West Midlands Posse – I’m new in town; hello!

Convener(s): Ed Jaspers – Teasel Theatre Company

Participants: Rebecca Atkinson-Lord – Oval House Theatre, Matt Burnham – Warwick Arts Centre, Nicola Salmon – Royal Shakespeare Company, Jenni Jackson, Simon Day – The Plasticine Men, Alan Lyddiard – Director

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Ed has moved to Birmingham from London and called the session to meet other West Midlands-based D&Ders.

Rebecca is originally from Wolverhampton but now works at Oval House Theatre in London. She’s keen to collaborate with other development-minded organizations around the country and especially to make connections with her native midlands. She’s also working with Birmingham-based Capital Plays.

Matt is relatively new in post as head of programming at WAC, developing their three main strands of classics, popular entertainment (including comedy), and contemporary work.

Alan is working on “Wings of Desire” a central Birmingham, site-specific dance piece co-produced by Birmingham Hippodrome and Dance Exchange. Also used to run Second City theatre company.

Nicola Salmon is a producer of events and exhibitions for the RSC, whose remit includes education projects, visiting companies and a range of projects which are not home-grown RSC shows.

Jenni Jackson is a performer and theatre-maker. Originally from Nuneaton, now based in London.

Simon is Artistic Director of The Plasticene Men. The company is currently based in Brighton, but Simon worked for a long time in the Midlands, including setting up the Pilot programme which continues to be vibrantly active.

Matt: WAC and RSC are collaborating on audience research at the moment.

Nicky: RSC are holding an open space event in October. 

Matt: WAC are working on a joined-up development programme with Stan’s Café (Birmingham), Black Country Touring (rural touring scheme) and Midlands Arts Centre.

Alan’s “Wings of Desire” project sounds amazing. A big central Birmingham event, unticketed and public, playing to 2,000 people over four performances and featuring huge projections and a large cast of dancers and actors, telling the story of an angel who decides to settle in Brum. It’s to tie in with the International Festival of Dance 2012.

Alan also talked about an international collaboration called “Home” which would feature 1,000 individual dance performances on people’s door mats.

Matt: WAC gets 10% of its budget from ACE, the rest has to come from box office and the University’s use of the facilities

Lead in times: RSC tends to need about a year, similar for WAC main house but often more flexibility in the studio as they like to be able to respond to new stuff as well as planning ahead. Oval house plans roughly a year in advance, although the seasons – which give the theme of the programme – are decided 18mnths in advance.

Matt: WAC particularly keen to work more internationally. Excited by projects like Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”.

Rebecca: Oval house also interested in developing its international reach and in a broader definition of ‘new work’, beyond the literary-leaning idea of ‘new writing’.

Rebecca: Oval house has different levels of support for artists and companies. A range from space to work, small contributions towards expenses and the use of the theatre for showings and scratch performances. Also, less frequently, full commissions of up to £15K, with dedicated spend on marketing to make sure that the company/artist/work get exposure and build a profile for themselves. 3 seasons of 4 – 6 productions each year. Often very busy periods followed by more dark periods. Perhaps three full commissions a year and twelve co-productions.

Matt: WAC working on a new project called ‘Holding Space’ to join up development between different organisations in the West Midlands. A dedicated project manager is to be appointed. Hopefully to incorporate Birmingham Rep, MAC, WAC, Stan’s Café, China Plate, Black Country Touring and others.

Matt: WAC also hosts triggered, a development programme aimed more at local companies. Works on a bespoke model for each project. Even able to programme shows into the main house if that seems appropriate. Recent examples of triggered shows have even sold out the WAC main house.

Simon: It can be frustrating to move around the country chasing funding and development opportunities. Especially when you’re being encouraged to be international. And yet you have to be very regional to qualify for some initiatives.

Simon: East to Edinburgh an example of a scheme where one region gives its artists an opportunity that others would love.

Matt: Any ACE region can decide to implement a scheme like that. 

Ed: How can development be joined up nationally and inter-regionally in the way that, say, rep theatres will co-produce shows which move between them?

Matt: Artists also need to take some responsibility for that. Approach a number of development organisations at the same time and put a proposal forward.

Look for theatres that have corresponding spaces, emphases in their programming, audiences etc.

Rebecca: Sharing helps the production to be better (especially if it’s new and beds in over the course of its journey to you and you’re the last venue on the ‘tour’ schedule!).

Simon: Doesn’t feel that he can identify with a region as he has lived and worked in four in the last three years. Feels like a “national” artist – although that sounds too grand!

Simon: Brighton feels oddly out on a limb. Doesn’t feel that there are as many initiatives and opportunities there as in other regions he has experience of.

Matt: Artists’ mobility is limited by the post-code-tied regional emphasis of funding.

Simon: was explicitly told “You’re back to square one” when he moved to a new region, despite a strong record with organisations in other regions.

Rebecca: Do ACE treat symptoms more than causes?

Simon: Accommodation costs are also a big barrier to mobility. Would be great if there were more venues like BAC in London or The Nightingale in Brighton that were also able to house a cast and creative team during development, r&d, performances etc.

Ed: Could ACE team up with the Youth Hostelling Association?