Perhaps more so than when I entered Clapham Omnibus on Thursday for a day of healthy and difficult discussions about artist development, nurturing our sector and making a living. But before my frustration settled, there were positives, and right now, I need to be reminded of them…otherwise I may strangle someone.
I earn my living as an independent producer, an artist, an operations manager & doing lifts for mates. I’m in a fortunate position (do I dare say privileged position?) where I can live with my parents. For the first time in 4 years, I have less financial outgoings. For the first time in 4 years, I’m actually working successfully in the arts sector. (I can always do better, everyone can.) For me, I wouldn’t be able to do this if I was living away from home. Working in a shitty retail shop and then doing arts shit was making me fucking miserable. But yeah, I get not everyone wants to move home or has the opportunity to do so and honestly, I would love to take a leaf out of their book in HOW THE FUCK THEY DO IT, but I can’t talk about them…but, to those people who are doing it; let’s have coffee.
Back to the actual point:
After the intros, the day started with five genius provocations. As always, Paula Varjack was super funny with her frustration in being regarded as an emerging artist when she’s been working as an artist for 7 years. Sometimes, humour is the best way to realise important issues.
I’ve been rethinking about the term “emerging” for a while. I’m finding that I’m emerging with some institutes but not enough elsewhere. It’s becoming more and more difficult to perform. I mean, I could actually really suck at performance. I could have really sucky ideas. I could really suck at writing applications…or maybe the opportunities that are out there, aren’t for me. DOESN’T MEAN I SHOULD JUST FUCKING STOP THOUGH. The “established” artists and companies that are making these opportunities are perhaps, 8-10 years older than me…is it time for a new wave of artists to come in and reset the rules? I dunno. I’m half finding that out.
Chris Goode, someone with his history of works, retold conversations he had had within the last three years about frustration of artist development. What do you want as an artist, how do you even know? At points, he didn’t even know. Just goes to show that with someone of his experience, can find it difficult to know what he needs in order to make work because every project is different.
Rhiannon White’s provocation was heartfelt; she was massively cut up. She started her theatre company CommonWealthfrom taking risks & being on JSA in order to get it done. “I’m frightened because if someone needed to do that today, that option isn’t there anymore.” She’s advocating change that undervalues working class people and she’s flying that flag well.
Similarly, Conrad Murray spoke about the authenticity in theatre. “Tell your story, don’t take mine.” We shouldn’t be employing people to come in to tell you how to find your voice. We all have one, we just need to be taught how to look. Massively underpinned points where some venues say “Well, we have helped them, we employed this writer, this costume designer etc.” Nah. Not everyone works like that and remembering why the piece is being made is integral.
Via video link, Jess Thom spoke about venues and their accessibility. It’s fantastic seeing more and more venues and theatre orgs becoming more and more accessible. Buzzcut festival are championing this, from their recent festival in April and it was outstanding. However, on her recent tour, she has been using far too many back doors to enter green rooms and backstage areas than she can account for. In true #TourettesDailyOutburst style, she also mentioned that “Bin bags [are] for Hitler” So, it’s all good.
Relaxed performances were brought up as well. You can read my blog post about my theatre etiquette frustration here.
So, moving on to actual frustration…
Development Hell: How can you transition from work in progress to a full production?
There were great comments about what works well for artists and venues when it comes to this. It’s fantastic to hear lots of different options and that there isn’t one route to access to get shit done.
And then there’s a really overwhelming moment where you go OH FUCK SHIT THERE’S SO MUCH FREEDOM WHAT DO I DO? Finding that balance is key.
What REALLY interested me was the venues’ perspective. Brian Logan from CPT and Emma Bettridge from Bristol Old Vicshared their thoughts on their responsibility to guide artists into a direction that best suits the artist. It was agreed that venues should own the responsibility when it comes to the aftercare of work in progress performances. Venues should contact other venues and state that there is a show worth supporting. Even if they don’t believe so, they should offer dramaturgical support or at least contacts for the artists to go away and do so. VERY VALID POINT.
There’s still work that needs to be done.
Marketing side; how do you frame work in progress, how do you gain those audience members back for the final product etc.
Aftermath; how does your show get seen by the right people to take it further, who decides whats good, what’s the communication between artist and venue etc.
How Do We Survive & Thrive as An Artist?
I became immensely frustrated that there’s a devaluing of arts, which leads to financial struggle. I mean, we know there’s a devalue in the arts, you only have to look on Facebook and someone, somewhere is getting a freebie, just cause, or there’s another protest / strike / article about it. BUT WHEN THERE’S A DEVALUATION FROM PEOPLE WORKING IN THAT SECTOR?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! I LITERALLY DON’T GET IT.
Venues need to stop asking to come down on fees. End of. Don’t come to me, asking for a show I am producing and when I give you a fee, you ask me to come down considerably more. No. it’s not happening. If you ask me to lower my rate by 25%, you will be provided with 25% less quality. Bryony Kimmings has a whole spiel on this and you should read it here.
But at the same time, IT PAINS ME to hear that people are accepting free gigs, or not budgeting their shows correctly. YOU, THE ARTIST, ARE A FUCKING BUSINESS. START ACTING LIKE ONE. You are making it harder for other people to make a living and you are assisting with the notion of a “Whinging Artist.”
I shared a recent example of being asked to come down on a fee for a show with the group and in return was met by a venue who said, “Push back with love and warmth.” To which, Nikki Tomlinson responded with “That’s not good enough. You’re an infrastructure and you shouldn’t be negotiating fees like that.”
AND THEN, Jo Crowley said “If you can’t live as an artist, why? Challenge the higher structures. Is it something you’re doing or is it a bigger picture?”
Once again, you’re a business, forecast your budget for dry periods and work towards your next project so you can stay afloat.
And then some people’s answers were so inappropriate. Credit cards is not an answer to make it as an artist. Yes, location can be a factor and can be a consideration to some, but not everyone wants to move to the sticks and start afresh. It’s a very scary concept and one that people aren’t most comfortable with.
Who Gets Developed?
There were a lot of comments about diversity and inclusion and a general moan about people feeling excluded because of what the face of the venue looks like. Fair point. I don’t have much to say about this, as I am not a part of a venue…side stepping slightly.
However, I am deeply concerned with what the next breed of artists will be. Middle class. How can we spread the inclusion for diversity? I don’t have the answers but it’s given me lots of head space to think of when I’m trying to produce shows. What can I do to a show to make it more inclusive? I need contacts and a community to articulate this. This is something I want to investigate.
I left the day feeling that I hadn’t had an honest conversation. I just moaned about some things and couldn’t find an answer / suggestion and felt deflated. Afterwards, and only cause they fancied a pint and cause they saw me, I was able to find a bit of solace with a small community of arts industry folk that I massively value and respect, that I could unload my frustration to. And they were fucking appalled at some of the difficulties I had faced. So much so, they urged me to pick up the phone whenever I have future stresses.
This is just a massive rambling. I don’t really know if there’s a conclusion but it’s just important to have a community and to just learn and learn and learn every step of the way.