Tessa Wills is Theatre Bristol’s new Creative Director. They will be working with the organisation three days a week from July to lead and support the team of Artist Support Associates, and advocate, provoke and speak out on key issues facing artists and theatre. Over the last two months they have been helping establish the new team at Theatre Bristol and identifying some priorities for the next year. Here they share their early days thinking and invite you to get in touch.
My role right now is to listen to everything that I can to get a sense of the threads and themes of theatre in Bristol, and how to best to support you individually and the sector.
We have a brilliant new team of Artist Support Associates, Tom Marshman, Deasy Bamford and Alex Murdoch carrying on the vital one-to-one support work with independent theatre artists.
Because the team changes each year, our temporary working group has a specific skill set at any one time. While Theatre Bristol is well connected and can signpost any theatre artist to further your career, I am asking that we get more specific about exactly what our group expertise is at this moment, so you can decide how to leverage the most from our organization. (Do you want a session? Find out more here and email )
The first thing I’m doing is working with this fierce team on a mapping project; tracking the questions and concerns that are arising from independent artists. To look closer at what that shows us about our local culture. I want to understand to what extent people see themselves and what they make as being from Bristol. I wonder if it’s a piece of collective identity that is missing at the moment.
What kind of work is Bristol specifically good at?
What places does theatre made in Bristol resonate with internationally?
What are the main concerns of artists working in Bristol?
Who is making the work?
As a priority I am listening for the limits on who we are currently serving in the community, particularly around race, queerness and disability, and other marginalized identities. We are resourcing ourselves to make significant changes, investing in new relationships, new partnerships, and new strategies which will transform the organization in the years to come. I’m looking to start dialogues initially internally about money and race within Bristolian culture. Within the next few months I will have specific goals around diversity to which our organization and others can be held accountable, to build trust and visibility across our communities.
Finally, I’m paying specific attention to the economic wellbeing of theatre artists in the city, particularly in terms of relationships between artists and venues. Which organisational partnerships are working in Bristol which mean that independent artists have a route to getting their work in front of audiences in a way that works economically? How can we support that? What other things need paying attention to?
I am a queer (white AFAB non binary) artist who makes solo durational live art performances. I am also a curator and I prioritise building community through my practice. I make work that doesn’t necessarily fit into catagories of art making that are fundable, in the sense that it’s often about sex and sexuality, or is challenging the form of theatre in the work itself (for example making work with the audience which they themselves perform in private.) For the last few years I have curated and produced THIS IS WHAT I WANT festival, the annual festival of performances about desire, which looks at (queered) desire through a different lens each year (for example desire and the economy, desire and the internet, desire and identity). I base my practice around archetypes such as The Hermit, or the Professional Mourner and then live in that archetype for a few years while the piece goes on. I’m just exiting The Hermit project right now, so…I’m ready for you! Let’s connect.