Devoted and Disgruntled

What shall we do about Theatre & the Performing Arts now?


January 14-16, The Passenger Shed at Brunel’s Old Station, Bristol

An invitation from Phelim McDermott, Co-Artistic Director of Improbable:

Theatre, I love it and I hate it. 

I’ve been making it for over 30 years now. During that time I’ve performed, directed, improvised, designed, devised, sung, written, and danced my place in this strange parallel world know as theatre. 

I’ve made theatre everywhere from the Camden People’s Theatre to the Metropolitan Opera. I’m both an insider and an outsider. Sometimes I’ve done it well, sometimes badly. I’ve been both feted and eviscerated in the press. I’ve been inspired by and jealous of my peers and other artists in the performing arts. 

Despite its highs, sometimes I’m dismayed by how we still seem to go about making it so badly. That we still don’t communicate well with each other. That often we waste the slim funds we do have on the wrong things and we don’t always practice what we preach.  I’m infuriated by its competitiveness and how easily I succumb to that myself. I feel depressed by how it isn’t valued and how I have to justify and quantify this thing whose whole point is that it is ephemeral and ineffable. I am cynical about it, and I’m wildly optimistic about its ability to question and reimagine our world. Theatre you are breaking my heart. Theatre you are our only hope.

Improbable’s D&D events have been a big part of quietly shifting how the conversations that matter in the artistic world take place; a slow but persistent revolution of meaningful dialogue and emergent action for our arts and culture. It’s nothing extraordinary but it is radical and subversive in its simplicity. I’m thinking about the numerous people who have come to D&D over the years from outside the UK and said they don’t feel alone any more. I’m thinking about Fun Palaces and how it was born in a small session four years ago. I’m thinking about the children that turn up to D&D and are welcomed and call their own session. I’m thinking about their future and how the arts must be part of that. 

This is how we do it: We invite everyone. We gather together. We name all the things we need to work on.  We put it all on the wall and go to work.

Join us at Devoted & Disgruntled 12.  The most creative and collaborative event of the year. Turn up for  two and a half days of improvised conversation and action. No dream is too big, no question too naive, no topic off the agenda.  Remember you do have choice and you do have agency. Right now I want to seize the nettle of my own idealism, to reach out and tell you this: “We are artists. We are people who care about the arts. We have the means to reimagine our future. There is never a better time to do that than in times of chaos. We must gather together. We must connect. We must show up, tell the truth and do so in the ways that only we are capable of imagining. This is the time. Now is the time!” 

For what? For whatever you want to make happen – and D&D is the first step…

I’ll see you there. 

Find out more and book tickets

Read more invitations from Lee Simpson, Katie Keeler & Emma Stenning

@laura_annelliot Thanks @DandDUK for a thought provoking day & excellent conversation. Leaving buzzing to make things happen that aren’t currently happening

D&D is one of the places I go to learn how to live in the future that I want. – Chris Goode

Improbable have been running Devoted & Disgruntled (D&D) – an ongoing international conversation about theatre and the performing arts – using Open Space, since 2005.

“D&D was born out of frustration. I was frustrated both with theatre and with myself. I knew things could be better in theatre and I also knew the way I responded to that situation could be more creative…and I wanted to do something about it.

D&D events and the community that has developed around them involve people taking responsibility for making better theatre and making theatre better. D&D has become a way to engage with the stuff in the wider theatre world I only knew how to complain about before.” Phelim McDermott (Artistic director)

Open Space Technology (OST) is a format which supports groups to self-organise and collaborate around an area of shared concern or interest. All participants have the chance to propose a starting point for discussion, take part in any of the conversations or flit between them all. It is particularly effective in dealing with complex issues where diverse and conflicting views are present.

Over the last 25 years OST has been used across the world in an incredible range of contexts: to design aeroplane doors, resolve land disputes, address economic, environmental, social, political and artistic issues of every kind. Groups of six and of six hundred have used it with equal success.

The events are liberating because they create an environment of possibility. A place where we are confronted with the refreshing yet challenging realisation that things will only change if we decide to make them. Often this situation can leave us feeling that we have to do everything on our own. However D&D Open Spaces offer immediate access to the people who might support and help us do it. We meet each other outside of our usual roles and conversations happen, not mediated through the usual hierarchical structures, but through our passion.






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