Why Help Agent 160?
Agent160 AD, Lisa Parry, writes:
Why Help Agent160?
On facebook, I'm friends with a lot of people who work in theatre. On twitter, I follow a lot of theatre types. They're incredibly active when it comes to social networking. I put this down to a number of reasons: insomnia, the fact a lot work from home, the fact that the industry as such can be quite isolating and social networking extends a feeling of community. I love reading all their updates and posts. They make me laugh a lot.
And then they ask me for money.
If you're friends with or follow anyone in theatre, the chances are, since the recession hit, you've been approached for the odd fiver to fund a show. And you've probably ignored the approach, in the same way you ignore chuggers when out and about. You think the cause is good, but times are tough. Or, actually, you don't think the cause is that great. You think your fiver would be better spent on a cause more worthy than enabling people who tend to wear strange hats do something they enjoy. And that's a perfectly valid opinion. But I want to tell you why Agent 160 is currently after your cash and why it's so desperately needed.
In February, I oversaw the company's launch. We aim to address the fact that currently, using information taken from Sphinx Theatre, just 17 per cent of all produced plays are written by women. Agent 160 doesn't want to address this by moaning, but to help increase this percentage via productions of its members' work. We believe theatre should be reflective of our society and, as such, balanced in terms of gender. We played to warm and packed houses in Cardiff, London and Glasgow. We helped spark a debate in the Guardian. And we also made it clear from the off that our remit would be nationwide with members all over the country.
Partly because we believe there's a real appetite out there for new writing and that people who want to hear more varied voices aren't confined to any one geographical area. One of the joys of the launch was witnessing the response of Scottish audiences to Welsh writing; of a London audience to a play written in a Doric dialect; of all audiences to work by so many women. We held post-show talks in the three cities and explored the low female-penned play production rate. Although every city had specific issues, it quickly became clear that audiences across the country wanted to hear more stories written by women.
And yet, successful though it was, throughout the launch, one topic was lurking in the back of our minds: we're based across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - but we hadn't launched in Northern Ireland. We have a member from Belfast - Vittoria Cafolla - and we wondered whether it would be possible to take the show, or some version of it, over there. And a few months later, thanks to her hard work, it's finally happening at the Queen's Festival, in partnership with Black Box Theatre and Lunchbox Theatre. Six of the launch plays are going on and two of our writers are flying across to run workshops. We're also hosting another question and answer session in a real bid to engage with the Belfast community.
Sadly however it's not completely straightforward. We've secured some funding, but we need more cash. Writers, directors, actors and all people who work in theatre need to eat. We're not trying to buy them venison, but to make sure they can get by on porridge or, failing that, gruel. In the current climate, getting money together for a show is tougher than ever. Arts council cuts mean all theatres and theatre companies are struggling and we're still early on in our existence. We can't attract rich donors like other companies can - we don't yet have the backlog of work or the famous faces in a production to encourage large gifts.
And yet we're ambitious by touring work in this way. We're doing it because we think there's an appetite for it, and because we think it's desperately important.
If 83 per cent of stories you witness are written by men and you're a man, you may start to think women's experiences and stories are less valid given you never see them produced. If you're a woman, you may start to think theatre's not for you. And yet, in our technological age, this is a medium where people can physically come together and imagine, and think 'what if'. And surely we need to think 'what if' now more than ever.
If you can donate a fiver, you'll help us engage with audiences in Belfast, primarily by telling six cracking stories. Click here to find out how and here for more information on the show. You'll get a warm fuzzy glow and our immense gratitude.
a word from one of our writers....
Belfast Agent, Vittoria Cafolla writes:
"I'm proud to be a part of Agent160. I feel there is a real need for this company's existence.I have been talking a lot with theatre people over here, about the insanity that is the 17% figure. (In case this is your first time reading this blog- Only 17% of the work produced in the UK on our stages is by women. Crazy, especially since women make up over half of the theatre going population AND the population as a whole.)
It seems like there might be a bit of a revolution going on.
It feels like people are starting to notice.
Getting this show on the road has been, well interesting to say the least. We were lucky a while ago to get some funding from Belfast City Council. We have been welcomed by the Black Box, and given an amazing amount of in-kind help by them. Belfast Festival at Queen's gave us some money as well. In the meeting I had with the Festival they told me they are very excited by the companies ethos, the writers, the workshop and the panel (see www.blackboxbelfast.com for info) we have set up, (By the way, Hanna from Tinderbox rocks)
We’ve loyal directors, stage hands & soundmen all on board for the love of the idea behind the company, and the great plays that they have to play with. Including work from Ioanna Anderson,Vittoria Cafolla, Clare Duffy, Sarah Grochala, Lisa Parry and Morna Pearson. We put out a casting call and had to add 3 hours of extra slots, as demand for auditions was so high.
And it came to me that we were very lucky to have so much support. I feel like this has been a long time coming, but that it's right. That our time is not only now, but that if we help make a dent in that 17% figure, it'll not only be for us, but for all the new female writers coming up.
We have been fund-raising : At the moment, we are around £500 off our target, with less than a week to go.
Thank you so much to everyone who has added to the pot so far: some of you don't even live in Belfast, or will see the shows. It's incredible. Two of you are anonymous, again, thank you! Its hard to express how grateful we are. We are not quite there yet: we would love if you could support us with even a quid! If you do (I really hope that this doesn't sound patronizing)
I just hope that you realise, that when you donate, you are playing a role in helping us, as a company, to get that 17% figure up. And I'm hoping it gives you the same fuzzy glow and sense of pride, that it gives us.