Artists Need Theatres Too
My company Paper Balloon recently performed our piece Once Upon A Snowflake at Pegasus Theatre, Oxford for the theatre's Christmas show.
We had a great time, loved being in Oxford over the festive period and enjoyed great audiences, lovely reviews and sold out performances.
Spending so much time at the Theatre allowed me a little thinking time. I know that Pegasus have suffered funding cuts in this past year, as have many similarly vital arts organisations in local communities around the country. I suspect that my connection with Pegasus will be similar to many other artists working around the UK.
In my formative years I saw challenging, different, powerful work at Pegasus that shaped my view of what theatre is. Performances by young people, disabled people, refugees, non-white people - people who looked and sounded like me, and those who didn't. The door was always open, and there was the exciting option of participating. I was perhaps surprisingly quite shy and nervous when I was younger and so I bottled the opportunity the first time round, but I kept watching and coming back...
I returned after university and was given the opportunity to intern, working with young people to develop a production. It gave me vital experience and launched my career in theatre.
Several years later when I had founded a company I came back again and won a position of 'supported artist' created especially to formalise the theatre's longstanding tradition of nurturing theatre companies.
This relationship helped us launch our first fully funded touring piece, 'The Grumpiest Boy in the World' (by award winning writer Finegan Kruckemeyer - now enjoying further life across the globe in the USA & Australia), helped us discover our working style and voice, and set us up to become a touring company working in South East England. In short, it was a crucial step in our development as a company; I do not believe we would exist to make the work we're making without this support.
We've retained links with the theatre, its staff and artists over the years, but have also moved on to other things, which is as I believe it should be. But I haven't forgotten its role in our formative years. There are other companies that could talk about Pegasus in a similar way. Complicite, the multi-award winning, trailblazing, Barbican-selling-out theatre company began their story at Pegasus. They ran a workshop with us when I interned there - it blew me away.
There are people much more well-placed to talk about the theatre's work with young and vulnerable people in Oxford than me, despite having seen the enormous power of this work over the years. I can only describe with any authority my own, positive experience.
I want to illustrate a point. As I began writing this, I learned that the MAC Birmingham, (a giant compared to Pegasus) is due to receive devastating funding cuts from the council, yet another in a long list of councils slicing or completely severing arts funding.
If we let those who set the agenda ascribe this as a battle of theatres vs hospitals (already in their own funding crisis) we know who will win. But the question we should be asking is: can we afford to let our arts centres slowly die away?
Pegasus is fighting valiantly on, and will be supported in their endeavours by a local community & an audience built over the last 50 years who love and trust in their work.
But for those who value different artists' voices within our society, if the venues' ability to take risks and nurture new talent is lost, where will the next Complicite, Improbable, Blind Summit, Right Size, Idle Motion come from?