I am utterly shattered from a busy few weeks of travelling, doing shows, teaching, marking, and working on an epic collectively cooked meal-event for the Getting It Out There symposium that finished today at Live at LICA. In recent days, I’ve been thinking that I really need to just stop; it has felt like I’ve been doing too much, working too hard and not actually getting the time I want to reflect and refresh my brain. I was feeling very much apprehensive about going into the meal event, partly because of my exhaustion, and partly out a fear that the event simply wouldn’t work as intended. In the end, I am extremely pleased with how it went and think it may be have another life for the Proto-type team in other venues, in other cities. I’ll attempt in this blog post to say a bit about what the meal-event, and the symposium, were each like.
Several years ago, I started a project called the Sunday Lunch Club (SLC) as part of a bursary I received from New Work Network and the Nuffield Theatre Lancaster (now part of Live at LICA). The Sunday Lunch Club was a meal-event that happened about six times a year in various venues in the North West (originally…eventually it moved into Yorkshire too), in which a few artists showed works in development, received detailed, structured critical feedback, and then enjoyed a delicious (catered) meal. After doing a few events on my own, the Sunday Lunch Club became part of Proto-type’s offer and each event was organised and run by various members of the company. At any given event, there was anywhere from 15-50 people in attendance, and generally the events left everyone feeling really engaged and positive and, I hope, a bit more connected to each other as artists.
When I first developed the SLC, I had the intention that it might eventually have a public facing event which had the spirit of the private, artist-focused ones, but without the quite detailed structure. I was never able to find the time, money or energy to make one of those happen. About six months (or even a year?) ago, Matt Fenton, director of Live at LICA, and Alice Booth, creative producer, approached me to ask if I, or Proto-type, might be interested in creating a meal as a pre-event for the Getting It Out There Symposium that had some of the spirit of the SLC. The event was to be scheduled to coincide with a meeting of the Live Art UK group who would be meeting up before the symposium officially began, and immediately following the world premiere of a new Franko-B piece.
After a few meetings, and conversations with the Proto-type team, we decided we’d make a meal that involved everyone in attendance preparing the food that they’d then eat, and we’d curate a series of performance interventions to happen during the meal. We agreed a number of guests based on what Live at LICA anticipated in terms of possible guests in town and based on what we could handle for such a complex project.
I won’t detail the whole event here, partly because I’m tired but also because I don’t know if I can accurately describe it so close to it finishing. But, briefly, the way it worked was that we had forty people (including team Proto-type) who were invited into a space that had three working tables set up. On each table were the ingredients and equipment to make one element of the meal. Guests split themselves into groups to prepare sections of the meal while part of the group set the dining room with plates, cutlery, etc. Meanwhile, a main course was being baked in the oven (we decided not to collaboratively cook the main). Before prepping the food, during the meal and after the dessert course, we had a series of artists who did things like make toasts, sing songs, teach us a social dance, start conversations about the themes of the symposium, give gifts to be opened later and introduce us to modes of thinking about what it means to get it, to get it out, to get it out there (a lovely collection of artists – A Smith, Leentje Van de Cruys, Renny O’Shea and Eilidh MacAskill…the playlists we were supposed to get from Gary Winters never materialised sadly).
We were nervous that people wouldn’t be up for cooking or that the conversation starters we provided would be weird. We worried that we would have forgotten a key ingredient or tool. We worried that it would go on too late and that the food wouldn’t taste good. Although it did go quite late, and although we had one nasty participant who was quite rude (won’t name names here), the food was good, the conversation flowed and everyone (bar one) had a brilliant time (so I’ve been told). I was extremely proud of the hard work that everyone at team Proto put in and although we will have lost money on doing it, I’m pleased that Live at LICA invited us to give it a go. Some images from the event are below in the gallery; I’ll try to link to more when the official photos become available from Live at LICA.
After an epic cleanup (we finished at 2am) and a brief nap, I went to the symposium proper today. I had thought about just going home because I was so tired, but I am extremely glad that I suffered through the exhaustion. It was an incredibly stimulating symposium structured around three panels, several artist interventions and some delicious food from the Borough. A full packet with details of the panels and panelists is online here. Artist, writer and educator Theron Schmidt is creating some kind of documentation of the event – I’ll post a link to it when it is finished as well.
The symposium raised a number of issues for me, some of which I’ll list here in no particular order:
- What is the role of the critic anymore? Should we (experimental theatre makers, live artists, etc) stop trying to gain the attention of the ‘mainstream’ media now that there are so many bloggers and other avenues for gaining critique of our work?
- Why are critics in the UK so unable to find the vocabulary necessary to talk about the kind of work we make?
- When the large regional venues invite experimental makers into their spaces, why is our practice often relegated to a ‘special section’ of brochures and/or placed into a frame that treats it as exotic or strange?
- What do artists need to do to better communicate with venues and audiences about the kind of practices we are engaged in so that it is less terrifying/off-putting?
- How do you strike a balance between making the kind of work you want to make and making the work accessible to an audience (and I don’t mean dumbing your work down)?
- Why is it that so often on tour venue staff often have no idea who we are and what our work is as artists (and often even that we’re coming)? Why, when you walk around the town centre of a city you’re touring to is there often no sign that your show is on (posters, etc)?
- Why tour? Is it because it is seen as a financial imperative, or are there other reasons? For me, touring has both financial implications and also intellectual/cultural ones. I get so much more out of touring our work to places I’ve never been before, to new audiences, than I do going to the same few venues in the UK?
- What are artists like us supposed to do now that many of our former venue partners are closing?
- What the hell is a good show?
- What can artists do about the fact that many venues pay late, or not at all? We had to take one venue to small claims in order to get paid…
- Why is work in the UK often so unambitious? Is the touring model creating a situation that encourages artists to compromise on quality in order to make a piece that a) fits a generic black box context and b) is easy to get into a car or van?
- What about mid-career artists? What are we supposed to do when we get to a point where our practice is very developed, we’ve toured lots and we still don’t earn a living wage?
- Do venues need more of a sense of self? I think they probably do, but not at the expense of what really matters which is the art.
- Don’t demand an audience without putting in the hard work to gain one (and to gain their respect).
- Exclusions zones need to go. I am going to propose to the Proto-type team that we refuse to agree to them from now on.