Reflections on a pandemic year
As we reach the one year anniversary of the first lockdown, we have been thinking not about what we have lost but about what we have learned, gained and what we want to keep. This time a year ago we couldn’t imagine that a whole 365 days later we would be in a situation where lockdown was normal, where phrases like social distancing were daily and all of our staff would be working online from their homes. So much has happened, so much has changed.
What the pandemic gave us was and still is time. Time to stop, think, reflect, change. We like any small arts charity are constantly fundraising, constantly creating and delivering projects and although this has continued fervently throughout the last year, we have been given more space to think and talk about who we are as a company and what we want to be. These are just some of our findings.
We are a good team
The company is run by a small team of staff and freelancers, who are all incredibly skilled and valued. We have continued to employ freelancers where we can. We have supported each other as staff through these difficult times, been flexible and kind, shown compassion and made each other laugh. And importantly kept each other inspired, which in the last year is no mean feat!
We are self producing
It is why the company was set up in 1981. To create work to tour to rural communities. In an increasingly difficult and competitive arts funding environment the impetus and shear effort to plan, fund, create a show, it can feel like it is a mountain to climb each time. This pandemic has shown us that this mountain is why we are here and we want to do more, and have already started, even though it is not an easy time to see the light of rural touring shining. We have taken the time to talk to artists, writers, directors make the connections and plan in more theatre. Coming back stronger.
We are a Creative Hub
For both ourselves and for our Associates. This means so much to us that we are reconfiguring our building and garden – shuffle up and share our building with artists and companies who need space to create new work. We have always been able to share but now we are making it a priority. Coming out of this difficult time, we want to be able to support our Associates, Youth Theatre Alumni and Artists as best as we can by giving them space and time. (More on this to come later in the year!)
Our Communities are at the heart of everything we do
Whether it is a youth theatre member (current or taking a break), an Act Your Age member, a Game participant, a Waterside Drama Club member, an Associate Artist, Alumni, teacher – we have made space to listen, activities to share and a place to smile. From weekly Facebook live Buzzy Bees in the early days of lockdown, sunflower seeds to every participant, projects, quizzes, art packs, sessions, postal stories, phone calls, one to one support, we have made every effort to ensure that our communities – our Forest Forge Family – are supported and creatively engaged. They are Forest Forge just as much as the staff and the building are.
We are adaptable
We have amazed even ourselves at how we have managed to adapt to this new world. We have created entire new strands of work – The Writers Group, Improv sessions, the Chat Room, 1 – 2 -1’s, See it Be It Write It, Artist Talks, are all new work, new ventures for us trying stuff out, giving opportunities. And that’s not even mentioning adapting our regular sessions to being online and the momentary time we had in the building – all doing it differently, never compromising on experience.
We are creative (and sometimes very silly)
It is sometimes easy to forget when in the midst of conversations about finances, funding and hand sanitiser stations, that we create art. Art that is lovingly and carefully crafted over months to go out on tour to thousands of people; but also the art that happens on a Monday morning or a Wednesday or Thursday night when we have our sessions and a poem is created, or a scene fleetingly shared, or a turn of phrase that is both beautiful and hilarious, or a sculpture made of things lying around someone’s bedroom, or a costume made in 1 minute from whatever can be grabbed, or a happy accident (I am thinking the broken camera and spontaneous Bohemian Rhapsody episode). Powerful, joyful and endless. Art for Arts Sake.
We are strong
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the challenges of the year. We have lost two staff members, had to reduce hours, double up on tasks and take on responsibilities that we would not normally do. Our income was drastically reduced and finding and securing funding has become ever more challenging. Each staff member also had their own challenges as not just the pandemic but life events threw themselves into the mix. Grief, joy, despair, inspiration, reminiscence and optimism all sat side by side as we navigated our way through this last year. With kindness and compassion we held each other’s hands – virtually of course – adjusted expectation, and continued with the business of creating theatre.
We are hopeful
The company celebrates its 40th Birthday this year, and as the current custodians of this wonderful company and building, we have spent time talking about the big stuff. Who we are. Who we want to be. What we want to do. What we need to do. What is important to us and the future of this organisation. How we can secure the future for the next 40 years. If you know Forest Forge – whether as a professional, a participant or an audience member, you will hopefully have felt the power of a company that has no ego of its own, who wants to create the best art it can, who encourages those involved to reach their potential and fly, wants to celebrate its communities and who is a safe space for so many.
So there we have it, a brief outline of the many findings we have discovered and discussed over the last year. Big stuff. Good stuff. We hope that you want to come with us for the ride, let the arms of this big old mama of a company support you in whatever you want to do next.