Making a Commitment in Theatre Making

Normally with blog writing there is a burning question or point you want to make, but this week I find myself perplexed. I could talk about the new Arts Council portal for grants, or the What Next? group discussion on arts and climate change or maybe a talk with a friend about the need for universal access to theatre and then theres that nagging feeling that we’re not hitting the right diversity in the work we are presenting…and… and… Which is more important to write about? Which needs to be addressed and pull my focus the most?

When it comes to producing theatre there are always questions that are a constant. Most of the time they go unnoticed because to face them could potentially open up an avalanche of question marks and budget lines that just won’t add up. We at Making Room want to be the best producers we can be for the artists and venues we work with, but when it comes to choosing what draws our focus and what we need to be tackling sometimes it can just feel overwhelming. Climate change, funding, accessibility, diversity and that’s before we step into art for social change and education. Where do you begin with these sorts of questions when really all you want to be doing is all of them all the time because they are all just as important?

Leo and I founded Making Room with the statement of being a company that “boldly strives to make a positive change within society through culture”. During meetings we keep coming back to this statement and revising it. Not always in the words but in the meaning. What do we really mean through this commitment? How does it affect the artists we work with and the projects we undertake? Does a play about the pressures of young athletes and their well being have more weighting for us as a company compared to a play on male identity and rural farming? Which do we undertake as Making Room and which do we keep as freelancers? It feels good to question, but at the same time the more we interrogate our ideals of producing the more it throws open the larger questions of ‘how can we do more to make a difference?’

I want the theatre that I produce to be accessible, to reflect diversity and I want equality in genders of creative teams and everyone has to be paid a fair wage. Then I’m looking at a budget and I’ve got a choice, do I add a BSL performance or employ a graduate to learn about producing or remove all printed marketing and boost our digital output for environmental happiness. There is no right answer but when you’re a producer the decisions made when you first put together a budget has implications throughout the entire process. At what point do you make a commitment and how do you ensure that the commitment is seen throughout the process? Who holds us accountable as producers to that commitment?

These decisions can often feel overwhelming. You can have all the good intentions in the world for creating the most accessible production possible but there will always be something that can be improved upon or doesn’t quite meet the standard it should. During the Independent Theatre Council’s 40 year celebrations I attended a conference in which Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of Graeae, responded to a question from a young practitioner, “how do we do all of this, thinking about equality and accessible and genders – how do we start?”. Her response has stuck with me and one I constantly come back to. Sealey commented that the first step was to “talk about it. Ensure in every meeting you have the conversation.” Allowing the conversation to begin will open up something within the process and planning, even if that discussion stays as a discussion for now. It has longer commitment if you continually question and ask how we can improve the work we make.

So I’ve just written 600 odd words about how much I want to be making the best theatre possible which doesn’t tick the boxes of diversity and accessibility but smashes them apart. Then I’m thinking “how?!” and I’m projecting a mental image of my producing partner Leo and I’m thinking, “Actually, it’ll be alright, we’re committed to those conversations and that is the first place to start”. Let’s not be overwhelmed by all the questions that get thrown at us as theatre-makers. Let’s question ourselves, our work and working practices but most importantly lets engage in that conversation first and foremost. As my friend noted yesterday, “make sure you ring-fence that accessibility line in your budget” and whilst he said it with a knowing wink he’s absolutely right. Some things can’t be outweighed by others on a budget, you’ve just got to ring-fence it and make that commitment.

Some Making Room plugs:

Some shows worth looking at:

  • I was balled over by Complicite’s The Encounter at the Barbican. It has smashed its way into my top 5 shows ever, so take a look.
  • Vaults Festival runs for a few more weeks and there is such a diverse lineup that you can’t really go wrong.

Photo by Spiva Arts via a Flickr Creative Commons Licence.

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