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Blog - Getting the inside out

Tanuja Amarasuriya on her new role as Director of Research at Theatre Bristol and how it helps us share more of the good stuff. 

When I’m out about at conferences, festivals, parties, touring with my own company, I inevitably talk about TB, and it astounds me how often TB is already on people’s radar. And that’s not just amongst the theatre community, but also amongst filmmakers, TV writers, musicians and illustrators. It’s almost always only because they’ve encountered our community-generated website: theatrebristol.net, but that’s still pretty amazing. And as the conversation develops about what’s going on in their field or region and what challenges there are, I’m struck by how often I find myself referring to stuff TB is testing or how we operate; and then I’m struck by how extraordinary and positive people find those practices.

And then – inevitably – I’m hit by the comedown of how few people really know anything at all about so much of what TB is testing and how we operate.

Everyone thinks this about their own organisation of course; and for an organisation like TB, which is all about the early and middle bit of processes rather than the sexy, finished, end bit, we’re always going to have to fight harder to be visible – I mean, we’re mainly caterpillar and cocoon; rarely ever butterfly.

But just cos it’s difficult, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try harder. In fact, that’s exactly why we have to get better at this. TB’s had a huge impact on how Bristol’s theatre community works. We know we’re doing singular and valuable work because the hundreds of people we work with directly every year tell us so.  And we’re prepared to design, test, fail, test again, fail again, and generally have a go finding new ways to do things better, precisely so that other people don’t have to hold that risk. Part of TB’s core ethos is that when you share stuff everyone gets better,* and that means we have to be better at sharing more of what we do – especially with the literally thousands of people who are connecting with theatrebristol.net every day.

So what’s changed?

In 2016 I took a yearlong sabbatical from Theatre Bristol. I’d been working at TB for 10 years (albeit in numerous different roles) so it was probably as important for the organisation to take a break from me, as it was for me to take a break from TB – a healthy bit of two-way professional development.

During that year, I’d be back in the office every now and then to talk future strategy stuff. My sabbatical proved a good opportunity to think differently about the organisation before we applied for our next round of core funding, and when Katie Keeler decided to leave (*sniff*) that gave us a great chance to completely rethink the structure of organisation and how we did stuff. 

That year also gave me the chance to experience a little bit of what it’s like to be on the outside of TB. Even just that one step remove made me realise how dependent I’d been on TB for helping me to think beyond my first instincts about how I work and exist as an artist. What I’d been missing was not so much the programmes and projects, it was the type of thinking we did – the arguments, the multiple perspectives, the bigger picture. 

So when we talked about the restructure of TB, I was adamant we had to make that thinking more visible. So Mel and Katie were like: Yup. Sounds good. Maybe YOU should do that? So we pitched to our Board, who gave it the thumbs up; and here we are. 

One of the things I’ll be doing more of is writing and curating these articles and conversations. We hope they’ll be interesting, maybe provocative, and hopefully useful. We’re trying it out. If it fails, we’ll try something else, and if that fails, we’ll try something else. But hopefully this way, you’ll know more about it, and maybe we can collaborate on making it better, faster.

*not germs obviously, but I like to think of that as the exception that proves the rule.

 

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