Dancehall, a Cast and Right Up Our Street Production, 2015. Photo: James Mulkeen.

Founded in

2012

Previous Director

Kully Thiarai

Since 2013, currently recruiting for her replacement

Cast logo

Profile

Cast is a purpose built theatre venue in the centre of Doncaster which opened in September 2013. The flagship building of the new Civic and Cultural Quarter (CCQ) development is run by the autonomous charity that is Doncaster Performance Venue (also known as and trading as Cast).

The building comprises a 620-seat lyric theatre with fly tower, a 152 seat flexible-use black box studio, two making spaces (Dance and Drama) and two linked Meeting Rooms.

The artistic programme relies mainly on touring product and local amateur hires though Cast produces its own in-house pantomime and, owing to a three-year funding stream, was able to produce three mid-scale season openers between 2013 and 2015, The Glee Club, Kes and Dancehall.

+ www.castindoncaster.com

Building based, two auditoriums

Company Type

Building based

Main House (620 capacity)
Second Space (152 capacity)

Cast - Total subsidy from Arts Council England in the 2015/16 financial year

Public Funding

£320,000

Total subsidy from Arts Council England in the 2015/16 financial year

Doncaster, Yorkshire

Location

Doncaster, Yorkshire

Productions

2

In-house productions staged in the 2015/16 financial year

Staff

Staff - Cast

Our Question

Do the development needs of male and female artists differ and if so, how? When formalising an artist development programme, how do we ensure women and their needs are properly represented in it?

Cast is still a very new enterprise: we opened our doors for the first time just three years ago and, as such, are still in the process of looking at the structure and output of our organisation. The way we work with artists is one aspect of this. While we’ve been engaging with local artists and companies since we opened through programming their work, connecting via monthly ‘hang outs’ and skill development workshops, and providing in kind support such as rehearsal space and technical support, much of this was done on an ad hoc or exploratory basis. When Tonic first approached us in late 2015 about joining Advance, we were on the brink of formalising a more permanent programme of artist/talent development and support. We took the opportunity that Advance provided to consider how an awareness of the specific needs of women should feed into this.

What We Did

Tonic met with and interviewed a range of female artists who have been involved in Cast since we opened, speaking with them about their experiences with us and what more they would like to have access in to in terms of their development here. They also interviewed women who had been involved in artist development structures in theatres and performing arts organisations across the country. This enabled us to look to longer-running artist development programmes to learn what had worked well and what less so.

They spoke to women who were in the early stages of their careers – just encountering artist development programmes for the first time – as well as those who were far more established in their careers, so they could reflect on what, looking back, had or hadn’t been useful to them at key points along the way: what had made the difference in a positive way? Where had they felt they’d stalled or fallen between the gaps? What, in hindsight, do they wish had been in place to help with this?

What We Learned

When Tonic first met with us to discuss our research question, we said we had noticed that of the artists and companies we had supported to date, a greater proportion were male/male-led and we wondered if that was because they had been more proactive about knocking on our door and more confident in their dealings with us.

The research did indeed show that women tend to be far more reticent in asking for things from theatres, and are more concerned about being seen as a nuisance or taking up people’s time. Given that the messages women receive often dissuade them from being front-footed or assertive it perhaps isn’t surprising that this translates into how they may interact with venues. This led to thinking around how we can be more proactive in making offers to artists, rather than waiting for them to come to us.

We learned that advice and provision currently available to artists is largely geared up to anticipate a certain kind of career trajectory, and assumes a particular way of working. This doesn’t necessarily apply to as many women because, we heard, their lives, and therefore their careers, don’t necessarily follow a linear route, nor are they automatically interested in having just one creative outlet, but may want to combine several, something that artist development programmes – or the way that venues think about developing artists and companies through how and in which spaces they programme them – don’t always respond to. We found that much support is concentrated at early-career level but we heard that artists, and especially women, may instead want support at later points in their careers, especially after taking time out or focusing on another strand of their practice. It seems that less rigidity in development support, and a greater level of responsiveness to the individual circumstances of artists is important.

Research has shown us that women, even later in their careers, are less likely to have their work programmed on bigger stages (thereby commanding a higher fee and insulating them financially so they can go on to make more work) and we heard suggestions that in part this may be because their work – how they tell stories, what stories they choose to tell – may be less immediately understandable to funders and venues because it doesn’t resemble the kind of work that has been dominant and which they are therefore used to seeing or have ‘short cuts’ to understanding.

We heard that brief coffee meetings with programmers or the limited word count on a funding application form may not provide the space for artists with less familiar modes of expression to convey what it is they do. Artists also spoke about the frustration of being put ‘in boxes’ based on their gender (and in some cases, their gender in combination with their ethnicity) i.e venues and programmers making assumptions about what they would want to make work about and on what scale. Paradoxically, they said it could also be difficult it they confounded the expectations of programmers and venues who struggled to identify where on their ladder of progression to accommodate them, something that could result in artists and companies getting ‘stuck’ on the lower tiers.

We learned that overwhelmingly support offered by theatres for artists and companies focuses on supporting the creative work itself, but rarely the career/organisational structures underpinning it. So lots of free rehearsal rooms and opportunities to do scratch performances (which are of course valuable) but very little on business planning, financial strategising, or organisational skills. This means artists or companies may be flourishing artistically but failing to develop their sustainability, meaning their artistic work – however well-developed – is at risk. For women, given the greater level of financial instability they may be experiencing, this can be particularly dangerous. We know that the question of whether organisations can support the business side as well as the artistic output of independent companies and artists is something Northern Stage is now also thinking about.

What We’re Doing in Response

Cast is currently in a period of transition. We are in the process of appointing a new Director as well as several other key management roles. Once these pivotal figures are in place, and we are moving ahead with formalising our artist development programmes, we will be looking at the findings of the Advance research afresh and considering how they will feed into what that programme looks like and what it will deliver for artists. In the meantime, we’re continuing to monitor our numbers, using the gender tracker format we were introduced to during Advance, and we’re being more thoughtful about checking for unconscious bias in our actions and outputs.

Is This Work a Step Towards a Bigger Goal?

This work is part of the on-going evolution of a young organisation. Cast’s purpose is not just to stage great performance for people in Doncaster, but to grow an arts ecology in the town so that, over time, what goes on stage and happens in our studios and rooms is of the people of Doncaster. To achieve that we need to make sure that all people in our area, regardless of gender, want to and are able to be involved in what we are doing and that for the artists among them, we are supporting their development in the best possible and most meaningful way.

Clare Clarkson, Deputy Director, Cast

“When we were first approached by Tonic to take part in the Advance programme our then Artistic Director, Kully Thiarai, and I were slightly bemused. “But surely this has got nothing to do with us? We’re two women running a new organisation fully aware of all the pitfalls of unchecked patriarchy!” Even coming up with the research question was frustrating… “Well, we’re open-minded and this or that just doesn’t apply to Cast.” Right up to the first meeting of the cohort there was a sense that ‘we were OK’ and we were going to help out all the old dinosaurs of organisations that didn’t know how to run a fair and equal operation.

It was really great meeting with our fellow participants who were, of course, turned on and bright and not in the least bit dinosaur-ish. In fact they kind of looked like us. Which is the point…or at least one of the points. It’s all too easy to assume that because you’ve got a woman at the top of your organisation or a couple of female technicians everything’s running as it should. The detail in our colleagues’ research enquiries was fascinating, digging down to levels that we hadn’t really considered. Questions of composers and choreographers, about engaging with ingrained views that were passed down through education and employment practices in ways that we’re barely aware of. The best thing about the Away Days was the opportunity to stop and think about not how we did things, but why? Why do we make this choice or that and how can we stop the dreaded ‘unconscious bias’ bleeding in to our practice? In fact, our research question – relating to the specific needs (if any) of females in a newly developed artist development programme – ended up being a vehicle to understand bigger issues rather than the primary focus. So many other factors and considerations opened up around it, like peeling the layers off an onion.

Through the Advance process we discovered that we actually do have a pretty gender balanced workforce and all of our Directors and most of our co-Directors had been women (but then how is that fair?). Our casts are a little male leaning and we’ve got a way to go in terms of sourcing female Sound Designers. Personally I found that my world had tipped just a little on its axis and so I began to hear things in a different way – bristling when one of the Away Day participants referred to their ‘Chairman’ instead of just their ‘Chair’ (unless this really was a role preserved for men?) and rooting for Mother Goose over Robin Hood for the next pantomime title. It’s been a great experience for me and the organisation and now the challenge is to make the difference…every day.”

Cast creative team statistics

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