Sarah-Jane Watkinson, 11 January 2016

How can we help/support British venues and audiences take a risk on European



SJ Watkinson, Sadie Newman, Jim Hendley, Antonio Ferrara, Tina Hofman, Tom

Mansfield, Hannah from Ashcroft

Many venues still say that they cannot take a risk on European theatre as they “don’t

have an audience” or “we tried it and it didn’t work”.

Isn’t this the same conversation we were having about BME work 15 or so years ago?

Are the solutions the same? Programming one offs isn’t the solution. The approach

needs to be about old fashioned audience development, working with existing

audience, building others, especially in super diverse cities such as Birmingham.

There are venues and festivals programming a range of work from across Europe,

both text based and non text based and attracting good audiences. For example, BE

Festival in Birmingham has gone from an idea mooted at a previous D&D to a thriving

organisation that is an NPO in six years. Other festivals include Flare in Manchester,

LIFT, GIFT in Gateshead, Gloucestershire. Venues include HUB in Leeds, HOME

Manchester, Camden People’s Theatre, Birmingham Rep.

Some venues cite language as being the issue, but shouldn’t programmers be thinking

about theatre, not the language it’s performed in? Can we only truly appreciate work if

it’s performed in our own language? Many people would happily go and see a subtitled

film so why not theatre? There is a network of international festivals all over Europe

where artists are finding creative ways of addressing language eg ATRESBANDES

creative use of subtitles where they became a fourth character, commenting on the

action as well and translating. Chapter Arts in Cardiff programmes non English work

as they are used to presenting work that is subtitled in English or Welsh.

One attender commented that we aren’t properly aware yet of just how diverse our

audiences are. There is huge mobility across the EU and this will be the norm for the

next generation.

Is it really language that puts off audiences? Is the onus on venues to communicate

better to their audiences? An example was given of a bilingual English/Croatian piece

that relished language for its own sake, moving between both.

Is there a deep seated snobbery about British theatre and the English language at the

root of this? Do we unconsciously judge work not in English as being not quite as good

as what we produce here? We are hampered in the UK by the fact that children don’t

usually begin to learn another language until age 11, so there is the barrier than many

Brits have that they won’t understand it.

Removing the risk for venues:

HUB uses the pay what you decide model – this removes the risk for audiences for the

unknown and makes it easier for them to take a gamble.

Similarly, the BE Festival model works because for £10, audiences get four 30 minute

pieces, so people are much more ready to take a punt.

Studio programmers don’t make much money but don’t lose much either, so we need

to help them take what is really a small risk.

Offering workshops and other audience development is what’s needed to bring in

students etc.

Any new/emerging company has the same risk for a programmer, so country of origin

shouldn’t be any different.

The festival/season model is effective in raising profile and enabling new companies to

break through.

Some learning from BE Festival –

Audience is made up of industry/programmers, students, but the biggest section of

returning audience since the festival moved to the Rep has been 50+ keen theatre

goers, some from the Rep’s existing audience. This cross over is very encouraging.

In 2015, an outdoor event in the square in front of the theatre resulted in a lot of walk

up and the event selling out.

Possible action: to explore the development of a network/consortium of

programmers/venues sympathetic to European work to support other venues and

touring companies.

Sarah-Jane Watkinson




Programming, programming, Risk, Touring, audience, small scale, paywhatyoudecide,

touring, Europe, europe, risk, Audience