The Loft Theatre Company’s artistic policy, and the structure of
its artistic management team, are based on the report which resulted
from our Artistic Review held in 2007. The final draft of the report
may be found below; for a printer-friendly version,
Loft Theatre Company
Artistic Review 2007
Throughout this report, we have included a few quotes from members
(shown in italics); some are positive, some negative, and some are
complex and searching – that has been the nature of this review.
But whatever the perspective, it is clear that there is a huge
reservoir of goodwill towards the Loft amongst our active and audience
members. Everyone wants to make the Loft a better and more enjoyable
This report is rooted in the responses we have received from over 30
members. We are very grateful to all those who have taken the time to
respond, either in writing or in conversation. Most of the responses
have come from active members, but we have also received some input
from audience members – most of which has been positive. If you
are interested in the process we have followed, please see the
Many people have taken advantage of this review to raise issues that
are important to the Loft’s future, but do not come within the
remit of an artistic review. We have not included consideration of
these issues in this report, unless they have a direct bearing on
artistic quality. The two main issues are the lack of social cohesion
in the club, and the strain felt by active members in support
departments. We will, however, pass on the comments we have received
for others to consider. This will need to be done on a
non-attributable basis, as confidentiality was assured.
We hope this review will be helpful to the Management Committee and
the whole company. It has been a pleasure spending time talking to
people, and thinking about this great company that plays such an
important role in the lives of its members and the people of
David Fletcher, Ann Rayns, Gordon Vallins and James Wolstenholme
The 2006/2007 season included some excellent shows that should bring
pride to Loft members. But it also contained some disappointing
productions. This has always been the case. Even in past seasons, that
were judged to be very good, there were always disappointments. We
have tried to examine whether there has been a decline in the overall
quality of productions. The view of members who have seen many seasons
is that there has been a decline. We share this view, but not perhaps
to the extent that is perceived by some. We believe that this decline
in production quality is a major factor in explaining the fall in
recent income budgets, but it is not the only factor. We will leave it
for others to judge the extent to which social change, marketing, bad
luck or other factors have also played a part.
However, we believe strongly that the quality of our work can be
improved, and that this is likely to lead to an increase in income. It
may take a few seasons to achieve this, and steady nerves around the
Management Committee table may be required through this journey.
The view of members is that good leadership is the most important
factor in artistic success – both from Artistic Directors and from
individual show directors. There is also a perception that, in the
last few years, this leadership has been less strong than it should
be. We believe that it is unrealistic to expect that we can always
have the ideal scenario – a single Artistic Director with leadership
charisma, impeccable artistic judgement, extensive knowledge of plays,
brilliant management skills and unrestricted time. We have been
privileged to have seen many of these qualities in past and present
incumbents of the Artistic Director role... but it is a job that most
normal humans cannot do alone. We have, therefore, considered some
ideas for a structure that could help to provide sustainable
There is generally little evidence of theatrical excitement in the
building. Excitement is people; the catalyst for attracting
people is artistic leadership that courts talent and talks up
projects of all kinds ... do not attempt to progress creativity by
any form of dictat from above, let it emerge from an exchange of
ideas and enthusiasms.
We believe that the primary responsibility of Artistic Direction is to
maintain and improve the artistic health of the company, through
Selection and development of directors
Design (the aesthetics, not the day-to-day management)
Learning and development of all artists
Practical co-ordination of artistic activity
We recommend a team of up to six people to take the lead in achieving
success in these key areas. Each person would participate in the
discussion of all the above issues but would take primary
responsibility for one of them. The responses from members clearly
indicate that the selection of directors is the most crucial task and
we recommend that the person taking on that role should also be the
Artistic Director. So, the team might look something like this:
Artistic Director – builds and leads the team and
focuses on engagement with existing and potential directors. Needs
excellent people skills, flexibility and strong powers of
Dramaturg – focuses on play selection. Needs
considerable knowledge of plays, an interest in new work, and
Casting Director – provides support and advice for
directors, organizes auditions, scouts for new talent, encourages
acting members, maintains the Actors
Directory. Needs excellent people skills and the ability to
Head of Design – recruits and encourages designers
(stage, costume, lights, sound), composers, choreographers etc.
Needs excellent people skills and the ability to spot potential.
Director of Learning – develops a mentoring and
training programme for active members; explores the potential for
a Loft Education programme for local schools and groups in the
community; explores the feasibility of a Youth Group, with an
annual production. Needs educational skills and long vision.
Production Co-ordinator – maintains a schedule of all
activities at the Loft, and supports the rest of the team. Needs
strong organisational skills and patience!
Most members believe this is the most important factor in improving
the quality of our work. This is both because of the creative ability
of the best directors, but also because they attract talent in all
Good directors will attract good players and crew... Most people
will not know much about a play when it is announced – but if
it is led by a good director, people will want to be involved.
We believe that long term artistic and financial success depends on
the quality of our work, and getting the best directors is the most
reliable way of improving quality. We strongly recommend that Artistic
Directors should take all necessary steps to secure their first
choices for directors (which should include the development of
promising new directors) – even if this involves compromises in
other areas, tricky negotiations and risk taking with play choice. If
only one of our recommendations were to be accepted, this is the one
that should be chosen!
Good directors require a bit of persuasion – because they are
good at what they do they always have other offers, projects
etc... Can I suggest that some form of more extended courting
might be appropriate.
If there is a shortage of good directors, we believe that the Artistic
Director should feel empowered to ask the same director to direct more
than one show in a season.
Some members suggested that new directors should be identified through
watching the work of other groups. This can be valuable, and
invitations to directors from other companies can be a good policy.
However, we believe that the cultivation of homegrown talent is the
best method of ensuring a sustainable source of new directors.
We received a lot of responses on this subject – but much of it
was contradictory, and there is no clear consensus. So these are the
recommendations of the review team.
We believe that play selection has been generally good in recent
years. The main problem has been with the ‘popular’
plays. This has always been the biggest challenge for Artistic
Directors – finding plays that will excite actors and directors
and will also put bums on seats. Too many of our ‘popular’
shows have been poorly presented, and not all have done good box
office. Also, there are no guarantees of box office success – we
presented a good production of a Ray Cooney farce last year and it
only achieved a little over 50% attendance.
Unless we want to be a purveyor of only the pops (a sure way of
losing talent and spiraling out of control) we need to focus on
the more adventurous repertoire. We should not neglect the popular
play (and do them superbly well) they are economically vital, but
our best hope of expanding our audience and maintaining long term
health lies in those less than universally recognized titles that
currently attract minority audiences. We must be trusted to
deliver ‘serious’ work in these areas.
We recommend that more ‘event’ shows should be chosen
– plays (or musicals) that are different from the standard fare.
‘Do the unexpected’, as one member pleaded.
We recommend that the best plan for artistic health and sustainable
box office income is to reduce the pressure on Artistic Directors to
find three ‘pot boilers’ every season. Priority should be
given to the selection of well written plays in all genres that
attract and excite active members. Of course, we need to select plays
that our audiences will recognize, but let’s make Wilde, Coward and
Ayckbourn the benchmark for writing quality for these choices –
and let’s do them as well as we can!
Again, there was a lot of input on this subject, but there is no
consensus. What is clear is that the work in the Studio is valued by
members and has become a crucial part of our artistic life.
We recommend that there should not be a prescriptive artistic policy
for the Studio. The ‘only plays written in the last ten
years’ policy was a very good one and discovered new seams of
work and a new audience. An emphasis on new and recent work seems an
obvious choice for a Studio theatre, but we would encourage more
flexibility in play selection. A new play could be followed by Greek
tragedy or a ‘discovery’ from the past. We believe that
the Studio should also be a venue where:
The only restriction we would suggest is that the Studio should not be
used for plays that would work on the main stage, unless a very
special treatment was planned.
our most experienced artists can experiment,
we present plays that are not suitable for the main stage, and
great plays can be given a different treatment.
The biggest divergence of views from members is on the subject of
whether the Studio should be used as a ‘training ground’.
Some people believe that the Studio should be subject to the same
quality disciplines as the main house, and that Loft Extra should be
developed as the training ground.
The Loft has always thought that The Studio was a good place for
new directors to cut their teeth. I have come to the conclusion
that it is a far more difficult venue than is often realized.
I can’t emphasise too much how strongly I feel the Studio
should be used to nurture and develop up-and-coming talent.
Our view is that effective development of new talent requires a
flexible approach, and that Loft Extras, Studio productions and even
the main house should be used in whatever way the Artistic Directors
We strongly recommend that the primary consideration in all casting
decisions should be – how do we ensure that we get the best cast,
now and in the future?
We believe that a long term view should be taken when deciding on a
casting policy. There must always be a range of ways by which new
talented actors can find a home at the Loft. Our casting process
should be as open as possible, should be transparent, and should avoid
any sense of cliques, cronyism or nepotism. However, there is a clear
majority (amongst the members who responded on this subject) that
pre-casting of leading roles is acceptable, provided that it is
transparent and well founded.
We recommend that the casting policy for the company should be set by
the Artistic Directors. Our preference is that the current policy,
stated on the website, should be amended to say that ‘Any
pre-casting must be approved by the Artistic Directors in
advance’. We would expect it to happen in a very limited number
of cases. We would also encourage Artistic Directors to consider
occasionally planning a production when the actor is chosen ahead of
Auditions should continue as the best way of casting shows. We
recommend that serious consideration should be given to actors who
take the trouble to attend auditions. However, there should be no
obligation to cast them, if better casting can be achieved by other
means, provided that this takes place after the audition.
We are very pleased to see the Actors
Directory on the website. This is a very useful tool for
directors, as well as being of interest to all visitors to the
Some members suggested that priority should be given to existing
members at auditions, ahead of non-members. We do not agree with this
suggestion, although membership of the Club should continue to be a
requirement for all actors performing at the Loft.
If earlier planning improves our chances of attracting the best
talent, then we should do it.
There is a clear consensus amongst members for variable run
lengths, depending on box office potential. Ten nights should still
be the standard run, but the AD team should review each case with
These are now regular events throughout British theatre. We
recommend that the AD team is given the freedom to discuss
co-productions with other suitable organisations, if the
opportunity arises. This could include working other companies and
individuals who can bring artistic and/or financial input to our
work – professional and amateur, drama and other art forms,
adult and younger.
Some members suggested replacing some of our own productions with
outside lets. Others believe it is important to maintain our
nine-play season. We believe that a substitution should only take
place if it relieves the pressure to plan another ‘pot
boiler’. We reject any suggestion that an outside let should
be introduced at the expense of the less popular titles in the
season. We encourage the planning of outside lets in addition to
our own productions, but we are mindful of the additional pressure
this would put upon support departments.
Loft Extras etc
We strongly encourage the whole company to create as much work as
they possibly can! Whether it’s a main stage show, a Studio
production, a Loft Extra, outdoor events, play readings,
activities in the bar – anything at all, as long as it
doesn’t put any strain on the support departments and
doesn’t cost anything! DO MORE STUFF!!!!!
The outstanding reputation of Loft design – sets, costumes,
lights, music, sounds, props – is currently facing a significant
threat. This is because a small number of individuals have done so
much to create this reputation, but some of them are now moving on and
there are few new people stepping into the breach.
We do not have any quick answers to this problem. It needs a wider
discussion to ensure that new artistic talent is attracted, and also
that management skills are developed to encourage strong and
sustainable teams for the future.
We strongly support the development of learning as a major feature in
the life of the Loft. We hope that our recommendation to identify a
Director of Learning will be implemented, as this will be the most
effective way of making the necessary changes. In the meantime, there
are a few things that can usefully be done.
We were very pleased to see that Geoff Bennett’s recent workshop
was such a success. We encourage initiatives of this kind.
We believe that some form of Post Production review should be
re-instated. There are two main aims – to share information about
practical issues that will be of benefit to future productions, and to
reflect on artistic issues. We recommend that these two strands of
learning should not be compressed into a single meeting.
Training of new technicians needs time, mentoring, commitment,
support and a preparedness to take risks.
The Loft has developed a very strong reputation over many years. We do
not subscribe to the view that there was a ‘golden age’
from which we have irreversibly fallen. These things come in cycles
– and we are in a bit of a trough. We will rise again; the
questions are – how far, how fast, will we hit financial crisis
before it happens, and is there a ‘tipping point’ beyond
which there will be no recovery?
We could just wait for the whirligig of time to help us float back to
the top. Or we could seize the initiative and make the effort that is
necessary to put us back where we belong. It may not an easy ride, but
it should be an exciting one.
We hope that this review will be helpful in this process. We accept
that some of the recommendations might encounter practical problems,
particularly in finding enough people to provide leadership in all the
necessary areas. But, we believe the effort must be made – and
All communities deserve live theatre that combines celebration and
entertainment and the delightful with the demanding and the
disturbing... Although, often rightly, we are dissatisfied with
our experience of theatre, I know of no better way of finding out
As a 69 year old member who only participates as an audience
member and who is not very knowledgeable about the theatre, I am
not sure what I have to offer... I get something from going to
see live drama especially when it is performed by people who are
part of the local community. I am most drawn to drama that has
something to say, be it aesthetically, poetically, politically,
philosophically, etc. I am grateful that the Loft gives me
opportunities for that... I would like to be introduced to what I
do not already know. I would like more theatre that involves
physicality as well as words, and which asks things of the
Thank you for all that you do. It is highly valuable.
Appendix – The Brief and Our Approach
The Management Committee asked us to conduct a comprehensive review of
the artistic condition of the Loft.
We invited input from members. We decided to base our review and our
recommendations on what the input from members – they know what
works and what is not working at the moment. We asked for general
views, but specifically views and ideas on:
We also asked members to let us know what’s missing – maybe
directors and actors they hadn’t seen for a while, plays and genres
that we have neglected recently, ways of working that we aren’t using
the current quality of our work,
play selection and planning – main stage and studio,
director selection and development,
casting and auditions (including the vexed issue of pre-casting),
rehearsals – e.g. how many weeks? should actors learn their
lines in advance?,
design (sets, costumes, lighting, sound, music, props).
We received many written submissions, and also had discussions with a
range of individual members. We devised a series of questions on a
range of topics to guide these conversations.
When considering the current quality of the Loft
productions what areas:
Do you see as positive?
Do you see as negative?
During your input to a season/production to what degree would you
say you are encouraged by a culture of freedom, encouragement and
support that allows you to express your creativity during:
Would you have any recommendations to allow us to facilitate the above?
What do you deem as obstacles to the flow of energy during your input?
Do you know of any reasons why some people would take their energy
Are there any specific ways of working that we aren’t using to
prevent people moving?
What activities would you encourage to help extend the talent pool?
Would you consider methods such as post-show productions and
regular directors meetings effective ways of improving our
learning? Would you suggest any other methods to these?
Has the recent play selection in both the main stage and studio
been satisfactory from you point of view?
Is the length of both main and studio stage runs too long, too
short, too fixed?
Do you think the current rehearsal period is effective in length
and weekly commitment? Do you think actors should learn their
lines in advance?
Do you think we have the right quantity of work (would less be
better, would more be possible, would other ‘art’
mediums such as readings, poetry, music make the ‘Loft
experience’ a more attractive one for you?)
Do you consider that there are any plays or genres that we have
Do you see any methods we could adopt to attract wider audiences?
How would you rate our director selection and development? Would
you consider ways of improving this?
As a director would you consider directing a play that was pitched
effectively to you by the Artistic Management rather than one
you, yourself, chose?
Are there directors you haven’t seen for a while and would
like to see back?
Do you consider the current casting and audition process to be
effective (including the vexed issue of pre-casting)?
Should there be open company auditions, and how might they work
Are there actors you haven’t seen for a while and would like
to see again?
How would you rate the quantity and quality of talent in the
departments of Set design and build, Wardrobe, Lighting, Sound
and music, Props, Stage management?
In your opinion are we spending enough money on shows or simply
not being creative enough with the budgets allocated?