Monthly Archives: October 2015

Blog Post: the speech I didn’t write for the Arts Council

I have to confess I haven’t written a speech. Those of you who know me will know my wonderful wife is expecting a baby. Today. Tomorrow. Soon.

I had a great ambition to write a speech about how two years ago Slung Low took the decision to be a community theatre company. And how we pushed that change through everything. Community Philanthropy. Community media strategy. Everything. And we discovered that it had an extraordinary impact. We have raised more money. We’ve had more press. Our community board push harder and more clearly. And not just the participation has improved but the actual marrow of our work- the art- has become deeper, more ambitious and more relevant. That in all way we could we tried to be useful to as many people as possible. And how that might be something for us to discuss.

But the weekend was full of NCT classes. And yesterday I had to wash all these little clothes in Non-bio powder. And I put them on the line to dry and I just became mesmerised. And then it was dinner and I hadn’t written a speech.

Which is a disaster. I said to my team. All these important people and I’ll have no speech. And they said, don’t worry Al. You just have to create a connection. Jump cut the relationship with a revelation. Tell them something that will embarrass you if everyone finds out and then there’ll be a relationship and all will be well. Brilliant advice.

So. For a long time now every month I writer a letter to my pen pal. George Osborne. Obviously I have a poilitical rep to protect, this would be disastrous if it got out. On Monday I sat down to write my most recent letter to him and so I thought I would read it out to you and then we could just forget all about this embarrassing affair. Right? Good. Sit back and relax.
Dear George,

Hope you are well pal

Congratulations on the party conference. A triumph. So pleased you took my advice about the power stance. I consulted a number of movement directors and they were unanimous in their advice that the diagram of the stance I sent you was the best for projecting total command and caring national leadership. You see, it does help to have friends in the arts- bet your mates in banking would have had you standing like a right nobber.

I myself am giving a speech later this week to some very important chief execs from theatre and will absolutely be utilising the power stance of caring leadership throughout.

Also, whilst I’m on, wanted to throw a big well done at you for the Theatre Tax Relief. You know me, I’m an imaginative guy but I literally could not blue sky think a more efficient, speedier way of getting more cash to the various misanthropic, highly affluent, often off-shore for tax purposes 1 per centers that financially speculate on the commercial west end. I am pretty excited for you to drop a big bag of trickle down magic on that dosh and watch it flow into the pockets of individual artists and small companies that are locked out of the scheme. I think trickle down magic is what you will win your nobel prize for- it’s a beautiful thing G-man.

Anyway the real reason why I am writing is to let you know about a project that me and the free-market capitalist zealots at Slung Low did earlier in the year. We made a show called Camelot The Shining City with Sheffield Theatres and Sheffield People’s Theatre. I am actually gutted that you missed it. In the comments beneath the glowing Financial Times review someone called it a fascistic defence of neo-liberalism. Yeah, I know, right up your street. But I now you’re busy. Balancing the books.

It was a contemporary reworking of the King Arthur myths. Aside from it’s fascistic defending of neo-liberalism it was the story about how a group of people created an entirely new future direction for a country based on a fictional recounting of a nation’s history until a crowd rose up and beat the leaders to death. A parable that has absolutely no relevance to you George.

It was made with 137 members of the Sheffield People’s Theatre. 137 businessmen, students, doctors, ex-serving soldiers, current traffic wardens, stay at home parents, entrepreneurs, kids and successful asylum seekers. The full gamut of the big society.

They combined with a professional team from Sheffield Theatres and Slung Low to create this show that was watched by 600 people a night for two weeks. The show sold out, the audience only paid £15 a pop for their tickets but this is zone 27 after all and the trickle down hasn’t quite reached Sheffield yet like it has Mayfair so let’s call 15 pounds a good start. The show was reviewed well and all the national critics who managed to actually watch the show and not just stand at the back hiding and reading the script really enjoyed it- a feather in the cap of the southern suburbs of the Northern Powerhouse!

There was a moment in rehearsals when 4 members of the company- citizens of Sheffield- were working on the opening scene. One of them being French was encouraged to try it in French, to unlock things. James Phillips- the writer- was in the stalls- his ears pricked up. He went down to talk to the cast, jump cut a few hours and he has written new words to respond to these changes. New words, new meanings, renewed focus to the drive of the play because of a new understanding of the social, political context for the play. We in theatre have a word for that. Dramaturgy. And I’ve checked. The going rate for that is like £200 a day. And there were 4 of this lot!

That play was published by Methuen and was sold at least 7 times in America. Which means it is International Dramaturgy. And that means a better day rate!
Because there were 137 people in it the television were interested in a way they aren’t always in theatre shows. So a number of the cast were involved in live TV news slots. There are clear and specific payments for such appearances in our well regulated industry so it’s worth is easy to decide. But what’s harder to evaluate is that the good news story about involvement in the arts is better for the health of the nation than stories about the usual cuts to services and establishment paedophiles. And what is good for the health of the nation as you always say G-string is good for the GDP of the nation. Exactly.
The 137 volunteers brought in their own costumes for part 3 of the show- the riot!- it was amazing how perfectly these citizens chose the right clothes to take part in an act of violent disobedience against their government. Anyway, they all worked with David Farley- the show’s designer- collaborating to make sure they looked just right. And provided their own stuff as well. Design assistant credit and ‘with thanks’ mention in the programme normally.

Each of the cast spread the word in person and digitally on the old social media. Working with the brilliant comms team at Sheffield Theatres but generating their own content too. I’ve checked what a digital comms assistant makes in a regional rep house and it’s not as much as you’d think G-I-Joe but still, all starting to add up. Because of their personal connections print appeared in places that no comms department could ever hope to reach which clearly led to this piece of contemporary new writing with no one off the tele in it selling out. Which, as surprising as this will be to you G-bot, isn’t a daily occurrence this far from the Donmar Warehouse.

 So when you work out the market value of all this volunteering, and expertise, it really starts to stack up. And when you start to factor in the various impacts it has on the mental and social health of the community, well I can tell you G-weed it’s a hefty figure.

Now obviously the cast of Camelot, the good citizens of Sheffield People’s Theatre did this not for any financial recognition but because they believe in the various personal and societal benefits of all the actions I’ve described above. I don’t know for sure if they are ALL members of the Conservative Party but I can tell you G-note that they certainly act like it. Cut these guys in two and you would find Big Society stamped right through them.
But I was thinking, this behaviour, it’s as worthy (isn’t it?) as the gift of some cash from a rich businessman to a theatre? It’s as worthy- pound for pound-as the giving of money to a theatre and having the name of that theatre changed to your own? isn’t it? I mean I’ve heard some bleeding heart liberals argue that given that we’re often talking about time (as well as cash) poor volunteers the pitching up week after week after week to support our large public arts organisations is actually MORE valuable pound for pound as the donation of money by someone who has more money than they are EVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO SPEND. But lets not even listen to those lunatics G-string.

But assuming that we agree- as I am sure we will- that pound for pound these things share a value then it seems only fair that they are treated equally by your exchequer. So I’m putting in a Gift Aid claim. By my reckoning 28% of the contribution of Sheffield Peoples Theatre is £28 grand.

When we think about the current payments to producers of all colours and stripes in tax relief this one seems like a no-brainer to me. So G-chord, if you can have your chaps cut a cheque and make it payable to Sheffield Theatres then that would be brilliant. After all there’s got to be some reward to theatres for letting Slung Low run around setting fire to public squares in fascistic defences of neo-liberalism. And you know G-dog, as you always say, if we don’t do it who will? Exactly

Right. Must go now, more Picketty to read. And remember, legs wide apart, knees uncomfortably pointed in, straight-lipped grimace like you are mugging a nation.

Much love

Big dog Al x