The capital’s most influential theatres should engage with writers from everywhere – and Zoom has shown they can do this easily and cheaply, says Manchester-based director Joe Gilmour-Rees
Theatremakers living outside the capital are painfully aware of how the industry is so structured around London.
There are opportunities to connect and develop in places across the UK, but these pale in comparison to the wealth of schemes and groups based in London.
However, technology can provide a way forward. Can the recent rush of organisations to embrace Zoom for all manner of meetings and workshops mean lasting change in the way we connect as an industry?
Over the past few weeks I have been in “rooms” that I would never have been in ordinarily: I have asked a question to Lyndsey Turner as part of a Stage Directors UK focus group, I have read a newly translated play with Spanish-speaking theatre group Out of the Wings, and I have participated in writing workshops with the London-based Squint Theatre.
As a director based in Manchester, before the lockdown forced organisations to use Zoom, I would have been shut out of these rooms – not intentionally, I’m sure – but shut out nevertheless.
So, my challenge to all organisations, large or small, is to think how you can harness this new interconnectedness as we build the ‘new normal’. This doesn’t just concern artists based “in the regions”. If you’re based in Lewisham, why use valuable time and money getting into central London, when the venue could run a writing workshop digitally?
Of course, some kinds of activities will always be better face-to-face, but technology offers a way to overcome geographical and financial barriers
And if technology can change the ‘who’, can it also change the ‘how’? It’s heartening to see the Young Vic Directors Programme radically reinvent its offer to members through its Skill Building course, which features a task set by director Sacha Wares on the Monday, followed by chances to check-in later in the week.
Is this not actually a much deeper way of developing artists, than the usual one-off workshops that we see advertised so often? The participants have the chance to digest what’s being taught, to work on it by themselves and come back with questions.
Of course, some kinds of activities will always be better face-to-face, but with technology offering a way to overcome geographical and financial barriers, I hope venues will apply what they have learned from the past six weeks to think creatively about the future.
It’s exciting to see the Royal Court move its writing programme online and open it up to anyone in the UK. But shouldn’t this happen every year?
Organisations of national and international renown have a duty to engage with writers from everywhere, and Zoom has shown they can do this easily and cheaply.
Let’s hope that once lockdown is over and we have all had a Zoom detox, organisations return to this technology and it becomes part of the fabric of how we connect as a truly national industry.