As a Londoner now living in Bristol, Holly Bond knows the pressures of being a theatre-maker in and out of the Capital. Here, she argues the pros and cons of both.
Google ‘leaving London’ and you will be flooded with results of people giving their experiences of moving from the big smoke to the cultural hub of Margate/Bristol/Manchester/Sheffield. The list goes on. Articles such as this one in The Guardian last year, claim London has ‘turned’, the number of millennials leaving having reached a five-year high. Reasons included exorbitant rent, expense of living, and even the gradual erasure of culture, like smaller fringe and queer venues like Madame Jojo’s closing. London can be a smoky beast that lures in the young and creative with its bright lights and boundless opportunity, only for them to be disappointed and poor in a mouldy house share.
It is true that London can often be an unkind city for those who choose to move there in order to pursue a theatrical career. Budding actor friends of mine often find themselves doing four different jobs a week, worried that a full-time job won’t let them have that free time for an audition. It’s very likely that the only people who will be able to live in London in the future are those who were born there, whose parents kept their childhood bedroom (and charge cheaper rent) or are MEGA rich. So, it’s not surprising that many people who are pursuing a creative career want to be somewhere cheaper. But everything is a risk. Leaving London is to leave the opportunity and remaining is to carry on spending and losing money. As a Londoner who has moved to lovely Bristol, I can certainly argue for living outside the big smoke and making theatre.
There’s lots going on outside of London if you’re a working/ aspiring creative or just lover of culture but the ‘regions’ obviously do not get the lions share they should. A night in London may see one hundred plays to queue up and get a return ticket for, whereas there will be less everywhere else. This is something that worried me moving away, and yes, I am frustrated that I can’t see something great at The Royal Court at a moment’s notice, but even in London you can’t see everything that’s on – you’d just be broke. Now in Bristol, I feel less stressed about seeing the latest show, and instead can focus more on seeing work in smaller venues and find new, interesting companies.
With opportunities often it’s a similar issue. Sometimes an email pops up on my phone that reads ‘Incredible director doing an amazing workshop and its free!’ I get excited and upon opening it, see it’s in London. Obviously, this is annoying. However, I have done a lot more theatre related workshops than I thought I would, moving out of London. The JMK Trust really do A LOT for directors everywhere, and I have managed to do all the workshops provided near me because they are free! All the other workshops I have done here have also had much less demand and no waiting list – even one that was with the Artistic Director of a theatre. In London it can be a bit harder to get an Artistic Director to a workshop, let alone get a ticket in time before they all go.
As a theatre maker, I have truly felt that it is easier to make work outside of London. A big factor is that space is cheaper, so rehearsing without getting kicked out a room halfway through is possible. Despite only living in Bristol two months, I feel like I have connected with a lot of theatre people, which can be harder to do in London. A smaller city can have a smaller melting pot within which to interact and connect. Yes, if you want to be programmed at a London venue, other artists may be reluctant to make a trip to see your show if it’s beyond their oyster card limit but on the plus-side, being somewhere like Bristol means it’s easier to support each other’s work and form a relationship with artists at the same level as you.
For anyone making theatre considering a move from London, I would say go for it. Living cheaper makes it easier to be creative as you can be more active in finding new work and connect with great people. That is not to say that if you have just moved to London you will have a horrible time. London is incredible, diverse and very creative. There is so much in the Capital for young theatre-makers, such as free ticket schemes, free workshops and group meet-ups. For female and non-binary theatre makers, Facebook pages like Bossy make a city of over 10 million a bit more manageable and friendlier. London isn’t not for everyone but theatre is universal, so pursuing it anywhere you want should be more common, and it IS everywhere if you look for it.