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The Theatre 2016 conference, held last week, was the largest theatre sector gathering in the UK for 10 years.
Many speakers urged the sector to break out of established artistic programmes, buildings and business models. By contrast, there was marked scepticism about digital technology. We took away the following four key messages:
First, a broader understanding of what ‘theatre’ is. Theatres are mixing presenting and producing roles, are bringing in other art-forms, and are reimagining their buildings as social and creative hubs. Many practitioners enthuse about working in found spaces. Yard Theatre in Hackney created music events to build its audience and subsidise its theatre programme. Theatre Delicatessen prepares temporary spaces for performance and production.
Second, more collaboration and aggregation between venues. The Albany in Deptford now runs two nearby venues. Expertise and costs are shared and harmful competition is avoided. Collaboration does not mean homogenisation, as shows can be allocated to the most suitable venue rather than each venue trying to present something for everyone.
Third, a rethink of regional producing theatres. Sheena Wrigley from HOME proposes instead to co-locate several artistic companies, each with its own specialism. This mirrors HOME’s model, where theatre, film and visual art programmes run alongside each other. This means there is always something on, and encourages audiences to crossover between art-forms.
Finally, diversity as a sustainability issue. Yinka Ayinde, producer of Oliva Tweest the Afrobeats Musical, used targeted social media and radio to attract a highly desirable audience of young, ethnic minority, first-timers. His point is, people within a culture are better at making shows that really connect with that culture.
We are completing an in-depth investigation into the state of theatre in England, for Arts Council England. Many of the points made at Theatre 2016 echo our research findings, which will be published in June. We are also developing a new toolkit for smaller venues, to help them deliver artistic quality and financial sustainability. We’ll share our plans in due course.
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By BOP Consulting
Alex leads on cultural destinations and regeneration for BOP. He has more than fifteen years of experience of working with local authorities, national agencies and cultural organisations.
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