Key observation: We are now 20 weeks into lockdown. It is become clearer that reopening of theatres won’t happen in 2020 although some smaller performance opportunities may exist.  This conversation began was very focussed on our profession but frequently turned to the wider political landscape.  It took place in a moment where our community felt forgotten by those in power – within our sector and within our society.  

Please note: that this meeting took place on Thursday 6th August, just following the announcement of £7.5m allocated to 20 RFOs through the Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund. 

How are we doing?

  • From the sort of the professional point of view, I’ve just taken myself away and isolated myself from everything for ages and ages and ages. I’ve been taking care of a lot of the family, and work is really so far at the back of my mind right now or has been anyway and is beginning to creep back. 
  • It got to the point where, there was there was all the news and I was listening to a lot of my friends talking who work in theatre. And it was just being bombarded with negativity on a constant basis and so I chose to just go, you know what, that’s it I’m not doing that until something positive starts happening
  • I think I feel very stressed out from being away from home
  • I think lockdown has made me realize that actually a simpler lifestyle is actually much more suited to me. And that we don’t need all the material things. I think it’s something to take forward – I don’t want to go back to the old lifestyle.
  • The government don’t seem to be acknowledging this in any way shape or form. And that seems to winding me up a little bit, because certainly over the last few months it certainly seems that football is more important than theatre and music, the construction industry is more important than people’s lives. I mean it’s just sick, how our society is just presenting itself right now
  • We’re gonna have to start screaming from the rooftops that’s how it feels to me. We’re gonna have to start doing pulling out some really spectacular stuff to get those live audiences back 
  • If I’m going to focus my energies, anywhere, it’s going to be on getting audiences, and getting people through the doors again
  • It is that physical connection with creating something that I’m missing.
  • I’m sort of waiting to feel like what’s my creative impulse to get me self-motivated again
  • A couple of weeks ago we were just shooting the breeze about things as well, which is another thing that I feel I’m not doing enough of – this had been a meet up ostensibly  to chat about a project but it made me realize I’ve not just met people for a coffee and a blether
  • I just find it bizarre when anybody in any context suggests carrying on as normal or going back to anything or just that, like it’s nothing has happened and there’s just been a continuous line I just find that absolutely bizarre and I can’t get my head around it at all

What have we been up to?

  • IAP – We’re researching artist attachments and bursaries, better kind of opportunities for freelancers and how we support people working in different support disciplines as well
  • IAP – We’re arranging anti-racism training for the second half of September, which will have 10 places for freelancers
  • Have you seen Take A Seat? A new campaign launched by the theatre designers collective and production managers. We’re asking people to tell a bit about why you’re missing theatre or live performance, what’s your first memory of theatre. And what’s your last, what’s your last show before lockdown that you went to see 
  • I used several months to make a whole suite of little films, because I’d filmed a lot of this stuff so I felt like I wanted a whole journey of self-development and setting my own goals and working on my own agenda so that was really fantastic
  • The thing about walking I actually found that, because of walking out, I’m finding things I haven’t noticed before. One of the things that I did find which I’d never been into was a tiny little graveyard, which I think is kept by the Council in Edinburgh, and it’s almost an historical graveyard of the period around 1780s into the early 1800s, and is full of graves which are anything to do with the Leith harbor. So it’s really interesting. And also Gladstone’s grandmother’s buried there. And, also you read the story of the families and you see there are three children, but they all died very young, and you realize that’s what happened in those times. They had lots of children because they expected a lot of them to die. Anyway, I don’t mean that in a depressing way but it’s just a really interesting historical thing. … They’re full of stories. It’s not sobering but it’s just, I think it’s because it’s about people, their lives and their histories and, like in that little graveyard the fact that they so many children died in that period. And it also, I suppose, put things in perspective to now, in what is happening now in the sort of our fragility as human beings, in this situation. And is also what’s very beautiful I think in a way how we are all dealing with it and coping with it and our own mortality, and our worry about it
  • It’s been really interesting getting the chance to work in a kind of creative drama way using zoom. What’s so impressive about the organization is the commitment to the participants, as it’s basically for army veterans. So isolation and mental health is quite a big part of obviously but it’s the commitment of that organization to be there for the participants, is really paramount. So it’s not like doing a zoom drama workshop on the Tuesday then saying ‘See you next Tuesday’. It is that, but there’s lots of little things going and people touching in base because of this sense of isolation. And it’s been really really useful for me to do that, but now I just so want to meet the people I’ve got to know
  • One piece of work which is a really lovely job was making a creativity book for kids. And I think they’re printing like 2000 of these creativity books, like a sketchbook to be given out to kids. So I made a 50 page book for nine year olds and an 80 page book for 13 year olds with a writer, and it was a total joy of a project that felt really important and really relevant because I knew that everybody who got these books, really needed it
  • I’ve done three very successful sellout tours for audiences in China. And they want me to come back in 2021 and 2022. Like, that’s a lifetime away. That’s a whole other world in so many respects. So that’s a sort of left field thing like, do I want to make that show? Can I? Could I? Is that possible? Who’d be in that, who would want to be in it? Could we go? It was just a completely left field question, and I kind of almost don’t even have that facilities to work out, should I be doing that? So, yeah, that’s the thing that I’m currently thinking about a little bit.

What are we doing for our own wellbeing?

  • Yesterday I had my first massage from lockdown, and it was just fantastic, I felt amazing afterwards
  • I went to Waterstones and bought lots of books, I’m excited about reading all the books I’ve bought
  • I’ve spent a lot of time walking. And what’s been lovely is that you can actually smell the flowers because there’s no pollution, so you can smell flowers in the park, you can hear the birds.
  • I still have to have structure, even though there’s maybe no work. I still need to have structure in my day so every morning and every afternoon is planned, and I think that’s what’s kept me going
  • I know gardening has been a lot of people’s silver lining in lockdown, and been incredibly therapeutic
  • I’ve also been doing a lot of drawing
  • I’ve been out and about keeping fit on the bike
  • The thing that’s been keeping me going recently is just sitting in my bedroom, producing music in my wee studio in the hope that one day, in a year, two years down the line someone can hear it at a festival
  • I’ve got a friend who goes on a commute every day before she switches on her screen. And that’s not just the commuting from the bedroom to the sitting room she goes on, she goes for a walk, often with her son and goes for the equivalent time she would be commuting before she switches on her screen. She’s actually extending that time and that felt like a really important structure to put in place
  • What’s got me through lockdown is doing yoga practice. My teacher passed away in early February, so I’ve really focused on just practicing on my own, not signing up for the million and one zoom yoga practices that everybody’s doing which are all great, but I just haven’t really been interested in doing that
  • Also cycling a lot around the city and taking photographs

Digital theatre/performance offerings

  • I’ve actually found it very hard to watch things have been made to go online, because to me it’s not theatre it’s film
  • I went to my friend’s flat to watch Hamilton… And when I came away I felt I’d been to an event, we’d made such an effort to make an event. But one of the things I really felt strongly is it wasn’t theater. It wasn’t a musical, I was still watching a film, I was watching telly projected.
  • It feels like you’ve been handed a menu, when you’re hungry. And they’ve talked you through what’s in the menu, and you’ve picked it, but you can’t quite eat it.
  • I was at the FST pre-Christmas gathering, and somebody on the table was talking about performances being live streamed to cinemas and how successful they were. But the one thing that was refused to be acknowledged was that these ones, often work because of celebrities. And there didn’t seem to be any kind of test case of somebody streaming Hamlet, to just a village hall with nobody famous off the TV on it. It seemed to me the other thing about this is this coverage level ties into the whole celebrity culture as well, that if you do a show, a piece of theatre, and you get 3000 hits it must be good. How many hits, how many people are seeing it is feeding into the celebrity culture that somehow fame is the metric by which things will be graded
  • We normally meet up for a festival every year at this time. And what’s happening is all the European festivals, who have cancelled, they’ve all got together and they’re putting it out online. It’s gonna be curious because it’s just not the same to watch a band without an audience
  • If you don’t have the audience there, then it’s nothing to me, I’m all about the live, always have been
  • It was interesting watching some live music, last week, whereby in the virtual studio, you still had monitors for the band, which I thought was bizarre. You saw the whole full live setup, the bands were play live. But what they were looking at was basically a 360 degree LED wall, and instead of an audience they put bobbing lights. So the band were looking at all these bobbing lights and they put all the sounds of the crowd in there. And for about the first two minutes It was like yeah this is really really good and then it was like, actually this is s***. Even one of my favorite bands, I couldn’t watch until the end. You need an audience, and that’s what let it down. That is everything that performing arts is about, it’s about the audience at the end of the day, and we need to find a way to get the audience back
  • The best one I experienced was t the Nick Cave gig recently. He did a gig in Alexandra Palace. It was a big production number, they lit it exquisitely, they had great film people in. It was just him in a massive room, but they just released it at a specific time – it was only on 8pm on one designated evening. He sort of acknowledged the emptiness of it and by doing that, it had a most interesting artistic response to the situation of how do you do a live concert, he took the other aspect and made it completely empty, and they unashamedly lit this huge empty room, and not by going the opposite way he sort of strangely made it feel more connected, he worked the vulnerability of that experience as a very experienced performer.
  • If you do something online, you have to accept what is there, and not trying to deny it. The truth of where we are with it, and that makes it more real

Heartening things

  • (On announcement of Performing Arts Venues Relief fund announcement): The venues are obviously listening, so the money that they’ve got from the performing arts fund, you know, artists will benefit from that.  They are making a commitment to artists, which some haven’t maybe done before.
  • I loved hearing about the work that Matt Addicott and the incredible work of Platform
  • To Storytelling Centre for finding ways of helping people getting paid and getting money out to artists who need it 

Thinking out loud

  • Because of all this lockdown, how scared we become. At least I, when I had to go to a hospital because something had happened and how scared I was going, and you realize that, having been shut in for so long. And it is also something that came up in one of the venues meetings about how one of the issues is encouraging people to overcome their fears and come out again into society, and participate again. I’m aware that’s in me, there’s this worry that is becoming embedded from this long-term shutdown. How do we get over that, how do we deal with that? As a society, and a people?
  • I think it worries me about those who have not been so lucky, because I’ve had the chance to go out into the theatre world over the years and do things and develop a haphazard career. And there are people like younger than me that starting off and that worries me, makes me sad sometimes. 
  • We’re talking about how COVID in Europe, and in the West generally, has really uncovered the capitalist structures that they have become dependent on have collapsed, and so those with most power – the buildings, the gatekeepers – suddenly they’re the most at risk
  • We’re having to rethink about what theatre’s role within society is like, because theatre has always existed and in the past there was quite a clear link between ritual, or religion or whatever it was, whether it was Greek tragedies or the mystery plays, or the dances in the global south, whether it’s the Sufi whirling around. It’s all about transcendence, it’s all about connecting with God, or connecting with the world, or connecting with each other as a community. I think we’ve lost some of that in having bums on seats. 
  • I think it’s an opportunity to be like what is important, why do we need to keep it alive and why, and I hope as a community we really take up this opportunity to really reassess. What is it about performance that’s vital? What is it about performance that is part of the fabric of our society?
  • How do we nurture? How do we make sure that if another COVID happens in another 50 years that we don’t have this like complete collapse and panic?
  • It’s an interesting moment and I am interested to see what was gonna come out of this is, what it’s gonna look like
  • I’m from a place where people die for the theatre they make, people get arrested and thrown in jail. It’s sometimes literally a life and death theatre, there’s no money in it and the gatekeepers are just people that have money to protect the company or, be like guerilla-style ‘let’s just do this at a basement’ and has a basement that we can do it
  • I really resent is being put in the position by the sector, the government and everybody to sit and wait for news and not to be able to be a participant in the change, and the situation I’m in. Can I be part of this change, the world is changing with this pandemic, what can we do, how do we move forward, what’s going on. But we almost feel like children at a muster station on a ferry, being told to put on a lifejacket and told to sit there and wait, and the captain will come and tell you what’s happening. And that’s a really scary place to be and that’s how I feel.
  • What worries me about this whole lockdown period is that people seem to be, or as a culture we seem to be, getting very very used to watching things on TV. We can now go and watch plays on TV, we can now go and watch our bands on TV. We don’t need to leave the house. Why do we need to do that? I’m not saying that everyone’s, obviously, thinking about that, but 
  • The whole idea of honesty. And that’s what live performance, or art is, it’s honest. And when you’re honest, that’s the connection because an audience responds to that honesty and realizes that’s what’s happening
  • It’s like asking yourself, if the work you had before, is the right work for tomorrow
  • “Only the poor help the poor”
  • As this time has gone on, the more it’s me made me focus on what is important or not important. And it actually would scare me if we all went back to normal.
  • The thing about really COVID has really made you come face to face with what’s important and what’s the priority

Importance of the small scale

  • A lot of what we do and we like can be a performance that might only happen once
  • The director of the Odeon Theatre in Denmark talks about lighting candles in theatre, that you do something and you meet someone, you light a candle, and you light these candles throughout the world. And the thing about numbers is not actually lighting candles. It’s about numbers. And what you said about a walk with 30 people is like 30 candles lit between those people. There is an importance in numbers, but actually, I think it’s been emphasized too much. Something like a walk for 30 people is as important as a thing for 2000 people.
  • You’ve become a witness to that. And as a witness, you can then take that out into the world. And we don’t necessarily think in those terms about how as individuals we can take things out and we can then affect other individuals, and so things spread
  • I think that experience of that walk with the 30 people, I would like to think of it as bigger than the 30. Because all of those 30 people if they’ve had a really transformative experience which I’m sure they have, they will tell people about it, so that generates stories of its own and that creates a sort of real effect that gradually expands, in those people’s communications and communities. That’s also important and that’s another aspect of the numbers it’s not just the 30 folks that turned up and walked with you on that day, it’s more as time goes on, potentially.

Financial support

  • I was reading an article that was saying about giving money to artists and they think ‘oh, give them £600 to do something’. And you immediately think, ‘Oh, that’s good’. But £600 doesn’t do anything – it’s a week’s wage, if anything. I mean I know the reason for giving these little amounts and thinking it will help the freelancers. But actually it’s not enough. The article just made me think, in terms of what some of the people who are in who have permanent job get, it’s chicken feed, nothing. In terms of survival and carrying on
  • I’m on Universal Credit, if somebody does give you 600 quid all that happens is that you then lose £350 of your £490 benefit. So it really becomes £190 that you’ve got for that gig
  • Waiting over six weeks to get your £490 pounds, it’s absolutely appalling. In the COVID situation I am realizing just how close I was to using a food bank if it wasn’t for my partner and the savings I had
  • Is this really the best use of this money? I said this £30,000 – we could engage 10 artists on £3k bursaries, which would keep them going for a couple months. That that is the best use of this money right now

What would be useful next?

  • One of the things we’ve been thinking about was flipping the venue and freelancers meetings, as so far it’s been the venues who have had the platform to talk and share. And the freelancers have only had very small opportunities to ask questions, and we were just thinking about what do we do if we flip that and how we might be platform, for example, six freelancers. We have a budget for some kind of roundtable discussions about the future, imagining the theatre. Is that most useful with venues and organizations and freelancers at the table, if we want it to be a wider thing? Or do we want to focus on what IAP does and maybe drill down into artists opportunities we might try and fundraise for to build into our program, moving forward?
  • Earlier there was someone saying, Do we carry these session on after we do open up again. And I think it’s a positive thing that could continue. I mean I think even out of lock down and everything. When things get to a different level of whatever. I think it’s a very positive
  • It’s a very important moment, I think for international solidarity because it’s very dark, right now
  • I just want the institutions, not just in our world but over there to say, This is going to take a couple of years, folks, at least, how let’s support you for the next two years.
  • My only little thing would be is if there is any chance of just getting together, only for breakout meetings, or just put us together all the people that don’t really knew each other, to replicate that accidental meeting in the theatre foyer, that would be lovely

How are we feeling now?

  • I feel completely refreshed. You know I’ve kind of avoided the zoom meetings, just because there’s been other things happening that I’ve had to prioritize. But this has been so refreshing. It really has. It’s been wonderful.
  • The general theme has been quite upbeat and that gives me hope. I certainly feel a lot more positive about the future. And I know there are people out there working really, really hard,
  • My word, though, that I’m using at the moment a lot, is scaffolding. Because I feel that I’m looking for the world out there to help us build a scaffold to get us through the next couple of years.
  • I do feel like a ship in a dry dock at the moment, and they have to be supported. And that’s, that’s what I’m feeling is I want this scaffolding to support and I do feel that this is one of the few bits of scaffolding that is supporting me in this dry dock at the moment
  • I feel like there’s this helpful tone of irreverence from time to time. This is really hard but it’s also good to laugh about something sometimes. I think that’s why it feels like we can take away the sense of lightness because we can all we can have a sense of a laugh about something much as his challenges, obviously, around the world.

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