Whilst only in its second year, the Theatre Bath conference has established itself as a place to be. A place to be inspired, ask questions further ideas and create new creative partnerships. Guided by experts in various areas of the theatrical world including Catherine Comerford from The Stage Newspaper, Jill Bennett from the Theatre Royal, Emmanuel De Lange from Equity and hosted by local favourite comedian Jon Monie, the 2014 Breaking Boundaries Conference sparked debate as it opened up the floor to give those who love theatre a voice.
Are the arts in a rut? How much of an impact will Local Authority and Arts Council funding cuts have on organisations? Is it right or wrong that you should be expected to work for free and what rights do you have to protect you as an individual? Is enough being done to support actors with mental health and anxiety issues? Is amateur, community or youth dirty words?
Saturday 11th October, the conference began the way all theatre conferences should with a performance. Bath Dance College performed a series of routines showcasing the talent of tomorrow.
Next it was Natural Theatre Company Director Andy Burden debated the negative connotations often given to amateur, youth and community theatre. ‘The arts is in crisis…I don’t know, is it?’ It would seem not as Andy unveiled the positives and importance of professional, amateur, community and youth theatre; ‘Having young people engaged gives us energy…we [theatre] need to be re-invigorated’ whilst ‘community helps keep the art relevant’ ‘theatre doesn’t have to be in crisis, we can build new audiences if we all stick together’. This lively and inspiring performance was topped off with a short sketch from The Naturals; Bath based internationally acclaimed street theatre company, adding to the theatricality of the event.
Jill Bennett continued the discussion of amateur being a dirty word. Having grown up in community theatre she has seen how such groups ‘provide an opportunity for people to fall in love with theatre’ which is vital to breaking down the boundaries that can surround the theatrical world. Jill even went so far to say that ‘if amateur is a dirty word, I’m going to talk dirty for the rest of my life!’
The Theatre Bath Breaking Boundaries Conference was created with the aim to truly break down boundaries and engage more with those attending. Therefore, as well as time to discuss, ask questions and offer opinions after each speech, attendees were given an entire hour to talk about any theatrical issues affecting them with the whole room debating how to move forward and break those boundaries. Topics included how to create innovative theatre, how do we make theatre relevant, how Bath can get a greater audience to raise awareness of the arts and have we devalued the value of artists.
Zoe Bailey Associate Director of Theatre Bath said ‘We took a risk scheduling such large chunks of time with no plan other than to let the people at the conference talk about what they wanted to. But I’m so glad we did. The time to discuss is vital to the future of theatre, finding a way to move forward together’
Performances from singer songwriter Brian Madigan and performance poet Janey McLeod were sprinkled throughout the afternoon, adding to creative buzz within the conference.
The afternoon began with Dr Carol Chapman from the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine, Oliver Jones Director of Creativity Works and Associate Director of Trestle Theatre Company and Catherine Comerford from The Stage Newspaper discussing mental health in the arts. Posing the question; ‘why has [mental health in the arts] not been discussed before?’ They shed light on the range of support available for those in the creative industries as well as the launch of the Arts and Minds Initiative that aims to create a central online resource of support networks.
Emmanuel de Lange from Equity challenged the low pay no pay boundaries and the ever present question of ‘how do you value what you do?’ Stating we must pull together to force industry standards to change because ‘what we are…is the voice of a sector’.
Day one concluded with a discussion of the day’s events. Everyone who attended was in agreement that it had a hugely positive impact and many went away actively planning projects for the future. As was said many times throughout the day ‘it is so important to have these conferences to assure we do important work’.
Sunday 12th October was an Open Space event, the first of its kind in Bath, where attendees posed the questions. Throughout the day at anytime people could lead a discussion in the theatrical issue they wanted to talk about.
The room was full of conversation with many different debates in different areas going on at once. Topics ranged from effective advertising and self promotion in local theatre, theatrical immersion, why is it difficult to get noticed in local theatrical groups, to how to make the leap into professional stagecraft, are we too reliant to on theatrical effects to sell theatre, can it be more about the work and less about competition? Each session ended with more discussions beginning culminating in a huge collection of ideas of what local people want for the future of the arts in Bath.
Theatre Bath would like to thank Arts Council England and Bath and North East Somerset Council for their support in funding this event, and Phil Hindson and Peter Salt for attending the conference.
More information can be found at www.breakingboundaries2014.net
Why not watch some of the keynote speeches here: