A thought for theatre-lovers, theatre-goers, critics and reviewers : You know how you go and see a play upstairs at the Royal Court or downstairs at Hampstead or upstairs at Live or any little studio attached to a big shiny theatre building, in any small venue that is part of a big venue, and then you go and see another play put on by a fringe/unfunded company that is part of nothing bigger than itself – and then you COMPARE THE TWO?
Well don’t. Just don’t.
Because there is no comparison.
There is no comparison between the company that has rehearsal space and the company that is rehearsing in a back room in a pub, in the cheapest space they can find, in rooms rented or borrowed from friends, or in their front room.
There is no comparison between a play written by someone with a commission and therefore time to write and time to develop, ideally with a cast and a director, time to find what the play is and might be doing before it gets into a rehearsal room, and the writer who is writing their play while working full time at a ‘career’ job, the writer who is writing their play while juggling other jobs to make ends meet because all they want to do is write, the writer who is writing while childcaring and holding down a part-time job.
There is no comparison between the work a director can do with a whole body of building staff and stage crew and admin staff and people keen to help them and the writer and the cast find the ‘vision’, and the work a director can do when half the time they’re trying to make sure their cast feel able to work at all when they’ve already come from one, two or three other jobs.
There is no comparison between what an actor can achieve when they have a director’s full attention, a playwright’s full support, a fully-funded bunch of designers and stage crew – not to mention three or four or more weeks paid full time rehearsal – making it possible for them to take time to find their best in the work, to serve the work and to shine in that work – with the actor who is already musical directing one show while working on another show while doing some other part time job they loathe to pay the mortgage.
And there is no comparison between what a lighting designer can achieve with a massive budget and one with six tin cans hanging from a pub ceiling.
Or a costume designer with not only a feasible budget but also the resources of dozens of years’ worth of previous productions. And the same for set designers, sound designers.
And there’s no point even considering how hard it is for a fringe/unfunded stage manager/operator, working an absurdly outdated lighting board, chasing up actors who all work on different schedules, juggling venues because there’s no money to sit in just one room and enjoy the bliss of that – of having a consistent work space.
And yet – I know way more people making unfunded work than those making funded work. Way more people working out of back rooms than I do people working out of theatre-building offices where someone else does their IT and a cleaner comes in the wee hours. Way more people making work, week in week out, making work that is worthwhile and valuable and vital, work that is often lauded above the more trad big-space stuff, work that FEEDS our funded bodies, work that our funded buildings and organisations pick up a year or two later, ideas they pick up a decade or two later, ideas they run with that we, in the unfunded sector, dragged out of the ether with the pure force of our wanting, simply wanting to make work. Because we believed in making work, and the wage – welcome though it always is, ideal though it always is, necessary though it always is – was not the point.
Just don’t compare. Go see the incredible unfunded/fringe/small-scale company making astonishing work and know how very much harder they’ve had to work to get it on than the big kids. How very much harder it is to make work on nothing than on something, with no home than with a home.
And to the big kids (you know who you are!) – didn’t we all come into theatre to make a difference? Didn’t we think it was about telling stories that touched people? That it was part of change? Well, here’s a difference you can make right now – stop hogging your buildings and your space and your goods. Start sharing. Throw open the doors*. Because we little kids have brilliant ideas and amazing makers and stunning writers and astonishing actors and genius designers, and they’re all really used to working incredibly hard, in absurdly difficult conditions, and making great stuff ANYWAY.
You need us. We’re fresh blood.
Here’s the thing I’m making right now, in an unfunded company, with some amazing people, doing brilliant work anyway : Ordinary Darkness.
* as a company, Shaky Isles has had some amazing generosity from some (still pretty small) kids throwing open their doors to us, literally and in kind. Funny how it’s always the ones with least who share the most, isn’t it?