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Daniel Evans: We need to take a chance on people to give them a leg-up

Lucy Kerbel. Photo: Eliza Power Tonic Theatre director Lucy Kerbel. Photo: Eliza Power
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I find myself feeling grateful for my good luck. When I was appointed artistic director of Sheffield Theatres in 2009, I had directed only three plays, but the board took one hell of a chance on me. I was incredibly lucky that Sheffield had a history of appointing actor-directors: my two immediate predecessors, Michael Grandage and Samuel West, were experienced actors and nascent directors. Nevertheless, I must have been a risk and I was given a chance.

Now, as artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre, I’m lucky that I get to meet artists of all disciplines and at various stages of their careers. Over the past few weeks, my meetings seem to have a common theme: theatremakers of all disciplines need people in positions of power to take risks on them in order to develop and grow.

I met a young (early in her career, rather than young in age) director last week who bemoaned the fact that, despite producing and directing her own shows on the fringe in London with a high degree of success, was finding it impossible to penetrate the not-for-profit sector.

She reflected on how the landscape had changed: “When seasoned directors are working in the smaller subsidised houses (like the Bush), then I can understand how I can seem like a big risk for those spaces. But I just need someone to take a chance on me.”

Inspired once again by the work of Lucy Kerbel and Tonic Theatre’s Advance Symposium in September, I’ve been asking myself: what are the conditions that perpetuate a system where those roles traditionally held by men in the theatre remain so? How can we nurture more female sound designers, more female musical directors?

And how can we ensure that opportunities for our mid-career designers, composers, directors to graduate to larger spaces are plentiful? How can we persuade more people in power to take more chances?

As we in Chichester plan for the 2017 festival, which we’ll announce in February, we’ve been considering where we might need to take a chance on people: directors, designers, writers. While it’s all too easy to luxuriate in the comfort of those whose work is a known quantity, the harder task is to ensure that we provide a leg-up for the people who need it. And perhaps balancing the two camps makes for the most interesting programme.

The theatre landscape is changing significantly. The boundaries between fringe, not-for-profit and commercial are being redrawn for better or for worse. Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of opportunities and schemes for emerging artists, but unfortunately, once they graduate, the opportunities seize up and those artists rely on someone taking a chance on them – or simply good luck. We can change that.

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