Originally written for ArtsProfessional
Having recently spent a week in New York – taking part in the TS Eliot US/UK Exchange organised by Old Vic New Voices – I’ve been thinking more about international collaboration between the US and UK. Living and working in a cosmopolitan city such as London sees various nationalities come together frequently to create work – but how can we find ways to work across theAtlantic?
Being in New York was an eye-opening experience, as we learned a great deal about the complexities of working in theatre in the United States; with theatrical unions such as Equity having far greater power than they do in the UK, there are a number of barriers to any non-natives wishing to work there. Getting a visa to work seems almost impossible due to the desire to protect jobs for home citizens, and unless you can prove categorically your job cannot be done by any American employee then the likelihood is you won’t be working there any time soon. Of course, this is an admirable approach to take – but the restrictions in place also do not allow resident graduates and emerging artists many opportunities to develop their skills and enhance their reputations; the off-Broadway scene doesn’t have any way of offering the same opportunities that Fringe productions do in the UK.
The best possible way for British artists to work in the US– and in New York in particular – is to transfer an already-developed production. The recent successful transfers of La Bête and Jerusalem – along with the various Transatlantic successes of shows first staged at the Donmar Warehouse and Menier Chocolate Factory – show that an audience exists for such work, but if the dynamic had been changed within the companies it could also have change the dynamic of the production. Although some concessions are made – with some smaller roles being given to US actors – by-and-large the initial companies are the same as those from the London runs; would a show such as Jerusalem, with a particular regional focus, work if Mark Rylance and Mackenzie Crook weren’t playing Rooster and Ginger?
Of course, transferring a production is less problematic on this scale – with the likes of the Royal Court and Sonia Friedman backing them, raising capital for a transfer is a much easier prospect; however, that is not to say that smaller productions cannot also make the leap across the pond. 59E59 host an annual season of British work entitled Brits Off Broadway, which presents work previously seen at Fringe and regional touring venues; companies including Inspector Sands, nabokov, Gecko and the Manchester Royal Exchange have presented work in past years. With Artistic Director Elysabeth Kleinhans and Executive Producer Peter Tear regularly making trips to the UK to see work – including an annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe – there is always a chance for companies to be ‘spotted’ and for an opportunity to work in New York to present itself. Similarly, the Carol Tambor Award is presented every year at the Edinburgh Fringe to one company who are then supported in transferring their production to New York – this year’s winner was the excellent Ovid’s Metamorphosis by Pants on Fire, and previous winners include 1927s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem – and St Ann’s Warehouse regularly present work by British companies and artists such as National Theatre of Scotland, Daniel Kitson and Frantic Assembly.
Beyond companies, it seems that the people best suited to having work presented on the other side of the ocean are writers; companies such as Soho Rep and Mind the Gap in New York have a keen interest in British writers and have built relationships with literary departments in London to identify work which may potentially translate well to a US audience. At present, it does not feel as though there is as obvious an interest in US writers in the UK – but the successes of Tarell Alvin McCraney and Annie Baker maybe suggest the tide is turning. Having read a number of scripts by US writers in the past couple of years there are a number of interesting voices waiting to be heard here – and far from denying British writers from seeing their work staged, they can complement them. Additionally, the higher the standard of work being presented on British stages, the more encouragement there is for emerging writers to develop their skills – with the likes of the Gate, Finborough and Cock Tavern frequently presenting work by international writers, the door is evidently ajar for our American friends to step through.