Knowledge Centre Blog

Fishamble: The New Play Company – DeVos Programme Learning

Jim Culleton, Artistic Director of Fishamble: The New Play Company, taking part in the New Stream partnership with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at The Kennedy Center

Artistic Director Jim Culleton, General Manager Marketa Dowling, Literary Officer Gavin Kostick and newly appointed Board Chair Andrew Parkes talk about Fishamble: The New Play Company’s experience so far with the DeVos programme, and their new focus on building a family of Friends and Supporters. | Interview by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan.

Fishamble: The New Play Company discovers, develops and produces new work for the Irish stage. Fishamble tour locally and internationally, and in addition to producing and directing plays they also have their own training, development and mentoring scheme. This year Fishamble celebrates its 25th birthday with the National Library of Ireland archiving the work they have done over the past 25 years.

Although Fishamble was aware of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center through their American touring and their previous general manager’s training with them, they had not been aware of the DeVos Programme until approached by Business to Arts. According to Jim, the company thought that “it would be a really good way…to develop our strategic thinking about how the company was developing and how we were going to start looking at other sources of funding.”

The company has begun implementing the learning from the programme, particularly in relation to communications with the public, their Friends scheme and the Board. Regarding Artistic Programming, the staff feel that they have a good programme but are working on, as Gavin says, “the level at which we’re communicating it, both internally and to the Board itself, and also to the public.” Marketa is working on improving their social engagement online by starting a blog about the company and its work, and though the company has Twitter, they are utilising Facebook to create a more conversational relationship between themselves and the public.

[The DeVos programme] made us focus on the way that we plan artistically and strategically. As a new play company…we have plans for about 2 years ahead and that’s the nature of the business that we’re in. But what DeVos did for us [was to help us] communicate these plans better to our stakeholders, our board and our audiences. -Marketa Dowling

Their main focus at the moment is on overhauling the Friends scheme and emphasising the idea of their supporters and stakeholders as a family. Marketa mentions that the company has also focused on making the Friends scheme more attractive, and as a result: “We have more friends than we did last year, and more money coming in from the Friends than we did last year, and we do look after them better than we have done in the past.” They have added a variety of new events available exclusively to the Friends scheme, such as pre-show and post-show talks and discussions run by Jim and Gavin. “It’s interesting just to realise there are some things we do that the Friends are quite interested in,” says Jim, “the DeVos programme has helped us with that, with things that we might take for granted.” As Marketa says, the events are a great way to “give them an insight into the journey from the office to the stage”. This new access to a more behind-the-scenes look at Fishamble productions has opened the scheme up to more options and activities that engage their Friends and bring them closer to the shows, which they are financially supporting.

We thought beforehand, who would want to sit in a rehearsal room and see actors stumble through the first read-through of a play? It turns out, actually our Friends and supporters quite like that! – Jim Culleton

Encouraged by the DeVos strategy to engage board members with the programme of the organisation, the board are now “acting as ambassadors for the company”, and have been very involved in championing special events during the year. Gavin feels like the board has developed considerably during this year, stating that during previous board meetings they would generally discuss the artistic programme for the following year, but now the discussions are more focused and specific tasks are being assigned such as which board members are bringing which Friends to which events.

We are thinking about how we can involve people that want to be a part of the company’s journey and want to follow the company… and the DeVos programme has been really useful in helping us realise this. – Jim Culleton

The staff and board of Fishamble are finding the programme useful and inspirational, however their biggest challenge is taking on all the required tasks with very limited resources. With only one part-time and two full-time employees, per year Fishamble have 6 productions, which consist of 250 performances in over 80 venues touring locally and internationally, while also developing training and mentoring schemes. “It’s a busy organisation for a very small staff” states Jim, “so it’s just a matter of always trying to work out what we can manage and making sure that the time spent on something is going to have results. That’s our challenge now and for the future.” Andrew feels that due to this issue, they may benefit from a programme that is specifically tailored to small organisations.

Though the work has been challenging, Jim, Marketa, Gavin and Andrew feel that they have really benefited from the  DeVos programme. “We are delighted and lucky to have that sort of insight” says Jim, “and be able to share dilemmas and thoughts in a very practical way.” All four attendees appreciate the positivity and the ‘can-do’ attitude of Brett Egan, and feel that there is a good fit between them and DeVos. At a time when the funding culture in Ireland is changing rapidly, Fishamble are looking for ways to engage with their supporters and offer them as much as possible in return.

This is an interesting part of what might be a cultural shift in the way art is being funded and promoted, consumed and engaged with.Gavin Kostick




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