“We’d like you to come and speak at the No Boundaries conference. Will you?”
Do people refuse invitations like this?
I mean, people who want to promote their organisation on a national level. I’m the Director of the Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter’s 75-seat theatre in a part of the city named by our police force as “the Triangle of Fear”. I’m unspeakably proud of what we’ve achieved in this sleepy part of the South West, and the effect it has had on the cultural and social life of the city. Do I want to speak? I want to shout about it, Ancient Mariner-like, to anyone who will listen.
But what to talk about? I started writing something about the culture of “they’ll do it anyway”, equally applied by Government to the arts as it is from funders to certain organisations, or organisations to artists. But this is about funding, isn’t it? And we’ve been told we’re not allowed to talk about that. So I’m going to talk about Plymouth and Exeter instead. And creating a performance community. For those who don’t know, Plymouth is a beautiful city dominated by the fantastic Theatre Royal, which presents big companies – Welsh National Opera, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Complicite. Its studio theatre – the Drum – produces, co-produces, and presents a fabulous programme of work from national and international companies. And you’ve a lot of local artists keen to work their way in. But the prestige of the organisation makes it hard for it to take a chance and, anyway, it’s a national theatre that happens to be in Plymouth – it’s not its job to support the local artists.
Then there’s Exeter, a beautiful city dominated by, um, a cathedral? For 40 years, Exeter had a producing theatre: the Northcott. In 2010, Fin Irwin and I opened the Bike Shed because we spotted a gap. Everyone in Exeter is an artist, writing their novel, finishing their album, opening up their gallery. But where do the performers make and present their work? Usually, sadly in my view, London. Or Bristol. But we thought there was a gap and opened a small performance space in a Chinese restaurant, put on some plays and some music, eventually refurbishing the bar and employing an award-winning mixologist. Yes, we were the sort of people who “did it anyway”, something which has been a hinderance as much as a help. But now, in Exeter, there is a performance community – performers and audiences. It’s new, it’s rough, it’s growing, it’s tremendously exciting.
And in certain quarters of Plymouth, we’re eyed enviously. “Can Plymouth be more like Exeter? How?” The tribal loyalties conjured by the play I’m about to direct, about Exeter City Football Club, make my heart dance at this, but pushing partisan pride aside there are two answers to this question. One, do it anyway. You’ll abuse yourselves and probably never get the paid recognition you deserve. Two… well, maybe you should listen to my speech on February 25th. And I should write it.
David Lockwood is Artistic Director of the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter.
[This post originally appeared on the British Council Theatre and Dance blog: http://theatreanddance.britishcouncil.org/blog/no-boundaries-david-lockwood/]
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