Jyothi heads to Devoted & Disgruntled

This month, Improbable held their 12th annual Devoted & Disgruntled – an event for theatre & performing arts folks of all kinds to discuss and tackle the issues that they care about. From personal artistic provocations to strategic funding questions to international socio-political quandaries, participants come together to work towards the change they would like to see in their industry and beyond.

A first-timer to D&D, Jyothi headed down to sunny Bristol for the weekend. Read on for her insightful take on joining the conversation:

As a green young arts professional with less than a year’s work under my belt and a heavy dose of imposter syndrome, approaching arts conferences, events and so-called ‘networking opportunities’ can be daunting to say the least. It can take a lot to even make it into the room, let alone be the person speaking up, asking questions or introducing themselves to that theatre big-wig.

Pulling into Bristol Temple Meads solo for Improbable’s Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What shall we do about theatre and the performing arts now?, I imagined the weekend ahead full of hovering, listening from the edges as impressive strangers have conversations which float over my head. But as cliché as it certainly is, D&D is something completely different.

Mid-session at the Passenger Shed

D&D’s open space format renders rank or reputation inconsequential; anyone with a question, provocation or suggestion can call a discussion (with a short, punchy title which is rarely short or punchy) and anyone interested in those discussions can join them at the time and place listed on the makeshift schedule on the wall. The law of mobility directs you to move between discussions at any time you wish, following your interest and instinct. You get what you put in, but the pressure’s off; unless you’ve decided to call a session, you’re not obliged to be anywhere or doing anything in particular when you get there. The lack of pretence or formality is liberating.

All the discussions to pick and mix from in Session 6

Whether in scheduled discussion sessions, in line for tea, or hovering by the schedule board trying to suss out your next move, you can find yourself in invigorating conversation with people from across the country, with a range of experiences and backgrounds and jobs you’ve never even heard of. And whether your experience is being the Artistic Director of a prominent regional venue or a member of an all-female puppetry troupe – or a young neurodivergent mixed-race woman working for a company making adventures and playing-theatre – your perspective on tackling the issues which impact you is vital.

Each session which is called and held is then reported on by the person who proposed it; while this can take any form, most reports are written up and posted here (as well as on the wall).

#MyQueerCity report up on the wall on the Sunday morning

Top marks from (my) last weekend go to:

  • Saturday morning’s How Are You? check-in session. For those anxious types like me, asking and being asked how you are and what’s on your mind is the perfect start to a weekend of reflection and discussion of the topics that matter to you, and a great way to start empathetic conversations with strangers.
  • Chris Goode’s How Can We Better Support People With Mental Health Needs When They’re Touring / Working Away From Home? discussion: an empassioned, considerate and experience-driven conversation leading to what I hope are truly actionable conclusions. I could not recommend reading the report more.
  • Following a request that teenagers be invited to Sunday’s sessions to contribute their perspectives, the spontaneous whip-around for cash to cover their attendance. Not only did donations more than cover the teenagers who were able to come along, but Improbable’s announcement that the money would go towards providing bursaries for the following year inspired a second round of contributions at Sunday’s closing circle. The perfect end to the weekend.
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Whip-round bursary money in a hat

To those of you who’ve not heard of D&D, feel like an outsider or think you’re unqualified to have your voice heard: you’re exactly who needs to be there. If you’re devoted to the future of the arts, and if you’re at all disgruntled about the state of the creative industries in these surreal times, you’ve got everything you need. And rumour has it there’ll be bursaries for next year.

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