It isn't conventional for someone to start a job at a theatre company without having even met most of the employees face-to-face, but Matt Maltby, new producer at Paines Plough, is having a slightly unusual time for his first few months.
Since taking on the role this summer, it's been something of an adjustment, as he mentioned while chatting remotely last month: "I'd only ever met a couple of the Paines Plough people in person before I got the role. I was interviewed over Zoom, took the job over Zoom and have started the job over Zoom. It's a nice time to start, normally you guess have to start with fitting into everyone else's processes but most weeks we start and we go right, "we're doing something we've never done before". It's really strange."
Maltby has long-championed innovative, groundbreaking work – collaborating on Eve Leigh's Midnight Movie at the Royal Court (creatively combining Spoken English, BSL, captioning, and audio description) and presenting the dystopic, accessible The Process as one of the last shows at the Bunker before it closed. He explains his drive for making shows that can be available for all: "Any time we stop making more inclusive work, we have to accept that we are deliberately telling some people that they are not welcome. and we have to understand the consequences of that."
A few weeks ago, the Royal Exchange's co-artistic director Roy Alexander Weise (who Maltby worked with on The Trick at the Bush Theatre) stated on Twitter: "Journalists have asked me several times this week to speak about diversity and Black Lives Matter. I wonder if it's more appropriate for our journalists to ask my white counterparts about these issues. If we keep asking Black people to solve it then the real work is never done."
Maltby seems keen to push diversity wherever he can, particularly now in his new role: "For artists from marginalised backgrounds, seeing another cishet white non-disabled man get a producing job is probably not the most exciting news in the world. But it's important for me that organisations look not just at who they're programming, and what they're programming, but also how they operate internally. The experiences of their teams and their employees are just as important."
"As an ongoing process, you have to constantly ask yourself: 'is what I'm doing good enough for our audiences and our artists?'. The answer is always no. Just when we think we're doing enough, that's the most dangerous spot. The question is not, are we doing enough, it's what more can we do. No matter how well you think you're doing, with inclusion and diversity, we are fighting against systems of oppression that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old."
Paines Plough, according to Maltby, has taken this ethos to heart: "We have been talking to Black collaborators and colleagues about what they need, or what this means to work they've created or are planning to create."
Of course, a lot of Paines Plough's plans depend largely on what is possible given the ongoing shutdown. "what Paines Plough does", Maltby says, "is commission writers. Our digital off-shoot, "Come To Where I Am", has allowed writers to write about the place in which they're experiencing lockdown. we've been able to commission loads of writers as a result when loads of people aren't able to do that. "
The organisation are in quite a good place to be flexible when reopening measures are announced, he says: "We're quite small as a company and we can be quite nimble. Our trump card is the Roundabout [a pop-up space that tours across the UK annually, including a month at the Edinburgh Fringe]. The Roundabout can be assembled in a day, in a number of configurations – you can make it an outdoor space with multiple entrances and exits. and it can go anywhere in the country. That has been an amazing resource in terms of going out to new audiences."
This might mean exciting things in terms of 2020 performances: "We're looking at how we are going to do things with that over the coming months, as there are opportunities to programme but no venues. Or venues that are not yet ready to be opened. If it's a showcase that has been cancelled or shows that are ready to go without a space, we are looking at opportunities to house that within Roundabout. it's all in early stages right now, of course."