November 19, 2007
Report of B-SIDE : Wellington Independent Theatre Practitioners Forum 15/9/07
Earlier this year members of the BATS board initiated a forum for independent theatre practitioners as a response to the growing call for meeting and discussion amongst theatre practitioners, and in addition to the Circa-hosted National Theatre Symposium which highlighted a clear need for a place for representation and open discussion around key issues facing independent practitioners. A committee [Anna Cameron, James Hadley, Will Harris, Hone Kouka, Jo Randerson, Miria George, Sarah Griffiths and Briar Monro] was bought together to provide steerage, resources and to ensure a strong cross-section of participation. BATS provided the venue, catering and support staff to make the event possible. Open Space Technology was used as a format for the event which ran from 12 – 5pm on the 15th of September 2007.
Over 80 practitioners attended the event with a further 40 expressing a keen interest in the outcomes and future involvement. 25 separate discussions were held around topics identified from within the group. These expressed a wide range of concerns and a deep commitment to moving the sector forward. The format was able to provide a sense of ownership and personal responsibility, and was able to place established and emerging practitioners alongside each other.
As time was limited, the opportunity existed only to identify the key topics and begin to ‘unwrap’ them, however it was acknowledged that this was an important beginning towards more in-depth discussion and action. Participants became increasingly animated throughout the day and at the end voted unanimously for a repeat event using the same format.
I came away from Saturday’s forum inspired and more connected to the theatre community than I ever have before. It was an incredible afternoon! Thank you so much for making this happen. If there’s anything I can ever do for you guys ever, please just name it. B side was the best thing to happen to theatre in years. Inspirational!
1. A brief summary of the BSIDE discussions
2. A SWOT analysis of the event by the committee
1. Summary of B-Side Discussions
At the end of the day participants were asked to place a finite number of stickers next to discussions to indicate those that they felt were of the most immediate importance. The number in brackets at the end of each topic indicates the number of stickers placed next to each topic.
Following the event the discussion convenors were asked to summarise the content of their topics. These have in turn been bullet pointed and collated below.
1. How do we make our work better 
Convenor: Lisa Maule
Participants: Heather Timms, Paul McLaughlin, Bronwyn Tweddle, Sam Trubridge, Brian Hotter, Eleanor Aitkin, Jo Crilly, Stephen Gallagher, Leo Gene Peters, Lilicherie McGregor, Jessie Alsop, Savita So, Simon Vincent, Robert Tripe, Bert van Dijk, Amanda Baker, Madeline McNamara, Tony Hopkins and others
a. We make our work with more time – to do this we consider international precedent for process and we also work within the current NZ context and culture
b. We take care of ourselves, especially to consider professional development – validating development work as an important part of the process, and spending time re-working and maturing performances
c. We work to develop a culture of inviting and receiving honest feedback, creating good relationships with other practitioners in doing so
d. We use a company ethic to develop confidence, articulacy and rigour – building on years of experience to accumulate knowledge and skill. We encourage challenge in the rehearsal room.
e. We build stronger collaborative partnerships with producers and institutions to allow us to be free to focus on the quality/integrity of the work. However we take responsibility for keeping ourselves refreshed, alive and bold with our creative voice, despite financial restrictions.
First Step: We phone each other up and invite ourselves in to others process. Like a secondment. We talk to each other. We create more secondment opportunities for others and ourselves. We create a generous culture. We welcome extremity rather than mediocrity.
2. Money …. How do we get some? 
a. A workshop on what the funding options are and how to access them – especially corporate funding – building a relationship, not just a handout
b. TANZ – a theatre industry advocacy body – like DANZ or SOUNZ
First Step: Creative producers – incorporating them from the beginning – sustainability
3. How do we get producers working with productions/co-ops/companies? 
Convenor: Julie Noever
a. What is the role of the producer? Job descriptions. The creative producer – value of the producer in process/vision.
b. Producers as initiators – finding projects that suit them/are passionate about.
c. Producers from NZ moving because there is no money in it here – making it sustainable. Looking for sustainability at the start of the process.
First step: Who is interested in producing and how can we support these people and make it sustainable?
4. What can we do about lack of venues in Wgtn/Auckland? 
a. Development of ‘The Letter Press’ Wgtn [Miranda and Danny] + Tash
b. Propose to Downstage: Independent Practitioners season
c. Communal, administrative hub for independent practitioners
First step: Working party for the Letter Press. Approach Downstage with a concrete proposal
5. Street theatre and circus theatre – This is a powerful, fun and useful art form. How do we build it up and who’s interested? 
Convenor: Jen McArthur
Participants: Jessica, Shona, Mel, Jo, Thomas, Phil, Briar and Jen
Lots of different streams. Develop individual identity and creative vision.
a. There are lots of different streams. Need to develop individual identity and creative vision
b. Accept we are at an embryonic stage and it’s a hard path but a good one
c. Recognition that needs and concerns of circus and street theatre are often different.
d. Need for advocacy around the benefits of circus and street theatre
e. Commit, communicate and create
First step: Compile a list of people to be in contact with reach other. Be open and communicative and supportive of each other
6. Me pehea ka hangaia e tatau he whare tapere kaore nga pakitara ki te haereere nga mahi o Aotearoa? How do we create a theatre without walls that tours NZ work?
Participants: Claire, Robin, Leilani, Renee, Vicki, Lilicherie, Renee
a. What’s already in place and working/not working? Why? Work with local groups who have own networks. Link with festivals, build relationships with local councils, subscribers, trade unions, RSA
b. Research a National theatre possibility – touring network who collaborate with independent producers to show national interest work – but not homogenous
c. Think outside the square – venues include beaches, caves, gardens, shopping malls, marae, prisons, museums – build new audiences
First step: Research, dialogue, form working party.
7. Contemporary Mâori theatre: should this be taught in tertiary institutes? 
Convenor: Challen Wilson
Participants: Christian Penny, Renee Marks, Miria George, Robbie, Sam LaHood
a. Relevant – for Mâori and non-Mâori – but where? Wananga O Aotearoa or specialised tertiary institution? Needs to be available for those who seek it, have its own integrity without being separatist
b. Elusive – what is contemporary, what is Mâori, what is theatre? What discipline should be used to break this down – is academic approach appropriate? What language needed to define this? How can it be taught? Will institutionalising the art form construct the way it’s thought about? How can explanations be given to breathing/living entity?
c. History – definitive/non-definitive- is this needed? Growth, personal development and understanding as well as language enhanced by this learning. Will also nurture Mâori literature culture.
8. How to bring the performance community together in communication and information 
Convenor: Anne de Geus
Discussion joined with another group
9. A non-commercial, non-aligned, published [i.e. in paper form] forum for previews, reviews and publicity 
a. Let there be published print weekly publication [poss funded by WCC and free and accessible to all]. A website
b. Included in print: Previews – including publicity, photos, interesting research, reviews
Included in website: Blog – Discussion, Forum
c. Guaranteed publication of edited input. Priority to small independent works.
d. For Theatre, Film, Dance, Arts, Music, etc
First Step: Approach WCC, talk with Theatreview site
10. Life and voice of working class or those who don’t go to theatre. Where? 
Convenor: Brian Hotter
Participants: Barry Lakeman, Penny Fitt, Vicki-Anne Heikell, Eleanor Aitken, Renee, Mel.
a. Make theatre accessible through venue (e.g. Bring the theatre to the people), timings (many working class too tired at end of day to attend theatre) and ticket prices (cheaper). Many put off by ‘theatres’ themselves – what are the rules? What do I wear? Pub and TV more appealing options.
b. Build interested audiences from school level. Make theatre with people, not for them.
c. Keep creating working class stories, the audiences are starting to come – if we tell their stories, the people will come. NZ has strong tradition of working class in theatres e.g. Renee
11. Advocacy: How do we strengthen the voice of independents trying to gain access to main stage venues? 
Convenor: James Hadley
Participants: Moira Wairama, Anna Cameron, Rashmi Pilapitiya, Sara Brodie, Rina Patel, Miria George, Briar Monro, Sarita So, Challen Wilson, Sam (?), Mark Westerby, Jo Randerson, Hone Kouka and others
a. There is the potential to put forward a united voice that has greater chance of being heard. We should continue to identify who we are and what issues need to be represented through ongoing hui. This has internal (within industry) and external (liaison/communication with local and national government, other groups) benefits.
b. The creation of a national Independent Theatre Makers Advocacy Organisation (e.g. Like DANZ, SOUNZ, NZ Society of Authors’, Playmarket). To lobby main stage venues to ensure shows are truly culturally diverse and representative of the wider theatre-making sector which reflects a need from diverse audiences, and to nurture pockets of independent theatre making happening outside of established venues, as well as in relation to established venues.
c. To develop relationships with mainstream venues, and to set up relationships/dialogues with independent groups so as to make these venues accessible. The dominant tradition of theatre (primarily white, middle class, middle aged-focussed realist drama and comedy) is entrenched within the main stage theatres and holds most of the power within the industry due to having most of the resources.
d. Few mechanisms for staging shows outside of the main venues. We need more knowledge sharing from a centralised pool of knowledge so that independent theatre making isn’t always reinventing the wheel with each project.
e. Identify some leaders as spokespersons for the sector and support their abilities to advocate on our behalf. Establish an advocating body on behalf of the independent theatre sector. Convince main stage theatres that they will grow by becoming more accessible to the new generations of theatre practitioners. Future gatherings should feature a level playing field environment to allow established and emerging practitioners to interact, nurturing informal mentoring of leaders and spokespersons, and encouraging individuals to step up and take action – we are the grandparents, the parents, the teenagers and the babies (not just a rebellious younger generation). If we consolidate our shared resources, and clarify what we want, everything is possible.
12. Mentoring: Does there need to be? Is so who can provide it and how? 
Participants: Robin Kerr, Charlotte Larson, Paul McLaughlin, Steve, Bert van Dijk, Sam
a. Culture – people are willing to be to be mentors but people need to be proactive and ask for it
b. Look at existing models- need for 1. improving quality of work and 2. getting opportunities in industry OR 1. critique and 2. production. If producers’ role improved creatives are freed up to improve artistically.
c. Emerging Artists’ Trust (EAT) just launched in Wellington – to facilitate networking, supply funding and mentoring
d. Institutions – need to be pressured to have internships in a formal sense – apply not just shoulder tapped. Individuals – happy to help and offer mentoring, just needs formal set-up.
e. RFO’s have a duty for audience and practitioner development -[ this is part of a wider debate about funding/education programmes]
f. Mentoring needs to be ONGOING, not just project by project. This culture can be encouraged at training institutions. Business models use mentors frequently – we should look at YWCA, Air NZ, Lifeworks
First step: Be proactive – ask for help, approach older/more experienced practitioners and ask them to mentor you. Check out EAT
13. How do I put a price on my work when negotiating with festivals etc. 
Convenor: Bronwyn Tweddle
a. We must cover hard costs, wages, artistic integrity/intellectual property. Factors to consider are costs, minimum wage, audience size, importance at festival/venue, exchange rates
b. We need to find comparisons – standard contracts at different venues, festivals
c. Calculate intangible benefits/costs of work [i.e. build respect so can make reputation – being able to raise asking price]
First step: Gather information from others who’ve done it. Research standard contracts
14. How to extend the life of new productions e.g. touring and venues 
Convenor: Anne de Geus
a. Either eliminate venue out of picture e.g. site specific and no technical e.g. Hotel
Or go into production with long term approach e.g. funding, technically moveable and willing to travel, internet booking system
b. Communication: e.g. online PR, festivals outside those who have venues, the smaller towns, create good local networks. Use existing resources.
c. Listen to feedback: Marketing to appropriate areas e.g. schools, clubs, particular interest groups. Reciprocal approach: public not just buying a show – contribute e.g. schools students participate in workshops
First step: Find working solution for performers e.g. Fees shouldn’t be subsidised against potential box office. European precedents provide food and accommodation as a given.
15. What is the role of design? 
Convenor: Sam Trubridge
Participants: James Dunlop, Steven Gallagher, Antonia Bale, Julie Noever, Leo-Gene Peters, Peter, Claire Middleton.
a. Need of a space (and time) to play and network between performers, directors, and designers. Where people can learn to work with collaborators in other disciplines, understand their languages, and form a community.
b. Need of collaboration outside specific projects and agendas. An extension of the first point that requires a venue. From discussion we observed that collaborators are running from one project to the next without time in between the work in a less objective-oriented way. Agreed on a need to experiment, and discover without always having the immediate pressures of production.
c. The recognition for and importance of design’s value beyond problem solving, last minute installation, and ‘decoration’.
Actions or strategies:
– getting another venue in Wellington where some of the key points above could be auctioned
– having more money to involve the designers early on and integrate their work
– one rehearsal day per week set aside as a ‘Playground Rehearsal’.
Businesses have found their remaining four days are often much more productive when employees are able to spend one day of the week pursuing individual interests and projects. So applying this model to the rehearsal structure one day a week the production and its agendas will be set aside, other practitioners will be invited into the rehearsal space (where technology etc is all set up) and everyone can experiment and develop the community as well as the art. This is one way every company could build strategies into their rehearsal process that build for the future, strengthen the community, and encourages interaction and networking where new projects could take form.
16. How do established theatre companies/communities communicate with each other nationally? 
a. Using Face Book as Actors Book to communicate
b. Black and White Press – 6 monthly publication like grabaseat [Air NZ], Grab-an-audition. All theatres list programmes for upcoming year. Fortune, Court, ATC, Silo, Downstage, BATS, etc.
c. National annual hui/forum of practitioners. B-side meeting in Auckland
First Step: Face Book
17. The next step after BATS 
Convenor: Robin Kerr
a. A pool of creative theatre professionals to come in and view, advise and nurture new works
b. Training, networking and encouraging creative producers then connecting them to shows to help them move to the next opportunity. Producers having ongoing relationships with companies, not just seasonal.
c. More mentoring and feedback after a show to help access the problems, learn lessons and steer companies in the right direction for future performances
d. An actual venue to go to – shows do not move naturally from BATS to Circa or Downstage as there are totally different audiences at these venues. Either we need to work hard on these relationships to open the doors, or we need a new venue, financially stable and with a distinctly different flavour.
First Step: Funding is necessary to foster creative producers but CNZ funding is linked to projects. Enabling them to fund creative producers will eliminate the primary obstacle
18. Do we want a united voice or forum when liaising with organisations like CNZ – or be independent ‘silos’ the support each other? Maintain independence but unite. [How do we maintain individual independence, but have a united voice when dealing with ‘outside’ bodies e.g. CNZ – BUT not become another institution that morphs into the establishment? ]
Convenor: Mel Hamilton
Participants: Melanie, Challen, Heather, Jen, Moira, Renee.
a. How to create an institution that supports the diversity of independent theatre artists and stays relevant and alive. Willingness to stay open and embrace change. Turnover of staff essential to prevent atrophy. Maintaining a vision while incorporating change.
b. Recognition that face to face, personal meetings/hui were essential to maintain relevancy and vitality. Invite other organizations as guests.
c. Appropriate spaces to meet e.g. BATS has a history and wairua – maybe an afternoon 3-4 times a year when people get together with guest speakers
d. Hui organised by different groups in different cities – to avoid setting up structure/systems that lose dynamism
First Steps: Keep validating each others work is the priority. Important not to rush into structures – people first. More philosophy than process.
19. How do we get progressive shows programmed? 
a. Get a wild card slot – a ‘risk’ season at/on professional stage
b. Foster a dialogue between venues
c. Take work to audience not audience to work
First Steps: Make a proposal and get in from inside ….
20. The relevance of theatre today. How do we compete with Survivor? Or do we need to? 
Participants: Simon Vincent, Brian Hotter, Lisa Maule, Claire Kerrison, Miria George, Sarita So, Heather O’Carroll, Leo Gene Peters, Anna Cameron, Hone Kouka
a. Negative theatre experiences and apathy lead to low audiences. Deep personal questioning therefore – WHY do we do this? What is important to us that we spend so much unpaid time on this? How can we make it distinct, different and exciting? Who is it for? Entertainment or provocation? Both?
b. Reflection on the work and having forums [or spaces] to do this -what are our reasons and intents when producing work. If it truly means something to us, it should mean something to others. Is there too much theatre out there?
c. Need better production to free up creative input into shows.
d. Let reality TV be what it is
First steps: Take time to work out what your work is for …. How to make it distinct and how to tell people about it … and take it to them
21. Networking is ace but would Wellington benefit from a centralised database of people, technology and other resource? 
Convenor: Sam Lahood
Participants: Heather Timms, Challen, John, Shona, Lisa, Thomas, Felix, Mark and others
The database: real interaction and networking through communication and information
a. A Wellington based information hub – organizations share their databases to create a central, generalised info station – online bookings – one stop theatre website for practitioners and punters
b. An independent, non-bureaucratic physical space, plus a physical co-ordinator to unite the threads of information and potentially increase collaboration and networking, making available all of the community’s resources available to productions in a direct and realistic sense.
c. A group to push towards such a hub made up of existing bodies [DANZ, CNZ, Theatreview, Databook, Playmarket]
First steps: Feasibility study for a theatre community space which is a café style forum. A place where all aspects of theatre production could be represented and shared. Working party to continue this concept. How does B-Side work with this?
22. What is the voice of NZ today? What do we want to see, to say? 
a. What we are seeing on our streets, in our lives is NOT reflected on the stage/screen
b. We want to hear our stories today – heart, truth
c. We work to change what we want by being/creating the change ourselves
23. Effective marketing – how do we get more people to our shows, how do we get different people to our shows 
Convenor: John P
Participants: Marjorie, Tony Hopkins
a. Share best practice amongst theatre groups – support each other
b. Personal contact and relationships are the best marketing – people respond to an honest emotional request, not just a brochure. 3 ‘touch’ technique: poster, email, live interaction.
c. Turning a night out into a full social experience – developing a theatre-going culture for NZ – this takes time.
d. Developing companies so audience can connect to a brand experience.
First step: If you’re struggling ask someone what worked for them. Use mentors!
24. Feedback: Do we want a forum to help each other progress our work as a community of individual practitioners? 
Convenor: Leo Gene Peters
Participants: Simon Vincent, Thomas LaHood, Lisa Maule, Madeline McNamara, Miranda Manasiadis, Jenny McArthur, Steve Gallagher, others came & went…
a. We need good critique within the industry! Does NZ have a cultural difficulty with criticism? Let’s grow.
b. Regular forum is a good idea to grow community and community standard of work – create a database of those interested and invite to showings.
c. Guided feedback sessions, guided by creators to get what they need from the group/control who comes – process questions and not ‘fixing’
d. Feedback is generous and supportive of the work, the creators and the overall community. Let’s grow a generous culture.
First step: Carry on B-Side forum as database for practitioners to contact and run group feedback sessions with.
25. Do people want to work towards a new venue/rehearsal centre in Wellington? 
a. A 50-100 seat venue where a particular poetic deepened kind of work can be created – without this physical place the work cannot exist. An open space, rough and ready, and very flexible for ambitious, experimental works to be tried out. To be risky, anarchic and infectiously creative – not just popular or commercial. NB. BATS is swamped.
b. Person/organisation/facilitator who makes this possible
c. All times of day and night open community space e.g. Café/bar for peopla to gather. Places build up a wairua and people gather around this.
d. Are NZ audiences too risk-averse (compared to European audiences where experimentation is valued)? Will economic change bring change in our community – housing boom leads to a crash, empty apartments/warehouses become potential theatre spaces and people realise they need community-engaging events like theatre?
2. SWOT Analysis of September B-Side Forum
· Community buy-in to the event was high
· Format worked well – lack of pre-organised agenda [lack of hidden agenda], allowing people to air the issues closest to them, feedback session at end, Jo’s ‘warm-up’, Anna’s summing up, Briar’s facilitation, ‘background’ input
· Diverse group of practitioners – age, experience, ethnic background, roles [designers, producers, directors, performers, writers], theatrical styles
· People had come from outside Wellington [e.g. Auckland, Taranaki]
· Built strong sense of community
· Timing of event – internal [sector were ripe for it] and external [other developments – CNZ new strategic plan and review of project funding, development of City Arts, funding climate, Briar’s pending practitioner support programme]
· Placement at BATS – people trust BATS agenda and space worked well for the event
· Event identified issues of most importance to sector
· Exciting range of issues and some good discussion
· Event was accessible [FREE]
· Steering group were able to access wide range of practitioners and also carried some weight/trust to the event
· Simplicity of both conception and execution – the light touch
· Unanimous call for repeat forum using same format
· There has been a strong call for a voice for the sector – advocacy
· That this is a beginning
· Provided a taste of what might be possible without being too daunting at outset [e.g. requiring people to commit to a full day or more than one day]
· A LOT of information sharing
· Great feedback after the event and many reports of ongoing benefit
· Lack of time in sessions meant lack of depth in discussion – only time to really identify issues but not fully explore them [aware of this before we began]
· Concern that the sector we’re so relieved to be coming together that they were being dangerously optimistic
· Lack of understanding of existing structures amongst newer practitioners slowed the debate [this was countered by the value of information sharing between newer and more established practitioners]
· Momentum needs seizing – feeling that we had missed the boat with getting the discussions continued on in on-line forums however a] it felt that we were not ready yet to successfully place these discussions into an on-line format and [b] that because of the lack of time for the discussions and therefore the sometimes lack of in-depth and strong discussion, that we may be better to circulate a summary and report rather than post the topics as full discussions into an open on-line forum
· Many of ‘Next Steps’ were handed over for ‘someone else’ to action rather than the groups taking responsibility for this. This needed to have been made clearer.
· Real opportunity to use the forums to develop a clear strategy for the development of the sector
· Running another forum – clearly there is a call for another B-Side. This would need to be more in-depth e.g. 2 days, and would be focused – possibly themed around ‘what is the infrastructure needed to support the independent theatre [performing arts?] sector
· This could be opened out to other performing arts practitioners
· Agreed that it still needed to be the independent practitioners only and that once the issues, needs and potential leadership and strategies had been identified it could be useful to then open the format up to include the RFO’s, funders and other stakeholders/partners
· Possibility of supporting B-sides in other centres [Auckland/Christchurch and maybe more]. Possibility of getting CNZ support for this.
· Possibility of bringing people from other centres to a B-Side – either the next one or building towards a nationwide one – to build the networks nationally
· Opportunity to challenge the sector – feeling that there can be a lot of complacency in the sector e.g. approx 30% of people who gave positive RSVP’s were unable to make it on the day
· Could do a better job of capturing the discussions and continuing them through on an online forum. Possibility of using Blog format. Could work more closely with TBI.
· If Briar’s funding successful for Practitioner Support Programme she will be able to allocate some time to ongoing development of issues, etc that come out of forums
· Not keeping the dialogue alive following the event could lose the momentum
· Drop-off rate of attendees
· Time and resources of steering group
· Diversity of experience slowing things down [also seen as a good thing – information sharing]
The initial Wellington B-Side Hui was a great success, bringing a diverse range of independent practitioners together in a positive and pro-active spirit. There was clearly a sense of long-awaited unity within the room, and great excitement at what this gathering represented – that we as a group were ready and able to begin to find voice as a collective, and to articulate our needs as an independent sector. There was also a hopeful feeling of ‘change being in the air’ – with CNZ, many RFO’s and the industry as a whole – and the challenge seen for us as independent practitioners to come to the party with clarity, maturity and enthusiasm.
It is interesting to note that several issues were raised repeatedly by the groups: firstly, a serious lack of producers/production support, secondly the need for greater community and networking amongst ourselves to reduce isolation, and thirdly, a wish to improve the quality of our work. These issues are linked e.g. Creators who also produce their own work end up compromising the quality due to split focus; e.g. better networking between ourselves will lead to more open critical dialogue. Also notable is the want to share knowledge/resources to stop ourselves re-inventing the wheel, and the need to join forces to lobby other organizations more effectively.
The goal now is to host a more in-depth and targeted BSide in Wellington on the 29th and 30th of March 2008. Potential support has been voiced by Toi Whakaari (venue) and the Wellington City Council (catering and volunteers) for this event.
There is also a desire to support B-Sides in Christchurch, Auckland and Dunedin with the possibility of a national hui at some point.
There is a desire to begin advocacy and communication with other interested parties (e.g. CNZ, WCC, RFO’s), but simultaneously the need felt to develop our own cohesive voice as a group to enable us to have strong, mature conversations with other institutions and organisations. However we are making this report open to any interested parties, and welcome responses, offers and ideas from all.
[The Forum starts here]