Actor/director and film maker Mark Bishop is co-director of Big State Theatre, an independent theatre company which has been in residence at Salisbury Arts Centre since 2011.
“I had worked with various other theatre companies, but a group of us wanted to set up our own company to create our own work,” says Mark Bishop. “It means that we can run the company in the same way we create our shows or films: collaboratively.”
Big State emphasises the accessibility of its comic theatre and the workshops it runs with young people, helping to “develop their imagination and communication skills.” It has also run theatre workshops with multilingual groups, student teachers and homeless people, and introduced WOMAD festival-goers to film making.
“I wanted our company to have a strong ethical stance to run alongside its creative vision,” says Bishop. “Working as a co-operative makes the members feel much more engaged with the running of the company and we feel part of a global family of like minded companies, not competing but moving forward together. Does that sound too hippy? We don’t wear porridge slippers but feel strongly about global capitalism and this way we can make a difference...”
According to Mark Bishop, the co-operative model has the potential to help independent theatre companies stay afloat. “More and more small companies are springing up in the theatre world which is a great thing,” he suggests. “But it is only going to get harder to access funding over the next few years, so the larger companies will struggle to stay afloat and the smaller co-operative-style companies may find it easier to keep going. Creative companies fit well into the co-operative model as they are able to think laterally and creatively anyway, and they tend to like to work as a team rather than a dictatorship.”
But, Bishop emphasises, working as a co-operative and sharing all the tasks of managing as well as acting in a theatre company isn't all fun. “For me, there is far too much office work,” he says. “I would prefer to be out there doing it! But you can’t do one without the other. I come in and check the emails over the first coffee, reply to bookings, make calls, do the accounts, write cheques, send invoices, get computer madness, make an excuse to go outside for a bit, edit some film, run a workshop, go home...”
And, he suggests, the need to muck in and share all types of work makes some people better suited than others to co-operative membership. “You need to be a people person without too much ego who enjoys working with others for the common good,” Bishop concludes.