Photo (c) Andrew Eaton
I’m meeting Clout Theatre in a café outside Battersea Arts Centre two days before the start of the first London run of its new show The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity. The 50-minute piece – devised by company me...
Photo (c) Andrew Eaton
I’m meeting Clout Theatre in a café outside Battersea Arts Centre two days before the start of the first London run of its new show The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity. The 50-minute piece – devised by company members Jennifer Swingler, Sacha Plaige and George Ramsay (under the watchful eye of director Mine Çerçi and producer Helen Goodman) – was shortlisted for the 2013 Total Theatre Emerging Artist Award at The Edinburgh Fringe, a perhaps surprising second nomination in as many years.
“The first time you think ‘OK, this is the first time we’ve been nominated so we’re emerging’. But when you’ve been nominated a second time you start to think ‘what does it actually mean to be emerging?’” Swingler explains. The group met as students in 2007 at L’Ecole Jaques Lecoq in Paris, and since then have been working together as a company: first in the French capital and more recently in London, to create work that they describe as a “celebration of the horrors of life”.
Due to their recent relocation, Swingler adds that “’emerging’ for us was definitely the idea of emerging into the UK theatre scene”. Certainly the company has never been busier: “every day we have a conversation about marketing or finances or workshops or tours. It never stops”, laughs producer Goodman, who began her tenure with the company in January. Swingler notes that for new companies “there are no set rules for how to conduct yourself, and it’s really difficult in the first couple of years to figure out how you want to operate. If you don’t have a business head – which a lot of artistic people don’t – it’s a real learning experience.”
The group – who share out administrative roles between themselves and still mostly work for free – found it difficult at first to request remuneration for their work. Ramsay recalls not really knowing how much to ask for the first time they decided to request a fee to perform, to which Swingler adds “you have to learn very quickly your own value. Companies think ‘we’re just starting out and we’ll do it for nothing’, and theatres totally take advantage of that. Artists have to look after themselves because nobody else will.” Though the group notes that requesting a certain amount of money for their work has sometimes felt “really shameful”, part of their ‘emerging’ process has had to be figuring out “when we stop being students doing this for fun, and when it becomes a professional thing”.
Çerçi notes that this struggle can feel disheartening “in a world where money is the main criteria of success… we’re devoting so much time to this that we can’t really get other jobs, so it’s a Catch 22 in that you need another part-time or even full-time job to support yourself, but we have to give so much time to the company that you don’t have time to do either.” Plaige adds: “I guess financially this is where we think do we keep ‘emerging’ or do we just drop everything because we can’t continue, and I think this the critical point where either we decide to really invest, or you say ok, I need to make a living…” Luckily for Clout, Goodman is making it her mission to whip the finances into shape, secure more funding for the company and to make sure that they are paid for their work.
Artistically, Plaige sees their repeat nomination as validating, as she feels Total Theatre “were looking to recognise companies that have their own language or world or are trying new things, so in a way the fact that we were nominated again this year makes me think maybe we are consolidating. You could be any company doing your first show – could be good could be bad – but it’s the one you make afterwards: what is that going to be?” Ramsey adds that the nice thing about the nominations is that “there’s a camaraderie between the companies listed,” and the group always makes sure to use their time in Edinburgh to “make connections, and get a measure of where we are right now in relation to everyone else doing theatre from aroun