Yesterday, I went to join lots of other theatre companies and makers of work at the STAMP Connects event at Shoreditch Town Hall. For those who don’t know, STAMP stands for ‘supporting theatre artists & makers of performance’ and is a collection of arts organisations from Old Vic to Hackney Showrooms, all with an interest in finding better ways to help support emerging and mid career artists. It’s incredibly useful to companies such as ourselves to be able to meet venues all in one place and to get a handle on who might be a good fit for your work and interested in it. But it is like a taster session with each – you just get a sense of what each offers and is interested in, a signpost as to which is the best direction to take.
The most inspiring part of the day was a Q & A with Mike Shepherd. Mike has been AD of Kneehigh for over 35 years. During that time there have always been problems, money being the most obvious, but the state of play for emerging artists at the moment is probably one of the most difficult we have seen. Mike spoke with passion about what keeps him going. And the word was Passion. Pure and simple. Passion and rage. He has a passion which fires him up, which makes him make the work he wants to make. Early shows which are now part of Kneehigh’s great successes were panned by critics but audiences were thrilled and they went on to tour not just nationally but internationally. He spoke of the Red Shoes going to Aleppo and his own sadness when he recalls that place, now lying in ruins. He spoke of the peope he works with in Cornwall, not just theatre makers but inventors and farmers – the people who allowed their fields to be used for the asylum in its early days. And he spoke of the audiences. Those that came to hear the stories in the middle of the woods and those that waded through mud and stood in a storm to see out a show. He spoke of music and freedom.
Kneehigh are one of the very best theatre companies in the UK – probably the world. But they have become good by being uncompromising – they rehearse in barns on the edge of the sea, where the wind and the sky, and the hole in the roof, feeds them. They take their actors away from all outside distractions – who knows maybe even phones don’t work down there – just think! He is interested in the circumstances which allow creativity to thrive. And what a great manifesto that is. Wherever you are, what are the right circumstances for you to be creative?
We are about to start on developing the final stages of ‘Rufus Longbottom and the Space Rabbit’. It’s easy to be brought low by endless fundraising applications, endless rejections to those appeals, changes in staff in theatres that mean your long nurtured relationships go west. But what it comes down to is, if you want to make the work you believe in – then you need to put all that aside and get on with it. Circumstances for artists have rarely been easy and hardly any theatre companies or artists arise from nowhere – many have been toiling away getting good over time. Finding the circumstances in whatever way is possible to be creative. You can’t wait for them to be right, you have to make them right. Here’s to them, here’s to the next stage of our development and here’s to Mike Shepherd. Thank you STAMP for the opportunity to get reinspired.