It seems increasingly that if you want a job doing around here, you’ve got to do it yourself. Or even, if you just want a job. Still, if you’re looking to rise to the challenge, it looks like you’re in the right place.
We’ve already seen how arts and culture take the hit badly in a recession, with venues shutting and organisations folding. But it’s not just a bleak picture out there. As another old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. The spark and determination of those looking to forge a career for themselves in the city is as bright as it ever was.
For those brave souls determined to make their own luck, there seems to be a wealth of opportunity even though the cash and the jobs aren’t flowing. There’s no way it can be easy, but a little help and support could make all the difference in how these fledgling careers pan out – and can give an audience a good night out, sometimes an unforgettable experience, in the meantime.
Young Everyman and Playhouse – the theatre group that started David Morrissey and Ian Hart on their road to the big time, among others – has been enjoying quite a remarkable renaissance this year, and has staged everything from hard-hitting devised theatre about refugees and war (Excuse Me and Intimate), to spoofs (You Are Being Watched), to a son et lumiere showcase of the work of their young technicians (Illuminos) – developing talent on and off stage.
“Everyone @LivEveryPlay is just so proud and stunned by all YEP is bringing to these theatres,” artistic director Gemma Bodinetz tweeted this week. High praise indeed, from a woman who could regale you with tales of the time she worked with Harold Pinter or lived in a house with McNulty from The Wire! There is a genuine enthusiasm and respect for the young people creating theatre in Liverpool today, and rightfully so.
There are so many people in Liverpool doing theatre, creating art and making things happen just for the sheer love of it, that it’s positively inspiring. Obviously, the experience all helps as they start to forge careers in an industry that is always risky to break. But hopefully it is something audiences are beginning to notice too. Personally, I’m pleased that some of these groups have introduced me to work I never would have otherwise seen or known of, which in many cases is a rich gift in itself.
Script in Hand productions was set up by a bunch of recent drama students looking to make things happen for themselves in their gap year. They recently staged their own adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray at Pauline Daniels’ Actors Studio. Grin Productions is the only group in the city dedicated to nurturing new writers, holding regular workshops for anyone needing support and staging shows at The Lantern.
The Unity has been a place to recently catch aspiring young actors out into professional theatre, such as LIPA graduates and students InSTEP, who put on Departure Lounge in February, or Baby, the Musical, just staged by A Living Colour and LIPA.
You’ve got LUST, Liverpool University Student Theatre, comprised of passionate undergrads who stage ambitious musical theatre in their own time (and who by and large do not study drama or theatre); and their community-based counterpart What We Did Next, both of which organise seasons of productions which make up for in passion, talent and drive what they lack in budget. In the last 12 months their productions have included Spring Awakening, Into the Woods and Bare, all shows you could hazard a guess would not have been seen on stage in Liverpool any other way.
The good news is that we have the venues here to facilitate it all, and that’s whether you’re in a theatre company, an arts collective or a band. Cilla Black once spoke to me on this issue (sound the namedropping klaxon), explaining that she never wanted to move away from Liverpool in the Sixties, but if she was ever going to make it as a singer, she had to go where the studios were, and they were all in London. Think Boys from the Blackstuff; Alexei Sayle. It was not really that long ago there was practically nothing in this city to give creatives any kind of break, forcing people in many cases to leave, to study, train, and hone their craft elsewhere.
Now, every other person you meet is an adopted Scouser who stayed on after uni; who loved the buzz, who found everything they needed was right on their doorstep. TV actors like Andrew Lancel have become big names without ever having to leave Merseyside, which he refused to do even during his eight-year stint in The Bill. You can make a best-selling album. You can stage an exhibition people come from all around Europe to see.
The hope now is that the young people getting out there and doing things for themselves find a way of making a sustainable career that pays. But Liverpool, as ever, continues to inspire creative minds, and it is savvy audiences prepared to take a chance who benefit almost as much as those who put in the blood, sweat and tears to make things happen.