Friday, 20 November 2009

Why the Octagon Theatre, Bolton?

It was fascinating to hear about David Thacker’s journey taking him to his present position as Artistic Director of the Octagon, the challenges of programming for this bastion of regional theatre and his hopes for the venue.

He expressed his impatience to increase his audiences and was keen to take on board any comments and suggestions from members as to perceptions of the Octagon and how the venue could attract higher attendance rates. All manner of issues were raised, such as transport links and also whether capacity should be measured by seats or whether this may sometimes create unrealistic expectations and pressures.

David also talked about his programme Bolt On, which links into the performance offer, providing workshop and practical learning opportunities for new directors and writers. His belief that regional artists can and do produce work of the highest quality and his passion for producing ‘great work’ for local audiences came across loud and clear and it was warming to hear him speak on this.

It would be interesting to hear your views as to whether we are unrealistic in forever seeking to increase our audiences – might there be a finite number of people who will come to the theatre? Why don’t more people engage with the theatre? Is all this effort, energy and funding put towards marketing to reach new audiences actually effective? How could regional theatres like the Octagon develop and retain their audiences? Are regional audiences any different to London audiences in their taste, willingness to engage with their theatre venues? What do you think?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Portfolio Careers in Theatre

Well, I can’t walk round the Co-op now without smirking at the voice piped over the speakers promoting British apples and warmly (if a little smugly) advising us to join her in shopping ethically. We all enjoyed the discussion with Martine Dunn – voice of Co-op and much more – and we even had a go at using the powers of persuasion on each other!

Certain members of the group I think discovered hidden talents and it was very fascinating to learn of the spectrum of opportunities for Voice Over Artists or Voice Artists. There were also some interesting discussions around accents and whether or not they were fashionable or advantageous.

If anyone is interested in finding out more or needs mentoring, 1:1 or career advice in any area of voice work, contact us and we will pass on Martine’s details!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Meet the New Director

Our September Creative Conversation was a chance to meet the new Director of PANDA, Anne-Marie Crowther. Here's what she has to say...

It was great to spend some time getting to know some PANDA members on Tuesday, when we looked at career paths and drew from personal experiences elements that might assist others in their own journey. Some extremely interesting common themes started to emerge and I will be using these to inform PANDA’s programme of professional development support. It is vital that PANDA represents all its members, so please continue to send in your views, issues and ideas and we will do our best to make your wishes come true!

On the subject of sending in your ideas, we still need you to suggest themes and even speakers for future Creative Conversations, so if you have heard of, or know anyone you would like us to invite, you only have to tell us!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Strategic Thinking

Hello folks,

The August Creative Conversation marked the official handover of faciliating duties from Acting PANDA Manager, Julia Turpin, to new PANDA Director, Anne-Marie Crowther. From September onwards, Anne-Marie will be running the sessions, though I hope we will also be seeing more of Julia as a participant. On behalf of the Creative Conversations group, I'd like to thank Julia for all her great work on the events series over the last year, not just facilitating but also booking some fantastic speakers for us.

Julia and Anne-Marie haven't sorted out their blogging accounts yet so until then I'll just post their follow ups from the August Creative Conversation here...



Julia says...

Sadly Tuesday's Creative Conversation with Emma Stenning was my last as facilitator for PANDA. I have really enjoyed being part of the Conversations and Emma's session was no exception. Emma's flexible approach to business planning and strategic thinking was really refreshing. I was also reminded of how important it is to be fully aware of the bigger financial picture in running a company, organisation or project and identifying clearly where you want subsidy to go.

If you haven't been to a Creative Conversation before - I really recommend signing up now. They are a really productive way to spend a couple of hours on a Tuesday!

Anne-Marie says...

I really enjoyed my first Creative Conversations on Tuesday. Emma was an engaging guest speaker and gave an interesting insight into the different perspectives gained from festival and venue based producing.

‘To plan or not to plan’ is a question raised in many a current debate and it was good to get Emma’s views on this. It was refreshing to hear someone actually standing firm and arguing that the traditional models of business planning often divert effort and energy away from the flexibility, responsiveness and creative thinking that is so vital – especially in the current economic environment. However, that is not to say we should throw all planning out of the window. Some of the processes involved – for example, discussing and agreeing upon a common vision, is highly valuable in itself.

I look forward to many more stimulating Creative Conversations and hope you will all feedback your own responses, thoughts and reflections together with any suggestions for future themes or speakers!

See you all again soon.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Priority Booking for Creative Conversations Aug - Dec 2009

Apologies for the lack of a blog update after the July Creative Conversation while we were managing the handover between Directors and interim Managers! Please bear with us and we'll be back with an update after the August session. In the meantime, why don't you get signed up for a priority place for the next batch of Creative Conversations...

Members of the pool are invited to book a priority place at the Aug - Dec 2009 Creative Conversations, in partnership with greenroom.

Pay in advance for the next five Creative Conversations to receive priority booking and save £5 on the total price.

After opening up the Creative Conversations programme to the PANDA membership at the beginning of 2009, we now have a healthy pool of 50 individuals who can apply to attend each event. These new contributors have helped keep the programme fresh, bringing new ideas and perspectives into the group.

As we move into the second half of this year's programme, we hope to keep bringing you the quality speakers and thought provoking topics that you have come to expect from Creative Conversations. Check out details of our August event with Emma Stenning at

Wwe would like to offer all members of the pool the opportunity to book in advance for the remaining five sessions of the year, August to December 2009.

Book by Friday 31st July and pay just £35 for the five forthcoming Creative Conversations, a saving of £5 off the total price.

You will also receive priority booking in the event that there is a greater demand for places than capacity allows.

Be quick though, as this offer is only available to the first 15 people to apply!

Once the 15 priority places are filled, the remaining members will stay in the pool of participants and can apply for any available spaces at each Creative Conversation on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please note: Priority members from the last period, Feb - Jul 2009, do not automatically gain a priority place for this forthcoming period, Aug - Dec 2009. Make sure you keep your priorty status by booking now!

To book, contact Rachel on 0161 274 0626 or email to reserve your place, then pay your £35 via PayPal ('Send Money' to or by cash, cheque or balance transfer. Your priority place will not be confirmed until we have received cleared payment.

We look forward to seeing you in August!

Logo of Performing Arts Network & Development Agency (PANDA)

Logo of greenroom, a PANDA Partner organisation.


The priority booking entitles the named member to one priority place at each Creative Conversation, Aug - Dec 2009.

No refund will be provided if a priority place is not taken up.

Priority places can be assigned to another person from the named member's organisation with prior notice, provided that they are also a full PANDA member and have been accepted into the pool of participants.

If more than one place is required at each Creative Conversation, the additional people will not receive priority booking but are welcome to apply through the pool in the usual way.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Creative Producing

Acting PANDA Director, Julia Turpin, led our June Creative Conversation on Creative Producing. Here's what she had to say about the event...

I really enjoyed listening to both the panel and the audience at the last Creative Conversation session at greenroom. What struck me was the sense of the range of skills that are needed to be a successful producer. Some of the key requirements of the job often overlooked are the ability to pitch an idea effectively and convincingly and to look after everybody at all stages of development and delivery. I particularly liked Richard's idea about banking ideas somewhere until the opportunity arises to develop it further as well as having the solutions to the problems funders need to solve. Debra's notion of allowing doubt into the producing process also struck a chord with me - I look forward to hearing more about her project in Genoa!

With the wealth of talent and resources in the room, I look forward to hearing more about everyone's projects as they develop. It would be great to hear what you gained from the session and what support do you think emerging producers would benefit from most in the region?

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Programing / Curating

Hot from our Creative Conversation with Matt Fenton, programmer / curator of the Nuffield Theatre in Lancaster University. An intimate meeting, I found it completely rewarding to have such a focus on different styles of programming. We discussed whether programming can be classed as an art form, and the different ways Nuffield has opened up its programming procedures this last year.
Here's some of what Matt had to say:
"I suppose I’m interested in having a conversation between artists and myself as a programmer, and maybe people that are interested in the fields of curating, programming, running festivals, animating spaces and so on. I’m interested in exploring what gives someone the right to decide what to commission or present in a publically funded venue, and how institutional models might be challenged. I’m interested in exploring issues of the public realm, arts subsidy, identity, access and diversity in a critical way. Above all I’m interested in how artists are their own first and most important curators."
Programming as art? Any thoughts? Go on, post a comment, click that button below!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Working internationally

April's Creative Conversation featured Sabrina Smith-Noble from Visiting Arts, who joined our discussion on how to develop international partnerships for your work.

Sabrina gave a short presentation on Visiting Arts' work - their purpose is to strengthen intercultural understanding through the arts by creating opportunities for artists to explore new connections and expand the skills and knowledge of new and existing cultural players for a diverse and sustainable arts environment.
It was exciting to hear about the different schemes that are available, and I am amazed that so few performing arts practitioners have taken up the opportunities of working with international artists, developing residencies, or just accessing the funding to pay for international artists to come over and 'play' with a UK artist for a week. As soon as I got back to the office I went straight to their website to sign up for their E-newsletter so that I am among the first to hear about new opportunities as soon as they become available, and I suggest you do the same.

Sabrina said “As we’re continually reflecting on our programmes to facilitate the needs of the UK cultural sector in engaging internationally; I’d like to take the opportunity to explore how appropriate our current programmes are in creating opportunities for the performing arts sector. " True to her word, the Conversation was quickly opened up to ask participants what they felt would be useful for them within the performing arts sector, as artists and directors, and I know that Sabrina took our comments and feedback away with her to her team. Watch this space to find out how many wonderful new international partnerships blossom as a result of people hearing about the work of Visiting Arts and making their own plans for improving inter-cultural relations!

Next month the Creative Conversation theme is Innovative Programming with guest Matt Fenton from the Nuffield Theatre at Lancaster University, who has given over the programming of the venue to local artists or residents a couple of times, so it will be interesting to hear how he and his audiences feel after that brave move! May will also be my last Creative Conversation as Director of PANDA, so an emotional one for me. I'll have to make sure that we get extra special Pain-au-chocolat to keep me chirpy and chipper. See you there!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Theatre without walls

March's Creative Conversation yesterday was our most well attended yet. I'd like to attribute this to the strong coffee and mouth-watering pastries but suspect that our guest 'conversationalist' might have had something to do with it. Neil Murray, Executive Producer at National Theatre Scotland came down from Glasgow to talk about the history, the future, the good times (and the bad) at NTS.

The Conversation began with a general discussion on what 'theatre without walls' could and should be, ranging from the love-it-or-hate-it outdoor spectacular of La Machine's Spider to the intimacy of Janet Cardiff's audio walks. A range of performance preferences were shared but people came back together to agree that 'theatre without walls' means more than outdoor spectacle. Conversation became even more animated as we started talking about breaking through barriers, challenging preconceptions of what theatre can be and the effect it can have.

A good cue for Neil to come in with a fascinating insight into how NTS was set up, enthusaistically talking us through the many highlights of the company's existence, having created a staggering 59 productions in the first two years! Neil was refreshingly candid and I know that everyone present really welcomed hearing about what didn't work so well, and the lessons NTS had learned as a result. I know I'm not alone in prefering to learn from other people's mistakes more than my own!

As ever, the conversation could have gone on well into the afternoon, but we had to stop before 'brunch' turned into 'afternoon tea'. Til next time then... when we have Sabrina Smith Nobel, Arts Officer from Visiting Arts who will come and give us a perspective on working internationally (Tuesday 7th April greenroom, Manchester).

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Our First Creative Conversation

Last year we at PANDA piloted a series of 'brunches' aimed at more established performing arts practitioners in the North West and giving them the opportunity to get together, share views and experiences on various topics and be inspired by our range of illuminating guests. This worked so well that we have now launched Creative Conversations which have an open application process.

Our first Creative Conversation was on
3rd February, featuring guest Marcus Romer, Artistic Director of Pilot Theatre who came to join the conversation about blogs, podcasts and wikis (seductively titled 'weapons of mass collaboration'). This was most appropriate for me, as anyone who knows me will know I am a very reluctant social networker, preferring to do my communication face-to-face. However, I have been toying with the idea of joining the blogging brigade because (again, as anyone who knows me will verify) I do quite enjoy giving vent to any performing arts related topics that spur me to get my soapbox out. Blogs seem to me like a 21st Century soapbox, and as my bolser wood crate has certainly seen better days in the last century, here I am. And what makes it even better is that you can join in too. I can't wait to start getting comments from you lovely readers - Creative Conversations go 'virtual'.

So you can see why self-confessed enthusiastic amateur Marcus Romer was the perfect guest for February's Creative Conversation. With that much knowledge and enthusiasm for all things social media, how could I help
but be inspired. We skyped, we blogged, we twittered, we wiki'd, we created websites at the touch of a buttton, we even toured Pilot Theatre's Second Life venue; all from the comfort of the greenroom bar! Perhaps the great coffee also played it's part in creating a vibrant couple of hours of conversation, sharings of ideas and some fantastic new ways of thinking (especially from Ben Mellor who provided a case study with his show Voices of Dissent which he created and powered by bicycle!). Whatever the reason, everyone was so fired up that people didn't have time to finish off the immensely tasty croissants and Danish pastries that we'd laid on. Never mind, Rachel and I can always give any left-overs a good home back at PANDA HQ!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Welcome to PANDA's New Blog!

Hello friends and welcome to our exciting new blog.

I'm Liz O'Neill, Director of PANDA, the Performing Arts Network and Development Agency for the North West.

I'll be using this new blog to post updates and reviews of PANDA's work, seek feedback from our members and to spark discussions about the performing arts in general.

Let me know if there are any topics or burning issues that you think need raising and we'll blog it out!

And don't forget to keep an eye on the main PANDA website at, for all the latest performing arts news, events and opportunities from the region.