The ecology of arts & the future role of theatres

By Mark Da Vanzo, CEO, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

Everyman Theatre, Liverpool. Photographer © Philip Vile

Over the past year, the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse theatres have had to play a different role within the arts ecology based on the peculiar set of circumstances we found ourselves in. For times such as these, I found strength in the Māori proverb, “He waka eke noa”; “a canoe which we are all in with no exception”. So while our physical doors were unavoidably closed we looked to open new doors to actively support our staff, audiences, partners and the local freelance community. We also took advantage of opportunities to reach our audiences and the communities we serve through digital, outdoor and socially-distanced means to stay connected and help play our part in the city’s recovery from the Covid pandemic.

But we couldn’t do this alone.

Culture Liverpool’s recently released cultural strategy for the City has collaboration at its heart. And it has been through collaboration that we have seen, and will continue to see, seismic changes in the way we have operated as a sector. A recent example of this was the joint launch of our new seasons of work with the Royal Court and Unity theatres. This had never happened before. In the lead up to the launch, our three organisations had been meeting regularly, sharing issues and solutions and considering ways in which we could work more closely together as we looked to reopen. While the organisations will always have distinct and unique identities we can often pull together to be much greater than the sum of our individual parts as the joint launch demonstrated.

Liverpool’s cultural organisations alongside Culture Liverpool have come together regularly during the pandemic to share best practice and sometimes just to provide comfort and support. There was no rulebook for Covid. No one had the answers but we knew in working together and moving forward collectively, we had the best chance of navigating the pitfalls successfully and emerging stronger and better connected than we have ever been.

Liverpool Playhouse Theatre. Photographer © Emma Hillier

Collaboration with partners also brings shared outcomes. We had been looking at ways of increasing our support of freelancers over the pandemic following successful initiatives with Love, Liverpool and the Theatre for Good initiatives. The Unity Theatre had announced a CrowdFunder in support of their Open Call to help develop talent and support Liverpool’s freelance community. Both organisations care passionately about these outcomes, so we asked if we could provide financial support to help extend the call further, especially to those from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

Internally, we are also working in new ways during the pandemic. Following George Floyd’s murder, we set up a Diversity Action Group to help us progress our ambitions around diversity, equality and social justice. As well as members of our Board and staff, this group is strengthened by insights from external creative practitioners. We have also recently brought in two external artistic advisors to help us shape a truly collaborative artistic programme as we look to life beyond Covid restrictions. Our digital ambitions have been fasttracked as we have found new ways to reach our audiences. The Everyman Underground being our latest effort to both employ freelancers and present cutting edge artistic talent on our stages. We are now assessing how we can build on our digital reach with partners, taking Liverpool’s stories to the world.

We are a listening organisation that is keen to learn and adapt. Covid has provided us with a valuable time for reflection and renewal; two aspects which are critical to the success of any organisation. As we emerge from Covid restrictions over the coming months it will not be a return to normality, but the opening of a new exciting chapter in the life of our city; a chapter which the Everyman & Playhouse look forward to playing an integral part in.

We look forward to welcoming you back to our theatres. See you soon…

Telling stories. Delivering events. Championing creativity. Inspiring audiences. Thinking forward. — Culture: the rocket fuel for regeneration.

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