Sinking in the Sand

Digital Art, a bold movement for emerging voices

By Ross Drury, Artistic Director

So, I’m standing in the studio of a theatre in 2009 which sits next to the seaside in Shoreham, I’ve already dragged a bath tub from a tip down the road into the walls of theatre passing the box office with almost wry, look-what-I-did smile, a bit like a cat thinking that a dead bird is in fact a gift for the house. My friend Jill is tying ripped shreds of sheets from the rigging draping itself down to the floor because the space is a blank canvas…y’know. Another actor, a RADA graduate who’s grown to loathe me and commit a series of mutinous acts among the cast members is improvising his given circumstances in the cloak room, my girlfriend at the time who by the way has also grown to loathe me because of this narcissist cess pool of a production is smoking outside wondering why on earth she has to come to seaside in November and planning how she will almost certainly leave me to scrabble around in the tattered aftermath of this fringier-than-the-fringe play. I’m standing there in this studio ‘in the round’ and the doors swing open and about eight people arrive and their tepid clap echoes like a single fish out of water who is taking its last breath.

The fallout from this production set me on a spiral that was hard to come back from, the drop in self-esteem, the overdraft which made it impossible to eat or pay rent or do just about anything. I had a bit of talent to be honest, but it took me a long time to get back to a point where I might be able to simply tell a story both on a practical and emotional level. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think you could identify me as a working-class person, in the sense that I grew up in a council estate in a single parent family with a father who hated me and a mother somewhere else. This was never really a big deal for me, and my theatre became a way of showing people what I had, identifying myself, and it gave me the chance to get out of that situation and it did. Happy days. However, what I didn’t quite appreciate at the time was how difficult and risky it was to go into theatre without the circumstances of a good supportive life behind you. I am not criticising middle-class directors or actors, we need them and we’re all here, but for me personally the act of having a theatre career when you’re unable to run home, dancing with homelessness the whole time and still be at the pinnacle of your game, developing craft whilst weirdly not actually working on your craft felt like an impossible situation and a bit of a Catch 22.

What I needed was a bridge to allow me to create work, and access more audiences other than my friends. I’m talking about accessibility here in a roundabout way. The theatres don’t have enough room to house us, right now they can’t even put us in their rooms and are left developing really meticulous methods of selection and its simply not possible to be that welcoming for so many different kinds of people let alone reaching people who for the reasons of geography and education might not even know it’s for them. With every swathe of positive incentive, fashionable trend and well-meaning principle, there must always be talent which is left out to dry. Every artist I have ever met has experienced this on some level so I’m sure this won’t come as a surprising point. 

There are many reasons I have set up The Living Record Festival but the central part of it is to stop any artist experiencing anything like I did in the aftermath of the play by the seaside. Digital Art can heal and develop the issue of access to the theatre and give birth to a new space, full of variety, innovation and new emerging voices. This platform gives us a marketplace which enables artists to remove financial risk and a platform to experiment with storytelling, and perhaps even have a good time doing it. That last part is important. We all need a good relationship with our work to do it well.  You might say digital art is different to theatre and requires different skills. Sure, a bit. But largely I disagree.

Digital Art and by Digital Art I mean something which is made for a digital space and not a theatre, requires artists to cross genres, styles, create unique methods of process and engage with new methods and collaborators. To my mind, all the great theatre practitioners do that and why not apply those skills to a platform which is as accessible and far reaching as the internet. At the time where I found myself by the seaside all I really needed was the opportunity to explore my ambitions and desires to tell stories. When that is missing it’s easy to sink through the sand and I hope this bold new movement of digital arts will help shape access and connect the theatre community in a moment of history when it is desperate to do so.