Tom Spencer, 11 January 2016

This was a great session. Thank you to everyone who contributed for your generous

thoughts, examples and suggestions. Apologies that I haven’t attributed particular

statements to individuals; I didn’t catch everyone’s names.

The majority of those in the conversation identified as producers – and of those, there

was a fairly equal split between venue-based, programming producers and


I opened by mentioning that I was in the very early stages of moving my independent

producing work towards the forming of a new organisation. As an artist, I regularly

start a process with a period of Research and Development (R&D) – during which I will

ask myself and my collaborators a set of defined questions, but also I will try to be

totally open to entirely new ideas or ways of work that present themselves – it’s in this

time that I start to write a rough rulebook, or at least agree a language, for a project.

What then, I wondered, would R&D for a producing organisation look or feel like?

Most producers in the conversation, regardless of whether they worked for a huge,

well-established institution or supported a small emerging company, felt they worked

to or over capacity – they often or always don’t have enough time to do all the things

they’d like to.

So, I asked:

What would you like to do with the time you don’t have?

- One person said she’d like to have naps.

- One said read more books.

- Many said drink coffee: drink coffee with artists, drink coffee with other

producers/venues/organisations, drink coffee with development and finance teams,

drink coffee (or tea) on one’s own.

- Drink coffee with artists without an agenda – take time to hear what people are up to,

how they’re feeling, what’s exciting or scaring them at the moment. Too often an

artist-venue/producer chat boils down to a specific request – to

make/support/develop/pay for a particular piece of work; many, it seems, would like a

more casual, ongoing relationship.

- Properly document and archive work: make a beautiful portfolio website, gather

together feedback from multiple projects, spend time in the past remembering

successes and learning lessons.

- Make lists: of equipment, of funding avenues, of contacts etc. Lots of people seemed

to want time now to set-up the shortcuts that will save them buckets of time in the long


- Ban mobile phones.

- Make dinner for co-workers.

- Match-make artists.

- Open doors to spaces and talk to people about how they might be used. Lots of

nodding here. There seemed to be a real desire to make the time to be more generous

with existing resources.

- Share experiences across departments – take finance officers into rehearsals, give

cleaners free tickets, bring artists into board meetings.

- Consider how everyday working could be more fun – set challenges and games for

colleagues, re-arrange office spaces etc.

- Hold D&D-style open space meetings on a far more regular basis.

- Provoke artists to explore new forms: podcast drama, instance.

- I said that I would like to map my local region. I’d like to walk/drive/cycle around

Bristol and North Somerset – discover potential venues, let the landscape inspire me,

meet artists, shop owners, landlords, cub scouts, gardeners, social workers and all the

brilliant people working in existing arts organisations.

- Spend more time in the rehearsal room. This was repeated, in various forms,

throughout the conversation. Producers – whether or not they consider their work to

be part of the artistic development process, which is a whole other giant conversation

– seem to want more time at the coalface.

So we talked about Google. About the idea of ‘20% Time’ – the fifth of working hours

that Google employees are encouraged to use on a project outside of their job

description – learning a new language, attending events, playing games. I would love

to know what the reality of this is, but regardless it was a very useful tool in our


Julie’s Bicycle hold crafternoons and only answer emails between particular hours.

The Almeida have reps from every department at every first read through.

National Theatre Wales were praised as an example of open communication across

an entire organisation.

Is that possible with a staff of 500 people?

The New Economic Foundation have written a number of reports about the success of

these alternative models.

Why don’t/can’t we allow ourselves 20% Time?

Perhaps it is because a single successful project within the tech industry could make

enough money to cover several years’ worth of learning Mandarin or playing Tetris?

What additional income pays for our additional time?

Or perhaps it’s self-imposed?

‘I’m always answering emails at 3am.’

‘So switch off your phone. There’s no such thing as an arts emergency. If it was really

serious they’d be calling an ambulance, not their producer.’

Particularly in the independent sector, do our reputations rely on our being always


We talked about contexts in which producers feel like they can lead or suggest

projects. Some felt this was more prevalent in theatre for young audiences –

commissions, in which producers set the age range, scale and set-up of a piece.

Some programmers felt they would like, as an R&D exercise, to write some very

specific briefs for visiting artists based on their knowledge of their local adult audience


So, at the birth of a new organisation (or in a re-thinking period for an old one), how

might we specify that no producers ever work to full capacity, leaving them time to

explore some of these things? After all, these ideas (even the naps) all sound like they

would be hugely beneficial in the long run.

How would ACE and other funders respond to bids for organisational/independent

producer R&D – time to explore and think and drink coffee with people? How could we

capture data to show (hopefully) the ultimate benefits for this more open time?

If all new arts organisations specified a Google-style working model in their

constitutions, might that help change what some in the conversation described as an

industry-wide feeling of exhaustion?

And, finally, we started to ask ourselves whether this was really time we don’t have, or

whether we could just get on and do some of this stuff instead of the things we waste

time on?

So… incredibly useful thoughts for me about how a new organisation might use some

of these ideas right from its genesis. And I think/hope an intriguing provocation for

others contributing to the session.


Programming, programming, Dreaming, Theatre, development, Development,

organisations, R&D, producing, dreaming, THEATRE, Producing, theatre, r&d,