This weekend we Filskit ladies traded our lie-ins and lazy afternoons for a full two days of theatre talk at Devoted and Disgruntled 7 hosted by Improbable. As many of you will know, the umbrella topic for the annual D&D is “What are we going to do about theatre?” Improbable then uses what is called “open space technology” to enable participants to host discussions on more specific matters.

For two out of the three Filskit ladies this was our first large-scale D&D event. Over the two days we each entered a number of discussions, felt a whole range of emotions and drank buckets of tea! Here are our thoughts on the event and that all-encompassing question: “What are we going to do about theatre?”

Before we could get down to business we had to know what issues or problems we would be solving. As participants filtered into the centre of the circle to write their punchy conversation starters or pleas for a shoulder rub, it became apparent that some of the more seasoned D&D goers were suffering some déjà vu. With a large screen broadcasting the live twitter feed to follow throughout the day using the #DandD7 hashtag, comments such as “At State of the Arts @andytfield said we weren’t asking the right questions… Are we asking them in the space now? A lot seem to pop up again & again,” tweeted @HonourBayes. This got us to thinking, why aren’t these common issues being solved? Is it that the questions we are asking aren’t provoking the right discussions to solve them? Are we too comfortable indulging in a good moan? Or is there no solution at all?

Over the course of the weekend we all went from devoted to disgruntled to amused to wanting to cause physical harm! For me, the best sessions were those in which the participants were united in the quest to find an answer.

The highlight of my weekend was the session “Can the Professional and Fringe worlds play nice?” The combination of different participants and their expertise meant that a real dialogue was opened about what professional arts organisations and venues can do to support young artists at the start of their career. This conversation between graduates, writers, artistic directors and theatre company members could not have happened if it weren’t for forums such as D&D, where the floor is a level playing field and everyone’s opinion matters.

Unfortunately we found that sessions such as the aforementioned were few and far between. Being able to vote with our feet, more often than not we left sessions early for one reason or another using the ‘openness’ of open space to move to an area where time may be better spent – this could even be outside in the sunshine or by the refreshments over a much needed cup of tea. The most frustrating session was one in which the art of listening and conversing seemed to be completely forgotten, one closed question was regurgitated continuously despite having been answered numerous times by different people in a variety of ways. My frustration at this caused me to leave the session, but then my passion on the topic brought me back, only to discover that the broken record was still going round – so I left again feeling 100% disgruntled.

So what is it that makes open debate work? It seems that the ‘success’ of a session is down to a number of factors. First and foremost, the person heading the session, which is the very same person who asked the question, needs to want to find an answer. We need to be openly looking for solutions through conversation. Secondly, the term ‘conversation’ is key for a successful event. It is important that participants are willing to input, to be provoked, to be inspired and, most importantly, to listen. Ideally, (if people do actually join your session) it should be a dialogue between two or more people.  When buzzing between discussions, it became clear that in some instances people felt unable to contribute, whilst others continued to talk on all sorts of tangents, just to get their point across. Neither of these comments is a criticism, as I believe I played both parts at different times, but the conversations always worked best when there were varied opinions that were able to listen to each other – even if they couldn’t agree!

In spite of the rising frustration, and the discovery that there is not always a simple solution that will be found over the course of a weekend, we do believe that D&D is valuable. Even if it does not claim to have the answers, at least it is offering the forum to allow the questions to be asked. Equally, in the true sense of the open space technology, we are in control of what happens. So next year we shall have to take it upon ourselves to step forward in the space, pick up a pen, ask the questions we want answering and host our own sessions. Because when it comes to solving problems within the world of theatre and the performing arts, we each have to see what we can do, not just look to others and complain about what they are not doing. If anything, it has reminded us that we are certainly not alone in this mad and varied world of theatre. You are really encouraged to take stock of the bigger (theatrical) picture through the range of issues. It can inspire you to evaluate and reflect on your own situation as well as others’s by immersing yourself in a room full of diverse individuals, united by their love of and frustration for theatre. D&D has the potential to galvanise you into action, which can only be a positive thing – and overall it was clear proof that the disgruntledness and devotion felt is most certainly alive and kicking.