So, on Friday as you may know, there was a fire at Battersea Arts Centre. A big and pretty terrible fire.
To be honest – it’s quite hard to know where to start.
No one was hurt and miraculously they managed to reopen the front section of the venue the following day But the fire destroyed, entirely destroyed, a room called The Grand Hall. Which was, until friday, as the name suggests – a magnificent old room, with a a unique and staggering organ behind and within the stage. Now – it doesn’t exist. The fire also took the offices and a lot of equipment, both theatrical and administrative.
It is all a bit bewildering and terrible.
BAC* is an incredible place, an incredible organisation in an incredible place. Indelibly linked to and of its venue. Entirely engaged with and delighted by where it lives. They support work and create work and encourage work in a uniquely thankless way. The venue is genuinely home to a constellation of people and ideas and the very best type of ambition.
You may not have been there. You may have only encountered its name in these intermittent emails asking you to watch things i’ve made but the fact is that if since, 2006 – you have seen any show at all that i have made then the roots of that show are tangled into that building and those people. I’ve been invited and allowed and encouraged to start things there that have then toured the country, or gone to the National Theatre, or The Old Vic, or visited New York, or Australia or toured the UK. It has, all of it, begun in this battered, brilliant, beautiful building.
The depth and breadth of its influence can’t really be over stated – There were articles on Friday, which in the rush to report something found themselves reducing the sprawling mess of tragedy to it’s possible effect on my previews of a new show, which was, to be honest, a pretty facile and self interested angle for a website trying to generate traffic. Reducing this place and the panoply of artists it’s enabled and encouraged to one minor irrelevance was to my mind bafflingly short sighted. This is such an important building, yes – to me personally but also historically and culturally. My work there is like one tiny dot in one of those massive pictures made of dots that you dont realise is made of dots until you look closely and then you’re like
“HANG ON EVERYONE – THIS IS MADE OF DOTS!!!!!!”
You know the ones i mean.
My point is that if you spend any time it the worlds of theatre or live art or comedythen you will be surrounded, without knowing it, by people who learned things at the Battersea Arts Centre. People who were allowed to get things wrong in a small room in a wonderful building on Lavender Hill.
It feels very odd and very sad to be thinking about the stage in that room and the corridors besides it and the wonderful domed ceiling and the astonishing sound of the pipe organ and wishing i’d known at the time that i was seeing and hearing those things for the last time. That when i stood on the edge of the stage, looking out, feeling the slightest spring in the old, worn, wood – that i would never do that again.
But i didn’t notice** because we dont notice.
Anyway – the reason for this email is to ask you to make a contribution to their rebuilding fund. A large part of their working model was based on finally have put the infrastructure into the Grand Hall which enabled them to operate a mid scale (500 people) venue. This not only meant that shows could “graduate” through the building into a commercially viable space for a proper walloping run but also generate invaluable money for BAC to continue it’s work.
Now they need to rethink and replan and rebuild. And they will – they are brilliant and they will do amazing and ridiculous and courageous things in response to this sadness. Some of those things i will adore unequivocally, some of them will change my mind, some of them will open my eyes and some of them i will absolutely hate – and that is how i’ll know that BAC still lives.
Also – my previews are happening, in case you wondered.
Thanks for you time.
* BAC – Battersea Arts Centre – Duh.
** I was probably busy screaming obscenities and stamping my foot for effect. Remember me that way. Always that way.