Features Guest Column Published 10 April 2013

Taking Time

The latest peek behind the scenes at the running of Camden People's Theatre.
Brian Logan

Time-consuming things that have happened at CPT recently that have nothing to do with art #1

I arrived at CPT one morning in the last week of our Sprint festival to be greeted by a sign saying “It is illegal to enter these premises.” We at CPT have spent much time and money in the last year trying to make our theatre more welcoming. This is not what we had in mind.

The upper floors of our building on Hampstead Road are vacant, and occupied by a property guardian. (We’ve tried to persuade our landlords to let us use these floors for creative activity – but that’s a longer story.) On this occasion, the property guardians got over-zealous with their signage, which is meant to scare off squatters. They’d glued it to the wall right by our front door, strongly suggesting that CPT – in the middle of our liveliest event of the year – had been shut down by the authorities, for who knows what terrible affront to propriety. (During Sprint, there are plenty to choose from.)

We demanded the sign’s removal. The property guardian said it had to be there because, er, the BBC was coming to film the premises and “correct protocol” must be ensured. While negotiations were ongoing – and to be fair, neighbourly compromises were being struck – some local delinquents (I assume) untimely ripped the sign from the wall, and abbreviated the argument.

Time-consuming things that have happened at CPT recently that have nothing to do with art #2

We’re too soft for our own good at CPT. Visiting artists ask favours, and, like doting parents (aka: mugs), we say yes when we should say no. We recently let two artists store kit at CPT for a few days in a lock-able room in our basement. The first presently came to remove his stuff. The next day, the second came to collect his stuff – but now, we couldn’t find the key to the store room. Which was embarrassing. We tried everything to find the key – including a speculative phone call to artist #1, who perhaps had pocketed it – but to no avail.

Feeling responsible, we called a locksmith. It cost us £100+ to break in to the locked room and change the locks. (To CPT, that’s a heartbreaking sum of money.) Having done so, we waited for the second artist to arrange for delivery of his now-accessible stuff. But he didn’t call. In the meantime, the first artist belatedly got in touch to say that in fact, yes, he had left the premises with the key to our store room. Would we like it back?

More than £100!!!

At time of writing, artist #2 has yet to arrange for delivery of his stuff.

Time-consuming things that have happened at CPT recently that have nothing to do with art #3

We let out our basement rehearsal space to an eclectic variety of occasional tenants, from the Drummond Street Residents Association (cups of tea all round!) to the ace live artist (and veteran of CPT youth theatre programmes) Scottee, and beyond. These hirers include a drama school that has rented the space at weekends throughout the last year. Until now. That relationship had become strained – which is a big shame – and increasingly high maintenance. Last week, it broke.

We’re partly to blame, in that we don’t have staff capacity to closely manage this kind of booking. Hence our very low hire costs, reflecting the fact that, when problems arise at weekends, we’re not always able to deal with them. My Saturdays were repeatedly gate-crashed by calls direct from this drama class, complaining about a malfunctioning light or someone stepping on a nail. Worse, their students once had their purses stolen on our premises, while on another occasion, our front-of-house staffer, scheduled to open and close the building for them, didn’t show up. (He was in hospital, having been mugged the night before.)

Administrating this relationship, and apportioning blame on the many occasions when things haven’t gone smoothly, has hogged hours of our time – on weekdays as well as weekends. It won’t any longer – and now we’ve got Saturdays and Sundays vacant in our basement. If you know anyone who needs workshop space at weekends, and doesn’t expect it to be as slickly run as the Swiss parliament, give us a call.

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Brian Logan is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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