Catherine Love explains why giving emerging artists no-strings-attached support is so important.
Opportunities, as much in the arts as elsewhere, tend to come with conditions. Successfully securing funding for an artistic project often involves a complicated and lengthy application process, a proven track record and the promise of detailed feedback. This is why no strings attached, a grant scheme run by Farnham Maltings, was set up in 2009 with the intention of simplifying the process.
The aim of the scheme is to enable young theatre-makers living in the south east of England to make their first piece of professional work. It offers grants of between £500 and £1,000 to theatre-makers who have not previously received public funding for the arts. The application process is as straightforward as possible, involving a ten-minute presentation to a panel of arts practitioners and young people. Once grants have been distributed, the initiative is true to its name: provided the money is all spent on making the proposed piece of performance, there are no strings attached.
This scheme gives theatre-makers room to develop in the way that is right for them, with support when they need it
Recipients of the grants also receive advice and guidance from a professional mentor during the process of realising their project. There is even the possibility that relationships established as part of the scheme might lead to future support.
While the grant scheme is open to all young theatre-makers, there are a number of female theatre-makers for whom the opportunity has proved particularly fruitful. Bucket Club’s Eleanor Crouch, for instance, was awarded £1,000 to develop her debut show Lorraine and Alan. Several other recipients have been young women who have gone on to make their mark. Clemmie Reynolds, an English graduate from the University of Bristol, was awarded £1,000 in October 2013. The grant was put towards directing and producing a piece of new writing about the slave trade by Matilda Ibini, a resident writer at Soho Theatre. The resulting show, Muscovado, premiered at Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common during Black History Month in October 2014, has since received Grants for the Arts funding from Arts Council England to develop it further.
Another recipient in the October 2013 round was writer Isley Lynn, who was awarded £1,000 to work with choreographer Madeline Shann to explore how theatre and dance vocabularies might intertwine in a new project. Their cross-disciplinary show DUST went on to receive an IdeasTap Ideas Fund Innovators Award to support its future development.
Towards the end of last year, University of Kent graduates White Slate Theatre were the recipients of a £1,000 grant to develop a piece of new writing about a photographer and his subject, exploring perception and reality. The money was put specifically towards developing the design of the piece, allowing the company to employ a photographer and set designer. Captured, created through the director/playwright collaboration of Suzanna Ward and Jenna May Hobbs, premiered at Aphra Studio Theatre in Canterbury and will be going to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.
One of the ways in which the scheme has grown its ambitions is through a partnership with Unlimited to support young disabled theatre-makers. One of the first theatre-makers to benefit from this partnership was Hannah Sampson, who has been awarded £1,000 to fund her involvement in the Young Creatives Programme at DanceDigital and create her first piece of choreography. This collaboration is set to continue, offering more disabled theatre-makers the support they need to realise their professional ambitions.
Although there are numerous schemes to support young theatre-makers, many of these have a narrow and potentially limiting focus. This scheme gives theatre-makers room to develop in the way that is right for them, with support when they need it, and this is what it will continue to do for theatre-makers at the beginning of their careers.
Catherine Love is associate journalist with Farnham Maltings.