This week I attended Theatre 2016 - the largest ever industry-wide conference for UK theatre. The central question was: how can we ensure that the future of theatre and theatre going chimes with its time? It was a thought-provoking day with much talk of audiences, digital technologies, the breaking down of boundaries and participation. All good stuff and delivered with passion and gusto by panels of people (myself included) who have long-served their apprenticeship in the business.
There was much talk of ‘yoof’, but a worryingly low number of that particular demographic represented at the event. In fact, Yinka Ayinde – creator and producer of ‘Oliva Tweest: An Afrobeats Musical’ – was the only speaker under 30 through the entire first day of the conference. Looking around the audience, it seemed that he was one of a small few with a post 2000 birth date.
During the afternoon, members of the audience could take to the stage and state a provocation. Ben Monk – another millennium child – grabbed the mic and asked: why is the attendance fee so high; why is the conference is always in London? Well spoken I thought. There was an increasing irony about the situation - lots of 40/50 somethings pontificating about the future, yet not au fait enough with new technologies to discuss this in any depth. There were, of course, exceptions. But overall there appeared to be a gap between what the possibilities for innovation may be and those discussing them.
In her opening speech, Vikki Heywood addressed the concept of where theatre will be in 10 years, carefully and sensitively suggesting that now is the time for fusion between generations, for sharing and development, in order that new talent has the opportunity to emerge with grace, without having to push and shove to a pole position. She spoke about having to let go of our identities, nourish others and encourage ideas, help people to earn their stripes. All so true. She also spoke of theatre and the creative industries being no place for those with a sense of entitlement. Theatre is the highest form of collaboration, a creative relay race with the baton of responsibility being carefully handed from one person to another. I grew up in a world like this and feel extremely lucky to have had my moment in the sun. Listening to Vikki made me rethink a few things and gave me the desire to implement a little change in my own working life. If we're really serious about offering audiences an experience on their own terms then we have to mix things up a bit and listen to new voices as well as old. This is Theatre2016 but Theatre 2026 is what we need to be thinking about and this means making an investment in those naughty younger people if the business hopes to have a sustainable future.
Catch up on the day's dicussions by following #Theatre2016