Making the best use of existing resources is austerity-era’s modus operandi but it can look like a damaging race to the bottom if we don’t embrace new approaches. In our sector, unlocking the creative potential of our regional venues is one place we might begin.
That’s easier said than done. For an overstretched venue director, just keeping the doors open in the face of deepening cuts and lengthening job descriptions – some now run a local museum or two alongside their arts centres – is already more than a full-time commitment. In such circumstances, ‘unlocking your building’s creative potential’ never quite tops the To Do list. But, as we are continually required to remake our cases to cash-strapped funders, it’s hard to build an argument around simply staying open, no matter how herculean the effort. Business models are vital but they’re rarely inspiring.
Last year we launched greenhouse, a three year initiative funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to support new relationships between theatre makers, venues in the house network and their audiences. We’re currently supporting a range of projects from Gillingham to Leighton Buzzard, engaging groups including Quakers, boxers, young dancers and a roller derby team.
But when we put out our open call last year, a number of venues with the space to spare and an ambition to host a project ultimately lacked the capacity to put something forward by the deadline. These are precisely the venues that greenhouse – which is a sister project of the house touring initiative – is aimed at supporting but talking an ambitious but time-poor venue into hosting a company that they don’t really have time to look after properly feels like the wrong approach
This is where the idea for the Producer Fellowships came from. Often described as ‘the invisible army’ and ‘engineers of the imagination’, independent producers might offer venues the additional capacity and entrepreneurialism to support a step change in how they work with theatre makers and audiences and in doing so, help to reinvigorate their sense of artistic purpose.
We’re initially creating two Producer Fellowships, £5,000 bursaries to enable producers to work with a venue – or venues – in the house network over 12months.
We hope this opportunity will encourage a wider range of producers to consider working regionally and we’d like these fellowships to act as an intervention in the existing talent development offer; challenging expectations around how theatre is produced, who by, where and for who. It might be about developing immersive theatre for children, creating an ensemble and reviving the rep model, making theatre in collaboration with potential audiences or producing a series of residencies and showcases. Whatever the idea, we hope that these fellowships will enable both partners to explore new ways to use our venues, work with theatre makers and develop audiences.