Can there be too much R&D?

Ali Robertson, 30 June 2012

Attending: Ali Robertson (convenor), Jude Merrill, Andy Burden, Martin Lytton, David Lockwood, Philip Perry, Carrie Rhys Davies, Emma Earke, Tom Bailey, Tom Sherman, Phil Gibby, Emily Williams, Rosi Croom.

Observation that “R&D” covers a lot of different activity. Proposal made that the sheer number of R&D opps is possibly problematic on a number of fronts including:

1. Shows never being completed: R&Ding becoming an end in itself and some artists are trapped in development hell.

2. Artists working for little reward - R&D is often low paid.

3. Shows being shown inappropriately - someone reported being turned down for funding because the show wasn't good enough when they thought the bit they'd shown was an experiment.

4. Related to 3 - it can be a question whether it's a good idea to show programmers work at an early stage.

Quite an upbeat conversation that acknowledged these issues but also observed that it is self-evidently good that there are a variety of models for making work rather than just “rehearse in 3 weeks and stick it on. We observed that both artists and programmers of R&D sessions might usefully think about the distinction between showcase and experimentation and how this affected how an invitation should be made to audiences and who the audience should be. We further developed this line of thinking and observed that each development process should, ideally, be bespoke but that sometimes artists, for understandable reasons, were tempted to take inappropriate, off-the-peg development invitations.

We thought that although it can be an issue to show “nearly finished” work to audiences and then expect them to come back and see the finished show this is counterbalanced by the fact that there is an audience development aspect to asking audiences to buy in to process. We noted that it can be a wholly legitimate choice for artists to work for free to develop a piece (and made the analogy with ppl in other industries paying to go on courses to skill themselves up). We agreed that despite this there remains an issue with artists working for free in an environment where the support staff are paid but noted that the number of residential R&D opps, where the pay issues are at least in part dealt with, are growing.

Miscellaneous observations include:

There is a growing hierachy of organisations that offer ‘good’ development to ‘cool’ companies.

Peter Brook used to show developing work to schools to guarantee authentic responses.

Getting stuck in R&D cycles can be symptomatic of certain styles of work

Two writers reported how useful and empowering they had found rehearsed readings to be.

Tags: writers, development, experiment, showcase, upskill, Bristol, R&D, process