Before we hang up our stockings for Christmas our heads are hurting as we try to raise funds to reduce our shortfall and answer the Big Questions that will help with our case for reinvestment from the Arts Council as one of their National Portfolio Organisations for 2018-2022 – to help us develop and grow, reach and stretch, engaging audiences far and wide, nationally and internationally – in our quest to change the world one play at a time
- Why are we here?
- Why are we unique?
- Who are we here for?
- If we weren’t here what would the Open Clasp shaped hole in society look like?
- Why are we exceptional?
- Why (assuming they do) do the Arts Council value us?
Thinking about ‘if we weren’t here what would an Open Clasp hole in society look like’, we said it would be like opening a tin of Quality Street and finding it empty, like Christmas without tinsel and The First Noel without a note to sing. It’s coming up to Christmas, so it was in my head, but if you ignore the reference to Nestle, and think back to the excitement and anticipation of opening a tin of Quality Streets, seeing the wrappers, diversity of colours, fillings and experiences, that’s us. Christmas without tinsel, come on! And The First Noel without a note to sing – the song wouldn’t be able to start…
Open Clasp is important, we’re told that….maybe more so than I Daniel Blake, but who would have known about Open Clasp outside the region if Northern Stage hadn’t supported us at the Edinburgh Festival – we wouldn’t have had the reviews (a small women’s theatre company in the North East just doesn’t pull them in). We wouldn’t have been long listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award. We wouldn’t have got four stars in the Scotsman, which made us eligible for the Carol Tambor Bes of Edinburgh Award, and we wouldn’t have won the award and ended up in New York.
In New York we received recognition and validation for the beauty of the theatre presented via the New York Times Critics Pick, but also by experts such as Professor Evan Stark and Professor in Criminology Rosemary Barberet from the John Jay College New York who joined us on stage for post-show discussions. Practitioners, academics and theatre goers circulated information about Open Clasp and Key Change far and wide. There was even a rumour that Michelle Obama was going to come, as well as the Good Wife but a snow storm put a stop to their train (artistic licence).
We were so small and the city was so big, and yet we made such a big impact. We used the same approach we use to making work happen here, we networked, got introduced and made connections. Funders supported us to get over there, a criminologist broke us into a prison, we had sell out audiences and received rave reviews. Stepping out of the region was a huge decision for us to make; supported by our board we held our breath and made the right choice.
Our aim going to Edinburgh was to try and gain national recognition, and never in a million years did we expect to win such a prestigious award. Our win, and our time in New York has opened doors, we’ve just completed our first national tour and it started in the Houses of Parliament at the heart of democracy. We shared a panel with Baroness Corston, and Baroness Doreen Lawrence was in the audience as were many other parliamentarians and policy makers – contributing to the debate about alternatives to prison for women.
During the national tour we had sell out audiences across the breath of the country and standing ovations, for not only the show but the post show discussion.
Over the last 18 years we have been successful in this region, we have had recognition from communities and practitioners alike – and again without these partnerships and collaborations Open Clasp wouldn’t exist. But it was stepping out of the region that made the difference, by reaching up and wide we were able to shine a light on the North East, and the beauty and power of women’s theatre.
Our collaborations with women ensure theatre is made through their lens, the diversity of the women ensures the theatre created reflects society, and through this reflection we can learn and change.
Looking around the corner into the new year and beyond, if we get funds and support we will develop and grow, reach and stretch, engaging audiences far and wide, nationally and internationally – in our quest to change the world one play at a time.