We asked Kate why, if she had (imaginary) unlimited funds, she wouldn't create her own private workshop, but she was absolutely clear that she wanted to be in this open access workshop making her puppets with other people working there. It was important that it was an accessible resource and the interaction between the people there would make everyone's work better through skills, knowledge and experience being exchanged between people.

We were getting really excited about this idea now. In fact we couldn't quite believe that it wasn't being done somewhere already (maybe it is - let us know). We talked about tool libraries , Matilda talked about a film called “Being Elmo” and then we talked about how to make it happen.

In other words, what's the next step?

Kate said that she would research existing schemes that might be related by looking online and spreading the word through twitter.

I said I would write this report and ask, Does anyone out there have any ideas about how to make this happen? If you do please contact Kate at

[email protected]

Kate said she would write a one page description of the idea and post it on this website.

Over to you Kate!


tools, make, puppet, open access, puppeteer, workshop, making

Comments: 1

Kirsty Lothian, 25 June 2012

This sounds really exciting! Some councils slightly have this kind of thing- in Peckham the Thomas Calton centre has woodworking and upholstery workshops which you can use. Officially you sign up for a course, but the hourly rate is 3-4 pounds per hour, and you can do what you like. The technician shows you how to do things you don't know how to do.

And there is a place in East London that has sewing machines by the hour, for 50p per half hour. It is in the back room of a library!
Not quite the same...