Views from November 2011

  1. View over River Aire, Leeds 23 Nov

    Alison Edbury, &Co Chief Executive Reflects on the Future

View over River Aire, Leeds

Alison Edbury, &Co Chief Executive Reflects on the Future

23 November 2011

'This is what's wrong with art - too many bl**dy maybes *

This time of year for me is a personal time of reflection; of taking stock and planning for the future.  The process of reflection is usually rewarding, a recall of things past, achievements made and, with enough distance in between the past and the present, this can create a renewed energy and vision about the future which is built on lessons learnt and the solid foundation of experience. 

However, this year, I’m finding the process of reflection and stock taking really tough.  As I’m sure is true for many others, the most memorable experience of the past 11 months has been one of constant disruption and uncertainty which tends to bind you to trying to grapple with the storm of the here and now whilst you’re also striving to shape a new vision and opportunity in a future which sits way beyond the immediate horizon in a landscape which is still uncharted.  Even though I may at this point in time feel too close to the recent past to be able to gain the full value of what I will eventually learn from this experience, what I can recognise is that my usual pattern of life, the normal cycle of my business has been completely disrupted.  Is this unusual or is this more normal than we would like to admit?

This makes me think of Philip Kotler’s ‘PLC’ concept – the Product Life Cycle – where a pattern is formed by stages which evolve from  introduction to growth to maturity and then finally to decline.  This pattern would seem to have stayed true over at least the last 50 years with its only real change being the much more rapid pace of cycling through the stages due to the competitive and technological environments that are part of contemporary life.  But I wonder whether it is and how it might be possible not to follow Kotler’s pattern, but instead to understand it as something that needs to be broken by applying experience to it in order to shift the standard pattern from one of rise and fall into rise and divergence into a new pattern or even new system thinking.  A recent experience in the theatre brings this to life for me.

I recently went to Sheffield to mark the significant event of the Crucible Theatre’s 40thbirthday.  The Crucible celebrated their landmark birthday in their own style with the launch of Sheffield People’s Theatre expressing powerfully what life without and then with art means in Richard Hurford’s Lives in Art.  This was followed the most amazing live history of the theatre revealed to a packed house with Mark Lawson facilitating a conversation with six of the nine Crucible Theatre Artistic Directors over its 40 year history.  Colin George, Peter Jones, Deborah Paige, Michael Grandage, Samuel West and Daniel Evans each have a part in the life cycle of this ‘anthropomorphic theatre’ as George described it.  The pattern of the theatre’s life that came through in the conversations with all the Artistic Directors on stage was a process of challenge and change and disruption and divergence which has been part of its survival.  The Crucible was broke for many years even though in Paige’s era, following the introduction of the big stage musical the house was at 98% capacity.  The divergence of bringing snooker into the theatre was not the only financial life-saver, the report published in 2000 by Peter Boyden Associates also played its part in identifying that this theatre, along with other regional theatres deserved more investment because as Chris Smith, then Secretary of State for Culture recognised, it was developing audiences.  Samuel West echoed this in his powerful observation that ‘theatre is an audience not walls' and it was clear from the 40 years of artistic direction and the whoops and cheers from the audience at the mention of the name of Daniel Evans, the current Artistic Director, that the Crucible Theatre really has created that integral relationship between audience and art within its walls and beyond them with Sheffield People’s Theatre being a shining example.

I conclude by considering whether the life cycle concerning audience development, the tools, processes, the associated thinking and practise is yet ready for disruption and where the opportunities might be for divergence into a new future beyond the here and now towards realising its second or even third horizon.

* Spoken by Mr Battersby, Lives in Art by Richard Hurford.

(This blog was published on 18 November 2011