There seems to be a real 'patchiness' across the country in terms of how regional theatres (mostly NPO) serve and support their local communities - both audiences and local professional artists.

Derby Theatre was mentioned as a particularly good example of a regional theatre who actively and continuously looks to serve its local community (through specific projects and community/student pick programming and also being a teaching theatre with a solid training offers) but also supporting its local arts scene and artists with In Good Company (IGC).

Two artists in Hastings mentioned that there isn't a regional producing house near them and the artist community is now looking at how to unify and create that support system without having a theatre or NPO leading the way. There are other local theatres that receive no public funding - like Northampton Playhouse - who would like to do more to reach and connect with more professional artists in the local area as there audience community is loyal and their programme is busy.

We discussed IGC's variety of offers to artists and also mention of Nottingham Playhouse's recent surge in artist support through Amplify.

Northamptonshire artists have access to IGC as they are East Midlands based but transport links make it difficult to travel to the rest of the East Midlands from Northampton, West and South Northants. There was talk of Royal & Derngate joining IGC but IGC have confirmed Royal & Derngate have decided not to join IGC.

Northamptonshire artists in the group described the difficulty that there is no 'cohesion' in the county and all the council crisis and lack of council arts and culture team has made for a lack of awareness and communication within the arts community. We talked about projects and ideas already being formed between individuals and also the affects of 60 Miles By Road or Rail (project last year, that brought some artists together and made work with local people using their stories and experiences).

Out of the ideas about how Northants could develop and connect it's artist community and give itself more of a voice and profile, the example of Theatre Bristol was mentioned as a good model to research and consider. There was question regarding how Theatre Bristol was originally funded and that it had council support, which might not be an option if Northants council is bankrupt and in crisis. With artists being more united and there being more visible then the larger organisations and national organisation have a clear point of communication.

This D&D has proved a vital space for bringing Northants artists together, there was disappointment that no member of Royal & Derngate was present to be part of the conversation but as the right people were the people in the conversation, we focussed on how we could frame the offer artists can make to regional theatres.

The framing was described as needing to be positive and collaborative rather than accusational - so rather than say "you should be supporting local artists" the frame can be shifted to be e.g. "there is a community of local artists that would love to meet regularly, can your venue host a space for us and join us for some conversations?". This framing idea seemed to be familiar to artists and people in the group that expressed previous attempts at communication always started very well but then ended up fizzling out and then no replies ever come into the inbox and phone calls never get through.

The question was asked - how can we keep the conversations going without being seen as badgering or being annoying when we are following up on opportunities, ideas, promises, and previous conversations.

Another question was asked about what 'support' means and how artists can be really clear about what they need from a venue in order to feel supported.

Both questions led back to a feeling of unity of the artistic community and them having a collective voice would enable conversation to happen in a more focussed way and then venues may not feel 'bombarded' by lots of different voices.

Northamptonshire people felt the need for a digital connection space and also on the ground meetings to improve the connectivity throughout the county. There has been a Facebook group set up called 'Theatre Northants' to start this - with hope of a website being developed in future. There is also a doodle poll on the group to arrange the first meeting - in February 2019.

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