In 2010 I had the idea for a new theatre show that would be based around the 1997 Man vs Machine chess match between Garry Kasparov and the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. We had been successful that Autumn in Arts Council GFtA funding for a 2 week research and development of our first show Paper Tom and I was optimistic of following up that period of development with the start of development on a new show. At that point it had taken a year to get our first show mostly made and I thought it was important and the right move to get the ball rolling on the next show to follow that up. The aim of this parallel development was to be able to capitalise on any impetus and opportunity that might be enabled or unlocked by our first production Paper Tom.
So in Jan 10th 2011 I submitted another GftA application to research and develop Deep Blue (£6,732). I also applied for the company to return to the Pulse festival and show Deep Blue as a work-in-development.
I was really positive about the potential of this work and felt that the timing was right. Things were falling into place content wise as the story I wanted to explore in 1997 was still developing in the present. While these applications were in decision limbo IBM unveiled their latest Man vs Machine contest on an American gameshow “Jeopardy” and broadcast the shows in the USA over three nights in February (14th, 15th &16th)
All applications were unsuccessful.
So our development window closed and we worked on presenting Paper Tom at the Buxton and Edinburgh Fringe.
Following a horrendous time at Edinburgh (that’s another story) we were all seriously broken and broke. A call out for scratch work for the BAC on the theme of Machines was put out. Deep Blue I thought was ideal so I dusted myself down and wrote a proposal and it was successful.
The 10 minute scratch performance wasn’t so good and the minimal support and resources really restricted our ambition in that scratch environment. We went into it knowing that the minimum we would get from it was a credit that could hopefully be used as a stepping stone to take the work forward to a proper period of development. That was pretty much all we got from it.
Due to the short application to performance turnaround we had no time to privately fundraise or get funding in place for this work. We were completely skint from Edinburgh. I didn’t want to get external performers in for the scratch as there was no money to pay them so I ended up performing the work myself. (my first performance since I was the Artful Dodger in Oliver at primary school.) I’m still sore about my carefully constructed split channel sound design being half muted for most of the performance but these things unfortunately happen in rough and immediate environments.
Despite this bad experience Deep Blue had to start somewhere and at least the ball was now rolling. I applied to present the next stage of development of this new work at CPT Sprint Festival 2012. This application was successful but again we were informed of this success with not enough time to get any funding in place. Faced with making the work on buttons and in a short timeframe I decided it was best not to present something under these conditions again and decided not to take part in Sprint. At the time I was also tour booking Paper Tom and committing to presenting these performances during 2012. I knew I needed what little money I had to make the Paper Tom tour happen if I was unsuccessful with ACE tour funding as I was already having to sign off on performances. There is a limit to how far a company making and producing new work without core funding can stretch. With the tour being booked in and approaching we were at our limit. All future work was now shelved until after our Paper Tom tour.
So with the tour completed I looked to start again on the next show. I thought it would work well to return to this years Pulse Festival and present an advanced work-in-development of Deep Blue. In 2010 we successfully performed our first development of Paper Tom at Pulse and I have been keen to return to this festival as it offers a high amount of in-kind support that makes things a lot easier for companies like us who operate purely on a project by project basis.
Again due to deadlines put in place by the organisers of Pulse I needed to get funding in place before I would get a decision. So I followed this up with a funding application to the Arts Council to research and develop Deep Blue (£7,332). This application was made with participation in Pulse as a question mark and with viable alternatives presented. I had made the application not dependent on Pulse, which was a good thing as 2 weeks ago I was informed that my application to perform at Pulse was unsuccessful.
The last two weeks in funding limbo have felt really odd as I’ve awaited the impending decision to make our next show.
I’ve seen some really good new shows this month play to too small audiences. We ourselves have struggled with low audiences but that is how it is at the moment. New work needs an even greater level of subsidy to the artists making it as the performance fees or box office splits don’t stretch enough to support the development of new work.
It’s a real mixture of emotions. It has been a show I have really wanted to make and I put everything I had into that last Arts Council application but I will now have to move on. Two productions by other companies about Kasparaov and Deep Blue are now happening or on the way. The Machine will have a 10 week run at the Donmar Warehouse this summer followed up by a run in New York. This show has a near identical premise to my planned production and kills off the last prospects of this idea being viable for us to develop further. I can’t compete with this production but I can take some comfort that the story of Deep Blue is being told by others. I think my ideas and efforts over the last two years are now justified in the proposals that I have submitted to try and make this show happen for us but it is also a big frustration at being unable to secure investment or significant resources to do the show I wanted to do.
A lot has been written in recent weeks about the current state of new writing in theatre. The in battalions report was a long, depressing but interesting read. I wonder how much more compelling the report would’ve been had it extended its scope and included all new theatre / performance work. What I’m seeing and experiencing is that new collaborative and devised work is in a worse situation than new writing.
So today after 2 ½ years of trying to make Deep Blue happen I will stop trying and I will draw a line through it. Our next show is not happening.