How can we create ‘permanent’ ensembles and survive?

Convener(s): Simon Pittman

Participants: David Luff, Anne Langford, Aaron Minnigin, Emily Kempson, Laura Kriefman, Emma Dedein, Simon Wilkinson, Sophie Austin, Jennifer Moule, Hugh Hayes, Loren O’Dair, Philippa Wilkinson, Lindsey Hope Pearlman, Jo Turner, Liz Chen, Lee Evan.

***We are collecting contact details for anyone who wishes to continue a dialogue on this subject and way of working. If you wish to be involved please email me with your name and how you might look to participate in this kind of work: Simon Pittman: [email protected]

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

The discussion also became a very useful discussion on running a small or emerging company and the risks and considerations that brings up. Here are collected notes on the session which touched on.

  • - examples of companies operating permanent ensembles (‘permanent’ was originally offered as a loose and provocative term to discuss building ongoing companies and a focus on the actors craft)
  • - The appeal of a permanent ensemble
  • - Funding issues
  • - The risks to the work, people and organisational structures
  • - Why we want to
  • - How we keep people together
  • - How do we survive and sustain?

Example companies to consider:

Steppenwolf, Gardzienice, Theatr Piesn Kozla, various German models, Dundee Rep, Kneehigh, Complicite, Maly St Petersburg, RSC, Propella, Theatro Viva, Colchester Mercury, Strange Face, Likely Story etc, Theatre By The Lake (REP / Building) The Wooster Group, Forced Entertainment, Labyrinth in New York

Notes Transcribed:

Sustainability or funding is key.

We are talking about regular collaborators

Living on premises, a building? – Does it just then become about running a space.

We agreed that a permanent ensemble first and foremost needs to be enabled to make work continuously and that an overall vision is key to the structuring and commitment of the company and its members. We must keep self-reflective on this.

What is The Appeal?

Ownership, quality, deeper and lasting, rich connections and understanding between those working and acting together


Building a shared understanding of why you are making this work together

No type casting, being able to explore a wider range of role and knowing what parts you will be working on a long time in advance and over a longer period of time: more in depth process: Good example in REP and more traditional models in UK (Pitlochery, Theatre By The Lake for example)

Collective decision making in the company: moves towards a model of the collective…

Difference between the employed actor and the core collective company.

Notes continued

Decision to be made: CREATIVE COLLECTIVE Vs Actor’s Ensemble or company. (Hierarchy and ownership models are different and one should think carefully about these expectations before committing.

‘Ensemble’ was defined by one member of the group as ‘a number of actors paid on regular salary to engage in REP’.

We discussed how an ensemble can be self-selecting as in The Mercury’s model in Colchester: if actors are asked back for a second season they are then in the ensemble – ‘a current core’. This also allows for the passing on of skills through osmosis (another appeal of ensembles).

Putting an ensemble together should be about the work, not about trying to break into or work your way into an industry. It has to come from a passion, a shared interest and desire to create great work first, recognition can follow.

We wonder whether the ‘jobbing actor vocation’ is acting as a barrier to establishing more permanent ensembles in the core of UK theatre.


Educational component to the company – e.g.: Creative Partnerships, workshop programs, the’ Extended Schools Program’

Funding through training and offering similar public services

Running a building and renting / managing (also means restrictions and other administrative pressures) and touring

Reputation in training

RFO (Regularly Funded Organisations) or venues as a home

Working in rural, regional and non London locations

Again, a strong and reflective understanding and awareness of why and for whom you are making work.

Supportive Places and their benefits (Venues etc)

  • - An office
  • - Links to other ensembles and associates
  • - Good example models of this are The Point in Eastleigh’s innovative Phase 3 program, Home from Home and Quartered Artists programs or Farnham Maltings etc.
  • - As with the above, larger funding pots are accessible as a result
  • - Time, space and less pressure than city based environments
  • - Links to creative partnerships – new audiences and community inspiration

Mentoring and asking for help

How do we keep people together? (notably larger numbers and those who come together on a post training, professional basis)

A strong vision, energy and clarity of why you are together

Shared and individual recognition of ownership and what you are sharing

Taking time to recognise individuals’ strengths and skills, and our differences

Recognising the need for new blood

The Visionary: the draw of learning and working with/from each other.

Keep asking why in the positive

Notes Continued

Dundee Rep was offered as an example:

Core funding was sourced by one very determined and passionate individual for three years from many different sources

It has a small ensemble of actors, often later in their careers who wish to settle and work with further apprentice members who work over say one year and offer an answer to the need to ensure new blood is offered to keep things fresh.

International links

They also offer professional development for members and those outside the org. (much like RSC).

Notes Continued

Steven Winnery made a practical proposition to us all: He has a studio in Stratford which is available for this kind of work he would like people to submit to for space. June – October 2010: [email protected]

There seems to be a question of scale here too. There are two very different sets of obstacles that present them self on the no-money-work-together-because-you’re-all-passionate side and the fully funded permanent ensembles.

Someone said we must allow for shifts in scale within ensembles

It has to start from a want – a vision from one person and getting a large number of funders to agree and share your vision and its worth.

Funders and artists get excited by the way in which these ensemble setups bring people together and create valuable ongoing dialogue. 

If you are giving up everything to put into a permanent company ensemble, do you need existing money (e.g. Middle class structures) to do it?

Why are permanent ensembles under valued in UK Theatre? We felt that they are not as present as they could be.

Casting from a pool – The arts organisation: e.g. Complicite.

Finding Actors interested in permanent ensemble

  • - Ads, ask the questions: ‘I need creative people to play with. Are you in?’
  • - Show passion and people are infected! – Communicate your ideas effectively
  • - The Actors Centre for example: offering workshops for Lab Work Weeks on creating ensemble
  • - Asking contemporaries, friends, colleagues for suggestions and links
  • - Seeing work and talking, writing afterwards
  • - Offering further training, ownership and investment for people

What are the pitfalls / risks?

(applicable we felt, to all creative partnerships)

Lack of feedback and communication to artists – ensuring ‘good house keeping’ and anonymity

Up own bottom!



Structures needed to allow for shifts in ability to commit over time… where is the line?

Overlap of employment contracts into the political strength and balance of leadership in an organisation.

Power balance – keeping expectations

Ability to bring new blood in and eject old wood for the good or an ensembles work

It’s important to seek training relationships both within and outside a company’s practice

Clarity and decision of whom and what is being funded: The ensemble? The director / A.D? The Board?

Important to seek out outside eyes and collaborators from outside the company’s practice

Are you building a relationship on work and professional basis or also as friends? Be clear? – What happens with companies who live together (E.g. Forced Entertainment).

Be careful to keep linked/in dialogue with outside world and other professions etc – “NO WANK!”


See also the photograph of our funding diagram: How to fund this type of work.