Interview: Matthew Gabrielli on the future of Theatre ⋆ Supporting Your Art
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Interview: Matthew Gabrielli on the future of Theatre

Much like Jess Jewell who was interviewed in our last blog post, Matthew Gabrielli appeared on the Project Headphones Saturday live show. He spoke about his time throughout lockdown and how people could help. He spoke passionately about Theatre, how it fits into our lives, what the art form could be doing better and many other things. His insight is so useful and I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did! Make sure you read to the end to find some simple things you can do to support the sector in this difficult time.

What kind of work do you do?

I’m a playwright, I describe my work as ‘telling tales & having adventures’ I’m interested in speculative fiction, weird tales and mythology. I love these genres because they’re big populace dramas driven by ideas, they’re a great place to explore socio-political themes with a wide audience. I’m a neurodiverse theatre maker and the way this impacts on my life and creative practice is also something I’m beginning to openly explore in my work. I want people to be entertained, I believe theatre should be a good night out.

As well as my own creative practice I work as the Fundraising & Marketing Coordinator for Birmingham based Women & Theatre, who make deep work about things that matter, we aim to reflect the language and lives of ordinary people.

How have you been affected by the lockdown?

2020 was going to be a really exciting year for my own practice, I had two interesting projects confirmed and a third one which was high likely to happen. Obviously due to the lockdown, they’re not happening now, luckily all the partners are still really keen for them to happen so they’ve been postponed until 2021. Luckily my part-time job with Women & Theatre has continued working remotely as we are delivering a number of online projects, so financially I haven’t taken the same hit as many freelancers have.

But obviously there’s a huge amount of anxiety in the industry about the future of theatre. In reality social distancing in theatre isn’t going to work financially, so they are most likely not going to open until 2021 – there needs to be a serious investment from the Government (and I say investment not bailout because in the long run the culture sector gives more to the Treasury than it takes) if it is to survive.

What has been the most frustrating part of this lockdown?

There’s the obvious frustrations everyone is feeling at the moment, unable to leave the house, see friends and family. A lot of my close friends turned 30 this year and invited to a number of weddings etc, so there’s been a lot weekend trips that have been cancelled. There’s also the frustrations and stress of trying to work remotely, I think I’ve finally been able to find a good way to work, but I do suffer really badly from zoom fatigue and miss being able to talk about projects more casually over cups of coffee, and a change of scenery is always helpful.   And of course the frustration of projects being cancelled.

Have there been any upsides? (for example: You mentioned having time to look at the structure of the theatre sector – a review of what stories are being told, how we can all do things better)

One upside has been I’ve been in a number of online discussions with venues and practitioners about how we can restructure the sector, looking at what stories are being told and by who, there’s also been a lot reflection about how venues can support independent artists better. 75% of the sector are self-employed, who have been completely let down by the government.

I’m also setting up the Neurodiverse West Midlands Theatre Network, for theatre artists in the region who identify as ND. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while but lockdown gave me the time and headspace to think about what I want that to be. The network is an informal place to discuss obstacles, opportunities and to create positive change in the region’s theatre making community.

How do you see the theatre sector changing as a result of this?

So, I have a utopic vision of what I would want theatre to be; I’d like there to be more salaried artists in buildings. More diversity in who those artists are both in terms of identity and in terms of practice. I’d like to see more work captured and shared online as I think it’s a really exciting way to build new audiences. I’d like to see smaller work taking place in non-theatre spaces, more work in village halls, community centres, cafes, pubs, etc – people shouldn’t go to the theatre, theatre should come to them. I’d like to see makers of all levels engaging more with their community, I think we have a very limited view on what community theatre is and I hope in the coming years we think about this more creatively.

I want Neurodiverse creatives to be more organised and create spaces for ourselves in the industry and be more visible. I’d like to see more democracy in the industry. What I’m talking about would require an increase in funding and for people in position of authority to give up some of their own power, so I’m not sure it will turn out like that, but that’s how I’m going to be trying to change the industry.

What can people do right now to support theatre?

I think there are three things people can do whilst we are in lockdown

  1. Write to your MP and ask them to lobby the government into committing investment into the industry to protect it, take the time to tell them why the theatre matters to you.
  2. Watch Digital Theatre loads of stuff is now available online, National Theatre, The Globe and Pentabus have all put recordings of previous shows on YouTube. Check out The Space who support arts organisations make digital projects – they have a host of really exciting stuff. Search ‘Performance Live’ and ‘Culture in Quarantine’ on BBC iplayer.
  3. Obviously selling tickets is a huge part of how theatres make money and survive, currently that income doesn’t exist. So if you can afford to donate to your local theatre, please do. Or consider giving to any of the freelance support funds that appeared. If there’s a company or venue you really like, have a look at their social media and see what they’re doing at this time and what you can do to help.

What can people do as things begin to open up?

Take a chance on something new, when your local theatre opens have a look at their programme, don’t just look at the big names you already know, take a risk on an emerging artists and companies, who knows you might be the first to see the next big thing.

Do you have anything else you would like to add that I have missed?

Theatre is one of the oldest art forms we have, it’s a communal experience, where strangers meet in one space and watch other strangers pretend to be imaginary people, they walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It’s a collective experience that requires us to see things from someone else point of view. It is the art of empathy, we’re constantly told how divided we are at the moment, so there’s something important about coming together. Theatre will survive this crisis as an artform, right now we need to make sure that everyone working in it still has a job at the end of lockdown. Otherwise the only people who will be able to afford to make theatre are those at the very top of society.

Do you have anything you would like to plug?

The Women & Theatre Podcast

Women & Theatre has taken an exciting leap to widen access to its work, with the release of its new podcast series and book featuring monologues from productions For the Past 30 Years, Starting Out and Prime Time. This unique and important body of work, developed from research from local women, presents the experiences of young women, retired women, and those who have seen massive changes in their sectors over the last 35 years.

– You can subscribe to the podcast for free via Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts from, or listen via W&T website Remember rating and reviewing the podcast helps us find new audiences.
– For my own work you can follow me on Twitter @Mr_Gabrielli or check out my medium blog Expect Typos

Thank you so much to Matt for talking to me at this time and sharing all of his thoughts. I have created a list of actions based on Matts advice that you can see below, including some resources that can help you do that.

Things you can do:

  1. Write to your MP expressing your concern about the challenges now facing the creative industry. Find a template we have created here that can help you – MP_Template_Letter – You can use that as a launching off point, however the more personal you can make the letter, the better! You can find out who your MP is over at They Work For You.
  2. Take a chance on something new – when your local theatre or venue re-opens take a chance on something new. Of course if you see something you would love to see buy tickets for that too!
  3. Watch theatre that is available online. As Matt said – “National Theatre, The Globe and Pentabus have all put recordings of previous shows on YouTube. Check out The Space who support arts organisations make digital projects – they have a host of really exciting stuff. Search ‘Performance Live’ and ‘Culture in Quarantine’ on BBC iplayer” – that should keep you busy!
  4. Donate to your local theatre or local arts organisations. If there’s a company or venue you really like, have a look at their social media and see what they’re doing at this time and what you can do to help.