Stand and Be Counted (A 2015 Election Special)

Posted in blogging, new writing on May 7, 2015 by danbaker83

28583_387643753386_2125978_nToday is polling day. Thousands of registered UK voters will be marking boxes to show their political allegiance in the name of democratic process. This year’s General Election promises to be closely fought, and will probably end with a result that creates more confusion than clarity – but that’s politics.

 

Now seems like a good time to revisit an old project I produced.

 

Back in May 2010, I was invited to produce First Time Voters­ – an event hosted by the Bush Theatre and presented in partnership with nabokov and Drywrite. The event featured new pieces specially commissioned and developed to mark the 2010 General Election, focusing on the eponymous First Time Voters and their potential engagement with the political process. This event took place on Wed 5th May 2010 – the day before the polls opened.

 

The names involved in the project speak to the quality of the work created; writers included James Graham, E V Crowe and Joel Horwood, and Joe Murphy, Hamish Pirie, Vicky Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge were amongst the directors. You only need look at the British theatre landscape to see just how brilliant those people are, so to have them all working on one project is insane in hindsight.

 

But, with all due respect to them, they weren’t the most important people involved. That honour belongs to the young people and first time voters we engaged with to help develop the pieces. The Bush’s then-Project Assistant Sade Banks worked alongside Kirsty Patrick Ward and then-Artistic Director Josie Rourke to create a piece about how she was denied a voice by not being old enough to vote, despite being more passionate and politically engaged than a lot of eligible people (you can even watch this here on YouTube). E V Crowe and Hamish Pirie worked with a group young people from the local Somali community to explore their desire to be represented and have a true voice in the political process. Young artists from the Bush’s Young Activist programme and the likes of the National Youth Theatre were invited to participate, actively developing pieces and performing them on stage.

 

Seeing this work develop was incredibly powerful. Seeing Sade get so frustrated at not being able to vote when wanting to spoke to me of a system failing its people because of arbitrary restrictions; sitting in with the Somali group and hearing them find their voice, watching them enjoy the feeling of being engaged and to speak of what mattered to them, was moving. Sitting in an audience made up of largely young, politically engaged people showed that, despite any suggestions to the contrary, young people really are engaged in politics.

 

However, what happened following the 2010 General Election distresses me. Those very people we engaged with – the young, the outsiders, the refugees – have suffered due to ideological policies which completely disregard their interests. We’ve seen a Coalition Government which has increased the burden on young and working-age people whilst protecting the wealthy and the pension pots of the older generation. We’ve seen the rise of a so-called ‘legitimate’ right wing party who want to close our borders to those in need, and who not only house members with extreme views but give them a platform to spread their message. We’ve had to sit back and watch as any attempts to engage with a younger demographic are considered “a joke”, whilst getting business leaders to sign letters in support of your policies is fine – even if they’re not all business leaders, and didn’t all actually sign your letter.

 

My political leanings are perfectly clear for you all to see here, but that’s not what this post is about. This is about encouraging young people and first time voters to have their say. We did something back in 2010 which, although relatively small scale, did something to engage these people and encourage them to find their voices. This year, amongst other election-related events we’ve seen Theatre Uncut develop Apathy with Chris Goode, and offer that to people rights-free to develop performances from; China Plate and the Unity Theatre, Liverpool are presenting U-Decide, a series of works with political messages; and Theatre Delicatessen are presenting a night of alternative election entertainment and debate, along with live streaming of the Election Night results.

 

Oh, and a couple of people called James Graham and Josie Rourke have developed a play called The Vote for the Donmar Warehouse, which is also aired on More4 on the evening of Thu 7th May 2015. They did something similar for the last General Election…

 

Please. Make sure you use your vote, be you young, old or somewhere in-between. Every vote matters.

The Alternative Theatre Charter

Posted in blogging, venues on August 4, 2014 by danbaker83

This Theatre Charter thing is annoying me – it only seems to serve a small, privileged section of the audience. In response I’ve drawn up an alternative which I’d be much happier to see people sign up to.   THE VENUE/COMPANY

  • We will welcome you to our spaces with no prejudice. You don’t have to wear a top hat and tails to get in, and if you want to have a laugh and a joke with your mates in the bar then we’re cool with that
  • We will do our best to engage and entertain you with our performances and events. Sometimes we may not be completely successful, but we’re going to try bloody hard.
  • We know our bars are usually massively overpriced. If we can’t keep these prices down, we’ll at least try to make them a nice environment to hang out in
  • Yes, the ice cream is also overpriced. And the sweets. We’re sorry
  • Because most of our Box Office and Front of House staff will be people who are keen to work in our industry (and lots will be students or jobbing artists) they’re typically lovely people to chat to. They’re not well-paid, but they’ll probably be up for a chat if you fancy it
  • We can’t compete with Michael Bay – but we can do spectacle. And bigger isn’t always better – some smaller shows are AMAZING
  • If we’re doing a show that’s not at a traditional space, then we’ll give you as much information as possible about it. Nothing sucks more than going to a show in a muddy, rainy field wearing flip-flops and a t-shirt (festivals excepted)
  • Our seats are probably uncomfortable. WE KNOW. If you need to fidget a bit to get comfortable, then go for it (and if you want to bring a cushion from home, then that’s cool too)
  • We will respect you and your opinions. If you think our work wasn’t great, then we’ll not claim you “didn’t get it” – instead, we’ll work harder at making what we’re trying to achieve even clearer

THE AUDIENCE

  • Let us know if you have any problems. We’re not going to get any better at making theatre more welcoming if you don’t feed back to us, and we’re genuinely keen to know what you think
  • If you want to laugh or applaud at any points, then go for it. There’s not a wrong time to react – despite what some people will tell you – and it lets us know what you think
  • You’re welcome to leave if you want to. This isn’t Guantanamo Bay – you don’t have to wait until we let you leave
  • You might be able to help us in being better with new audiences. If you think you know a group who may be interested in coming who haven’t been before, then get in touch and we’ll happily do what we can to make the experience enjoyable for them
  • If you’re bringing a family to a show, then we’re really excited by that. We hope they enjoy it, and tell us anything we can do to make it better. Theatres can be really bad at dealing with families sometimes
  • If there’s anything we’re failing at as a venue, then TELL US. Best thing to do is put something in writing (even a tweet) and then we can respond and do something about it.
  • And try not to be a dick, eh? We’re really keen for you to feel welcome, but if you keep doing stuff like shouting “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” at Sir Ian McKellan during Waiting for Godot or threatening to punch out an old lady because her sweet wrappers are too loud, we’ll probably ask you to leave

And remember – you can absolutely sign up to this charter. Or not. It’s completely your choice.

 

In case you’re interested, Amber Massie-Blomfield from The Albany and Annabel Turpin from ARC in Stockton have also blogged about why their venues aren’t signing up to the Theatre Charter (the original one, not mine). They’re both good reads.

Festivals – vital champions new work

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2014 by danbaker83

Festivals can be a vital platform for emerging artists to present their work; from the wider audiences festivals can bring to the diverse pool of companies and artists they attract, those involved can benefit hugely far beyond the simple economic factors we often measure things by.

With A Young Theatre’s Incoming Festival opening at the New Diorama Theatre in London today, the companies involved will have a fantastic opportunity to showcase their work in a venue with a developing reputation – and with a number of companies involved not based in London, they also have the opportunity to reach an audience in the capital under much less financial pressure than they typically might face. Furthermore, with the shows forming part of a full festival programme the appeal to audiences is much greater than it might be for an independent run – audiences may be shared between shows, and with A Younger Theatre and the New Diorama advocating for the work there is already a seal of approval that the work is of a high standard. Add to that the highly professional print and marketing for the festival, and you’re looking at a huge opportunity for those companies and artists involved. Continue reading

Developing an independent theatre scene

Posted in artist development, networking, producing on January 3, 2014 by danbaker83

How does a revolution start? Is restlessness and a desire to challenge the status quo enough to inspire people into action? And how is momentum maintained and built upon?

In 2013, Plymouth bid to be the 2017 City of Culture. As we all know now, the bid was unsuccessful as Hull won the honour – and deservedly so, with a strong bid and a real sense that the city was working together to celebrate its heritage and current cultural offer – and Plymouth returned to its status as a city with ‘potential’. But a big concern from myself and many of my peers working independently in the arts within the city was that there seemed to be a lack of consultation of those of use striving to make work here. Continue reading

The new National Theatre AD (i.e. theatre’s David Moyes)

Posted in venues on October 15, 2013 by danbaker83

This year, the biggest shoes in the business need filling. After a long reign marked by success after success, a Knight of the realm steps down – leaving someone with the unenviable task of filling his shoes. Questions will be asked about their suitability, and people will watch closely as the press stand by, pens at the ready to tell the world that things ain’t as good as they used to be.

Whoever gets the Artistic Director job at the National Theatre will effectively be the David Moyes of the theatre world. Continue reading

On realising the importance of maintaining friendships

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2013 by danbaker83

I recently received sad news regarding the passing of an actor I’ve worked with a couple of times in the past; the thought of someone so young, talented and positive no longer being with us is awful to contemplate, and has also made me realise just how easy it can be to grow apart from people in an industry where there is often a distinct lack of security and continuity. Continue reading

Is Jonathan Mills censoring the EIF?

Posted in festival on August 12, 2013 by danbaker83

Sir Jonathan Mills has a lot to answer for. Ahead of the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), he has declared there will be no works which address the issue of Scottish independence – Mills has instead declared that the festival will remain “politically neutral”. To me, this just smacks of cowardice.

Art and politics have always had a close relationship, with theatre and performance in particular proving to be powerful means of expression; ideologies have been challenged, leaders lampooned and revolutions documented throughout the course of theatrical history. Due to the impact these issues have on people’s day-to-day lives, politics are a fertile breeding ground for artists to mine when creating work – and the strength of conviction people often have around these issues helps create powerful, moving and provocative work. So, for Jonathan Mills to tell artists they should not create work for the festival which covers Scottish independence – a huge issue for those living and working north of the border – is tantamount to censorship. Continue reading

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