South West Theatre Symposium

fest west instaThis year’s Theatre Fest West kicked off with the South West Theatre Symposium. Jo Newman tells us more about the day.

On Friday 18th March Salisbury Playhouse, Theatre Bristol, Take Art and Activate invited anyone working in theatre in the South West to come together for a day to celebrate the launch of Theatre Fest West. Artists and industry professionals from across the South West gathered together to celebrate live performance made in the South West, to have meaningful conversations, to unpick the challenges and current opportunities in making art and making a living and ways to continue to make brilliant work across the region.

We wanted to document the event as much as possible to share and continue the conversations, so if you were there or not, you can share in the discussions. Below is a bit more about what we got up to during the day and the conversations that were had (and huge thanks to everyone who came along, we had some really interesting, thoughtful and provocative conversations)

We started the day with a panel of fantastic artists and makers at various stages in their careers: Anna Himali-Howard (theatre maker, director, performer with Breach Theatre), Gemma Paintin (Action Hero), Tim Crouch (actor, writer, director) and Nikki McCretton (Artistic Director of Stuff and Nonsense and Lyric Theatre, Bridport) facilitated by Mel Scaffold from Theatre Bristol.

The artists were asked:

  • What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome as an artist?
  •  How do you sustain your practice, and yourself as a person (is there a difference)?
  • If you could demolish one barrier you come up against when making work, what would it be?

We’ve recorded that here

All the conversations from the rest of the day were written in break-out groups on big pieces of paper which can be found here.

The context of these conversations:
In the late morning we divided into groups with each of the speakers to explore a question which came up in the morning, looking at reinventing your practice, staying alive (sustaining yourself and your health as an artist), aspects of branding yourself as an artist and ways to keep exploring and working without being limited by definitions of your work, and exploring new models for touring and funding, looking at how we investigate and remodel the current structure – how to teach venues and funding bodies what artists need.


In the afternoon industry professionals led various sessions:

The Realities of Touring
Niki McCretton, Artist, Artistic Director of Stuff and Nonsense, owner and director of The Lyric, Bridport

Taking it Outdoors
Kate Wood, Executive Director of Activate (Dorset, Bournemouth, Poole) and Co-Artistic Director of Inside Out
Wendy Petitdemange, Producer at Activate (Dorset, Bournemouth, Poole)

Artist & Producer Development
Emma Bettridge, Producer of Ferment at Bristol Old Vic
Mel Scaffold, Co-Director of Theatre Bristol
Katie Keeler, Co-Director of Theatre Bristol and Chair of the Independent Theatre Council

Doing it Yourself
David Lockwood. Artist, Co-founder and Artistic Director of The Bikeshed Theatre (Exeter)

Rural Touring
Sarah Peterkin, Director of the Rural Touring Service and Co-Director of Take Art Theatre (Somerset)
Mark Helyar, Co-Director of Take Art Theatre (Somerset)
Russ Tunney, Director Pound Arts (Wiltshire)

The Benefits of Working in a Cultural Cold Spot
Sarah Blowers, Creative Producer, Founder and Co-Director of Strike A Light Festival (Gloucester)

And Phil Hindson, Arts Council Relationship Manager, Theatre, held individual Grants for the Arts surgery sessions