18 February 2021 / Grants and Awards

Report from GUSH Theatre

GUSH Theatre applied in the summer for one of the STR’s Covid-19 Support Grants. Lisa McKinley from GUSH writes now about how their performance night, Theatre Mix, has adapted since March 2020 with the help of the STR and Arts Council England.

Theatre Mix began as a seedling of an idea between two Birmingham-based artists, Holly Clark and Lisa McKinley, in late 2019. It has changed and adapted since then, due to ever-developing circumstances, but remains at its core: a monthly cross-artform performance night to platform local artists. Not fitting quite neatly into a box, it’s a bit of a cross between a scratch night and open mic. It’s cross-artform; we welcome scripted, devised, spoken word, music, poetry and are open to suggestions. Through the way it works, we aim to create a platform for artists in and around Birmingham to develop their work without incurring an expense (often a barrier in developing new work), whilst also removing the financial barrier for audiences with a Pay As You Feel system.

We held our first Theatre Mix at The Mix community cafe, Balsall Heath, in February 2020 and our second in March. Then we all know what happened in March. So we adjusted our model and moved onto Zoom for some more casual creative sharing sessions for a few months. As things progressed, and we were keen to reach live audiences again and give performances opportunities to local artists, we began planning our return to live performances. Thanks to The Society for Theatre Research, we were awarded a £200 Covid-19 Support Grant that would go towards a much-needed PA system. We also used the grant as “match funding” towards a larger Project Grant from Arts Council England and – huzzah! – were awarded the Arts Council grant.

We’re now in 2021 and, due to the aforementioned ever-changing circumstances, we have had to change our plan slightly. Theatre Mix is a live-streamed event for the time being. We live-stream it from our YouTube channel, with all performers patched in from their own homes. There are two types of performance slots: Artist Slots and Open Slots (we do realise that people doing the Open Slots are artists too!), and the live-stream can be viewed for free, with the option to donate via our crowdfunder page for any viewers who wish to.

Artist Slots are paid slots for a 15-20 minute set, aimed at work that is more developed or artists that are further along in their development. There is an application process for these slots.

Open Slots are just that – open. These slots are shorter (up to 5 minutes) and are first come, first served for each art form. They’re unpaid and, in lieu of travel expenses, we have a drink of their choice delivered to enjoy at home.

The live-streamed events that we affectionately call Theatre Mix @ Home are hosted by organisers Holly and Lisa, with all the techie magic done by Tarnjeet Johal.

We’ve held two so far, in December 2020 and January 2021. We’ve had a range of performances from Birmingham-based artists including monologues, character comedy, music, poetry and spoken word. Obviously, there’s a lot about live events that can’t be replicated in live-streams, but it’s helped us to reach a larger audience than we could have done live and each of the performers now has a clip of their work up online to continue reaching audiences (as well as a digital copy for themselves!). Importantly, no one has had to leave their own home to make these nights happen. We still miss live events and are looking forward to getting back into the venue when we can, but it’s good to be making some performances happen, creating a place for local artists to develop their work and a space for audiences to access it for free.

‘It was great to have the opportunity to perform in these uncertain times and to be introduced to new, upcoming artists!’  Open Slot performer, January 2021

​”Beautifullllllll event!! Thanks to all you artists.” Live-stream viewer comment, December 2020

We’ve got two more live-streams planned for 11th March and 15th April and both can be accessed for free via our YouTube channel:

We will be doing open calls for Artist Slots and Open Slots for both events, and these can be found on our social media pages:

We still haven’t purchased the PA system (we can’t use it whilst remote live-streaming!) but it’s all in the plan for the coming months and will be most welcome when we are able to return to in-person events, be that with a socially-distanced audience or live-streamed from the venue. We’re looking forward to creating more opportunities for artists and continuing to break down barriers for both artists and audiences.

Images in order: Infographic advertising the event; Artist Slot Rachel Baker, actor & comedian; Artist Slot Philippa Zawe, singer-songwriter; hosts Lisa and Holly during the live-stream; Open Slot Romy Ashmore-Hills, singer-songwriter; Artist Slot Casey Bailey, poet.