About Tonic Theatre

Tonic designs, creates, and delivers tools that support the arts and creative industries to achieve greater gender equality in their work and workforces.

We were established in 2011 to catalyse a culture shift in how the UK theatre industry thought about and responded to the challenges of persistent gender imbalances. While today much of our work remains rooted in theatre, demand for our unique and effective approach has seen us expand into other areas of the arts and creative industries. The insights we’ve gained in gender equality also support us to undertake additional work on the subjects of representation, access, and diversity.

Tonic’s approach involves getting to grips with the principles that lie beneath how our industry functions – our working methods, decision-making processes, and organisational structures – and identifying how, in their current form, these can create barriers. Once we have done that, we devise practical yet imaginative alternative approaches and work with our partners to trial and deliver them. Essentially, our goal is to equip our colleagues in the arts and creative industries with the tools they need to ensure a greater level of female talent is able to rise to the top.

+ www.tonictheatre.co.uk

On the Subject of Change

Advance has been co-led by the Director of Tonic, Lucy Kerbel and Tonic Advance Associate Vicky Long, a freelance consultant and producer. Here Vicky and Lucy comment on their personal connection to the subject of change.

Tonic's Lucy Kerbel

Lucy Kerbel

Before I set up Tonic, I worked as a theatre director and I suppose change was at the centre of what I was doing. When you’re a director you spend all day in the rehearsal room with actors thinking about change. Change is inherently dramatic and most drama is about a character trying to turn something around, and winning or losing at that, or about characters experiencing some kind of change. If you get to the end of a play and nothing has changed it’s probably been a pretty dull experience.

So through this dramatic engagement, I became very interested in how you get people outside of the theatre to change, change how they think, how they act – what’s needed to be successful in that? And it’s that fascination which has fueled my work with Tonic.

Vicky Long

Vicky Long

In the past, I’ve worked with numerous organisations and artists to address climate change and was Project Director at Cape Farewell for a time. Cape Farewell takes artists on a physical journey (often to the Arctic) to learn about the impacts of Climate Change. Through this journey and immersion in the subject, artists come to care about environmental change and so to act.

With Advance, we aim to take participating organisations on a journey (albeit it a less physically active one) which begins with immersion – in the subject of gender equality – moves through to understanding, which engenders a sense of care, and leads on to action.

Organisations’ journeys are experienced in a personal way – organisations of course are populated by people (!) and Lucy and I take a collegial approach. We’ve each worked for some time in theatre and the performing arts, know and have navigated the landscape in various ways. So, we’ve tried to work in a straightforward and personal manner, asking participants exactly what they want to explore with us over six months, leading them through a research process, working through and making sense of findings together, then beginning to identify how to translate understanding into organisational action, embedded in structures, systems and planning.

There’s an interesting moment in the journey where we take a step back – at that point when understanding needs translation into action – where we don’t have the answers, but organisations have the power to come up with them. It’s where the magic happens actually. Each organisation will come up with something different – a set of different responses will emerge and the sum of these, and the impact of these is where cultural shift begins to take place.

The process we take organisations through could be flagged as:

Analyse, Think, Change

Statistics play a part in our research and are important, but the qualitative outputs and the understanding of these – of nuance – is where the real power lies. So much of the Advance research is about understanding women’s lived experience better, to enable organisations to see with greater clarity, so that they really feel the need for change, so we might instead describe the process as one of:

See, Feel, Change

I like the word ‘feel’ in there, because it brings me back to the idea of care. If one feels, one tends to care, and if others sense you care, well, they’re more likely to come along with you…

+ Tonic’s Lucy Kerbel and Vicky Long reflect on Advance 2016