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Interview: BAC Artistic Director David Jubb talks to Diana Damian on all things Scratch

Battersea Arts Centre has seen a lot of positive change over the past ten years, from the development of a new programming approach and structure to artist bedrooms, community projects and international collaborations. Scratch has been there from the start as a way to engage audiences and artists in the creative process, and provide a different context and model for showcasing work in progress. A concept that emerged out of a conversation between David Jubb and Tom Morris back in 2000, Scratch has now been adopted throughout the world as an audience-centric development process.

This year, BAC’s Scratch Festival returns with a range of work from emerging and established artists and community centred events. The festival showcases the work of artists who have already undergone a Scratch process – such as Caroline Horton and her show Mess – but also places this alongside work in progress from a surprising mix of artists in a highly social experience. Below we speak to David Jubb about Scratch, this years festival and why it’s so important for adults to still be able to play. Scratch Festival at BAC, 16 May - 8 June 2013.

Diana Damian: Battersea Arts Centre places artists and audiences in a creative dialogue, and Scratch is an essential part of that mission.  Can you tell us a bit more about the  journey of “Scratch” throughout these ten years, from the original idea of opening up work in progress to audiences through to the development process that selected artists go through?

David Jubb: The first Scratch Night was in January 2000 at Battersea Arts Centre in a season called The Shape of Things to Come. It followed much debate with artists about how best to support the development of new work. It also followed many years of work in progress shows. The final catalyst was a three hour night in OctoberFest in 1999 called The Lion & Unicorn Night of Glee in which loads of artists tried out ideas.

When Scratch Nights began the audience was made up of the networks of the artists who were showing their work. This meant that all artists got feedback from a mixture familiar faces and from people who had come to see other artist’s work. So there was a healthy cross-fertilisation of audiences. Scratch showings were based around the idea of the “ladder of development” which enabled artists to take work from a Scratch Night (5 artists, 10 mins each, pay what you can tickets) to a Scratch Performance (1 artist, fuller show, £5 &£3 tickets) to a Finished Show (1 artist, finished work, full ticket price).

Twelve years later that basic structure continues but within a more flexible framework that enables us to work with more artists we haven’t met before through Freshly Scratched, provide more opportunities for artists to undertake participatory work as part of their process, especially in schools, and offer more residency spaces, large or small, in which artists can respond more flexibly as to when they choose to Scratch their work during their residency.

Scratch has now been adopted and adapted in lots of different countries.  It clearly tapped in to a need for a more structured framework for the process of artists developing work in partnership with audience. A director once said to me after a rehearsal room run “it doesn’t get much better than this”. At its best Scratch enables artists to test ideas in a safe environment and the audience get to be part of some of the best bits of a creative process and trace the development of an idea. Last year we began testing an online version which we want to grow in to a platform that artists and audiences can use all around the world to enjoy sharing creative process.

Diana Damian: Battersea Arts Centre has created a culture around sharing and exchanging ideas and discussion about work and theatre in general. How do you think audiences have responded to this? What is key in enabling this relationship to work productively, creatively and socially?

David Jubb: Five things spring to mind.

1. Context – a clear sense of why something is being tried out – even if the answer is that “we have absolutely no idea” – honest context helps everyone to relax and play their part.

2. Producer – the role of the producer is to hold the space between artist and audience and make sure that both are cared for. Both are taking a risk. Both need some support. The producer should provide for this.

3. Environment – the space or building can make a huge difference. Artists and producers can create an environment that works for each specific experiment.

4. Instruction – for key moments in the exchange it is good to offer clear rules for everyone to follow to enable people to feel comfortable.

5. Drink or food – this is all elemental stuff but food and drink relaxes people. Imagine a first date without something to eat or drink. It’s the same with Scratch.

Diana Damian: As a format, Scratch is an opportunity for artists who might be just starting out, and for those who have been working for a significant period of time. In your experience, does each artist engage with that process differently? Is it up to them to manage the relationship and discussion with the audience?

David Jubb: Every artist has a different creative process and their process adapts with every piece of work they make. Scratch places a framework around an agreed stage of that process. So every artist comes to Scratch with their own unique approach and expectations. It is the responsibility of the producer & artist to talk through how it will work – and how the Scratch framework can be adapted to suit the artist’s approach & expectations – including the way that they choose to engage - or not engage - with the audience and their feedback.

Artists tend to get good at Scratch after they have tried it a few times, just like anything else. You work out what is useful for you and what is not, and some learn never to do it again because it doesn’t suit their process or the way they think about their relationship with their audience. Audiences make these choices too and whether Scratch is a process that they like or not. Some audiences just want to see something when it’s finished. Whereas some realise that they love getting stuck in to the process of seeing work develop.  

Diana Damian: The word participation comes to mind when thinking about the ways in which Scratch involves audiences in the creative process, and enables a longer-term relationship to the work. Is that something important to Battersea Arts Centre?

David Jubb: Yes. Scratch adds a participatory element to the creative process, inviting more people to get involved. This principle runs through much of our work. For example, BAC Playground Projects have adapted Scratch to the development of our building. Our Artist-Teacher Exchange programme is about a creative exchange between artists, teachers and young people to explore new approaches to pedagogy. Our partnership with Contact Theatre and PPP is to develop The Agency for young people which applies creative Scratch process to the development of new social enterprises. Scratch is a way of thinking that we use whenever we are trying to invent something or reinvent something. It’s about sharing the messy, sometimes hidden part of the creative process with each other and taking risks together. With all participation, the risks are significant. It’s so important to get the engagement right, and it’s so easy to get it wrong. With Scratch this can be most acutely felt in the way that audiences are invited to give feedback. We have to ask ourselves lots of questions to think through this engagement. Who is the artist and what suits them? Who is the audience? Why give feedback? When? Where? How much feedback? How should we host, hold and support that feedback conversation between artists and audiences?

Diana Damian: BAC Scratch Festival sees work from a range of artists and practitioners this year; the works in progress are pay what you can, and alongside the programme you are also presenting Caroline Horton’s Mess, a performance that has gone through this particular process, and work from international companies.  Can you tell us a bit about the architecture of the festival? What are some of the ways in which work is presented and contextualised?

David Jubb: The Scratch Festival runs for 4 weeks. Work is presented across BAC’s many spaces across the old Town Hall, from the Council Chamber to the attic room.  It hosts an eclectic community of artists – international, national, local, established, emerging and everything in-between. It’s particularly exciting to have international artists in the mix. Companies like The Team (soon to be at the NT Shed) have Scratched new shows in Battersea in previous years, and it’s good to have international influences in the mix of a festival of new ideas. The festival presents mainly scratch work, but also some finished shows which have either been made through the Scratch process, or are being performed alongside a scratch of a new idea from that company. Most artists will be here at Battersea Arts Centre working on ideas for a couple of weeks, some will be living here in our artist bedrooms.  Feedback and food will be central to each night. Our new Scratch Bar will probably be the heart of the festival with plenty of difference ways for audience to give feedback; from writing booths where they can write a postcard to an artist, to the analogue Twitter wall (featuring hundreds of post-it notes!), through to an old-fashioned beer and chat with an artist.  All the scratches will be contextualised on the night by a producer, who will introduce audiences to every Scratch – explaining the process and how important audience feedback is.  This way, we hope audiences enter into a space with courage and generosity.  

We also wanted to do the festival because there is a lot of bad Scratch process out there. Sometimes we are guilty of bad Scratch process. When the framework has not been thought through properly, or the levels of care are not in place. This festival will help us focus on Scratch and think deeply about the strengths and weaknesses of the process. And we will learn from the festival and improve develop Scratch as a result. We’re scratching Scratch.

Diana Damian: The work presented crosses a range of disciplines and represents a diverse landscape of experimental work. Can you tell us a bit about the selection process, and what you were looking for in the pieces?

David Jubb: When we programme Scratch we occasionally offer provocations to artists. But most of the time, it is more important to provide an unconstrained framework in which artists can develop and share their ideas. Our mission is to invent the future of theatre so that’s on our mind when we think about artists and new work. We tend to be interested in artists playing with form. If you look at our three most recent co-productions that were all developed through Scratch you can see how artists have been using other forms: Paper Cinema as visual artists in The Odyssey; Kate Tempest as a poet in Brand New Ancients; Little Bulb as a band in Orpheus. We are interested in how theatre can absorb and represent other art forms and in doing so begin to reinvent itself.

Diana Damian: Community seems to be an important element in the festival. For this year’s festival, Dialogue co-founders Maddy Costa and Jake Orr are returning to enable conversations about the shows for and with audiences, and the bar offers food throughout the evening. Can you tell us a bit about the thinking behind this?

David Jubb: We hope that the Dialogue project led by Maddy Costa and Jake Orr (see will enrich the layers of debate around the Scratch festival. Critics who offer formal reviews of work are not allowed access to Scratch work. But Maddy and Jake are proposing a new model for critical debate and dialogue. This feels refreshing and an important area of exploration when so much around new work seeks to commodify new work. At worst, producers, critics and audience can describe and think about new work in terms of how many stars it is worth. The Dialogue project is looking to deepen debate around new work. It will be like having critics in residence who abide by the rules of Scratch and open up conversations with audiences and artists about how Scratch might develop. Their first residency at Battersea Arts Centre last year was helpful for us to reflect on how we work and how we can develop. Food and drink is important in creating a relaxed environment where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Our Scratch Bar will be serving an evening menu so people can get a bite to eat whilst they chat about the shows.

Diana Damian: As discussion and exchange are so central to Scratch, how do you think this type of work is being evaluated and valued?  In delivering a programme such as Scratch Festival, are you hoping to perhaps reconfigure some expectations around particular types of theatre practice and the very idea of a finished performance?

David Jubb: I think artists and audiences have always known that live work changes and develops over time. Creativity doesn’t stand still. Scratch simply extends the process of sharing work with an audience to an earlier stage in its development. Personally I am a fan of having a deadline when the work is framed as finished – but it will continue to develop after that date. For me, it’s more about the fact that Scratch can help remind artists of the value of live-ness. Think of the amount of theatre you see where it doesn’t really matter whether you, the audience, are there or not. What I like about Scratch is that it encourages artists to appreciate that audiences don’t always like everything to be perfect, they like some vulnerability and a space for their imagination to get to work.

David Jubb is Artistic Director of the BAC

16 May - 8 June
Time to celebrate all things Scratch!
Battersea Arts Centre
Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TN


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