The Treadmill of Theatre-Making

I loathe the end of a project. Evaluation forms and statistics, stepping back and seeing what you achieved and what you may have missed. If I could I would skip the end of a project and bathe in the joy of the liveness. Long live the ever present project! Realistically that would be impossible, someone has to tie up the loose ends and reconcile a budget. More importantly though evaluation and taking stock of lessons learned can only make you stronger in the long run, even if the thought of having to write another Arts Council England report sends a shiver down my spine.

That’s the thing about working in theatre. You’re constantly living for the live moment and as quickly as that appears on the stage it soon vanishes into a memory. You can record theatre, stream it online or write about it in fine detail but nothing will really capture the moment like sitting in front of a stage in a live moment. Having just finished a four week run producing Snuff Box Theatre’s Weald at the Finborough Theatre I suddenly find myself back at my laptop staring into another funding application deadline. Over the course of those four weeks we had some 900 audience members see our work. Whether they loved it or loathed it, those 900 people experienced something in the theatre and now they are out there in the larger world slightly changed because of what they saw. Even if that change is so small they may not notice it themselves, or perhaps so large they can’t stop thinking about what we made. Either way, the audience have been, they’ve left now, and we’re back to being in front of our laptops, planning and plotting.

So how do we keep the momentum going? How do we keep those audiences engaged with our ideas and work when the next time they might see something of ours is several months down the line in a different city, in a different country? That’s the difficulty of being a company that has no physical home, no bricks or mortar. Of course having your own building comes with a whole host of issues but being able to have audiences return again and again, to feel part of the community that make up that building, even if they go sit in the foyer and not see a show; that’s the experience I’m wondering how we replicate.

There’s mailing lists and social media, that keeps people informed, but without an actual piece of theatre living in a space in which audiences can experience something, what do we have left? Our ideas, our desires, our god damn funding applications? (Can you tell I’m really bitter about having to write the one I’m doing at the moment?).

Then there’s the perpetual problem of always being one step ahead in your work. As one show opens you’re already onto the next, securing a venue, opening a crowd funder and hoping that you’ll get paid in the process. As a freelancer that ‘always chasing the next job’ suddenly becomes a reality when you sit and find yourself on the other side of a show and a few months of empty diary pages. When do we have a chance to really sit back and take stock of what we’ve achieved if we’re constantly chasing the next pot of money or next potential run of a show?

It is something I’ve been questioning a lot recently. The need for evaluation (yawn) is actually paramount to improving your work, as an individual or as a company. At Making Room we have Vision Days and Strategy Meetings, which sound far more sophisticated than what they actually are (cups of tea and scribbles) to ensure we have some sense of continued narrative and development. It helps that there are two of us who can question and challenge each other’s work on a weekly if not daily basis. Why this work, why this venue and why this funder? Its a skill that they don’t teach you at University or Drama School, the evaluation of the industry, yourself, your work and the audience. If anything, we, and I definitely include myself in this, often take leaps into the dark with theatre expecting an audience to follow suit without shining a light on the way.

All of this makes me question; how do we keep the momentum going in our work when so much is required to get that work on in the first place? How do we evaluate and see the merits of our work without succumbing straight to the next funding application? How do you get off the treadmill of theatre-making if only for the briefest of moments to take stock of everything you’ve done so far?

On a lighter note. Here are some things you should read / watch / see.

One thought on “The Treadmill of Theatre-Making

  1. A powerful provocation from the unusually lonely world of theatre producing. I feel it a lot. I have a few thoughts, some of which you do anyway. a) Schedule time in your diary very regularly for time with another lonely producer to share ideas. Make that time include some pretty formal agenda space when you push and challenge, plus other time to eat cake. [My CGO surgeries do that for solo-artists quite often] b) Get the evaluation done very fast whilst the buzz of the liveness is still buzzing in your veins. Which means setting the time aside before completion to gather almost everything you can, and then set a time a few days later to complete. [Oh I wish I could remember to do this myself]. c) An idea – since you are building an audience base for the work and the creativity which you love, is there a place for a monthly (say) open gathering for the audience, in a pub or theatre foyer or something, where you can keep talking your type of theatre, maybe reading a bit of a play, or just feeling the buzz and the love. We may not have a building, but we do have access to downstairs spaces or parkland in the summer. Do something which requires minimal organisation. An eventbrite free invite thing, and whoever comes are the right people. It might be 3-4 punters who loved your last play (or didn’t). It might be a few mates and some strawberries. And it might grow into a rather bigger thing. The key is keep it regular, keep it going, don’t care who comes, and keep it simple. In a sense I am advocating a completely informal “friends of making room’ which is free (at the moment), open to all, and keeps the theatre buzz and liveness alive. [In a sense that’s what I am trying to do this year with Producers’ Pool, and definitely what I did when I used to run New Musicals Alliance in the 90s and the early Musical Theatre Matters in toe 00s]


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