David Byrne: Founding ‘A Companies’ Theatre

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First, a small introduction. My name is David Byrne, I’m 27, and I’m the Artistic and Executive Director of New Diorama Theatre (NDT), an 80 seat space in Central London.

I got two bits of good news this morning: firstly, that NDT has been nominated for a Peter Brook Award alongside one of our associate companies, the faction theatre co. The second piece of good news iss that, due to a donation from one of our supporters, we are able to host fantastic young company Idle Motion in early 2012 before it heads off on its UK tour. The fact that we’re supporting and really helping these two great young theatre companies is great, but, for me, it is just the start.

NDT opened just over a year ago with the mission to be the first theatre to really dedicate its main energy and focus on supporting young theatre companies. Most small spaces, especially in London, have an artistic policy that aims to serve an individual artist, such as the many new writing theatres.  Young theatre companies (the Kneehighs and Complicites of tomorrow) tend to end up in spaces with no set agenda and can often get lost in the crowd.

This is just one problem young companies face: there are no spaces dedicated to helping them  and mentoring them in deciding what to do next and how to survive as a group. Other problems include the fact that there are few kick-start funds available for these budding organisations. Outside the arts councils, which are mostly there for more developed groups, there are no regular pots of capital being offered. When you consider the number of catalyst funding opportunities and profile-bestowing prizes there are for new writers, directors and designers, I think it’s time we did something about it.

In my humble, and as you’ll realise by now, rather biased opinion, most of the best emerging work over the past few years has been from groups of artists creating work together over a sustained period: RashDash, NightLight, Dancing Brick, The Plasticine Men, Little Bulb, 1927, Analogue, Coney and youneedme, to name just a few.

Our first year at NDT was terrific. We had far more people attend than we’d expected, subsidised incoming artists through small amounts of fundraising, got press from all the national papers and won a Peter Brook Award for “creating a London home for ensemble companies”. The pressure is on now to really up our game. I’m writing this article to ask for your help. I want these, our second, third and fourth years, to be where we really start being interesting. Over the next month I’m going to compose the first ever manifesto for a ‘Companies Theatre’, and I want your input. If you are a young theatre company, from anywhere in the country, I want to hear from you. I want to hear what you’re finding hard, what you need help with and what you’d want in a building designed to function with you in mind and support you and your work. What would make the world of difference? Think big.

If you’re a marketing bod, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can help these companies build an audience. We all know how the new writing theatres market themselves – how can we make it work for groups? Whenever you’re doing something new, the hardest thing is communicating the essence of your ideas. If you’ve got some thoughts I’d love to hear from you: if you’re in London I’d love to bring you in for a coffee. If you’re based regionally, well, I’ll have to post the drink to you. Either way, let’s talk. And if you’re just a spectator to the theatre scene, I’d love to hear from you too.

If this mission is going to work I’m going to need support, ideas and energy from as many people as possible. Between the developmental scratches of BAC and the seemingly impenetrable walls of the mighty Barbican centre, there is the need for a new building. Let’s build it together.

Contact me on: david@newdiorama.com