2020 !?!

By Charlotte Jones

To write any kind of review or appraisal of 2020 seems ridiculous and impossible. It has been an unimaginable mess and people are sick of hearing each other say that - so I will not go on.

I am setting myself the challenge of sifting through the shit in search of the gems.
The first, quite big and fairly near the top, is the end of the Trump regime. This is not just the removal of an odious individual from public office but the victory of values and decency over toxicity and despair. The defeat of Trump has knocked some of the wind out of Johnson’s sails too – maybe lying, cheating and oppressing does have consequences. The comeuppance will come……

Here’s wishing Biden and Harris courage and strength to take on the challenges of 2021 and the ability to hold on to their integrity in the face of adversity.

Digging deeper and much closer to home I find a hoard of exquisite little gems emanating from our generous, imaginative and resourceful ITC members. The independent theatre sector has generated many rays of hope for me over the past few months. Here are a few highlights in no particular order with appropriate thanks:

• To the 17 inspirational ITC member speakers who gave so generously of their time and thought at our online Zoom conference: Thank you for joining in the experiment, sharing your wisdom and helping us to constructively explore the ethics of employment. Thank you to all the members who joined the discussion over the 3 days and a massive thank you to Philippa from Talking Birds who leapt in to type a whole session into the chat when our captions failed! We scratched the surface of some mighty topics: leadership, role of the producer, dignity at work, anti-racism in touring, good dispute resolution, creative approaches to recruitment, team care and well-being. We have work to do on all these areas and the conference provided an excellent springboard for future action. We need to diversify, develop and nurture our workforce.

• To all our members who have participated in and contributed to our online members meetings: Thank you for your willingness to share and your instincts to help each other. We have had some fruitful and illuminating discussions. Opportunities have been signposted, problems solved, hopes and fears shared, mistakes owned up to and learnt from – peer learning at its best.

• To our trainers and all the members who have participated in our online training over the past nine months. Thank you for your enthusiasm and engagement which has helped us to develop this service with confidence. It has been a joy to be able to make our training so much more accessible to members from all over the UK and to participants with disabilities and caring responsibilities. I particularly enjoyed the participation of a new member with her 6-week-old baby in several of our sessions.

• To all the members who completed our surveys, talked to us about their work, used our advice services or alerted us to issues affecting the sector: Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and involve us in your work. The knowledge that we gain from these engagements is vital to our advocacy work. Knowing the detail and understanding the impact on our members helps us to get the value of your work recognised and to fight your corner. I hope we also managed to solve a few of your problems along the way.

• To the thousands of volunteer board members who support our member companies: Thank you for your dedication and commitment. Boards are the custodians of the values of an organisation. It is the articulation of and adherence to those values that keeps the sector on track through these terrible times. I know it has been particularly hard for boards to find the right way to support and steer their companies through these rocky waters. Well done to those who are managing to navigate successfully and good luck to those who are still struggling to find a way. Don’t forget we are here to help you – board members can and should access ITC’s advice service.

• To our colleagues in the unions – particularly Equity. Thank you for working so cooperatively and constructively with us through these difficult months. Your recognition and appreciation of the great qualities of our independent sector and your powerful advocacy for it have been heartening, helpful and effective. You have enabled the sector to a steer an ethical and creative path through some terrifying challenges.

Amongst this hoard of treasure are the extraordinary acts of ingenuity, practicality, generosity and sheer brilliance of our ITC member companies. From Slung Low’s food bank in Leeds to 20 Stories High Doorstep Theatre in Liverpool. From Bloomin' Buds home art project in Bradford to Wildworks (in Cornwall) support for many of our companies’ outdoor work throughout the UK. For all the companies who created innovative online offerings such as Hijinx and Graeae and much valued participative programmes for isolated communities. You have been an inspiration and proof of the power of independent theatre.

Many of our companies have taken this opportunity to do valuable strategic work benefitting the whole sector. Fuel initiated the Freelance Task Force. Responding to the enormous wave of action, urgency and momentum from the Black Lives Matter Movement, Ballet Black created an important equality resource and set of guidelines for dance companies. High Tide, New Earth and Eclipse developed the Anti-racist Touring Rider. Right across the sector practitioners have been developing their thinking and sharing their wisdom.

Thank you for surviving 2020 and helping your communities through isolation and fear. This sector never stopped working and making work. I am extremely proud of our ITC members. I know that the online world is no substitute for the magic and power of the live and I look forward with impatience to the time when our industry can realise its full potential again.

In 2021 all being well we will see the back of Trump and the virus. We will leave the toxic wilderness behind and find a better way of living building on all that we have learnt. That is my hope…

Wishing you all a much-needed relaxing winter holiday and better times in the year ahead.

With much love