In the second of three blogs looking behind the scenes at Mind the Gap‘s latest production Zara, their Senior Producer Lisa Mallaghan explores their partnership with Walk the Plank and follows the process from the initial idea to the production going on sale.
Behind the Scenes: Zara by Mind the Gap. Blog 2 by Lisa Mallaghan.
In our last blog, Julia Skelton – Executive Director of Mind the Gap – talked about the company, and where the idea for ZARA came from.
In this blog, I’m going to tell you a bit about what happened next.
So, where were we? ZARA Director Joyce Nga Yu Lee came into the office and said:
‘I’ve had an idea – I want to make a giant baby!’
and it fell to me, as Senior Producer, and the team to work out how to make it a reality – no small challenge!
I managed to bag us a coveted slot to pitch ‘Daughters of Fortune 3: Big Baby [working title]’ at the 2015 ISAN (now known as Outdoor Arts UK) Ideas Summit; it was a three-minute opportunity to pitch the project to an audience of industry people who could make our project happen – we had to get it right.
Joyce Nga Yu Lee, Mind the Gap Actress Anna Marie Heslop and I painted our vision for what has since become ZARA: a mixture of Godzilla, the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, and the film District 9.
In the following 30 minutes, we had our Co-Producers (Walk the Plank), and our London Location Partner (Southwark Council), on board, and in the ‘Marketplace’ afterwards we added Emergency Exit Arts to our team - we were off.
Fundraising. – a detailed, strategic and complex budget and fundraising strategy was led by the brilliant Julia Skelton, who has taken Mind the Gap from strength to strength over the years, and our Business Development Officer (and bid writer extraordinaire) Jess Boyes.
Daughters of Fortune ‘phase 3’ not only includes ZARA, but also an updated forum theatre tour ‘ANNA’, a new series of interviews and published research, exhibitions, digital outputs, legacy events and more - a target budget of £850,000 was needed. Over two years a series of successful bids to Arts Council England's Ambitions For Excellence, Wellcome Trust, The Rayne Foundation, Calderdale Community Foundation and others got us most of the way there and in July 2018 we were green lit.
Of course, between October 2015 and the funding being put in place in July 2018, the majority of the partnership, project development and planning had to get underway. It’s always a nerve-wracking period – knowing you are asking your partners to invest significant time and resources, and to keep large chunks of their company diaries clear, in the faith that the funding will come through. There were a number of bumps along the way, with unexpected ‘clauses’ set by funders, and some unsuccessful smaller bids. But we got there.
Whilst writing this I looked back to remind myself how the relationship between us at Mind the Gap - England’s leading learning disability theatre company - and world renowned outdoor arts specialists, Walk the Plank had started.
It was like this:
‘I’m thinking that a few days of exploration between Walk the Plank and our artists, to see what is possible and try out some ideas might be fun and could help us work out any future potential.’
That starting point of inviting play and collaboration, being gradual and careful, has infiltrated the collaboration between our companies.
We took time to understand each other, how our companies work, our priorities and our strengths. Walk the Plank brought their exceptional skill and experience in outdoor arts, and Mind the Gap brought 30 years of experience in staging world-leading work by learning-disabled performers. From the outset, our challenge was to bring these two forms together; we knew wanted to make an outdoor spectacle that would tell a meaningful story and both move and wow the audience; we wanted the talents and stories of learning disabled people to be centre-stage – not just as performers, but also as facilitators, researchers, directors and producers.
Mind the Gap has trained Walk the Plank in working more accessibly, Walk the Plank has trained Mind the Gap how to upscale our outdoor work - including teaching one of our performers to fly!
This has been a truly equal and collaborative process that has already hugely benefitted both companies.
Final step: pulling it off!
You can be the judge…
ZARA is at:
The Piece Hall, Halifax on Friday 19 & Saturday 20 April
Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (home to Imperial War Museum), Southwark on Friday 10 & Saturday 11 May