Maddy costa, 27 January 2013

I called this session because a couple of months ago I became caught up in a long

conversation that stretched over three days on twitter in which various people who

make theatre talked about the words they use to identify themselves and how they felt

they were perceived by readers. Is artist alienating, because people conflate artist and

painter? Is maker confusing?

Also I called it because I have a friend who is a playwright who feels that her

collaborative role in making theatre is diminished by others' perception of that job title.

Also I called it because in the past few months people have been calling me an artist,

and I've been trying to get away from the word critic, and I'm not sure what difference

any of these things mean.

Also I called it because as someone who writes about theatre I want to be aware of

how I represent others, and as much as possible represent them the way they would

represent themselves.

Daniel Bye started us off with a lovely story about meeting a women in an audience

event who asked him: “how long have you been in showbiz?” Instinctively he wanted

to contradict her - but then thought that if that word made what he did clearer to her,

why push her away by challenging her?

There was lots of discussion around role-defining within collaboration - how important

it is not to feel limited by the role assigned to you in a rehearsal room.

There was lots of talk about how identifying yourself in one way can close down

opportunities elsewhere - eg Hannah Silva writes and performs poetry as an element

in her practice, but if she's described as a “performance poet”, theatre venues don't

want to work with her. So there are issues around the way these labels open and

close doors to work.

Similarly, Alex Swift talked about the difficulty of getting people to understand that he

would like to make a solo drag performance, and also direct The Importance of Being

Earnest. Dan said that since he began performing his own work, he's stopped getting

offers to direct others' plays. And someone who trained as a set designer said that to

be a successful set designer, it's felt you have to be purist - to try and do that and be a

director is difficult.

Rachel of Oval House pointed out that the only label she worries about is producer - a

good producer can make all the difference.

Ilayda pointed out that I'd missed some really important words: do we call the work a

play? a show? a performance? And what impressions do each of those give?

We talked about how critics should get better at not trying to praise individual people

for elements of a production, but think of it more as a whole, a collaborative work.

Tom Spencer of Drunken Chorus asked: When do you stop being “emerging”?

Another funny story: Mike Bradwell noticed he went directly from “emerging” to


We talked about how age affects funding - one artist, aged 36, discovered she got

funded for a project because she ticked the “older artist” box.

Tom Frankland talked about the freedom he felt in making the transition from

self-identifying as an actor to self-identifying as an artist. He asked what difference it

made to me to be called an artist. It makes me (even) more self-critical.

Tom Spencer said his company made a decision to go to Edinburgh with three works -

a classic, a new play and a devised piece - so that if they were successful they

wouldn't immediately be pegged as one thing.

Dan and Hannah pointed out that the word academic raises lots of hackles.

Tom Spencer wondered if critics could consider the ecology of theatres when writing

about work, and describe what they're seeing using words that could make clear that

their future work might sit well at eg BAC. This was interesting as it made explicit

something unspoken: that critics are among the gatekeepers of the industry.

We talked about the difference between describing what we do using a verb or a noun:

I make vs I am a maker, I write vs I am a writer.

We all love the word playwright. Generally we felt that rather than rejecting labels, we

should work to expanding the understanding of them.

Tom Frankland felt that makers often make themselves sound less interesting than

they are by trying to fit into prevailing models.

There was more but my notes are much less good than I thought they were. There

weren't any conclusions but that's as it should be: thinking about words, the

assumptions they provoke, the power they hold, is the business of my life and this was

a useful reflective space to share some thoughts about that and hear others' ideas.


gatekeepers, labels, makers, Criticism, Critics, playwright, criticism, critics, CRITICISM

Comments: 3

Bridget Floyer, 27 January 2013

Sounds like a really interesting discussion. Would like to add a couple of things that came from my session on producing -

we agreed that terminology can be excluding. Some of us felt excluded by the term ‘theatre maker’ - that that often didn't

include us and we felt it should.

Also though would like to disagree cordially with Rachel. I think producer can mean so many things it's equally as

problematic a term: general manager, administrator, creative developer. I'm mulling over something about that role - a

sense that the administrative/strategic/organisational/financial/entreprenuerial (and many other) aspects of theatre should

be thought of as part of that collaboration when bringing theatre-makers together to make theatre as much as any other,

and the division between creatives and non-creatives can be unhelpful and divisive. I know so many producers who are

very creative and initiate and devise projects, but also artists who self-produce. Or even if they work with a producer, still do

many aspects of what a producer might also do.

I really like though the suggestion of not meaning you can't use those words, just being aware - and promoting awareness -

of the diversity within them and perhaps using different words depending on the context. And I think the responsibility is with

us to be really clear about and able to explain what WE mean - I need to know what my skills are but it's helpful when

others don't just think ‘I need a producer’ but are clear about exactly what that means to them, too.

Maddy costa, 27 January 2013

ooh very interesting comment, just to step in on rachel's behalf, and indeed apologise to her, i have written that line so

concisely that actually the complexity and specificity of the thought is missing: what i understood her worry to be is that for

each production someone - whatever label they're applying to themselves - is fulfilling all the aspects of a producer role,

which can be difficult to combine with being a performer in the week before the work opens when the performer is also

working full-pelt to get the work finished. hannah silva, who was part of this discussion, was her own producer on a show

she brought to oval house, and she admitted she found it very hard to keep up with the production side of things. and i

agree: for ages i thought of “producer” as “the person who comes up with the money”, learning how much more than that

there is to the role has been a rewarding process.

Bridget Floyer, 28 January 2013

I get that. Thanks for clarifying! The verb/noun distinction is useful and interesting I think. Keir who I work with, says he

prefers saying he designs to saying he's a designer. Perhaps it's true to say that a show needs to be produced but that

might not necessarily be wholly or partly by a ‘producer’. Sometimes artists more need an admin assistant or ASM and it's

interesting about how those jobs often get called ‘producer’ when there is little or no money attached - a trade in the

perceived value of that job title. That feels wrong in some situations and completely ok in others and I'm not sure what the

distinctions are - perhaps it depends on who is doing the naming and the defining of the role.

And actually that's probably a whole other aspect to this discussion - the values placed on certain terminology. Similarly It

seems at the moment very fashionable for big or more established organisations to offer jobs with glamorous titles that may

then have something like ‘assistant’ tacked on the front (assistant producer, assistant director) and are very low paid. Fine if

they really are assisting on those roles and learning the real skills? But often they seem to really be entry level jobs doing

low level admin based tasks. Is that ok as a trade off?

Anyway. Enough for now. Thanks for the help on the thinking that's going round my head at the moment!