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Interview: Chloe Nelkin on Positivity and where we go from here

I think one of the things we will learn from this nightmare is the power of the people involved in the arts community

Chloé Nelkin Consulting has been a leading name in the world of theatre PR since it was founded in 2010. A decade on and it’s a name that anyone involved in theatre is likely to have come across, having worked with countless shows and some of the best fringe venues in London.

And right now, with theatreland in the dark, and venues and those who work in the industry not knowing when they will be able to work again, what better time to hear from Chloé Nelkin herself about how we can stay positive and prepare for when we can finally take our seats again.

Before we talk about the current situation, tell us a little about CNC, and why you’re such a respected name within the theatre scene?

Firstly, thank you so much for such a kind introduction.  It really means a lot to me that we have great relationships with outlets like you. CNC is a PR and marketing agency working across the arts with a strong commitment to theatre from West End shows to small-scale pieces staged by new writers at the start of their careers, and of course the Edinburgh Fringe – a platform I’m hugely passionate about and which represents an important part of our year.

Edinburgh is an incredible launchpad for new writers and new companies (take a look at schemes such as the Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Theatre Reserve), trying out work for the first time on this giant stage. We’ve looked after some pretty epic shows in our time including the very first appearance of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef.  But our support of new companies isn’t just limited to the Edinburgh Fringe.  It’s so special to me that we work with people and companies as they grow, helping pave their way to becoming the superstars of the industry.

We only work on projects we love and with people we like and that means we’re able to stay honest and really committed to everybody we’re supporting.  I hope this ethos is why we have such close friends in the industry.

How is CNC coping with the shutdown?

Our work is built on relationships and, although we have lots of coffee or cocktail catch ups, a lot of what we do is over the phone or email.  So, while it’s bizarre to be at home, it’s also a transition that’s very easy to make as long as we have wi-fi!  I’ve become very au fait with Zoom and FaceTime and Teams and all these platforms mean we can actually see people and still speak face-to-face. 

Are you concerned that some venues and productions companies may not survive the shutdown?

Of course. It’s a concern shared by many in the industry but I also think it’s too early to get a true sense of what the theatre landscape will look like when we reopen. What is for sure is the amazing fighting spirit that exists among companies. I’ve had such inspiring conversations with creatives who are using this time to plan, create and think ahead, companies who are refusing to dwell on dire straits but planning ways to make their postponed shows even better and even more accessible. The whole theatre community is joining together as one large support group and I hope that this, combined with government and ACE initiatives, will enable as many companies and people as possible to get through these difficult times. 

What advice would you have for shows that either closed early, or never even got to the stage?

Know that you are not alone, make the most of the supportive community who surround you and ensure you are a part of the conversation – even in a small way.  Think about what assets you have that you can share – videos from the rehearsal room, rehearsal pictures, backstage footage, script extracts. Find ways to excite people about your project. Host Q&As on your social platforms explaining the origins of the work. Also use this as a time for development. Ask yourself what you would have done differently had you had an extra couple of weeks and, if possible, use this weird hiatus to implement those changes. 

What do you think of the digital offerings that many venues and companies are putting online, and what advice would you give them?

Not everyone has the resources to share work digitally and it’s important to be properly equipped to do this and not feel pressured to jump on the bandwagon. I think the way the industry has risen to the challenge of providing digital resources is incredible.  Take a look at HighTide’s Lighthouse Programme, Hoopla’s improv classes on Zoom or #OperaHarmony run by Ella Marchment.  Even though doors are closed, audiences still exist and it’s inspiring to see venues tackling this head on.  Remember to support initiatives from your colleagues and in turn they will support you.  As with normal show openings, there’s a lot of competition and we don’t want to drown each other out so it’s important to be respectful of each other in this regard.

What positives do you think we should take from the current situation?

I think everyone in this industry works crazily hard, often working long hours and not having much time to unwind and restore our energies.  Many people will struggle with the period of lockdown and isolation that we find ourselves in but let’s try to use this time for us – make sure you’re getting fresh air, remember to exercise, hydrate, go to bed at a decent time and find ways to relax and not worry all the time. 

And what can everyone do to help?

Many theatres, including those we work with, are asking the public to consider donating their tickets rather than having a full refund.  Of course, not everyone is able to do this but for those who can even the smallest contribution can offer major help. This is an unprecedented situation for any government and they continue to roll out new initiatives all the time to support not just the arts, but all the amazing businesses in the UK.

On a non-monetary level, join the community and let people know you’re out there. Do you have skills to swap?  Can you offer advice to anyone who is struggling? Maybe just take a second to like someone’s post on social media if you think they’re doing something interesting and important.

Will theatres be less likely to take risks on emerging talents when they reopen, or will this enforced break allow for a whole new generation of talent to emerge?

I actually think we are going to end up with a combination of these situations – small new companies may have been knocked badly by the financial implications of our current situation and may take a while to rebuild and feel ready to take the risk of staging work.  But it doesn’t mean we won’t hear these voices, either in collaboration with other companies or through digital channels. 

I truly believe in the fighting spirit of those in the arts and I do think that maybe people who haven’t yet broken into the industry will be using this time to learn from their future colleagues and to be creative. Take note of what other people are doing and ask yourself what you think works and what doesn’t.  Ask yourself what you would do better. Maybe, now is the time to develop a mini-plan which you have never had the time to do. As I mentioned before, now could be the time to re-consider on an already finished project and ask how you can make it better. There will, no doubt, be a huge appetite for theatre once buildings reopen but we are also going to have to entice audiences back through the doors with a host of amazing work. 

What has been clear is how the whole theatre world has tried to rally around and support each other, for example New Diorama inviting the Bunker to host a final closing party at their venue. But is there more the industry could do to work together to ensure we all come through this bigger and stronger?

I think one of the things we will learn from this nightmare is the power of the people involved in the arts community and I’m filled with joy seeing the shared positivity and hope which is galvanising others.  People are swapping skills, organising large-scale Zoom chats for colleagues in similar roles across the country and offering their services pro bono.  We are already working together in unprecedented ways.  It’s important to remember you are not alone.  If you need help right now, even just for a chat, don’t be afraid to ask.  Let the industry support you!  When the crisis ends, we will be closer as an arts community than ever before – better placed to work together, to help each other and to produce amazing arts projects that the world will be eager to receive.  

And finally, what are you most looking forward to when we do return to normal?

A lot of our future shows have quite uncertain dates right now but we’ll definitely be sharing news about the amazing things that are coming up as soon as we’re able to. I’m really proud of some of the fantastic companies CNC works with and there will be a lot of truly brilliant things to tell you about. In the meantime, stay tuned in to some of the venues we work with such as the Pleasance, Polka, Ovalhouse and The Actors Centre to see what they’re up to. 

As for me, I can’t wait to commute, to get back into the office and see the CNC team in person, to hug someone hello and have proper face-to-face meetings.  I’m excited for normality.  But, in the meantime, I’m staying positive, taking my one walk a day and exploring the amazing part of London I live in and thinking ahead for when the doors reopen. 

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Everything Theatre would like to thank Chloe for taking time to talk to us, and as she says, this is a time we should all support each other. So, if anyone would like to talk to us for an interview, email us at info@everything-theatre.co.uk

About Rob Warren

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Rob accidently ended up working in social housing as a temporary thing. That was ten years ago and hasn't got around to leaving just yet as it fits nicely in with his political views of the world. Started out writing music reviews. Spent many a happy night propping up bars in the back rooms of London's dodgiest music venues. Whilst he is still looking out for the next great band, Rob eventually got into theatre as you get to sit down rather than stand. Theatre was also kinder on the hearing, which had never recovered fully from the last Primal Scream gig he attended. Like his work, Rob tends to like his plays a little social leaning, which probably explains why he struggles to find people to go with him half the time.