Artistic Director of Spun Glass Theatre Jessica Cheetham talks about creating Theatre Search
Six months post lockdown due to the Covid-19 crisis, the theatre industry finds itself adapting to a socially distanced era as Phase Four of the Government’s Five Stage plan now sees a handful of theatres open for performances. An uncertain time for the industry, it’s a case of adapting to an ever changing climate. A response to the current situation, Artistic Director of Spun Glass Theatre Jessica Cheetham, alongside a team of regional leads have worked together to create Theatre Search, a resource for the theatre industry documenting the opening status, dates and programming windows of nearly 900 theatres, venues and festivals UK wide. Jessica explains further about this crucial resource.
You’ve recently published a comprehensive free resource for producers, freelancers and theatre companies called Theatre Search to aid the recovery of the performing arts. What does the resource include and how can it be accessed?
Theatre Search was created to support independent producers to work together to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic with a more sustainable, inclusive and fair sector. Theatre Search will reduce the amount of unpaid work that each producer or theatre company must do to map the local and national landscape of potential performance venues, boosting our collective capacity to create new work.
Theatre Search is a simple Google spreadsheet which aims to list every UK theatre, festival and performance venue along with their location and how/when they plan to reopen. Some venues are staying closed but operating online, some have announced dates they plan to reopen by and some are unfortunately staying closed into 2021 – Theatre Search lists all these options.
Venues can also submit programming info to indicate to producers and artists whether they are currently looking for new work, helping to create new partnerships and possibilities.
Theatre Search can be accessed by signing up here. Upon signing up you will be sent a welcome email with the link to access the spreadsheet and in-depth information about how to use the resource.
Compiling Theatre Search involved regional leads from Scotland and Northern Ireland, North England and Midlands, South West England and Wales and South East England and London. How did you all approach working together and compiling the resource?
We had an amazing team working on Theatre Search who brought a real dedication and openness to how we tackled this unique challenge. The team were recruited in June so we had to work within all the lockdown restrictions – everything was done over Zoom, email and WhatsApp.
While it would have been lovely to meet face to face (and I hope we will soon!) removing this possibility actually meant that we easily brought in excellent people to the team without worrying about the effect of distance. Sarah, our Regional Lead for North England and Midlands lives in the same city as me, however our interactions were exactly the same as with Fleur, the Lead for Northern Ireland and Scotland who is based in NI. We hope that these open ways of working, helped by technology, can continue going forwards.
We met weekly via Zoom and then undertook lots of research activities to find theatre lists, announcements on social media and talk personally with senior leaders in the theatre industry across the UK. So many people supported us on this journey and really guided our understanding of how Theatre Search could be relevant and useful.
Research for the database has uncovered current information on the industry, what have you learned? (Are there similarities/differences in terms of the issues faced within in each region of the UK?)
The picture across the UK is broadly similar – there is so much uncertainty. Venues are in a vulnerable position and are having to plan for multiple reopening scenarios at once. It is very hard to say with confidence what will be possible next week and that’s not a situation that the theatre industry has had to face in a long time.
There are differences in confidence for reopening in Scotland and Wales as they have had slightly elongated lockdowns compared to England, with more venues announcing extended closures. What’s clear is that what will be difficult to navigate are changes in the guidance – for example, when opening for socially distanced indoor performances was pushed back, or local lockdowns imposed, venues may have reopened just to close again.
Creating Theatre Search has allowed for you to talk with various venues who are keen to find out more about theatre-makers local to them. How can theatre-makers connect with venues?
We have created a sister database – Local Creatives – which will be shared with venues this week. Producers and artists can fill out the survey here, which updates the database in real time.
Venues are very keen to find out more about the individuals and companies who are local to them whilst international and touring activity is impacted by Covid-19. Artists can add in information about any projects they are working on that are digital or able to be socially distanced so we hope that this sharing will help new collaborations to be easily made.
How can any venues not yet featured get in contact?
Just drop us an email – email@example.com
Theatre Search aims to keep the industry up to date on the latest developments, opportunities and projects. A responsive resource, how have you found having to adapt to the current changing climate?
It’s a big task! But a challenge that we have really enjoyed. It’s felt strange producing a spreadsheet rather than a theatre production, but I think that the nature of theatre has equipped us to be adaptable and inventive – there is always a problem to solve.
What are your hopes for the resource?
We have a few plans in the pipeline – watch this space for an exciting announcement this week!
We would like the data to be relevant and usable for theatre makers for years to come and we are working to automate how the venues update their info which will really help this process.
Essentially, Theatre Search will provide a map of the new landscape of theatre in the UK for producers and artists at all stages of their careers.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
To find out more about Theatre Search, visit here…
To find out more about Spun Glass Theatre, visit here…