Convener(s): Robert Pacitti

Participants: jeni draper, jacqui bedeford, helen stern, mischa trwirchin, liz tomlin, dan rebellato, carl miller, peter Edwards, jon spooner, mike bernardin, jenny sealey, lucy foster, george perrin, bia olivera, daryl beeton

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Robert’s passion is to do with being an internationally well-received, core funded London-based company which can’t get a London venue. He commented that he had not met or seen Julia Bardsley’s work till they met in Brussels, despite making their work very near to each other in London.
There was a strong feeling from the outset that venues exploit companies who want to bring their work to the attention of London audiences and critics. Several people reported similar lack of response from venues. Arts Admin says that’s normal. Snobbery and pigeon-holeing of companies’ work seems to be a part of the problem. Venue executives deciding what “their audiences” are or are not ready to see.
It was acknowledged that venues tend very much to be rental spaces and not artistic spaces. So they have very little audience development that links in any productive way to the work that comes to the venue. Also that throughout the industry, work is too often seen in terms of its transferability, as a product distinct from the place and the processes that went into its making. Shunt’s ownership of a specific space was a founding company decision.
When a company does have a profile as a “successful” touring company the danger then is of feeling that the work is “dropped in” from nowhere and that however well it does at the box-office, no meaningful ongoing connection with the audience is created. Robert feels a strong need to contextualise programming, to let audiences know that they are walking into a carefully constructed season/space. This brought several people to talk about the soho theatre’s programming of a season with five companies (graeae, paines plough, frantic, atc etc) which seemed to achieve just this. The ICE for a while achieved this too.
The BAC was acknowledged to have a sustained and coherent policy of working with specific emerging companies to develop their work. The Drill Hall has shown willing but has a funding crisis of its own which prevents the open availability of its theatre space.
The Unicorn, with a new building, is seeking to form relationships with companies to co-produce, especially companies with no home of their own, but acknowledged that some people will be simply unable to do so because of their financial imperatives.
Venues can’t/won’t take any risk. And clearly the principal risk is seen as financial. Venues are almost exclusively run by executives or accountants and hardly at all by an artistic director with an artistic agenda. What are the desired qualities of these “gate-keepers” who hold such decision-making power? Is it possible to be more proactive and urge our friends to take the important jobs that otherwise go to the wrong people?
Is it possible for the excluded companies to “take-over” the venues? Can the Riverside be hired/bought out by a collective of companies to produce a Festival of work which otherwise will find it difficult to place?
Finally after a website was mooted for naming and shaming obstinately unapproachable venues, it seemed that a more imperative challenge was to establish the basis for any corporate dialogue between companies, given that they are often competing for the same spaces and the same artistic acknowledgement in London. We need somehow to share successful models of practice, timeframe for bookings, finances, But perhaps the more open dialogues can happen between companies whose arena is vastly different. Unfunded and working only in the London Fringe circuit, one company may well have a lot to talk about with an internationally touring company whose work is consistently funded. The New Work Network was established to promote this kind of exchange, and to help companies to define their own work and relate to other companies outside established definitions and forums.