Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In Battalions: Operation Mobilise

CALLING ALL THEATRE-MAKERS!!!

The 2015 General Election is almost upon us. Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 30 March, after which campaigning begins in earnest across all UK constituencies. 

Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed that I held an open meeting late last year to discuss whether or not my In Battalions campaign has run its course, or whether it had a role to play in the run-up to the May 2015 election. 

The answer was a most resounding: YES (to the second bit).

Drumroll please ... It is time for the Battalion to mobilise!

Look at us in our finery

Here's the plan:

The original In Battalions report from 2013 made quite a splash. It went from a personal project to gather some evidence on the effects of government cuts to the Arts Council (for an incredulous Ed Vaizey) to become a campaign with national profile, broadsheet coverage, thousands of downloads and questions tabled in both chambers of the Houses of Parliament. It was even credited with having been an influence on the Chancellor George Osborne. 

I've since got a new job so I don't have time to take on anything on this scale again. However, as someone rightly pointed out at the campaign meeting last year, all the issues within the original report remain current. A General Election is an ideal opportunity to make more use of the research which has already been done, and to collectively share the workload - and cost.

Operation Mobilise will involve making a pledge to:

  • Download a copy of the 2013 In Battalions report.
  • Print out a paper copy of the report in full (48 pages) and staple it together.
  • Go onto Find Your MP and get the name and postal address of your local MP.
  • Post the report to your MP, with a covering letter explaining why you are doing so (more on this below)
  • Send an email to my wonderful In Battalions helper Liberty Martin, telling her that you have done this, and which constituency you live in.
  • Tell the whole of Facebook and Twitter and your entire email address book that you have done A Great Thing and encourage them to do the same (include a link to these instructions).
  • Hashtags = #InBattalions #OperationMobilise (See below for some ready-made tweets).
  • Liberty will add your Heroic Act to the In Battalions Crowdmap, so that we can see at a glance just how many constituencies we have managed to hit, and where we still need to target.
  • Watch in shock and awe as all the past five years' Arts Council cuts are reversed!

Well alright, maybe not the last one. 

But a concerted, coordinated effort of this kind is likely to place this issue onto the agenda of MPs across the country, at a time when they are open to hearing our concerns - and hopefully articulating their own policies for what they intend to do in response. At the very least it extracts further value from the work that has already been done, and does so in a way which spreads the printing and postage costs so that we only have to do one each.

I expect you've got a lot of questions. I have thought of some of them already.

Do I have to print a paper copy? Why can't I just email my MP a link to the report online, or send it as an attachment?
MPs get thousands of emails a day. Many don't even read them personally, but get some assistant to do so and write a bland, standardised response. Emails are easy to ignore, or delete, as are file attachments. Hardly anyone writes paper letters to their MP any more. Doing so gets noticed. Doing so and enclosing a 48-page report makes a powerful thump on the doormat. You then have a physical presence in their office, which is a lot harder to ignore. Someone will have to physically throw the report away, which is more deliberate and more conscience-pricking than deleting an email. Please do not email your MP the report. You may as well blow a kiss in their direction.

Posting it will be expensive won't it?
Here's the current rates. It's likely to be about three quid. Pull yourself together, soldier.

Do I have to send a cover letter? I don't know what to write.
Sending the report without an explanation makes no sense. It isn't clear what your concerns are. I've written a template cover letter which you can use, or adapt, and uploaded it here.

What if someone other than my current MP wins the seat?
A very good point. Keep an eye on this. If someone else wins then write to them after May 7 to congratulate them, and send them another copy of the report. You can use most of the same cover letter again. I will try to remember to do another blog post to remind you. Alternatively, if you're feeling really generous, you could send a copy of the report to every candidate standing in your constituency. That ought to cover all the bases. But I'll leave that up to you.
Why do I have to do the Crowdmap thing?
You don't - Liberty is going to do it for you if you email her. But do make sure you tell her you've enacted your pledge. Crowdmap is an excellent way to see at a glance just how the campaign is going, and where else we still need to target. It will be useful to be able to put a call out to regions where we're looking a bit thin on the ground. So please do send Liberty that email after posting your report.

What if I look at the Crowdmap and see that someone has already posted it to my MP?
Post it to them again. It doesn't matter if some MPs get lots of copies - on the contrary, it will make quite an impact and show how seriously their constituents are taking this issue. MPs have a little known formula they use to calculate what proportion of their constituents are likely to be concerned about any given issue. One letter on one issue is often taken to stand for a percentage of constituents - most of whom haven't bothered to write in. Imagine what they'd think if they got ten or twenty copies of In Battalions?

My MP has written back debunking everything in the report, or with a load of guff about how committed their party is to arts and culture...
That's to be expected. I will be writing another blog post in due course looking at likely responses on this issue, and what the counter-arguments are. Don't you worry, your Battalion Commander will be providing you with all the ammunition you need...

That's pretty much it. I hope you'll join me in this. It isn't much to ask and feels like an easy way of working together to have a greater impact than any of us could alone.

So ...Who's in? 

Sign up for Operation Mobilise below.

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UPDATE 25 February: Some people seem to be finding that Scribd.com has started charging for a subscription to download what should be a free document . I've changed the links above to connect to a copy of the report on Google Drive instead. Download it directly from Google Drive here.

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Some ready-made tweets which are good to go:

I'm doing this. Can you too?  Quick, easy, cheap, big impact on UK theatre funding.  

ATTENTION THEATRE-MAKERS!! We can have a voice in the 2015 election. Here's how:   

Play your part in lobbying for UK arts and culture - I've signed up, have you?   

Theatre Folk! A call to arms before the general election from

I've heard the call to arms and written to my MP today . You can too.

How to lobby. 1) Download 2) Print 3) Send to MP 4) Email 5) Vote.

Remember to tweet every few days if you can, we need to get this trending as a meme before Parliament dissolves on 30 March.

You can also follow my updates on Twitter (@finkennedy) to re-tweet my own tweets and for news of the campaign as it unfolds. 

To join the In Battalions email mailing list drop me a line and I'll add you.  Press enquiries can also be directed to this address.

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PS. There will be more from In Battalions later in the year, including another conference at Central Saint Martins college on Weds 17 June. More soon but for now, save the date!



Sunday, December 07, 2014

In Battalions: an update

Last week I held an open meeting in the Perseverance pub in London. The purpose was to ask if my In Battalions movement, which charted the effects of government cuts to the Arts Council on the development of new plays and playwrights, had run its course - or if it might have a role to play in the run-up to the General Election next May.

It was a really useful meeting and I'm grateful to everyone who showed up to help me think this through. These are a few notes about what we discussed - with more to come on the three ideas we settled on.

I started by outlining the history of In Battalions for those who were coming to it new, or had only sporadically engaged with it over the two years it has been running. The campaign has had some successes, and enjoyed considerable profile within the theatre industry. But in the meantime my circumstances have completely changed; I am no longer a freelance playwright with time to lobby, but a full-time Artistic Director of a theatre company, and therefore unable to dedicate the time to In Battalions which I once did. As a result, I was looking for either a small group of freelance theatre professionals to take over from me, or for some very 'light touch' low-workload campaign ideas - or indeed some combination of the two.

We had a long discussion about different examples of both. I won't list the ideas we discussed and then rejected, but suffice to say that what was most useful for me was to hear from culture professionals who had observed In Battalions from afar during 2013-14 without being directly involved, and their observations on what was unique about it compared to other lobbying efforts like What Next? or My Theatre Matters, which were taking place around the same time.

Put simply, the USP of In Battalions was my partnership with a professional researcher, Helen Campbell Pickford. 

Helen has been hugely generous with her time and expertise over the past two years. What she has brought to the whole thing has been an intellectual rigour, and an adherence to professional research methodologies which are recognised by the civil service. While I may have been the public face of the campaign, it was Helen who, quietly and behind the scenes, helped me structure a questionnaire to send out to theatres about the effects of the cuts they were experiencing. She then helped me interpret the results; it was because of her we were confidently able to generate statistical statements such as 'Two-thirds of theatres surveyed said they had had to cancel or postpone one or more production since April 2012 for funding reasons'. It was this rigorous and impartial research process which made the 2013 report so powerful - and therefore useful to the rest of the sector. It wasn't just an exercise in special pleading. It uncovered indisputable facts, which could be used in any number of other campaigns. Put simply, In Battalions loaded everyone else's guns.

Three ideas came out of this, which we agreed to carry forward into 2015.

The first was to continue to make use of that comprehensive (and still relevant) 2013 In Battalions report as a lobbying tool. One easy way to do this in the run-up to 2015 is to start a social media meme in which theatre professionals up and down the country make a pledge to print off the report in full and post it to their local MP, with a cover letter setting out that these issues are still very much alive, and indeed worsening, and asking the candidate what steps they would be taking to address the cuts in arts funding, if re-elected. 

I felt it was important to print out a paper copy of the report rather than just email it as a link or a pdf - which is easy to ignore or delete. A 50-page report has gravitas, and a physical presence in someone's office. It cannot be so easily ignored. If we can put in place an RSVP system for who has sent the report to which MPs, then we can map this visually via Crowdmap. Who knows - perhaps we might even reach all 533 English MPs? (Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish colleagues are of course welcome to join in, but the focus of the report is necessarily on Arts Council England, due to the funding system). 

I will publish more information on this blog in the New Year about how we will run this campaign, with a fuller set of instructions for those wishing to take part. Hold off acting on it for now - it will have most impact if we all do it at the same time. In the meantime, we could do with a snappy hashtag for the idea... If you can think of a good one, let me know.


The second idea was a generous offer from the MA Dramatic Writing course at Central Saint Martins College (CSM), to continue to host an annual In Battalions Festival. CSM hosted an inaugural In Battalions Festival in July this year, which was well-attended and received coverage in the Guardian and The Stage. It was useful to have a physical space in which what was, up until that point, pretty much an online campaign, for the 'battalion' to come together to meet and debate. Course leader Jennifer Tuckett (herself also a playwright) offered to dedicate another MA module to hosting the Festival again at around the same time next year. This means a team of postgraduate students to lead on organising and running it, with light tough input from me. Also, if we hold it in July again, then it will be at a time of year when we will have a new Government.  It would timely for the movement to reconvene to consider our position, and how to go about engaging with the new administration.

The third and final idea was more labour intensive, but built on the useful steer that In Battalions' power is as a 'factory' generating hardcore statistics on the effects of very recent cuts, which we are all arguing about but which no-one is actually studying. Why not try to raise some money for another report? This would mostly be to pay Helen (and perhaps a small team of assistants) a decent fee to continue the research. Helen has been hugely generous in working pro bono up to now, but she is finishing her PhD soon and will be in need of an income. Moreover, these issues are not going away. More cuts are undoubtedly coming. Other, bigger campaigns such as What Next? are better placed to lobby ideologically to try to prevent or mitigate those cuts. But In Battalions' most useful role is to chart their effects, impartially, dispassionately and using standardised research methods which it is difficult to dismiss. We can continue to be the ammunition factory of the British theatre industry.

We spent a while debating how best to go about raising the money for this. Between us, the people in the room had links to Equity, the Writers' Guild and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We also discussed crowdfunding, which we may yet do. However, Helen made the important point that for further research to be taken seriously, the funding needs to also be seen as impartial (which may rule out Equity and the Guild). Discussions continue around this and I'll post an update as and when - and if anyone has a brainwave about appropriate funding sources, do get in touch. Helen is in the process of costing up what would be a realistic figure, but as a rough guide we all felt in the region of £20,000 was what we were aiming for. Ambitious but by no means impossible.

Finally we spent a while discussing what the focus of a new tranche of research ought to be. Several felt that a simple re-run of the original research would suffice - charting the latest effects of the cuts two years on, though probably taking in a larger number of theatre companies, who would probably take part given the increased profile we now enjoy since undertaking the first report.

However, others felt that a new angle to the research might be more beneficial, partly for publicity purposes (journalists would be most interested in a new research question) and partly to deepen and complement the previous research. We may undertake a brief consultation with the sector on this, to see if there is an angle which would be most useful (if you have a suggestion, let us know) but one question which seemed to interest all of us was around the effects of the cuts on access and diversity: 'Whose voices are being heard - whose stories are being told?' While new plays and playwrights are undoubtedly endangered, they probably aren't about to disappear altogether just yet. However what will happen long before then is that those plays and playwrights become drawn from a narrower and narrower pool of people - those who can afford to take part in an art form which is increasingly becoming economically unviable. This has huge implications for the worlds which appear on our stages.

So it looks like we might settle on something along these lines. Depending on how long it takes to raise the cash, the new report could be ready towards the middle of next year - meaning a second In Battalions Festival at Central Saint Martins could usefully double up as a launch event.

We finished the meeting on a real high.
We all swapped emails and those present agreed to act as an interim steering group as these ideas took shape over the next few months, and to volunteer a bit of time to do the odd bit of legwork to get some of them off the ground. If you weren't able to be at the meeting, but would like to join this list and would be prepared to volunteer a bit of your time if it needed, please get in touch.

Glasses were raised before we all went our separate ways, back out into the drizzly November night.

It looks like the battalion will rumble on for a little while longer yet.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Arcade writers' scheme crowdfunding


So I'm involved in an emerging playwrights' mentoring scheme up north, based at ARC Theatre Stockton, where some inspiring people (namely Exec Director Annabel Turpin and Programme Manager Becci Sharrock) are pioneering opportunities for new playwrights in a region where there are next to none. 

The Arcade writers' group was successful in a bid to ACE earlier this year, for funds to pay for a programme of mentoring and workshops, and I was approached to help match each writer to an industry mentor. I'm proud to say that we have got some great people on board, among them Viv Franzmann, Roy Williams, Alexandra Wood, Anders Lustgarten, Stella Feehily, Ali Taylor and Kenny Emson.  

There's just one problem.

It turns out the Arcade scheme ACE budget pays for us, and for the writers’ expenses to travel and stay in London, but it does not include a fee for the writers to write their actual plays. All of the writers are at the stage of having day jobs and writing in the evenings and weekends, so they are trying to raise a shared pot to buy them all a bit of time to properly dedicate to the task in hand, to allow them to make the most of this opportunity. They have very proactively started a crowdfunding campaign and I have said I would try to help promote it for them.




The link to the campaign donation page is here. A few of the writers have also written heartfelt blog posts about what being part of this scheme means to them (which also serve as compelling reasons to donate). You can read those here, here and here.


There’s just one catch – the campaign has been running for a while but they have only just told me about it. So there are only 6 days to go before the funding deadline closes!

If you can pitch in, even a little bit, it would be hugely appreciated. I'm optimistic that in time, what Annabel and Becci have started up in Stockton could be the beginning of a movement of new writing from a seriously under-represented region on the nation's stages.

This is your chance to help make that happen.

 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

In Battalions open meeting, 7.30pm on Weds 26 Nov 2014



The Perseverance Pub, 63 Lamb's Conduit St, London WC1N 3NB (tube: Russell Square) www.the-perseverance.moonfruit.com

In December 2012 I met Culture Minister Ed Vaizey at a Writers' Guild event in Parliament, where he said to me that his government's cuts to the Arts Council were having "no effect" on the development of new plays and playwrights in England. I resolved to gather some evidence about the damage being done. The resulting report, In Battalions, showed theatres across the country curtailing a whole host of new play development in response to the cuts or fear of cuts. The report has been downloaded over 15,000 times (get your copy here), received broadsheet coverage and had questions tabled in Parliament.

2013 saw a follow-up report, by me and my researcher Helen Campbell Pickford, the In Battalions Delphi study, an industry consultation to find innovative ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity. (Also available free online here). There have also been several pub meetings, an open letter to Ed Vaizey signed by Helen Mirren and Tom Stoppard (among 70 others), and the In Battalions Festival at Central Saint Martins College.

One year on from our first meeting, Ed Vaizey stood up at the same Writers' Guild event in Parliament and credited the In Battalions campaign as having been an influence on the Chancellor George Osborne's decision to announce a tax break for new plays and regional touring, a move which is poised to inject a much-needed cash boost to the industry when it takes effect next year.

In Battalions proved that one artist (and a researcher) could channel the British theatre industry to speak to government with one voice, and effect a small but significant shift in government thinking.

There is a general election coming up. What's more, I have a new full-time job, as Co-Artistic Director of Tamasha Theatre Company. I am keen not to lose the momentum and profile which In Battalions has built up; it could help keep these issues on the agenda in the run-up to May 2015, and beyond. But I no longer have the time to spend keeping the movement alive on my own.

I am calling this meeting to discuss this, and to see if together we can find ways to make In Battalions a more shared movement, led by and contributed to by other theatre professionals. Are there ways in which, together, we can continue to make the case for subsidised theatre's social and cultural value, and to make our case heard by politicians?

I am also open to the possibility that In Battalions may have run its course. Other movements such as What Next? are campaigning on similar issues, with more resources, a higher profile and more regular industry and political engagement.

But rather than make this decision on my own I wanted to talk it through with the friends and colleagues who made In Battalions what it was.

Please come along if you can on Weds 26 Nov 2014 and be part of the conversation. It will be very informal, free to attend, and above a pub in central London, so there will drinks. Even if this is the end of the road for In Battalions, it would be nice to come together one last time to celebrate what we have achieved.

Fin Kennedy

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Domino Effect and other shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

For the first time in 5 years, I've got a new show on at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

The Domino Effect is a new play for Mulberry Theatre Company, the production wing of Mulberry School in East London, with whom I have a creative partnership stretching back ten years. From 2007-2009 we took a new play to Edinburgh every year, and in 2009 we became the first British state school ever to be awarded a Scotsman fringe First, for our show The Unravelling. In 2010, four of our plays were published in a volume by Nick Hern Books. Mulberry has since had their own theatre built on site, and been the hosts of Schoolwrights, the UK's first playwrights-in-schools training scheme. You can read more about my work with Mulberry here, and more about The Domino Effect specifically (and how to book tickets) here.

But that's enough about that. Those of you who have been tempted here via social media may well have clicked through on the promise of getting my personal list of recommendations for the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe. So here they are.

The usual caveats apply - I know next to nothing about most of these; they tend to be ones on when I am there at the start and great shows on later in the month may well not be listed; last time I walked out of 50% of what I saw... etc, etc. (It's also not all theatre - there's some comedy and other stuff like magic in there. We all need some time off.) The Fringe is nothing if not a great leveller. It's also no secret that there is no quality control - most shows are dreadful. I see it as like being a gambler. You will lose a lot - time, money, the will to live - before a big win comes along which (hopefully) makes it all worthwhile.

I've categorised my choices into Top Picks, Worth a Punt and Total Risks. There is also a separate list of shows which might suit teenagers, seeing as I will be there with some and looking for stuff to take them to.

Anyway, enjoy. And don't blame me if they're all rubbish. Apart from The Domino Effect obviously, which is the only one which has my personal guarantee. But then all the other shows will have their makers' guarantees too. 

That's Edinburgh for you.

Top Picks

At The Illusionist's Table
The Domino Effect
Ian D Montfort
Light
Robert Newman's New Theory of Evolution
Seance
Spoiling
Stewart Lee
Symphony
The Post Show
Tom Binns


Worth A Punt

5x15
A Play, A Pie and a Pint
Americana Road Trip

Baba Brinkman: A Rap Guide to Religion
Beats North
Blind Hamlet
Bonenkai
Bottleneck
Broke
Chef
The Devil Without
Early Doors
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in the Western World
The Initiate
Little On The Inside
The Lu-Tings
The Man Who Almost Killed Himself
Mental
Now's The Hour
Peter Antoniou: Happy Medium
Philosorap Cabaret
Pioneer
Standby for Tape Backup
Strange Resting Places
Swing
Thinking Drinkers
The Trip
Theatre On A Long Thin Wire
Unsung


Total Risks

Bad Boys: Whisky Theatre
Baron Conspiracy
Burger Van
Burning Books
Circumcise Me
How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found
I Am Not Malala
Manuelita
Men In The Cities
Notoriously Yours
Object Lesson
Phone Whore
Pint Size
Race by David Mamet
The Secret Collector
Shame
Tea Time Story
This Is Where I Live

Stuff for Teens

Buffer
Chasing Zeds
Chatroom
El Britanico (Wrestling Reality)
Error 404
Harriet - Teen detective
Now's The Hour
1 Green Bottle
Paper Play
Please Don't Cry (At My Funeral)
Pomegranate Jam
Private View
Raymondo
The Secret Collector
Sirens
Tales From the MP3
Tea Time Story


Ps. You can thank me by booking a ticket The Domino Effect. You're welcome.