Sunday, 8 July 2012

It’s not my cup of tea: why I was wrong about the Devoted and Disgruntled Roadshow

‘It doesn’t sound like my cup of tea’, said my friend when I asked if they were attending the Devoted & Disgruntled Roadshow at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol. I followed up with the immortal words, ‘I don’t think it’s my cup of tea either’. I take back those words: I was a fool. I have a feeling that when I look back, my first D & D Roadshow will go down as one of the most important moments in my creative life.

The Devoted & Disgruntled Roadshow is run by Improbable theatre company and has been touring since 2005. Each stop is a  one or two day event which allows you to ‘join the nationwide conversation about the future of Theatre’, but if you are like me, when you first read the name of the roadshow you fear it will be a load of people moaning about the erosion of funding and generally airing grievances, rather than finding solutions. I felt I was Devoted, but maybe naive, and wanted to learn why others were Disgruntled. I was also unsure of the set up and afraid that I would have nothing to contribute.

The Devoted & Disgruntled banner

'Whenever it starts is the right time.'

I thought it was a drop in, drop out weekend, and it can be, but it turns out, it’s a good idea to get there at the beginning of the day, especially if you’ve never before attended an Open Space event. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t realise this is how it works, so we didn’t start the day according to the timetable, but as you soon learn: Whenever it starts is the right time.

The wonderful Phelim McDermott of Improbable immediately puts you at ease and explains how the weekend will work and soon people start to ‘call sessions’. A session can be about anything from What's The Point? When Did You Last Feel Truly Inspired By An Experience In A Theatre? to Earning Money V Making Theatre. How Do We Do Both? and beyond. The person who has called the session then selects a space-and-time Post-it from The Wall of Space and Time and when all that’s done, you can browse the wall and decide what you want to attend.

The 'Wall of Space and Time'

I even found myself co-leading a session on the second day as, having listened to a lot of people, I felt there was an underlying question many people wanted to discuss. I called a session entitled Four Stars: Is the traditional review still the Holy Grail?, which I merged with two of Alison Farina’s sessions about success, as we felt they overlapped. You can read Alison’s report here and mine, which is presented as diagrams, which can be found in my blog post Devoted and Disgruntled Report Diagrams.

Some of the sessions called at the Bristol stop of the Devoted & Disgruntled Roadshow

Reports are created by the person who called the session (usually) and they create them, after the session, in the ‘Newsroom’. You can read the reports from the event in Bristol or any of the events across the UK on the Devoted & Disgruntled Roadshow website. Although most are specific to Theatre many are relevant to The Arts in general. Reading the reports, you can see that some people left the roadshow still feeling disgruntled, but the roadshow is not the end of the discussion as the website allows conversation to continue.

Some intrepid reporters in the Newsroom

'Whoever comes are the right people.'

I soon realised my preconceptions were wrong and I was in a group of Devoted people who wanted answers and collectively wanted to create change. Yes, there were people who got things out of their system and there were discussions about funding, but instead of the constant negative, downward spiral I feared, in the sessions I was a part of, these things were discussed and suggestions for change and development became the end result. This is not to say that definitive answers were found, everyone has different opinions, so individuals have to decide if they have found a solution.

A session in full swing

I attribute the openness and reduction of moaning to the model used for the events. The events are Open Space and if you have never attended an Open Space event, I cannot describe them better than Devoted & Disgruntled:

‘Open Space Technology (OST) is a form developed to support groups to self-organize and collaborate around any question of shared concern. It gives all participants the chance to propose a starting point for discussion, take part in any of the conversations or flit between them all. It is particularly effective in dealing with complex issues where diverse and conflicting views are present.’

‘What is Open Space?’ on the Devoted & Disgruntled Roadshow website.

There is also a live Twitter feed at the event which shows tweets marked with #DandDR. So us Twitterers were determined to spread the word, but something happened that none of us expected:


That’s right, for a brief period on Saturday 30th June 2012, #DandR started trending in the UK! If you’re not on Twitter, this will probably mean very little, but it was a huge achievement for a relatively small group of people (combined with the brilliant people who weren’t at the event but read and retweeted our tweets), to have spread the word so far that for a moment even Twitter took notice.

'Wherever it happens is the right place.'

As part of the Open Space ethos, free tea and coffee is available, and conversations that happen whilst refueling with caffeine are just as important as those that happen in the space. As are the ones that happen on the website, on Twitter and Facebook, in Renatos over pizza and a pint or in the car whilst getting lost on your way to Long Ashton...don’t ask.

The Tobacco Factory Theatre was also the right place for the event and I would like to say thank you to Ali Robertson and Carrie Rhys-Davies for enabling the Roadshow to come to Bristol. I also have to say a huge thank you to the Improbable team who made it all happen and decided to include Bristol on their tour.

Seth Honnor's 'excellent continuum of cultural destiny'

'Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.'

Considering some people were still Disgruntled at the end, why do I feel it will be so important for me? In the same conversation I referenced at the beginning of this post, I said to my friend, something that I’ve previously discussed on my blog, ‘the reason I am going is because every now and again I like to push myself and do things that ‘aren’t my cup of tea’ or that scare me, just to see what happens’. In the Open Space I opened myself to change and some of the people I met and the discussions I was a part of unlocked something creative in me that has been locked for a long time: it reminded me of the possibility of Theatre and reawakened my desire to make things happen.

'When it is over, it is over.'

Some of the Reports on the wall at the end of the weekend

In the style of Sesame Street: this blog post was brought to you by the five rules of Open Space and the letters D and D.


Devoted and Disgruntled Report Diagrams

These diagrams form my report on the Devoted & Disgruntled website for the session entitled Merge Alert PART 2 (with diagrams): #1 - How Do We Measure Success And How Do You Know When You Have Achieved It? #2 How Do You Get Where You Want To Without Kissing Ass Or Being A Twat? #3 The 4/5* Review: Is This The Holy Grail? 

Alison Farina and I decided to team up and combine our questions as we felt they overlapped. Many questions were answered with further questions, not because there were no answers, but because ultimately the answer to each is dependent upon the individual, only they know what is ‘correct’ for them.

To illustrate the session I have turned my notes into the diagrams below. The diagrams are a mixture of questions, answers and musings from the group.

These diagrams have been created from my notes alone, so it's worth cross referencing with Part 1 of the report, written by Alison.