Blog Post: Slung Low and 10 years of organisational evolution

On a personal level I am about to have a significant anniversary, and- as so often- as goes I so goes Slung Low. More on those later I think.

This has coincided with a number of requests to summarise the 10 year journey of Slung Low in short narratives- or at least, quite reasonably, shorter narratives than the actual 10 years.

Naturally when shrinking 10 years you stress certain elements, ignore others: make your argument, join the distant dots.

Shift Happens was one such occasion and some noted afterwards that it was a particularly strident version of the last ten years: something I don’t think I would deny- I was speaking about trying to bring progressive and mainstream processes together, something that I believe in passionately and something that will be a vital part of the developments needed if as many parts of the theatrical spectrum are to weather the oncoming funding storm- or more importantly if the offer to audiences is to not be reduced beyond all recognition. I hope to return to this subject again- perhaps this time will a little more clarity if no less enthusiasm- after completing our current collaboration with Liverpool Everyman and all that this ambitious project has and will offer on the issue.

But for now. Arts Pro asked me to write something about Slung Low’s organisational development over the last ten years. Again it was a great exercise in thinking about the last decade through a specific filter- in this instance organisational development, a topic that associated with me could reduce the likes of Ben Pugh, Laura Clark and numerous Arts Council employees to puddles of laughter tears.

Anyway this is what I wrote. Arts Pro cut the original article (quite reasonably as I think I was over the word limit) and sadly missed the driving point so I have decided to pop it up here just in case anyway fancies a peruse.

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Thinking about how I would describe Slung Low?s organisational structure I realised that it?s gone through a series of evolutions. So maybe to express what we are it?s best to explain where we came from.

In 2000 Matthew Scott and I came up with a name Slung Low. For 5 years we made pretty much disconnected theatre pieces wherever we could and certainly were nothing that could be described as an organisation.

Then the project Bosnia and Back saw over 30 artists come together to work in a found space. The sheer scale of the project, and the number of people involved, led to a greater focus for the company. Both in terms of the style of work (making the move in to installations) and the structure.

The company became more of a collective- administrative tasks were shared between the group of 8 artists, budgets were worked on collectively.

That model- sharing the everyday and administrative and financial- worked well for us for a few years.

We made our first piece for the Barbican, picked up commissions from the Lowry and the Almeida. We were making large scale work, drew respectable levels of funding and still working out of my dining room. A guiding principle during this whole period was to keep overheads minimal. And to keep as much- if not all- of the process (creative, production, administrative) in our control as possible. When that meant learning new skills (be that video editing, spreadsheets, websites, mailing lists) then that ?s what we did.

There was of course some sense of principle at the heart of this but it was also a pragmatic decision- we didn?t have any money to pay anyone to do those things for us and the expectation that other people would work for nothing with the same level of commitment on our projects was unrealistic.

With relative success came a number of changes.

Bigger budgets meant it was no longer practical to go through them together with the spread sheet on a projector. It was no longer practical to work out of the dining room any more. When before we could supplement our Slung Low fee with what we charmingly called ?properly paid jobs? there just weren?t the weeks left anymore. Slung Low was going to have to at least start to cover our basic living costs, or we were going to have start scaling back.

Our operating model chosen purely because it had given us the best chance of making the sort of work we envisioned was no longer helping- it was hindering.

Rather than scaling back we expanded.

Last year we made 4 major new pieces and 5 university projects. We decided we needed a space- the shows were too big for the dining room. We moved into The Holbeck Underground Ballroom earlier in the year. It?s 5 railway arches that we?ve turned in to offices, meeting space, a studio, workshops, editing suite and the like. The HUB is looked after by a collection of artists whom are homed there- all sharing the housekeeping in order to keep it running.

Things have clearly changed. The producer (Laura Clark) and I take responsibility for meeting potential partners and generating the projects: the rest of Slung Low concentrating on making the work. But the company is still inherently project based. No one is on a wage or a salary: a choice now. If we?re not making, we?re not paid. As a result we still fight to keep overheads minimal: although I?m not sure there is an arts organisation in the country who doesn?t do likewise. The website, mailing list, accounts et al are still done by people who are artists primarily. At its heart it?s a group of artists trying to get stuff done, by any means necessary. I?m not convinced that that?s revolutionary.

We talk a lot at Slung Low about what our ?purpose? is within the theatre landscape. We after all don?t make anyone money. I passionately believe that our job is to explore new ground- that?s the function of a company like Slung Low. Never stop exploring. And anything that is useful to that aim gets learnt. And anything that isn?t is ignored. It?s a rubbish business model I am sure, but it allows us to keep doing what we do. If it didn?t we?d change it.

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