Our Peach Placement, Matthew Austin, was with us from July to December 2010. In a recent article written for the Cultural Leadership Programme, Matthew recounts his time with us...
"Six months can flash by in the blink of an eye. It seems like only days ago I was sitting in the café at BAC in London, straight off a plane from a holiday in Berlin, slightly bleary eyed from not much sleep, talking to Fuel’s Kate McGrath about how my Peach Placement would work. And now, I’m emerging from the other end, excited and daunted about the future in equal measure.
I came to the Cultural Leadership Programme’s Peach cohort from Bristol, where I am co-Artistic Director of Mayfest, a festival of contemporary theatre which takes place at venues and sites across the city, including Bristol Old Vic, Arnolfini, the Tobacco Factory and Circomedia. Mayfest has grown hugely in scale and profile over recent years, and myself and co-Artistic Director Kate Yedigaroff had reached a turning point, where it became apparent that we needed to formalise our working relationship and establish an organisation which would produce Mayfest provide a vehicle for us to initiate, respond to and deliver projects outside of the month of May. This company will be called Mayk. Do you see what we’ve done there?
So in many ways, my placement with Fuel, a small organisation with big ideas, couldn’t have been more timely. It has given me an invaluable insight into the workings of a producing company who thrive on risk, taking on extraordinary projects on a wing and a prayer and just making them happen. Led by Kate McGrath and Louise Blackwell, Fuel works with artists from the earliest stages of an idea, when it is just a tiny creative seed, all the way through to production. Their relationships with artists vary between long-term producing and general management, to one-off projects. Kate and Louise are also taking the first steps into initiating projects – the first of which is a series of podcasts being released once a month throughout 2011.
When I first arrived at the Fuel office, I was struck by how hard they all worked. There I was, in this tiny office, with nine other people, all tip-tapping away on their laptops. Although, it wasn’t all work – there was lots of tea, a team meeting every Monday afternoon where we shared our achievements and anxieties, BAC’s cat Pluto walking brazenly across our keyboards, and a ban on eating lunch at your desk.
But I quickly figured out that my role, as Audiences Associate, was to have conversations and do some thinking about who Fuel’s audience was and could be. And now, as I approach the end of the placement, I’m thinking about legacy and the impact I have made. I leave Fuel having delivered a new website (www.fueltheatre.com), a short film which acts as both an explanatory promo and a case for support, an audience development strategy, and hopefully a team who better understand how to talk to audiences, how to reach them, and how to keep them engaged.
And in the spirit of collaboration, one of the biggest legacies is a new, informal partnership between Fuel and Mayk. We get to pick Fuel’s brains about running an organisation (during my placement I had to ply Kate McGrath with alcohol in order to ask a series of extremely tedious questions about tax, insurance and business models), and in return they get a kind of Gordon Ramsey style relationship with me (perhaps without the f-words), where I revisit Fuel every few months to check how they’re doing and what they’re learning about audiences.
This whole placement has been like one big, long look at how I work, what I do, and how I want to do things in the future. From talking to the Fuel team about the three shows that have been most influential to me, to working with my coach on imagining me in 2015, to trying to keep up with a rapidly changing funding landscape, to inspiring chats with my cohort, being a Peach has been liberating, refreshing, hard work and inspiring all at once. 2011 – you’d better be ready – I’m coming to get you."