house venue managers and programmers working in the South East will be well aware of the challenges involved with presenting work in the long shadow cast by London. With so much attention – and so many artists – drawn to the capital, surrounding areas can struggle to thrive in their own right.
It was this difficulty that provided the impetus for Pot Luck, a series of performance nights around Kent that has just wound up its second season of events. Run by Accidental Collective, a performance company consisting of Daisy Orton and Pablo Pakula, the nights labelled themselves as “theatre tapas”, offering audiences a small taste of different performance work being made in the county. Sticking with the food metaphor, these tasters were each categorised according to how finished they were: rare, medium, or well done.
Pot Luck was initially born from a simple desire to connect with other artists in the Kent area. “East Kent did not have an established performance scene as such, so we were very keen to shape what was developing along values of camaraderie, generosity, and peer to peer support,” Daisy and Pablo explain. At first, Accidental Collective just met up with fellow artists at the pub, before realising that they needed a more formal space to share and discuss their work. “It was kind of exciting, but it was hard to imagine what it might ‘do’; it felt quite shapeless.”
Noting that scratch nights, while established in London and other big cities, did not really exist in Kent at the time, Daisy and Pablo say that what they were doing felt “urgent and necessary”. Inviting performances via an open call, their hope was to develop a scene for experimental work in Kent and establish a moving hub for artists trying to build an audience in the area. Right from the start, instead of having a home Pot Luck was nomadic, moving from venue to venue. The event began as a “very small idea”, but the response of both artists and audiences confirmed that it was something that people in the area needed and wanted.
One of Pot Luck’s early supporters was house’s own Richard Kingdom, in his previous role with the Arts Council. He suggested that Accidental Collective apply for a grant to produce the initiative, which allowed it to offer money and support to artists. Using its increased resources, Pot Luck was able to respond to the appetite of its audience for something more substantial on the programme – a “meatier dish” – and develop a commissioning strand alongside the original open call. Pot Luck’s commissioned artists were: Daniel Somerville, Marcia Farquhar, Little Bulb Theatre, Genetic Moo, Shunt’s Nigel and Louise, and FanShen.
Along the way, Accidental Collective have made discoveries that have eased the process. One important development was the introduction of proper paperwork for Pot Luck’s agreements with artists, outlining the terms and asking artists to provide full information about their work, including technical details and a short blurb. Another was learning to relax. “It has taken time and experience to realise that all you can do is work your socks off, and then you have to relax and let things happen,” say Daisy and Pablo. “In the end it all turns out OK.”
Pot Luck has been particularly successful in attracting audiences, which Accidental Collective put down to the combination of core Pot Luck audiences and the audiences that both venues and artists bring with them. They have also found that audiences really enjoy the “tapas” model, which “is a really attractive offer to an audience member who might be reticent in committing to a full length show”. On the night I attend, the event is buzzing, and the line-up offers everything from very early scratches to polished fragments of finished works.
The best way of bringing in new audiences continues to be word of mouth – both literal and virtual (via social media). “We have always favoured a personal touch, and so we have made sure that Pot Luck continues to be accessible and welcoming to newcomers,” Daisy and Pablo add. “Contemporary performance is still niche in the region and we have always been on the fringe of things – part of the offer of Pot Luck is to challenge.”
In the time since Pot Luck started, the performance landscape in Kent has shifted, partly as a result of these events. “Kent is so vibrant at the moment,” Daisy and Pablo tell me. “We have some great venues being run by exciting, committed people and a load of fab small festivals.” As a result, Accidental Collective feel that it is now time to move onto something new. “We don’t want carry on with the same format and see it fade and lose artists and audiences,” they explain. “We really want to make sure that what we are offering is useful, timely, necessary and wanted.” What this might be, however, they are still working out.
“We would love to be able to focus more meaningfully on artist development, but without necessarily losing the audiences we have built and who are loyal and care. Thinking caps on!”