What's right, right now?

Stephen Boyce, 21 September 2012

The question was designed to elicit responses focused on what works, what's successful, good, energising, possible in theatre at the moment. To focus on strengths and opportunities rather than threats and constraints.

Discussion focused on the devotion and commitment of theatre people which is the driving spirit behind most work. There is a recognition that good stuff can happen from extreme circumstances; that artists themselves are resilient (we have survived lean times before); that there is a spirit of enterprise and initiative that survives undaunted by circumstance, and that it is important not to fall into crisis talk.

As one contributor put it “it's the one industry where you can make it up for yourself.”

We are very fortunate to be working in theatre.

A particular strength of theatre currently is the vitality of work happening outside of conventional theatre spaces – from parks to beaches to city squares to private houses and even public toilets. This seems to coincide with a public appetite for taking part in big community events. It also presents the opportunity to engage a variety of new audiences.

These opportunities are enhanced by the fact that boundaries are constantly breaking down or evaporating – between art forms, between venues and producers/theatremakers, between virtual and live art, between performance and participation etc, etc… Collaboration and partnership are rife and not just for pragmatic (financial) reasons but for creative benefits. As one contributor put it “uncertainty creates possibility”, the most interesting work often happens at the margins or on the intersection of ideas, concepts, disciplines, communities, etc. There are good examples in the area such as Shake the Dust (Nuffield Theatre / Apples & Snakes), Zepa in Winchester and Southampton with its valuable international dimension.

Funding is available – despite what we might read about reductions in public expenditure and the general economic climate – the National Lottery continues to mean that the overall levels of funding for culture are significantly higher than in previous decades. Our responsibility as artists is to be inventive about how we access and use it. Whereas building-based organisations are susceptible to audience fluctuations because they have core costs to meet, theatre makers on the whole are more optimistic and upbeat about the financial situation – their concerns are for the work itself.

The trend to supporting talent development and emerging artists is a particular strength and one that is well exemplified in the South East Region and especially the Southampton / Winchester sub-region - cf. the residency programme at the Point at Eastleigh in partnership with University of Winchester. NB “emerging” should not be equated only with “young” – you can emerge at any age, you can benefit from advice support experience and encouragement at any age.

Additionally, artists can and do support one another very effectively through sharing experience, expertise, resources. A truly open creative process built on honest support is especially valued. This led to a discussion on the value of feedback, in particular how we create the climate for open critical discussion with audiences, boards and others as well as among theatre makers. What is its purpose? How can it best be facilitated? etc, etc…

Ultimately, the group concluded that you can do the work you want to do, but that you need to put effort into working out how things operate, seeking out people who are generous and secure enough in themselves to be valued collaborators.

On a personal note, having convened the session and posed the question I am reminded of a recurrent phrase from Jonathan Burrows' excellent The Choreographer's Handbook – “It's only a stupid dance.”. It's important for us to value what we do but to maintain a sense of proportion and reality.

Stephen Boyce


audience, emerging artists, Collaboration, Emerging Artists, Audience, Funding, talent development, funding, collaboration

Comments: 1

Nicky Bellenger, 24 September 2012

Thank you Stephen for a positive and uplifting session. I left your session feeling excited and energetic. More talk like this between people in the arts please!