the producers ALCHEMISTS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
ALCHEMISTS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
the producers ALCHEMISTS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
Jointly published by Arts Council England and The Jerwood Charitable Foundation, London
Written by Kate Tyndall Designed by Wolffe and Co. Typeset in Tarzana and ITC OfďŹ cina Printed in the UK by Allander Printed on environmentally friendly papers ÂŠ Arts Council England and The Jerwood Charitable Foundation , London All other copyright material is listed in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retreival system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopied, recorded, or otherwise without the prior permission of the publishers. A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-0-7287-1347-5
This book is commissioned by Arts Council England and The Jerwood Charitable Foundation to celebrate and explore the role of the producer in the arts. It looks at the stories of a selection of individuals working across the arts to discover the qualities, vision and energy that drive them. At a time when ideas are shifting about how we might all respond to the producer, it is intended as a stimulus for artists, producers, and organisations, and for thinkers, funders, and decision makers, to elaborate our understanding of the people who are driven to express themselves in this way, and why what they do is of such value to us all. The individuals featured have all allowed me to spend considerable time with them to develop their pieces, and I am very grateful for the honesty and generosity with which they have shared their perspectives and stories. I have found the process of understanding how and why they do what they do truly inspiring. I hope others do too. I have developed the book with the close support and engagement of both Roanne Dods of The Jerwood Charitable Foundation and David Micklem of Arts Council England, who created the original brief. I have been asked to identify a selection of individuals working across art forms, ways of working, and generations, most in the UK, some abroad. Through them, the intention is to reveal something about all producers, not just those you meet in these pages. I hope that in their stories you will ďŹ nd a new sense of the possibilities of the producerâ€™s role.
Judith Knight and Ritsaert ten Cate
introduction The producer is a role that has struggled to establish itself in the arts. Yet at this time of massive social, cultural and environmental change, perhaps we have never needed them more. This book is based on the belief that producers make an extraordinary contribution to the arts – to the artists whose ideas and creativity can be harnessed and realised by these people as no others, and to the public whose engagement is the inspiration for the producer’s mindset and approach. The producer helps to realise new responses and routes through the complex changes in our globalised world, unlocks so much of the ‘public value’ of the arts, and works with artists to create the experiences beyond our imaginings, experiences that allow us all to identify what art means in our lives. My understanding of the role of the producer has been built through observing those I admire at work. I see its importance as lying both in its function – the job description and structures of producing – and also in the impact of the people who are drawn to express themselves in this way. This book chooses to find its way into the world of the producer through the people, through a selection of some of the individuals who have found or are discovering ways to fulfil this role brilliantly. This is not a book about models, or an attempt at a survey of what is happening in this country. It’s about people and what they’re capable of, the visions, qualities and energies that drive them – a currency which is often undervalued and unexplored compared to a more ready focus from so many of us on structures and institutions. We should all invest in it more. The job these people do involves an all-encompassing, interwoven set of responsibilities necessary to make great ideas and projects happen. The producer might be the chief executive of a well-developed organisation with specialist teams focusing on particular aspects of the producing task, or they might function solo or lead a small or medium-sized team. As producer, however, they hold the full picture, and are responsible for the successful intersection of all the forces at work in order to realise the idea in the most brilliant way possible. The producer sometimes conceives or initiates a project, becoming a lead protagonist in its conception and destiny; equally their commitment is sometimes to realise an artist’s vision. Whatever the original drive and the details of how they work with the artists and the creative energy of others on the project,
the producer leads in navigating between a bold vision of an idea, and how feasibly – and brilliantly – to deliver it, how to give the idea life and locate it in the world. To make a project happen, the producer supports its creative development, working within the internal world of a project to devise, structure and support the process that will bring it to fruition. Externally, they must also position the idea, build and hold together the frameworks of relationships and of meaning that will attract the necessary support and finance, and engage those for whom it is intended. The producer conceives, manages and delivers a project financially, and takes the responsibility for the ultimate financial outcome. He or she is responsible for finding the finance, spending the money to best effect, and achieving the best outcome for all the risk-takers. They are also responsible for how to deliver the project – its structures, partnerships, and team, its development through to full realisation, and then its exploitation and dissemination. To get the most out of it for all concerned, they must follow the story through to the end, the last to put out the lights. To move this mountain each time, the producer must bring a wide spectrum of personal qualities and skills, honed into an integrated intelligence which carries the weight of the responsibilities involved. The producer asks and answers the really big questions, resolves the blockages on the route, and helps those involved reach out for the alchemist’s gold they all seek. In this they are often guided by a compelling personal vision and sense of responsibility that leads them to want to produce, and strong artistic judgement and taste that allows them to set agendas and define practice in their field. They blend this with the ability to work brilliantly with artists and with the creativity of others, to build the collaborations and relationships that will realise the idea to its fullest. Whilste some artists see their ideas in the wider landscape and know how to project what they are doing within this, others don’t; overall it is nearly always the producer who leads on positioning and communicating a project within the wider cultural, social or political context. A wide-angled and eclectic intelligence that understands an idea in the context of which it is part sets them up as brilliant communicators, persuaders and
fundraisers, which they must also know how to be. It is they who build relationships and involvement from constituencies across the board, both to bring the project to life and then to engage people with it once it exists. Producers are often highly instinctual in their decisionmaking, combining great flexibility with unswerving fixity of purpose, and opportunism with a strong sense of direction. Temperamentally they are able both to take the lead in action and decision-making, and to facilitate others, often in complex patterns of partnership. They are brilliant at devising and building teams, and in understanding what structures to create and why. They are bold and creative entrepreneurially, and have the judgement, nerve and inner reserves to take considerable commercial, artistic and financial risks. They have to match the courage, risk taking and vision of the artists with whom they work. But it’s tough building a career as a producer in the arts here in the UK. Notwithstanding this, exceptional people have managed to express themselves in this way. Often they emerge as a producer through a fascinating personal story which leads them there. Sometimes they may not be called a producer, although I believe them to be one. This book has made a selection of a number of individuals, and through short pieces about each, aims to help us understand more about what they do and the qualities and drive which sustain them. The combination of individuals featured in this book aims to provide a range of perspectives from across art forms, ways of working, generations and stages of career. Some of these producers are running organisations that existed before their tenure, others have transformed or influenced existing structures to achieve their vision. Some have created the required frameworks from scratch, while some aim to work flexibly alongside those built by others. Some are synonymous with the organisations they have created as vehicles for their own contribution, whilste others are creating structures that will outlive them. What drives them all is a personal vision of why and how they want to work as a producer, and this leads them to the organisational frameworks they have pursued. The different stories collected here vividly portray how long it takes to develop and reach full capability, and how – when your currency is people – the timescale is the real sweep and flow of their lives: the cycles of creativity in conceiving and realising
an idea, the risk of burning out if an individual is over-exposed, the need to regroup and replenish, the need to learn, the need for a change. Equally, it’s about the gradual building of confidence and knowledge, the sheer impact of a sustained achievement over time, the routes and timescales towards maturity – by no means a linear progression. These stories play out over ten, twenty, thirty years, and their value resides in the full picture along the way. There are many different possibilities as individuals journey through their producing lives: the producer as long-term collaborator, the producer as initiator of projects and ideas, the producer as organisational leader, the producer as fastmoving independent, the producer as cultural and social activist, the producer as entrepreneur and business brain, the producer as innovator, the producer as facilitator and support, the producer as guru empowering others. These are personal, mutable ways of working that emerge as the stories unfold. The individuals selected here are on different points on the route. Some are discovering what they are capable of. Others are in the full flow of their professional lives. Others are proven magicians who offer inspiration to all. There is one compelling characteristic they all share: a bemused surprise that they, for once, are the object of attention. It is not a place they are accustomed or comfortable to be. The pieces aim to capture some of the realities of what it is like to be a producer, and to demystify what they do through the honesty and straightforwardness with which this selection of individuals talk about themselves and their work. Their openness allows us to see not only the convictions which drive them, but also their vulnerabilities, the mix of certainty and fragility they must somehow learn to balance along the way. The pieces vary in form: some are drawn from conversations either with myself or an artist collaborator, others written solely by myself, or by the individual concerned. For each individual featured, of course there are those, also brilliant, who have not been included. I hope they will feel that the possibilities of their visions, talents, and energies are to some extent represented by the stories which are told in these pages. In looking necessarily at a few, our aim is to celebrate the many, and the potential of those yet to come. <
Clockwise from top left: Mash Up; bro9; Explosions developed as part of B3’s Blank Slate initiative
Marc Boothe is an independent producer and cultural entrepreneur specialising in film and moving image projects involving UK-based multi-ethnic artists and filmmakers. He is the founder and managing director of B3 Media and co-producer of the acclaimed film Bullet Boy. Although he started his working life as a computer programmer and systems analyst, he has always followed a creative path, and was a founder member of the influential photographers’ collective, D-Max. Following his MBA, Marc committed himself to the full-time exploration of his creative ideas, successfully conceiving and realising a number of ground-breaking projects encompassing the world of the moving image. He has always been fascinated by the creative opportunities afforded by technology and technological innovation, and its use as a means of fostering collaboration between artists as well as uniting artist and audience. In recent years, he has moved explicitly into realising film, multi-media and digital projects involving a large and growing slate of multi-ethnic artists and filmmakers working across digital platforms. Marc has always pushed the boundaries of what is perceived to be possible. A constant innovator, he has an uncanny instinct for identifying the audiences for his ideas. With his team at B3, he is at the forefront of a rising wave of innovators unlocking the creative possibilities offered by the new digital era. ››
Edited from conversations with Kate Tyndall
I came into filmmaking and producing largely by accident. I grew up in South London, the product of a pretty typical African-Caribbean upbringing. My parents encouraged us to believe in ourselves – self-belief and self-reliance was their guidance. As a kid, I wasn’t into ‘the norm’. I liked ideas and thinking differently about the world, and my parents gave me free rein. I never really connected with school in a traditional sense. In fact, I hated it. I was crap at sports, but good at maths and computing. I trained in computer science and fell into programming for a software house working on a wide range of commercial projects, eventually working as a senior programmer in the City. It was while working at the Bank of England and pursuing further studies in the evening that I made the decision to develop a creative outlet for myself. I chose photography (having always been fascinated by images, visual art and films) and taught myself. The idea of pursuing the arts as a career didn’t kick in until much later. My mum loved music and films (especially musicals) and some of my earliest memories are of her taking me to the movies. She took me to see films like The Sound of Music, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Carmen and a whole load of other stuff. My youth was an amazing time of exploration and self-discovery on my terms. I went through a period of watching films, reading as well as taking pictures. The running joke was that you’d always find me with a rucksack with a camera, a note book and a magazine (still true, some would say). I watched films ranging from the classics to contemporary Japanese, French and Italian movies. I read loads (especially poetry) before discovering African-American literature, Langston Hughes and others. I became increasingly influenced by the new wave of African-American cinema. It had a visceral power and energy I hadn’t experienced before and seemed to ‘join the dots’ between music, cinema and politics in a really fresh way. I soaked up as much material as I could, borrowing books from the library and getting a feel for how these art forms connected. My own photography provided the means to step outside myself, to record and express what I saw in my own way and on my own terms. I discovered Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Man Ray, Robert Capa and Gordon Parks. The light bulb really switched on when I discovered Parks. Along with Melvin Van Peebles, he was one of the few black artists who worked across a range of media and demonstrated that, above all, it was what you said that was important. They were both self-taught innovators who had a vision and were smart and tenacious enough to make it happen against the odds. Whilste working as a computer programmer, I began to get photographic commissions. I decided to show my work in a number of galleries and, through this, met David A Bailey. He gave me my first real introduction to the black art scene and I connected with it big time. We formed a loose collective of photographers and developed a plan for a major show. We persuaded The Photographers’ Gallery to support the show in its main space. I came up with the name D-Max – the maximum amount of blackness you can have in a photographic print. The project had an amazing impact – there were queues around the block. I realised I had to make a decision and followed my instincts, and left the Bank of England. I developed the idea of a festival and, working with a small group of partners, presented the work of the African-American filmmakers who were leading the second wave of black independent cinema. We took a gamble and created what became the Black Triangle Festival at the Electric Cinema, mainly with our own funds. It proved to be a huge success. Documentary and music video commissions followed, but I decided to focus on the cinema side of our activities. The Prince Charles Cinema was pioneering the concept of a £1 entry ticket and, through this, I launched the Nubian Tales Film Club in the mid-1990s. 5/6
Nubian Tales was the first film club of its kind. Showcasing black movies in the West End, it was the film equivalent of a DJ club residency. We programmed features mixed with shorts and visits from key filmmakers – Spike Lee, Julie Dash and many more. Over seven years we attracted a considerable and influential following and established Nubian Tales as the place to meet. We demonstrated we could preview films and, indeed, revitalise them through our own targeted form of marketing, identifying and tapping into audiences that film companies didn’t know how to reach. Through Nubian Tales I learnt how the industry worked and over time we established a unique presence within it. The black British aesthetic in film was, to me, lacking. There had been various attempts to build one. The Black Audio Film Collective, Sankofa and others had left an amazing legacy and were a source of inspiration, but had pretty much disappeared over time, largely because of a lack of funding. We were coming from a different angle – building the audience from the ground up through our own events and membership activities. I realised that connecting with the audience was the key. From this, we came to understand how films were marketed, distributed and exhibited. Producing came later. I realised I wanted to develop projects (particularly films) in which I really believed. The question was, how? At the same time, I was thinking about how to use the new technology to link American and British black cultural perspectives. Digital Diaspora was created to explore new ways of bridging the ‘digital divide’ and to create connections amongst and between black and minority ethnic artists and new media practitioners. We connected artists at the ICA in London and The Kitchen in New York through two-way ‘digital slams’ and, from our new space in Brixton, we launched Digital Clash, a friendly webcast exchange between London and Los Angeles. This was the first event of its kind in Europe. We were ahead of our time, leading an early wave of DIY culture, using the digital medium to create content and to distribute and explore questions of identity, representation and production. My involvement in new media was completely multi-cultural, even though Nubian Tales was a strictly black film proposition. At that time I wanted to connect my interests in film, technology and music, and explore new developments in DIY culture (networked communities and the web, in particular). My solution was Beats, Bytes and the Big Screen – a festival and multi-cultural meeting place for the sharing of ideas. It brought together unique combinations of musicians, DJs, visual artists and geeks at live jam events, webcasts, and screenings around London and was incredibly popular. Beats, Bytes and the Big Screen generated an increasing number of submissions from independent filmmakers (in DVD form, not tape). I saw how an entrée into producing could emerge and developed our digital short film challenge, 23:59. For 23:59, filmmakers had to script, shoot and edit a short film in 48 hours and the winning submissions were screened on the festival’s last night. Over three years the number of submissions mushroomed, with filmmakers primarily using their own cameras and editing at home. We had discovered a whole new scene. The coverage for 23:59 opened up a different dialogue with potential partners. I recognised that the time had come to put into play my longstanding idea of a media arts agency – B3 Media – which would produce across the full spectrum of film, moving image and screen-based projects. In 2003 we launched Blank Slate, a digital shorts producing platform for multi-ethnic filmmakers and B3’s first major project. Initially, Blank Slate was a Londonwide, open application initiative which resulted in four films. Now in its fourth year and receiving nearly 200 applications, Blank Slate has become a national scheme showcased at international festivals and a number of our filmmakers have won awards. Over the years we have worked with an amazing cross-section of talent both in front of and behind the camera as well as with artists and directors who have made the transition to film on their own terms and are progressing from shorts to feature films. It’s the most rewarding part of what I do. ››
Boothe is a player. “ Marc And I mean that in absolutely the best sense of the word. Not a hustler. Not a conniver. Not a showman. But a figure of consummate skill, patience and hardwon expertise. I’ve known Marc for a decade or so, and during that time he’s always moved ahead toward the far horizon, even as he’s understood that the pursuit of success is not a straight path. He’s one of the few people I know who can hold the big picture in his head while simultaneously addressing the minutiae of everyday business AND plotting the next three steps forward in his game plan. He needs to. He works in a particularly protean set of industries – film, multimedia, moving image and other fields – and he’s been assiduous in garnering strength and experience in those worlds even as they shift around him. At the same time he’s also dedicated to nurturing young talent from ethnically diverse backgrounds because he cares about building a stronger creative culture in this country based on voices from across society. Marc knows that not everyone is gifted with the wide-screen focus that he has. He is a producer by trade because he believes in bringing people together. In making things happen. In sharing his vision of the far horizon and helping others to reach toward it.
Ekow Eshun Artistic Director, ICA
My work at B3 put me on the radar and I was approached to join the creative team as producer (with Ruth Caleb) of the feature film Bullet Boy, to be directed by Saul Dibb. This was a huge leap, but I was ready and had something to offer. Ruth, Saul and I shared a common vision for the film – we wanted to transcend the stereotypical view of the subject matter and create a storyline and treatment that would have absolute credibility with the audience. With the writer Catherine Johnson, Saul worked through a process of improvisation which enabled us to find the ‘story’ and establish a degree of realism and strong dialogue. We wanted the film to resonate with moviegoers in an honest way, especially at a time when gun violence was happening in all our major cities. Working on Bullet Boy enabled me to gain a much deeper understanding of the producer’s role in the creative process together with the day-to-day business of getting a feature film made. As producer, you are acutely aware of your responsibility as keeper of the flame, supporting the director’s vision, and that you are also part of a team: juggling creative and financial issues and solving problems as they arise; keeping the financiers on side and informed; making sure the director gets the support they need as well as ensuring that the rest of the creative team are on track. There are so few opportunities for multi-cultural stories to be made and seen by the widest possible audience that it was vital for this project to succeed, in both market and cultural terms. I also wanted to ensure the involvement of filmmakers from diverse backgrounds at all levels within the project, and we managed that too. All the time I was thinking, ‘Who is this for?’ ‘How will they view this film?’ We worked on these aspects from the earliest stages. We identified the right distributor (in this case, Verve Pictures) and developed the communications strategy to create a dialogue with the media about the project and its context. I think there needs to be a levelling of the playing field in terms of the representation of black and minority creative talent both in front and behind the camera at all levels. The potential and opportunity for tapping the wealth of stories and home-grown talent in the UK is huge, yet it still remains largely untapped. I really believe that this needs to change. The film did achieve the kind of resonance we were hoping for. It gathered a momentum of its own and the ideas we were talking about were taken up by a vast network of people – in the media, cultural critics, community groups, individuals. Everyone had their say, whether positive or negative, and it was extraordinary to travel that journey from our earliest ideas about the project through to the public response to the film. Following on from Bullet Boy, I joined the UK Film Council as a senior executive. As a production executive, you are responsible for unearthing new talent, finding good scripts and identifying new project ideas all of which are fed into the green light process. I was also involved in establishing a range of special projects, such as the low budget feature film initiative and the moving image scheme which resulted in Single Short, among others. Working at the UK Film Council provided me with an extraordinary opportunity to gain an invaluable insight into the industry, and how policy and strategy really works at all levels. After a time, though, I realised that my passion for developing diverse projects as an independent producer across film and new media was what I really wanted to do. I don’t think you ever lose your entrepreneurial core, even when you’ve been working in an institutional framework. After nearly two years at the Film Council, I decided to take up a NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) Fellowship and returned to B3. This has freed me in a truly creative way to explore new methods of nurturing and developing emerging talent from non-traditional pathways, how to create content that can be shared through new distribution channels, and how to create models that will offer sustainable careers for multiethnic artists and filmmakers. These ideas are absolutely intrinsic to B3’s future plans. I could focus solely on my own career as a producer, but I want to put something back, to work with new talent and pass on the knowledge I’ve accumulated. At B3 I work with an amazing team and together we are finding and nurturing fresh, distinctive, multi-ethnic British voices and talent. We enable them to produce work that offers a particular cultural point of view across a number of platforms as well as present it to the widest possible audience. 7/8
met Marc Boothe “ Iinfirst the early 1990s when he approached me about showing one of my films over in the UK. The idea that there was a black entrepreneur developing a black film-going audience in London excited me. I didn’t have a real sense of the UK black community, outside of a few recording artists. Marc showed me was that there was a growing multi-ethnic scene in the UK that was fusing African, Caribbean, Asian and US sensibilities in what they created and consumed.
Blank Slate goes from strength to strength, as does Electric Greenhouse (residencies and mentoring for visual artists who want to work in the moving image) and Compass Point (an initiative with the National Film and Television School). One of the really exciting projects we have been developing at B3 has been identities. tv which is a cross-artform initiative we are producing in collaboration with Contact Theatre in Manchester. The project involves a series of collaborations between new media artists, sound designers, spoken word artists and filmmakers. The work produced will be delivered online, on DVD, through digital screen networks, mobile phones and a series of live performances. B3 has become a kind of cross-artform ‘incubator’ spanning film, new media and the moving image. We’re looking to realise the huge opportunities that exist to produce work for gallery-based and cross-platform projects, ranging from broadband, video, mobile phones, gaming consoles to traditional screens, as well as the digital screen network. I have a sense that we will find a completely new business model for B3 in the next 12 months, based on the new forms of production and distribution that digital technologies are unlocking. We are always looking for new ways to showcase and communicate our artists’ ideas and find their markets. I’ve learnt that, if you put your mind to it and you’re clear what you want to make happen, you can achieve things even though the prevailing wisdom might say that it isn’t possible. Sure, it’s tough. I’m pulling together my own projects as well as providing a space for nurturing and producing black and minority emerging moving image and filmmaking talent on a fraction of the resources that larger arts organisations and film agencies are given. Nevertheless, our results speak for themselves. We work with a wide network of partners, which takes us out of our comfort zone but also keeps us grounded. It’s been hard work, and incredibly exciting. Everything I’ve done before has helped prepare me for what I’m doing now. ‘Producer’ feels like a limited definition. If anything, I feel like an alchemist – you start with nothing, just a kernel of an idea, and make something of it. Most of my ideas don’t make sense to other people at the beginning. But to me it makes sense. And if it makes sense to me, that’s fine – everyone else will catch up eventually. <
On my visits to London I saw first hand the opportunities and frustrations he encountered in building energetic grassroots support and dealing with a sceptical cultural mainstream. But despite the ups and downs, Marc stayed focused in his vision, adapting quickly to the digital revolution and the global reach of the internet. From promoting screenings to organising transatlantic digital poetry slams and producing feature films and innovative shorts, Marc has carved a unique space in the UK scene and has become a barometer of the cultural changes transforming his nation.
Nelson George US writer, filmmaker and cultural critic
Farooq by Damian Chapman
Clockwise from top left: Akram Khan; Related Rocks; Sacred Monsters; Akram Khan and Farooq Chaudhry; Third Catalogue; Zero Degrees
Since 1999 Farooq Chaudhry has worked with dancer and choreographer Akram Khan to develop and produce his work as an artist. Together they have founded the Akram Khan Company, and over seven years of collaboration Akram has emerged as one of the world’s outstanding performers and creators. He has drawn on his virtuoso ability and deeply-felt relationship with the Kathak tradition, and with the contemporary world of which he is part, to express an investigation of tradition and modernity in a series of landmark collaborations with artists from other disciplines such as music, dance, the visual arts and theatre. Farooq’s collaboration with Akram has been fundamental to this success. Akram speaks eloquently of the spirit and soul of their relationship, which has provided the basis for his achievements as an artist. Farooq has also created a carefully conceived business, governance and organisational frame for Akram’s work, to offer the optimum conditions for his development as an artist. Farooq has built the web of relationships and collaborations, spreading across continents, artforms, disciplines, and sources of support, that has made Akram’s journey possible. Farooq believes passionately that others should feel empowered to follow their instincts as producers. When he ended his career as a dancer in the late 1990s, his own instinct was that he ‘wanted masterpieces’. He discovered the role of producer as a basis for involvement with Akram’s work intuitively as well. Since then, his working practice has developed into a fully realised and inspirational expression of what the producer can offer to artists, audiences and the wider cultural context of which they are part. ››
Edited from a conversation with Kate Tyndall
K: I have heard you talk about ‘serving your ideas’ to ‘build’ a piece of work. Can you tell me more about this?
F: Ideas come from very small things often - meeting someone, seeing something, having a dream, a discussion - and out of that emerges a seed. I catch this seed and elaborate it by talking to people, conjuring, imagining, feeling it, fleshing it out until it’s something that can become a real life project. Then we can release it, it’s like a birth process, you create this gestation and the idea becomes formed. It’s born, you free it and serve it, and let it follow its own path. This is the most fragile and crucial period in the creative process. It’s easy to find an idea but it’s infinitely harder to serve and be loyal to it. A threat can be that the idea starts to serve you. It requires a great deal of focus, trust and discipline. There are moments when you have doubts - is this really what we want to do? But I don’t let that be a reason to put the brakes on. I let the idea keep existing, evolving at its own natural pace, and I build all the parts around it. You’re creating something that starts with a single thing. A brick, a step. You may put a chimney up first or a side window. You build this thing and soon it involves lots of people. It’s impossible to build something on your own – there are a lot of us working on it. We all put in our contributions, and it becomes something coherent that we can believe in and respect, something we trust will be what we want to say, though what you want to say is often not truly clear until it’s said. If you stay too much in control, you’re containing it. Our ideas are built up with the optimum conditions, the right money, the right collaborators, with the right reference points and process over a period of time. We nurture them so they can find their own independent voice, so they can exist on their own and be appreciated by others. You have a responsibility to the people who are eventually going to engage with it. That’s doesn’t mean you make it with the audience in mind, but you want it to be seen, accepted and judged by other people. Otherwise why do we do it? K: I have also heard you talk about the importance of ‘staying free’.
F: We always need to be clear about what we’re trying to do and to reassess this often. To be fixed on things is dangerous. You don’t know what’s going to happen. And you discover new ways of thinking about things. Increasingly, I would say that I’ve never had a strategy as such. I’ve been making it up as I go along, following my instincts about what we need to do. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any planning or preparation, but the word ‘strategy’ is much over-used. It suggests that from the outset there’s a conscious and clear path. In a discussion with someone a while ago, they said ‘strategy is just a rationalisation of what has already taken place’. I have to agree with them. I would also say that, for me, luck is when opportunity meets preparation. At times, we’ve been ‘lucky’. K: You have created some very particular approaches to the company’s governance, business model and organisational structure.
F: Yes, I’ve pursued a professionalisation of the structures, in order to best support the artistic aspirations. It’s about effectiveness and efficiency. It’s important to focus on the business side of what we do. Too often, there’s a feeling that art and business are not good bed partners, that they are like oil and water. But actually they can Opposite: Ma
mix extremely well. You’re judged by the results, by the consumer, ultimately. And it’s about taking risks, being under pressure, knowing when to invest in the future, good timing for your decisions, developing your ideas and reshaping them so they remain interesting for others, to keep yourself firmly in the marketplace. It’s about developing the brand, expanding the audience. In Beijing recently, I heard someone talk about the artist as the inventor, and the producer as the innovator who innovates the product into the marketplace, who leads on how you take it out into the wider world. This gives the artist more freedom, helps them to realise the scope of their potential and to make the environment in which they work so much more enriching. K: In your work with Akram you combine an incredibly positive energy, with clear long-term vision, and an intuitive responsiveness and decision making.
F: I have always known that I have to be optimistic, purposeful, inspired, creative, ambitious, determined, and positive. I need these things. They are the engine. Looking back at my life so far, I can see that, apart from all the things that I’ve learned formally, much of the way I am has been shaped by my early upbringing. I came from an extremely poor background as a kid. My parents came to England as immigrants in the 1960s. They were not into the arts at all. For them, there was a huge sense of demoralisation as people and to us as a culture and to our ethnicity – it was the time of the whole Paki bashing thing, with lots of racial tension. I struggled with my sense of identity and self-esteem. It was a terrible thing to live through, but it does make you very resourceful. I saw I had to be proactive and clear about what I wanted, that I must make opportunities, take what there is and double it, triple it. My background also meant I was always having to build bridges between societies, between cultures, between class, race, from early on in my life. It was a very powerful thing, always being challenged to reconcile difference, polarisation. And now with Akram, with the projects we’re deciding on, it’s about building bridges between two diverse places. That’s always been my attitude to life. How do you take an actress to a dancer, or a Chinese company to an English audience? How do you build a bridge between these two different cultures, these two different voices? I started off with a lot of fear of difference, and now it’s become a source of inspiration, a source of desire, of challenge. A problem that I’m becoming more and more aware of is, how do we keep the internal world of our work sustainable for ourselves? Each time we conceive a project, it requires a new world that we must create, and we have to find a new set of rules for it. It takes a lot of emotional and physical energy to find this new underpinning for the thing you’re about to build. So we plan to take time to step out, to push the pause button just for a while, in two or three years. We have a gut feeling that this will be a very, very good thing to do. I hope this book can help provide an access point for others who are setting off on their journey as producers. It is important that we don’t mystify what is involved. The most important thing is their instincts for what they are trying to do. I feel passionately that artists can benefit so much from what good producers can offer them. < 11/12
role Farooq plays, but more importantly, the relationship we have formed and are still continuing to define, is not something one can easily try â€œ The to formulate or encapsulate. It is much more instinctual, constantly redefining itself, alive and mutating. His role as a producer has been crucial in offering me the support I needed to move forward with a sense of clarity and artistic strategy. Farooq has been a partner, in terms of strategy, planning and artistic goals for the company. He has been a support in the most profound way. He encompasses many important roles, such as manager, friend, advisor and even student at times - any artist needs all of these at different stages in his or her career. But in my opinion, the most important thing has been the collaboration of our friendship. This is the key to our progress, and it has been something truly organic and real. Our collaboration gives me an opportunity to share thoughts, doubts, frustrations, ideas and opinions. I feel privileged to have the gift of another artist by my side, constantly whispering in my ear when solutions need to be found. Not always does Farooq come up with a solution, but to know that someone is close to you, ready to support and protect your vision, is sometimes more comforting and useful than finding the solution itself. Farooq is a producer with no formulas. That is his formula. He adapts and constantly re-evaluates every decision and choice he makes. However, his principles are simple and powerful, and are strongly embedded in the decisions he makes and the way he conducts himself with me. Honesty, loyalty, perseverance, ambition, and, most importantly, humility are some of his qualities from which we can all learn.
Uninvited Guests Aftermath
Helen Cole is Producer of Live Art and Dance at Arnolfini in Bristol. Over the past ten years, she has developed the programme there to become one of the leading performance contexts for Live Art in the UK. She has also created a role as producer, initiating and developing projects such as the biennial Inbetween Time Festival, now in its fourth edition, or the interdisciplinary projects 32000 Points of Light and Whiteplane_2, which she produced outside the structures of Arnolfini itself. From an early phase of her working life Helen had a sense of herself as a producer and during nearly 20 years of work in the world of contemporary performance she has been piecing together the ways of working, networks, skills, inner resources and critical perspectives to make this a reality. Her entire working career has been in regional UK contexts, an environment which offers her the scale of connection with an audience and the strong sense of community that she seeks. She is well-connected internationally too, and frequently tours the projects she has initiated in the UK and abroad. She has committed herself to an area of artistic practice that sees itself as on the outside, away from the mainstream, and has created opportunities for its artists and her ideas by embracing fully the possibilities that the organisational structures of Arnolfini offers. At the same time, she has produced projects beyond the organisationâ€™s frame, and is now at a point where she is reviewing how these different dimensions of her work intersect and go forward. â€şâ€ş
Text by Helen Cole
It was in 1994 during a discussion event in Manchester that I first heard the word producer applied to the arts. I was in my midtwenties, a bit bolshy and a dreamer, forever weaving ideas in my head. I was still at an early point in my career and had not as yet gone out and proved myself, so my ideas were still stuck deep in the recesses of my imagination, but something about that discussion left me burning with ambition and opposition. It was a call to action and in hindsight not much stayed the same after that. When I look back, I can now see that even before 1994 I was moving towards becoming a producer, I just hadn’t found the right word for it yet. I was based in Manchester, part of a diverse artistic community which truly believed our city was the centre of the universe. We thought we could do just about anything there, and Manchester became the location of my first attempts at producing, my initial collaborations and influences, and some glorious mistakes. It was here, in those early days, that I first began to question how I worked with artists. Between 1992 and 1995, I managed two independent companies, Doo Cot and Third Estate. We were prolific and hungry, touring extensively and working hard. I learned how to be tenacious, diplomatic and scary. I learned about funding, touring, managing events and developing audiences as well as the fundamentals of arts administration: how much to squeeze into the back of a van, the difference between a fresnel and a parcan, how to wind up cable, and what venues and hotels to avoid. My time with these artists was invaluable. Together, we made some mad, amazing and awful projects. But then I began to get itchy feet. I was already questioning my critical position in relation to the work. Short of churning out a good turn of phrase in funding applications or post-show discussions, I had little opportunity to contribute in a creative way. I had a talent for bringing in the money and the gigs, but this didn’t feel enough. I wanted to take similar leaps of faith as the artists made. I have never wanted to actually be an artist, but neither did I wish to function solely as the facilitator of others. Even then, I had ideas and ambitions of my own. Things were changing in Manchester, and as the city regenerated, I set up a new producing company, hAb, alongside a colleague, Tamsin Drury, with whom I shared similar aspirations. We wanted to make ambitious interdisciplinary projects, to help artists shape a work from early beginnings to full realisation. We built arguments for funding, found unusual sites, and fought for permissions. We brought artists together who had never worked with each other. We took over city squares, shopping centres, buses and warehouses. From burning small wooden houses on building sites, to octophonic sound installations in car parks, I gradually moved from being on the edge of the creative heart of a project, to nearer the very centre, where I found I was far happier to be. Here I could begin to test and mould an idea so it could remain reckless but fully realisable. We were good at standing up and arguing hard, and in a few years we achieved a bewildering amount
of projects, introducing significant promoters and funding to the work. And then suddenly it just felt like time to move on. I’ve always had some kind of trust in the magic of that. In 1996, I was offered a brief but intense opportunity as Senior Producer at Tramway in Glasgow – a steep, critical learning curve which widened forever my ideas of what performance could be. It was the first time I had worked with such an exhilarating international venue, with its multiple and diverse industrial spaces and a programme and audience to match. I worked alongside a truly inspirational programmer, Steve Slater, and was able to develop my own programme for the first time. I developed sensitivity to an audience, and the multiple ways to persuade them to come back again and again. I saw large-scale works that enabled intimacy, installations that used the most cutting-edge of technologies and a participatory work in a full-sized dodgem arcade recreated each night in the theatre. At this time, I had my first job title as Producer, but I wasn’t truly functioning in this capacity. I was still watching and learning. Tramway changed everything, giving me a new drive to work with artists, a zeal to programme for audiences, and a scale of ambition I had never imagined was possible before. In 1997, I was appointed as the Live Art and Dance Programmer at Arnolfini in Bristol. From my early career I have been able to spot untapped potential, and I knew this was a location where I could make things happen that weren’t happening elsewhere in the UK. Unusually for a gallery, Arnolfini’s commitment to performance had been established in its founding artistic ethos, but the live programme remained a marginal area of activity, and lacked the importance I felt it should hold. From early on, my job was more than just programming. I fought for visibility and development, moving the programme away from bought-in shows, towards commissioning, producing and touring new work. The spaces and cubby holes of Arnolfini are inspiring enough, yet almost inevitably by 1999 my instincts to move on kicked in again. This time however I decided to take a different tack. Even then I could see that extraordinary things can happen from within the walls of institutions, so actually the most radical move I could make was to stay put and hang on in. I felt if I could find a way to agitate from the edges whilste remaining firmly on the inside, this would be how I could bring the highest level of resources, experience and critical discourse to the artists with whom I worked. At the same time, it was clear that the work needed to be tried and tested beyond its home location, and the simplest way to do this was to get out on the road whilste bringing that wider audience to us. I initiated Breathing Space in 2000, a commissioning and touring project, putting artists together with producers in unusual combination with an ethos of experimentation at its heart. We have now made and presented over 20 works in the UK and Australia, in conventional arts spaces, disused cinemas, a lecture theatre, a caravan, a dockside, a derelict swimming pool and endless city streets. This wanderlust feels imperative for both artists and producers – to place work in 15/16
Clockwise from top left: noble and silver This Show Isn’t Possible Without You; Alex Bradley and Charles Poulet Whiteplane_2; Municipal Construction and hAb Still Running; Third Estate Panopticon
front of audiences with whom you have no previous history, to re-encounter the work through the eyes of others, to constantly test and reshape the work as it evolves anew. Again, I guess this is the outsider in me, driving a desire to get away from the security of the institution, whilste perversely, as an insider, I want to bring all that we have learned back home. The producing methodology I have evolved through Breathing Space and the projects that have followed is a long and delicate process, taking place over numerous conversations and small forays. I have always liked ideas at the early stages, at that point of uncertainty, when the balance between what is possible and what is not is constantly being redrawn. 32000 Points of Light and Whiteplane_2 are works that have emerged from this indefinable alchemy, where I invited artists to undertake small, informal improvisations and some kind of chemistry took hold. As producer, it is my job to recognise this moment, to spot the possibilities, to listen to the dreaming, to replay the thinking, until the work takes shape and becomes real. I am then there to bring that work to an audience and a sector who will test it before it moves on. Both 32000 Points of Light and Whiteplane_2 took over two years to reach fruition. At their start we could not have imagined we would be working with motion simulators and ambisonics. Nor could we have foreseen the different lives of the projects presented in major art spaces in the UK, warehouses in Japan or churches in Mexico City. And lastly comes the most significant project of all. In 2001 I initiated Inbetween Time. Originally intended as a small, one-off event, Inbetween Time has in fact developed to become a major UK festival where we are able to bring together the incongruities and anomalies that make up the body of international, experimental performance work. It has increased Arnolfini’s funding base, collaborations and international profile, and has pervaded the imaginations of all those who connect with it. When are we next going to fill a space with pepper, pig’s blood, and petals? Inbetween Time has entered Bristol mythology, it seems, and the solid and certain walls of Arnolfini have shifted
on their foundations once again. All these projects, even the early ones, have pushed and pulled me towards my growing realisation as a producer. They each started as a small idea that shone with potential at an early stage, and they have forever changed my approach. I was able to work in my capacity as a producer to get them started and develop them on their path. They would not have evolved as they did without me, and neither they nor my career would be as they are without the institutional back-up from Arnolfini. They would be festering in the backs of our minds somewhere still, potentially never to happen at all. Arnolfini is a remarkable and unusual institution. It has at turns both supported me, and torn its institutional hair out at my unusual producer-like goings-on, yet there is no doubt that our relationship has been mutually beneficial. Over what is now nearly ten years, I have been remoulding and rewriting, scratching and digging the performance programme into the very fabric of the building, and through the work we do both inside and outside, Arnolfini is now felt to be one of the most important performance contexts in the UK. So, what’s going to happen next? After ten years as an outsider working both within an institution and beyond its boundaries, where does this leave me? I feel at a crossroads, on the brink of something, and I am not sure what shape it will take. The questions and challenges for my future are numerous, but the strategies stay the same. I wish to deepen my approach as a producer, to create a structure that will allow more time to create specialist and extraordinary projects. Perhaps I am a late developer, but in my view it really does take that long to mature as a producer. Whatever happens next, I will continue to intervene with institutions who invite me, and to be there with the artists at the beginning. Because I believe with all my heart that the right idea can reach fruition, no matter how impossible it may seem, and I know that with the right artists, audience and conditions, I can help make extraordinary things happen that would not be possible without me. <
Andrew Eaton works with filmmaker Michael Winterbottom as producer and collaborator. Together they formed Revolution Films in 1994, and have created a prolific, highly distinctive, and eclectic body of work that has won many awards in this country and abroad. The films range through genres: from the futuristic Code 46 to 24 Hour Party People, a biopic of Manchester’s Tony Wilson; from the Western The Claim, which draws on Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, to the docu-drama In This World, following two young Afghans trafficked to London; from A Cock and Bull Story, a reworking of the eighteenth-century novel Tristram Shandy, to Road to Guantánamo, which traces the stories of the Tipton Three. Frequently working with small crews, digital cameras, or on location in unprotected filming environments, the films are bracing, provocative and idiosyncratic in approach. The collaboration between Michael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton is a partnership rare in film, likened recently by The Independent to that of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It lies at the heart of what they have achieved creatively. ››
From left: Code 46; A Cock and Bull Story; Michael Winterbottom; In This World; 24 Hour Party People
Edited from an interview with Kate Tyndall
K: When you were young, did you know that film was the thing you most wanted to do?
A: I enjoyed film the most, but it was so distant. I grew up in Derry, my family had no connections with any artistic endeavour at all. At school I had acted, but there was no digital equipment then, no-one thought of doing anything with film. I just knew I wanted to be in the creative world. I went into the arts because it seemed easier to grasp. So after university, where I studied law, I got a summer job at the Edinburgh Festival. John Drummond, director of the Festival, had a great passion for Diaghilev, who had made his company the defining creative force in the world at the time. At a lecture he gave on Diaghilev, I saw how exciting the producer’s role could be. And I watched John himself as a producer too. It was an eye-opener: I thought, could I pursue that? My first proper job was in press and publicity at Riverside Studios under David Gothard. It was an extraordinary time and we worked with extraordinary artists: Tarkovsky, Samuel Beckett, Michael Clark, Bruce McLean, Dario Fo, and others. David’s view was that the artist is always right, that we should always defer to the creative spirit. It was infuriating and inspiring at the same time. He insisted that we’re here to serve these artists, who are brilliant, and if we don’t the show won’t be any good, and we won’t survive. As part of this, the culture was to check the box office sales for the previous night’s performance every morning. K: Did you make the move to become a researcher at the BBC because it would take you closer to a producer’s role?
A: No, it was more that it was a step towards film, which as I got older I knew ultimately I found the most exciting and inspiring of the arts. I worked in the BBC Television Music and Arts Department for what ended up being nine years, learning all the time, how to sell ideas, get my foot in the door, building up my resilience, and in the end producing and directing my own documentaries. K: How did you and Michael Winterbottom come together?
A: I had a desire to collaborate with someone who was my contemporary, who had similar tastes, whose work I felt was really important. I was producing Family by Roddy Doyle, my first project of this kind, and I asked Michael to direct it. The collaboration was a success, and Michael – who’s very entrepreneurial in his approach – had the idea that we set up a company together to develop material. We were both ready, we’re not institutional people, and there was an attraction in jumping off to be more in control of one’s own destiny. If I’d realised how unsettling this could be, I might have worried more, but I don’t regret it at all. From the start, it’s been 50/50, we own the company evenly between us, and everything is on that basis: there’s no separation in how we approach what we do. It works between us because we’re quite different as people, as personalities. Michael is English, emotionally contained, very restrained as a basic modus operandi. He doesn’t like to talk about his work much, he wants to keep it as direct and simple as possible, he’s the most unpretentious genius I know. I’m an over-emotional Celt who comes from a very talkative culture, who tends to do the cajoling, the persuading, the bullshit to get our projects up and running, though I love the focus, the practical, detailed life of when we’re on set too. We share a real work ethic, and a desire for this to be fun. 19/20
K: You’ve managed to produce work of real quality at an extraordinary rate since 1994. What is it between you that has made this possible?
A: We feel that this is our job; it’s what we do for a living. Michael never says after a project, I’m creatively spent, I need to re-group, to take a break. I feed off that. I find it inspiring to work with someone who just wants to get on with it. The way we work together allows us to be clever on our feet. We’re nowhere near running out of ideas, and we constantly make judgements about what’s possible at any moment, in continual dialogue about how to raise the funds, and what to do if we don’t. There’s no separation between the creativity and the money. As producer, I lead on raising the finance, but we couldn’t do this unless we were a team. We vent our frustrations in private, and then think what else we can do to make them listen. It’s only making films, but there are moments when you are in utter despair; so you take a deep breath, you regroup, and you figure it out. We re-energise each other. One of you reaches the limit, and the other steps up and carries on. We support each other all the time, as much when we’re working to make a project possible as when we’re actually filming. We help each other to do our jobs to the best of our ability. Inevitably, because I’m the producer, that’s more about me protecting his space, but there is a great two-way traffic between us. The films wouldn’t be as good if there wasn’t. One of the main reasons to create the company has been to get as much protection as possible, to square up to the outside world and achieve a creative space where we can follow and protect an idea. The film world is so economically driven, you have to be clever to protect your ideas. The way we work together, it’s hard to break that down from the outside. We made a conscious decision to do things we really believe in. I’m proud that we’ve stuck to our guns and done what we wanted to do in an industry that’s constantly pushing you to do the opposite. We’re making a film at the moment with Brad Pitt’s company Plan B, starring Angelina Jolie, funded by Paramount, about the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in Afghanistan, and we haven’t for one minute drifted from what we would have done if we’d been making it on our own. Brad Pitt saw Road to Guantánamo, and asked us to make the film. The invitation was always based on us making it our way, the way we always work. K: How do you deal with risk in your work?
A: Michael and I own the company, and together we carry the risk of what we do. It’s constantly on our radar, and we’re adjusting to the changing picture all the time, but we’re light on our feet in dealing with it. We want our films to be fun, edgy and different in their perspectives, but we have to be mature in the risks we take. We go to dangerous places to make our films, but we never put those we work with in danger. Politically, we have to hold the courage of our convictions. Commercially, I have to be able to make the big calls when I need to, take the risks I think right to take. I have to act as a responsible business person, and hold a reputation as one. ››
K: So how do you approach the business aspects of what you do?
A: Michael and I are instinctively resistant to being businessmen, but we have built things up, learning how to run a company, and invested in our team so that we can make the films we want to make. At times we’ve had to sail very close to the wind to keep projects on track. We’ve never had a master plan. We make it up as we go along, carried forward by our ideas. The team here is fantastic. We’ve found and brought on some exceptional young talent – so exceptional that others then want to work with them - and I remember the atmosphere of Riverside Studios when I was there, and try to make this a place for interesting creative talent in town to drop in and visit. K: What part does the audience play in your work, the connecting of your films with their audience?
A: We are asked to justify our ideas in terms of the audience they will appeal to, but we resist that: it’s not part of our drive. We make the films we’re inspired to do, and hope other people will like them. The films we’ve done that were audience-tested have been less successful, more often than not, than those that weren’t. It’s very hard to tell what will make a film successful with an audience. The way the film industry is structured, we are rarely part of our films’ distribution, either theatrically or on DVD. This is where the real money is made, and the creators of the work do not have a chance to participate in it. An exception for us was Road to Guantánamo, where it received TV finance, we only gave Channel 4 broadcast rights, and we took it on our own initiative – and risk – to distribute it theatrically and to sell it round the world. We had a political desire for people to see it, and released it on Tiscali. We were happy for it to be seen in this way. There’s much talk of the upside of the digital revolution and how it can change everything. It would be great if it had the same effect as on the music industry, even if very briefly, though the studios are trying to find ways to control it. We shoot our lower budget films digitally now. We’ve broken as many rules as we can with this format, because people at present remain fantastically cautious, and there is very little exploration in this country about what you can do with a camera and very little money. I don’t understand this. K: What do you feel is at the heart of the producer’s role?
A: When I think back to Diaghilev and my earliest interest in producing, you’d think people would take it very seriously as a profession. Yet – as my wife constantly tells me – I don’t have a profession, and my family remain bemused by what I do. It’s an amalgamation of lots and lots of different skills in different areas - people skills, financial skills, business skills, creative skills, fantastic powers of persuasion, and a very good instinct for finding your way through a set of problems to get from here to there. The producer is there to facilitate the space for the creative team, and you have to be an enabler, have all the attributes that allow you to understand how to do it. You need to see through what doesn’t matter in order to spot what’s really important. I can see people who are really good at this right from the start. As they mature, they’re just honing it. Most people who are really good at it are not compromised by thinking they want to do something else more directly involved with the creative process. They have a sense of what they are doing as distinct and an adjunct and support to that, something that they in themselves excel at. K: Do you think it involves some kind of maturity of self, not just a set of skills?
A: It certainly feels like that with the producers I have a lot of time for. But you should be able to break the skills down and coach people, help them build up what it is they will need. The stubbornness and incredible resilience, however, we can’t help them with. In the US, there are contractual terms that are only available for ‘the talent’, not for producers – a distinction that I heard made explicitly the other day. I’d like to break that distinction down. Michael and I try to do that. I deliberately got involved with the Film Council, where I’m Deputy Chair, to help change how things are done. I’m trying to get them to support producers more, so that we can build a stronger film industry. The terms of trade for producers in film are so different to those in television, where production companies can draw real revenues from what they do. And I feel in the worlds of culture and sport, we’re lagging behind in bringing on the new talent. In film, there is an extraordinarily difficult process towards getting commissioned, and there’s no proper career path. I feel it would be simple to spot the shortlist of real talent, give them what they need to get themselves up and running, and then bring the next bunch through. It doesn’t seem complex. I wonder if it’s the same in the arts. <
Opposite: In This World
Left and top right: young people working with Grupo Cultural AfroReggae in London 2006. Bottom right: AfroReggae performing in Rio de Janeiro
Paul Heritage is a man of many modes. Academic, social and cultural activist, director, writer, teacher, trainer, thinker and policy advisor, lover of both Live Art and Shakespeare, Paul has also for the past 15 years been producer of his own visionary and defining projects, interwoven with his concerns as an academic of applied performance, and that explore how to make change through art as a social practice. Many of the projects he has produced have taken place in Brazil, a country that he embraced on his first visit in 1991, and which has honoured him for his work there. Knighted in 2004 by President Lula’s social democratic government, he was also awarded the Orilaxé Prize for Human Rights in 2006, bestowed by Rio de Janeiro’s Grupo Cultural AfroReggae. Now based in the UK again as both Professor of Drama and Performance at Queen Mary’s, University of London and as Director of People’s Palace Projects, Paul is producing projects that bring his Brazilian experiences back here, to see what these perspectives might offer. Paul’s work over the years has drawn deeply on his personal engagement with the world around him, his sense of what needs to be done and his own place in bringing about change. His actions and interventions as a producer are interwoven with a process of profound reflection on their meaning and impact, explored more fully through his academic existence and voice within policy-making and the shaping of practice. ››
producer creates “ Aangreat environment where extraordinary things seem possible – necessary even. That’s what Paul does: he opens a space where people who didn’t know each other realise that they need to work together; where folk who had never guessed what theatre could do become its greatest advocates; where emotions and encounters that the world doesn’t want to deal with become the urgent messages between us all.
Ambition is important to Paul, as it is to all good producers. Because through creative ambition we prove what is possible in the world if we just put our minds to it. And by focussing on international creative ambition in the kind of settings that are least likely to attract the sponsors and audiences that flock to fashionable festivals, Paul starts to transform artistic hierarchies. He alters our understanding of who can and should create what with whom. Ultimately he helps to redefine the values with which we can explore and change our world.
John McGrath Artistic Director, Contact
‘Why Brazil? This photo shows two prisoners, a guard and a university student from the Brasilia theatre project in 1992. Moisés– holding the camera – wrote the poem on which we based our first play: Why, Brazil? It asked how Brazil could be so rich and yet so poor. Moisés was due to be released but died from meningitis a month later because no hospital would take him. This photo sits on my desk. Their smiles are a reminder of the hope, love and laughter of this work. Moisés’ death is a reminder of the limitation of all that we can do.’ Paul Heritage
Edited from conversations with Kate Tyndall
And boy does he do it on a big scale! In 2004 he told me he wanted to bring around 20 Brazilians to Contact in 2006. It seemed like a lot of Brazilians and an awful long time to wait. But Paul was convinced that this encounter needed to happen: this meeting between Contact, a venue nurturing young people from many backgrounds, and AfroReggae, an extraordinary company of musicians, activists and young artists who were transforming their own embattled communities. So of course it happened, and we were transformed too!
When I graduated from Manchester with my degree in English and Drama, my ﬁrst job was at Covent Garden as an Assistant to an Assistant Staff Producer. Although I was appointed a lecturer in Drama at the University of Wales in Swansea, my heart was set on opera. I went to Australia in 1983, and heard talk about a strange virus that was attacking gay men. And they were dying. I returned to my lecturing in Swansea, and for the next four years that virus and Clause 28 dominated my life. By the time of the Government’s ﬁrst AIDS awareness campaign in 1986, I had been arrested ﬁve times, become the devil incarnate for the local Welsh press, spent a year performing a play that was banned in Swansea, and performed at the second Terence Higgins Conference in London. It was AIDS/HIV that ﬁrst got me into prisons. Like so many others, I was running Safer Sex workshops using drama. When I returned to Manchester as a lecturer in 1988, I knew I wanted to carry on the prison work. I set up the Theatre in Prisons and Probation Centre in the early 1990s with James Thompson. It still exists today. In 1991 I visited Brazil for the ﬁrst time, lecturing on Shakespearian comedy, accompanying Cheek by Jowl’s production of As You Like It. I asked if I could visit prisons, and in Brasilia the colonel in charge challenged me to do what I did in Britain in his gaol. I accepted. I returned to the UK, sold my house, gave up my salaried post at the University, and in 1993 began my ﬁrst project in a prison in Brazil. As a gay man going into prisons, I have always been an outsider. That sense of difference is what I had always worked from. And now in Brazil as an Englishman, my strangeness allowed me to attempt things, create encounters that others maybe could not. I learnt quickly that everything I had been doing in Britain made no sense there. Offence-focused programmes trying to achieve individual change in one person were irrelevant. So I shifted to looking for the ways in which arts projects can bring about institutional change. A three-year programme focusing on AIDS in the São Paulo prison system followed, and I found a model to reach the high numbers which might indicate a different level of impact – 43 prisons and over 6,000 prisoners. When we began Staging Human Rights in 2000, it built on this approach, lasting over ﬁve years, and reaching 20,000 prisoners and guards in ten different states. To work at this scale, I needed a structure. When I became a lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London, I set up People’s Palace Projects (PPP) London, and PPP Brazil, taking the name from a building at the heart of the university with a mission statement that Queen Victoria 25/26
Staging Human Rights
gave it in 1893 and that still resonated for us. PPP has allowed me to raise funds in the UK, internationally and in Brazil, and has given me a framework for delivering the projects. Staging Human Rights started off in the state of São Paulo. With UK research money and Lottery funds, we worked in 37 prisons, working with Augusto Boal’s Centre for the Theatre of the Oppressed to train prison educators to implement their own mini-projects, which we guided and supported. Interactive forums looking at human rights within the prisons led over time to a declaration of human rights, devised by the participants at a ﬁnal event at the Parliament of Latin America in São Paulo. And then the Brazilian Ministry of Justice asked us to extend the project across other states. In 2003, I started Changing the Scene, again with a combination of UK Lottery and research funding for a three-year programme. The focus was on young people in conﬂict with the law in Rio de Janeiro. For the ﬁrst time, this took me into conﬂict with civic authorities, at a time of electoral change in the city. The young people are held in what are known as secure schools, not prisons, with even less civic oversight and protection for their rights than the adult prisonrs. There is extreme abuse. One Friday afternoon early in the project, when I was negotiating at a particular institution ready for the workshops we were planning, I asked to see where they kept the vulnerable prisoners. After some pressure, they took me to a place that was literally a dungeon: a hell. For the ﬁrst time, I crossed a line and said I would not leave until the boys were taken out of that cell. They refused, but I had a mobile phone and called people I knew. Eventually they were moved. At that moment, the personal reason why I do the work was at stake, and I had to act. Yet it was everything I don’t believe in – trying to solve the instant of the moment. The abuse undeniably continues, whatever was achieved on that one afternoon. With the change in state government, the project became extremely unwelcome with the Rio authorities. Skills I’d honed over ten years were no longer working, and I saw that now was a time of conﬂict. We faced new rules. At times we achieved big changes in particular juvenile prisons, but if you win these small battles too often, someone is going to plot your downfall. We were caught out-of-depth by political waves. It was becoming very confrontational, with artists being strip-searched by police. This was not what I wanted, so with much reluctance after a year or so I moved the project from the juvenile institutions into the communities – favelas – where young people are most at risk of being caught up in the criminal justice system. We learnt from Grupo Cultural Afroreggae – based in the favela of Vigário Geral - how to develop arts projects that could address young people as they left the juvenile justice system and returned to their communities. In summer 2003, my partner and work colleague Carlos Calchi was murdered; he was shot while leaving a juvenile prison where he had been running workshops as part of Changing the Scene. Like 96% of murders in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Carlos’ was never solved. While I made sure the programmes continued, I stepped back from a personal contact with the prisons. I sought to ﬁnd a way of making theatre with friends who had been part of my life with Carlos. At the invitation of Maria Padilha, one of Brazil’s most innovative artists, I conceived the project Love in Time of War with Grupo Cultural Afroreggae. Without intending to, I was taking myself even closer to the guns. With a cast made up of some of Brazil’s most famous television and cinema stars, we performed Anthony and Cleopatra and Measure for Measure in public spaces across three favelas, and in one of the shopping mall theatres in an upper-middle-class ››
Love in Time of War – a performance of Antônio e Cleópatra between the favelas of Vigário Geral and Parada de Lucas in Rio de Janeiro
neighbourhood in Rio, transporting audiences across from one context to another. AfroReggae not only provided live on-stage percussion for each of the performances, they also negotiated our access. We searched for locations in communities with a lack of public amenities of any kind. We decided to launch the project on one of Rio’s most violent frontiers, a no-man’s land known as ‘the Gaza strip’, located between two favelas controlled by rival drug gangs, where gun murders are committed daily by the young men from the drug factions. A ceaseﬁre was negotiated to allow the opening performance to take place on the shooting gallery that was the border between two communities, the ﬁrst ceaseﬁre in the 20 year-long war that has raged between these gangs. We rehearsed in the evenings, and during the night I negotiated with the trafﬁckers. All of us involved agreed that if ten people came to claim this frontier as a place from which to watch Shakespeare, this would be success. We put out two hundred chairs. Two thousand people turned up. The site, the audience and the actors were overwhelmed. No-one can say what were the impressions and the impact which will survive, but the ceaseﬁre itself lasted 18 days. Although I had worked for many years with men of violence in prison, I had never been with them in their own communities, on their own terms and amongst the guns in this way. Shakespeare took me to the borders where I tested the strength of theatre – what can and also what cannot be done. When the violence resumed after an 18-day ceaseﬁre, it was with increased intensity. During 2004, I realised that I wanted to be back in Britain, to bring the things that I had been doing in Brazil here and move them forward, ﬁnd links to organisations that are doing similar work, and learn from and share some of the incredible strategies that Brazilian artists and organisations have developed. I took Louise Jeffrey from the Barbican to Brazil. When she saw an AfroReggae performance in a favela, she invited them to London, and asked me to create a performance that would communicate their Brazilian context. In turn, I wanted to connect their work to what is happening in the UK. In addition to the performances, in London, Manchester and Oxford in 2006, Afroreggae ran workshops with young people and led seminars for UK based artists and policy makers. The response to the visit was very strong, and has led, again at the Barbican’s instigation, to a six-year plan for From the Favela to the World, which brings together a wide network of partners. Together we aim to explore how the arts can enable young people to participate in debates about public security. It will take place in Manchester and London, and draw on many of the Brazilian methods and approaches that I have learnt from over the years. I hope we can bring some of the spirit of Love in Time of War to From the Favela to the World, though it won’t be me personally doing it in the same way. I’m hoping to set up a different kind of structure where partners can work more independently within the overall structure, identity and methods of the project. This is a different sort of challenge for me. My work is about art as a social practice, art as an agency in a matrix of agencies that create change. Perhaps art is not so very different: it needs to be understood within a set of social practices from which it has too often become disconnected. Sometimes we mystify art so much, we no longer understand it in this way. Our work can be metaphysical, humanist, metaphorical – but it is also necessary, because it can help and be part of other socio-political and economic changes. Art is a means of achieving knowledge we don’t already have, of ourselves, of each other, how we interact, how separate worlds come together. Through the productive moment together, we know more about the states of our lives and the world. I do it for those moments. Funders and evaluators will ask what happened down the line, but that’s harder. Of course I’m trying to change the structures too, but what I’m doing is based in the powerful, intense productive moment. People take great risks for me in this work. The prison director who dares to risk the changes it will create in their prison, the guard who shows his emotions in a workshop amongst colleagues, a prisoner who says things that make him vulnerable, who, when asked if he will in future practice safe sex because of a drama programme, exclaims that in embracing his cell mates, crying and laughing, he has already made the biggest changes in his life. < 27/28
Top and middle: Grupo Cultural AfroReggae performing in London at the Barbican. Bottom: audiencethe at an AfroReggae concert in Rio de Janeiro
“ Over the years I have worked with Paul Heritage on several Brazilian projects at the Barbican. The most ambitious of these has been From the Favela to the World, originally presented in 2006, and now, as one of a consortium of partners that Paul has brought together, further commissions planned through to 2012.
From the Favela to the World opened a new world to us. Paul’s passionate advocacy for the idea of the project helped encourage me to confirm the original invitation to AfroReggae. As we stood in a half-empty field in Rio de Janeiro, the audience kept away by a police riot squad, I had wondered if they really could produce a show that could work here in London. Paul’s impassioned belief in what we could achieve led us on. He helped AfroReggae create the show for London, and lived and breathed the educational and social potential of their visit to the UK. He offered us all an inspirational belief in the ability of their work to promote positive change, not just in Rio but here in London too. He was right. Their impact has been deep, and the legacy strong. Paul is a highly unusual producer, who gives those he works with belief, inspiration, and, I would say, love – for the work he is championing and for all those with whom it connects. Together with our many partners in the network he has created for From the Favela to the World, he is open to and offers new ideas, collaborations and possibilities that we all believe have the power to change lives and propose models for cultural action here in the UK.
Louise Jeffrey Head of Theatre, Barbican (bite)
Rapunzel a BAC & Kneehigh Theatre production
David Jubb is Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in London, where he collaborates with many of the younger artists who are generating so much of the energy in British theatre today. Having worked previously as BAC’s first Development Producer, and then pursued life as an independent before taking on the directorship of BAC in 2004, David belongs to a generation which instinctively finds the producer’s role a relevant and important means through which to express their vision of theatre and to contribute to its future. David has a playful and idiosyncratic approach to the possibilities of theatre, led by his personal taste and a natural and quirky reading of theatre’s ability to engage audiences. His fundamental desire is to create experiences that bring people together. Theatre is his way. As Development Producer at BAC his role was to support the creative development of work by particular artists. Seeking greater authorship, he became an independent producer, taking on the full range of responsibilities to the artists with whom he worked. It proved really difficult, however, to make this financially viable, and when Tom Morris left to join the National Theatre, the vacant directorship of BAC offered a new and irresistible canvas on which to work. In holding this kind of organisational responsibility as a producer for the first time, David has drawn on the skills and instincts that have carried him forward throughout his career to date – and nowhere is this more clear than in the way he has responded to Wandsworth Borough Council’s decision in January 2007 to withdraw funds and impose charges on BAC, a scenario which would force its immediate closure. Working with the Board, staff and BAC’s wider constituencies of support, David and BAC Chair Nick Starr have turned this situation around. By brilliantly ‘aligning desires’, as David describes it, they have managed to circumvent this funding crisis to create a very different set of opportunities for BAC’s future – pure producing alchemy in action. ››
Text by David Jubb
From left to right: Ridiculusmus Ideas Men; Kazuko Hohki Evidence for the Existence of Borrowers; Economical Truth Gasp!; Blind Summit Low Life; Rapunzel a BAC & Kneehigh Theatre production
My confession - December
I have a special talent - early February
When asked to make a contribution to this book I thought it best to share some kind of skill or wisdom or even alchemy... something that says I’m a good producer because I can do X. My mum is a good teacher because she has knowledge that she applies through the visible magic of capturing children’s imagination. My dad is a good engineer because he has knowledge of the optimum conditions for welding and an expert understanding of stress fractures in giant structures. What makes me a good producer? Yikes.
I’ve found it. It’s talent. And it’s mine. It’s the thing that makes me a good producer and it was just sitting there all along. Looking at me. I found it by imagining somebody else doing all the things I do. Try it yourself. Don’t think about the things that you can imagine other people doing better than you, this quickly gets depressing. Find the things that you imagine yourself doing best, and a pattern begins to emerge. And soon, there it is, your very own talent. In the interests of dramatic suspense I have a brief story to tell you before revealing mine.
The following confession will probably mark the end of my producing career. It will either reveal a secret that is sacrosanct in producing circles and I (like Penn & Teller) will become reviled and outcast by other producers. Or, more likely, it will simply demonstrate that I have no discernible talent. My confession is that I have no discernible talent. I make it up as I go along. My work is made up of a series of hunches, a strong desire to get on with people and a willingness to combine hunch and desire to make theatre. I have an ok level of understanding of theatre-making processes from devising new work to production, from budgeting to contracts, from marketing to fundraising. But I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in any. The on-going mystery of my working life is why someone doesn’t tap me on the shoulder and ask me to sit down. ‘Excuse me mate, you’re just making it up as you go along aren’t you?’ ‘Er, yes, sorry.’ In search of my own talent - January
I’d imagined that compiling this piece was going to be fun. I was asked to write it in November. It’s now January. I’m going to overshoot the deadline and I’m still looking for something to write about. The fact that all this time I’ve been trying to think of good things to say about myself is a bit of a worry. I can’t just write about being talentless. Can I?
The road to producing – mid-February
My relationship with producing began with a school drama competition when I was seven. I remember the whole thing in detail. Bagging the best classroom to practice in…arguing about the best idea…casting the sketch…performing on a tricky raised stage… losing. Our piece was about a boy who got his head stuck in some railings. It was shunned by the judges. The audience thought it was hilarious. Twenty years later I directed a show called Gasp! set inside a twenty-six foot inﬂatable jelly. It was a one-hour party with ﬁve in the cast and thirty in the audience. The giant jelly was created by my partner at the time. It was a beautiful thing. The idea was timely. The PR was a triumph. The cast was brilliant. The production was a dog. That’s not quite true: for twenty of the sixty performances our audience was on a high and the show stuck two ﬁngers up to the rest of theatre. But otherwise it ﬂagged horribly. The truth was I lacked directing ﬂair. It was also true I was happy to invest most of my time in making the production happen. I should have worked with a director or collaborator. At the time that thought would have been unthinkable but for all my loathing of theatre the show was in desperate need of theatre craft. Hosting sixty parties did teach me a lot about audiences: the ones 31/32
that listened; the ones that danced; the ones that came back again; the ones that didn’t come; the ones that came but left early. It was a crash course in understanding the value of context. One of the memorable parts of the experience was that no one talked to me about the work, I mean really talked to me. For much of the time that was ﬁne. The show was personal and fragile and a bit weird and I’m sure I gave off ‘don’t talk to me about the show’ vibes. But it was also a frustrating and lonely experience. Why wouldn’t someone help me, tell me what they thought was interesting, what was ﬂawed, what needed developing? I wanted everyone to back off yet I needed someone to hold hands with. It’s this precise paradox that radiates from artists who develop work at BAC through our ‘Scratch’ programme. I have an almost irresistible desire to tell you that the experience of making Gasp! set me on a life-long mission to support artists and be a producer. But that would be a lie, even though it makes a marginally better story. The truth was I repeated the experience at least twice more and have the scars to show. As the process of making of theatre became more conscious, I started to recognise that the good or bad producing choices I made had just as much impact as my good or bad directing choices. Also, by producing my own work I learnt a lot about budgets. You feel budget decisions from both sides: the ﬁnancial side and the artistic side. You quickly understand these are two sides of the same coin. I’ve picked up other skills with various career trajectories: being a postman and a milkman (learning to get up early after staying up late); being a school teacher (learning to be organised and give every inch of your soul); being a lecturer (learning to analyse things, sound credible and bullshit). But the job that was most important in deﬁning my path to become a producer was running a small pub theatre. Two people at Central School (where I’d just done an MA) had enough faith in me in 1998 to give me a small
budget and a space. Bingo. I’d found something truly lush: creating a programme and helping people get their ideas up and running. I remember a night when Kazuko Hohki’s Frank Chickens were performing to one hundred people illegally rammed in to the tiny theatre. It was like throwing the best party. I spent a very happy year at The Lion. Then I got a job at BAC in a new role called Development Producer. And for a year and a half I learnt an enormous amount from Tom Morris. Then I set up a producing company called me&him with Tim Nunn, working with Ridiculusmus, Kazuko Hohki, Toby Jones, Cartoon de Salvo and others. This company later became Your Imagination. In 2004 I started work as Artistic Director of BAC, the ﬁrst properly paid job I’ve ever had in the arts, aged 34. I couldn’t have got there without the support of a dear friend. It’s sad because they’re no longer with us. I’d like to thank Unemployment Beneﬁt, the UK’s biggest ever arts funding system. In homage to my benefactor, I’d like to present my quick and dirty guide to producing. It includes my special talent. The 5 point guide to producing - late February
Making it up as you go along. If you set out with a ﬁxed path and ﬁxed destination you’ll probably get there efﬁciently. But you’re likely to think about and discover little else on the way. I reckon my most important quality as a producer is to create a ﬂexible space for play in which anything can happen and to keep that space open for long enough for something extraordinary to happen. That often means keeping the space open and keeping people’s conﬁdence in the space way beyond any rational position. It requires bags of chutzpah. Beware of rationalists. Including yourself. Logical sensible wellconsidered trains of thought are fantastically seductive, especially because they are often right: do the sensible thing; take the path to righteousness; you know it makes sense. ››
At key moments this is exactly the opposite of what you should do. 2.
Looking after everyone. Great producing is like throwing a blissful party. The most important bit is looking after people and being generous with your time. I’m at my best when I’m helping someone else work something out. I’m at my worst when I’m in danger of taking someone for granted. The worst thing about the 21st Century is that we’re all trying to do too much. You stop looking after people and things get stretched. Ideas, time, money, care. A visionary funding system would be one that encouraged artists to do less and do it better.
It’s all about artists. It just is. More than audiences, more than funders, producers, politicians, more than great sportsmen and women. Great artists put their mind, body, heart and soul on the line to discover new things. Great artists are like great scientists. Inventors of the human spirit. One of the most valuable things a producer can offer artists and their work is dramaturgical support. To be the special person that holds your hand while knowing just how much space you need. This is why people like Tom Morris and Kate McGrath are such great theatre producers.
Trusting your instincts. Always, always, always trust your instincts. When something doesn’t work out it’s often because I’ve done something or accepted a decision (often gone with a rational position!) that every bone in my body has said NOOOO to. Your bones are almost always right.
Find the story. At its best, producing is an artform that has the potential to connect unconnected narrative threads. You introduce a lot of people to each other: artists, audiences, politicians, funders. In order to ﬁnd opportunities to make work it’s necessary to align a lot of different human desires. Find the story because it is the most powerful way to get something done… because it’s the way that most of us interpret the world around us.
Guessed which one it is yet? A story about BAC - late March
It’s Tuesday night and Pay What You Can at BAC, always a great mix of people. It’s late. I’m on the train home. Have seen inspired show in the main house by a choreographer who’s come through BAC’s Freshly Scratched programme (for artists new to BAC). The show was savvy and funny, with bags of charm, and an occasional moment from nowhere that picked you up and punched you in the solar plexus, making no rational connection to anything that’d gone before, and you suddenly ﬁnd yourself sitting on an uncomfortable bench seat in a room that used to be a voting chamber in Battersea, next to someone you’ve never met, watching people you don’t know and crying your eyes out.
Part of the success of BAC over the last twenty-ﬁve years is the space it occupies, Battersea’s Old Town Hall: who it attracts; what it’s like to work in; what’s wrong with it; why it’s not a ‘theatre’. Artists, producers and audiences have moved in, alien invaders in this municipal environment in which decorum and ostentation once ruled. Many of today’s most interesting UK theatre, ﬁlm and TV artists have emerged through BAC. If, over the last twenty-ﬁve years, there’d been a perfectly equipped studio theatre next to a tube station in the centre of town, would it have supported the same generation of genre-mashing, label-dodging, mind-expanding artists that BAC has bred on its strange beeencrusted marble ﬂoors? In various spaces BAC has tried to make the Town Hall its home. But the more we change it into an arts centre the less interesting it becomes. We plaster over the magic of the space like advertising hoardings on street corners, in danger of making everywhere look the same. In striving, with good hearts, to make the space welcoming and comfortable we’re in danger of making it welcoming and dull. About eighteen months ago I had a hunch that we should offer the entire building to Punchdrunk, artists who peel back the rubbish to unlock the magic and mystery of architectural space. Fortunately, Felix Barrett, Punchdrunk’s Artistic Director, was as excited about the Town Hall as I was and ever since we’ve been planning to co-produce The Masque of the Red Death in Autumn 2007. It’s the ﬁrst of three Playground Projects at BAC that seek to unwrap the building for audiences, to trash the self-imposed divisions of space and recapture that feeling of being alien inside a world in which you don’t belong. Last year, BAC’s Chair Nick Starr introduced me to architect Steve Tompkins whose sublime ideas about what makes buildings an adventure, the Town Hall and about theatre will also feed these Playground Projects. Steve describes the likely process as ‘improvisatory architecture’. Sounds perfect to me. There are uncharted challenges ahead for BAC and for me. The Playground Projects are the largest in BAC’s history, making the annual budget of the organisation look like that of a producing theatre. Reconﬁguring a twenty-ﬁve year old organisational layout is a complicated business that messes with people’s territory and perception. And as you unwrap the building you understand what it means to be one hundred and fourteen years old, and in a postLottery world, this is a scary discovery. You try to hold the jewels of BAC in one hand while punching down walls with your other to take the organisation forwards not backwards. To add spice to the challenge, on 10th January 2007 BAC received a letter from Wandsworth Borough Council that explained that the Council was reducing BAC’s funding to zero and that rent
and charges would be brought, a total of £370,000, with three months’ notice. Curtains for BAC. I think I’ve been asked about ﬁve times a day since that date how I’m feeling. I hear myself saying ‘ok, yes, not bad, we’re making good progress’. The truth is, I’m fuelled up on adrenalin and probably heading for an early grave. Though if I said this I might sound a little mad. The letter from Wandsworth was unexpected and unwelcome. But unexpected and unwelcome things can be interesting. It’s like that bit in a show that creeps up on you and smacks you. It either throws you off balance, or it can be the very thing that propels the experience to a new dimension. So all this Wandsworth stuff becomes part of the story, the story of what you’re trying to achieve. And because you treat it like a chapter in a story rather than an act of war, you soon ﬁnd out that the desires of the people that are cutting your funding are actually not far from your own, and because you’re working with a fantastic group of people, notably your Chair, you soon ﬁnd yourself more closely aligned with Wandsworth than ever before, your funding comes back and there’s a plan for the building that ties completely with your artistic plans for the programme.
So hopefully this story successfully reveals my special talent, or my special lack of talent? The Playground Projects set out on a mission to invent the future of theatre but with few ideas of what that future might look like. So while I’ve been planning, enjoying planning and talking about planning to lots of other people, even occasionally stroking my chin while planning to persuade some people that I’m good at planning, I’ve actually got no idea where I’m going. I’m making this up as I go along. It feels dangerous to even admit it. It’s like standing in front of an orchestra whose players have all got different scores. If you reach to carefully line up all the different manuscripts in front of you, it’ll be too late, they’ll all kick off and it will be a cacophony. Your only chance is to get stuck in. <
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Judith Knight and Ritsaert ten Cate
Toynbee Studios Launch Event
Clockwise from top left: stamps from Judith Knight’s notebooks for the European tour of Mike Figgis’ Redheugh, one of Artsadmin’s earliest projects, which premiered at the Mickery in Amsterdam in 1980; Judith and Seonaid Stewart in Artsadmin’s first office 1980; Judith at the Artsadmin office in 1988 – taken by Ritsaert ten Cate; the ‘pass’ created by Mickery in the early 1980s asking UK theatres to allow Judith Knight to see performances on Ritsaert’s behalf
Judith Knight and Ritsaert ten Cate first met in 1980, when Artsadmin artists Mike Figgis and Hesitate & Demonstrate were invited to the Mickery Theatre in Amsterdam. Ritsaert ten Cate was the creator and director of the Mickery, an extraordinary centre of energy in international theatre, one of the most influential producers and presenters of contemporary theatre of its generation. Judith Knight was setting out, with her colleague Seonaid Stewart, to make a go of their idea, Artsadmin, to produce the work of artists they were passionate about. ››
Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey Dilston Grove
‘Looking back, it seems like another world,’ says Judith Knight. ‘LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) hadn’t yet started, there was nothing like BITE at the Barbican and apart from a few international companies coming to the ICA, the link between UK and international contemporary work, or between the ‘experimental’ and the ‘mainstream’, was almost non-existent. There were fantastic companies like Joint Stock at the Royal Court and Riverside, and at the Oval and the ICA there were companies like the People Show and Pip Simmons, but the two didn’t really mix. The more experimental work was not really taken seriously. Seonaid and I had been working at Oval House, and had come across many of these experimental companies. We loved what they were doing, and decided to work with them to produce their work and to try to increase their proﬁle in the UK.’ The Mickery had been in existence for some 15 years, moved from the farmhouse outside Amsterdam where Ritsaert ten Cate had originally established it, into the converted cinema in Amsterdam which remained its home until 1991, when the Mickery closed after an extraordinary 25 years that had changed the international theatrical landscape for ever. ‘I had heard of the Mickery when I was at the Oval House, Pip Simmons’ Theatre Group was already legendary, and I knew that much of its success
internationally was because the Mickery had programmed the company in its early days. Mickery was a sort of gateway into mainland Europe. Very few international programmers ever came to London to see work; London was just not on the international scene.’ The Mickery introduced Judith to ‘what was really going on in Europe’. She realised that ‘the work we were producing was “serious” and valued, and that Artsadmin as an organisation – pretty much ignored in the UK – could be an important resource. We saw for the ﬁrst time that what we were doing might be signiﬁcant.’ Forged around a shared interest in the artists that Artsadmin had chosen to work with, a close professional alliance and personal friendship developed between Judith and Ritsaert. Many of the UK artists that Ritsaert commissioned and coproduced were managed by Artsadmin, and an extraordinary string of collaborations through to 1991 resulted: among them, Mike Figgis’ Redheugh and Slow Fade, Pip Simmons’ The Ballista, Impact Theatre Cooperative’s Carrier Frequency, Station House Opera’s The Bastille Dances, Cuckoo, and Black Works, and Fairground 84, a collaboration between the Mickery, Chapter in Cardiff, the ICA in London and the Traverse in Edinburgh. 37/38
Impact Theatre Cooperative The Carrier Frequency
At one level, the relationship with Ritsaert proved a means of survival. ‘Artsadmin, and of course our artists, were on a knife-edge. The companies paid us tiny fees out of their tiny budgets, and when they earned marginally more abroad, so did we. The Mickery “gateway” led to performances around Europe, paying the artists more than they could ever earn in the UK. It helped us all cling on.’ But more importantly, the Ritsaert connection offered a commitment that the artists received nowhere else, and to Artsadmin a source of inspiration and afﬁrmation. Pip Simmons has said of Ritsaert: ‘Ritsaert made it possible for us to experiment. He was learning with us, and he didn’t hide it…I did my best work there in Holland, and Ritsaert stimulated it. His stimulation wasn’t just for one short period, though. He provided the best stimulation, because he stuck with you through failures as well as successes. He can’t be compared with anyone else in Europe.’1 Mike Figgis, in his introduction to Man Looking for Words, a collection of writings by Ritsaert published in 1996, describes the impact of Ritsaert’s support. The particular instance was Redheugh, ‘an ambitious piece of performance cinema’ which was Mike Figgis’ ﬁrst outing as a director and also his ﬁrst attempt at
ﬁlmmaking: ‘I raised a small writing grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain, and I turned to Ritsaert for the money to stage the piece. Included in this was £5,000 to make the ﬁlm. The money was forthcoming…a decision made in the light of other work I had done in the past, and in the belief that with some help I might become a more interesting artist…For myself and many others, a break like this is a life-changing moment. A moment that gives the courage to continue with a philosophy of life that is less intellectual, less protected, more vulnerable but also more potentially truthful.’2 It was avowedly a turning point in Figgis’ work as an artist. Ritsaert explains: ‘If you trust a group, if you hope that a lot will come out of it, then you have to support them, whichever way. We tried to bring groups together to work, or suggested they make productions that would develop their work in a direction I felt it would not otherwise take. I did what I felt was needed because I ﬁrmly believed it should happen, or because I needed to know what a project might look like. Sometimes the work was wonderful, other times it was terrible. But I would say to the group: I want the next production. That was our job as producers, and the best kind of conﬁdence you can give.’ For Judith and the emergent Artsadmin, ‘Ritsaert offered us an afﬁrmation of everything we were doing. ››
Pip Simmons An Die Musik
He produced and programmed work at Mickery not because it made a balanced programme or was fashionable, but because he loved it, it would challenge, it was risky, and he loved and respected the artists. In our own small way, we worked with the same ethos. He showed us that what we were trying to do was possible, not crazy.’ She knows she is not alone in this: ‘Many people have felt more able to follow their stories because of Ritsaert. What Ritsaert did – and who he is – has helped so many people over the years to see what they wanted to do and feel more able to do it. He gave artists status, strength and total support, and many other producers like ourselves inspiration. He had an effect not just in Holland but also internationally – and has made an enormous impact in this country.’ Many individuals active in the international contemporary theatre and performance scene of the 1970s and 1980s will conﬁrm this. In the UK, for example, Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal took real inspiration and conﬁdence from their relationship with Ritsaert as they set off on the path that established LIFT as a festival that would change the perspectives of British theatre for good: ‘Ritsaert showed us that experimentation has its own ancestry and traditions and that there is really nothing new under the sun. Working with him meant being open to the unexpected, curious, playful, never standing still, forging unlikely alliances and generously sharing ideas or realising the ideas of others. Ritsaert showed us how the ideas and realities that theatre
can express are of the most profound importance. Mischievous and patient by turns, the beams of the lighthouse he threw at us helped to illuminate the road we were on. “Ha!” he would say, “And why not?” It was incredibly comforting.’ In mainland Europe, Hugo de Greef, founder and director of Kaaitheater in Brussels through to 2001, and now Secretary General of the European Association of Festivals, speaks for others in the European producing community of the time: ‘I created Kaaitheater in Brussels in 1977, and was part of a community of international promoters and presenters active at the heart of the avant-garde of 1980s and 1990s. It was a key moment in cultural Europe. I would not have been as successful without Ritsaert ten Cate. His way of working, his attitude and his artist-driven actions inspired me from the beginning. And I know that this counts not only for me, but for my whole generation. I am really sure, and with a serene conviction: without Ritsaert’s work – and his stimulating personality – the contemporary performing arts scene in the Europe, in the world, would not be the same. And many essential artists would not have achieved the work they did.’ The impact of what Ritsaert has done has always been inseparable from the impact of the person he has been. He has an enigmatic, politically mature, playful and profoundly generous personality. Resolutely uncomfortable when he himself is the object of attention, he was the subject of Gary Schwarz’s essay Ritsaert ten Cate now written in 1996 on the occasion of the 39/40
Bobby Baker How to Live
award of the Stichting Sphinx Culture Prize to Ritsaert. Testimonies from artist collaborators, producing colleagues, staff, funders and family feed into a wonderful depiction of the man. (Ritsaert describes reading it like ‘being put through a grater’.) It is a rich and complex portrait, which is a sensitive and insightful read. As Mickery’s impact quickly established itself during 1970s, Ritsaert equally became a leading ﬁgure in the international producing community. The existence of Mickery was far from stable, however, and there were several times of crisis in the theatre’s funding and support. Ritsaert is reticent on these areas, believing them to be his responsibility as producer, a necessary back story to his passionate sense of the place of art in our lives. In 1996 Ritsaert spoke in the presence of the Queen at the 50th anniversary of the Federation of the Arts in Holland: ‘How other than with trepidation and humility, may I give testimony to the power of art in society? How else can I possibly do this if not with my heart, my soul, and the commitment of my very life? Don’t misunderstand me, it is not my life upon which this burden of proof shall fall. Rather it is a matter of the complex way in which art, unbidden and unexpected, emerges from the nooks and crannies of my life. My most basic problem is that I cannot even imagine the absence of art and, along with it, the power of art in present day and future society. Art is in our own interest: art is self-interest.
If we can only stumble into the realisation of its organic presence in our lives, our future will be assured.’2 In 1991 Ritsaert closed Mickery with TouchTime – a season of largely commissioned work presented around Amsterdam. ‘I had realised that, after more than 7,000 performances of over 700 productions, I had reached a point where enough was enough. I knew that I could no longer be the cork on which Mickery was ﬂoating. What had provided adventure and surprise had become institutionalised, and we were weighted down by our own history and old images with which we no longer wished to work. I felt the world still needed what we were doing at Mickery, but I could no longer be the one to do it.’ It took over three years to work through what this would mean. ‘I spoke to the Board, and we discussed at length what to do. We talked with three staff members to see if they wanted to kill me off, to take the Mickery and turn it into something new, but ﬁnally it did not work out like that. I decided to do TouchTime, to do what we did til our last breath, and to end Mickery with dignity and festivity. There was a mixed response to the end of Mickery. Some felt it was about time, others felt it was a great loss. For me it was wonderful to be free. It did not feel like a loss, but a chance to live the next thing. Jan Lauwers invited me to perform with Need Company. I said I am not a performer, but if you will take the risk, I will trust you.’ ››
Curious On The Scent
In 1993, Ritsaert accepted the invitation to conceive and direct an international postgraduate theatre school in Amsterdam, which he called Das Arts. ‘I decided this was something I hadn’t done. I thought it would be truly interesting to create a generation that, whatever they were to make, would know what they were doing and why they were doing it, come hell or thunder. The rest was bluff, because what did I know of education? This time, I told
everyone I would do this job for only seven years, and I devised Das Arts with a structure that would make it hard for it to become institutionalised.’ Ritsaert created a ﬂuid modular structure with an ever-changing ﬂow of students, mentors and tutors. True to his word, he left Das Arts in 2000. As Ritsaert prepared for Das Arts, he wrote: ‘My experience of Mickery, and my still hungry curiosity, make up
most of my knowledge of education. I have always wanted something I didn’t yet know, something I couldn’t be expected to know before I saw it. This curiosity has largely been expressed by an acute interest in the maker and the creator. Does active and passionate interest stimulate a student? I hope so: that’s what I have to offer them.’2 Now Ritsaert continues to write – as he has always done – and to make his own visual art work. He is based in his studio in Amsterdam where, as he puts it, ‘I laugh out loud, and am serious, about my own work and about the young artists who come to see me and are trying to determine what the hell it is they’re doing.’ He has always been, and remains, future-oriented. ‘The past has happened, it’s been done. It’s wonderful to have something to stand on, and know that you have done it, but let’s discuss what we are going to do, let’s discuss what’s happening now.’ As Gary Schwarz writes in the opening sentences of his essay on Ritsaert, ‘The biography of Ritsaert ten Cate clamours to be written in the present tense. Few people live as intensely as he.’ Since they ﬁrst encountered the Mickery in 1980, Judith Knight and Artsadmin have been on a very different journey. At ﬁrst surviving on a near subsistence budget for many years, Judith’s persistent, unyielding though understated advocacy for what she and her colleagues were doing, gradually built support and backing in the UK, and the Arts Council began to fund Artsadmin itself as well as project funding the artists with whom they worked. Things remained very difﬁcult, however. ‘The support for what Artsadmin was doing was there to some degree, but the stresses and strains were huge. It was the early 1990s, there was a recession on, and it was pretty tough. I could have been near to the decision that Ritsaert took. I was wondering: how long can I do this? The toll on me and others at Artsadmin – we were such a small organisation – was enormous. I was thinking to myself, actually that’s enough, we’ve done so many things, the artists have produced extraordinary work but it’s relentless, endless, always so hard. Is there a stopping place soon that I need to recognise?’ When Artsadmin found Toynbee Studios, however, Judith also personally found a new lease of life. ‘Toynbee Studios opened up so many new possibilities for what we could do. I felt re-energised. The challenges were excitingly new. I am really proud of the ﬁrst years through to 1994; we did amazing things on very little resources, so I wouldn’t have stopped with any sense of failure. But ﬁnding Toynbee Studios changed everything. The opportunities are so great: the issues we face now are how not to take on too much. And from the outside world’s perception it has made us a more important organisation. Bricks and mortar have made a huge difference to how Artsadmin and the signiﬁcance of what we can do are seen.’
The facilities that Artsadmin are creating at Toynbee Studios are transforming what it is possible to do. At the heart of everything remains the passion for the work and the artists. “We have quite simply chosen to work with artists whose work we love, and this has given us an artistic identity. What I feared might have been a bit idealistic in the early years has paid off in the longer term.’ This clear value system, clarity of artistic judgement, and steadfast commitment to the artist have in the end proved to be the secret to Artsadmin’s sustainability, provided the source of its international respect, and created the soul that will ensure Artsadmin’s healthy survival once Judith and her other lead collaborator, her co-director Gill Lloyd, have handed the whole story on to a younger generation. About Judith herself, Ritsaert says: ‘What you see is what you get is usually a pretty good deal. With Judith, you get a lot more. Very little you see. So much more you notice once she’s part of the deal. A quiet tenacity, great care for details, insight into the bigger picture, patience, a laid-back humour, an easygoing international network that turns out to be impressive. She’ll always be there longer than you sometimes think is humanly possible, taking a warm and intelligent interest in what you aim for – whether you are an artist or a presenter. In short: a dream of a creative producer, but beware when she gets tight-lipped!’ And of Artsadmin: ‘At the earliest point of our collaboration, I asked what else Artsadmin did, other than make the bill higher. As I said: earliest beginnings. But soon I saw that Artsadmin saved us all money and problems, and more importantly supported the artist in their lonely quest to get their thing rolling. This is what was really important, and cannot be stressed strongly enough. Artsadmin is the embodiment of what creative producing can be. Ask the artists they serve.’ Helen Marriage, whose ﬁrst proper job in 1984 was with Artsadmin to work on a project commissioned by Ritsaert, agrees. ‘Judith’s a mentor and an inspiration, always working on instinct and a deeply felt sense of principle. She works from an uncompromising inner truth, both serious and delighting in the witty and absurd. I’m sure the stable of artists that she’s striven for know that they owe her for her unswerving support over the years.’ Graeme Miller, who visited Mickery in 1985 as an Artsadmin artist and member of Impact Theatre Cooperative, and has remained with Artsadmin to make his own work, concurs. ‘There is a culture created by Judith and her colleagues at Artsadmin of being there, both in a wide sense and also in a real sense. To an artist, it’s a kind of investment that makes you want to turn in work that will pay that back – work that will make the ››
most of who you are, what you can do in your own village, in your own time. I’d say that Artsadmin has almost led with this tacit ideal of activism, born of the socially-engaged, aesthetically uncompromised work of the 1970s from which it sprang. If it could turn faxing, phoning, booking, ﬁnding the cash, into a form of engagement, then we as artists had better get engaged too.’ Artists Leslie Hill and Helen Paris of Curious originally received an Artsadmin bursary, and are now produced fully by Artsadmin, are clear what it is that makes the difference. The building offers ‘amazing facilities and ﬁrst-class support to artists for their ideas, processes and performances. But the support and commitment that Artsadmin gives to artists and arts practice exist with or without a great building. The place existed before the space. Its true foundations lie in the passion and energy of the people who have run it for over 25 years. Judith Knight and Gill Lloyd share an unswerving belief in the necessity of art.’ Bobby Baker values the ‘active symbiosis between artist and producer’ that she has with Artsadmin. ‘Jude and Artsadmin work with artists who chose not to ﬁt into traditional art forms, categories that we chose not to be part of for aesthetic or ethical reasons. That is the very point of our work, to be on the outside. Jude and her team have created a radically new way of working as producers, administrators, managers and collaborators to help us make this work. They offer us vision, intelligence, unconditional support, and an ethical, socially-minded approach. It’s about our long-term development, and the endless, relentless hard work. There is a shared sense of never giving up when it’s a good idea one of Jude’s strongest characteristics. And she has an unclouded and unsentimental view of artwork, an invigorating ability to speak her mind about what she sees. And she sees a lot. People like her have been battling for years to make others see what is possible, and without posturing and hype. Artsadmin have created something that is a sensational international success.
I understand her eruptions of frustration that this could have happened years ago if people had just listened. People should listen more.’ By drawing on the passion for the necessity of art that they share, and a sense of self that puts the need to take responsibility for this ﬁrst, Ritsaert and Judith have changed their landscapes permanently, through the work they have helped artists to create and through the physical or institutional structures they have created to do so. And they have pursued the need to take action through the real time sweep of their lives. For over 40 years, Ritsaert has been a transformative presence in the theatre world of Europe. Now nearly 30 years after Judith ﬁrst had the idea of Artsadmin, she and Artsadmin are emerging into a quiet, authoritative kind of leadership that she might have never before imagined. Ritsaert decided to dematerialise the structure that he created at Mickery, because it was the right thing to do, and in doing so did not detract from what he had achieved. With equal validity, Judith and her colleagues have created a new permanent infrastructure that will remain dynamic far beyond their own contributions. The structures have come, and some of them have gone, but it is the people that have created their purpose and meaning, given them a soul. At Ritsaert’s ﬁnal Diploma Ceremony for the students at Das Arts in 1999, he gave a speech, saying: ‘That’s the world we work in. And although we do not at every turn have to be aware of all of its horrors, a sense of it we must have. And when we have it, that sense, we will also be able to note how much love is needed to cope with it. You simply cannot function without it. Without love, we cannot do, we cannot be.’ He signed off to his students for the last time: ‘A warm embrace, with endless possibilities. Thank you.’ <
1 Quoted from Ritsaert ten Cate now by Gary Schwarz 2 Quoted from Man Looking for Words by Ritsaert ten Cate
Station House Opera The Bastille Dances
After an earlier career as a playwright, librettist, anthropologist, and documentary maker, David Lan took over as Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the Young Vic in 2000. He is unusual in that he has come to understand his role explicitly as producer. He draws considerable inspiration and personal energy from this role, and sees the whole team at the Young Vic as directly involved in producing. The road to his appointment at the Young Vic has traveled through varied terrains. David grew up in Cape Town, where he trained as an actor and in the early 1970s he came to London, hoping to become a director. He had begun to write plays and some early works were produced at the Theatre Upstairs of the Royal Court, when he was still only in his early 20s. He then decided to study social anthropology combining an undergraduate degree with having his plays produced at the Royal Court and the RSC. After graduation he went to the newly independent Zimbabwe to undertake research amongst the guerrillas who had fought and won the war of liberation and the communities amongst whom they had lived. His resulting PhD led to a book, Guns and Rain, which is considered an anthropological classic. Following this, David decided to return to his life as a playwright; he also moved into television documentary making, which took him back to Africa. In the mid-1990s he was writer-in-residence at the Royal Court, and then, following a project at the National Theatre Studio, was invited to direct his first full production at Watford Palace Theatre. This was followed by an invitation to direct at the Young Vic. Whilste in rehearsal, the post of Artistic Director became vacant. David applied, and got the job. Under his tenure the Young Vic has enjoyed an undisputed renaissance. The ambition and scope of the Young Vic’s programme has been remarkable, as has the bold, thoughtful confidence of the vision driving it. The same dynamic has transformed the company’s financial fortunes, as the Young Vic has successfully drawn the support of audiences, the local community, artists, funders, and donors behind its ideas and plans. Perhaps one of the company’s biggest producing successes, and a mirror of the energy and vision that has driven the artistic life of the company, has been the commissioning and building of its new home. This opened in October 2006 on time and on budget, the capital fundraising campaign complete, and is widely felt to be an inspired expression of the company’s identity, values and its relationship with the artists and public for whom it exists. Backed on all fronts by a truly strong team, David’s role in this transformation has been fundamental. His artistic judgement and ability to nurture a show to its most successful realisation is combined with an alert sense of direction, of what should happen next in the big picture. A quiet adventurer of real probity, he has tapped into an extraordinary energy and ability to forge ahead, to find the way to realise a particular idea, and to take risks on the way. He has proved to be a powerful and clear advocate for his projects, for the Young Vic, and for the arts. His passionate and lucid expression of what theatre can mean in contemporary life has provided the basis for so much of the support that the Young Vic has been able to attract to its work. In this, he is inspired by a vision of theatre as a means of connection between people, as a place where relationships can be forged, potential realised, commonality found. ››
Edited from a conversation with Kate Tyndall
Clockwise from top left: Young Vic productions Afore Night Come; Vesturport’s Romeo and Juliet; Generations; Tintin
I arrived at the Young Vic as the ‘wild card’. I thought there was a chance I could do it, that I was probably ready. I wondered: how difﬁcult could it be? It was something I had always wanted to do. But I had to learn how to do it, what it meant to run a theatre. I’ve found I’m good at listening, at learning and taking things in. I assimilate what’s happening and can feel where people want to go. I seem to have an idea where to go next, what the next move needs to be. Increasingly, now that I have built up conﬁdence, I trust my sense of shape, of form. My energy comes from my love of what I do, though I feel I’m constantly struggling to maintain the stamina I need. You have to have love for this sort of work and for the means we have of making it or you can’t do it. My energy comes from pleasure and, I guess, from my impatience. I spent time deep in the bush in Zimbabwe for two years as a young man. I lived in a little village after a terrible war, everyone had lost everything, been in concentration camps, beaten up. They were very poor. By some means or other I seemed to ﬁnd a way to make some of the people trust me, to let me in, and felt
incredibly close to them, one man in particular and his family, his two wives and children. They and those they lived amongst were the people you pay no attention to as you drive through the world, standing on the side of the road, working in their barren ﬁelds, or in town as labourers or as waiters if they’re very lucky. One boy I spent a lot of time with – he taught me to speak the local language. I thought: here we are as far as you can get from the centres of power in the world and this boy could be prime minister, a nuclear physicist, but the best he is likely to do is become a village school teacher. We were surrounded by members of the guerrilla army that had lost the election and they were angry. I got to know them too and discovered they were mixed-up kids like everyone else: too much drink, drugs, anger – only trained to kill. Everyone told me it’s too dangerous, you have to leave. I could see it was a time of real, real danger. Finally, I left for a while. But I had to go back – and I did. Having gone through an experience like that, of course it changes you. Afterwards you are asked to accommodate back into
Tobias and the Angel
a world which is so hierarchical and in which our assumptions about people are so artiﬁcial. There is so much pressure to gloss over profound abilities and talents and values. And having faced real danger, I ﬁnd, to my surprise, that I am not afraid. I feel I’m not afraid of anybody. The experience of really going there, as deep into the bush as you can - because any further and you start coming out the other side - and loving it, knowing that, though a lot of the time I was miserable, scared and lonely, this is the best time of my life, this is the most interesting thing I could possibly do. Then you feel you sort of know what’s rubbish and what isn’t in the world. You know the world’s a struggle between the people trying to deny others their fulﬁllment and the people struggling to ﬁnd fulﬁllment. That’s what the world’s about. At the moment, that struggle is very, very acute. The whole thing - art - is a conversation, an endless multilayered conversation between people. If you don’t intervene the conversation goes on without you. Maybe theatre can talk in a different way, or at a deeper level, but it’s people talking to people and saying the things that matter most to them. Our new building was always understood by our architect as a mediation, as a means
of bringing people together in the most humane way so they can be themselves, express themselves. As artists, we instinctively try to do the same thing. We try to do it with the shows, and with the audience. We invite them in, try to create the right context for them, the most congenial context we can, in the right way, attentive, alert – not fawning – democratic, equal, particular, personal. There are two ways you can make theatre. You can see the way we live as a struggle between the powerful and those who have no power, and consider that our function is to keep this wound open, to help people not to forget. Or you can see our purpose as to bring people together, to make our dysfunctional society more functional, to offer community, a common experience, a place in which strangers can come together in peace. Mediating, creating a connection, anybody would want to do that. I enjoy it very much. It’s not inevitably the case that you can connect. If it’s the right work at the right time, and you present it well, you can effect that transfer of emotion and friendship, that extraordinary sense of mutuality with strangers. This tells us what we, all of us, deep down know – that at some level we are all the same. That’s why it’s worth doing. <
Friches ThĂŠĂ˘tre Urbain Mephistomania
Royal de Luxe The Sultan’s Elephant
Helen Marriage, Sacha Kosminsky and Nicky Webb
In May 2006, a small independent company, Artichoke, presented French artists Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant in the streets of central London. The product of five years’ work, the show broke new ground on all fronts. Working with her co-founder and director of Artichoke, Nicky Webb, Helen Marriage was the event’s producer. To realise the project, Helen raised £1.3 million for a piece of theatrical magic offered free to Londoners without a logo or sponsor’s message attached, and persuaded London’s agencies and authorities to bring the city’s commercial and ceremonial centre to a halt, as a 12-metre high elephant, a sultan and his entourage, and a 7-metre high little girl, shared the joys of London with audiences estimated to number over a million people. The project received media coverage from Afghanistan to the US, and has left an entirely new sense amongst policy makers, artists and spectators of how the arts can contribute to the life and possibilities of a city. The project was monumental in many ways: in the scale of the artists’ creative vision; in the physical presence of the elephant and the little girl in the streets; in the audience numbers involved; in cost; in the persuasion required to unlock the permissions, collaborations and financial support on which the project would live or die; in the risks involved in mounting this extraordinary piece of work in the heart of a capital city of the scale and complexity of London; and in the drive and vision of Helen Marriage, who, as a producer with no institutional support and working through a small independent production company, dared to do everything necessary to make it happen. In her career, Helen has worked for a number of organisations – Artsadmin, where she started her involvement with producing, LIFT, Canary Wharf, Salisbury Festival – but this was her first major project as an independent. It was an extraordinary feat of bravura producing, sustained – with wrong turnings, crises, and cancellations – over the five long years it took to make it happen. It was unprecedented to see a new production company harness the political will of a city such as London to such epic effect, with no official mandate to do so. The Sultan’s Elephant happened because Helen and Nicky decided that it should. ››
Helen Marriage and Nicky Webb founded Artichoke in 2002, the result of a longstanding collaboration which Artichoke’s chair David Aukin describes as ‘a marriage’. They first worked together in the late 1980s at the LIFT Festival, where Helen was Associate Director and Nicky was Marketing Director. When Helen set up the Arts & Events Programme at Canary Wharf in 1991, and then took over as Director of the Salisbury Festival, her collaboration with Nicky was fundamental in shaping and pursuing her vision. Together they created Artichoke, and as co-directors are developing the company’s future, building on the phenomenal achievement of The Sultan’s Elephant.
Edited from a conversation with Kate Tyndall
K: How do you describe who you are and what you are doing?
H: Labelling is really hard because the whole issue about the producer, the creative producer, is a recent phenomenon. I’m doing what I’ve always done, which is making things happen. My work over the past ﬁfteen years has always been in association with Nicky Webb. We share a need to delight and amaze our audiences. While we love working with artists, and that’s what we do, our aim is always to advance the next piece by an artist only in a context that makes sense for a public. I am always trying to take the work of an artist and make it work better for people, to create platforms that really surprise audiences, delighting them with their own pleasure. I’m interested in people who don’t think this work has anything to say to them or don’t even know it exists, or think they already know what they like. As producers, we know it’s possible to change people’s attitudes and feelings through the work of artists. Being a producer is about making decisions and taking responsibility. The thing I love doing is building teams of people who are all working to one end and who all feel real love for what they are doing, extending themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of. It is about moving people, intellectually and emotionally, and it’s about persuasion, making people love the project and making them all – artists, team members, funders, ofﬁcials – feel they want to be part of its happening. K: Whose support did you have to secure in this way to make The Sultan’s Elephant possible?
H: The ﬁrst thing was the agreement of the artists, who were pretty reluctant to come and work in the UK. It took a while to persuade them that all things were possible. Simultaneously there was the money: no-one knew in early 2001 what it was going to cost - the show had scarcely been imagined, let alone built, and something like this had never been attempted before in central London. Then there was the need to persuade the Arts Council that this was a project they wanted. The deal we did was that if they bought into the idea of the project, we would guarantee we’d make it happen. We didn’t actually know we could, we just made a promise. Miraculously, and wholly admirably, they did the deal and stuck to it through all the difﬁculties. Raising the rest of the money proved harder than I’d anticipated. The London Development Agency’s contribution took literally years to secure. And the rest of the cash
Dining with Alice Salisbury Festival ‘I chose the site, chose the director, and the subject matter, and then handed it over because I knew those decisions were right. There’s no point in working with an artist and telling them what they’re supposed to do. My role was to create the context, to make the thing possible, and to create a structure that would allow the artist, Hilary Westlake, to realise her ideas within this.’
was found in a variety of ways, persuading people they really wanted to be part of making this happen. Then it was a question of making the operational people think that this was real – tricky, as we had no mandate, we weren’t doing it on behalf of anyone or anything ofﬁcial. I quickly realised the trick was to make them love it as much as we did by carrying them along on an irresistible wave of courage, conﬁdence and commitment. In Nantes, at the show’s ﬁrst performance, their hearts were won over, and they will tell you now it was the best thing they ever did. We omitted, however, to take anyone from the Royal Parks or Buckingham Palace – and later they would see the project as ‘an infringement of the dignity of the ceremonial route’. With the help of the Arts Council and the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, who at our request became actively involved in the make-orbreak discussions, we encouraged them to change their view, and permission was eventually given. Those discussions, where we were actively challenging the perspectives of the Lord Chamberlain’s ofﬁce, were genuinely daunting and scary. K: As an independent producer, you had the freedom to pursue this extraordinarily ambitious project. You decided it was your vision and you would fight to realise it, even if it took – as you discovered – five years. But this freedom meant you were also alone, with Nicky, with the risks and the responsibilities. This took equally extraordinary confidence and nerve.
H: In my early professional life in the 1980s, I knew I had the capacity to produce extraordinary things, but I didn’t let myself. I sheltered behind other people. It was a terrifying moment when I realised I was going to have to make things happen, and a huge liberation when I realised that I could. At the Salisbury Festival, I realised what I was capable of, but I drove the organisation beyond its limitations. It was a hard lesson to learn, and after I left I had a long period of self-doubt. People advised me to set up my own company and produce events, but independence seemed lonely. I longed for someone to give me a job – but apart from running a festival, there are no jobs for people like me. In 2002, Nicky and I set up Artichoke. We’ve worked together since 1991 when I was made Director of Arts & Events at Canary Wharf. I could never have done the things I’ve done since then without her. ››
Clockwise from top right: Transe Expresse Maudits Sonnants; Salisbury Festival opening parade; Ron Haseleden Echelle Salisbury Festival Lightworks
The role of the producer is to take responsibility, and together we do that. I am constantly asking people within institutions or organisations to say yes – or rather not say no – to something that appears unusual, to persuade them that what has to happen is ﬁne, OK, safe, reasonable and all the things it doesn’t seem to be. With The Sultan’s Elephant we had to sometimes formally and often informally sign off on things, explicitly taking the responsibility, so that people who felt exposed were able to feel a bit safer. I have no fear about running an event; I’m never happier than when I’ve got a walkie-talkie in my hand. Things that are frightening to other people - arguing with artists about what can and can’t happen, the physical danger of a show, the risk of a security incident, of causing injury, managing huge crowds, negotiating obstacles out of the way - I enjoy knowing I have to solve these problems. And it helps that we always work with really top-notch production people – Jonathan Bartlett who I’ve worked with for over twenty years, and Alan Jacobi and his team at Unusual. With them around, and the care that’s gone into all the pre-planning you know you’re safe in the hands of grown-ups. And having insurance helps… My only real fear – and it can be overwhelming – is not being able to pay the bills, or to pay the people who’ve made a commitment to work with you. There was a moment when I realised I absolutely hadn’t raised enough money for The Sultan’s Elephant. With ﬁnal conﬁrmation from the company and from our operational partners of the true cost of the route through London, the ﬁnancial gap was truly enormous and it gave me proper panic attacks - I didn’t sleep for a fortnight. But I made a list of thirteen things we could do, and we found solutions with the help of others. Artichoke’s Board had to be brave too, within the conﬁnes of the allowable risks they could take. Miraculously, by the time of the event itself, we had covered all our budgeted costs. I felt a different person, completely liberated to produce the event itself and to meet all the inevitable challenges. <
need larger file
Carmina Burana at Salisbury Cathedral
is exceptional, and not only because ” Helen she makes it impossible to say ‘No’ to her. She has the gift not only of making you believe anything and everything is possible, but then also of proving that it is. Her feats of persuasion when she cajoled the decision-makers in London into agreeing that art – and unofficially appointed art at that – should be allowed to claim the ceremonial heart of London were astonishing.
David Aukin Chair of Artichoke and an independent producer in television and film.
Antony Gormleyâ€™s Waste Man from The Margate Exodus
Shirin Neshat Logic of the Birds
Michael Morris is Co-Director of Artangel and Founder-Director of his own production company, Cultural Industry. Since the early 1980s Michael has found ways to realise the role of the producer in the arts more fully than perhaps anyone else of his generation in the UK. After working at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) as Director of Performing Arts for three years, he established Cultural Industry in 1987. It has been responsible for the on-going presentation of work in the UK by celebrated international artists such as Pina Bausch and Robert Lepage/Ex Machina, and the creation of special projects by others such as Laurie Anderson and Robert Wilson. As producer, he initiated the collaboration that created Shockheaded Peter, which Cultural Industry then toured around the world, produced in the West End, and is currently developing into a film. In 1992, Morris teamed up with James Lingwood to become Co-Director of Artangel. Together they have built it up to become one of the pre-eminent producing structures in the UK, working with artists across the full spectrum of the visual and performing arts, and forging innovative collaborations with film and TV. Michael has collaborated with artist, composer and producer Brian Eno on several occasions since their first joint project, Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan, at the ICA in 1985. Since then they have worked on various plans and schemes, including an idea for a theme park in Barcelona (with Peter Gabriel), a one-off concert with Eno, Caetano Veloso and Arto Lindsay at the South Bank Centre in 1994, and an Artangel installation, Self-Storage, in collaboration with Laurie Anderson in 1995 for a former foil factory in Wembley Industrial Estate. â€şâ€ş
From a conversation with Brian Eno in January 2007
Brian Eno and Michael Morris judging the first Artangel Open 1999
Michael Morris and Lt Col Roger Norrington-Davies, Commandant of Salisbury Plain - Imber Giya Kancheli
B: I want to start off at school. Were you into the arts then, in a general sense?
M: No, not really. Only music. I booked rock groups for the hall. It meant that I could get out of boarding school and see bands at the Roundhouse once a term. I don’t remember knowing anything about the visual arts. A bit about theatre, but I found - and continue to ﬁnd - most live narrative drama somewhat antiquated as an experience. It often looked like bad TV. B: Then did you do something similar at university?
M: I did a lot of acting but was never very good, and I wanted to do something that I stood a chance of being good at. To be honest, I had no career plan, no sense of what I was going to do. I still don’t. B: No, nor do I, funnily enough. What did you do immediately after university?
M: I didn’t really know what to do. I enrolled on a course at City University, which taught you something about arts management, and got a secondment at the ICA. I asked why they weren’t putting on bands: they just had no-one interested, it seemed. So I left the course and produced the ICA Rock Weeks. B: Were you just booking the bands or finding fuller relationships with them?
M: I began as a booker but then looked for a more pro-active relationship. There’s something predictable about how a rock concert usually unfolds. So I did build relationships with some of the artists to push at the boundaries, like Einsturzende Neubauten in 1984. With them, I commissioned
and produced the grandiosely titled Concerto for Voice and Machinery, hiring construction plant and mixing industrial sounds with instruments. It became a bit of an urban myth that they tried to drill through the ﬂoor to the Queen’s nuclear bunker beneath the ICA. But gradually I lost interest in the Rock Weeks. I was more compelled by the borders between other artforms, the potential for different kinds of expression meeting together as equal partners: sound, image, text, action. At that point, I was much more interested in creating things at the edge of recognised artforms, rather than at the centre. The ICA taught me a lot that I never knew was possible. B: Why did you leave the ICA?
M: I left in 1987 when my ﬁrst child Edith was born. I couldn’t continue with the total commitment required, being there almost every night. It’s the producer’s job to be the bridge between the work and the world, the artist and the audience, and you have to be present when they come together. And I also realised I was getting much less interested in what might work in a small black box studio on The Mall (there was nothing we hadn’t tried) and much more keen to see how the ICA’s programme could extend beyond its walls; seep out into the rest of London. We had put on events such as Laurie Anderson’s 8 hour marathon United States in the Dominion Theatre in 1982, Jan Fabre’s The Power of Theatrical Madness at the Albert Hall and La Fura dels Baus on the Isle of Dogs in 1983. The ICA stopped making sense to me as a location, so I realised I oughtn’t to do the job any more and I should look at the broader canvas of the city as a place to make things happen. My ﬁnal production was the ICA’s 40th 57/58
Jeremy Deller The Battle of Orgreave
anniversary beneﬁt. Special one-off events featuring David Bowie with La La La Human Steps and David Byrne with Les Miserables Brass Band at two different West End theatres in 1988. Leaving felt right. B: So those projects at the ICA were the beginning of your collaborations with artists, how you become involved in helping artists think their projects out and realise them in an active way. This seems to me a new role, or at least something that hasn’t been admitted to in contemporary culture. And it brings us to Cultural Industry and Artangel.
M: One of the ﬁrst discussions I had, having set up my own ofﬁce, was with Jenny Waldman at the South Bank Centre, who seedfunded a series of collaborative one-offs that I called Now You See It for the Queen Elizabeth Hall, something of a forerunner to the Meltdown festivals. The series crossed borders and artforms in incongruous, bespoke events in three week-long editions in the early 1990s. At the same time, in 1991, James Lingwood and I came together to try to make sense of something called The Artangel Trust. Set up 4 years previously, the Artangel of the 1980s had pioneered a number of urban interventions and billboard works. The founder was leaving, the cash had run out, and James and I had the opportunity to build up something new. We expanded the board of trustees, began a dialogue with the funding bodies, and started to commission and produce in 1992. With Cultural Industry, I had always sought to stretch the institutional framework of mainstream cultural buildings, while at Artangel we animated public space and used locations where you would least expect to ﬁnd art.
B: I imagine you had been watching these things develop, the work you had been doing at the ICA and Cultural Industry, noticing there was some new kind of public art beginning to appear, a new way of making art that was interdisciplinary and somehow more integrated with real life, and that there was a public for it.
M: Yes, the word we used a lot was ‘immersive’. Experiences where you’re not quite sure where the work begins and ends, and where the world starts. That is very compelling for the audience. You discover the city animated through an artist’s vision, and you can’t quite separate the work from the place. You have a big hand in shaping it. Now that we’ve been doing it for 15 years or so, it seems an obvious process. B: Things always come to seem obvious. But what you may have overlooked is that you have a lot of experience of doing it, and this is what makes it obvious. Part of the problem - you could say the downside - of the seepage of the work into the world is that you have to deal with the world a lot.
M: I like to think the majority of my time is spent with artists, but a great deal of time is also spent with people for whom the arts are not a central priority. You have to make working relationships with people who’ve never really thought about contemporary culture, who don’t speak that language naturally. You have to communicate with them, gain their trust, and ask them to help you do things that appear quite mad, actually. And you’ve got to position the whole project so that it has credibility with all of its constituents. It can take a very long time. At Artangel we give each project the time it has to take. If it needs another year, we give it another
Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno Self-Storage
Tony Oursler The Influence Machine
year. Patience is one of our most important commodities. ›› B: A lot of your work is in cultivating a community around a piece of work.
M: Yes, not only in terms of the teams of people who will bring it to fruition, but also the community who will cluster around the work and give it purpose and meaning and impact. There are many different strands of the work we do. Some projects, like Margate Exodus or The Battle of Orgreave have tried to rethink what used to be called community art: how a disenfranchised or deprived group of people can view itself differently with the collaboration of an exceptional artist. Equally, there are projects we’ve made happen that have got nothing to do with communities. Gregor Schneider’s Die Familie Schneider in Whitechapel or Rachel Whiteread’s House in Bow: the absence of community is perhaps what they addressed. B: What were Artangel’s earliest projects?
M: In 1992 the ﬁrst project I did was with Michael Clark in an old sugar drop warehouse behind Kings Cross. At ~the same time, James initiated sculptural projects in and around the Thames with Stephan Balkenhol and the late Juan Munoz. The Clark event was very successful, but it could have worked in many different warehouses, and now we’d look for a more particular
ﬁt between the work and the place. But there was a frisson for the audience getting lost in the hinterlands of Kings Cross, an adventure before you even got there. The project that you and I made together in Wembley, Self Storage – there was something extraordinary about journeying out there too. B: Yes, the crumminess of the surroundings very much flattered the project. You suddenly came across a concentration of thought, of visual material, like a collection of jewel cases.
M: The ordinariness of the setting was the ﬁrst time we’d produced something in such a prosaic situation. Its atmosphere became extraordinary only by virtue of the interventions we made. B: When we worked together, I became very aware of and grateful for your input, your contribution. I would say it was very much your work as well.
M: You know, that’s something I could never say. In the end, in an effective collaboration you can’t quite remember whose idea was what, and it doesn’t matter actually. B: Yes, but it’s a bad thing to forget who was involved, too, I think.
M: You and I know how that came to be, the details we don’t remember, but, like all of Artangel’s projects, it was a
to scan Rachel Whiteread House
collaboration. Sometimes I wonder whether certain artists might ﬁnd that close way of working too interventionist. Not everyone wants the kind of collaborative journey we can offer. We hope that producer and artist can venture together into uncharted territory where neither is within their comfort zone; you’re in it together, with separate but quite shared responsibilities. One of the things we don’t expect close collaboration on is the fundraising and the budgets. You and I, we never really talked about budgets very much. It’s not something I want to trouble an artist with necessarily. We’ll go off and ﬁnd a way of doing it. When people talk to me about producing, they’re too quick to ask about fundraising and money, and actually I don’t see that as the central part of the job. In many ways, I think it’s more difﬁcult to spend a pound than raise it; to choose what to spend that pound on. Money is just energy, after all. What we do changes from project to project. We start from the ground up each time, and I have to say that, though I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a while now, I still don’t feel very experienced. B: Yes, I was talking about exactly this - about being a producer - with a band recently
M: It’s an important thing. I don’t often talk about these aspects, and I’m not sure there’s much to say, but a lot of it is to do
with two linked feelings – faith and doubt. And I have a lot of both. B: Yes, as one should I think. That’s what creates the passion. If you doubt enough, when you find something that you don’t doubt, you put everything into it.
M: There comes a point in a project where it’s unstoppable, even if you do harbour hidden doubts. I doubted in Margate whether we could build and burn the Waste Man; I doubted that a lot. But you can’t reveal it. You can know it, but you can’t reveal it to the team you are leading forward. B: It’s interesting because probably a lot of other people doubt it as well, and so you are creating a communal act of faith.
M: One of our production managers said to me in an email: “ If I were the producer of this event, Michael, I would be a triﬂe worried: do you think it might be prudent to delay this one a bit?” But there comes a point where there is no going back, a point of no return, and you need everybody to know there is no going back. You have to know where that point is. B: Working with artists in the way that you do, have you sometimes found yourself a bit ahead of the artist in terms of understanding what the project is doing, where it is heading?
Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal Masurca Fogo
M: I think that this can happen from time to time, but I am probably too polite to mention it. ›› B: I don’t think anyone would be upset. You’re a specialist in something which they aren’t necessarily. You’ve a great deal of experience, dealing with big sprawling projects.
M: It is my job to have all the elements in mind. There are times when artists need to have something very particular, quite minute, in mind and I don’t want to disturb that particular engagement by reminding an artist of something else they’re not thinking about. So in a way I will keep it in mind for them, and for the project, and put it on the table when it feels right. B: It seems very similar to what I do when I work as a record-producer. I’m very aware that there is notion of pacing involved: that there are times when we should be looking at the big picture and others when we should be concentrating on details. Studios encourage you to get lost in the details, whereas clarifying the big picture automatically answers many of the detail questions. That must be something you’ve got a lot of experience in.
M: Yes, I think so, and it does inﬂuence the kind of artists that I approach. There are certain artists, however much I might admire them, whom I may not approach simply because they are their own producers. This collaborative process we’re talking about is not something they require. B: Have you ever started out projects that just didn’t pan out?
M: Yes, one or two. As you know from our experience of Self Storage, you and I and Laurie talked for a couple of years before we decided on anything speciﬁc. And sometimes you
can get stuck in that talking mode. One of my jobs is to know when to change gear. Obviously to be very patient, but also to know when to become a bit impatient. There is a feeling you get with some artists that we could be in this wonderful, luxurious development mode forever. B: Yes, development time is luxurious.
M: And it’s not very risky. There has to be a point where you do get a diary out, and think about what you’re going to put where and when. Though some artists can develop something in conversation to the extent that for them it’s no longer worth doing. It’s not a bad thing that some projects don’t see the light of day. I guess eighty per cent of the conversations we begin turn into projects that happen. We’re not such promiscuous talkers. B: OK, so here’s a difficult question. I was giving a lecture in Berlin, and I said I spent 5 years at art school, but nobody ever asked the question, and nobody ever attempted to answer the question, what do we think art does for people anyway. What actually are we doing it all for? Why do we get excited about doing it or going to see it? Why don’t we just stay at home and cook? What is it that makes people want to have these kinds of experiences? And is that a permanent thing or is it changing? Do you think there’s a new kind of art evolving, and I suspect you probably do, because over the years that I’ve known you, I’ve watched you develop what I see as a stronger and stronger picture of a new kind of art, a new role for art in the world.
M: If we look back 50 years, the role of art was quite easy to deﬁne. It was clear what art was and where you’d look for it. 61/62
Left and right: Shockheaded Peter
You’d see it in a museum or sometimes in a park, and it had a very deﬁned place in a more ordered world. Now the world is different. It’s congested in every kind of way, fragmented and confusing. There are artists who through a particular kind of immersive expression can gather people together and provide a sense of integration that is otherwise difﬁcult to feel. And, if you do that in a public context, it can give an opportunity for people to congregate, an opportunity to come together for a common purpose in a public place. B: Do you think that’s sometimes the strongest single importance of a work of art - the celebration of some kind of temporary community? Maybe the important thing is to know that we are capable of and enjoy - making those communities. I think a lot of what art is doing is rehearsing this in some way, the emotional complexity, the human talents that need to be kept oiled because they are actually the key to our survival, our future. Why does the myth of Sisyphus resonate so much with you?
M: There’s something about being a producer that condemns you to being either at the top of the hill, or the bottom of the hill or half way up the hill. And I don’t know what it is that makes you start again, makes you have to start again, with the rolling rock. B: Maybe it’s success, which wipes out the pain of the process.
M: I’m not overly seduced by success really. I feel it in a very momentary way. It passes very quickly. B: Yes, for me it lasts for about 20 minutes.
M: I’m interested to know you feel the same. And then a kind of depression hits, I think. I remember during the process of
Margate Exodus waking up in the middle of the night yet again and thinking I will never again allow myself to be in this position, where it feels so difﬁcult. However good this thing might prove to be, I don’t want to do it again. I remember saying that many times. B: It’s my constant refrain: how did I end up agreeing to this? The word NO should be written all around the studio in big letters to help me remember.
M: It’s interesting, the balance of things you respond to that other people propose and things that you decide you want to do yourself. For an artist and a producer this is a shared issue. B: It’s difficult because, as you get better known, there’s a huge momentum to do more of the things you’ve done before. It’s very difficult to retain a firm enough hold on the rudder to navigate towards something that isn’t nearly as well formed. New ideas, though they’re exciting, always look clumsy by comparison to things now in the past which have gathered a rosy cloud of historical approval. I find it a very difficult problem. Probably the projects that you ought to be thinking of no-one is going to encourage you to do. Only you will raise the stamina to do them.
M: Yes, I think you have summed it up. I guess I am the kind of producer that wants to enable and encourage artists to do that difﬁcult thing - the unknown thing - to help share in that raising of stamina, as you put it. To will into life something yet to be tried or tested….. <
Grime artist Pase performing in Urban Classic
SKYFest, South Kilburn
Nii Sackey is the director of Bigga Fish, a not-for-profit social enterprise which works with young people, and which he set up in 1999 when he was only 21 years old. He wanted to help change lives, and, through an outstanding entrepreneurial flair, quickly built up a programme of urban music workshops and largescale public performance events involving young people and for young people, led by a sizeable, equally young Bigga Fish team. Nii reduced Bigga Fish’s activities to undertake a Clore Fellowship three years ago. Since then, he has been re-building ideas and plans for a new phase as his horizons for what Bigga Fish can achieve expand. Nii has a truly distinctive vision, which involves him realising - producing - projects across many ways of working: participatory workshops, large-scale performance events, enterprise programmes, Carnival Mas camps, ambitious artistic collaborations, and through all of these a strong embrace of the internet and how to work at this new frontier. His passion is for young peoples’ creativity and selfexpression, and to help them establish themselves through the learning and enterprise opportunities that Bigga Fish’s work creates. Still only in his late 20s, he is in the earlier phases of realising his ambitious ideas. What drives him is his sense of service and his responsibility to help create change, his commitment to respond to the energy and possibilities of young people, and his breadth of vision and passion for urban culture and its music. ››
Edited from conversations with Kate Tyndall
Fashionably Loud, Camden Centre
I grew up around Kilburn, and then Brent. I went to a good school, and on to an all-right sixth form college, though neither seemed to ﬁt me. My school report said ‘Bright, though easily distracted’: I think I was still looking for something that captured my imagination. I took a year out, worked different jobs, made some money, and paid to do a course in graphics and advertising. I met the manager of the girl band All Saints at the butchers where I was working, and talked my way into working as his gopher. On a work errand, I dropped into the Winchester Project, a youth centre in Swiss Cottage. The worker mentioned the police wanted to install surveillance to ﬁlm the kids in the square; we both agreed the police would be better using the resources to do something positive for the young people instead of trying to catch them out. I decided to do something about it, and came up with the idea of doing a DJ workshop at the centre. Music’s always been a passion, and I knew it was the same for those kids too. I raised some money from the Arts Council, the community centre gave us the space for free, and Camden covered the cost of the decks. I asked a local grafﬁti artist to design the ﬂyer. We started with ‘Bigg Fish’, but then we heard about something else with the same name. In a moment of genius, my sister suggested we call it ‘Bigga’. Bigga Fish was born. The workshop was completely oversubscribed, and went really well. The next idea was an MC workshop. The funding had run out, but we did it anyway, and that worked too. The young people involved asked me what the point of learning was if there was nowhere for them to perform. So we found a community hall, a friend lent the cash for the sound system, and I paid it back from the door money. The event sold out. The performers and the audience were 16 or so; I was 20.
We were carrying on with the workshops and I was still at art college. One day an equipment sponsor I’d approached rang me in class. He was offering me incredible stuff, and I had to sort it out with him there and then. The teacher was furious, because I wouldn’t get off the phone until I’d ﬁnished the deal. It was clear I had to make a decision. The next day I discussed it with the teacher and later I spoke to the class. I said I’d really enjoyed my time but I had to announce I was leaving. Someone asked why. I said, ‘It sounds corny, but I’m leaving to follow my dream’. I wanted to make a difference with the kids in my environment, to move and inspire them, and I felt that I could. I was 21 and that’s how it started. The way I saw it was to strike relationships with a school. I offered a free workshop, turned into paid workshops, turned into weekly paid workshops, turned into lots of schools - and then I had staff. For the ﬁrst year and a half I was really broke. I used to joke with young people involved with Bigga Fish that I lived off chips and Thai chilli sauce for an entire year, but it was true - it was all I could afford. It’s taken a long time to learn that it’s not OK to pay everyone but yourself: you can’t help anyone if you can’t help yourself. And a lot of people don’t want to pay you what you’re worth. I was running a lot of the workshops at ﬁrst: I’m really particular about how I want the sessions to feel, the ethos that we communicate, and how to work with young people. Our model was simple: young people delivering services to young people. Every year our outputs and activity doubled. Within three years, we’d built up to 11 full time employees, numerous part-timers and even more volunteers, earning income through contracts to provide workshops and through our own live events. We worked with most of the boroughs north of the river and a few of those south,
British Council consultancy in North Africa
youth services, schools, pupil referral units, prisons, health authorities, homeless organisations, British Airways, and the BBC. We ran workshops, we gave advice, we got around. Right from the start, alongside the workshops were our events - well-known urban artists guesting in incredible line-ups alongside workshop participants. Ticket prices ranged from free to £9. Few of them were funded: we were too busy to apply. With monthly sell-out events at Camden Palais, the Forum in Kentish Town and the Rocket in Islington, we invested in the creative experience of the event and, most importantly, the security, though we hardly made any proﬁt as a result. We created another company, Velvet Lobster, combining both the security and youth worker perspectives, to manage all our security needs, and in turn this company advised other events and agencies on their approach. Security aside, the events were run by a staff team with an average age of around 19, and the audiences were nearly all under 18. The events weren’t so much about the guest artists: they were about Bigga Fish, young people learning and sharing together. The young people came because they were going to see other young people on stage. When they arrived and were frisked by security, there was a young person asking how they were. We took the responsibility and did our best. If parents had issues, we’d talk. They were some of our biggest advocates. I always had this really strong idea in my head about the brand, and how we should build it. And I spot opportunities, I spot them when I walk into any room, and if you miss one, you miss the others that will result from that one. This has helped Bigga Fish build something from nothing, as has our persistence and vision. When I’m committed to making something happen, it’s sometimes to the despair of those around me! It’s a kind of very wide, narrow vision - like a big magnifying glass. It makes the picture bigger, and focuses the rays into one point, the point where you’re trying
to get to, the point of ignition. Like the Bigga Fish Carnival project. People continuously said to us it couldn’t be done, so then we pushed harder, and now we’ve taken 700 young people safely through three Notting Hill Carnivals. Three years ago or so, in my mid-20s, I began feeling like I’d got to the end of my own resources and knowledge. I had a massive team, and we were always trying to generate enough money to continue with our creative aspirations. I was constantly dealing with management and money issues, and wasn’t being a creative person anymore. I heard about the Clore Leadership Programme, applied and got accepted. Clore gave me space and new perspectives, time to digest and to reﬂect on our achievements. Often I didn’t stop to survey the beauty and enormity of what we’d done, the highs and the lows. I scaled Bigga Fish right back down to our key programmes while I was doing Clore, though we were still engaging and working with crazy amounts of young people over that time, still pushing the creative boundaries. Now I’m pretty much ready to take it all on to another stage. The ideas are not dissimilar. I’m just a bit older, learnt a bit more, and I’m focusing on the building blocks, the resources, the people we need to really succeed. It’ll be a smaller team now, but I want our footprint and impact to be a lot bigger. I want to see creative expression shared, across genres, cultures and people. I’ve always travelled, and every time I go away I come back transformed in some way. And I’m mixed race. My whole world is about worlds coming together, bringing different perspectives, polarities together. One of the biggest obstacles is to get young people to expand their horizons, to show them that this world in London, the way they see it, is not all there is. The possibilities are so much bigger. I’m asking them to open up to new perspectives, to see the different levels of existence going on in the world. ››
I spent three months in North Africa seconded to the British Council, researching and consulting on the development of Hip Hop and inner city music there. I found that, compared to the UK, there are similar issues of economic hardship, though within very different contexts, and the passion for the music is the same. What’s different is the African musicians’ afﬁnity to the rich cultural context and environment that surrounds them. Here young people have battened down the hatches and reduced things to the lowest expectation. They are so often dealt with as a problem, seen as anti-social, their environment and culture restricted, policed, demonised. Violence is an everyday part of their lives, and respect is no longer a given in an environment that continues to become ever more challenging. Their music reﬂects all this, made by kids at home when it’s easier to make something angry than something full of hope and happiness. Young people should be seen creatively as the producers, the generators, the catalysts. Too often they’re just seen as the consumer. This is all wrong. It must start and end with them. Last year, we co-produced a project called Urban Classic, putting Grime artists that we knew together with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Hackney Empire. I’d had the idea for a few years, but had never found the right partners, and in a conversation with Claire Whitaker discovered that Serious wanted to engage new audiences. Together we made it happen. It was fantastic to work with Serious: their approach to the project and its delivery taught me so much. Bigga Fish brought the concept, the relationships with the Grime artists, our relationship with BBC 1Xtra, and a particular energy the event needed; Serious had the know-how and infrastructure, the relationship with Radio 3 and other artists involved, and their own energy. It was a genuine, inspiring partnership that would never have happened without any one of us involved - Bigga Fish, Serious, all the artists, and both bits of the BBC, who’d never worked together and found in this project their opportunity. For me, it was about bringing together two worlds, two sets of perceptions, two stereotypes, two musical genres. It was fantastic to be able to think it, and then to work with such a range of fantastic people to help the idea be realised. We sparked people’s imaginations, blurred their expectations, and with real integrity and authenticity. We brought new audiences together, we linked high level institutions with musicians at the grass roots, and the artistic content worked. We took the orchestra and their music, and said this doesn’t only belong to middle class, wealthy England, let’s use it, do what the street always does, take something, twist it and put it back out. The orchestra walked through a mirror for that moment, and out the other side. We all did. And through the development process, we rubbed off on each other. The Grime
artists have different horizons now. On lots of levels, not just the way creatively they make music - but like the resources that people have, resources that they rarely, if ever, get the chance to use. I’m a pessimistic optimist, but I see how polarised it is in the arts and the voluntary sectors. There are glass walls and glass ceilings, however I focus on building bridges. We need access to those resources, and there needs to be a greater level of partnership and relative distribution, because the young people I work with are so bound by their environment, and the psychology of their environment, that if we can all do more things like Urban Classic, that pull them into another space, we can make what we’ve done so far look piecemeal. It’s about how we offer new possibilities of creative expression to young people, so we can learn about ourselves and about each other. It’s about how we communicate authentically, with integrity, passion and power, to new young ears. I know that what I’m doing ticks every single box: we have delivered creatively, built partnerships, inspired. We still have much to achieve, lessons to learn and mountains to climb. But now we have removed the traditional barriers that have challenged grass roots growth, and it is about whether funders and partners buy into our vision, the vision that young people are our possibility for a better future. About the future, I’d say: ‘All things are possible, watch this space.’ The future’s bright. When you work with young people, you get this immense potential and possibility, enriching beyond enriching, like standing on the top of the hill in the sun, you get the full beam of being human and helping someone and feeling great about that. I know this is about service, about sacriﬁce. I haven’t had a normal life in years. I can’t complain; I love it, I made my bed, and at night I always sleep well and, even if I don’t remember my dreams, I know that I had them... I’m still going to workshops because I need to know what it’s like in the trenches: if I order someone over the top, I need to understand why they succeed or fail, why some things work and others don’t. I’m proud that I can ﬁnd myself in the morning at the House of Commons presenting and then in the afternoon at a South Kilburn estate in a workshop. The view may change. The vision does not. I’m 29 now and getting older, so I’m not with the young people in the same way any more, though, if I’m good and I’ve done my job properly, I should have facilitated a legacy that allows the Bigga Fish way to continue. What I’m interested in is setting young people off to ﬁsh for themselves, giving them a rod so that they see it as their responsibility to hand it on to their peers who also need it: ‘Thinking Bigga, Being Bigga’. <
is an amazing person, at the ” Nii early phases of his career – though he started so young, and has considerable achievements under his belt. He’s always looking to move forward, to change and grow. He has a completely different way of thinking, and the potential to be one of the people to make a big difference, to really show the way. He knows his world extremely well, the world of urban music – and in this, he’s that rare thing, a person whose artistic taste you can really trust. It made our collaboration so much easier. Urban Classic was a really authentic partnership involving many, but it was Nii who chose the urban artists at the heart of the project, whilste we introduced Jason Yarde to them, who crosses jazz and urban music and proved to have so much to offer in creating the musical arrangements that both the orchestra and the urban artists found so exciting. We knew the urban artists needed not only to be extremely good, respected in their genres, but willing also to take a leap of faith to find new ways of working. They travelled a long journey, and his faith that they could and would was a very important part of the project. And he understands a lot about the role that digital technology can play; how we could work with BBC 1Xtra taught me whole new ways to relate to an audience. I learnt from his constant interest in pushing the boundaries of what we were doing, and I think Nii learnt from our production values, our experience of how to realise a truly ambitious idea, and the creative process to support it. A lot of the success of what we achieved together lay in preparing the ground, agreeing what we were trying to achieve, and moving everyone along that process in a way that felt comfortable. Understanding the process that’s needed and how to shape it is one of the ways producers make a difference – and yet always the hardest to fund. In music, the language is so often that of the promoter, but we should speak about ourselves as producers.
Claire Whitaker Director, Serious Bigga Fish at Notting Hill Carnival
Joana Seguro is an independent producer working in electronic music and new technology, with a growing interest in linking these across other forms and disciplines. She came to London from Portugal ten years ago as a pharmacology student, and pursued her passion for the underground music scene she found here. Since then, she has built her career in this area of music, creating an eclectic and fluid range of projects and events with the artists that excite her. These range from producing her own club nights to curating international festivals, managing artists, and producing tours and one-off projects, alongside work for some of the major record companies specialising in electronic music. In 2001, she set up her own company Lumin, of which she is owner and Director, and throughout has pursued partnerships with some of the major music institutions active in contemporary and electronic music. Joana’s energy is for new ideas, new technology, and new ways to connect these with an audience. Increasingly, her concerns take her beyond music to work across disciplines. She is excited by new digital technologies and how these can be explored in performance, and combines these with a fast moving energy and lightness of touch, and a connective breadth of vision in her field. As she builds her experience and insight as a producer, she is grappling with how best to function as an independent – how best to realise ideas, how to survive financially, and how to combat the isolation that independence can bring. As someone energised by innovation, she knows that the fleet of foot life of an independent is the best way to pursue this. But the challenges of sustaining and taking forward her work in this way – as she herself and others on this path know – are tough, and at times overwhelming. ››
“ I first collaborated with Joana on
Faster than Sound, a sound experiment in which electronica meets classical music, in 2006. Aldeburgh Music has a great tradition of experimentation but largely within a tightly defined field of formally trained musicians. When I first visited a redundant airbase nearby, I realised the derelict Cold War remnants could make fantastic spaces for artists to respond to and perform in, and although electronic music felt the natural genre, I had little idea how. Musically it was outside of our experience and expertise. One chance meeting with Joana, and within minutes of encountering her energy and enthusiasm, I realised we had found the person to make this project happen.
Edited from conversations with Kate Tyndall
Faster Than Sound
I grew up in Portugal, an only child and part of the new generation after the Revolution. My parents were challenging and supportive, and gave me great conﬁdence, but it was claustrophobic too, and school and university were restrictive. It was an expansive period when people were allowed to say what they were thinking, and we were all engaged intellectually, politically, philosophically, but not so focused on putting ideas into practice. I saw some incredible theatre – La Fura dels Baus, Els Comediants – but the music scene was terrible. I’ve always, always loved music, and I went to whatever I could ﬁnd – the big rock bands who visited or the minimal underground scene around me. I read NME when I could get it, and, when I decided to come to study pharmacology in London rather than stay in Portugal, I soon was involved with the student newspaper, reviewing what I wanted to, and understanding for myself what was really going on. Pharmacology required me to work with animals in a way I could not accept, and so I did not continue with it. But my scientiﬁc background gave me logical methods and a practical inﬂuence on how I work that still continues now. My passion was music, and after graduating I talked my way into being able to launch my ﬁrst club night Rota, with the support of Rough Trade Shops. We showed an eclectic mix of bands and genres at a free weekly event which won Best New Live Venture from Time Out in 2001. This got me a job with Mute doing A&R, and about the same time I started to talk with the South Bank Centre about them starting an electronic music festival. I helped them conceive and establish Ether – what has since become an annual festival. I’ve been involved with Ether in an advisory programming role and running certain projects within it since those ﬁrst discussions; the relationship still continues.
An independent producer like Joana has a great and enviable freedom to be entrepreneurial. Meanwhile as an established company, we offer relative stability and organisational back up. A project like Faster than Sound, which requires both someone close to the experimental coalface and resources to think big and take considerable risks, needs the skills and qualities of both the fleet of foot independent and a strong organisation to make it happen.
Since Mute, I’ve worked with Warp Records and Virgin, and alongside my work with record companies I’ve programmed and curated events with the V&A, with the Sonar Festival from Barcelona here in London, festivals in Portugal and France, and many of my own club nights. After a couple of years, I realised I should create a company to give more identity to what I was doing, and I created Lumin, of which I am director. Alongside my club nights and the other projects and events I created, I started to work ﬁrst with Chicks on Speed, and then other artists whose work I loved, acting essentially as an agent, though more ﬂexibly, helping them to develop how they were working. In 2002 the Arts Council approached me to set up a consortium of promoters interested in electronic music, and I created a network around the country and produced four tours, handing it over after a couple of years to other members of the group.
None of this would be possible without a shared artistic sensibility, and, although Joana and I related to very different kinds of artists and music, we quickly found a common language. Working together we were able to achieve something that neither could have done without the other, and we have continued to plan new projects. Joana injects a different worldview into Aldeburgh Music, one that helps us stay fresh artistically. I think we provide her with a respite from the perilous fragility of being independent with nothing to fall back on. We have already mapped out what we might do over the next few years, and I’m keen to develop this kind of relationship in other areas of our work.
Once Lumin existed and my projects grew in ambition, I started taking on staff, and soon the business issues began to take over – the need to earn money to pay for the team, the cashﬂow issues, the projects to hold Lumin itself together. This can quickly become overwhelming if it’s not your driving force to run a business in itself. So to give myself new perspectives, I decided to apply for a Clore Fellowship, and to my surprise I got it. Whilste others on the programme were thinking about their future in relation to organisational structures and needs, I was trying to understand my path in more individual terms, and it was difﬁcult to draw the right conclusions. It made me wonder whether I should be working for an organisation, and, while it has helped me understand better the organisations and structures which I collaborate with to realise my ideas, I know now that I need to continue as an independent.
Jonathan Reekie Chief Executive, Aldeburgh Music
Through my relationship with composer and musician Mira Calix, who was in residence there, I discussed with Jonathan Reekie of Aldeburgh Music how he could be more fully involved with electronic music, and that Aldeburgh was the perfect context to bring together contemporary classical music, soundscaping, sound engineering, and electronic artists.
Left and right: Faster Than Sound
Together we conceived Faster Than Sound at Bentwaters Airbase in Suffolk in July 2006, as a co-production between Aldeburgh and Lumin. I could immediately see the potential of our idea, and found a natural creative dialogue with him about how best to realise it. He was very empowering, and with Aldeburgh’s fundraising muscle, such an ambitious idea became feasible. Faster than Sound will happen again in new ways next year, and we hope then to integrate these areas of work more fully into Aldeburgh’s programme at Snape. I want now to expand my experience as a producer in other areas as well as music – dance, and opera, to work in a more interdisciplinary way and to follow my fascination with technology in performance and interactive audience experiences. In music, I have found over the years that I see connections, links, possibilities that others don’t, and that I’m good even in a commercial sense at seeing things that should be happening early on. But I’m not someone whose motivation is to persist commercially in order to make my money back, or to exploit the full commercial potential of an idea. For me, it’s about ﬁnding ways to think creatively, experiment with formats and combinations of artists, explore new ideas, and challenge the way things are done. That’s why I am not so well-suited to work in an organisation: I would be pushing in too many new directions, following too much the potential for new ideas rather than what is right for that organisation. But my ideas are really ambitious, and often I need to work with organisations to realise these. I am interested to help them be more innovative. Independent producers can offer the larger organisations so much: we are connected with what’s going on out there in a different way, and we can make really interesting links across ideas, possibilities, maybe even across the very organisation that we’re working with, that others cannot. In the arts in the UK, there is creativity, but too little innovation: the subsidy focuses too much on delivery and what people can prove they already know how to do, and in fact some people don’t like things to change that much. A few organisations and individuals have managed to make a strong case for innovation, and they really inspire me. They have been clear: everything we do is different. The amazing innovation in the UK is in design, new technology and industry, not the arts. I think long term. I have ideas, I want to make them happen, but sometimes I can sense they’re ten years away, so I have to learn patience, waiting for the right time to pursue them, keeping conversations going. I believe that, at the point the project is ready to come to fruition, when the right elements are there, it will happen. The question of ﬁnancial stability, of basic viability, is the biggest problem I face – and the loneliness. It is so hard to survive ﬁnancially, and too often I’ve not paid myself properly, putting the projects ﬁrst. I am trying to learn that I can’t do this; I end up struggling, stressed, underpaid, and I know this is no way for me to build a future. I know I can be doing my best work in another twenty years, but the question is how to get there. Before I can go on to the next level, leading on larger projects and working in new interdisciplinary areas, I have to ﬁnd a way to stabilise myself so that I can build from there. I love people, I really love people, but as an independent this means I spend a lot more time on my own. I long for a work partnership that provides strategic discussion and support. If I’m down, there’s no-one to pick me up. You have to be aware when you go off balance or are running yourself dry, or you won’t survive. In the end, not looking after yourself is one of the weakest things you can do. <
To Crush Time
This And That
Lieven Thyrion is the producer at the heart of Les Ballets C de la B, the Ghent-based company originally led by Alain Platel, and now formed as a collective of choreographers. Lieven has taken Les Ballets from a protracted early phase when the company worked without funding in Ghent, through to the international renown and performing life it has enjoyed for many years now. Out of an early friendship as students, Lieven and Alain built a close collaborative relationship. From the beginning Lieven’s passionate belief in Alain’s work was a driving force in the company. As well as their personal friendship, Alain and Lieven shared strong political and social beliefs, and they ensured that Les Ballets expressed itself as a collective right from the start. Amongst the group of early collaborators, Lieven was the one to piece together the producer’s role, taking on the challenge of resourcing the company’s vision, devising structures, and forging the relationships that would make this possible. A strong sense of social mission was a driving force behind the company’s work. Lieven’s personal commitment took him to invest his entire professional career and maturing contribution as a producer into Les Ballets. He has offered his ideals, his passion, his ability to persuade, his prodigious energy for friendships and people, and a lively business acumen which he has sensitively harnessed to the company’s political and social aims. The company is currently building a home for itself in the heart of Ghent. When this is complete, in time Lieven and Alain are preparing to hand the company and its structure over to a younger generation. The sustained emergence from those earliest student beginnings through to a fully realised vision and a mature creative structure that can be offered on to others is Lieven’s extraordinary achievement. ››
Edited from conversations with Kate Tyndall
From left to right: Wolf; Mussen; La Tristeza Complice; members of Les Ballets C de la B 2006
I met Alain when I was a biology student and he was studying psychology. We went to see Pina Bausch. If you don’t fall in love with movement at that point, forget it. I thought, oh my god, biology is not all there is, Darwin can’t help me now. When I saw Alain and other friends perform something in their front room the first time, I felt deeply that this guy had something important, special. I believed very strongly in him, I was ready to fight for it. I saw he was not only a really lovely human being, but also he was capable of something great. By 1983, I had an aim – I knew I wanted to do something for Alain. I had no notion of being a producer, but I knew I could help because Alain is shy, and I am not. I wanted people to understand that this Platel had something to say that is completely different from others. I was sure about this – his ideas about how movement – art – could be part of their lives, his deep concern with other human beings. There was something much more important than what he did: it was how he did it and why. Alain became my way of expressing my own political feelings, my social engagement. Throughout, Les Ballets has expressed the need to be concerned for one another. It’s the only reason theatre exists for me. Otherwise I would have been a biologist finding solutions for diseases. From the start, Alain and I have known that I do the ‘blah blah blah’ and Alain creates things. I like to talk, to convince, and that was what was needed. I didn’t know the word ‘producer’ - I had to figure out what to do. I started thinking but I didn’t have the vocabulary. So I listened, and I learned. I saw how other Flemish artists were having success abroad, and I understood that we also must get out beyond Ghent. And in time we saw that we could not carry on without financial support, and I saw how I would need to find backing from abroad as well as at home. While we all earned our living doing other things, I sold insurance door to door. It was unbelievable hell, but I made some money out of it. I’m so happy I went through this, it made me so strong, this slamming of the doors. I thought, if I can make this work with life insurance, I know I can make this work with art,
which is so much more important. Over time, I saw that I was armed – and I was dangerous! I can sell – I can sell anything – but this was not what I was doing. I wanted people to support Alain with some money and with some space in a theatre, because I felt that what he was doing was so important. Those early years finding the people who would support Alain, building relationships based on what I really felt about him and what he was doing, it meant I was creating a network. In turn I could use this network to find backing for the other choreographers. From the start, we knew – he didn’t have to convince me, I didn’t have to convince him – that Les Ballets would be a collective. Every opinion from each person, wherever this person was sitting in the hierarchy, it didn’t matter, the opinion was absolutely valid. This mutual agreement, involvement in decisions, this depth of discussion, was absolutely equal to Alain’s principles of theatre. And then in the late 1980s the collective principle became that everybody who dances with Alain can make their own piece. Alain began to work for other companies too, and other members of Les Ballets began to make our work as well. Through our structure, by talking together we arrive at the decisions as to which artists will make work and what budgets to employ. Talking, talking, like the tribes of Africa, until the end of days. Sometimes it is very difficult, very aggressive, there is weeping, but we have always managed. We go to the table, we sit down, and we talk. We are all from Ghent, and Ghent is a city of argument, disagreement, against authority as a matter of principle. We were so lucky that, when Alain became internationally successful around 1994, he kept by the principles decided upon ten years before. We have developed these principles organically over time – we still do. I am sometimes amazed that we were not overthrown in this by our own success or other influences. To protect this, we have kept one standard system for how we are all paid – by age. This is my one real watchdog function. I only started to focus strongly on the company’s finances in the early 1990s, when we first got funding and I saw that we needed to earn more money, that we were in a different
phase now. The only thing I have ever done in a thinking way – not from the heart – was to find a financial director at that point. I took time to cultivate him, to nurture his understanding of the company’s values, and then after some years, I asked him to join me as my right hand in the decision making, the strategy. Gradually I have built it up to the point where we are able to find the support we need through co-producers. It has got to the point where we make the phone calls, and we find the support. This is true for all the choreographers. At the same time, the government’s support has grown. Now Les Ballets’ turnover is five million euros a year, and we are working and touring in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America. We have a strong market value, and I protect this to invest in the work. We are making several productions each year, and we tour as much as we can, so the dancers can earn a living and the choreographers can discover their audience. At a certain point, we understood that we need our own building. We know it will change us, but we want this independence. We have studied, talked, learned about this, pursued this consciously. For five years I have lobbied for our own home, but I lobbied for ten years for Alain to get real production money, and so this is not a problem. My argument has been my absolute belief that we need it. I closed the door behind me, crossed to the politicians’ side and told them I will stay there with them until I get what I need. Always in a gentle way, I explained that I cannot go back, my bridge is burnt. It took five years, but of course I got it. And no compromise. At one point, a politician insisted that we have a historical figure, important in Flanders’ nationalistic feelings, on our building. I said no, and we had a confrontation. But he is a politician, he’s playing a game. I am not, so I will win this. Even worse, he’s a politician, he’s there for a time. I am here forever. Now we know that in time we will hand this over, we will give it to the youngsters. Somewhere in the hundred or so people in the planetary system of Les Ballets are those who will take it on in future. We will give it to those we believe in. We will downsize it again, and give them the space, and the subsidies for the salaries
to have time as artists. We hope they will pursue the same values, the same deep interest in humanity. This has cost so much energy, so much energy. It’s unbelievable, the only thing I’ve done in my life, can you imagine? But I’m very proud of it. I can see now that my contribution has been that I have realised the dream. Not alone, of course. I realised dreams, made them tangible. I am sure about that now, not only for Alain but for the whole group. You cannot imagine what this feels like. Some of those who work with us tell me how much it means for them to work for Les Ballets. This is what I want to be paid with, this kind of honesty, these emotions. The hardest things have been the private price, the price paid in your private life. I am very lucky that Kate my wife, who is a member of the company, is still with me. And my children, the time to be with them. The other hardest thing has been the compromises that I have had to accept making. I don’t talk about these with Alain, but he has never cut himself off from this part of what I have had to pursue at times. The esteem towards me from him is immense. After, I want to continue to produce. I will help Alain with the work he has still to make – a book, a film, more dance theatre. And I will help the younger artists. I feel I have a mission, a way I can help younger producers. I want to help them find their energy, to explain why they should fight for their artists, find their passion. When I see colleagues of mine who are younger, they face pressures for quick success, quick money, in a way that we did not. I hope in your book you can capture the flame, the heat inside, because I am not playing a game with you, I’m not joking, this is me. The flame is the subject of your book. It’s not the skills, we know we need skills and we can learn those. It’s something different, a flame, something burning, restless. I’m stuck with this, and therefore you will be stuck with this, you will be part of this, because I can do no other than express it through what I do. <
The role of the producer is a topic that risks becoming fashionable at present, but the place of the producer in the ecology of the arts is much too important and longstanding a theme to be a mere vogue. In this country, many would agree we have a considerable game of catch-up to pursue. Certainly, the unfulďŹ lled potential is there. My personal hope is that this book can help in a process where policy priorities include not just a focus on the individual artist and on institutional or organisational structures, but on the producerâ€™s role as well, whatever structural form that takes. My view is that there should be a greater producer-led infrastructure in this country across the arts, and that producing talent should be spotted, nurtured and responded to, much as artistic talent is. The people proďŹ led here are amongst those who make a real difference to what is created, experienced and understood in this country. We should all be eager to help the new generation of producers emerge across the range of landscapes, contexts and nooks and crannies which inspire them, and to create the structures that will empower their potential. They are amongst those who will help unlock the possibilities and complexities of the paths that lie ahead. Kate Tyndall
We would like to thank each of the producers featured in this book for their extraordinary generosity and openness. We have ourselves been inspired by their responses to Kate Tyndall, and with them we acknowledge all those other producers, many not in this book, whose imagination, bravery and integrity make great work happen. Thanks to Sian Alexander, Karen Bateson, Helen Sprott and Andrew Wolffe for their contributions to this publication. And to Kate Tyndall who channelled these fourteen compelling stories with enormous empathy, thoughtfulness and care - thank you. Please visit the website and share your stories and responses to the book at www.the-producers.org Roanne Dods David Micklem
picture credits Marc Boothe p.3 Portrait: Franklyn Rodgers p.4 Mash Up: directed by Jesse Lawrence; bro9: directed by Julliet Ellis; Explosions: directed by Hammad Khan © B3 Media p.5 © B3 Media. Design Ben Wachenje p.7 Beats, Bytes and Big Screen leaflets: design Eric Le. © B3 Media. Digital Slam leaflet: design Tomato. © Nubian Tales/ B3 Media p.8 Courtesy of Verve Pictures. Photographer Kerry Brown Farooq Chaudhry p.9 Portrait: Damian Chapman p.10 Clockwise from top left: Carl Fox; Roy Peters; Chinatsu Sunaga; © Guardian Newspapers – photo Antonio Olmos; Carl Fox; Tristram Kenton p.12 Colin Hattersley Helen Cole p.13 Inbetween Time: Adam Faraday p.14 Adam Faraday p.16 Clockwise from top left: Adam Faraday, Manuel Vason, Matt Mawford, Denis Thorpe Andrew Eaton p.17 Portrait: Sarah Lee p.18 Courtesy of The Works International p.19/20 From left: Peter Mountain; Marcel Zyskind; Peter Mountain; Marcel Zyskind; Jon Shard p.22 Marcel Zyskind Paul Heritage ˜ Diniz p.23 Portrait: Ratao p.24 Ierê Ferreira p.27 Ierê Ferreira p.28 Ierê Ferreira
p.39 Sheila Burnett p.40 Andrew Whittuck p.41 Hugo Glendinning p.44 Bob van Dantzig David Lan p.45 Portrait: Jamie Lumley p.47/48 Keith Pattison Helen Marriage p.49 Portrait: Peter Kosminsky p.49 Mephistomania: Steve Day p.50 Sophie Laslett p.50 Elephant Illustration: Cog Design p.51/52 Steve Day p.53 Clockwise from top right: Steve Day; Boo Beaumont; Steve Day p.54 Steve Day Michael Morris p.55 Waste Man: Antony Gormley p.55 Portrait: Courtesy of Artangel p.56 Stills from Shirin Neshat Logic of the Birds p.57 Michael Morris and Brian Eno: © The Times, Ben Gurr p.57 Michael Morris and Lt Col Roger Norrington-Davis: Courtesy of Artangel p.58 Martin Jenkinson p.59 Self Storage: Tim Hutchinson and Jason Edwards p.59 The Influence Machine: Dennis Cowley p.60 House: Stephen White p.61 Masurca Fogo: Michael Rayner p.62 Shockheaded Peter: Gavin Evans Nii Sackey p.63 - 68 Omae Woolnough - firstname.lastname@example.org p.66 Nii Sackey
David Jubb p.29 Portrait: Pau Ros p.30 Steve Tanner p.31/32 From left: Hugo Glendinning; David Woods; Tim Nunn; Blind Summit; Steve Tanner p.34 Greg Piggot
Joana Seguro p.69 Portrait: Eva Vermandel p.71 Courtesy of Arts Council England, East – photography by Richard Heeps p.72 Left to Right: Courtesy of Arts Council England, East – photography by Richard Heeps; photography by James Parr
Judith Knight and Ritsaert ten Cate p.35 Toynbee Studios: Hugo Glendinning p.35 Judith Knight Portrait: Hugo Glendinning p.35 Ritsaert ten Cate Portrait: Nivo Schweizer p.37 Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey p.38 Conrad Blakemore
Lieven Thyrion p.73 Portrait: Comm’sa Ghent p.73 Chris Van der Burght p.74 Archives Les Ballets C de la B p.75/76 Chris Van der Burght
biog Kate Tyndall is an independent consultant and writer who works with artists and organisations across the contemporary performing arts. After working as a general manager in contemporary dance and with the London International Festival of Theatre, and as part of the Arts Council of Great Britainâ€™s Touring Department, she became an independent consultant in the mid-1990s and has combined strategic consultancy and advice giving with periods of direct responsibility for running arts organisations, programmes and projects. She has worked in a number of ways with the Arts Council, helping to develop policy, running grant programmes, undertaking strategic reviews, and working as Acting Head of Theatre at Arts Council London in 2004. Throughout her career, she has worked alongside a number of extraordinary individuals and organisations striving to fulfil the producerâ€™s role beyond the few established norms, and has a long standing belief in the significance and underdeveloped potential of what they do.
The Producers: Alchemists of the Impossible was commissioned by Arts Council England and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation to celebrate and...
Published on Sep 30, 2014
The Producers: Alchemists of the Impossible was commissioned by Arts Council England and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation to celebrate and...