Empty theatre spaces after the recession. What inspires you: we have the space. 

Convener(s): Dan Simon (Josh Neicho)

Participants: Robert Wells, Sarah Grochala, Ellis Kerkhoven, Mark Phoenix, Thomas Hescott, Jessica Manley, Gary Campbell, Martyn Duffy, Louise Jeffreys, Nick Rutherford, Gary from Stoke Newington International Airport, Tyne Rafaeli, Sara Perks, Stuart Targett, Leslie Godley, Emma Newborn, Kai Hahn Naomi O’Kelly, Oliver Townsend, Colin Atkinson, Michelle Owoo

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Discussion centred around the activities of The Oubliette, an arts group dedicated to promoting emerging artists by reutilising empty space. In April we are running a theatre festival aimed at showcasing three bold new performances, and convened the above session in the hope of spreading the word and finding talent. 

The Oubliette have, up to present, taken the rather unorthodox approach to taking over empty space by doing so without the consent of the property owner, in the case of the high profile sites occupied last year, being multinational investment companies.

Our long-term approach is to negotiate for consent and achieve within ‘slack space’ a vibrant multiplatform venue, featuring studio space for artists to create exhibit and sell their work; platforms such as a theatre and cinema to showcase the innovative and the avant-garde; and communal spaces to encourage social interaction important for artists to be able to network, share ideas and further knowledge. 

Key questions put to me by attendees of the session were:

  • Do you provide rehearsal space?

a. We provide rehearsal space for free to theatre companies when and where we have the space

  • Architectural limitations on performances?

a. Up until now we have been targeting properties in high profile locations to raise awareness of our project through the press. For our theatre festival in April we are targeting properties specifically suitable for content. We are attempting to negotiate for space that is open-plan, or was a former venue, such as a theatre, cinema or club. We encourage theatre companies working with us to use the space we provide to suit their performance as best and with as much freedom as they are able, with practical support given from our team. 

  • What policy do you have in effect to select theatre work?

a. We have a curatorship led by our newly appointed theatre manager who ensures that the work selected fits within our remit – principally that the quality of the work is good and that it has not already achieved mainstream recognition. Several members of The Oubliette are actively involved in the arts and lend valuable insight into the selection process.

  • How is The Oubliette structured?

a. The Oubliette is business-like, without being a business. It is a managed project with an inherent strategy making it vastly different to the ‘art-squats’ that have also used adverse possession to run arts events. The group is divided into two sections – management, which comprises those who oversee The Oubliette’s day to day operations, and live-in and auxiliary volunteers who maintain the buildings, develop facilities, staff and coordinate events, and lend key skills such as IT and copywriting to the group. The Oubliette is a non-profit organisation – the money accrued is reinvested directly back into the project.

  • What about insurance, and health and safety?

a. The Oubliette have, as part of our group, consultants on health and safety whom we rely upon for advice whenever we run a venue. The unusual status of our occupancy means that we are not subject to institutional regulation, allowing a far greater degree of creative freedom to those we collaborate with. We are currently consulting with specialists in property law and entertainment to ensure legality in this department.

For more information on The Oubliette, and to pitch your play, please visit http://theoubliette.co.uk