What makes a region attractive to theatre makers either to be based in or to tour to? 

Convener(s): Natalie Querol 

Participants: Steph Allen, Elise Davison, Lyn Gardner, Chris Wootton, Laura Kriefman, Jo Crowley, Jamie Rocha Allen,Chris Grady, Ayda Unsworth, Katherine Warman, David Betz-Heinemann

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

Initial thoughts on what makes a region attractive included:

  • Proximity to London – not necessarily based in how long it actually takes to travel but how far away people perceive it to be
  • Money – Made in Brighton was given as an example although this was money attached to a wider package of support
  • Ability to bring people together – a region that knows what it has in terms of artists and creates opportunities to maximize that latent potential
  • Cheap rehearsal space

Benefits of being based outside London include:

  • easier access to funding
  • easier for even emerging artists and small companies to make connections with senior figures in the industry
  • easier outside London to get support in kind from local companies who are keen to support artists in their local communities.

However benefits to be being based in London include:

  • It is possible to build a profile in London that is far more difficult for companies starting out elsewhere
  • There is a large and diverse pool of artists working in London which is essential for the sustained creation of great work
  • Work is visible – national press rarely travel outside London

We then discussed what can be done to encourage people to stay in a region:

  • There’s a job to be done with drama schools as currently graduates often aren’t aware that it is possible to work outside London
  • There needs to be breadth of activity in a region to stimulate creativity, a critical mass
  • It could be useful for regions to recognise that it is extremely useful for artists to spend a couple of years in London – it would be beneficial for regional theatre communities to actively encourage artists to immerse themselves in the metropolis without losing their identity as  a regional artist
  • Could regions ‘adopt an artist’ for a given period of time in order to bring their energy and experience into the region.
  • Many London based artists find it very useful to create their work away from London in order to find headspace so there is an opportunity for region’s to reach critical mass by offering London based artists opportunities to make work in their regions
  • There was also an example given of a regionally based company who rehearsed a show in London and found that experience very freeing also both because being away from home offered headspace and also because working in a building (BAC) filled with artists was invigorating. Perhaps a scheme that offered ‘creation swaps’ would be viable.

The primary need of companies touring into a region is a large and enthusiastic audience ready to see your show. The main reason given for not touring into certain regions was that companies can’t get programmed there – venue manager’s often say ‘we love the work but we don’t have an audience for it’. Festivals are great as they allow for an influx of diverse, high quality work. Examples were given of venues that are consistently bringing interesting, experimental work in areas where one might not expect to find interested audiences, chief amongst these were The Point in Eastleigh, The Drum in Plymouth and the New Wolsey in Ipswich. It can be done but is very much dependant on the commitment and contacts of individual Artistic Directors.

Competition is essential to the creation of top quality work. Encouraging top rate artists into a region may be unpopular with local artists who might see it as greater demand on local resources, particularly funding. Perhaps creating the best work for audiences and the best environment for local artists are mutually exclusive concepts.

Where a region has only one or two producing houses should they be run by Artistic Directors who direct a high proportion of the in house shows? Does that lead to a lack of diversity of work in the region, also directors have their preferred team of collaborators so tends to end up with a small group of people creating the majority of work. This can definitely make a region unattractive to artists.

Should we be thinking in terms of a more flexible approach to where people are based? Perhaps it’s healthier to make work in lots of different places, to be inspired by different cultures, different landscapes, different people. Inspirational settings can lead to great work (Kneehigh).

London audiences can be very fragmented because there are so many options people can get very specific about what they go to see and choose to see a lot of the same thing. In the regions where there are fewer options however people go to see a greater diversity of work because they’ll see everything that’s available. Regional audiences are happy to see a greater diversity of work (as long as the copy is right).


Summing up:

Artists are attracted to areas where they feel really welcome and supported, and also where the offer includes a long term relationship. Tuoring into a region is fine but it’s better if they can make work there as well. Multiple co-producing models particularly valuable. The venues that follow this approach (The Point, New Wolsey and the Drum for instance are rewarded by developing an audience that are up for anything. These venues are also very generous – they don’t try to claim work as ‘theirs’, they share the ownership and the benefits with companies who therefore come back again and again.

The regions shouldn’t try to be like London. They have their own strengths and need to offer something London can’t. Residencies are a great way of energizing the creative community in any given region – bringing in external experience and expertise.

Lots of available money and a lack of good performance opportunities is death. Better to have little money and more support as it focuses attention on the heart of the work rather than big sets etc.

BUZZ – creating buzz is the key. Buzz plus friendliness equals big attraction.