A plea to all promoters, producers, programmers – stop programming shit

a red circle sign (which bans) a dog from shitting which is portrayed upon the signLast week I was asked to give a ‘provocation’ at an event about the work of Deaf and disabled artists. This is what I had to say…

This is a plea to all promoters, producers, programmers and others who take on these functions. Please stop programming shit.

(Before I went any further, I did make it extremely clear that this request was nothing to do with the festival at which I was speaking, where I truly thought none of the work was shit. Just want to make that clear.)

There is art in the world now by deaf and disabled artists that is compelling, stunning, astounding, amazing, moving, provocative, that embodies beauty, that embraces challenge, that offers up such a range of perspectives that it seems you are looking through a kaleidoscope. It makes me dizzy. It makes my spine tingle, it makes the hairs on my arms stand up.

This is the work I would have you seek out – work that connects with you artistically, politically, aesthetically – work that goes like an arrow to your heart, or your brain, or your belly.

I want you to stop programming the first piece of work you see that happens to have a wheelchair, a hearing aid or a guide dog in it. I want you to stop programming the one company you know even if you don’t like them much because you are too lazy to find something else.

20 years ago we lived in a different world – we had lack of access to training, lack of access to opportunities, lack of access to resources and (to be honest) quite a big chip on our shoulder about it. The amount of work that made it out was small. Some fantastic, some full of political fire, and some – if we are honest – just a little bit shit.

New times, different times. We still fight for access in all those areas – but we’re getting more work out there. The sea of work we are surrounded by runs deep – this is just the surf on show.

But if we are honest, if we hold our hands up, if we cross our hearts and tell the truth, sometimes, some of the work we swim with… is still a little bit shit.

(I also want to make it clear that this isn’t anything exclusive to work by Deaf and disabled artists; I think it’s generic – most artists don’t hit the mark 24/7).

What do I mean by shit? Well, this is a very personal list, please feel free to create your own. It’s subjective of course. What hits the mark for one person, won’t do the same for all others. For me, the list is as follows:

  • work that’s shown before its ready
  • work that pulls back, and doesn’t let itself push where it should
  • work that doesn’t have a clear intention
  • work that’s really a workshop on stage
  • work that’s placed in the wrong place at the wrong time because it ticks a box on someone’s list, not because the context is right for the work
  • work that’s more for the benefit of the people performing it than the audience who comes to see it…

Again, just to be clear, I do not think the following are automatically shit

  • work with different aesthetics
  • work challenging conventional norms
  • work by untrained performers
  • work which brings communities together
  • work that is about process as well as practice .

I mean it can be – but only as much as all work can be shit.

So how does poor work get programmed?

I think it sneaks in when time is tight. It seeps across when short cuts are taken – and the first artist found is gratefully and greedily snatched rather than considered with others to see if there is a match.

It squeezes in when people look for a product to fit a gap, when compromise becomes key, when capacity becomes stretched

In our field I think shit gets programmed when it becomes about the disability and not about the art.

If you think you may be in danger of programming it – what can you do? (And this may sound a bit odd – bear with me)…

  •  Don’t just say no, fob ‘em off with some excuse and wash your hands (if you do this your part of the problem and not part of the solution as we say, and we all know what lies that way)
  • Don’t pass them on to someone else, lie to them, say your fully committed when you’re not or otherwise patronize them. We deserve better. We’ve fought hard for equality and now demand it of you, even if we might not like what you say.

So what should you do?

Start talking. Get down, dirty and honest. Don’t hide behind well meaning intentions and weasel words. Engage in proper dialogue, true and supportive criticism.

Work with them, help them, support them. Give them time and resources, build up skills and experience.

Promoters – step up and go beyond – get involved, get your hands dirty. It’s up to all of us to keep work at the level we all benefit most from.

That’s it in a nutshell. My request is simple. Stop programming shit

Thank you.

 

I was asked a number of questions – including if it’s ever ok to programme stuff you aren’t 100% committed to. I think this is dependant on the context in which you programme it. If you programme it as work that is developing, finding its feet, exploring its potential – then I think that is fine. If you programme it as finished work, when it really isn’t, then this (for me) is less excusable. The reason for this is simple. It damages all of us. The audience member who felt, for once, they’d take a risk on seeing a piece by a Deaf or disabled artist is then disappointed. Or perhaps, which is worse, has the stereotype reinforced that our work isn’t quite up there with the rest. Then we get pity and ‘didn’t they do well’ when actually, no we didn’t.

I’m aware this is provocative – hence the fact that it’s a provocation – and I’d be delighted to find out what others think. Plenty of space to comment below.

Photo by Banalities and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

4 thoughts on “A plea to all promoters, producers, programmers – stop programming shit

  1. This is not an excuse but an attempt to honestly respond! Small venue – limited staffing and resources – can lead to lack of time to really chase and research good quality work. I own up to failing to find work that seems right and affordable to programme at Otley Courthouse. So where in your view is the best place to look! I am rarely if ever approached by a company offering work that meets your recommendations. We have a Small Venues Network now across Yorkshire and the opportunity is there to buy in an interesting piece to tour a number of venues both small and mid scale.

    • Thanks so much for responding and opening up to the other sides of programming (and I’ve never seen shit at Otley Courthouse!) Lack of staff and other resources impacts all round – a very hard balancing act, indeed. Be really interested to hear other programmers thoughts? What are the deciding factors when you take a risk on work that you think might not be quite ready, for example? And what scope is there for you to really get involved and help/support/nurture work thats on the cusp of being ready but not quite there yet?

  2. Dear Jo,

    Firstly thank you so much for your part in such a wonderful two weeks for the Australian delegates to Unlimited. The work, the discussion and the connections we truly energizing, informative and creatively inspiring and I hope will provide connectivity to greater outcomes for arts and disability in Australia and for the delegates for some time to come.

    We did not catch up re the documentary that you are producing for the conference but I am sure that you are in touch with Amanda Tink re the process.
    I am happy for you to run any other aspect of it by me.

    Now back in Australia and needing to formally capture some of the information. Your articulation of what was inappropriate programming was very valuable but I did not catch all of it. Stop press -obviously I have now found your paper but wanted to send this email anyway. Thanks again Regards Sancha Donald CEO Accessible Arts.

  3. HI Jo,
    This is a great article and I think the list is useful for artists too, especially for new writing. I held my first live at the end of October (a performed reading) and made sure I called it a ‘work in progress’ so (hopefully) people didn’t think it was the finished piece.
    I’d be interested in chatting to Otley Courthouse about future work too if possible 😉

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