This is a short post and a late one. I make no apology. My son was born this week.
i know right!
It's a bit less overwhelming the second time. The jump from three to four seems much smaller than that from two to three. But it's still a pretty big life event and as much time as possible is to be dedicated to simply holding the baby.
I don't anticipate posting anything until the end of the month. My priority is holding, and so for you, this holding page. It's a summary of offers, opportunities and requests. Here goes.
Emerging artists support fund: I'm running a 44-mile mountain race to raise money for an emerging artist or company. If you think you might be that artist or company, please get in touch by the end of March. Otherwise, please donate. There's a bit more about this madcap scheme here and here. £725 was raised in the first 24 hours and I've not done anything to publicise it since then, so I'm very optimistic that it will reach its target.
If you're one of the people who's been in touch re: the opportunity, apologies for not replying yet. Did I mention my wife had a baby? I'm literally typing this with one hand and holding the baby in the other.
Weirdly, since advertising the opportunity, more people have been in touch to ask what I can offer by way of mentoring than to express interest in being given a large sum of free money. Your call, obvs.
Foodbank Fabaret. A week on Saturday (23rd March) I'm performing at this fundraiser for Morecambe Foodbank, created in response to the horrendous local MP's flat denial of the fact that local children are driven to eating from school bins. He really is a prize shit and I'd happily egg him if it weren't a waste of eggs. Baby Arthur will be on stage with me, making his debut at 12 days old. The organisers are very keen that people can attend regardless of ability to pay, so if you'd like to donate but can't come, buy a ticket and let the organisers know that you'd like it to go to someone else.
Going Viral. As things stand this one in Leeds will be the 98th performance of Going Viral. I'd like it to get to 100 and I don't need to make money on it (although I'd prefer not to make a loss if possible!).
If I can do it at your venue (defining "venue" however you choose), please get in touch, especially if it can benefit a cause.
Bit of a gap. I've got lots going on this year, including the premiere of one new show and substantial steps towards another two. But there is a bit of a gap in the middle of the year. If you can make use of me on your project over the next few months, holler. Did I mention I'm a father of two?
I can make some concrete offers here. First up, there are two or three things I'm writing that I'm not going to self-produce (and not, I might add, because I don't love them!) So if you're looking for a script to produce and you like my work, get in touch. Wherewithal to commission me to finish it a bonus.
Secondly, over the past year I've made a big return to directing. Through my twenties directing was almost the whole of my artistic practice; through my thirties it's been almost none of it. I never intended it to fall away entirely and I'm delighted to be back at this particular coalface. Last week I did a bit of directing on a project with five people on stage. Five! Unimaginable riches! Somebody please let me direct something medium-sized before I pop!
BSF, if you can make use of my eyes, my attention, and my capacity to diagnose and treat my own boredom (on any scale) then please get in touch.
TinyLetter. If you'd like these blogposts to be delivered direct to your inbox, sign up for my TinyLetter. I don't think you get the pictures, but there's only one picture in this one anyway.
Tiny Heroes. There are three performances of Tiny Heroes in April: In Kirklees, West Yorkshire on Wednesday 24th and Thursday 25th (tickets here) and in Lancaster on Friday 26th (tickets here).
Run of the week. This regular feature is truncated this week, but I can't miss it out entirely. Sunday's 20-miler turned out to be my last run as a father-of-one and it was a beauty. The virtue of getting a bit lost is the unexpected things you find: for the first time in real life, I saw a hare. It was incredible. I watched it all the way over the next hill, and you really can't believe how fast they move. By this point I wasn't lost in the sense that I had no idea where I was, but I was so in the sense that my sense of my location was rough at best. I've been trying to improve my navigational skills, though, and comparing map and compass told me that if I just followed this watercourse roughly south, I'd get to where I wanted to be. This involved jumping an inordinate number of fences and fording the watercourse (it started as a beck or brook but by the end it was a large stream or even a small river) at several eddying points. It also involved seeing a hare and, not long before I was definitively found, a deer. If you want to see creatures you don't usually see, you need to go where people don't usually go.
Read of the week. I've read several things this week and I can't recommend any of them. I'm still reading this, though, and can still recommend it.
Show of the week. Bit of a weird one, as I haven't seen anything for weeks, but Kieran Hurley's Mouthpiece is about to open in London so I wanted to give it a shout out. I saw it at the Traverse shortly before Christmas and the more I think about it, the more I think it was the best thing I saw all year. Full disclosure: Kieran is a mate. But friendship by no means obliges me to like it anywhere near as much as I did.
But I'm not going to talk about it at any length. I have a baby to hold. BYE!
This is the longest sustained period of Artistic Director Musical Chairs I’ve ever known and it shows no signs of slowing down. In the last week or so Damien Cruden, who’s been at York Theatre Royal since before I’d heard of York Theatre Royal, and Sarah Franckom, who was at the absolute top of anyone’s game at Manchester Royal Exchange, have been the latest to vacate their chairs.
It’s Franckom’s departure that has drawn the most attention and that’s hardly surprising. In the five years she’s been sole artistic director she has completely transformed the organisation. When I used to make occasional trips over from Leeds to Manchester in the last decade, what I invariably saw were solid but unremarkable productions of solid twentieth century classics. There wasn’t much going on beyond the plays and no real sense that this was a theatre in Manchester. I once heard it described as the most provincial theatre in the country, on account of its behaving as though it was in very-very North London. And I once substantially embarrassed myself by badmouthing it in the Barbican foyer, sitting opposite a man who turned out to be Braham Murray.
In the last five or so years it has become a theatre deeply embedded in the life of Manchester, commissioning work that grows with the grass of the city. Its productions of classics have been radically imaginative. And how many theatres, in or out of London, would have commissioned Chris Goode’s version of Jubilee? Or Rash Dash’s Sisters? Franckom’s own directing has been as brilliant and imaginative as her programming. Her production of Our Town is one of the best things I’ve seen in years. And beyond the plays, it has offered unprecedented levels of engagement and support to local artists in Manchester and the wider north west. Franckom is a huge act to follow.
It used to be that these periodic phases of artistic director musical chairs were simply because one or two people went at the same time and everyone else moved up one. That’s not tenable this time around. Without even mentioning London, in the last couple of years we’ve seen departures from HOME, Bolton, Plymouth, Live, Pitlochry, Oldham, Keswick, Birmingham, Sheffield and now York and the Royal Exchange. I’m sure I’ve missed some. And as far as I’m aware the only vacancy to arise because of the sitting artistic director moving somewhere else was that at Bolton. This can’t all be a coincidence. To lose two or three artistic directors in a two-year period might be regarded as unfortunate; to lose a dozen suggests something more sinister.
So what’s going on? You know the answer. It’s austerity. Though it’s been less heralded, there’ve been a similar number of Executive Directors moving on: running theatres is no longer possible in the way it was ten years ago. It’s nine years since the Coalition came to power and brought austerity with them; that’s nine years of budget freezes alongside nine years of rising costs. Philanthropy, the government’s magic wand, does not work reliably if at all outside the M25. So every year it’s been possible to do less than the year before. That’s only sustainable for so long. Occasional miracles of transformation can be performed at the better-funded regional theatres like the Royal Exchange, but these are increasingly outliers. The model is broken. Basically, everyone’s knackered.
It seems fitting that in a week where everyone’s been singing the praises of Sarah Franckom, I’ve been thinking a lot about mentoring and support for emerging artists.
I spent Tuesday with Alex Kelly, who mentors me. I spent Wednesday with a couple of people I myself mentor. I benefit hugely from my conversations with Alex, which basically constitute me thinking aloud in the presence and with the guidance of someone who’s been round the block a few times more. We drink a lot of coffee and he asks excellent questions. If I give half as much to the people I’m mentoring, they’ll hopefully get something from the process too. But the ecosystem artists emerge into now is very different to the one that welcomed me.
I was lucky enough to start out in the early 2000s, a few years into the Labour government, when arts funding was at a forty-year peak. Without the relative ease of accessing support, I wouldn’t be here now. Artists emerging today have to work for years to start accessing funding and those from backgrounds like mine aren’t able to survive. I do what I can to help, but basically this amounts to occasional phone calls and emails of support and advice, coffee and questions, and reading endless draft arts council applications. Last year I was able to get a series of nine emerging artists into my R&D rooms (e.g.) (e.g.) and do something a bit more substantive. None of it is enough. (ALTHOUGH if you think I can be of help to you, do visit my mentoring page!)
It sometimes feels as though I spend about 40% of my income on crowdfunders to plug the gap in someone’s budget. In plenty of cases this is even when there is public funding. It can feel, in these cases, like audiences are being asked to pay three times: once in tax, once in crowdfunder, and finally at box office. I want to stress that I don’t begrudge this money spent on crowdfunders, only the system that makes it necessary and thus further disadvantages artists without rich friends and family.
Every so often someone bolsters their crowdfunder by running a marathon or a 10K to draw attention to their cause. And this gives me an idea. At this stage of my career, though I'm happy to support others, I feel embarrassed by the idea of doing a crowdfunder for a show of mine, although god knows I could often enough do with one. And I also feel embarrassed by the idea of running a marathon for sponsorship. Running marathons is what I do for fun.
But later this year I’m running this race, which is a bit longer than a marathon, and will be a genuine challenge.
So here’s my idea. I’m going to raise sponsorship by running this race. But not for one of my own projects. For a young or emerging artist. I don’t know who yet. Get in touch if it might be you. It’ll be an artist or company with one or two shows under their belt, probably socially or politically engaged, probably in the north of England. Someone who doesn’t necessarily look like me, possibly (but not necessarily) someone I’ve already been mentoring/supporting.
I’m not going to have a show of the week, run of the week, etc, this week, because I want to end on this offer. Please spread it around your networks. I’ll make some sort of announcement early next month, assuming all goes smoothly with the new baby, so if you want to be considered, please get in touch by March 30th. There’s no formal application process, but if you think your project is a good fit, please get in touch and tell me why I should run 44 miles in the mountains to help make it happen.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will