Unless you’ve been hiding under your tumblr this week you’ve probably not missed twitter bursting with #Theatre2016 tweets from angry arty folk with interesting haircuts. I, like most people had no idea what Theatre 2016 was until the lovely people at ITC dropped me a line and asked me if I would like one of their subsidised tickets.
I quite like a conference, I like being annoyed and thinking I know all the answers. I like questioning my methods and side-eyeing peers in the room, mouthing, “are they for real?” I sort of get off on the idea we might learn something and the allure of a free lunch. Obviously I said yes and didn’t really give it much thought – like buying a half priced Frappuccino when you once signed a Get Starbucks to Pay Tax petition. That was until @TheGeometrician tagged me in a post that said ‘Imagine if the 400+ people paying £414 to attend #Theatre2016 could have used that £165,000+ to support artists’ - It was then I realised why ITC were rightly offering subsidised places - no artist could afford to attend.
No matter how lovey dovey the arts thinks it is these sort of conferences are like the first day of school. The established artistic directors of institutions are loud and make their way around the room effortlessly air kissing everyone they haven’t seen in ages, darling. Those of us who actually make the art stand in the stairwell, calling their husband whispering, “help!” - in fact I think I was one of the only artists there who wasn’t there because they were involved. A conference about theatre without artists is like an orgy without bodies – one giant wankaton.
The morning kicked off with a brilliant observation from one of many speakers that day with royal decorations. Vikki Heywood CBE brilliantly reminded us that making noise in the face of adversity and governmental heavy handed influence was important – carefully and encouragingly alluding to the fact we are perhaps not as politically organised or as loud as perhaps the 1970’s fire blazers. Dan Rebellato delivered two rather brilliant reports about engagement with theatre both of which you should Google, babes (Hopes and Fears Survey & British Theatre Repertoire). Dan’s pie charts revealed (unsurprisingly) that men still dominate theatre.
Now before this turns into an account of what happened at Theatre 2016, like a shoddy and lazy review I can tell you next 5 hours wasn’t enough to write home nor a blog about. Kully Thiarai, Jenny Sealey and Raidene Carter’s contributions although small were brilliant bits of noisy honesty that perked my interest and eyelids.
What I thought was going to be a conference about fire starting, ambition and addressing access was actually a bit provincial. It confirmed everything I knew, it reaffirmed my outsider status and offered no concise strategies apart from a weird bit about ‘resolutions’, which held no one to account - the arts equivalent to a pinkie promise. The moment I realised it wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be was when one keynote speaker attributed the recent success of cabaret to The Play that Went Wrong.
Weirdly, I’m glad I went and glad it happened. Contrary to the twitter noise I’m not that offended organisations spent £400 on putting their staff in a room to think about the issues facing the sector - just because I took nothing from it doesn’t mean Tina didn’t. They would have only of spent the money on tea bags or Facebook boosted posts anyway – lets not pretend artists would get paid properly if the conference didn’t exist. However, I think a conference that dedicated a lot of time discussing access needs a lesson in irony at how financially inaccessible it was.
A lot of annoyance has come from our end (if you’re reading this I mean our our) end of the arts backing up Dan Rebellato’s research that third sector / not for profit practitioners are more concerned about the state of the arts and government intervention that those with jazz hands are. To be honest with you the setting of a West End theatre, the media partner, the logos and advertisements for ‘Yet Another Jukebox Musical – on Ice!’ sort of tell you where Theatre 2016 think their audience is – I don’t think it was made with us in mind.
What I learnt from attending Theatre 2016 is that knowledge sharing and rabble rousing can be useful and perhaps if I can persuade some NPO allies to fund and / or support an accessible, free and useful day of skills and data sharing then maybe we should. Too often we fight our own battles, fund our own research and have conversations behind closed doors – so instead of moaning who fancies creating the #RealTheatre2016 with me?