Artistic Director of the Bike Shed Theatre, David Lockwood, talks about the new In Your Space initiative led by Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter.
Just over a year ago, Arts Council England invited a number of emerging artists to a meeting at their swanky office in Exeter. They had a pot of money for strategic investment in theatre in Exeter and they wanted to know how we wanted it to be spent. We threw a number of ideas around, but the conversation kept circling back to one thing: space. Somewhere to play, somewhere to kick ideas around, to take risks and (sometimes) to fail. Bristol’s Residence was mentioned as a good model; ours could be tailored. It’d be simple. But where?
We got stuck. Spaces at the Corn Exchange were muted, abandoned shops in the Guildhall were another option. We bemoaned Exeter’s lack of an industrial past and the waste of council-owned buildings remaining empty for years whilst they rode out the recession. Every potential door we tried to open ended up either being hugely inflexible or expensive. We needed somewhere free, both physically and financially. Maybe it would never happen.
Then in March, I wrote an e-mail to a city councillor which trickled into a conversation with the Barnfield Theatre, which flowed into a tour of that space and the discovery that their green room was in use for less than half the year. The rest of the time, this small space was empty. It was rudimentary, with a worn carpet covering a concrete floor, a costume rail at one corner and cloth wrapped round the pipes above our heads. But it was a space. And a space with windows. Moreover, the managers of the Barnfield said we could use it for nothing.
Flash back to the meeting with the good folk of the Arts Council. There is one voice that is perhaps more vocal than others. It is Chloe Whipple’s. She possesses a wonderful mix of energy and creativity, willing to try anything (she surprised Third Man Theatre by turning up in a hamster costume for some R&D work). She has been involved in almost every aspect of work at the Bike Shed, from stripping the plasterboard when we did up the bar to performing in our productions, creating her own, stage managing, and even shaking a fair few cocktails of a Friday and Saturday night. She has a passion for making things happen, which is allied to a determination to see things through and not a small amount of talent. In short, she was the perfect person to oversee the management of this new space and to fully realise its potential.
Which brings us to now. The project - now named In Your Space - is the place for companies to experiment and develop. It is somewhere to try out that idea you’ve always been wanting to, the one that may be overambitious but may just work. It is somewhere to work with new people, somewhere to expand the range of your abilities, somewhere to fall over without anyone noticing or caring, least of all yourself. Sure, it has its limitations. It is cold. It is small. And no matter how often we move the costume rail into another room, it keeps on coming back. But it’s ours - yours - and as a starting point, it’s not a bad one.
There’s plenty more information on the Bike Shed website, along with information on how to apply to use the space, and Chloe is happy to talk through any queries you may have.
And what of the future? Well, Exeter is slowly starting to thaw after a long winter. It’ll take time, and it’ll need support, but by working together and sharing our resources and imaginations, we can create a vibrant performance scene in a city that is crying out for it.