Category Archives: My Name Is….

Fin Kennedy’s Westminster Media Forum Speech June 2014

The In Battalions report, published by Tamasha co-Artistic Director and playwright Fin Kennedy and researcher Helen Campbell Pickford in 2013, received widespread coverage and formed a significant part of the recent debate about arts funding cuts, in particular around theatres’ capacity to take risks on developing new plays and playwrights in an age of austerity. Below is a transcript of Fin Kennedy’s Westminster Media Forum speech on how we assess the cost versus the value of the arts, in order for the sector to better make its case to politicians and the public.

“I’ve been asked to speak today because last year I wrote a report entitled In Battalions, about the effect of cuts to the Arts Council on the British theatre industry’s capacity to develop new plays. The results made for grim reading. The report is available online so I won’t repeat its findings here. Instead I would like to address a philosophical point which I feel often gets overlooked in this debate, and that is about the difference between the cost of the arts to the public purse and the value the arts generate for public life.

There is a prevailing ideology you come across when this debate comes up. Phillip Pullman calls it ‘free market fundamentalism’. I prefer the softer term ‘market value’, because it is not a wholly illogical or unreasonable position. But it essentially states that if any play cannot attract enough paying theatregoers to cover its costs then it should be allowed to go to the wall. Let the market decide.

I’m in my first year of a new job – as Co-Artistic Director of a small-scale touring theatre company, Tamasha – and I’d like to offer a few reflections on this.

Small scale theatre tends to confound the market value principle, and here’s why.

A 90 minute new play with 3-5 actors will always play in what we call a studio or black box theatre – small auditoria of around 150 seats. So far, so cheap you might think.

But if you’re going to do things properly – which is what being a professional artist is all about – then costs begin long before show opens. Commissioning a playwright and developing the script is the first step – and can often take place years ahead of first night.

Once the show is cast there are the actors and other professionals such as the director, designer, company manager and stage manager. Then there are material costs, back office costs, producing costs, admin support, publicity – and if the show is required to tour, travel, accommodation and per diems.

All this means that even a modest four-hander play, with three weeks’ rehearsal, a three week run in London and four weeks’ touring can easily cost upwards of £100,000. Given what one can charge for shows of this scale – and even if the show does roaring business (a big if) it will make back on box office perhaps half what it cost – at best.

Small scale theatre is essentially economically unviable. It cannot exist without some kind of subsidy.

But the question we should be asking of such shows is not ‘Did it make money?’ but ‘Did it create value?’ – a far more amorphous concept, and one at which our sector is notoriously bad at successfully making its case.

I’d like to demonstrate the difference between cost and value with a brief example from my own company’s recent output.

My Name is… is a three-hander verbatim play written by my colleague Sudha Bhuchar. The play has just closed in London and Glasgow, where it received a clutch of rave reviews and in Scotland standing ovations. The play tells the real-life story of Molly Campbell, a mixed race Scottish-Pakistani girl who, in 2006, was reported as having been kidnapped by her father and forcibly taken to Pakistan. The truth turned out to be a lot more complicated.

My Name is… tells this family’s story in its own words. It has been a huge success, with audiences in tears, TV and radio interest, and a national tour booked for September and October. Even so, it will not make more money than it cost.

The value in a show like this is manifold. It tells the truth behind a story located along an important cultural fault line which exists in our society. It gives visibility to often-misunderstood or vilified minority groups. It creates understanding in audiences of other cultures with which many share their cities.

Performing in the show has been a stepping stone for all three of its actors, for one it was her professional debut and another has been nominated for an award.

The show was accompanied by workshops in inner city schools, exploring what it means to have a dual heritage in 21st century Britain.

In Scotland, Asian audience members urged me to remount the show for a longer Scottish tour because of the social and cultural community understanding such a show can create.

This makes it sound worthy – it wasn’t. It was funny and warm and heartfelt and human – and desperately sad.

But perhaps most movingly, the real Molly Campbell and her mother came to see it. They loved it. They came back – several times. They brought extended family. After the third time they had seen it, Molly herself said, “It was like going back in time and looking at us all … I got to see my mum and dad falling in love … I was just a little girl who was stuck but not knowing she was stuck and having to choose. I was scared in the beginning that people would blame me for what happened but watching myself being so innocent it’s finally hit me that I don’t have to carry that guilt anymore.”

If there is a price you can put on that, I have no idea what it might be.

My Name is… took five years to create. The project is a quintessential argument for public investment in the arts – ‘market value’ would never have come up with this show. Don’t get me wrong, now that it is a hit, Tamasha are doing everything in our power to exploit its success. It may, one day, break even. But it will never make a profit. Does this mean it is without value?

I’d like to close with a quote from Lorne Campbell, in a recent think piece for the Guardian about whether an obsession with value for money is trumping concerns of artistic quality.

“Perhaps this is the role of the cultural organisation now?” Cambpell writes, “To be the buffer between the market system we operate in and the non-market place that must be created if we are to begin to dream a new more equitable way for us to be as a society?”

So, I would repeat again: the question we should be asking of our publicly-supported theatre is not – or not only – ‘How much did it cost?’ but ‘How much value did it generate?’ for British society.

Thank you.”

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‘My Name is…’ Rehearsal week 2, Assistant Director Diyan Zora: The Art of Storytelling

Rehearsal photos by Katherine Leedale

Week 2 of rehearsals for My Name is… has flown by. The art of storytelling has dominated the room. Our play is compiled from interviews with three people, Molly Campbell, her mother Louise, and her father Sajad. Each tells their story, describing events past and present and revealing the ‘truth’ behind the headlines.

How do the actors tell those stories? Do they relive them on stage, re-enacting a time gone by, or do they reference them as distant memories? There seems to be a whole spectrum of possibilities, which suits our rehearsal room perfectly. Philip’s process is all about uncovering the actor’s imagination. The extensive text and character work we did in the first week is being put to good use. Philip asks the actors to rehearse moments in the play with varying ‘points of concentration’. For example, there is a scene where a character’s objective is to tell the interviewer that they were ‘the victim’. The point of concentration might be the space around them, or the interviewer, or the weather… it can be anything, any given circumstance that might colour a situation.

Exploring all these backdrops changes the scene completely. It adds nuance and makes the scene more engaging, but most of all, it reveals just how many options the actors have. Watching so much spontaneity and play has made for an incredibly exciting rehearsal room, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Tickets for My Name is… are on sale now! Opens 30 April at Arcola Theatre: more here

Rehearsal photos by Katherine Leedale


‘My Name is…’ Rehearsal week 1: If the bee stings, be stung

TDA ‘My Name is…’ Assistant Director Diyan Zora shares her experiences from the rehearsal room

My Name is... rehearsal room Diyan's blog

My Name is… rehearsal room Karen Bartke and Umar Ahmed

I’ve never been stung by a bee, yet the analogy that keeps popping up in the first week of rehearsals for My Name is… makes perfect sense. The idea is, if you have an instinct when rehearsing a scene, you should follow it through.

Thankfully, our actors are completely open to following their instincts. Philips process is designed to free the actor, to give them the tools to respond in the moment and be totally open to where the scene takes them. That kind of freedom takes preparation; detailed character analysis, improvisation around objectives, exploring the physicality characters have, and much more.

It’s exhilarating to see that preparation unveil itself when the actors try a scene.  My Name is… tells the story of Ghazala, a 12 year old Scottish/Pakistani girl who flees to Pakistan with her father. Based on the real life story of Molly Campbell, and generated from interviews with Molly and her parents, the play explores the realities of these peoples lives, a reality seemingly absent from the majority of the press generated in 2006 when Molly left Scotland.
The play takes on some big issues; cultural identity, religion, racism and much more. However, at the heart of the story is a little girl caught up in a marital breakdown. Our rehearsal room is about finding this core, about stripping away our misconceptions and getting to the very root of these characters. It’s made for an incredibly exciting first week of rehearsals, full of discovery. When Friday drew to a close, and we realised just how far we had all come in five days, we had the urge to head down to the bar and toast an incredible week. If the bee stings…

Tickets for My Name is… are on sale now! Opens 30 April at Arcola Theatre: more here


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