Okay Okay I’m Starting a Theatre Company

This is what the magic of Open Space looks like. Photo by Paul Whitlock

Every January for the last eleven years, Improbable Theatre has invited theatre makers to an open space event called Devoted & Disgruntled. Each year, they ask, “What are we going to do about theatre and the performing arts?” and 300 people gather to work on that question. Since my first London January, in 2014, I have kicked off my new year there, in a huge room full of new friends and some inspiring, challenging, electric conversations.

In 2014, it’s where I first met my current collaborators Guleraana Mir and Sharlit Deyzac, along with about a dozen others who shared their Third Culture stories and got involved in what has become Home is Where… a verbatim/movement/music performance by and about Third Culture Kids.

(More on that project here.)

It’s a great place if you have a specific question or issue you want to work on. It’s a great place if you don’t quite know what to do next. It’s a great place to meet new people and learn about what’s going on beyond your immediate network. This year, it was a great reason to visit Birmingham!

As always, I had some really interesting, abstract, socially-engaged, politically-charged, inspiring, mind-expanding conversations. (You can read the whole report, of what 250 people talked about over 3 days on the D&D website here.) And this year, I had a specific question that I asked my colleagues/friends/strangers for help with: do I need to start a company to make my work and pay my collaborators?

I’ve long suspected that in order to realise the ambitious pieces of work that I am dreaming of, I need the kind of support that individual artists just don’t have, certainly not “emerging” or even “mid-career” artists, or artists whose vision lies outside of the mainstream. I need a company. But I’ve also long held a deep resistance to that idea. I really wish there was another model, something in between being a precarious freelance individual artist and an artistic director bogged down with all the administration of a company.

I started a company in San Francisco, called Inkblot Ensemble, so I could make my work and not be dependent on anyone else to give me permission to be an artist. Four core members explored big ideas for three years, made two work-in-progress shows, and grew tremendously as artists. We grew in different directions, so by the time I was moving to London, we agreed to let the company dissolve.

Listening intently to some wisdom at D&D. Still wearing my Christmas jumper in January. Photo by Paul Whitlock

I’m wary of starting up another company in that sense. I’m working with a wonderful team now, on Home is Where… but I don’t know if we’ll be the right collaborators for the next project, and the next, and the next. They each have other projects and ambitions they’re pursuing, too.

I’m wary of creating an artistic entity that’s separate from myself. It’s so much work to establish a name, a website, recognition among peers and potential collaborators. And what would be the identity of a company that is creating a verbatim Third Culture project, a reimagined Helen of Troy performance installation with accompanying solo show, AND a (still very nebulous in its early stages) neuroscience/astronomy theatre piece?

I’ve also been clinging to the idea that if I could “just find a producer” then I could be a precarious freelance individual artist, and it would be fine. But I’m not about to wait around for someone to come and save me from the hard work of getting a piece to the stage. I do need a producer, but until the right collaborator comes along, I’m going to keep making things happen my own way.

So, thank goodness for D&D, where I asked for help and people answered. It turns out that setting up a company in the UK is very different from the US models I’m familiar with. It turns out it’s a very good idea to separate myself as an individual legal entity from the legal entity responsible for the financial health of a production. It turns out that it’s a lot simpler than I thought, with a lot less heavyweight infrastructure. And it turns out that there’s a one-day course in how to get started, run by the Independent Theatre Council. I’ve booked on.

Okay, okay, I’m starting a theatre company.

Declaring my intentions for action at the end of the final day. Oozing gratitude for the generosity of my fellows. Photo by Paul Whitlock

The next step: what is it going to be? I don’t want to separate myself as an artist from the identity of the company – its purpose is to facilitate my work. I’m getting over my feelings of arrogance, selfishness, and guilt around wanting to create something so focused on ME. It feels so antithetical to the collaborative nature of my work. But I’m looking at artists like Bryony Kimmings, Young Jean Lee, and Pina Bausch, who lead companies which facilitate their collaborative work. Why NOT Amy Clare Tasker Theatre Company? Hmm. Something’s not quite right about that. What if I want to make something that’s not “theatre”?

Why not Amy Clare Tasker Performance Lab Ltd? A fluid collective of artists led by Amy Clare Tasker, telling stories to change the world. Third Culture Kids, Helen of Troy, and Brains & Space are first up, then who knows?

Right now, this could mean I can apply for more funding from more varied sources, pay my collaborators, hire a producer, make things happen faster. In the future, it could mean anything; I’d love to set up regular Lab time, to get together with other artists interested in the beginnings of an idea, to facilitate one-off workshops, peer-to-peer mentoring and skill sharing sessions, and to work towards the big, ambitious productions I’m dreaming of. Watch this space.

Thank goodness for D&D. Watch that space, too. If you’ve never been, do check them out. There are events throughout the year, as well as the annual 3-day brain-melting wonder-fest each January.