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Theatre in Exeter: what could the future be?

Saturday 23 July, Exeter Corn Exchange, George Street, EX1 1BU

AN INVITATION FROM PHIL HINDSON, Relationship Manager Theatre, ACE SW 

I have the best job in the world! I work for Arts Council England as the relationship manager for theatre in the South West. I live and work in a vibrant and beautiful part of the world that just happens to be home to some of the most innovative and extraordinary artists to be found anywhere in the country and I get to spend time with them, talking to them about their incredible work and how that work finds a place in the region’s critically acclaimed theatre ecology.

As if that wasn’t lucky enough, I also get to experience the work in theatres, in the streets, parks, dockyards, disused shops and stunning natural landscape of the South West ... and the best bit is that because of the creative vision of the theatre sector, the work available to see is changing all the time. 

I’ve had a lot of thought provoking and stimulating conversations over the last year about what’s possible, where the work is being developed, the value of creative collaborations and how theatre is going to enrich people’s lives. The one consistent thread in all these conversations is ‘change’. We are all constantly living through change and whether we embrace it or are challenged by it, the one thing we can be sure of, is that it’s going to happen whether we like it or not. Of course, one of the main things that changes is the amount of money available and the ways in which Arts Council England invests in the arts. In March 2012 the RFO funding programme comes to an end and we start a new journey with the National Portfolio Organisations. It has been well documented that this funding transition has been a difficult process. 

We are all facing change whether we are individual artists, large regularly funded organisations or Arts Council England. We will have to think, act and work differently to make the most of the opportunities ahead. You may have heard rumours that ACE have set aside some money specifically to support theatre in Exeter. Well, that’s true and that’s part of the reason for sending out this invitation but not the only one. 

I'm excited about the prospect of getting anyone who is passionate about theatre or Exeter or both together to talk about how we will all respond to the big changes ahead. This is an invitation to come together as a sector, to think about how we can support each other and develop a vibrant and resilient theatre ecology for the city and beyond. For me and my colleagues it will also help us do our jobs because we want to listen and discuss ideas with a wide range of good people. This event is an important stepping stone - a chance for a big conversation before our thoughts turn to specific investment. I’m sure there will be further conversations and meetings specifically about financial investment in Exeter over the coming months. This is the bigger conversation to kick things off. 

So if you’re a theatre maker, producer, director, writer, designer, actor, dramaturg, lighting designer, promoter, composer, choreographer, sound artist or an audience member – if you are interested in what the future could be for theatre in Exeter please come to this event.

This will not be a conventional meeting, we’ve asked Phelim McDermott of Improbable to facilitate an Open Space event. Although Open Space may be new to you, it has been used productively all over the world. It is an interactive and inclusive way of structuring a meeting that allows you, the participant, to set the agenda. It is a dynamic way of talking about complicated and difficult things. You will not be talked at or asked to talk about things you don’t want to. By the end of the event the following will have occurred:

•    Every issue of concern to anyone will have been raised, if they took responsibility for doing that

•    All issues will have been discussed to the fullest possible extent

•    A full record of issues and discussions will be published online.

•    And YOU will have taken part in making it happen 

Over the last few years I’ve had some great conversations with artists based in Exeter about their work and want to invite you, whoever you are, to come to this event to explore Theatre in Exeter: what could the future be?. 

A strength of Open Space is its ability to unite groups of enormous diversity. So what do you think? Let’s take charge and think imaginatively about how we can make change happen. The event is free, and we’ll provide good food. All that we ask is that you tell us that you’re coming by registering here. 

This invitation is open to everyone, so please pass it on to anyone you think might be interested. I hope to see you there.

Phil Hindson, Relationship Manager, Theatre, Arts Council England, South West

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