19 April 2017 • Ellen McDougall
The expected and the unexpectedIt’s been a month since I started full time at the Gate as the new Artistic Director. It’s been a huge change – the range of questions and decisions in front of me, the things I’ve learnt about (google calendar, the French tax system, keeping plants alive in an underground office). And in another way, its felt incredibly familiar – I’ve spent some of the happiest times of my career in these four walls, and coming back to lead the brilliant team here has felt more like a return home in many ways. It has been a sometimes delightful, sometimes strange combination of the expected and the unexpected.
I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the highlights:
The incredible talent of a director who sent me one of the hardest plays I’ve ever read, and when we met to talk about it, described her production to me that made it simple, moving, and relevant – and a show I just can’t wait to see – watch this space.
I’ve been inspired by meeting the Arts Officer for RBKC who told me all about the projects happening in our borough including a choir for elderly people who live alone, and an annual arts festival that this year is taking its theme from the Windrush Generation who still have roots here.
A conversation with our Development Assistant, who told me before she came to work with us (3 months ago) she felt theatre was for an overwhelmingly white and middle class audience: in short, she thought of it as something that wasn't for her. Alongside her work in development, we’ve discovered a shared fascination with post-colonial literature, she is writing a play, and reads anything and everything that we might consider producing - her notes are insightful, direct and detailed.
I’ve felt galvanised by conversations with a potential supporter who insisted that I shouldn’t hold back from pitching difficult or risky work because that was exactly the kind of thing she was excited about. And I’ve been given courage by hearing from fellow artists, artistic directors, and producers I admire hugely, about how much they love the Gate, and want to support, collaborate, and share knowledge and resources with us.
It’s been thrillingly exciting talking to international artists – particularly developing a production concept in a combination of broken English and French over Skype with a brilliant director whose work has inspired me for ages.
Planning a workshop on a play that I am fascinated by, and discovering artists who feel similarly about it (including the real life Tim Crouch!!! (whose play, An Oak Tree, was one of the first things I ever saw that made me think I really like theatre)).
Being invited to participate in a panel discussion at The North Wall in Oxford with Stella Duffy, Katherine Soper, April de Angelis, Ella Hickson, and Zoe Cooper and being invigorated by their passion and anger and warmed by their generosity towards the theatre makers in the audience challenging us to help them make their voices heard.
Being just constantly amazed by the passion of our team at the Gate, their original thinking, how much they love our theatre and our audience, and their openness to new ideas and change.
There's a huge amount for us still to do before we open our first season, but to close here, I thought I'd share a line from that play I mentioned above: 'you fellow humans, you'. That's what running a building seems to be about, in addition to grappling with French tax and ailing plants. I can't wait to open our doors for the first season and welcome you all.