19 August 2020
Posted by Jack Thacker
I’m now in the last month of the residency and have begun to reflect on how much has changed for me and for everyone else since this journey began last September. In many ways, this has been a residency of two halves – pre- and post-pandemic.
A more in-depth reflection on the year will follow soon. For now, I need to bring to your attention my involvement in Lighthouse’s bedtime story writing competition. You can hear me reading Ted Hughes’s story ‘How the Polar Bear Became’ here: https://en-gb.facebook.com/lighthousepoole/. I’ve also had the pleasure of reading the shortlist for the competition, the results of which have now come in: https://www.lighthousepoole.co.uk/news/winning-bedtime-stories-to-showcase-online/ You can hear me reading one of the winning entries ‘Saving Bindi’ by Susmita Bhattacharya also here: https://en-gb.facebook.com/lighthousepoole/.
Finally, in the second instillation of a short series of interviews with staff at Lighthouse, I spoke to Tim Colegate, the head of programming at the arts centre, about what has changed for him since the beginning of the pandemic and how he feels about the future of Lighthouse and the arts.
Describe your role at Lighthouse?
I’m the head of programming at Lighthouse, and that entails curating the received programme of work. Lighthouse is a receiving house, which means we don’t produce our own work, we receive it from other producers and promoters. In the simplest terms, my job is to decide which shows we’re going to have, and to follow that process through to deciding on the appropriate pricing, doing the financial deal, and collating all the necessary information to disseminate to the marketing team and the box office team.
How has the role changed as a result of coronavirus?
I was only furloughed for a very short period of time, certainly in comparison to a lot of other people who have been furloughed for months and continue to be. The period immediately before my furlough was taken up with cancellations and rescheduling of shows from our closure period due to the shutdown, which is a big job at any venue but especially at Lighthouse due to the number of events we host.
Upon coming back from furlough, the focus turns towards forward planning and what we can do differently. There’s a bit more of a positive mindset about it now. Instead of looking at what we can’t do, we’re now asking: what can we do? So, what can we move from our studio into the theatre, for example, so we can deliver with social distancing? How can we then use the studio space? Is that where we could support artists to create work with research and development time? It’s made us open our minds about what is possible and how we can deliver what we do differently, or more efficiently, or better. This is by no means an ideal situation for anybody in the arts, but in the interests of trying to find the positives in it - which I am - it’s become an opportunity to revise our sense of what we want Lighthouse to do.
What insights has this period of shutdown given you?
It’s been noticeable in what high regard people hold Lighthouse, and that’s been noticeable by how much it seems to have been missed. However, it’s also made me realise just how frail our industry is. In one sense, I feel that it’s incredibly resilient because the industry has faced cuts for years, and yet we continue, and we still manage to create great work and we still manage to engage people. That being said, although the reaction we are seeing is one of love for Lighthouse, one of missing coming to the theatre and missing that live experience, a large proportion of our audience are understandably feeling uneasy about coming back. Every theatre manager, every producer, wants a sold-out show, so this is a really weird inversion of the normal thought process, whereby the priority is to have fewer people in the building, and that really limits what we can do.
What are your thoughts on the future of the performing arts in the UK?
There’s a big drive at the moment for ensuring that venues and organisations, such as Lighthouse, support individual artists, most of whom are freelance and have had a really tough past few months. I think that’s absolutely right, and we should be looking to do that. However, our first priority is for us to safeguard Lighthouse and ensure that Lighthouse continues to operate well into the future and delivers artistic output and engages our community. We can’t do that if we’re not here.
As wonderful as it has been to see the digital output that has been happening over the course of lockdown, there’s a reason why people love coming to the theatre and going to gigs. It’s the live experience that people crave and that’s what they’re missing.
Which artist or artwork in any medium has helped you through this period?
I’ve listened to quite a lot of music while I’ve been working from home. I’ve been discovering some bands that have been getting me through the working day. I’ve listened to a lot of Billy Joel, for instance. I have my piano here as well. I’m not classically trained or anything – I just jam about really. So, listening to those piano-led artists has meant that I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to play more.
Here I am reading 'Saving Bindi' by Susmita Bhattacharya