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Joz Norris

  • Tape 88: Arts Council Funding

Access Festival – Thank You!

First up, just a huge thank you to NextUp, Impatient Productions, Mark Watson, the audience and especially unwilling but show-stealing stooge Alex Preston for making the first performance of my brand new show Joz Norris Is Your Private Dancer (A Dancer For Money) such a success. I’m really bowled over and proud of the amazing feedback the show’s received, and very grateful to Mark for the opportunity to make a brand new show for the livestream/Zoom format, as I think the combination of user-generated chaos and short-form storytelling that emerged felt really special and like something I’d like to develop further. There will be further performances of it, but I’ll announce what those will be as and when. In the meantime, a big thank you to the audience, and do make sure you check out some of the other online shows that are part of the final week of Access Festival – you can find the line-up and more information here.

Arts Council Funding

The main body of this week’s Tape, however, will be some thoughts on Arts Council funding, because I seem to have become the comedy scene’s unofficial spokesperson on the subject. Since registration opened for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe a couple of weeks ago, I’ve suddenly received a LOT of emails asking about how you can make a Fringe show with Arts Council funding, because of the role their funding played in the show I took to the festival last year. I’ve been replying to those emails, but also thought I’d write up some of my thoughts and advice as it seems it’s of interest to people. (To those readers who also follow me on Twitter – this week’s Tape is a slightly expanded version of a thread I wrote on this subject last week, so apologies if any of you have already read most of it! Hope it’s of interest to those who haven’t).

So – Arts Council England didn’t fund my Edinburgh Fringe run in 2022. I funded the Fringe run myself. Arts Council England funded a 2-week creative R&D (rehearsal & development) to explore the ideas that eventually became a show, which I then took to Edinburgh. In my experience, it takes two years to make a good show – one year of living, exploring, thinking, writing stuff down, working out what you’re interested in, then one year of turning all that stuff into a coherent show. At the end of 2021 I had enough stuff to make an hour-long show, but the show was a bit of a mess. It was about so many different things. It lacked focus. It was confusing for the audience, and therefore not as entertaining as a show should be. I applied for funding because I knew that turning those ideas into a show required help. Here’s a short documentary I made with Miranda documenting the R&D process:

How We Made Blink

At the time I applied for ACE funding, I didn’t know if the stuff I’d written would turn into a show I was going to take to Edinburgh or not. I didn’t know what the results of this work would be, because I wasn’t interested in results, I was interested in process. The big, grand, philosophical ideas I’d written eventually got boiled down to a much sillier, broader show about a deluded magician. The fact that something so lofty and philosophical was reduced to something so silly became a joke in the show, and I think that joke is the source of everyone seeming to think my Fringe show was funded by the Arts Council, but just to reiterate – it wasn’t. The creative process that resulted in the show was, because I wanted to pay my collaborators (and myself) properly and fairly. So, if someone’s aim is purely to make a Fringe show and they want Arts Council funding to help them cover the costs of that, I wouldn’t know how to help with that, and can’t speak as any sort of authority on it. I’m told that, in fact, ACE won’t fund any shows that go to the Fringe, because the Fringe is in Scotland, so outside of the remit of Arts Council England. I’m also told ACE don’t fund pure comedy shows, though I’ve also heard this criteria might have shifted recently for comedy shows doing artistically unusual things. I submitted my bid long enough ago that I don’t know what the most up-to-date information on these two points is, but basically – getting the actual Fringe-specific costs of an Edinburgh run funded by ACE is unlikely, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help with the work you do that might eventually culminate in a Fringe run.

My advice is (and it’s too late for this advice to work for people planning on going to the Fringe in 2023) – work out what your goals are outside of “I want to make a Fringe show.” What CREATIVE goals are you setting for yourself? With Blink, my goals were:

  • Make a show with a simpler, clearer central premise or storyline than my more convoluted prior shows, that has a simple proposition for the audience in terms of why they’re there and what their relationship with the show is.
  • Explore bigger philosophical ideas in ways that are hidden behind the show itself, rather than explicitly discussed. Play with structure in a way to disguise those ideas within the show rather than telling the audience what I want to say, as I had in previous shows.
  • Incorporate different theatrical approaches and disciplines (tech, lighting and sound design, art design, puppetry, illusion, movement, dance) into the show to make something more theatrical and ambitious than the more DIY shows I had made in the past.
  • Develop my own performance and writing skills by building the show around a strong central character I can bring to life and letting the show be driven by the relationship between that character and his assistant, revealed through dialogue.

Those were the main ones. There were probably others, but I forget what they were. All of them were things I needed collaborators for – movement directors, tech designers, co-performers, etc. That’s why I applied for funding, not to cover my Fringe costs, but to enable me to even go on the journey I needed to go on in order to make a new show that fulfilled my aims. Of course, the funding helped my Fringe run immensely, because the show’s upfront creative costs (collaborator fees, rehearsal space, some tech equipment etc) were covered, meaning I could spend my own money on Fringe costs (marketing, PR, accommodation etc – these costs were eventually reimbursed by the box office settlement).

In my experience, it takes at least 1 month to write a good ACE application and they take 6-10 weeks to make a decision. If someone started work on it today, it could well be late April/early May before they had a decision back. As such, I personally think it’s too late or almost too late to be putting in an ACE bid for Fringe 2023, so if anyone reading this was hoping to do something similar, I’m sorry to disappoint. BUT! If you’re an artist with ideas you want to develop and you’re interested in maybe taking them to festivals in 2024, now’s a great time to start thinking about funding and how it can help you. But be really honest with yourself – why do you want funding? Is it because your ideas represent a serious creative challenge for you and you don’t know how to proceed with them, but know you could benefit from a collaborative, theatrical approach? If so, great! You’re probably exactly the kind of person that Arts Council England exists for. Start putting time and care today into thinking about how you want to develop those ideas, and you’re probably at the start of a really exciting and creatively rewarding journey.

Fundamentally, my advice about ACE funding is similar to my advice about doing the Fringe full stop: Are you doing this as a career move, or for some other reason? If it’s purely for your career, ACE probably aren’t interested in it. If what you plan to do has real artistic and creative significance for you and your practice and offers something significant and meaningful to audiences and other communities through participation and outreach, then that’s where you wanna be when considering a bid.

Finally, on participation and outreach – I’m told ACE recently shifted their funding criteria so they’re now less interested in shows that will reach big audiences by selling tickets (as these shows are clearly commercially self-sustaining so less in need of funding) and more interested in shows that engage communities and members of the public creatively in interesting ways. So think about how you’re going to do that with your project. ACE wants to fund stuff that gets people to interact with art in ways they haven’t before. How will your project do that? I documented the process of making my show through a series of rehearsal diaries, newsletters and the short documentary above, among other things. They’ll want to hear more about this kind of thing than they will about how commercially successful your show’s going to be. ACE themselves have goals and outcomes for their funding rounds, just as your project should have its own creative aims. Their outcomes are currently called “Creative People,” “Cultural Communities” and “A Creative And Cultural Country.” Get familiar with these. Just as you’re looking to ACE to help you fulfil your own creative goals by funding your project, put some serious thought into how your project helps fulfil theirs.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – There’s a bunch of great shows at Soho Theatre over the next couple of weeks, including CrybabiesPatti HarrisonCrizards and Alex Kealy.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – The details of exactly what happened are hazy, but I think there were moments of audience-generated mayhem in my Access Festival show on Sunday that have really stayed with me. Probably the bits where they forced me to nibble a clarinet and swallow an exercise ball.

Book Of The Week – I just finished The Courage To Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, and have just started the followup, The Courage To Be HappyThey’re both books of dialogues exploring Adlerian psychology, which essentially is about learning to live your life without fear of what other people think of you – the ultimate goal for all of us in the 21st century, surely. They’re good books!

Album Of The Week – Wild Cherry by Wild Cherry. Wild Cherry are the band that did “Play That Funky Music,” and I find this album very funny. It’s 27 minutes long, and 12 of those minutes are taken up by “Play That Funky Music” and two other songs with exactly the same riffs, chords and tune as “Play That Funky Music,” but with different lyrics and slightly different tempos. I think the reason why nobody ever mentions Wild Cherry these days is because they clearly really struggled when it came to writing songs that weren’t “Play That Funky Music,” the poor dears. Great song, though.

Film Of The Week – Saw Till this week, which is about the murder of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till-Bradley’s subsequent campaign for justice and the role it played in the Civil Rights movement. It’s obviously a tough watch, but I’m glad I saw it as it’s not a story I knew much about, and Danielle Deadwyler’s lead performance is astonishing.

That’s all for this week! Let me know your thoughts, and as ever, if you’ve enjoyed the newsletter and would like to send it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! Take care of yourselves until next week, and all the best,

Joz xx

PS Here’s those two moments I mentioned:

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