Category Archives: Blog

I went to the Theatres Trust Conference and all I got was a ton of good info

So as I mentioned in my last post, I got offered a sponsored place to attend the Theatres Trust conference on Theatres and Placemaking! Super exciting! Thanks to Audio Light Systems for the place, and especially to Roland who was lovely to chat to during the day!

I think the biggest thing I learnt at the conference was that the history and community of a place should really be at the core of what a theatre is, and what it does. Many of the speakers during the day emphasised the importance of building on existing relationships and memories, whether that be memories of a now closed theatre, or links that already exist within communities, or across them.

Louise Gittins, of the Storyhouse Chester project, talked about how the sentimentality attached to old buildings can provide the push to get a community involved in regeneration. She and Graham Lister, the project manager, said that for them, community ownership was really important – letting local residents feel that they had control and input into the building, and that they were as involved as possible. They did things like getting local school children to help relocate the library, and making sure the building would be welcoming and open during the day. Dave Byrne of New Diorama also talked about the research and interviews his team conducted while NDT was being built. They aimed to bring together the communities of the local housing estates, and make Regents Place a destination area rather than just office blocks, and they conducted research to find out what local people wanted, and what they’d already experienced in terms of theatre and culture.

On a more practical level, the conference also taught me about planning and obtaining capital funding. One of my biggest challenges has been trying to work out where the initial funds would come from for Hope in Hell, because capital funding is much harder to come by than project based funding. Dave Byrne and Graham Lister both talked about getting capital funding from the Arts Council, and after a bit of digging I’ve discovered the Small Capital Grants fund, which looks good! However, both of them emphasised that you need quite a few things to access this:

  • A 5 – 10 year plan with full costings and goals
  • A business plan
  • An audience development plan
  • Board development
  • Partnerships and plans for developing these in future

Which is quite an intimidating list! They’re all things that were on my radar before, but the conference helped me understand which bits I’d need in order to get funding, and which I can use that funding to develop.

I also got some information about planning permissions, from Brian Whitely from Planning Aid. He emphasised the importance of engaging with the local council as early as possible, and of understanding their aims and ambitions for the area. Each council has a “Local Plan” which can be consulted, and applications for planning permissions should dovetail with this as much as possible – just the same as applying for ACE grant schemes etc. The key phrases for him are the national aim to “facilitate social interaction”, and improve the “vitality of town centres”, both of which theatres can do!

Finally, I must mention Paul Callaghan from Sunderland Music Arts Trust (MAC). He gave a barnstorming speech to open the conference, righteously angry at the world for ignoring northerners, disadvantaged people and working class people. His work in Sunderland is inspiring, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out!

Coming out of the conference, I have really re-focussed the next steps for Hope in Hell, which I think lies in doing research and interviews with Sheffield communities, and identifying an existing community building to transform into the theatre. I’m now working on a ACE grant application to do just that! So as always, watch this space!

 

 

Back In Business – Where I’ve Been & What Next

So as you’ll have noticed, I’ve been away from Hope in Hell for a couple of months now. There’s a few reasons for that – I was at the Fringe, and then in NYC for example! – but mainly I’ve just been experiencing a confidence dip. It’s proving hard to sustain belief in a project like this over months, honestly, but I’ve been back in Sheffield this weekend and it’s been a big boost! So this post is to catch you up on the things I have managed to do for HiH since August, and the things coming next!

Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs

First things first – I got accepted to the Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs course! Hurray, I hear you shout. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the tuition fees. Deeply, deeply frustrating, and upsetting too really – being excluded from an opportunity by money is never a happy experience. However, it was encouraging to get through the interview process, and I might try their short course next year!

Fringe Networking

Probably the best thing I did at the Fringe this year was tweet Dave Byrne, the director of New Diorama, and ask to get a coffee with him. He’s a lovely person, and always open to helping fellow creatives, and gave me TONS of useful advice, some of which has made me rethink how Hope in Hell will work in practice. In short:

  1. It won’t work to have a full open door policy – HiH needs to be consistently programming quality shows, to maintain audience levels and to get funding
  2. HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean a fully closed door policy either  – there’s enough time in a month for both!
  3. Quality breeds opportunity – having large audiences in for selectively programmed shows will mean more money to spend on bursaries, training, rehearsal space and admin support for the Open Door Policy

I’m going to be reworking my budgets in light of this advice, and writing an “example month” to figure out what sorts of residencies etc I might be able to offer

ITC999

This week I managed to bag a slot for a phone call from the Finance Director of the ITC – the Independent Theatre Council, as part of their ITC999 initiative. I was asking for advice on finding funding for a capital project – something bricks and mortar, rather than a production or project. Slightly reassuringly, he said he didn’t know either! But he did make me aware of the Arts Council Small Capital Grants fund, which looks very hopeful indeed.

Sheffield Visit and Encouraging Friends

I was up in Sheffield this weekend visiting friends, and seeing Flood by Slunglow (it was amazing, naturally). It made me remember how much I miss the city, and how beautiful it is. Look at that!

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Anyway, I also met up with a ton of my Sheffield friends, and it was really lovely to have them all ask after Hope in Hell, and want it to succeed. I found it really energising, and it helped me to remember why I started doing this in the first place! So thanks Tim, Fergus, Alex, Soph, Hannah, Jenni, Glenn, Rosie, Alex, Matt and Patrick. I appreciate it a lot.

What Next

Next up for me is:

  • Re-stating the Mission Statement for HiH, in light of advice from Dave Byrne
  • Imagining an “example month” of productions, rehearsals and residencies
  • Producing a completed business plan, and accepting it won’t be perfect
  • Contacting ACE and Sheffield Council about funding and moving forward in 2018

So please do keep following – we are back in business!

The Love Story Between Theatre And I

Some time ago, I made a call out for POC to write a blog post about their experiences of theatre. I had some amazing responses, and choosing which person to publish was incredibly hard. Thank you to all those who applied.

Today I’m delighted to introduce Sola Adegbite, and her piece,

The Love Story Between Theatre And I

Truthfully when I talk about the theatre, I talk about it through the eyes of a Black working-class woman, the reason why I stress those factors is because my journey with the theatre can only be shared from that perspective, so this is my truth and my experience:

I fell in love with theatre when I was 15 years old, I was in secondary school studying GCSE drama and I found a place that I felt I belonged. I discovered a talent that came so naturally to me, and a whole new world opened up. Theatre was a place to explore and create, to delve into an imaginary world and get lost. I was just a child, and loved to act and the theatre seemed to welcome me. But the more I got to know and study the theatre, the more I began to feel disconnected. That first love I had of excitement and passion began to fizzle out, and I began to wonder what I saw in theatre in the first place.

I stopped loving the theatre because I never felt like it loved me back, I never felt like it cared about me or what I had to say. It seemed to me that the theatre rarely allowed people of my colour in, it seemed to me that it rejected anything that was non-white. Thinking back over the history of theatre, it had always been sold to me as white culture, a great phenomenon that anyone non-white had, had no contribution in. It was as if I wasn’t welcome within that space being myself. I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t if I wanted to belong in that world. I was taught everything that had made theatre what it was today, and in all that history I was never taught that black people had any help in shaping theatre. From secondary to university I chose to ignore the fact that over and over again we didn’t study any black playwrights in the education system. I ignored the fact that when I went to see a play in central London, there were rarely casts of people that looked like me. I tried to ignore, but deep in my subconscious mind I couldn’t ignore it, I couldn’t run from the very evident fact that I felt unwelcome, not wanted. It was for middle class white people, and I was neither white or middle class. I would take trips on the underground and see posters of current shows in west end, and I would ask myself where are the shows with black people?

I used to think that I had the problem, I always felt inferior. I felt like I wasn’t worthy to be an actor because I didn’t understand the theatre, but it was never my fault, it wasn’t that I didn’t understand theatre it was that theatre didn’t understand me. I felt that it isolated me, told me I wasn’t welcome. It was as if it wanted to keep me far away, didn’t want the stories of black people in the mainstream theatre. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that I don’t see people that look like me on the stage, but it’s too far and too few. There just isn’t enough and I’m tired of it. There isn’t enough diversity when it comes to telling stories from black people.  So I’m talking to you straight now theatre, and I know it may surprise you but Black people have many different stories to tell, but instead you seem to want to keep us locked into the single story, the story that fits your view of us. You rarely give us the chance to break out or expand, you don’t give us the chance to show the diversity of our cultures and backgrounds.  Instead you shut us out telling us things like we just weren’t cultural enough, but I think maybe you just aren’t cultural enough to see that within our communities are thousands of untold stories. I heard it said that black people don’t go to the theatre, well maybe that’s because you’re not telling stories that black people can relate to. Ever thought of that?

It’s time to change!

Maybe I got this wrong, and there’s been a miscommunication between the theatre and me. I’m thinking that maybe it’s the gatekeepers; the producers, and the directors, because I know there are plenty of talented black playwrights. So, I’m talking to you now gatekeepers, you see to change we need more black writers, we need more black directors and producers, because it seems to me that white people just are not writing parts for people that don’t look like them. Black writers need to tell their stories, we need to broaden the scope of the stories that we tell, and allow the diversity of these different stories to open our hearts and minds. Let’s use theatre to reach out to the masses, to the people that feel that they don’t fit in, that they have no place. I’ve realised that I’ve been hating you theatre all these years, but I got it wrong. It wasn’t your fault, you didn’t reject me, it was the gatekeepers that kept me out, the gatekeepers that kept us apart, and didn’t allow me to the see who you truly were. The producers, directors and writers that never thought that we should be together. It was never the theatre, the theatre always loved me back, I just didn’t see it.

But now I’m starting to see theatre as something new, started reviewing theatre with fresh eyes, instead of through the eyes of rejection and hurt.  I see the power of theatre, the beauty of theatre.  I realise now, that theatre was never rejecting me, it was the people that controlled the theatre that had tried to keep us separate. Years of making sure I never got to know the theatre right, years of lying to me telling me that black people didn’t belong unless I adapted to what the gatekeepers wanted me to be. Years of parts that I couldn’t play because of the colour of my skin. The directors thinking the only parts I could play were of the maid, the slave or the single mother, as if that’s all I was deemed fit to play. It’s time to start levelling the playing field. You see my white counterparts get to play a varied number of roles, and we all know that the more variety you play, the more you learn. How can I develop myself further if I always get the same roles? The roles reflect the limited capacity to see what people of colour can do. Are people’s minds that narrow that they believe we don’t have other stories to tell? Are people’s minds so closed that they are not interested in finding out more about people of other races? I refuse to believe or accept this anymore, I take the theatre as my own now, I will tell the stories I want to tell because I’m so tired of scrolling through castings and rarely seeing a role that I can apply for. I will create my own opportunities, I will be a part of the change and take ownership. Theatre is there to educate, entertain, inform, and promote social change, its transcends race. I embrace it with open arms, and in turn theatre embraces me back, telling me that I am welcome, and my stories are valid. So, I no longer hate you theatre, instead I have found love for you again, I think we just never got the chance to get to know each other right, but now I want to know you and I want you to know me. I feel like I’m 15 years old again, and in love with theatre like for the very first time.

Let’s start this journey together, let’s be brave.

Written By Sola Adegbite

Actor and Writer

Author of the new and upcoming blog FindingHer.co.uk

Finding-Her-Pic

 

Callout: POC For Paid Blogpost

Following on from my post about mental health and equality, I’d like to invite a guest blogger to create a post about their experience of racism and/or blackness in theatre in the UK. I am looking for a woman of colour, or a non-binary/genderqueer person of colour, as their voices are often unheard. I can pay £75 for the post, and will include any links or self-promotions that the creator wants.

More Details

I have no fixed idea of what this should look like – it could be an image collage, a video, a traditional blog post etc – except that the aim is to amplify the voices of black people in theatre. I would like you to create whatever comes to your mind when you think of racism and/or blackness in theatre in the UK.

I have no fixed deadline for this, but would like it to be published in the next 3-4 weeks if possible.

I would like to support disabled people to apply and create – if you have any support needs for this please let me know.

This may lead to more guest blogs in the future, but my budget is still uncertain (and tiny anyway) so I can’t promise anything.

How to Apply

If you’d like to create this guest blog, please email hopeinhelltheatre@gmail.com, or contact me on Twitter, whichever suits you best.

No experience is required or expected, but if you would like to include previous creations please do. Otherwise, just leave your preferred method of contact and I’ll get in touch to talk to you about it.

 

 

Mental Health and Access in the Arts

Hi everyone! I’ve been away from blogging for a couple of weeks due to being insanely busy, but I’m back to talk about mental health in the arts. I went to a workshop yesterday on this topic hosted by Chama Kay and Les Enfants Terribles, and I wanted to talk about some of the stats I heard there, and the experiences. And, of course, how they’ll impact Hope in Hell.

“A 2015 report by Victoria University in Australia found that performing arts workers experience symptoms of anxiety ten times higher than the general population, and depression symptoms five times higher, saying that these statistics can be directly attributed to financial insecurity and poor working conditions.” – Jessie Thompson

Here’s how it works in theatre – you work for low pay or no pay, on short term zero hours contracts, in work which demands emotional, mental and physical stamina every day, on demand. You work for any number of reasons – because it’s your calling, because it makes you fulfilled, because its what you’re trained in, etc. You joke about post show blues, or the stresses of finding work, but it’s accepted as part of the industry. Right? So it’s hardly surprising to hear that arts workers are 10 times more likely to have anxiety than the general population. Or 5 times more likely to be depressed.

Its an institutional, industrial, colossal problem, and one which is only exacerbated by the current ongoing recession and austerity measures in this country. And, to touch briefly on a huge topic, it’s a problem which is made worse if you are BAME, LGBT+, female, disabled, or a member of any other minority. At the workshop yesterday, some people spoke about experiences of subtle, sub-conscious racism – casting drug dealers as black, for example – but also about shocking incidents of outspoken racism, the type which as a white person I think of as illegal, and therefore impossible. Theatre is one of the best places to hide this type of bigotry, as casting decisions can easily be explained away as artistic, or worse, authentic, and as a who-you-know industry, the risks of calling out bigoted behaviour are high. It’s crucial not to forget that, and in that spirit I will be making a call out on Twitter commissioning a BAME theatre-maker to write a guest-blog about these issues.  Watch this space.

So what can we do to support ourselves, and each other? Chama Kay was very good at getting us thinking about this – if you’d like to see his worksheet, see the end of this blog – and he got me thinking about how a venue can support local theatre makers. My thoughts were:

  1. Be actively inclusive – if I’m interviewing for positions, half of interviewees must be from a minority group. This needs refinement, but I want to be as proactive as I can to ensure that everyone gets the opportunities they deserve.
  2. Hold support classes and workshops for creatives (regardless of their activity with the venue) – this could include group therapy type sessions, mindfulness sessions, or just a regular coffee-and-cake date
  3. Create a network for casts and crew to stay together after a show – email lists, social media groups, alumni meet ups etc, to combat the abandonment feelings that can happen once a show is over
  4. Offer support with Arts Council applications, and reminders that the Arts Council will fund accessibility support including mental health support as part of your application

I am sure more things will occur as Hope in Hell solidifies into reality, but those 4 principles should help to create sustainable working conditions for theatre makers involved in HiH, and create a positive atmosphere for working together!

Chama Kay’s Worksheet

First day in the office!

At the weekend I went to spend my first day in our new offices at Somerset House Exchange! I took some photos of what I was up to, so here we go…

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It was a boiling day, and the fountains were on at Somerset House! Lots of kids running around having fun. Unfortunately I had to descend to the basement to…

The office! There’s two rooms available…

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I attempted a panoramic here. I have one of the lockers assigned to me, and this is a super quiet place to work at a weekend
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This is the other room available. It’s lovely and light, and the stone floor is cool, but the plug sockets aren’t at the desks and my tablet was dead. Also there’s a kitchen for TEA

 

So what was I working on? The bar! This is one aspect of the budget (and whole business to be honest) that I have no knowledge of, no experience of, and have been kinda ignoring until now! So I decided to face my fears and try to both estimate how many sales we’d make at the bar, and how much it would cost.

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This is me estimating costs per month. I reckoned on 24 bottles of wine, 90 beers and a bunch of soft drinks and snacks at £400pcm total. But that might be overestimating if I use cash-and-carry!
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And this is my estimates for takings. I’m pricing booze at £3 per glass/can – what would you expect to pay? And £1.50 for soft drinks. Then I’m guessing 15 alcoholic and 10 soft drinks per night. Is this right? Who knows! In any case it comes to £940 income per month

I couldn’t stay too long coz I was meeting a friend afterwards, but the sun was still shining when I came out! So I tried for another panoramic – enjoy! And if you have any thoughts on how to budget a theatre bar, please get in touch on FB or Twitter!

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The Creative Business Cup

Today we’ve applied for the Creative Business Cup! This is a competition which awards prizes to creative businesses, and offers the chance to pitch to investors for more funds. The questionnaire was a great exercise in defining the business concept for Hope in Hell, and as a result we’ve updated the About page with a fuller description of what Hope in Hell Theatre is.

If you’re interested in our answers for the Cup entry, you can read them in full in the PDF below. Get in touch with your thoughts!

Cup Entry Form

cbc_banner

What makes a theatre?

“Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and sails; that’s what a ship needs. Not what a ship is. What the Black Pearl really is, is freedom.” – Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

What is a theatre? To me it’s like the Black Pearl. It’s the stage and the curtains and the seating and the bar, that’s what a theatre needs. But a theatre really is freedom.

Unfortunately, a theatre needs things! So I tried to work out all the things Hope in Hell Theatre would need, from the building itself through the people and the legal documentation. And it turns out, there’s a lot…

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In fact there’s so much that you can’t read it here! But you can enlarge the image here. It covers 2 sides of A3 paper!

It’s a scary list – there’s a lot of things on here that I hadn’t previously considered, like shares and shareholders, and how they work, and DBS checks to work with schools, and soundproofing for the building. All of which need to be built into the budget and roadmap. But it’s also a good list – its big, but it’s finite, and I have a year to work through it. So hopefully that’s enough time!

In other news, I’ve had two sign ups to the Theatre Gang! If you’d like to get involved with Hope in Hell, in any way however large or small, please check out the info here. And thank you to those who’ve come forward already – I can’t do this by myself!

I’ve also sent out the first Hope in Hell newsletters, and the postcards that go with it! I’m pretty delighted with the artwork by Emma Slattery – you can see more here, and sign up!

This week I’ll be using the new office space in Somerset House for the first time, so watch this space for pics and excitement about that too! Here’s to bigger dreaming.

Join me! Be part of my Theatre Gang!

Hope in Hell Theatre has been going for 5 months now as an active project, and I think it’s time to get more people on board! To that end, I’m now announcing recruitment for a Theatre Gang!

What does this mean, you ask? Well:

  • helping steer the direction of Hope in Hell
  • having a direct and meaningful influence on all aspects of business planning
  • wearing the Hat of Positive Thinking when it’s your turn
  • having the chance to be a director/shareholder when the company is formally created (this is 100% optional)

In essence, I’m looking for anyone who’s enthusiastic about helping make this project happen, and who’s willing to have regular chats (in person or online) about how best to do that. Time commitment is flexible, and I expect the format of Theatre Gang to change over time as we settle into roles (or don’t).

If that sounds like you, fill in a form here, and I’ll get right back to you!

https://goo.gl/forms/EWzPoxLOeiSmVS773

Who Wants What And How To Pay For It

This post is about budgeting! I know, how boring right? WRONG. Budgeting underpins everything we do ever, and it’s been worrying me thinking about how to balance the books on a social enterprise, while being fair to everyone (including myself).

SO. I did an experiment. I wrote up a summary budget twice.

In one version, I started with my own wants as a theatre – having a decent sized space, a marketing budget, offering paid residencies, being paid myself, etc. And then I wrote the other side of the budget to make up that money – I decided fees, hiring conditions etc to reach this ideal amount of money.

Here’s what I got:

Price then Cost

In this budget, we’re paying a Theatre Manager the living wage full time, having 6 artists residencies with £500 each, and allocating £1k per year for attending conferences etc.

To balance that out, we are:

  • offering a 60/40 box office split
  • charging £200 for straight hires per night
  • doing a whole day straight hire for £300
  • charging £9ph for community hires and £10ph for rehearsal space
  • renting out 2 desk spaces at £100 per month each

I like this version because it allows for “good theatre things” – paid residencies, a fairly paid theatre manager, and a realistic budget for personal development. I don’t like it because its more commercial, is more financially limiting, and may be beyond the reach of Sheffield theatremakers.


In the second version, I started from what I think my customers want – both audiences and theatre-makers. I priced things as low as I thought could be reasonably expected, and then tried to work out what Hope in Hell could afford as a result.

Here’s what I got this time:

COST THEN PRICE

In this budget, we’re paying a Theatre Manager 4 days per week (though they will almost certainly need to work more in evenings and weekends) on minimum wage, and have no extras such as paid residencies and travel budgets.

To balance that out, we are:

  • offering a 70/30 box office split
  • doing straight hires at £150 per night
  • doing community hires at £7ph and rehearsal space at £8ph
  • renting out 2 desk spaces at £50 per month each

I like this version because it’s as affordable as it realistically can be, and I hope will be financially viable for Sheffield theatremakers. The lower cost desk space particularly appeals to me as I’m having difficulty finding this sort of thing myself! I don’t like this version because it demands that a Theatre Manager works 4 days per week only, which will probably be in shift work, and on minimum wage rather than living wage.

What do you think? How would you balance a budget like this? Should I be charging more, as in the first budget, or being as cheap as possible and sacrificing nice things, as in the second budget? Discuss!


Assumptions in both budgets:
  1. 9 nights box office split per month (3 x Fri-Sun) with 60% capacity
  2. 2 nights straight hire per month
  3. That Corporation Tax is 20% and our premises fall within the Small Business Allowance to escape Business Rates