Luke is interviewed by Greg Henley of Pie Magazine

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Luke John Emmett: ‘Knowing you’ve helped create something gives you a sense of pride’
















Luke John Emmett is the founder of Theatre Bath, a grassroots community organisation that champions theatre in Bath. I spoke to him about working in the arts industry, his blog, Arts Banter, and success.

Greg Henley asks the questions | 5 July 2014


How did Theatre Bath begin?

‘Theatre Bath started as a Twitter account in November 2011. It was originally going to be a tongue-in-cheek look at Theatre in Bath, commenting on what was going on in the area. It quickly became obvious people liked what I was doing and our following increased.

‘We then added a Facebook page and a website, which is now getting over 200 hits per day.’


Prior to Theatre Bath’s launch, were you involved in Bath’s theatre scene at all?

‘I was involved with theatre in Bath from a young age. I’ve acted in and directed several productions, some at the Rondo Theatre and some with smaller companies. I’ve worked in pretty much every venue in Bath, providing lighting in everything from small village halls to large-scale musicals.

‘Previous productions I’ve lit include: Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Fame, Annie, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Return to the Forbidden Planet and Animal Farm. I’ve also lit several new shows, many of which have received high acclaim including Pencoweth (musical, coming to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall in May).’


Theatre Bath has helped companies who may have once saw each other as competition form a community. How did it feel to play a part in such a huge transformation?

‘Bath has always had a strong theatre community; the problem seemed to be most people forgot this. All Theatre Bath has done is remind groups that if they work together – by advertising in each other’s programmes, sharing props and costumes and sharing audition information – this benefits the community as a whole.

‘It has been amazing to see everyone come together; people keep on telling me individuals have tried to hold meetings between representatives from all companies for years. It is brilliant to see more people supporting each other. I’m proud to have played a small part in this.’


You’ve also prevented The Bath Chronicle from cutting all theatre reviews, bar those for the Theatre Royal Bath. How challenging was this?

‘You make it sound more dramatic than it actually was. I was forwarded an email stating The Chronicle was planning on cutting all reviews apart from shows at the Theatre Royal. I quickly forwarded it to Theatre Bath’s mailing list and shared it on Facebook and Twitter. The response was basically unanimous: “this cannot happen”.

‘Emails were sent back and forth and we encouraged supporters to email The Chronicle, letting them know their views. The Chronicle agreed to attend an open meeting with members of the arts community and answer their questions.

‘Over 100 supporters attended the meeting. By the end of it, The Chronicle still hadn’t made a clear decision about what would happen. I emailed them every day, asking for a response. We eventually got one: they decided it was in Bath’s best interest to have even coverage of reviews.

‘This showed everyone we were passionate and meant business. We achieved what no one else in Bath had before: a room full of arts practitioners from different groups and organisations. Many said we would never do it again (the Bath Theatre Matters Conference in October 2013 proved them wrong!).’


Recently, you’ve set up a blog called Arts Banter. How often can we expect blog posts and what will these be about?

‘I set up Arts Banter because I found myself posting longer and longer statuses on Facebook. I figured it would be better to have somewhere separate to share my thoughts and ideas, and I’m going to use it to explore these as they come to me.

‘I have loads of rants, raves and observations, mainly about theatre but some that cross over into different art forms. I’m not afraid to speak my mind and challenge practices that others accept as normal, so expect a few provocative posts and hopefully lots that will spark discussions.’


In your ‘A career in the arts’ blog post, you talk very personally of your experiences of school and working in the arts industry. Do you think more one-on-one time with your teachers would have strengthened your career path in any way?

‘It’s a difficult one. Having worked in further and higher education I appreciate how hard teachers’ jobs are. A large percentage of what they do is about ticking boxes. This isn’t their choice; its part of the ridiculous and impossible pressure put on them by the Government and Ofsted.

‘When you’re asked to teach multiple classes of 30 children, fill out reports on each of them, create lesson plans and mark homework whilst sticking to a curriculum, I’m not sure it’s physically possible for more one-on-one time with students; not whilst we’re stuck within the archaic boundaries set by people with little or no teaching experience themselves. The whole system would need to change from the ground upwards.

‘More one-on-one time may have helped me but it would have been more beneficial to recognise that all students are individuals and work best in their own ways. The current system does not allow for these variables.’


With work being so difficult to secure in the industry, do you think phrases like ‘it’ll look good on your CV’ still mean anything?

‘Yes. If you’re starting out you need to prove you have experience. As much as I would discourage anyone from taking an unpaid role, this can be a very difficult industry to break into. I would advise anyone who is looking for experience to make contacts whilst in education.

‘Show a good working ethic around visiting practitioners; let them see what you can do. If you’re good they’ll remember you and may open doors in the future. Also, it’s better to work on shows for free in an educational environment. If you’re going to do it at all then that’s the time.’


When the industry can be as stressful as you’ve discussed, how do you remind yourself of why you love working in it in the first place?

‘Sometimes it does feel hard to carry on. The moments that make it for me are watching the audience’s reaction to the piece you’ve been working on: seeing a child wide-eyed and immersed in a children’s show; seeing people laughing, crying or gasping at something you’ve helped form.

‘You get a real sense of achievement and pride knowing you’ve helped to create a piece of work, even if people hate it; looking at the reasons why they hate it can be just as interesting.

‘Working backstage can be just as exposing as being onstage and I think people forget that. I’m always nervous before a show. Technicians have a huge responsibility in ensuring productions runs smoothly. If something technical goes wrong it can ruin a whole show, but when you get it right there’s an adrenaline buzz that no other job can give you.’


Going back to Theatre Bath’s achievements, the Bath Theatre Matters Conference was a huge success. Which guest speaker do you think made the most important point?

‘All of the speakers had important things to say. If I was pushed to pick a favourite I would have to go with Andy Burden (Development Manager, Natural Theatre Company)’s speech. He pitched it perfectly, played with the audience and had a wealth of knowledge on the current state of the industry.

‘He brought a sense of theatrically to the conference; we almost forgot it was a ‘theatre’ conference and that it should be theatrical. We’ve definitely taken this onboard for next time.’


You have plans for more theatre conferences and workshops. What can you say about these?

‘We have just received one year’s funding from Bath and North East Somerset Council to support us in running workshops and the conference. We are planning to hold workshops on things that aren’t necessarily being covered at the moment, particularly for adults.

‘Current ideas include running improvisation workshops with Jon Monie (Theatre Royal pantomime star), lighting design for beginners, CV skills, arts marketing, social media, audition skills and acting.

‘As for the conference we have booked Burdall’s Yard for 4 – 5 October. We’re aiming to make it more open-space-based so people get a chance to discuss things in an open forum which they didn’t get to last year.

‘We are planning on having a couple of big-name speakers and a host of local professionals as well. We’re still at the planning stage but I’m really excited about doing this again and improving on it from what we learnt last year.’