Is Bristol really the most creative city in Europe?

Jojo Townsend, 30 June 2012

People who attended (who wrote their names): Seth, Jude, Lynda, Emma, Jojo, Kelly, Sarah + lots others

Bristol is perceived as an exciting place to be, making itself out to be the most exciting place theatrically outside of London. Is there the Dick Wittington effect? The streets are paved with theatre.

An actress who works anywhere other than Bristol, where she lives. ‘Manchester is much more exciting, accessible and inclusive across class and age groups. Range of venues too - Royal Exchange, The Library Theatre, Contact Theatre, Oldham, Bolton Octagon, The Lowry...’

We've allowed TV to walk away from the city - BBC, Casualty, ect - without putting up much of a fight. Are we now just a poor relation to Cardiff? Edinburgh, Dublin, Amsterdam, Munich.

'The Elephant in the room' Bristol Old Vic. Not mentioned today as a topic, huge funding but does it all go on theatre?

Theatre student - doesn't feel drawn to their programming, why are they getting all the money if the exciting things like Mayfest, Ferment, Jam isn't funded by that big pot? Why are they always doing the same stuff? Who does it appeal to?

'Theatre is dominated by white male middle class'

Tobacco Factory has the right ambience and programming, you feel like going into it, even just for a drink. Mayfest and the Blind Tiger make BOV more welcoming, do they need to get rid of their uniforms?

Report - ‘Bristol awarded best small city of the future’

But what about the present?

'Bristol is really vibrant' and a few years ago there was the attitude of ‘Oh, but it’s Bristol, it'll never happen' that is going.

'Bristol is a ghetto-ized city' and it's shown in the theatre, there is great disabled theatre which is exported all over Europe, but does anyone else in Bristol see it? And that goes for black and young companies too. Festivals help ease those issue because they ‘represent’ and are ‘getting much better at being diverse and eclectic’.

'The issue of Nelson Street' and the graffiti festival, Bristol is infamous for Banksy but are these works ‘a little bit like litter left behind’ and not like the beauty of theatre where it happens and is done, then ‘you pack up and leave it ready for the playgroup in the morning’. Theatre buildings need to be more flexible.

We aren't challenging the statement or endorsing it, but trying to unpick it.

'Maybe the key moment was Dick Penny saving the Bristol Old Vic' Perhaps ‘saving’ is

the wrong word. But Bristol Old Vic ‘has so many gate keepers’. ‘We don’t need to be a regional outpost for the National Theatre Studio'. It can feel that way. It can feel as though if your local you can volunteer, usher but if your going to create you'll probably be from somewhere else. Accessibility is a key issue, ‘you have to be able to survive’: Made in Bristol scheme for example, and also the profile of the Young Company is improving.

Are we being represented in writing? If we are we can do something about it. LAMDA/RADA ect do they learn Brizzle accents? But then if there is no writing then there will be no actors to do it. It's a cycle. If you've got everyone in one place like Bristol there will be collaboration is great, but there is also over saturation. There are more actors than 20 years ago, which means people start to work for free - an issue in all sorts of areas of the arts. It also makes people make ‘me,me,me’ work to showcase themselves in venues that they can get: ‘I don’t know how to work at BOV or TF so I'll book a room and do something because I need to do something' but what about when you've done ‘something’? ‘We asked the world to come but they didn’t, not the big players anyway' How do we access the big people? What are the routes through? How do we keep doors open. But the problem is the big players can't see 5 things a day, how can they choose?

Perhaps we've created more questions and no answers.


programming, Bristol, access, Funding, funding, accents, venues, graffiti, theatre bar, local, creative city, Bristol Old Vic