In this first of a three-part series, Andy Yeoh takes a look back over the last year and highlights some of the major developments in the Bristol Improv Theatre organisation. Key to all of this, he argues, is the BIT's community. This article begins by exploring what the BIT is doing to prepare the ground for even more community involvement.
Two things have pushed the question of community to the forefront of my mind this Summer. First, the recent hot and heady July lull, which once again gave way to traditional Fringe madness. Second, the impending Unscripted Players Annual General Meeting, where UP members will elect this year's governing committee.
First things first. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival can always be relied upon to show us where it hurts. Lurking problems tend to surface when half your core audience and two-thirds of your colleagues vanish to another country for three weeks. Whether that country be Scotland or somewhere warmer (also known as anywhere-that-isn't-Scotland). During last year's #EdFringe, we learned that the BIT needed a mission to guide the organisation.
This year we learned we needed an organisation to deliver the mission.
As for the latter, UP's membership has basically doubled since this time last year and their most recent show, the Big July Show, saw two original formats produced out of nothing but the clay of Players' eager imaginations. The show was, on all accounts, a roaring success and the run included some of the BIT's first ever matinee performances, giving the whole showing a wonderful fringe-festival feel of its own (suck on that, Edinburgh).
In light of both of these (especially the first one), the BIT's recent, major restructure is an attempt to clear the air, shake the tree and various other metaphors that basically amount to the same thing: making sure everybody knows who gets the final say and on what.
As a consequence of that restructure, we are excited to have, for the first time, an Artistic Director, Caitlin Campbell, who will be charting our course amongst the stars (and future stars) of the Bristol theatre world. She is joined by Stephen Clements, the BITs new commercial Director, who is tasked with bringing process, professionalism and (above all) long-term sustainability to the BIT, given that it is an organisation, ultimately, with bills to pay.
As for me, while I shall be remaining on the Board of Directors, as a non-executive member, I have parted ways with the day-to-day running of the theatre and the associate roles there-in; development of the building and those incorrigible toilet rolls. Newly-confirmed Operational Manager, Mike Cook, is now captain of the ship, with two hands firmly on the tiller. My role will now be to hold the executive Directors to account, and begin to look beyond the BIT, to our friends, neighbours and of course, our community.
And how does all this affect the community? It's right there in those titles: Direction.
From the Bristol Improv Marathon to the new Local Heroes nights, through the expansion of the BIT's production wing and explosion of its external workshops programme – many of the highlights of the BIT's 2017/18 calendar have been focused on bringing the ever-increasing skills and experience of our community (performers, teachers, audiences and supporters) together to make things.
This push was thanks to the offerings from last year's BIT Community Summit. The summit was focused on two questions: Who are our community and what do they need?
As it turns out, for many in the community, yes the BIT remains a home-away-from-home and place to come to play at the end of the day. It's also becoming something more – a resource to utilise for aspiring artists, a bastion in defence of the standards of behaviour we all wish to live by and a place for improvisers to find each other and make collaborative art.
As these functions mature, the Board of Directors will be (and have been) increasingly called on to provide opportunities to those who wish to engage with the BIT and its work and also to safeguard those who choose to do so.
So how will we achieve this? Well, Remember the mission I mentioned earlier? It all starts there.
Many readers will be aware of the BIT's mission, vision and values, which coalesced in the afterglow of that Community Summit. In this short series of articles, of which this is the first, I hope to explore the concepts of mission, vision and values more, explain how they were authored and how the Directors are using them to build the next version of the Bristol Improv Theatre.
Watch out Bristol. Here comes BIT 2.0!
While we're speaking about of community, thanks to the recent campaigning efforts by community group Co-Exist we have recently learned about the threat from developers to the vibrant community hub of Hamilton House, in Bristol's Stokes Croft area.
As a fellow community-led, not-for-profit arts organisation, and a long-time user of Hamilton House for our Discovering Improv classes, the BIT firmly believes that Bristol must remain an accessible space for community groups, creatives and diverse voices of all kinds. In these turbulent times, we believe that it is the connection to each other, as artists, Bristolians and human beings, that will ultimately light the way.
Beyond politics and economics, we call on all reader of this blog to please join us at the Public Demonstration, outside Hamilton house, scheduled for Wednesday 26th September at 5:30pm. Please demonstrate your wish to have Hamilton House remain a part of our community and also your support of the work, value and community good that Co-Exist brings to this city. #savehamiltonhouse