Johnathan Larson wrote it best in Rent: “New York City. Center of the Universe…” So why, after 5 years in New York, did London call me away to start over from scratch? Here are the five reasons Big Smoke called me away from the Big Apple.
1. Public Funds
Unless you are 501(c)(3) registered, it is nearly impossible to get public funding in the U.S. There are one-off grants every year, but there is no major funding for small, unregistered companies. In the U.K., the Arts Council accepts applications on a rolling basis and for an application up to £15,000, you receive a decision within 6 weeks. These grants are not only important in funding the work but are also helpful in building your producing skills. You have to match the amount you apply for in either in-kind donations or other money. So don’t think we’re only using national funding, but it’s great to know that the government believes in us as much as we believe in ourselves.
2. Equity Isn’t Prohibitive
Every actor I have worked with from readings to full productions is part of Equity. There isn’t the great divide between actors who have accrued enough points to get their card and those who haven’t; a divide which seems to deepen the farther from 16-25 playing age we get. However, hiring all Equity actors haven’t made it cost prohibitive for me to produce. No one is getting rich on these shows, but it feels good to pay everyone a living wage!
3. A Great Artistic Melting Pot
I am a Director as well as a Producer. I have always wanted to work on an adaptation, but the theatrical model in the U.S. is still dominated by the playwright driven script, and the stories I wanted to tell didn’t have scripts that I loved. When I came to the U.K. for graduate school, I met the incredible Sally Cookson whose work I had admired. She taught our class part of her adaptation process, which was led by herself and her company. It freed me and it opened my eyes to more models of theatre-making. The U.K theatre is a great melting pot of makers and processes- you can find the one that fits, or make your own.
We have a long way to go in moving away from an older, white, male-centric model of theatre-making, but I can see the changes happening. And here I have many models of women who are making their work both within institutions and freelance, on every scale and in every corner of the country. (I am still waiting for the year that we have an entirely female docket of Creative Team nominees at an awards show.) Until then, I am encouraged and excited by the women creating work and that our visibility is increasing daily.
5. The Right Fit
I’ve lived and worked in Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York before settling in London. There is something here, an excitement in myself and in my work that never sparked elsewhere. Producing and directing, especially as an emerging artist without a home institution, can be a lonely endeavor. I didn’t want a city which made me feel even more lonely. London is just the right fit. So find the city, town, or village where you feel the spark!
I hope you find the place that enhances your spark. And if you come to London and want to talk work, moving across the pond, or want to see a show, shoot me an email.
Jessica Rose McVay is a London based director, movement director, producer, and founder of Jessica Rose McVay Productions Ltd. She is a graduate of UCLA’s School of Theater Film and Television with a BA in Theater Arts with a specialization in direction, and a minor in Asian Humanities, and of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where she earned her MA in Drama Directing and won the Elsa Roberts Directing Award for her production of Sarah Kane’s Crave. She is an Associate Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society in the U.S., and a Member of Stage Directors U.K.