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governance News

Our first new, workshop-style board meeting

How do we make world-changing art which is relevant to the real world and doesn’t shy away from the issues affecting communities we work with, whilst ensuring that we keep within the legal restrictions relating to charities and political campaigning?

That was the question under discussion in the first board meeting following our new workshop format.

(Backstory: we recently came up with a new plan for our board meetings and governance because boards need to change – and we wanted to be able to include lots of different perspectives in our board meetings.)

How it went

I opened up the Zoom call and started letting people in: a combination of our formal trustees and the guest participants who wanted to join this workshop session.

As the screen began to fill up, I genuinely had tingles of excitement – not something you usually associate with a charity board meeting!

Over the course of the meeting, we heard from artists, lawyers, producers and trustees. This was a room full of fantastic people. People generously shared their own experiences: of the police turning up at their show, of changing legislation through theatre, of being censored by their government, of being asked to tone down their work, being asked to make it ‘less political’.

We talked a lot about the big things – if you aren’t engaging with the real world and people’s experiences then what is the arts even for? – and about the more specific things – how does ‘education’ function as a charitable object in this context, for example?


Below are our notes from the session, which we’re sharing for anyone who might want to use them. We’ll be using this to write up our staff and board procedures for how we create and manage work which could be considered political. 

A massive thank you to everyone who joined us in this new venture and who so openly shared their experiences – we really value it.

We’ll be hosting workshops in future on different topics. If you’d like to be kept up to date, let us know.

Notes and actions

Framing question

We believe that failing to engage with the challenges of today’s society isn’t apolitical. Saying nothing is not a ‘neutral’ position. It’s an active choice to maintain the status quo and the privileged which that status quo serves.

It’s true that charities have legal obligations about avoiding party politics – but this is something else. This is the word ‘politics’ being weaponised to attack charities that are engaging with the real world.

Over the next year, Strike A Light will be supporting artists and communities making work about food banks, the climate emergency and Black history.

Is it possible to do this without being ‘political’? Or should we just stage plays about the upper middle classes, written by dead white men? Is that less ‘political’?

Participant comments

  • Art is about sharing stories and sharing experiences, and it responds to the world around us. Therefore it will always include current events, people’s opinions, reflect society and to brand this as political in its own right is inaccurate. 
  • Charities are not able to undertake political campaigning unless it supports their charitable purposes – and such campaigning cannot be the continuing and sole activity of the charity (official guidance here). For many arts charities their purposes are related to promoting the arts and/or education, rather than specific social or political causes.
  • It’s important to separate ‘political’ themes and actual political campaigning – the latter is only allowed for charities in some specific instances. The former often gets branded as campaigning but it isn’t. Engaging with social justice or social change could be branded as political activity or it could be about an organisation’s responsibility to the communities it serves, about equality, human rights or simply relevance in their work.
  • Partnering with a campaigning body or organisation that does have a remit or purposes related to the cause can be a way of enabling the campaigning work without it being led by the arts charity. Academics or organisations with a policy remit will have expertise and knowledge that can drive this process, with conversation and public engagement facilitated by the arts activity. 
  • Co-creating with the communities that the topic directly affects, using verbatim theatre or asking the audience for their suggestions/ perceptions, means that as the arts charity you are providing the creative facilitation for the conversation but it’s not the views of the charity that are being presented. The charity themselves are not actively campaigning so this can be a way of managing risk as well as ensuring the work is authentic.
  • Nervousness and risk-averse messages often come from venues and funders and very often from within the arts e.g. not external censorship of an artistic product but a risk-averse culture which stifles it. For example, venues won’t programme something out of fear of local authority funding being pulled or unspecific fears that it might ‘cause trouble’. For example, conferences asking for less ‘political’ work because they are concerned about a Charity Commission investigation etc. 
  • Do your research and explore what the real risk is – for example, what really counts as defamation of character. Just expressing a negative opinion about an individual’s conduct isn’t defamation. There may be occasions where it is appropriate to speak unwelcome truths to achieve change. Conversations with funders and venues in advance help determine the actual risk of funding being withdrawn. If funding was withdrawn what are the alternatives, is your reputation strong enough to withstand it etc. Is it actual risk or perceived risk?
  • We talked a lot about balancing risk and ‘walking the tightrope’.
  • Funding that is tied to central government funding is more at risk of being allocated or withdrawn in response to government policy
  • Some organisations who want to explicitly campaign on government policy will choose a legal structure which allows for this or establish a separate campaigning organisation linked to the charity. 
  • You can create processes around a show to allow a space to air things that you might not be able to say publicly, so that you’re not closing down that dialogue for participants. Or you could signpost to action people can take outside the show – again the arts organisation is a creative facilitator not the campaign vehicle. Think about the provocation to the audience and plan this into the project.
  • Be clever and well-researched if you’re engaging with individual politicians and policies: know the action you’re trying to achieve and why. If you’re trying to affect change, what is the best way of doing that? That’s not necessarily by making political statements in the script of a show. 
  • Index on Censorship have some great resources for arts organisation and give clear guidance on topics where there is an existing legal framework, for example Obscene Publications, Counter Terrorism or Public Order.
  • Have open discussions from the outset, look after the people involved in your project and your staff, prepare for the emotional toll and put in support mechanisms.
  • The way you run your organisation and how you use your resources could in themselves be ways of affecting social change. It doesn’t always have to be about an artwork provoking change. The arts are robust when they have a civic role and they matter to people. That can be about who’s at the table, who gets a platform, challenging barriers to access, providing opportunities for creativity etc.
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governance News

Changing charity leadership #2: who can lead?

This is the second in a short series of rants and resolutions about why charity boards/governance structures are often a pale imitation of what they should be, and what we intend to do to change that.

‘Decisions are made by those who [are able to] show up’

This time, we’ll look at how the practicalities of board membership and logistics can stop them from functioning well.


Common problems of building a board

Collect the whole set

We’ve all seen it happen: what starts out as the crucial responsibility of assembling a diverse, relevant board ends up being reduced to a game of Pokemon (‘gotta catch em all!’)…

‘We need to get a finance person, a marketing person, an artist, a disabled person, a beneficiary, a person of colour, a young person – oh and better make sure there’s some women and someone with friends in high places in there, too…’

How, in a setup like that, are people supposed to feel any more than tokenistic?

Big responsibility, little support

Moreover, typical charity governance structures ask a huge amount from trustees, which impacts on who sits on boards and how they function.

Being a trustee generally requires you to:

  • have lots of free time
  • be able to take on unpaid work
  • be comfortable with legal responsibility, corporate and charity speak
  • provide specialist skills

You’re trying to find people willing to give up their time for free – people who are confident in a board room setting, reading and commenting on business plans and cash flows, and happy to take on ultimate financial and legal responsibility for a complex organisation.

Giving up time for free becomes particularly problematic if you’re asking freelance artists, or asking beneficiaries when you have a focus on people living in areas of socio-economic deprivation.

It’s also not OK asking people who have experienced racism to join your board just to help improve diversity in your organisation. Free labour to improve a systematically racist industry, sitting within a systematically racist governance structure? No thank you.

Local vs national

For Strike A Light, one other consideration is that we are very much a Gloucester-based organisation: we need to ensure we are listening to and answerable to local residents, beneficiaries, audiences and artists. 

At the same time, we have developed rapidly as an organisation and we need support from industry professionals in fundraising, finance and advocacy at a national level. 


Bringing it all together

Trying to include all of these people and then expect them to all be at the same meetings, covering an agenda that is required to be primarily about oversight and due diligence, does not make the most of people’s time and skills.

Recruiting new trustees is a challenge; bring together a diverse, representative group of people who can be/do all of these things, understand Strike A Light, have a commitment to the work we do, are interested in Gloucester… 

Cold calling and open calls haven’t worked for us – there needs to be a relationship and a way of making sure it’s the right fit on both sides.

All of which is why we’ve come up with a shiny new governance plan

Categories
governance News

Changing charity leadership #1: activism, the arts and politics

This is the first of a short series of rants and resolutions about why charity boards/governance structures are often a pale imitation of what they should be, and what we intend to do to change that.


Why it matters

Boards should be a big deal. In theory, they’re about the leadership of an entire organisation:

  • they set the tone for a charity’s direction and running
  • they continually push the operation, challenging it to do everything it can to fulfil its stated purpose
  • they represent the communities the charity is working with, and make sure its work is actually serving the intended beneficiaries

In theory. But, too often, boards don’t live up to this billing – instead becoming just a managerial tickbox exercise, to make sure the quota of meetings is met and the accounts get filed on time.

We want to do better.

We’re lucky to have a supportive board who are working with us to do this. They’re not the typical “male, pale and stale” board – but they want to do more, and so do we. Because it’s in everyone’s interest for charities to have strong boards and governance.


‘We don’t do politics’

Let’s start by looking at the problem of quiet, passive, non-disruptive, don’t-rock-the-boat governance – and why that’s about to become an even bigger issue in the UK.

The Ministry of Silence

‘If you want to improve lives through charity, leave political fights out of it, writes Charity Commission chair BARONESS STOWELL’

The Daily Mail, 28 November 2020

There is currently a big push to ‘manage’ what charities say and/or emphasise in their work.

In the past couple of days, this agenda has been spelled out painfully, shamefully openly by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden:

Now, it’s true that charities have legal obligations about avoiding party politics – but this is something else. This is the word ‘politics’ being weaponised to attack charities that are engaging with the real world, accusing them of “starting culture wars about ‘wokedom’”.


Keep calm and stroke my ego

There’s a call for the bygone era of Victorian style charitable giving, where donating to the poor and needy gave a warm glow to those upper class philanthropists. Like Ebenezer Scrooge giving a turkey to the Cratchit family, immediately making up for all those years of forced evictions and extortionate rents for slums. 

The message is basically “don’t question anything the government does, don’t look at the root causes of why your charity has to exist, and whatever you do, don’t mention Britain’s colonial past”.

The fallacy of ‘neutrality’

But here’s the thing: not engaging with the challenges of today’s society isn’t apolitical. It’s not a ‘neutral’ position. It’s an active choice to maintain the status quo and the privileged which it serves.


Telling inconvenient truths

The arts are about telling stories, engaging with people, and exploring and reflecting the human experience. The stories which get heard, who tells them and what they say, will be political – not like ‘vote for Lord Buckethead!’ party political, but political because they will unavoidably touch on questions of how we live and act as a society.

Over the next year, Strike A Light will be supporting artists and communities making work about food banks, the climate emergency and Black history.

Is it possible to do this without being ‘political’? Or should we just stage plays about the upper middle classes, written by dead white men? Is that less ‘political’?

It doesn’t even matter how much substance you cut out from your content, how many ‘touchy issues’ you avoid or how vacuous you make your material: the very act of choosing which stories to tell is itself political. You will always be centring, normalising or privileging one experience over another.

Find us a story that isn’t political. We promise you, it doesn’t exist.


Contradictory demands

AND ANOTHER THING! As if this effort to favourably ‘control the narrative’ weren’t bad enough already, it’s also directly contradictory to other demands also being made of arts charities.

In the 2020 New Year’s Eve fireworks display, the UK watched a sea turtle made of drones swimming through the sky – even as we failed to meet any of our 2020 carbon emission targets.

We paid lip service to Black Lives Matter in the same year that DCMS told cultural organisations that if they want to be funded they should steer clear of talking about “contested heritage”

The Charity Commission can’t say to charities in their annual public meeting that they want to involve people from more diverse backgrounds and then a month later publish an article where they ask charities to pretend racism doesn’t exist.

Except that’s exactly what the Commission did.

This means there’s a fundamental disconnect between public messaging and the structures and funding that accompany them. How can you as an organisation genuinely commit to addressing climate change or lack of diversity – things we are repeatedly asked to do by government funders – without addressing the structures which create those problems and which perpetuate them? Complicit silence is not apolitical.

These are the most significant, pressing issues of our time. Life is political and if charities are to exist in and be relevant to society and fulfil their charitable aims for the public benefit then they must engage with the public and with society and therefore with politics. 

A plan to change the system of industry leadership

We believe if you want things to change, the system has to change – and the leadership in the industry has to change. 

So we’re going to try something different with our governance.

We’re cooking up a new plan. One where you can get involved with Strike A Light governance without a long term commitment, share your skills and ideas, find out more about how the board works and get paid for your time in a workshop format.

We’re focusing on different topics each time and the first we want to tackle is arts charities and politics. 

How do we support artists and communities to make work which is about the world around us, which isn’t afraid to question and challenge, whilst working within the legal requirements of the charity structure regarding politics? 

Over the year we’ll also be looking at finance and fundraising, and what a cultural programme driven by artists and communities could and should look like. 

Get involved

We’ve drafted and shared a plan for how we’re going to change our governance structures.

If you’re interested in being part of this exploration and sharing your ideas and experience to support Strike A Light to achieve its charitable aims, we’d love to hear from you.

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Uncategorized

Agency Scale

This is an extract from David Jubb’s blog for Battersea Arts Centre about the development of a tool for assessing whether a project is co-created. Kindly reproduced by permission from the Co-Creating Change Network. The full blog post is here.

You can download a blank version of The Agency Scale here. This is used as an internal tool by the Co-Creating Change Network for guidance but can be an effective starting point for thinking about the balance of agency in your project.

Blog extract:

Who has agency in any project?

The person or people leading a project have often conceived some of the project’s parameters and may have decided how aspects of the project are structured. They may have secured money and space to make the project happen – and they are likely to define the nature of any invitation which welcomes more people to the project.

In other words, this individual, group or community, who have been involved in setting aspects of the project up, are likely to experience high levels of agency – they are likely to feel that they can take action and successfully affect change in the project. They have a high level of control and power. (This is what the Kings University report on Cultural Democracy calls “social freedom”.)

Of course, many projects in the subsidised arts sector are not set up by individuals, groups or communities – they are often initiated, set up and run by artists, producers and / or cultural organisations.

So perhaps a useful question we can ask ourselves, when it comes to projects which begin in this way, is how much agency does the individual, group or community have in the project? And how much does the artist, producer or cultural organisation have?

Of course not every project model neatly fits in to having people you can define as the “individual, group or community” and the “artist, producer or cultural organisation”.  Some of the most exciting work happens when these boundaries are blurred, when people’s identities cannot be simply defined, and when there are multiple partners.

However, many projects still fit these profiles, at their inception. For example, even when there are multiple partners, often those partners tend to fit, at the beginning of a project, one of the two profiles I am suggesting – i.e. either “individual, group or community” or “artist, producer or cultural organisation”. So I am going to go with this split, for now, as a working assumption.

An agency scale

We have been wondering whether it is possible to have some kind of scale or spectrum to understand how much agency either party has in any specific project? So at one end of the scale you might have projects where the control and power sits, largely, with the individual, group or community – and at the other end of the scale there will be projects where the control and power sits with the artist, producer and / or cultural organisation. And some where it is somewhere in between.

I did say this was going to get geeky!

The idea of having a scale like this would not be to say that one position on the scale is better than any another. Because work and partnerships exist for different reasons and can be successful in very different ways. So an agency scale would not exist in order to make a value judgement on practice.

But it might ensure that when we are debating and developing practice, we can be clearer about whether that practice exists in the same territory or not.

I often think that discussions about participatory work (or work with communities or socially engaged practice or whatever you want to call it) are dogged with this particular challenge. Because we often bring together a vast umbrella of participatory practice and expect to be able to draw parallels and share learning. But sometimes we’re comparing apples with pears. Because the work is set up so differently and with such different motivations. Sometimes we end up arguing about those motivations rather than having the intended conversation about how we work together to grow this area of practice and support each other to further develop it.

So perhaps something like an “agency scale” could ensure we are clear about the nature of the work we are discussing?

For Co-Creating Change we are especially interested in work where agency is shared. And just to re-emphasise, this is not to say that work where the agency sits either with the artist/producer/organisation or with the individual/group/community is any less valuable. We are simply trying to be clear about a particular kind of co-created practice which we are interested to support and promote.

We are especially interested in work in which agency, control and power is shared because we think this approach encourages a particular form of collaboration which can change the practice, outlook and future of both parties – which we think is interesting.

So if there was a tool to enable us to, roughly, assess a spectrum of agency, control and power, in any project, we think it might help identify what is a good fit for a Co-Creating Change commission and what is not – in a more transparent and open way – using an assessment tool which can be conducted by the person who is actually proposing the commission.

So we have been developing and testing a model for this which is described below – it’s a scratch of an “agency scale”.

Of course the proposed tool will not straightforwardly apply to every project – because there are so many different elements and layers to every project. I guess our question is whether this assessment tool could apply to enough projects to be helpful? Or not?

The draft tool asks you ten questions and shouldn’t take any more than five to ten minutes to complete. [Please remember, this is just an idea for how we might inform the selection of commissions – no need to fill this out now – we’re just interested to get your take on whether this is an interesting or a terrible idea.]

The sections are divided in to two sections.

  1. Set-up. The first section asks five questions which relate to your project framework – about the way your project is initially set up. In some cases it might be best to apply these questions to your project methodology. Or in other circumstances (where, for example, the organisation is the project) it might be about applying these questions to how your organisation is set up. Either way, these questions are basically about the project set-up – whatever that means for you.
  2. Activity. The second section asks five questions which relate to the actual work itself – this is less about the set-up and more about when something is actually being made. In most cases it will be best to apply these questions to the project activity – this can, of course, include the process you’re using to make stuff, as well as the actual product or thing is made – whatever that means for you.

Not every project will fall neatly in to “set-up” and “activity” so the table gives some room for notes. Each question asks you to assess whether the artist, producer and cultural organisation (A/P/CO) has more authority to make decisions or whether the individual, group or community (I/G/C) has more authority to make decisions – by using a broad percentage split.

Here’s a blank of the table with completion instructions beneath. And below are a couple of examples which I have filled for projects which happen at Battersea Arts Centre.

Completion instructions:

  1. Answer each question by giving a % score for “Artist/Producer/Cultural Organisation” and for “Individual/Group/Community”
  2. Most answers will add up to 100% unless there is a third party involved. Perhaps just use – 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% to keep things simple.
  3. Don’t spend too long on each question – just answer it instinctively with what you think is a true reflection of the relationship.

And then, if the overall weighting works out as more than 60% one way or another then perhaps we could say the project is led by that party and if it’s somewhere in between then it is shared?

I have done two examples for two projects which happen at Battersea Arts Centre to give it a go.

Homegrown show – a participation project where we invite young people to come and make a show with an artist

The Agency – a project which invites young people to set up their own project or business

What do you think? Is there some value in having something like this Agency Scale – self-assessed – as part of the commissioning process?

Just to restate, there is no value judgement here. For example, whilst the power and control of the Homegrown terms sits largely with BAC, I think these projects have massive value and can change lives. The idea of the Agency Scale is simply so we can be more honest about what we are actually doing and how we are going about it and have better conversations.

So when we ask people to pitch for funding in the Co-Creating Change network – should we ask them to check where their project sits on this Agency Scale? Or a better version of this? Let us know your thoughts.

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News

Why a programme to empower female arts leaders is so important

Last week I made a list of people to set up meetings with for a project. Because those meetings were with leaders of organisations, *there were more people called Richard on that list than there were women*


It’s time for a new way of working.


In the last few months two things happened.

  1. The Point in Eastleigh were successful in securing funding from Arts Council England for a Transforming Leadership project which will support 16 female arts leaders from diverse backgrounds and we at Strike A Light (SAL) will be supporting two of these women.
  2. I read Mary Portas’ book Work Like A Woman.

Both of these things set my brain whirring and as I lay in bed (ironically enough, at a hen do) I sent myself about 15 emails as I thought of so many things I wanted to do or change or articulate.

The Transforming Leadership project is not only the opportunity to address gender inequalities in leadership on a purely statistical level, it’s an opportunity to question how and why we work the way we do.

Most of my brain-whirring was about what the wise Mary calls “broader ambition”. There’s a myth about women being ‘less ambitious’ as a reason for them not applying for leadership roles. There are many systemic barriers that exist which could account for this imbalance – but, equally, women are not less ambitious if they are rejecting the existing baggage that comes with our current view of what leadership is: isolation, stress, long hours, a dictatorial approach.

If women want things for their personal life or family life too, they are just ambitious in a wider way, for their whole lives, which includes the workplace but isn’t defined by it.


In a previous job, I worked for an arts organisation where putting in long hours was a sign of commitment to your job. The word slacker was used a lot as a ‘joke’ if people left on time or worked part time. As someone without children I’d never considered why that might be a problem and how damaging my perceptions were. 

Since I first joined Strike A Light it has been led by two inspiring women – women who have challenged a lot of the things I held dear about workplace culture and my own value within it. I think that SAL has a working culture which is influenced by this approach and it’s one which I am excited to examine, try and articulate more clearly and share regionally and nationally through the Transforming Leadership project and to the new leaders we will be working with. 

Because that’s the thing about diversity in the workplace. It’s not about quotas or tick-boxes. It’s about the fact that things are genuinely better if more, different voices are heard at leadership level. Better creatively and better in terms of workplace equality. If something doesn’t affect you (childcare costs, the physical accessibility of a building, only seeing white faces in marketing materials) then you’re less likely to think about it or do anything to make it better. More varied experiences in staff teams means more people making things better and fairer for everyone. 

At SAL, our flexible working policy opens with: “we accept that the 9-5 structure was invented for a society when the men went to work and the women stayed at home. That society no longer exists.” 9-5 does not work for most people for a huge range of reasons and in our industry and with the magic of the internet is there’s no reason to demand it. 

When we consider other people’s needs, it makes the work environment better for everyone. Childcare might be a driving factor in moves towards flexible working but, for example, in the SAL office that flexibility also means that one staff member can do regular exercise classes which help her manage her migraines and another can cut their commute in half by avoiding rush hour. (Fun fact, while I type this it’s 7pm and I’m over 100 miles from our office, having spent the day playing with my nephew.)


But theoretically these ideas could be implemented by anyone. So: a scheme to support women leaders. Is it needed? After all, us women have got the vote, what more could we possibly want?! And when’s International Men’s Day, eh??! (It’s ‘19 November’ or ‘every day’, depending on why you’re asking the question).

Theoretically yes, legally, women should be treated equally so why the need for positive discrimination? Why not just ‘the best person for the job’?

Because of humans’ unconscious bias towards people who are similar to us, we usually think the ‘best person for the job’ is the one who is most like us. The status quo bias means that difference is seen as risky. If there’s only one woman or one person of colour shortlisted for a role, their chance of being hired is statistically zero.

Also, when shortlisting, the best person for the job on paper will be the person who has already been given the most opportunities and so has the most experience. So the same narrow pool is hired over and over and nothing changes.

Women are under-represented in leadership in almost every industry, even those where the workforce is female dominated. They’re underrepresented in board rooms and in leadership roles in large Arts Council National Portfolio Organisations. When married women retire, on average they will be five times worse off financially than their husbands because the current work structures are stacked against women progressing in their careers, earning more or managing childcare without detriment to their income.

Last week I made a list of people to set up meetings with for a project, and because those meetings were with leaders of organisations there were more people called Richard on that list than there were women.

Diversity brings in new ideas, new voices, different ways of looking at old problems. In the UK we work the longest hours in Europe and are experiencing a mental health crisis. The current structures aren’t ideal for anyone. It’s time for a new way of working.


At SAL we are trying to do things differently. This includes collaborative working. Everyone’s workload has peaks and troughs – if someone is drowning under too much work that week we will sit down and go through their list and either get rid of what’s not important or dish out tasks between the rest of the team. That’s better for the organisation in terms of getting things done well but also for that individual. This is something which the standard view of leadership, the competitive model of individual success and ambition, does not allow for.

I am inspired by the way we work and I never want to go back to working for a large organisation that creaks under its own weight and struggles to turn. I have also banned myself from using the word bossy. We use it to refer to girls, and only girls, who are being in charge, taking up space or talking loudly and giving instructions. We are saying that they are displaying the behaviour of a boss, a leader, and this is addressed as a criticism. 

I am proud of being a leader and I want to work for an organisation and on projects that encourage other women to do the same.


To find out more about the South West Women Leaders project as part of Transforming Leadership, check out the application information in our current Opportunities.

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Past Opportunities

Scratch night call out

Have you got an idea for a new show or something in progress you’d like to try out?

We’re inviting artists from Gloucestershire and the South West to showcase new work at one of our scratch nights.

A great opportunity to try out ideas and gain feedback from a supportive live audience. Performances can last from two to twenty minutes and our scratch nights are open to any performance discipline. We provide basic tech, facilitate feedback from the audience and can cover your travel costs.

If you have something you’re keen to share and get support on then drop us an email on info@strikealightfestival.org.uk so we can chat. We’ll confirm a date that works for interested artists, as part of our summer season, May-July 2020.

(Due to the current world crisis dates are a little up in the air. However if you are interested in sharing something in the future we’d still love to hear from you).

Categories
News

Made in Gloucestershire

We have been working with Vinnie Heaven for the last few years and their show She’s A Good Boy began its development through a residency at Hawkwood.

The show, about non-binary gender, was a reminder of the power of theatre. Young people were able to see someone like them on stage and went from thinking they were alone to finding their tribe. Parents, grandparents and teachers messaged with thanks to say they finally understood. People who weren’t able to attend the show asked to see it somehow and watched through a Facebook live stream. The show has also led on to other things for Vinnie, and we’ve got our money on them becoming a household name. So before they do, they’ve kindly shared with us what their journey has been and how they’re not planning to forget Gloucestershire any time soon…

Vinnie is an associate artist of Strike A Light and with their support made and toured (nationally) She’s A Good Boy. Vinnie has also performed The Little Bookshop Boy, Passpawt, Half The World Away and Charmane at Strike A Light. Vinnie now lives between Gloucestershire and London having toured with Emma Rice’s Wise Children last year and this year is filming a new series, to air in 2021.

All of the above biography is important to me because it’s a summary of where I began and was nurtured and evidences what I was able to go on to having had that foundation. All of the above credits are equal to me whether others agree or not. I was made and trained in Gloucestershire and I am resolutely proud of that.

I didn’t get in to drama school. I tried. So instead, I trained with Jenny Wren, on the job. Blood sweat and tears went in to outdoor summer shows, studio shows and the occasional tour. It was at the end of this graft that Strike A Light found me. I was a rough around the edges maker with a hundred ideas and the energy to match.

Fast forward a few shows later and I’m at Hawkwood, on a residency. Having sat down a few weeks before with EJ and Sarah and been asked – Have you got a show in you? What do you need from us? 

Pause here for a moment – the biggest thing to admit here is that I had to let them help me, I had to admit I had no contacts for directors, designers, producers, organisations to put on my funding app, theatres to ask for in kind support, none of it, and for this particular piece I needed a specific team and specific spaces. Step forward Christina, who did have ALL these things and would sit time and time again with me to talk me through the options and help me phrase emails, at no point appearing worn or drained by having to essentially teach me, always just a kind smile and a lot of snacks. Now lets un-pause and return to Hawkwood. 

Your first exploration and draft is raw, its messy, frustrating, painful at times. At Hawkwood you get three meals a day at set times that force you out of your head and away from your words and allow you designated time to chat to other artists and makers. The food is phenomenal, that’s just a fact. The head space meals provide is integral. That’s a fact too.  You can sleep there! I didn’t – I had lived ten minutes down the road for years – but you can, you can completely escape life and have a week in picturesque gardens and light studios to just – make!

My residency began my solo show, She’s A Good Boy,  produced by Strike A Light – which went down a storm at The Gloucester Guildhall, we sold it out. This then gave me the footage of the show to send to venues. Christina brought on board Battersea Arts Centre and together we met Pegasus Theatre until we had enough support to apply to fund a tour – and we sold that out too!

That show got me an agent – which I had never needed in Gloucestershire, that’s the beauty of my home, we all have each others backs. That agent took me from national solo show tour to a casting in Soho Theatre in London. In that show a casting agent for Wise Children saw me and put me in Malory Towers and from there I am sitting in a hotel room sifting through a filming schedule that shoots until later in the year…but it began in a room, in Stroud, with big bright windows and an old piano, across from an artist called Ruby who painted with chemical reactions and shared a salad with us on the breaks….

I chose London. I moved there when my personal life in Gloucestershire crumbled around me. I chose to sign with the agent who asked me and I chose to ride the success I have now having not gone to drama school and having worked tirelessly for years in my home town to learn my craft. 

I still choose Gloucester. It is the home I make my work in. It is the team who know me, with all my flaws and needs, who hold me and encourage me, with honesty and with drive. I will choose Gloucester when a new idea scratches at my feet to be released, when I turn up at Strike A Light with a stack of paper filled with scruffy notes and searching for a list of creative names to match the squiggles – with no expectation but to make and for people to see.

We make our own success in a way that only each one of us can. But we succeed by lifting others and in turn by letting ourselves be lifted.

Vinnie