Theatre Makers Lunch Reviewed

Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Abby Ledger-Lomas embraced her theatrical side and went to lunch with the thespians…

I have to admit it, I was a little bit nervous about the idea of a ‘Theatre Makers Lunch‘. The last time I’d had any contact with the acting world, I was 15, and surrounded by fellow drama students pretending to grow from an acorn into a tree. My attempt was more sapling than majestic oak. Unless it’s Karaoke in the early hours of the morning, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see me in the spotlight.

It was then with a degree of nervousness that I tiptoed into the Cornerhouse’s Annex room for a session of networking “aimed at supporting emerging artists to make their own theatre or performance.” I had imagined a room of extravagant beret-clad thespians, finishing each sentence with a flourish gestures. What I found was something entirely different.

There were no cries of “daaahrling” as I shuffled into the bright, airy room. No flinging around of limbs or showy, O-T-T story telling… Just a few friendly people dotted around, casually chatting about their projects, drinking tea and nibbling Cornerhouse’s yummy fennel seed biscuits.

The seating was laid out in a large circle, and for a minute I began to panic. There was nowhere to hide. What if they asked me to introduce myself to the group through the medium of dance? I frantically tried to recall the opening routine of Wigfield’s Saturday Night, the only dance routine I knew, cursing my mother for not forcing me into ballet classes when I was younger.

Thankfully, we were just asked to say a quick hello, along with a few standard ice breaking questions like being asked to provide a piece of performative work that we wish we’d made. This varied from Beyonce’s Glastonbury Performance to Avant-Garde films like Rabbit’s Moon; one performer cited The Royal Family, and another chose Samuel Beckett’s Fragments. As we went around the circle, it became clear that this is a diverse network of individuals… So what brought them together?

According to Lowri Evans, leader of today’s session, they’d turned up to help each other out, supporting each other’s work “from the spark of an idea into fruition”. The session’s about using the collective knowledge of the group to get projects off the ground, relying on the individual talents that are present in the community to kick start a great idea, instead of waiting for the powers that be to give it the go ahead.

It’s obvious that there’s a need for this sort of support. The workshop was fun and light-hearted, but there was also a slight air of desperation from some of the more “green” members of the group, who were struggling with the lack of support they’d been faced with: the pressures of “coming out of uni, when everything was handed to you on a plate, to nothing”, as one member puts it. This wasn’t just about being creative. It was about making a living.

Thankfully, the theatre industry isn’t as down and out as some may have it. There are small, innovative theatre companies that are doing well, and their tales of success filled the room with an almost audible sigh of relief.

The session’s centre stage guests were members of both Eggs Collective (Roxanne Moores and Lydia Hirst) and Happy Storm Theatre (Susie Wren). They ran us through the history of their collectives, including their successful Arts Council England grants; points that set pencils scribbling furiously into notebooks as they shared their bid writing experience. The issue of funding was ‘the big one’, and the question on everyone’s lips is how to get it. “It’s a minefield”, warns Susie, but both collectives showed that it could be done.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, with limited funding and dwindling investment in the arts, so the level of openness and support was surprising. There’s no hesitation in helping to give a potential competitor a leg up onto the ladder, even if a great deal of effort has been spent in getting to the top of it. During the workshop session a member speaks up who’s never worked in theatre before: an English graduate looking to move into the industry. The group actively leans forward, eager to reach out to him with support. It’s like an AA meeting. My name’s Edward, and I’m thinking about directing a play. Even I pitched in with advice, I couldn’t help it.

As I stepped out from the Cornerhouse into the biting November wind, I felt a little warm inside. It’s nice to see people being nice: supporting each other, creating opportunities where there would otherwise be a brick wall. It’s what makes the art industry special, and it was a good feeling to be part of it. There was a spring in my step that bordered on improvised dance, and I almost broke into spontaneous song; but then remembered I’m not in a room of theatre practioners anymore. I’m in public, and the man next to me is looking a little afraid.

Still not sure if our Theatre Makers Creative Lunches are for you? Hear from those who attended to find out what they got out of the event…

Theatre Maker”s Lunch feedback (mp3)

And look out for future Theatre Makers Creative Lunches in the new year.