David Byrne: Founding ‘A Companies’ Theatre

Posted on 24 October 2011 Written by

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.

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A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. RIch Says:

    Exciting stuff.
    The NDT is a place brimming with positive creative thinking and a genuine desire to support small companies with huge ideas. I always have a good time in that building. If you can really support new companies and give a platform to people who know what they are doing then you could make something really amazing.
    As a small company i need venues to offer rehearsal space, a regular slot in the program and an environment where risk is encouraged. I also look for a place where people can talk about the work, get excited about the work and help to improve the work. A devised theatre hub in london is a very exciting prospect. Good luck David.

  2. Katy Costigan Says:

    We at Filskit Theatre have benefitted from the facilities at The New Diorama. It is a great space with a lot to offer.

    As far as our wish list from a building goes…

    Technical rehearsal space – a chance to rehearse with lights and set (this is the hardest thing to get hold of!)

    A mentoring system where you can gain advice on a number of different aspects of running a theatre company – from creative support to legal requirements and funding applications.

    Programmed performances, that can be supported through advertisement through the venue.

    Opportunity to run workshops – whether it is to improve professional practice (or in our case workshops for children and young people)

    Finally to be part of an exciting community that support new ideas and help bring them to fruition.

    I know it is a pretty major wish list… but one day… maybe… if we keep our fingers crossed!

  3. Ami Stidolph Says:

    David you rock!

    In my minimal dealings with NDT, the thing that impresses the most is the care and understanding you guys provide. It doesn’t feel like we have to impress or fight to get you to understand, you reach out and remind us that you were there once too!

    While all the facilities etc as mentioned above are important, I think my main qualm is knowing how to move forward. That is, AllthePigs could keep producing budget-less productions on the fringe forever, but what we really want is to expand and reach out further with our ideas. We lack the knowledge and experience (and funds of course) to know how to find new venues, book tours, market ourselves and attract press; so a venue that will invest in us and advise and guide us to improve would be amazing! We have the ideas and the creativity, we just need a little help with all those other bits!

    Good luck David and all at NDT xxx

  4. Tom Says:

    This is a brilliant article about an even better theatre.

    I’ve worked at NDT twice now and I’ve felt so supported, cared for and most importantly understood. This is so impressive when you consider they are unfunded and compare them with similar sized theatres across London.

    Am I the only one who has the feeling that David is at the start of something really incredible?

    Long may he continue.

  5. Lisa Wells-Turner Says:

    Wow! That was one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever read on the web! Awesome and thank you!

2 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Invisible Focus » David Byrne: Founding ‘A Companies’ Theatre Says:

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  2. An inspiration for young and emerging companies #newdiorama Says:

    [...] New Diorama Theatre today published their manifesto on supporting young and emerging [...]

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