I’ve had a fantastic time at Theatre Bristol for the last eighteen months. The main ingredients of this have been the artists I’ve had contact with and my colleagues at Theatre Bristol and at Circomedia and more recently Bristol Old Vic.
I pitched for the job by saying that I was at a very useful moment of my career. I understood the nuts and bolts of making work and getting it into production and tour and at the same time I had some experience of the wider issues of policy and funding. This being in the middle of, acting as a translator and broker, between policy/funding and art still seems to me the defining role of the job. To help illuminate the landscape that artists inhabit to enable them to make the best decisions for themselves and their work, and to advocate and explain to funders and policy makers the needs and desires of artists.
I think this individual role is reflected in the philosophy and practice of Theatre Bristol. This is articulated much more completely in the Bristol Live document. But a phrase that Seth Honnor (Theatre Bristol Coordinator) used about the organisation being ‘the slack in the system’ has stuck with me. The ability to see and make connections, spot opportunities, understand a host of individual artists needs and make sense of them into broad initiatives. I came to TB from an artist perspective feeling suspicious of the ways in which agencies seemed to soak up so much money. I leave understanding that for Bristol the value of the work is huge, that much of it is invisible to the casual observer, and that there is great integrity driving the organisation.
I read somewhere once that what artists must do is to break the rules of each preceding generation more cleverly. This is a bit trite but it does encapsulate the continual evolution, breaking of mental parameters and blurring of lines that art does. After working in Bristol for only a few weeks it struck me very strongly that the city was able to do this so well because of the make up of its cultural life. My colleagues Katie Keeler and Tanuja Amarasuriya represent Physical and Visual Theatre and Live Art and Experimental Theatre respectively. Together with my responsibilities for Circus and Outdoor Performance we join up Bristol Old Vic, Arnolfini, Circomedia, Tobacco Factory, The Bristol Do and a host of smaller organisations like Residence, The Albany Centre and Puppet Place. And most importantly we join up the knowledge of individual artists and companies working across all of these sectors. For me the way that these (in many ways artificial) divides touch and bleed into each other, inspire each other, infect each other, is very exciting, is where the movement forward seems to come from. And I know Bristol is a great big city but it feels manageable – within a cultural context you can know, or at least know of, everyone. This combination of a critical mass of artists with a diverse practice, but within a context which feels small enough to know and be inspired by each other seems to me to be what makes Bristol particularly rich.
This is made concrete for me having worked closely with Claire Teasedale (Festivals and Events Manager, Bristol City Council) on the Bristol Do. Claire programmes a range of dance, theatre, circus and live art and commissions a huge amount of work from artists working in the city. At a time when many high profile festivals of outdoor work are spending a big percentage of their budget on work from abroad Claire’s programme is indicative of her commitment to the development of local artists, the talent that resides in the city, and the fruitfulness of bringing different sectors together. Of course there is also exciting work from national and international companies but it feels like there is a healthy balance. The recent commissions Theatre Bristol and Bristol City Council have made connected to The Bristol Do are really exciting pieces of work incorporating both formal innovation – really pushing performance in the public realm – but simultaneously socially engaged, connected to and thinking about audiences.
Well I’ve managed to make myself feel suitably terrible about leaving. I will miss everyone a lot. I’ll be coming back for The Do and various other things. Amongst other things I’m programming work in Bournemouth so will leave you with my catchy email address there: .
All the best