Thursday 10 July 2014

Invitations, Opportunities and Resolutions

York Theatre Royal's community cast for The Mystery Plays 2012

Earlier on this week we asked this big question on The Guardian Blog:

Basically, we have the structural capacity to invite more people in to our process or our rehearsal room, but not the financial capacity to pay more people on the show. Just to be clear, these potential opportunities are supplementary to the necessary roles to make a production happen. Our new production of Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis has a full paid, professional team signed up to make it all happen. But we wondered if, now that we're able to, we could invite more people in. 

There have been so many responses. Some of these are below the Guardian blog in the comments section. Other have come in emails or on Facebook or via twitter and even in good old conversations. One person found themselves in a debate with three strangers on a train about it. To all of you who've got back to us, thanks. It was / is a genuine question and I really value all the thoughts as responses - be those legal, moral, professional, developmental, personal or otherwise. 

So here's what we think now, after listening to everything and thinking more...

LittleFeast in Easingwold. A gathering of community for Selina Thompson

Opportunities to let people in, to invite people to come and play and make and learn are hugely important. Our partners, York Theatre Royal (where we are an associate company) are brilliant at it. Their projects like TakeOver and On Our Turf, their shows like The Mystery Plays 2012 and Blood + Chocolate with Pilot Theatre and Slung Low offer huge opportunity for the community and young makers to come and learn and play. These doors should always be wide wide wide open. I hold YTR as a beacon in that regard. 

The Flanagan Collective though is a very small company - we run on a project by project basis. And, in the scheme of things, we're pretty young. I'm 26 and set the company up at the end of 2010. So what our infrastructure has to offer is different. It has a very much learn-on-the-job feel. That's how I learnt in the first place, running Belt Up Theatre, and I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. 

But Marcus Romer posted this blog about the cycle needing to change. I learnt working for whatever I could get, but for myself - it was my choice and our model which we made up. That was absolutely right for me at that time. But that was around 6-7 years ago. Since then we've been hit by a financial crisis, huge social and political shifts, and a lot of money starting to fall out of the cultural sector. So now, today, is different to then. So it's wrong of me to assume the same glove should fit. We need to break the cycle - as a small company, as a young company who are busy doing things for the first time - we should look forwards, not backwards. 

A huge amount of the conversation has been about accessibility and about money. Money is always pretty boring but always hugely necessary. A good day of shadowing a director won't pay the bills. That's what a lot of folks have said and it's true. So thanks for saying it. That now, I couldn't afford to do what I did years ago for free or for such little money, because that doesn't feel so comfortable any more. I'd want paying. So, in the same sense, I should want to pay people too, for everything they do. 

So here's what we'll do...

ICARUS by Fine Chisel. A promenade community folk opera as part of On Our Turf

We won't offer any unpaid placements on Sherlock Holmes: A Working Hypothesis. We will wait until we are able to pay people for these placements and offer paid opportunities. And we will actively try to do this on every project from here on in. We will actively try and fundraise to invite more people in to the process on paid roles. This might be by the time we make our next folk show, Snakes and Giants. This might be by the time Sherlock goes out on tour. If we move damn fast and find some dollar, this might be by the time we start rehearsals in three weeks. But we'll do, and we'll keep trying to do it, on everything we make, starting from now. Because those opportunities to actually get your hands dirty and do it are invaluable - so many of you have said this to us. So we want to make sure we're offering that out, but without the restrictions of privilege, or savings, or geography, or any other reason which elevates some and isolates other from these opportunities.

What we will also do, though, is always run an open rehearsal / making room. We are still a theatre company and we still make work. And if anyone wants to come and watch that process, or chat, or hang out, or go for a beer, then we want out doors wide wide wide open for that too. We will always welcome people in, on their terms and in their ways with zero pressure on them or us. I think that is very important too, that we aren't a closed shop - that if anyone wants anything that we can offer then we can try and help. If sitting in on our tech, dress, read through, production meetings, marketing planning etc is useful then you should just be able to let us know that you're coming and we can tell you where we are. We'll think quickly about how to do this. 

So hopefully those two resolutions sit well next to each other: actively striving to offer paid opportunities and always having an open invitation in to our rehearsal / making room. 

This has been a very valuable process for us - to think and asses and grow and learn a bit about what we want to do and how we should be doing it. It was a genuine question which has provoked genuine thought and, hopefully, a good and genuine answer. 

You can always get in touch with us through @FlanCol and - both come straight through to me.