ECHO ECHO AGM – 3 OCTOBER 2017
A warm welcome to everyone to the Annual General Meeting – especially to Board member Deirdre Gillespie on her first AGM.
It’s been a very challenging year for the company in many respects – in terms of its economic survival, its work practices and its creative development. Both Steve and Ailbe have flagged up more than once that they have very real concerns for the future of the company.
Every organisation is affected by what is happening on the wider political scene and most particularly at our local government level. It’s an understatement therefore to record that it’s been a challenging year generally for the arts – with continued grant funding cuts as a result of austerity measures, the total breakdown of regional government – which remains deadlocked and on top of these crippling local uncertainties we have the added uncertainty of the impact of Brexit.
The lack of funding for projects and the continued reliance on voluntary projects, voluntary time and the goodwill of ensemble and staff means that the year was often more about survival than development. In spite of all this – given the core and programming resources available, the year was an undoubted success in terms of the artistic programme produced. That the company more or less broke even is a real credit to the vision, artistic commitment and hard work of Artistic Director Steve Batts, to each of the Ensemble members from Associate Director Ayesha, to Kelly, Zoe and Tonya and to Barry the Technical Manager – and to the solid, sheer hard graft and calm creative management of Ailbe – very ably supported by Anna Nolan. Echo Echo is a small team that punches far above its weight in terms of its creative and managerial achievements.
That said – real threats to the sustainability of the company remain – but just let’s remind ourselves of the achievements of this past year.
The fourth Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement took place in November 2016 with an expanded programme of performances, classes and events including Chico & Shoko (from Japan), Rosemary Lee (from England – returning to Derry after making the seven-screen film installation Without here in 2012-13), Mary Nunan (Ireland), Ockham’s Razor (an award-winning circus theatre from England that wowed audiences at Foyle Arena), new work for children by Zoe Ramsey and Tonya Sheina, and new work by Leilani Weis and company from Barcelona.
Audience numbers rose significantly with over 1,500 watching and taking part over the two-week event. The Festival reached out to many venues and spaces throughout the North West, some for the first time, and helped create the feeling of a city-wide event. Venues included the Craft Village, The Playtrail, Foyle Arena, the Ulster University, St. Columb’s Park. A notable highlight was the visit of Japanese artists Chico, Shoko and Ichi-go to Donemana Primary School for a cross-community workshop and performance!
The Festival commissioned Kelly Quigley to make an evening programme of new work with Echo Echo Ensemble. ‘Fractals’ was co-funded through a crowdfunding campaign that was supported by over 60 local people and businesses.
Institutional support for the Festival grew with the Irish Government funding a workshop tour of Ireland to promote north-south co-operation. Bursaries were offered to six artists from the island to come to Derry for a Symposium led by Steve Batts and to engage with a range Festival activities.
THE COVE ALL- ISLAND TOUR: The company was pleased to tour a new iteration of its original work The Cove by Steve Batts and Dan Shipsides to theatre venues around Ireland in Spring 2017. It was Echo Echo’s first all-island tour for 10 years since Consequences in 2007! The tour was challenging in terms of audience development but very worthwhile in terms of development of the work and the company ensemble. This tour of the Cove welcomed Maria Svensson for the first time and reopened connections with several Irish theatres. Further international interest in The Cove has been expressed – with possible invitations to Romania in 2018.
IN TALL GRASS: Since 2013, resources for making new work have all but disappeared so it was encouraging to receive a Small Grant from ACNI to research and develop a new piece with Alessandra Celesia in the summer of 2016. After around 4 weeks of studio time, In Tall Grass emerged as a very personal and deeply moving documentary theatre piece that received some of the best feedback from audiences the company has ever received. So far the company has been unable to source funding to produce and tour the work. Producing new work by the company remains a clear strategic objective.
LOST IN FROST: The Ensemble, along with Barry (Technical Manager,) offered another week-long run of their original winter-themed fairy tale in December 2016 which received great praise and has been chosen as Mayor’s Christmas Event for December 2017 with performances in Derry and Strabane.
As in previous years, Echo Echo offered a very wide and engaging programme of participation events at Echo Echo Studios and in the community – there were dozens of projects ranging from single sessions to more intensive long-term programmes and classes.
The Moving Schools programme continued throughout the year with regular projects in Donemana primary schools, and in schools across Derry from Groarty to Newbuildings, from Good Shepherd to Fountain. These projects were supported by Derry Strabane Council Good Relations Fund, the Department for Communities, and the Give Inc Giving circle.
Body Wisdom continued throughout 2016/17. The group created a new large-scale ensemble work (20 performers) with Echo Echo Ensemble and Echo Echo Kids participants titled Walk By in June 2016. The Body Wisdom ensemble took part fully in Echo Echo Festival and weekly sessions were ongoing throughout the year.
An outreach programme in autumn 2016 in partnership with the Acorn Fund and Waterside Women’s Centre engaged older people living in care settings. This project will be further developed in 2017-18 with funding secured from ACNI Arts and Older People programme.
Artist Residencies: Echo Echo Studios supported a growing range of artist residencies by local and international artists, music events and collaborations with Celtronic and Radio Ulster, and studio hires by individual artists and visiting companies. International projects with Italy Contact Festival, Moldovan company Voices. Projects in Russia also took place – to name but a few.
Thanks should go to ACNI for continued core and programming support; to Derry & Strabane District Council for funding through the Venue Fund, the Festival Fund and Good Relations; and to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation – which has recently renewed their funding agreement with the company.
BOARD / STAFF / ENSEMBLE THANKS
Grateful thanks are due to two outgoing directors – to Sinead Devine, after 20 years of dedicated service since the company arrived in Derry and to Matthew Jennings for nearly a decade of committed service on the board.
Thanks are also due to the current and new directors – Cath Mc Bride, Paul Johnston and Deirdre Gillespie for their continued voluntary support and advocacy – which are absolutely vital to the company’s continuing work. A strategic review of the company was conducted with members of the Board and the staff recently and we will hear about that in their report.
A special thanks to all of the current ensemble members – Ayesha Mailey, Kelly Quigley, Zoe Ramsey, Tonya Sheina – and to outgoing ensemble artist Janie Doherty, and to all of the artists who have given their time and goodwill so generously to the company.
And last, but not least, a very grateful thanks for the excellent work of the staff team – Anna Nolan, Barry Davis, Ailbe Beirne and Steve Batts.