The decibel performing arts showcase took place in Manchester in May of this year, explains Colin Beesting. It was the result of a partnership between decibel, an Arts Council England project to promote cultural diversity in the arts, and x.trax (see p9), an organisation with a long history of staging showcases.
Many of those in a position to programme performing arts by Black and Asian companies simply didn’t know about the work or get a chance to see it. During the showcase, which took place over four days at venues around Manchester, producing companies and programmers all came together to exchange information and see live events. We were aware that much of the work we wanted to put in front of programmers during the showcase period may not actually have been in production at that time. To tackle this, much of the budget for the showcase was committed to enabling companies to re-stage their work.
The showcase was widely promoted and more than 150 companies applied to present their work, with artforms spanning from serious drama through to opera, poetry and live art. This encouraging response was narrowed down to 44 pieces that made up the final programme – 16 more than had been intended originally. The criteria for selection were clear: the work should be available for touring in future, it should be of a professional standard and it should be financially viable. It also had to be suitable for staging in one of the showcase venues which included studio spaces, traditional proscenium arch theatres and a series of outdoor spaces.
Almost 500 delegates registered for the showcase – an overwhelming response justifying our initial hunch that an event like this was long overdue. The proximity of the venues in Manchester and the creation of a Festival Centre at Manchester Town Hall added to the atmosphere that was created by bringing so many practitioners together. Subsequent evaluation has indicated that programmers welcomed the opportunity to see such a wealth of work in a short period of time. Many reported their surprise at the range and quality of what was available. Furthermore, companies who had previously experienced difficulty in getting programmers to preview their work had the opportunity to reach a large section of their target audience very easily. The medium-term evaluation is already showing increased bookings by the companies who showcased, giving audiences around the country the opportunity to enjoy the creativity of culturally diverse artists in the UK.
Colin Beesting is Communications Manager of decibel at Arts Council England.
t: 020 7973 5290; f: 020 7973 6833;
w: http://www.decibel-db.org. Arts Council England has already committed to repeating the decibel showcase in 2005.