Adam Hemming, Artistic Director of The Space writes about his approach to theatre’s current challenges, including continuing to support and champion new and emerging writers.

The Space, our converted chapel on the Isle of Dogs, has long been a ‘go-to place’ for emerging artists. Our open-door policy and financial model have always been aimed at supporting risk-takers and first-timers. The way we structure our deals, programme our seasons, read plays, and support and encourage new writers and other theatre-makers are all geared towards encouraging bold risk takers and engagement with audiences. Success can be measured in different ways but for me, it’s about having as few regrets at the end of a production as possible. 

This is probably because, like many theatre makers, I was supported by an inspirational teacher early on in my career. “Remember, Adam,” she’d say, “better a spectacular failure than a safe success.” It’s a lesson that has stayed with me. 

Having to close initially challenged this idea. Should we be conservative and risk-averse? Use our back catalogue? Save our precious resources? None of this sat well with me. One of the reasons I’ve stayed so long as Artistic Director at the Space is the infectious energy of bold, emerging theatre-makers, coming up with new ideas, creating new discussions and, certainly more prevalent in recent years, railing against the injustices of the world we live in. Theatre-makers, playwrights especially, are coming from more diverse, politicised communities than they were 15-20 years ago. They have strong voices and are keen to question and challenge the status quo and determined to be heard.  

We’ve always found ways to be creative and make theatre despite the obstacles or challenges – including a lack of money. We are used to the business demands of running a venue with a small team.  Lockdown is definitely the biggest challenge we’ve had to face, not just the difficulties in creating work whilst in isolation, or the health and economic worries of so many, but the uncertainty of when and how live theatre will resume. I, and the whole team at The Space, reflected on our past experiences to give us resolve but for more emerging theatre-makers, the current barriers to creating work can feel overwhelming, crushing, like the end of the world.  

Our Locked Down, Looking Up programme is designed to support as many theatre-makers – including playwrights – as possible and importantly, we haven’t just asked for new writing to showcase actors’ or directors’ work.  Over the course of the Arts Council funded project, we are engaging in script development readings of work in progress and commissioning new work.

The new work is for 2.0 Fest, our festival exploring online performance to be showcased over Zoom at the end of July. We’re excited about the possibilities and determined to show what can still be done within today’s tight constraints. We are hopeful that the playwrights we work with will come out of this stronger and more creative, and able to reach more people than they could before. Their reaction so far has been fantastic, as has the reaction from our audiences, the other theatre-makers we work with and the wider industry – we’ve had some exceptional new work shared already.

We must support all our emerging theatre-makers equally. New writing can often be a resource to support others by providing performance opportunities.  At The Space, we view writing as important to the long-term future of our industry.  Emerging writers are at the heart of what we do.  Now, more than ever, we are encouraging playwrights to continue creating, learning and growing from their experiences.  During the lockdown, we’ve been trying new ideas and ways of working. We’re taking our writers with us. They, and the rest of the theatre community, will all be stronger for it.