JUNE 8 2023
Immersive sector may shrink without dedicated funding, companies warn
Immersive theatre companies have warned that a severe lack of dedicated funding for the art form could leave it to “shrivel away” without support for artists to innovate.
Their comments come in response to a report that warned the immersive sector is overly dependent on creatives having “deep pockets” and lacks development opportunities and access to funding.
Led by Joanna Bucknall, who is a lecturer at the University of Birmingham and co-founder of the Immersive Experience Network, the report found that 55% of work in the sector had been self-funded, at least in part, by creatives’ personal investment. The survey also found 35% of new pieces of work were funded by the success of previous productions.
Responding to the report, Owen Kingston, artistic director of immersive theatre company Parabolic Theatre, told The Stage: “There is virtually no funding specifically for immersive experiences accessible to anyone at any level.
“Big players are usually able to leverage private investment to get commercial projects off the ground, but for small companies, there are no good options.”
Kingston warned that unless immersive theatre companies were able to innovate more, “the whole sector will eventually shrivel away”.
He added: “It’s an issue because the immersive scene is stagnating. What should be a experimental medium is stuck rinsing and repeating the same tired formats.
“Financial instability is at the heart of that. Small companies feel they cannot afford to take risks because a poorly received show could wipe them out, so they find themselves reproducing past successes. The big players cannot get investors interested unless they can point at something successful that is similar to their show.”
Kingston called for funding for smaller companies to take risks, using a “bubble-up rather than trickle-down” approach.
Jorge Lopes Ramos, co-founder and executive director at ZU-UK, which creates interactive, political performances, warned that there was a “dire lack of funding avenues” for immersive theatre.
He told The Stage: “[This] forces a nonfor-profit company such as ZU-UK – led by working-class immigrants, with no networks, sponsors or rich friends – to take between six to eight years to be able to make landmark [productions].”
Lopes Ramos added: “Due to the lack of support for independent artists, the success of most mainstream immersive companies has been the result of privilege. This has, in turn, shaped the work that is made, the values it upholds, the money it attracts and the audiences who can afford to access it.”
Lopes Ramos said there should be a longterm, slow commissioning process with substantial budgets and a support network for independent immersive practitioners.
Les Enfants Terribles creative director James Seager also said more was needed to support the sector and questioned why immersive techniques are rarely taught in drama schools and few funding bodies exist to support new immersive artists.
“We need the more established organisations, funding bodies and theatre creators to understand what immersive theatre is and, crucially, how to support it,” he added.
Louis Hartshorn, who is chief executive of Hartshorn Hook – the company behind the immersive The Great Gatsby in London – argued that industry bodies have not yet adapted to the “relatively new art form” and that “there isn’t the same infrastructure and understanding from funders, industry bodies and unions”.
The report’s authors, Bucknall and Nicole Jacobus, who is a founding member of the Immersive Experience Network, argued that the live immersive experience sector urgently needs investment both financially and in terms of skills development.
Bucknall said: “If we are to capitalise on all the opportunities and talent that this area of performance can provide, then strategic action needs to be taken, and quickly.”
‘Landmark’ guides launched to stamp out sexual harassment in theatre Indhu Rubasingham
Individuals and organisations will be supported to tackle “long outdated behaviours and attitudes” through two new guides aimed at stamping out sexual harassment in the workplace.
The guides have been created by the Federation of Scottish Theatre and were developed by the independent Harassment in the Performing Arts working group, cochaired by Lisa Sangster and Elaine Stirrat and convened by the Federation of Scottish Theatre. The federation said the group was put together following a “strong mandate received from its organisation and individual members”.
The first guide is called Navigating Sexual Harassment at Work: A Guide to Support Freelancers and Individuals, and has been produced to help those experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment in the workplace to “navigate their options”.
It outlines how to identify sexual harassment, how people who have experienced it can deal with it – including how to report it – and provides support on how to help stop sexual harassment, including calling out bad behaviour. The guide provides examples of how someone might address the harassers.
The second, Tackling Sexual Harassment at Work: An Action Guide for Theatre Companies and Arts Organisations, has been designed to support organisations of any size that are responsible for responding to complaints of sexual harassment.
It addresses good practice, how organisations can deal with complaints and carry out investigations, as well as support those who make the complaints.
The federation said both were “designed to dip in and out of according to the needs of the user” and have been “made specifically with sexual harassment in mind and have been created taking an intersectional approach”. Much of the support and advice offered can be applied to the other forms of harassment experienced at work, it said.
The guides, which the federation described as “landmark”, are designed so they can evolve and develop as people feedback on their experience of using them.
Sangster, a trained sexual violence support worker, said: “The new HiPA guides aim to empower individuals to take action when they witness harassment and support people experiencing it to feel reassured that they have options and deserve support.”
Sangster added: “They are important for organisations as we seek to develop a consistent approach across the sector.”
The working group included professional arts practitioners from a range of backgrounds, who met regularly and conducted research alongside focus groups. Solicitors Anderson Strathern were also engaged to provide “legal insight and guidance in relation to employment law”.
The guides build on the work of theatre company Stella Quines, which last year launched a campaign to tackle sexual harassment in the sector.
At this year’s Equity conference, members also detailed how workers were often put into situations where they came face to face with abusers in rehearsal rooms, and called for more action to be taken to tackle this.
to step down as Kiln Theatre artistic director
Indhu Rubasingham is to step down as artistic director of Kiln Theatre in London.
Having led the company for more than a decade, Rubasingham said that “now feels the right moment to pass the baton and herald the next chapter of this unique theatre”.
She will leave the role in early 2024. Rubasingham took up the role at Kiln, formerly known as the Tricycle Theatre, in 2012, and repositioned the theatre’s mission to focus on bringing under-represented voices to the mainstream.
Her first production as artistic director was Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti, starring Adrian Lester. Other programming highlights have included Philip Himberg’s Paper Dolls, Moira Buffini’s Handbagged, Marcus Gardley’s The House That Will Not Stand and Ayad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand.
Other key relationships under Rubasingham’s tenure included collaborations with writers Florian Zeller and Zadie Smith.
Rubasingham also oversaw a £9 million capital refurbishment of the theatre, which reopened as Kiln in 2018, and led the company through the Covid-19 lockdowns with executive director Daisy Heath, with Kiln winning The Stage Award for London theatre of the year in 2021.
She said: “I never had an inkling of the journey ahead when I was first appointed. I immediately felt the responsibility, but what emerged was both challenging and exhilarating, an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
“It has been an immense honour to be artistic director of Kiln Theatre. I have learned and grown so much over these past 11 years. It has given me the privilege and opportunity to work with many brilliant people, who have contributed to the successes of Kiln, a theatre with a mission that is heartfelt and held by the whole team.”
Rubasingham added: “I have been very lucky to be part of the theatre’s story.”
Board chair Sita McIntosh said: “Indhu has brought so many incredible qualities to the role of artistic director – a flair for programming, the innate ability to combine the commercial with artistic risk, and to bring a wealth of voices into the Kiln, never afraid to challenge, to ask questions, and to bring out the very best in those whose work she champions.
“However, it’s not only on the stage that her presence is felt; she’s put creative engagement at the very forefront of the company’s ethos, firmly believing theatre should be accessible to everyone through the work and through training opportunities.”