BLOG - The State Of The Arts: A Shifting Landscape

By Ben Anderson (Creative Producer, In Good Company)
in relation to Departure Lounge 2019

As an industry, we are far more caring and compassionate than most, far more charitable and aware of our social responsibility. It is a good job too, because we are living through extraordinary times; not just on the world stage, but in our theatrical world too.

You saw the headlines. We are going through something of a theatrical sea change at the moment; a revolution of contradictions.

The arts has surpassed agriculture in terms of its contribution to the UK economy, coming in at roughly £10.8bn... and yet there is less investment and the subject is being driven to extinction in our schools. The public are not engaging in the work enough because, although it's excellent, it often isn't relevant. The wonderful empathy, establishing resilience and character building, opinion forming performing arts is being eroded at a time when there is a growing awareness of the mental health crisis engulfing us. There are digital innovations in the way we engage in art, yet the ability to build a good online booking system seems to be passing us by. There are real concerted moves to tackle low pay and poor working conditions and yet, it’s still not unusual for me to hear from an early-career artist who is doing a profit share with little hope of making a surplus. There is a sweeping diversification of leadership across the arts, this could be seen as our single biggest shifting landscape; yet sometimes the challenges seem so big that it feels like we are turning an oil tanker slowly around and precariously down a shallow river. 

I live for the great theatre; which, when I think about it, is surprising really. In fact, I’m surprised I’ve seen a truly great piece of theatre at all, considering… 

 You need the right theme, the right script, or devising process, the right time, the right place, the right people, the right audience and their right mood, the right time (again), the right producer, the right funding, the right light and comfy seating, and toilet queues, the right time (again) and maybe even the right weather and all at an eye-watering cost, but it’s still worth it, for the live experience of theatre.

But as the landscape shifts, it's important to remember that it is for the sole purpose of improvement. Often driven by a desire to improve, to seek the golden ticket to a theatre industry that works for everyone and we might not agree at times, on how to get that golden ticket, but it's ok to not know all the answers. Here's 3 things that I believe we need to keep pushing...

Keep being transparent. Let's talk about money. Let's talk about how much it really costs to make a show, and put it on at a fringe festival to play to a 30% capacity audience. Venues need to be transparent about the pressures they face, artists be transparent about the precarious situation they’re often in and balance the successes with the learning and talk about both in equal measure. Have empathy. 

Keep telling new stories from voices we haven't heard.

There is a lot more happening than we realise, things that are not getting onto the national agenda because they're not in receipt of funding, or we've not collected the data, but they are still happening by passionate people with propelling ideas. We need to find a way of highlighting this and reporting on this.

And when it all gets too much, remember it’s just theatre, and we will continue to be inspired, be challenged and immerse ourselves in how it can, and does, enrich all our lives. 

Departure Lounge will run for a 7th year at Derby Theatre from Thursday 18 – Sat 20 July. As part of the Festival, there will be a FREE panel discussion chaired by Lyn Gardner around the subject of The State Of The Arts: A Shifting Landscape.

Practitioners, artists and audiences will come together for a fascinating and insightful discussion with leaders from a range of inspirational arts organisations in the UK. Chairing the discussion will be British theatre critic, writer and journalist Lyn Gardner. The panel of provocateurs will include: Sarah Brigham (Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Derby Theatre); Tarek Iskander (new Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre); Jo Crowley (Executive Producer of 1927 Theatre Company) and Charlotte Bennett (joint Artistic Director of Paines Plough).

See the full Departure Lounge festival line-up, book tickets and view the teaser trailer.