Interview with Jessica Cheetham

Production company Spun Glass Theatre has recently launched Theatre Search – a free, shared resource for independent producers and touring arts companies to help rebuild the industry following the Covid-19 crisis. I spoke with Artistic Director of Spun Glass, Jessica Cheetham, to find out more.

How did you first get involved in theatre?
Professionally I studied Drama at the University of Kent and then formed Spun Glass Theatre the year I graduated to take a production to the Edinburgh Fringe. But I had grown up performing, my family have always been involved in grassroots and amateur theatre and encouraged me to perform. I did a fair few plays in my living room for grandmas and aunties.

Can you tell me about Theatre Search?
We are currently supported by an Emergency Grant from Arts Council England to build Theatre Search – a free resource which catalogues the impact of Covid-19 on UK venues. We hope that by facilitating the creation of a free-to-access, shared resource for independent producers and touring arts companies, we can help to rebuild the industry. The resource will clearly show which UK theatres are open, which have unfortunately closed and when some might be looking to programme work, helping new productions to be created and tours to be rebooked.

How did the idea come about?
It was all during those first weeks of lockdown as I was working to come to terms with the uncertainty that lay ahead. I spoke to other producers who were also scrambling to shift tours on a couple of months or having plans abruptly cut short by the closure of the Arts Council’s grant making system. I thought about trying to gain support for new projects once the theatres could reopen and realised everyone would be trying to do the same thing at the same time.

I thought that if we could all just have a list of all the venues in the UK and if they were able to re-open it would make that re-starting so much easier and more equal. Then the Nuffield Southampton went into administration and I knew that this resource would be vital.

How can theatres and producers get involved?
Firstly producers and venues can access the resource and use it as a road map to navigate the new landscape of UK theatre. We will be holding webinars for emerging artists and producers to explain Theatre Search and how they can get the most out of using it.

Then it’s vitally important that we keep Theatre Search as up to date as possible so if producers and/or venues would like us to update it, they can contact us and we’ll add their information.

What can the public do to support touring theatre going forward?
I think first of all that as the theatres start to reopen there are going to be a lot of creative experiences, particularly outside performances to get involved with. Come along to see what’s on offer just by being there you show your support of the arts as we get back up and running. If you can, buying tickets in advance or making donations is also extremely helpful at this time.

If you’re very committed there are lots of campaigns running including Freelancers Make Theatre Work highlighting the fact that 70% of the theatre workforce is freelance and therefore in a very tricky situation right now. You could write to your MP or sign a petition to get these issues spoken about in Parliament and a support package in place for the arts.

What are your hopes for Theatre Search?
I hope that Theatre Search is useful. We want to create a resource which can be kept up to date and the industry is excited about keeping as relevant as possible. It would be fantastic if Theatre Search helped independent producers and artists who were overwhelmed by restarting their creative work find a foothold with a venue and go on to create a fantastic touring show.

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