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 Unscripted Players, the company'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 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.
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.
And now, with the changes in direction, structure and strategy, the BIT is ready to apply those principals of collaboration to itself as an organisation.
Finding our feet was just the beginning. Watch out Bristol. Here comes BIT 2.0!
Article by Andy Yeoh, Community Manager
Photo Credits: Lee Pullen