Fighting out of the Fringes: From self-funded to fully funded theatre.
The steam rises from the welcome warm cup of tea in autumnal Glasgow and I’m left thinking how I got here: how did we manage to move out of the Fringe and into the funding. Tea it may be right now but the idea of flying up from my home for a meeting two weeks before our first Research and Development week in Brighton seemed like clouds in my coffee six years after first setting up a theatre company with my co-director Simon Pittman.
We’re in Glasgow because Simon’s working for National Theatre of Scotland Learn, and after those many hundreds of man hours put into working in Edinburgh, just over the way, bringing student and semi-professional shows to the Fringe, now life’s different. Every single minute has got us here. Now we have Arts Council funding and it feels like it’s for real. I appreciate that for some such funding is unnecessary excess. In this age of austerity how dare the government dish out money for such projects? I appreciate that view but then again, I could also find it madness that people are screaming very loudly about the change to child benefit. Why should single people have to pay for the lifestyle choice of couples who wish to over-populate an over-populated planet? For love? For beauty? In the belief that fundamentally that’s what drives a decent future? These are also my arguments for arts funding and arts funding creates a far more obvious and immediate cultural export than mewling puking extra mouths to feed. I’m trying to make a point, maybe slightly too crudely but it’s certainly an argument. During the cuts people are always desperate to protect what they see as theirs. That’s human nature, but good British drama is all of ours – it certainly benefits our whole economy many times over the level of funding put in. So let’s revel in it.
A grey Glasgow café smelling and sounding of steam may not sound all that impressive a point to be looking backwards on years of hard work and lucky breaks but the sound of raindrops might as well be the sound of applause right now because I’m starting to look backwards with a smile about how we got here and I’m looking forwards with stalwart determination about how we make it count.
As we laugh and joke with Jenni Bradley it’s difficult to forget that this person holds one of the keys to our future. The dark-haired Glaswegian could tell us we’re of no interest to her: that we are simply not going anywhere and to stop wasting her time and then where would we be? We’ve got a plan though. This friendly exchange, fun though it is, is all strictly business – literally. As Business Banking Manager with a major high street concern Jenni is walking us through the forms required to set up our company with chequebooks, with cards and much more crucially a sort code and account number. Simon and I are binding ourselves, as many couples do and setting forwards into the future together. Only the joint account I set up with my girlfriend to pay our mortgage bound me so tightly to another human being in law.
Theatre making is clearly all about the art, well, mostly about the art… well the art needs to be there in the first place; but without enterprise knowledge we’re dead in the water. Our next project, currently called The Water Project while we wait on a more engaging title, could never have received the backing it already has and will not receive the backing we look forward to gaining without being organised in our finances, without being organised in business terms, without being much more rigorous about things than most people might expect “arty types” to be. If your image of a small, funded theatre company is beanbags and herbal tea, think again.
One way we have received help in this arena is through The Point Theatre in Eastleigh where we’re associate artists. Through this scheme we’ve been provided with more than just theatrical space but also business training. Being made associate artists really was a turning point in our company’s history. No longer did we feel we were just making work for a select band of people in a small room (this is probably still true on one level but at least it no longer feels like this) but that we were now in a position to reach out and if you’re looking do this too and build your company, researching theatres that match your company’s ethos and getting in and having conversations with them is a must. It might feel difficult starting these conversations but if you don’t ask then don’t bother waiting for them.
After only an hour or so of filling in forms and asking very politely for a bank account we now have one. Financially bound Simon and I are off out of the bank’s warmth to be hit by the colder air of the Glasgow streets and maybe the colder realisation that we’ve got to get on with it now. Next stop: Brighton, where we head to make the work we’ve been telling Jenni for the whole morning we now, very proudly, actually do.Tagged in: Fighting out of the Fringes, funding, theatre
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