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We’re In This Together

24 June 2020

We’re In This Together

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The Society of British Theatre designers is an organisation made for designers by designers.

In these unprecedented times we will do our very best to steer our members and our industry to the calmest waters we can find. We don’t expect this is going to be easy, but the society is as strong as it’s membership and is run by designers who are putting countless hours into fighting behind the scenes for the best representation and treatment possible. With recent events, this hasn’t stopped.

In this inaugural blog post, because we don’t have all the answers yet, we are here to listen and to help how-ever we can. Below are the thoughts and values of our members. We asked them two questions, in these responses we hope you find solidarity, community and dare we say it, hope.

“Questions: This experience has taught me the value of: I would like the future of performance design to look like:”

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of:

Practice rather than product. The stress of income and industry disappearing overnight notwithstanding, it has been a relief to step off the neo-liberal treadmill for a while – that pressure to market myself as a commodity, to value myself in terms of my productivity, and the relentlessness of outcome-driven work. Actors at least get the opportunity to live with a show for a bit once it’s up – design is so geared to the endgame of press night, and then onto the next job like Mary Poppins. To think of myself as an artist with a practice rather than being defined by my last or next project / product has been a very interesting and healthy mental shift. Being released from outcomes for a while has been extraordinarily generative, and I’ve found surprising moments of peace and happiness in being playfully, creatively aimless.

I would like the future of performance design to look like: 

An industry where it’s possible to make a living without sacrificing my own or anyone else’s mental and physical health. Not such a big ask, right?

Mallin

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of: 

People. I miss being together in a space with collaborators – talking, moving, trying things out; the ease of in-person communications as compared to through the filter of the computer screen. I miss being in a space with the audiences, sensing their responses to the work we have made, and thinking about how to make the work better.

I would like the future of performance design to look like: 

I hope we will remember how precious it is to be together in a space. I hope that there will be renewed respect for the connection between audiences and theatre makers. I hope that the ability of performance designers to enhance that experience will be utilised and acknowledged far more than before.

Sophie

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of:

Fully appreciating what I have, most importantly the love and support of family and friends and the importance to check-in with others, most especially with designer friends and colleagues.

I would like the future of performance design to look like:

A place where freelance creatives are more profoundly supported by organisations including having representatives on Company Boards and Committees.

That companies engage with open access to all designers, not just those who have or are currently designing for that company, better for sharing knowledge and resources.

Nicky

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of:

Slowing down…REALLY slowing down and finding the joy in using my hands to create something that takes time, but is well worth the effort. AND community – online, local, family:  we depend on each other. Our way to a better future is to share our ideas, knowledge and resources to help and support one another.

I would like the future of performance design to look like:

A sector which considers the future whilst delivering in the present. Allowing performance design to encompass radical new directions in thinking, adapt to changes in the world, value inclusivity and wellbeing of the artist, and consider its impact after the event.

Ruth

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of:

The need for the Workplace community, trust and sharing with our contemporaries and friends.

I would like the future of performance design to look like:

What it will be the future New, Different, Traditional, Reverent , Relevant and Anarchic… The Complete Works!

Nigel 

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of:

Community and contracts. There has been an incredible surge in action and focus groups, looking to build support for each other. We have all been left stranded in the same boat and now many of us have time to take stock of the landscape of the industry and consider what we would like to change. There have been many conversations about how to support each other and I’m so pleased to see that, in what can be a somewhat isolated role, we have the chance to come together! I have also recently acutely understood the importance of contracts. Had I not pushed for several months to get some of my contracts improved I would be in a much more dire financial situation. It’s important that we make sure every designer knows what to ask for in their contract!

I would like the future of performance design to look like:

Connected and accessible. One of the many outcomes of the pandemic has been better connection, be it through video call webinars or whatsapp groups. I hope these fantastic resources continue well into the future. I am concerned that we will loose many a great performance designer due to lack of financial support and that it will make this industry even less accessible going forward. Hopefully this is something that can be addressed through better pay, contracts and conversation within the industry.

Christianna

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of:

Rest and planning for the longer term. Having spent the 3.5 years since graduating from an MA crashing from one project to another with many stressful and busy overlaps in a variety of theatre, film and mentoring projects, to suddenly have them all halted and a forced break has made me realise that there may be a calmer and more focused way to developing my career, not always saying yes to things. Having the time to focus on my portfolio and focus on learning again have helped me to form goals for a longer term future that builds in time for professional development and makes more time for friends and family.

I would like the future of performance design to look like:

A fully collaborative process. I would like to see performance designers at all levels and sizes of teams working right from the beginning with producers, directors, writers being consulted about practical aspects – costs, timescales etc before financial decisions are made and set, lighting, video feeding in creatively from the beginning of the process.

May

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of:

Checking in on each other. Talking and being the kind of brutally honest you used to only be with your best mate. When it comes to this industry and this world right now, there’s no place to hide and supporting each other through this is the only way. 

I would like the future of performance design to look like:

A profession that is understood and celebrated for everything it can bring, be it value to your show or understanding to your story or emotions to your audiences. That value ought to equate to the value placed in the artist who creates it.

Emma

The impact of the pandemic has taught me the value of:

The amount of my time and energy, and my life, that I gave to the theatre industry.

I’m not sure I can go back to the way that it was. I’ve dedicated so much of my life to theatre, and made a lot of sacrifices too. Then, when it all exploded, there was nothing in return. We were/are left, in my opinion, empty and forgotten. Not even worth a phone call when our shows were cancelled. Our worth, a CC in a group email.

I would like the future of performance design to look like:

SUPPORT. From each other, from organisations. Emotional, physical or practical. Something as fundamental as support for travel and accommodation can cover all three of these. It should be a given, but most designers are still fighting every time for our contracts to help with something so basic.

I’d like a safe space for people to feel equal and heard. I’d like leeway in juggling multiple design jobs in order to sustain a living wage – or to cover those three fillings/sickness days when you catch the flu. I’d like more understanding, conversation and listening.

VALUE – We are people. Not just a tool to fill a missing link in a production. We provide real value, as vital to theatres as actors or directors. We are educated. It’s not a hobby. We’re not all privately wealthy. Some of us are genuinely trying to scrape a living out of this.
All designers in theatre are undervalued in comparison to any other design job. Every other designer – graphic, product, interior – are on good daily rates which are orders above designers in theatre. Their IP rights are stronger, their work is never shown without attribution.

Anna


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