What is the future of theatre talent development in the North East?

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My name is Natalie Ibu. I’m new here – the North East, that is. And not so long ago – relatively - I was once new here, in the cultural sector, in theatre. Arts education in school, young writer’s groups at my local theatre, courses, bursaries and residencies, mentorship, entry level jobs, (lots of) informal coffees, shadowing opportunities, assistant directing opportunities, space in-kind to play and find my process with others, directing challenges and micro-commissions have all played a part in getting me here. So, I know the transformative impact of talent development opportunities facilitated by schools, theatres, theatre companies, independent artists and our peers. I am a passionate advocate and cheerleader for talent development.

I’ve been the 17-year-old with an articulate dream but no roadmap. I’ve been the underwhelmed student desperate for practical experience but stuck on a naively chosen course that isn’t the right fit. I’ve been the assistant stuck in a perpetual cycle of assisting but no show to invite anyone to. I’ve been new to a city with no peer networks and no one to make work with. I’ve been there.

So, talent development has been central to my vision for every job, a core value at the heart of my artistic and leadership practice. Each one teach one and all that. I started We Were Here because I realised that fellow emerging practitioners held the key to each other’s talent development making the hypothetical, actual. I was the inaugural producer for In Good Company – a joined up region wide approach to talent development that’s still going six years on – and had the privilege of facilitating many firsts for Black artists at tiata fahodzi. I’m on the board of RTYDS because I want to play my part in ensuring intersectional succession of the sector’s buildings and companies. I’m committed to talent development because it’s at the root of the kind of sector I want to work in – diverse, representative, inclusive, popular, relevant and current - not just because it’s the right thing to do. But, in the current context, is it even the right thing to do?

Let me explain. I have the absolute privilege to lead Northern Stage into the future. Both Northern Stage and I bonded over our commitment to developing artists. 12 months ago, I had a good idea about how to begin thinking about Northern Stage’s future contribution to the rich talent development ecology of North East. But then, a pandemic. What are the talent development needs in a middle-of-a-pandemic or post pandemic world? Did the talent development programmes we’ve invested in, set us up to survive crisis? And if not, why not? Is survival and thriving a talent just like directing on the midscale or stage combat or devising?

I’m calling a D&D to hold space for all stakeholders of talent development in the NE – artists, companies, venues, funders, agents – to ask: what has been talent development in the NE? What do artists need from talent development programmes to ensure their careers recover from COVID? And – whilst not all talent development is about the new artist – if we want to really build back and better, it will mean new and different voices. But is it ethical to be bringing new artists into a sector in crisis, one that is struggling to sustain those it already holds within it?

See you there, pets

Natalie x

About Devoted & Disgruntled

Run by theatre company Improbable, Devoted & Disgruntled (D&D) is an ongoing conversation, giving theatre and performing arts practitioners space and time they need to create positive change.

This D&D is an opportunity for everyone passionate about the arts in the North East — from audiences to artists, CEOs to FOH staff, grassroots groups to seasoned professionals — to get together and focus on the question: "What are we going to do about talent development in the North East?" Anyone and everyone in the region is invited to take part, no matter how "experienced" you are.

This year, the format of the event is a bit different because we're running it online. However, the fundamentals remain exactly the same: this D&D is a 3-hour event in which you get to set the agenda and decide what conversations you want to be part of. Once you've booked your ticket, you can take part in as much or as little as you want.

D&D uses a process called Open Space, which is a non-hierarchical way of working. The group in the room sets the agenda and participants work on the things they're interested in.

Anyone and everyone is welcome to put something on the agenda, amateurs to experts, freelancers to FOH staff, puppeteers to PMs. It's a relaxed and informal environment, not a 3 hour zoom meeting. People are welcome to come and go throughout the event.

If you've not been to a D&D before, don't worry! The process will be explained on the day, and you don't need to do anything in advance.

The group will collectively make a record of their conversations. This will be shared on the D&D website (which has an archive of more than 2000 theatre conversations over the last 15 years) and by Northern Stage. 

Here are some top tips for taking part in a D&D event:

The team will explain everything you need to know on the day of the event. If you want to know more in advance, you can download this participants guide - openspaceonline-aguideforparticipantsv3(2).pdf 

If you want to, you can find out more about Open Space technology here.

You can also take a look at some of the past D&D events here.

Devoted & Disgruntled is produced by Improbable. For more about Devoted & Disgruntled and Open Space visit www.devotedanddisgruntled.com.

This event is presented by Northern Stage in partnership with Alphabetti, ARC Stockton, Live Theatre, and Newcastle Theatre Royal.

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    Tickets are free but must be booked in advance.

    Please note that this event has been designed specifically for North East theatre artists, venues, organisations, and funders. 


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