So this is going to be a bit of a ranty blogpost – brace yourselves. Since I last updated the blog, I’ve had three important meetings. With a Relationship Manager from the Arts Council, with the Arts and Culture Officer at Sheffield City Council, and with Dave Thornett from an organisation called KeyFund. So, a brief synopsis of the interviews before I get ranty (to skip to the ranting click here):
Rebecca Maddox, Sheffield Council
This was a pretty positive getting-to-know-you meeting, just introducing myself and Tim, and explaining a bit about what we want to do, and when we want to do it (ie. Opening in Feb/Mar 2019). Rebecca was super helpful – she said she would send any surveys or questionnaires for artists round her various mailing lists, and try to help out any other way she can. She also gave us some other people to get in touch with doing similar things in Sheffield. Most usefully, she gave us a contact in the Planning Department, who can hopefully give us some advice on what to look for/avoid when trying to find our building. Thanks, Rebecca!
Dave Thornett, KeyFund
We wanted to talk to KeyFund to get advice on company formation, and social investment for the longer term. We got in touch with Dave through the UoS Enterprise Team (thanks, Darren!). This was a super helpful phone call – Dave talked us through different types of structure for social investment – a standard Limited Company isn’t usually the best option – and what types of finance we might get under each structure. It’s pretty clear that a Community Interest Company (CIC) is the way forward, so we’ll be registering one very soon! Dave also told us a bit about what types of documents and information KeyFund like to see when helping with investment (3-5 years cashflow erk!) which will help us get better prepared in the next couple of months!
Relationship Manager, ACE
Now, this meeting. I’m not naming the Relationship Manager here because I’m not angry with her personally. I’m angry with ACE and the whole insane arts funding structure. Basically, we went into this meeting with 2 aims – to figure out how/if we can get funding for the Audience Development we want to do, and to ask about sources of capital funding for the bigger theatre project. Capital costs, by the way, are for stuff, rather than short-term projects – it might be for buying equipment or a building or paying for permits etc. Anything that you pay for once and then its yours. Obviously, we will have quite a few of that type of cost – refitting a building into a theatre isn’t super cheap.
So, first off, the Audience Development application. We were planning to make a Under £15k Projects Grants (previously G4A) application. But the RM said that as our project was purely research, and would have no artistic outcome, it could never achieve the Artistic Excellence quality that ACE looks for in applications. So it could never be funded. That does directly contradict the Projects Grants guidance, which says that you can apply for non-artistic activities, but the RM was very clear that we would be unsuccessful.
Secondly, capital funding. To do a project of long-term ambition, you’re going to need this, inevitably. So, there should be a way to get small amounts of capital funding, right? WRONG. Firstly, as we expected, Projects Grants will not fund capital costs. Not unless they’re bound up in a project-based application anyway (we may end up doing something like this out of desperation). But secondly. Secondly, there is another fund called the Small Capital Grants Fund, which I was hoping would be our salvation. The ACE website says you have to have permission to apply, so I wanted to know how we get that. Turns out, we can’t. The Small Capital Grants Fund is, secretly, exclusively for NPOs. Yes, that’s right, the organisations that are already receiving secured annual funding for running costs and umm, what is it, oh yeah CAPITAL COSTS. And yet the only fund theoretically open to small fry like us, is actually closed off for them. Which makes no real sense – how are new organisation supposed to get off the ground? – but then what does with the Arts Council?
So there we go. A very frustrating and negative meeting. I should stress, the RM was not negative or closed off herself – she did want to help. But she also wanted to save us from writing doomed funding applications, which is how we now know that ACE can’t/won’t help us with the theatre.
We’re going to keep going, but things just got harder and scarier – we will probably now be relying on social investment and/or start-up loans to cover our initial costs. But, we have found support and positivity with the council, and with KeyFund. Onwards!
So, updates from us here at Hope in Hell! We’ve been pretty busy in the past few weeks, sending out emails, arranging and having meetings, and doing cashflow documents! Lets start at the top…
Research and Development Plans
We’re planning to do our R&D, which is a combination of audience development and market research, in June-August 2018. We’ve managed to arrange meetings with four of our five target groups: students, Muslims, working class men and older people – and we need to go back to the drawing board to meet up with some new parents! We’re also planning to do surveys via social media more generally, to get a broader sample.
We are still hoping to get funding to do this from ACE, but we’re also confident that we can do it in our own time if needed – we might need to focus more on getting funding for the eventual theatre, rather than the R&D.
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings
We’ve had two meetings since the last blog post! One went really well, the other went fairly well but not as well as we’d hoped.
Firstly, with University of Sheffield Enterprise, who help students and alumni set up their own businesses. These guys were super helpful, offering free desk space and meeting rooms, PLUS free business coaching and help developing market research surveys, which is super relevant to the R&D. So that was a big win!
Secondly, I had a quick meeting with Dan Bates, the Chief Executive of Sheffield Theatres. I was very nervous about this meeting – I was expecting either a slapdown, or whole-hearted support. Inevitably, what I got was somewhere in between – positive noises, but nothing concrete in support. However, he did alert me to a council-funded report into studio theatres in Sheffield, which is apparently coming soon and will be VERY interesting reading! And he’s a good contact to have made, so it was a net positive.
Next week, we’re back to more meetings! Three very exciting ones in fact – with a Relationship Manager from ACE, with Rebecca Maddox from the Sheffield Culture Consortium (and the local council), and finally, with KeyFund, a potential investment partner!
Money and Investment
We’ve been thinking a lot about how money will work for Hope in Hell, and what investment or funding we might need to get off the ground. We’re also going to be becoming a legal entity soon (a Proper Company) so we need to think about what that looks like too.
Our options for legal structures are basically as follows:
- a Community Interest Company (CIC) – this is like a regular company, but it has rules about what the money it makes can be used for – it has to benefit the community. This may be beneficial when seeking grants.
- a company Limited By Guarantee – this is a regular company, in a structure without shares/shareholders – which makes it less profit-focussed
- a Charity – obvious, this is preferred by most grant funding bodies, but can’t have any social investment
We’re seeking advice from KeyFund (more below) on what form is best for us!
We’ve been looking seriously at how much profit we might make initially, and how long it’ll take us to become profitable. You can take a look at our work-in-progress cashflow spreadsheet here. It’s not finished, but it shows how stretched we might be – and that we’re going to need £10-15k raised before we can start!
So, where to get the money from? The most obvious option is the Arts Council – that type of money is small fry for them, and they should be interested in funding it. But it doesn’t fit neatly into their Projects Grants programme, which is why we’re having a meeting to talk it over. The next option, realistically, is investment. We’re going to be a low-profit organisation no matter what, so we will find it hard to get traditional investment. So we’re looking at social investment! That basically means people who invest money, and are willing to have a smaller return on their investment as long as there is provable social benefit. It’s a great match for us – and that’s where KeyFund comes in. They’re essentially a matching service – they help start-ups like ours to find money! And they’re also going to advise us on which legal structure is best for doing that. We’re meeting them next Wednesday, which is a really great step forward!
One last (exciting) thing – we’re going to be changing our name! Hope in Hell Theatre has been a great working title, and it sums up our personal goals quite nicely, but it doesn’t work for a public organisation. So in future, we’ll be known as The Local (or The Local Theatre, we haven’t decided yet)! Expect a rebrand just as soon as we get round to it!
Thats all for now folks, but watch this space for more post-meetings updates!
TLDR: We’ve established that HiH will be a producing venue offering 2 week, 1 week and short/experimental runs. We’ll have an open door policy, but high standards for programming our longer runs. We’ll be community focussed and led. We’re applying for Arts Council funding to do some audience research, and meeting with Sheffield Theatres to talk about it all!
It’s been ages since I last updated this blog – life and work have been hectic, and it somehow got pushed down the priority list. So this might be quite a long update!
After the Theatres Trust conference, and having thought about what a theatre should be, and who it should be aimed at, I met up with Tim Norwood, my partner in crime, and future Artistic Director of HiH (we hope). We had a massive brainstorming session where we talked about what the theatre should look like, and what we wanted to do in it. This included:
What Will Be On?
- Our programming ethos will be: high standards, not necessarily political, and will actively work with other local venues to ensure we don’t clash
- That we will have an open door policy for anyone to propose a show, and that where possible we will try to make it happen (eg in the free week every month or in a scratch night)
- That we will be a producing house! And that our productions will try to be reactive to current events, but also explore revivals and Shakespeare. These will have to be grant based, but we will aim for 4-6 per year
- That an average month would have a 2 week run of a “main show”, a 1 week run of a “fringe show” (or something experimental), and 1 week free for smaller slots/shows/whatever
What Matters To Us?
- That this is not a project, it’s permanent and we need to not compromise on this
- The importance of focussing on the local community and their wants/needs
- Wanting to get new audiences in, including people who currently don’t go to the theatre
- That diversity and access are very important to us, and we will be actively trying to increase diversity in audiences and artists at all times
How Will It Work?
- Rehearsal space could be available even when shows are on, provided shows set/costumes weren’t touched
- We could offer a 70/30 split, but not better, to be financially viable
- That FEEDBACK is really important, but in different ways to different people
- As a venue, we want measurable feedback from audiences, and general feedback from artists
- Artists may have their own feedback ideas, and will want a general overview of audience opinions
- That we will need to balance market forces vs subsidies (if we can get any!)
We also did a picture! Of what our ideal venue might look like. The quality is terrible, but here’s a quick look – includes feedback boxes, cafe/bar, an office with our monthly budgets on the wall, and a graffiti/mural wall!
Having done all that thinking, we realised our next step needed to be a Research period. We want to look at current experiences in Sheffield, for a few key audience groups, which we selected either because they have high participation rates (Students, Older People), or typically lower participation rates (Working Class Men, Muslims, New Mothers). We want to ask them about their experience of theatre in the past, what makes them go now, and/or what barriers exist to stop them going.
We’ve reached out to a lot of people – local libraries to host talks/feedback sessions after the research is completed, local community groups to arrange interviews and surveys, and local arts groups (including with the Council) to talk about the future for Hope in Hell. We’ve also got a meeting booked in with Sheffield Theatres to talk about what support they could offer, and will hopefully get one sorted with Theatre Deli too!
Once we have everything lined up, we’ll be writing an Arts Council Grants For The Arts funding bid, for about £8000, to fund 3 months of training, research and write-up. There’ll be some crowdfunding needed, so watch this space!
It’s very important to make connections to make this work, both within theatre and in Sheffield in general. It’s been hard to do that whilst living in London, but sending out the emails to community groups and organisations in the past fortnight has been good. It’s also been terrifying to start to commit to this without any confirmation of funding, but it needs to happen!
This weekend is Devoted and Disgruntled, the conference which inspired me last year to actually make this dream a reality. So who knows what new ideas or challenges I’ll have to report next week!
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!
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!
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:
- 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
- HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean a fully closed door policy either – there’s enough time in a month for both!
- 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
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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.