Common Wealth Theatre

Listen to this episode of Culture Plan B here.

DAVID: Welcome to Culture Plan B. I’m David Jubb. This is the second episode of the Culture Plan B in which I will not be interviewing Judi Dench, Sir Simon rattle or Sir Peter Bazalgette. Instead Culture Plan B will be meeting with artists and communities to create culture, outside big cultural institutions like most people do. This evening, with my kids occasionally running around and squealing in the background, I get to meet Evie Manning and Rhiannon White who created the inspirational Common Wealth Theatre 12 years ago. I want to hear more their work about what COVID-19 has meant for their practice and what they think about the future of funding and support for arts and creativity.

Now the government has set out a rescue package for the sector and the Secretary of State has gone out of his way to make it clear that the funding is primarily for preserving cultural institutions (indeed “the crown jewels”) it feels more important than ever to hear from independent artists and communities about what they think should happen next. After all, let’s remember it is those same independent artists in communities who are responsible for the most exciting progressions in contemporary culture. Yes, exciting new artistic movements are very rarely cooked up by large cultural institutions! They are in fact created by independent artists and communities.

If you have an idea for someone to feature in one of these podcasts or you want to create your own episode of Culture Plan B then just get in touch with us at I hope you enjoy hearing from Rhiannon and Evie.Music introduction – Don’t Tell Me by Conrad Murray and BACBeatbox Academy “Don’t tell me what to be, Don’t tell me how to speak, Don’t tell me how to love, Don’t tell me how to feel, Don’t tell me how to do, Don’t tell me how to think, Don’t tell me how to be, Don’t tell me how to think, it will be ok if we agree to disagree, it will be ok”

DAVID: So hello, Evie. Hello.

EVIE: Hi David. Hi. How’s it going?

DAVID: It’s good, good. Good. Where are you today Rhiannon?

RHIANNON: I’m in Cardiff in South Wales in my house.

DAVID: Very exciting. Evie, where are you?

RHIANNON: I’m in Cardiff in South Wales in my house.

DAVID: Very exciting. Evie where are you?

EVIE: I’m in Bradford, my house.

DAVID: Nice. We’re all in our houses semi locked down. I want to say a massive thank you for you joining me today for this chat I’ve encountered your work in various places over the years. In old gentlemen’s club in Bradford, in which an incredible group of women declared historical and contemporary and personal, radical acts carried out by women. I have experienced powerful testimony by a group of young female Muslim boxes in “No guts, No heart, No glory” in the old BBC studios that I’m sure you can remember. I sat gobsmacked in Bradford City Hall witnessing the deal versus the people; a polemic about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the E uropean Union and the USA.

And I’ve also sat in so many passionate conversations with other people who’ve experienced your work. Like my partner who witnessed Our Glass House back in 2013, in a council house on an Edinburgh estate and spent the rest of her trip to the festival questioning what the hell the rest of the festival was about. So thank you for all those experiences.

I’m so excited to talk to you both today because I think you are one of a relatively small number of theatre companies in the UK, who co create ideas, projects and shows with communities often in Bradford in Cardiff where you’re based.

Rhiannon you’re quoted in The Guardian saying “It’s not just that we’re going to drop in, do a show and then piss off. It’s actually seeing these as people’s lives and people’s journeys. How can we all be part of the journey to reclaiming our narrative?” And for me, I suppose one example of that is just sort of stands out to me is that I think I think one of your current projects – Peaceaphobia – which you’re researching and developing in Bradford and co creating with Bradford modify club and Speakers Corner Collective, I think it actually grew out of one of the Radical Acts created by Bradford women in one of your previous shows. Is that right?

EVIE: yeah, that’s right. It was very, very nice, because it’s come from somewhere quite deep. And we know where it’s come from. Quite organic.

DAVID: Yeah. And that’s so rare as well. Like, you know, I, I can’t imagine many co-artistic directors or artistic directors of companies saying, Yeah, the idea for my next show is somebody else’s. I think it’s really, it’s really great. So how do you guys describe your work? To your mum, you know, or your mate, how do you describe it?

RHIANNON: I would say it is theatre that happens not in theatre spaces and fan spaces that we’re interested in. And those spaces tend to be in the heart of communities. So we’ve worked in houses and boxing clubs and warehouses. And it’s usually with people who have an expertise in their experience. So it’s usually champion. And while it is champion in those stories and people,

DAVID: When you say expertise I’d never kind of clocked that before. But describe that a bit more and what you mean by that.

RHIANNON: I guess, like the expertise of lived experience, that I always feel like our work is kind of about an exchange of knowledge or an exchange, you know, me and EVIE:, and the collaborators that we work with, which is everyone in the team as well as the people that were interviewing at the beginning of a process. Like there’s an exchange of knowledge and the people that, you know, if we’re working with young female Muslim boxes, there’s an exchange there of knowledge from their expertise of live like lived experience.

DAVID: That’s interesting. Because Yeah, it makes 100% sense. It’s just interesting because it suddenly struck me when you said it that so often kind of invitations to using the theatre lingo to participate in work comes in a way, which potentially is slightly disempowering for people, because you’re inviting them into your world to engage with, you know, the art form that you’ve been working in for five years, 10 years, 15 years. And then there’s quite a big hierarchy in that, isn’t there quite a big power dynamic, whereas actually what you just described, I hadn’t really sort of thought of that. Actually, by working with the Bradford Modified Club, you probably don’t have much clue about how to modify a car. Maybe you do, I don’t know. I’m just guessing that that’s a more real exchange.

EVIE: Yeah, I think that’s a really good example. Because in this r&d we’ve just done with the drivers from the Bradford Modified Club. So they modify cars. Basically, they’ve got their expertise of their knowledge of cars, which is very deep. But beyond that, it that actually brings so much creatively. We’ll be saying, okay, the cars are going to be static at this point. But we want to create a feeling of adrenalin. How can we do that? And then they have a lot of ideas of things we can physically do with the cars. So it’s like that creative input all the time of like, Oh, well, we could light the engine up with LE Ds, and we can do this and that and they know how to do that technically. So it’s kind of like that thing that people will say, but I think sir, so true, is everyone’s an artist. So everyone has this ability to express or tell a story or build something and actually, when you’re kind of bouncing ideas around in a true kind of like co creation when it is like oh, we’re about to build. Okay, how do we create speed? How do we do this? Everyone can

kind of chip into that. And that’s from their experience and their expertise.

RHIANNON: Just to add to that, like, I think what’s really interesting with our work is that it, it almost appears before the rehearsal room as well. So like the leader, there’s all the kind of people we meet along the way that build up to that moment. And we see those as experts as well, because we don’t know about that building or that place or that history. And like, all of that feeds the collaboration too.

DAVID: So how does, how does a project grow? Just to help me understand how people connect with a project. How does that happen? How do those meetings happen?

EVIE: The idea for “No guts, No heart, No glory” came from my neighbour and she was asking me and my mum took a boxing to her boxing gym. And then kind of discovered there was this whole boxing scene in the female Muslim community and so then started meeting boxes, but then we would just go to a boxing gym. And just kind of start chatting to people, you kind of just when you bump into people on the street and you say I’m working on this play, okay, do you know this boxer called Huggy? Or do you know them? And then you kind of build it like that.

So we did a play called “We’re still here” in Port Talbot about the steel industry, about save our steel. And with that we just walked around the town for about a week and chatted to people as we met them.

RHIANNON: Yeah, it’s kind of like, making friends feels really important is literally like as simple as I say, you go in on a level where you’re like, like, we’re dead curious. We want to meet people we want to kind of learn and understand and also have a laugh with people. I guess like, with something like “We’re still here” we’ve met a lot of people who might have had similar backgrounds to us as well. So it felt like we had a lot of shared language. With all of our plays. I feel like there’s a shared language between people where we’re just like, hanging out in people’s houses, drinking tea, going to the pub, smoking flags outside the rehearsal room, just be in human.

EVIE: We really see it as quite straightforward; theatre; in a way. So when you say to someone, I’m going to make a play, usually at first they think you’re making a film, because that’s the main language. So you have to like chat to them. But like, people get it quite quickly, especially because we’re making plays that are about kind of contemporary life. So as soon as you say we are making a play about save our steel, then people have got loads to say. If you say I’m gonna make a play about Islamophobia, and modified cars, people have got loads to say. So I think because of the subjects, we can just literally get on a level quite quickly. And the theatre is like an access point. But I think that what we found a lot is because our theatre is quite experimental. And we’ve found that actually, people really respond to that, like they respond to the fact that it is in a site and not in a theatre. They respond to the fact that when we say oh yeah, we’re going to use lasers. We’re going to do this and that and you know, they get excited by the kind of visual and experimental nature; as much as the subject, so it feels like you’re kind of saying to people what, you know, can you help us build this experience?

RHIANNON: It is like that. And the rehearsals as well, like, I don’t know, like through the whole kind of journey of the making of something we always like really like things to be open, because we want lots of voices, we want lots of people to contribute to the making of it. And just that I’m just thinking of one of the steel workers that we work with in Port Talbot who was called Jason Bolston. He never been to the theatre before. And he’d never like found himself in rooms like where he’d met a writer, you know, any of that. And he would come to rehearsals all the time. And he really saw himself in the work to the point where he was rewriting the script with the writer, you know, and like he was an expert in hunting. That was his thing. He would go out hunting. And we had a whole scene about being hunted. And he was like, no, that’s not right; I’m just gonna rewrite. And having that expertise in the room was like mad because then the actors like oh my god, this is like gold.

DAVID: That’s amazing. Has it changed in terms of that process of inviting people in to your work or having conversations with people about you projects. I suppose I’m asking whether it’s changed because as you’ve become more well-known. Because, presumably, when you asked somebody you know, 10 or 11 years ago: “Hey, maybe we should make a show”. Presumably they wouldn’t have known you or your work. But in Bradford now, and in Cardiff, people know of the name; do you know what I mean? Has it shifted at all?

EVIE: I think what’s changed in a really good way is that we can pay people. To be fair, when we get chatting to someone now, say like Speaker’s Corner, so like Speakers Corner is a collective that started four years ago, and Common Wealth is kind of like a silent Mum really, because we do the paperwork in the background, but they exist completely kind of autonomously. Before we became an NPO one or two years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to pay people to come into the room and watch in that way. But now we can invite someone in and we can pay them to be as there as an observer or collaborator. So I think it’s meant actually that you can give people a very kind of clear experience of being a theatre maker; of being in the room and everyone seeing that is a profession; or that that is actually a job and even being a deviser. Essentially they are coming in like a devisor.

So last week, I mean, because of social distancing, currently have two people from Speaker’s Corner but they just contributed so many ideas and they know it so well now, you know, like, and they know where ideas have come from. So it’s like, that’s what it means basically, to invite people into rehearsals and to keep checking in; ‘is this what we need to say and this how to do it?’

DAVID: Having experienced your work and your relationships with the people that you work with, on a number of different projects, either sort of in, you know, a beer in a bar afterwards way, or whatever, but what’s clear is that what you’re describing about the sort of warmth, the informality and the humanity of your relationships with people. It’s absolutely palpable. It’s a really powerful thing and there’s an incredible atmosphere and trust you build up; not just between yourselves and the people you work with, but between the whole crew that you pull together. I imagine that is also complex sometimes. I remember at the Bradford City Hall show – “The Deal Versus the People” -1 remember that there was this fantastic kind of eruption of energy before, during and after the show, which I absolutely loved. But I also remember that some of the cast were absolutely fuming with one of the team who’d had a big night, the night before, and I think rocked up ten minutes before the show. And just that sort of balance between how you support and create a community of people and how you put on a show and where those two things sometimes rub up against each other. And I just wondered how do you manage that?

EVIE: I think with that, the reason why the rest of the cast was so furious is because we had really treated people with a lot of kind of trust and respect and professionalism. So everyone was really pissed off there was 10 actors and this one guy just got fucked the night before and then you know, basically was not going to show up. The tech side of everything is very intensive. You know, we do a full tech week we treat everything as a completely professional show. So people know it’s out of order if somebody is jeopardising that and jeopardising the experience for the audience. Like any show, to be honest, the cast can keep each other in check.

RHIANNON: And maybe as well it’s part of the process for that actor to experience that; and to come out the other end of it. Because, you know, to be fairly, he did turn up; it might have been five minutes before, but he did. And he did it. He did it, you know, and that’s massive learning. That’s huge.

EVIE: And I think it’s like a balancing act, all the time, as well at heart, being flexible and accepting people’s lives. Because, like, I remember when me and Conrad Murray worked on a show at BAC called “Fight” and from the beginning, we basically said, right – [and we will do this a lot in our rehearsals as well] – not everyone has to make every rehearsal to be in the show. And sometimes build the show in a way that if they have missed a few days of rehearsal, they can still come back in. Because you want people to be able to be part of it. And you don’t want to exclude anyone because their life is suddenly got out of our their control. People are mixed up in a lot of forces that work against them sometimes. And it’s like, actually, you’ve got to, we know ourselves that life can be very complicated. So you’ve kind of got to work with people to, to get through that and negotiate that in their own way and still feel included and not be enough of force that’s working against them.

DAVID: Yeah, that’s beautiful. We’ll probably cut me out saying that!

RHIANNON: That was quite profound Evie!

DAVID: So you said something when we had a chat about this conversation last week, when you agreed to do it, which I actually had to look up in the dictionary after you said it, but you described there and the work that you do, as a liminal space.

And I got so excited when I found out I got so excited when I found out what it meant because it felt like one of those words that, like describe something that you’ve kind of always felt but never been able to quite describe. Do you know what I mean? And I’ve used it two or three times on other people in the last week. And they’ve all looked perplexed, like I did when you said it to me. But can you talk about what you mean by a liminal space?

EVIE: Who said that?

DAVID: You did!

RHIANNON: I didn’t say that!

EVIE: Ah maybe I did. I don’t know what context I said it in. But I think a liminal space, you’re in a kind of world that’s very out of the ordinary. So when you’re in a process and you’re in a rehearsal room, you’re in a space where you’re allowed to dream and you’re allowed to put all your focus and energy into like creating something and being creative and expressing it. That’s what I mean. I suppose this liminal space between the kind of everyday and then this very charged environment. And I think that charged, creative environment is like a potential, isn’t it? I think that’s what I meant. That liminal space that’s created is created whether you’re someone who’s acting for the first time or someone who’s been a professional actor for 30 years. Because it is this thing of creating something that’s other, you’re creating a completely new experience. And I think that applies to professionals and people who are just coming in new to it because it’s out of ordinary life. So it’s like a possibility. It’s like a possible space.

DAVID: Hmm, yeah, hundred percent. I looked it up in a dictionary and it talked about a transitional space, a space where you can exist almost in a contradiction; as if you can exist in both sides of an argument. Y ou can exist in this sort of playful, imaginary space. And I just thought it’s such a great description of how co-created work enables a fluid space between everybody and there’s something intoxicating about that there’s something very useful. We’ll come back for more and, and yeah, at the time Evie, you were definitely comparing people doing it for the first time, but actually, why people endlessly come back to do it again and again. And once you get hooked into it, you get hooked into the idea of creating those communities; because making theatre does create communities. When you make something and create something, you share something; which a bit like families that only that that family has shared that actually got a magic to it. And, and I always find it interesting that actually we limit the number of people who can experience that process. In a way by manufacturing theatre and putting it in front of an audience again and again, it’s a bit like we were saying a minute ago, the audience only gets such a small part really of what, actually, the potential really is.

EVIE: Exactly. The reason why we build these bonds and it’s feels like magic is because it’s very vulnerable, like, you’re sharing a lot and you also don’t know what’s going to happen. You know, you’re not necessarily fixing things down when you’re in a process you start to do that but it’s quite a kind of vulnerable, possible place which feels really exciting. And you bond really closely and I think that is exactly it, like so many audience never know that that’s created. And also just the intimate process of sharing things. I know a lot of people are saying this thing around like lobbying government, but not many people know what making theatre is, theatre isn’t the end product, it never is, whether you’re making Wizard of Oz or whether you’re making a devised show. It’s never the end product. It’s always about that space and family.

DAVID: Yeah, absolutely. So look, tell me a bit more about…RHIANNON:, you new did something in Cardiff pre lock down?

RHIANNON: Well in in Cardiff, we’re just starting the process of making a show called “The Sea is Mine” which is a project that is hopefully working with a group of young mums to create a show in collaboration with a theatre in Palestine. And sharing stories about travelling beyond your circumstance. It’s a family show, a political family show, basically. So our thing here is how do you start a process without meeting people face to face? How do you build that trust? How do you build that community that he was talking about?

So I’ve been working with the local council and the youth service and with this group of young mums who are 16 to 18. We’ve been sending them love letters with activities. And we’re just about to start a whatsapp group. So we’re starting that on Wednesday.

So yeah, I guess we’re just feeling our way through really and trying to use every kind of form that we can. So I’m going out with their youth service to visit the women and drop off because they get food parcels every week. So I just go and meet them, make friends with them. So yeah, that’s kind of the stage we’re out with this show. I like the challenge, I like being challenged on how we can do those things differently in these times. I do think it’s possible so I’m quite enjoying that.

And then the other thing we’re doing is the Moving Roots touring network with BAC. So we’ve been having lots of conversations on co creation; and how you commission projects without being able to see them; what a process might look like; how you might arrive in your community. What could we do in the interim period before showing a piece of theatre. And I guess like, what excites me about that project is, so I’m working on the estate that I grew up in. And it’s never had a theatre there. It’s never had a theatre ecology there. There’s artists there because there’s artists everywhere. But the subsidised, arts sector doesn’t really exist there. They don’t know what the arts council is, you know. And so I’m kind of excited about what building an ecology, in a co-created co-curated way with a community, could look like. So at the moment, we’re thinking about ways to do that and how we’re going to work very closely with the community to really programme the activity for the next three years. So feel like it’s quite exciting, but it’s just about start.

DAVID: As you’re describing it, it seems to me like a very natural process of collaboration and partnership in a community to create and make work and probably is quite, I mean, my theatre history isn’t very good, but in terms of when guilds created chapters of the mystery plays or whatever that it was about, to a cert extent, communities coming together to create a make and show each other what they had done. What, why aren’t we doing that? Why aren’t we doing that all the time?

RHIANNON: My question is like, why should we be doing that all the time? And is it everyone’s job to do that? I don’t know. Like, is that the artist role to do that? Like, I know why I want to do it. I know why I want to be in that community. And there’s some kind of complex love for that community and also understanding and a knowledge of what exists there and what possibilities could be and how transformational it will be, for people to see themselves in that community in a different way. Because it’s completely been fucked over forever. You know, like, it’s always, you know, you type it into Google and it’s like, murder, drugs, you know, like, it’s just like stereotypical kind of shit that…you know, that does exist, but actually, there’s more than that. And I can see that and I can feel it because I’m from there. And I’m collaborating with people who live there and who were from there. So there’s kind of that energy.

Yeah, my question is like, for artists, I guess, why would you choose to do that in a community? Like, what is it that interests you about that place? And how are you going to do it and why? I think are really important questions. And for all of us, you know, because I feel like actually, in this time, perhaps this is a shift in point for people to really think about communities and work there. And I get the feeling that that shift is coming, where artists are going to be really attracted to work in in that way. And that’s great. But we have to know why. We always have to know why. Because actually, communities like St. Mellons where I’m working, are also very vulnerable. Y ou know, they’re very powerful, but there’s also a vulnerability there. And that becomes quite dangerous. So it’s like, yeah, getting that kind of balance, right? And getting reason why right.

DAVID: Why are doing what you do? Y ou have evolved your practice over 12 years through Common Wealth? But why are you doing this rather than…

RHIANNON: I think in a way the journey of Common Wealth has led me to this point. Common Wealth was always about collaboration. It was always about bringing groups of people together and creating work. It was always about found space and politics. It was always about challenging what theatre is and we got really hungry for taking theatre to new audiences because we were sick of it; sick of telling the same story to the same people.

And, and for me, personally, and I made a lot of work outside of Wales. I went to communities; you know, with “Our G lass House” we went to lots of different communities that were really similar to my own. And I kept coming home and seeing my community and thinking nothing is going on, nothing is happening here. And there’s so much potential here. So for me, it was like, I’d built up all that experience and knowledge along the way. So what was possible in these spaces met all these friends? So the kind of repercussions of the work we were making, and then wanted to come home and create something similar.

DAVID: It’s a long journey, then, isn’t it? And so if there is going to be a shift. If you look at the Arts Council’s 10 years strategy, Let’s Create – and there is a general shift towards community practice – you know it’s taking you 12 years to get to where have got to – so what are some of the things that need to happen to accelerate the way that people have the capacity or capability to make this work? Or does it take 12 years to get to there?

RHIANNON: I mean, who knows? Like I think the journey has to be your own journey. And actually, like from the day that me and EVIE: set up Common Wealth; that that was my mission to come back. Like cctually, that’s quite complex; going back to the estate that I grew up on, because actually, I’ve got some really complex feelings about it, where, you know, I love and I hate it. I guess it’ll be different for everyone. For some people, that journey might just start there, like being in a space like that. And that’s okay, too. I guess there’s no right or wrong answer. As long as you know the reason why.

EVIE: I think the Let’s Create strategy is really great in it’s ambition, I really agree and feel with it. But I feel like it’s the whole ecology that does need to shift. It’s not just about where we work. It’s about who’s working there. So like, I just think, you know, at the moment, I don’t know if I can really say this, but the majority of the arts industry is quite middle class, we do know that, and if we’re going to be working in a way that the Let’s Create really wants and encourages, then we need my working class is in those communities because actually you can’t just kind of go in as someone who’s quite divorced from or maybe scared of the area, whatever, you can’t go in and then tell people, ‘all right, we’re going to work and do this’ because you’ve got to have a certain level of respect and knowledge and respect that they are like your neighbour or they’re like your Mum or whatever, but you can’t go in and kind of be like, ‘oh, we’re gonna bring this art to save you’ which is a lot of the attitude of kind of outreach departments to be honest, that we’ve experienced.

And it can’t be that, it’s got to be like, ‘we’re going to come with you and we get you’ and I think that’s the kind of ecology shift that we need is it’s about, yeah, it’s not where, it’s who, who’s doing that wor. And actually encouraging artists to come from those communities because like, there is plenty of people, they might be youth workers, or they might be whatever, and we don’t call them arts workers now, but they are arts workers, and they’ve been making work with people for years, whether it’s like breakdance, or whatever it might be, they’ve been doing this work, but they’ve never been acknowledged as artists.

And I think that’s also a shift that needs to happen is who gets called an artist because it can’t just be if you’ve got the right language, and you know how to the funding farms, it’s got to be like, how, what connection do you have? Because there’s plenty of youth workers in services and community services that have been massively cut. And actually, it’s about empowering those people who had, you know, plenty of knowledge. And if someone’s going to be doing the work like, you know, enabling them to do the work and not kind of coming in with like no kind of understanding. That was a bit of a rant.

RHIANNON: No it’ true. I think it’s absurd that people in the arts might think that communities are working class communities want a middle class play. Or they want a working class pay made by middle class people from their perspective. I think it’s mad. I think it’s absurd. E specially now especially like coming off the back of years and years of austerity. And now Coronavirus, people don’t want that. They don’t want it like stop.

But they want theatre. They do want to be together. They do want to make, they do want to create stuff like it’s rich like is ready like it’s ready. And I’ve seen through Coronavirus, some of the most creative things like, I watched a video the other day of a young boy from St. Mellons, who just got out of jail, all his friends turned up, they filmed him getting out of jail and then they’re all in the street doing a massive rap and there’s like 20 of them. And it’s beautiful. It’s profound, it’s political, it’s ready, it’s there, it’s raw. They don’t need people to tell them what to do and how to be an artist, it’s there.

EVIE: I think it’s that classic thing, like literally when you talk to most people what comes up again and again is people saying ‘ah, you could write a book of my life’. Do you know what I mean. People always say stuff like that, like, ‘Oh my G od, if you knew my life’. Y ou know, like, literally everybody has stories to tell. So it’s like, actually, what I think theatre can do, really beautifully, if we’re thinking about the form and, and how it can elevate stories and elevate experiences, is you can do some incredible lighting and sound design and speakers and set design; make something heightened and elevate it so that it goes beyond what people are used to, which might be a performance in the community centre, which is great, but you can kind of use the theatrical form to really give focus and power to that.

And I think that’s been a lot of what our work has been about is like. People are performing as themselves, but what we’ll talk about is like, we’re trying to frame you as like, the best version of yourself, which doesn’t mean like you’re only seeing the good things, but in those moments, the focus and the energy is for you. So we’re going to light you really well. We’re going to be able to hear every word you say. There’s going to be an emotional scar that supports what your story is. There’s gonna be these theatrical elements. I think there’s definitely a place for theatre makers and imagination…

RHIANNON: …and it’s also saying, like, also not being unwelcoming. It’s not saying that people who are middle class don’t exist in the art, like they can’t exist in the arts anymore. There’s genuine talent in in people who work in the arts. It’s about people thinking about that exchange, like, again, like, what, what can you bring to a process? Are you the right person to do this? Are you the right person to tell the story? If not, how do you support someone else coming in to work on that? I think it’s like checking your skills and checking if it’s right, if it feels right.

DAVID: How do we make that shift and change without some sort of insurgency or revolution? Because it was very interesting with the package that’s been announced, this rescue package from the Secretary of State that is a large amount of money, that’s clearly been fought for, and a lot of people worked, no doubt, very hard to lobby and land the lolly, and ensure that the cultural sector isn’t decimated. But in a way, as good as it is it also, for me, some somehow summarises everything that’s wrong. Because, actually, Oliver Dowden has already gone on record to say that this is primarily for cultural institutions. And so effectively all of that resource is to continue to maintain a hierarchy, and the institutions that already are many of the things that you’ve already described them as, and are not connecting with communities in the way that you are.. .so how do we, how do we scale this up? I love that idea that EVIE: you talked about a minute ago, in terms of the youth workers. Do we need to start funding and supporting and giving a platform to those youth workers. And giving some of the results and the status and platform that comes with arts subsidy? Or am I just barking up the wrong tree? What do we do?

EVIE: Definitely. I think in terms of that money going to the big institutions, like we all know, that move is political. What we can do now, you know, talking to the institutions, or even Arts Council, Arts Council needs to make those institutions accountable. And to say, like, okay, you need to start doing things differently. If, if everyone really believes in this Let’s Create strategy then it’s like, actually, you can’t just carry on with what you’re doing.

And I kind of feel like you know, COVID-19 has been this time of deep reflection, and I really hope that the institutions have all really reflected on their anti-racism, on their elitism, on the way that they’ve been rolling things out and doing things. I’m kind of hopeful that there has been that period of reflection, because I think we’ve all had a lot of time with ourselves to really think about what we’re doing and why. So I’m hopeful that, you know, I don’t think anyone running those institutions is, you know what I mean, totally blinkered, I think they’re there in the world, and they’ve had time to reflect.

They all know the arts is elitist. They know it. So I think it’s about kind of creating relationships with communities in a way that isn’t just going in and saying, ‘okay, we’re going to send our arts worker in’ and it is more about like, ‘okay, who’s in the community that we can work with and build with’. I don’t know, maybe this is just being totally optimistic, but I think if this Let’s Create thing is really gonna go down then the way the organisations operate has just got to be a completely different model. That is about finding them youth workers and empowering people and paying people in different ways.

DAVID: What would you do if the Arts Council said, yep, we’re going to make institutions accountable? Yes, they’ve got to follow this strategy in a much more real authentic way rather than a sort of tokenistic way? What are the things that you would require…you would demand of a cultural institution that’s receiving a very significant amount of public subsidy? What are the things that you would absolutely demand that have to have to change and have to happen?

EVIE: There’s something in Bradford at the minute there’s something called Bradford Producing Hub. Which is doing something really interesting. They’ve got a paid Creativity Council of 20 people who are basically from kind of spectrum across Bradford, and they’re being given all of the decision making of programming; they’re basically a collective in charge of the programming and how money is divided. So there’s an operational side, but then they’re kind of making a lot of decisions.

And I personally feel like every theatre, like the programming decisions shouldn’t just be with the kind of leadership, like they could be part of it, but if the Arts Council was to say, like, everyone has to set up a Creativity Council, who is basically going to programme and decide on the way that this this works, and they all get paid, you know, like, for their time. It won’t be a salary necessarily, but it’ll be like a day rate. I feel like…this is me, this is honestly me…I feel like if those artistic directors took a bit of a pay cut.. .because they acknowledge that actually they were giving up some of that stress and some of that power…and then they created these councils that were giving local people more of a say in what happens in the theatres…and straightaway you’ve got a network. If have a council, like that, you have a network of people who know the youth worker, who’s cousin is this, who’s Dad is…do you know, I mean? Y ou widen up your networks.

I think for too long theatres have been these little siloed places where hardly any of the team are from the city. Most theatres we’ve gone to, the majority of staff and not from that city, so how do they know what the hell people think or want? So if you just literally make it more local in that way…and I know that might be different in London…but then in London, you just have to go really hyperlocal and if you get a group of people from across the spectrum of experience then you basically…you’re trusting people to make the decisions rather than making decisions based on…you know, what’s gonna sell well to our audience who are in North Y orkshire, for example. Do you know what I mean?…who…a kind of posh area, who might travel to Leeds Playhouse. I don’t want to diss Leed Playhouse. But you want to programme for people who are really close to you. I think so that’s just one thing I could think of…

DAVID: Rhiannon, do you want to chuck something else in?

RHIANNON: I’m really inspired by this notion of having community artists in communities. It’s something that Steven Pritchard and Martin Daws have been writing quite a lot about. Because I think it’s about time – not about ‘time to do it’ – but, like, time as a concept – that building those relationships, building the ecology, really being in a place and understanding how it works and the people who live there and understanding our audiences and listening to our audience’s feels really important.

And actually, yeah, having an having an artist that is from that place, based in that place, that is paid. That is that is their domain to bring out artists in that place, and make interventions happen, and build with the community. I feel really excited by that notion, rather than, you know, funding our crown jewels, whatever the hell that means. I mean, what are the crown jewels? You know, that money, I feel, is probably going to go to just keeping those buildings together. And actually, they’re just spaces. And, you know, in the community that I work in, all the spaces are closed. There’s no youth club, there’s no pub, there’s empty spaces. But no one’s using them. No one’s fighting for them, you know. And that, that boils my blood. It’s like, how we shift our thinking to where theatre can be performed, and how we create more new artists. Because, the other thing I think theatre has got to be afraid of is that it’s a dying industry. It’s dying, like it’s going, you know; but what theatre stands for what it represents and what it is, is absolutely part of our DNA and part of who we are. And that’s something that we need to hold on to him and keep alive.

DAVID: Love it, so directly funding use Y outh Workers, Creativity Councils in every cultural institution, and Community Artists funded directly in every community. And maybe there’s a crossover between the first and the third thing.

EVIE: I honestly think it’s about connection and networks. With

Peaceophobia, one of the lads was like, ‘oh, how are you going to promote this? ’ And I was like, ‘Oh, well, you know, like, we have been using a local firm who would promote it. ’ And then he was like ‘my cousin is a promoter, and he promotes like Asian wedding venues and stuff like that’. So he’s basically got networks of thousands and thousands people. And I’m like, okay, of course, like, it’d be really great to work with his cousin. Do you know, I mean? Because he’s a promoter in a different sense. So he doesn’t have this kind of art admin background. He’s completely like grass roots and knows people really well. And I think having something like a programming collective…straight away, you’re bringing in massive amounts of connection, and I think that’s invaluable in terms of like really building something that is a people’s theatre.

DAVID: And Evie, you are at the moment doing an r&d in a socially distanced way. How’s that working? Tell us about it?

EVIE: Well, yeah, it’s got its challenges. But to be honest, we just have a temperature gun at the beginning. So everyone gets their temperature checked. And as long as they’re below 38 then we can kind of continue. And to be honest, like, it’s been so creative, it’s been one of the most productive r&ds I’ve ever been part of. And I think maybe it’s because people are quite raring to go because I’ve spent a lot of time by themselves. So they come in together. It’s like one of the first times most people have been in a group.

So we were quite aware of, you know, people’s levels of anxiety. But actually, within a day or so, that kind of, you know, just faded and became a very powerful thing. So it is still we can still bounce ideas, we can still try ideas out. We actually finished the r&d on Saturday. So I’m coming out I feel quite buzzing, it’s still very possible to make theatre because I didn’t know how it’s gonna go. And I was quite apprehensive before it. But now I’m like. Oh yeah, you can definitely still make things like we’ve got maybe 80% of the script after one week, which is kind of incredible. Like, normally we’d still be writing the script in like, you know, week three of rehearsals, this is week one of five.

So I’m like actually, feeling quite powered up about maybe this year is about making and not necessarily sharing it with an audience just yet, but maybe we make a lot more than we normally would. So we’re doing more r&d, bringing more people together. So having that kind of process of connection and ideas building.

RHIANNON: It’s slightly different in Wales, we’re slightly behind. So we’re still on lockdown, really. We’re only allowed to have like one bubble of family. And we’ve only just been allowed to like go beyond five miles. So it’s quite tricky here. So yeah, depending on the context of where we’re at politically and where people are at as well, because you know, the different people we work with will have different needs. And some might be able to join us in person and some might not. But again, it’s about being flexible and finding different ways to connect. And definitely think it’s a year of making.

EVIE: Honestly, it’s so exciting. I was talking to a company manager, and I’m absolutely so grateful to be an NPO, because, you know, three years ago we would have been totally fucked. And I’m sure a lot of people are in a very difficult position. But basically, being an NPO also meant that the last two years has been, you know, we basically became like an administrative machine. And so we were just like in an office, making kind of one play a year. And it just became about a kind of admin machine and actually this time and thinking, right, how do we want the company to be?

I don’t want to be a business woman. I don’t want to be like doing all the reporting and fundraising and all the stuff that you need to do. It’s like, I want to kind of really look at the model of the company and shift it around. So for example, at the minute we’ve had an office that we’re paying six grand a year for, and I’m like, right if we don’t have an office anymore, and actually we can use that six grand as like a commission for a writer like boom straight away.

So it’s kind of like looking at the model of how we’ve set ourselves up; because you do kind of fall into a bit an Arts Council template of you should have this many staff, you should have these kind of outgoings, you have this much money on marketing etc…and actually, kind of, really shifting that around to be like…okay, how do we make and create as much artwork as possible? So we’re really in our company and not a kind of business company, which is about numbers in theatre. So I feel energised, actually, that this is the kind of company we want to have. And it’s what we always were before becoming an NPO. And then somehow, the NPO just was quite a challenge administratively to kind of get our heads around.

DAVID: Do you feel confident that others will also break the habit? Because I agree, so much of the sort of structural stuff is the problematic stuff…right down to the whole kind of infrastructure, the kind of class based infrastructure of culture and arts and the way it’s been put together, and the way the language that everybody speaks. And you know, the conversations that then immediately feel exclusive actually to loads of people who haven’t gone through, either a university drama degree, or haven’t gone through writing their first £5,000 application to the Arts Council…and sometimes in conversations and think ‘christ, what am I saying’…which it does in itself become incredibly exclusive. And do you think that of all the nightmares have happened during this COVID-19 thing…do you think there is an opportunity for us to get rid of some of that shit?

EVIE: Yeah. I hope so. I think it’s all about just being more straightforward. Like being more transparent and being more honest, really. So much has been kind of coded and very inaccessible in all meanings of the word. So I think, yeah, there’s a lot of work to be done around, literal access, and not just like going on Twitter to do something. It’s like who the heck’s on Twitter? Like, I don’t know anyone in my kind of personal life who is really on Twitter, such a professional world and it’s like everyone thinks that, you know, everything’s kind of created on Twitter. It’s just so bizarre.

DAVID: Thank you guys. We should probably finish it there unless there’s anything either of you want to add or throw in?

EVIE: Is there anything more you want to say?


DAVID: We hope you enjoyed this second episode of Culture Plan B. Big thanks to Evie and Rhiannon If you want to find out more about their work then visit their website on

I highly recommend their shows page as well as more information about Speakers Corner. You can contact us at Culture Plan B with ideas for the podcast by emailing and do follow us on Instagram or Twitter for info on future episodes. This episode was researched and presented by David Jubb, the editors and sound mixers were Ian Dickinson and George Dennis. The music is from “Don’t tell me” by Conrad Murray with Kate and Nate from BAC ’s Beatbox Academy. Communication support from Antonio Goddard. Original artwork by John Bausor and the producer and creator is Matthew Dunster.