A modest office in Leeds is a powerhouse of creativity. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad meets the man behind DepArts.
Last week David Edmunds had a moment when he paused and took a look around his office.
In the top floor of Munro House, Edmunds saw one of his producers meeting with an artist. Another was booking a tour for a theatre show and a third was talking on Skype to a theatre maker in another country.
“That was a nice moment,” says Edmunds who is frustratingly modest about the achievements of DepArts. He prefers the results of his production company to speak on his behalf.
Fortunately for him, the company and the many artists it now represents, those results are shouting loudly about the success of this ever expanding company.
How successful? DepArts is newly responsible for a fund of almost £1m from the Arts Council to tour the best of contemporary theatre into the North East. Working with venue ARC Stockton, DepArts will take theatre shows to places around that region where audiences would previously have missed out. DepArts won the funding after successfully running a similar project in Yorkshire called New Realities.
“It’s the third largest strategic touring grant that has been issued in the whole of the country,” says Edmunds. If it sounds like a boast, it’s delivered as anything but. Edmunds simply knows what it means to his company to be entrusted with the responsibility that comes with such a tranche of public funding.
“I think it’s been identified that we know audiences. We know how to work with some of the best and most exciting artists working currently in the UK.
“We’re eight years old now and we started the company with just me. We now have eight members of staff and work with 33 companies. We have a track record of working with good artists and of delivering what we say we are going to deliver.”
As a production company, DepArts doesn’t come up with the artistic ideas. What it does is find the artists who are producing the most interesting work and puts in place whatever they need to make their work happen, from booking rehearsal spaces to finding venues and to the nuts and bolts like making sure the insurance is organised for a van transporting sets. It is the legwork, the behind the scenes graft that allows artists to go on stage.
“It’s not about us and it’s certainly not about me. I have no desire to be on the stage. It’s always got to be about the artists. They take the temperature of society and see where we are. They are the ones that have the ability to look at the world, see it from a different angle, then gather us in a room and get us to look at the world in a different way for a couple of hours.”
Edmunds’ background is in contemporary dance. He was responsible for taking Leeds’s Phoenix Dance Theatre to America in its heyday and has built an international reputation with dancer Balbir Singh.
Four years ago Edmunds was one of five key figures I invited to The Yorkshire Post to discuss the state of theatre in Yorkshire.
“It was at that meeting I realised the really interesting artists in Yorkshire were ignoring old lines of demarcation,” says Edmunds.
“They were working across form, theatre, dance, installation. I realised they were the artists who had the most to say about today.”
And so DepArts began to produce work with those sorts of artists. It now produces work for companies including Third Angel, Slung Low, Northern Ballet, Bryony Kimmings, Tutti Frutti and Stan’s Cafe.
Alan Lane, the artistic director of Slung Low, says: “The really exciting thing about DepArts’ arrival on the scene in the last few years is the quality they bring to every part of their operation. That level of attention to the quality of the audience experience has been brilliantly provoking to the whole sector. You can see the impact it’s had on the region’s theatre, especially the new writing sector. It’s why we’re so excited to be working them. Leeds has really benefitted from having a producer of that quality in the city.”
Iain Bloomfield is from the other end of the equation – he is the man in charge of theatre where DepArts takes work.
He says: “DepArts are a massive plus for this region and beyond. Their patient and thoughtful support of a huge range of artists is one of the reasons that we (as a region) are beginning to effectively punch our weight on the national stage. On a more personal level their ongoing interest in the work that we, Theatre in the Mill, have been developing over the last five years has been a game changer.”