Our annual unconventional convention for everyone involved in theatre and the performing arts, is back! This year we are at Slung Low's The Warehouse in Leeds from 16th - 18th March 2024.

Book your tickets here!

An invitation from Improbable's Associate Director, Matilda Leyser;

Devoted and Disgruntled: What are we going to do about Theatre and the Performing Arts?

That’s a genuine question. 
And this is a real invitation, to come and work on that question – and any others you are holding – and to explore a myriad of answers, together with us, in Leeds, in March this year, at our annual Open Space event. 
 
We ran our first Devoted and Disgruntled event in 2006- 18 years ago. Since then we have used Open Space to run our company, make our shows, birth some children (true story). But through all the years, we've continued to come back to the beginning - to this core annual event - the one we are inviting you to be a part of in 2024.
 
And it starts now.
Because the beginning of this event - the very first thing that happens - is that we write an invitation.
 
Writing an invitation is something of art.
Like any art, it’s a kind of practice.
Which is to say, we are still practicing it - still finding out how to do it.
But also, as with any practice you keep at for a while, you start to form habits.
So, over the years, we have tended to use our annual D&D invite to reflect on the current state of the performing arts, of the country, of the world, and then to use that as a sort of motivator to encourage you to come along and do something meaningful, instead of moaning.
 
The problem with this formula is that the state of the arts/ country/ world keeps on getting worse, so the invites sound increasingly bleak. Or maybe it’s just that we keep on getting older. Or maybe a bit of both. Either way, when we tried to follow the formula this year, it came out like bitter old actor’s version of the queen’s speech (she did 70 of them - we are far behind!). We felt a little desperate. We tried AI, which, to be honest, did a fair job of turning the bitterness around into something more positive. 
 
But because I cannot think of a single, fricking event better than D&D at connecting us back to our ‘HI’ - our deep, natural, human intelligence and creativity (yes, I believe we have this- that's where theatre comes from) - as opposed to the heart-breaking individual and collective stupidity we witness every day on the news - I want a person, not a software programme, to write the invite: so here I am writing this to you.
 
The definition of a true invitation is that you can say 'no' to it. It invites you to check in with yourself, and what you want, because it comes from someone who is checking in with themselves:
 
Right now, I am feeling cold, but also naively glad that it can still get this cold. I just reassured my neurodivergent son that we are safe and am wondering if we truly are. I am thinking of the aerial-theatre-storytelling-impro show I want to start to make this year, and how the heck I am going to do it, amidst everything else I am holding. I am thinking of you, reading this, wondering what you are feeling, what you are bothered by, excited by, devoted to, disgruntled about. 
 
I am inviting you to check in with yourself and see what you need right now, whether that’s time out on your own in the rain and wind, or whether that’s time in a circle, connecting with your community. Or whether you don’t have a sense of community and you’d quite like to find one - that was Phelim, 18 years ago, when he wrote the first invite. 
 
And maybe you were at that first 2006 D&D, or you've been to some others.
Maybe you meant to get along one year but you haven’t yet quite managed it. 
Maybe you have never even heard about us, and you thought ‘D&D’ was a fantasy tabletop game (it is – ask my son if you decide to come to our version of ‘D&D’).
 
All of the above options are exciting to me. And any of them could mean that you are one of the right people to show up in the room this year. I don’t know - you do.
 
I also don’t know what’s going to happen once we are in the room, because every year is different, but here’s some things that have happened other years, and which might happen again. You might: 
 
Have an inspiring conversation.
Get a whole lot of work done.
Find a partner - work-related or romantic (both have precedents).
Find a job, or a place to live. 
Start a company, or a campaign.
Get support for your project.
Have a laugh. Or a cry.
Sit and daydream for the first time in many months.
Drink a lot of free tea and eat some biscuits. 
Have the best idea of your career to date. 
Find some hope- a sense of renewal.
 
So come and join us, and find out what this year holds. Come as you are. Come…..
If you were barely born, back in 2006. 
If you are old and bitter.
If you are middle aged and feeling middle-ish about everything.
If you are of the global majority. 
If you are queer as they come.
If you have a disability. 
If you are neurodivergent.
And if you are white, straight, cis-gendered, and neurotypical - you can come too. 
Come along with a project, or a question, or a niggle, or a feeling of fury, grief, despair, or mild curiosity.
Come alone, or bring a friend, colleague, partner, your children. Come if you are lost, lonely, or painfully shy.
 
What I am trying to say is simply this: 
Come if you want to be there. 
That’s it.
This is an invitation to you, from me, and the rest of Improbable, to come to Devoted and Disgruntled, in Leeds, March 2024, if something in you, reading this, says ‘yes.’



An invitation from Artistic Director of Slung Low, Alan Lane;

I’m finding it increasingly hard to be hopeful. I don’t think I’m the only one. 

But I look around my communities- in the arts, in Holbeck- and I see the daily, pressing, urgent need not only for hope but the wonder that artists are sometimes the only people who can provide it. It’s a responsibility providing that wonder, driven by hope. 

And whenever this feeling- this hopelessness- has risen up in my chest before I know one thing that has helped is the company and wisdom of our theatre family.

So when D&D got in touch to see if we could host their Leeds leg we jumped at the chance to be involved. Because although we warned that they would need their outdoor coats in the Warehouse in Holbeck in March we could also promise a warm welcome. We could promise that we’d put the kettle on and greet each every person who comes to the Warehouse in Holbeck like they’re our theatre family. Because they will be.

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Tickets

To reflect the different positions of everyone coming to this event we’ve made tickets Pay What You Choose starting from a minimum of £10. Improbable will be subsidising this event as much as we can, but to cover costs we need to make a further £6,250 from ticket sales which works out at an average of £25 per ticket, so If you can afford to, please do consider paying that. 

If you are able to, you could also 'Pay It Forward' which means buying another ticket to help others attend. 

If you are in receipt of Universal Credit, you are able to access a 'Pay It Forward' ticket. If this applies to you, please contact us via: [email protected]

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Event timings

D&D 2024 starts at 10.30am (doors open) and ends at around 7pm on the Saturday and Sunday (16th and 17th) and starts from 10.30am to about 2.30pm on the Monday (18th). You are free to take a break whenever you like, and there is a lunch hour between 1/1.30pm and 2/2.30pm (approximately - the timetable is only a guideline!).

Travel

Leeds train station is mainly served by LNER, CrossCountry, Northern and TransPennine Express trains.

Local bus services regularly run from Leeds Station to the venue. More information on buses can be found here.

Parking

If travelling by car, please park on Ingram Road as parking immediately around the Warehouse is residents-only. There is no charge for on-street parking.

Wheelchair users and those with limited mobility are welcome to park on Crosby Street. 

The nearest bus stop is on Holbeck Moor Road and we have bike storage facilities inside the warehouse.

Refreshments / Lunch

Tea and coffee will be available throughout the days. You are welcome to bring your own lunch or make your own lunch at the venue - there is a kitchen available to use with an oven, microwave and fridge. 

Local Food

There are a handful of corner shops on Top Moor Side. There is a good simple sandwich shop called Armitages on Domestic Street- there’s a menu in the kitchen. And a Turkish Supermarket with a sit-down Kebab cafe called Venus. It is also on Domestic Street: there’s a couple of veggie options on the menu.

Access information 

We are really pleased to announce our wellbeing partner for this event is Wellbeing in the Arts. Founder Adam Bambrough will be on hand throughout to support you.

Wellbeing in the arts logo

Deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing

Live captions are provided for opening and closing (the beginning and end of the event when we are all gathered in one group). For the breakout-spaces part of the day there will be no captioning but we do have hand-held amplifiers for you to use, and some smaller, quieter break-out spaces.

BSL interpreters will be present for the whole day.

Mobility & building access

The venue is wheelchair-accessible including a wheelchair-accessible toilet and baby changing facilities. 

Neurodivergent access

We welcome neurodivergent participants. Open Space is always a 'relaxed performance'!

Personal assistants and carers are always admitted free of charge.

Access support workers will be on hand to help you throughout the event.

If you feel worried or are unsure of the process, you can ask the facilitator or co-ordinator for help at any time during the event. They'll make themselves known to the group at the beginning of the event.

If you want to know more about what to expect at this event, you can click here for a clear-English guide to the Open Space Technology. We are happy to answer any questions about the process that you might have, so you can also contact us to ask for more information.

There will be a silent space if you need a bit of peace and quiet.

Children

We don't provide childcare, but children are always welcome in the space if supervised by their parent or carer.

We are also open to supporting networks of parents to club together and arrange a childcare solution that suits them.

An Invitation from John R. Wilkinson, Associate Director at York Theatre Royal and Co-Founder of The Calm Farm

How Do We Give Artists the Tools and Humility to be Objective and Compassionate Even Towards Those Whose Values They Disagree With?

 

---1

I think this is controversial.  We’re Artists.  It shouldn’t be.

I think this conversation will be hard to hear.  We’re Artists. That’s the point. 

This must be a nuanced, two-way exchange.  Because we make Art.  We call, and we respond.

This is vital. Art is vital.

We are Artists. We are Border Walkers.

 

---2

In his book Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life, Makuto Fujimura references an old English word used in Beowulf to describe Grendel: Mearcstapa, roughly translated as “Border-Walker”.

“In the tribal realities of earlier times, these were individuals who lived on the edges of their groups, going in and out of them, sometimes bringing back news to the tribe.”

The same is true of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings: As Strider he can navigate the worlds of Elves and Men, which makes him an indispensable guide and protector for the Hobbits, and ultimately allows him to become an effective leader, fulfilling his destiny as High King of Gondor and Arnor, uniting two kingdoms.”

 

I’d like to start this Invitation by echoing Fujimura’s observation that many artists fit this role of border-walker, not naturally fitting into one group but being independently minded, uneasy to pin down, seeming aloof or uncommitted, free-spirited, unaffiliated.

 

It is not a comfortable role.

 

---3

 

I am a CIS white man. 

My pronouns are he/him.

I am working class (if you believe the Arts Council). My Dad was a newsagent when I was 14.

I have Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and Scoliosis.

As a result, I have always sat on the periphery, (“the edges of the tribe”).  Zoomed out.  Afforded multiple perspectives by my difference.

I am 41 years of age.  Six years ago, I entered your standard survey’s third age bracket: 35 – 44.  Which means that I’m officially old.

21 years ago, I completed a degree in Dramaturgy at the University of Leeds, then Bretton Hall.  Without a doubt, the two biggest takeaways I took from it were:

You’re a Dramaturg:

1.     Train Yourself to be Compassionate. 

2.     Train Yourself to be Objective.

 

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As artists we are designed to be hypersensitive.

Boomers and Gen Z holds views which are seen as regressive by Millennials and Gen X.

What happens if you’re engaging with a community participant who voted Brexit, or loves Andrew Tate?

 

---5

Things I’d love us to consider:

1.     What strategies do we need to implement so that artists feel empowered to navigate the complexities of a pluralist context with objectivity, compassion, and humility?

2.     How can we foster diverse perspectives and encourage exposure to a variety of viewpoints, experiences, and backgrounds?

3.     Do we need to promote more self-reflection and encourage artists to examine their own biases, privileges, and assumptions?

4.     How can we cultivate empathy, encourage artists to listen actively, and seek to understand different perspectives, fostering compassion in their work.

5.     How might we create spaces for open, respectful dialogue and feedback where artists can exchange ideas, receive constructive criticism, and learn from those whose values they disagree with?

If any or all the ideas I’ve expressed connect with you, join us at Devoted and Disgruntled 2024.

Slung Low’s The Warehouse, Leeds: Saturday 16th, Monday 18th, March 2024

Let’s engage in conversation, exchange perspectives, respectfully disagree, and create a supportive environment for one another.

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An invitation from Adam Bambrough, Founder and CEO of Wellbeing in the Arts;

There is a mental health crisis in the Arts and a workforce at its lowest ever point psychologically.  

Long-standing issues of poor wages and working conditions, having to manage ever increasing workloads on diminishing resources, bullying, harassment, misogyny, and racism have been made worse by the increased pressure of cuts to budgets, heightened job insecurity, wage reductions, and the removal of opportunities. 

Our industry reports higher levels of mental health issues such as suicide, depression, anxiety, and burn out than any other profession, even front-line services like the NHS, police and fire service. The longer it goes on the more we risk the potentially irreversible loss of talented individuals to other industries. 

So, the time is now to look at how we can better support the people we work with…and ourselves. Whatever our job title or discipline, be it Artistic Director or freelancer, wherever we are in the UK. 

And it is possible, even on the tightest of budgets, so I invite you to join me at Devoted and Disgruntled this year to discuss how we can improve mental health and wellbeing support across our industry, assess what is currently being done, and share how our own mental health and wellbeing is being affected by the work we do.

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