It’s good, but does it have a kettle? Advice for finding rehearsal space in London
Chris Neels investigates what you need to know about finding a good rehearsal space in London – what to look for and what to avoid!
A kettle and some form of heating are important. Also I think you should approach all spaces with an open heart and a curious mind.
Putting on a new production in London can be challenging. In a city with so many performance spaces, one of the most difficult problems for a new company can be finding something affordable and appropriate.
We sat down with Liz Counsell (Producer for Nabokov, Tongue Fu and Deaf Men Dancing), Rebecca Durbin (Artistic Director, PLAY Theatre Company), Callum Cameron and Paddy Holt (Co-Artistic Directors Fledgling Theatre Company) to get their advice on what to look for in the perfect rehearsal space in a city where suitable available spaces seem to be difficult to find.
What’s the first thing you look for in a rehearsal space?
Rebecca Durbin: Lighting is important. Natural light is ideal but often a bit of a luxury, overly bright and artificial strip lights aren’t very pleasant after six hours in a rehearsal room. Flooring is also important, something fairly even and clean enough to roll around on.
Paddy Holt: I look for comfortable isolation. The ideal space is separate enough from the outside world and the conditions inside it are comfortable enough for the company to work with minimal distraction.
Callum Cameron: Sure, also ideally having no nails or sharp objects coming out of the floor is good (we have had that before!). Some form of heating and a kettle. The last thing you want is to be freezing whilst you’re trying to work.
Liz Counsel: It varies hugely between project and Director preference! Generally I look for natural light, friendly staff, and a smooth floor. For Deaf Men Dancing we also need mirrored spaces for choreography.
CC: We always look for reasonable rates. Rehearsal space can leave a massive dent in your budget so make sure that you’re getting something you can afford. Also (most importantly) a pub nearby and a train station very nearby is a real bonus.
Often when rehearsing, the equipment available to a company can be as important as the room they’re working in. It’s difficult to rehearse a dance show when you can’t play music, or a circus show on a floor you can’t tumble on.
What equipment is vital to have available when booking a space?
RD: Our needs are fairly basic when is comes to rehearsal space. Some chairs, a couple of tables and some clean toilets (you’d be surprised!) will see us along fine. Wi-Fi is really useful too.
LC: PA system is pretty important, as it’s always useful. Also storage is wonderful, especially if you’re going to be there for a full rehearsal process.
CC: A kettle and some form of heating are important. Also, I think you should approach all spaces with an open heart and a curious mind.
PH: Oh, definitely a kettle. Power sockets and radiators will do me. I would always favour scarcity over clutter for a creative space.
Many new companies haven’t had the opportunity to form the relationships with spaces often required to secure quality time in rehearsal space and finding a space in London can lead companies to some pretty strange places. Desperate times can lead to desperate measures…
Where’s the strangest place you’ve ended up rehearsing?
PH: The strangest place I’ve ended up rehearsing would have to be a Soho pub on a Friday lunchtime. We weren’t even drinking and we took up a whole table. Not sure we would be welcomed back!
CC: I once rehearsed a kid’s show in a cemetery!
LC: Above Elephant and Castle station there are some old offices that have been converted into guardianship properties, they have a rehearsal space, it’s weird but brilliant, and the walls are even mirrored.
RD: ND2’s (New Diorama) rehearsal space in an old financial trading floor is a mad one!
Put it out on social media that you are looking and what you are looking for. Ask your friends, people you know and people you admire for tips on who to approach. Do not waste what little budget you may have on rehearsal space!
Every company and creative has different needs when finding the perfect rehearsal space. Unfortunately, due to the nature of funding in Fringe theatre, often sacrifices and compromises have to be made just to get the work to production. A lack of space has lead to the beginnings of a small exodus of artists heading out of the city in search of affordable opportunity to create.
Any final advice for those seeking out a quality rehearsal space?
LC: First and foremost, budget adequately! Secondly, ask your friends and creative teams, you never know who owes you a favour. Thirdly, look at a venue’s responsibilities and ethos, maybe the work you’re making will tick a box for a venue and they’ll give you subsidised rehearsal spaces.
RD: Definitely ask around. We’ve found some of our best rehearsal spaces through other creatives.
CC: Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount, sometimes the people who run spaces want to help out a young company especially if it means you’ll carry on using them.
PH: Put it out on social media that you are looking and what you are looking for. Ask your friends, people you know and people you admire for tips on who to approach. Do not waste what little budget you may have on rehearsal space! Anywhere will do, ultimately, and that money is far better off selling the actual show or feeding yourselves.
When looking for a rehearsal space on a slim budget you must be prepared to work and adapt to whatever your budget allows. Striking the balance between what is creatively important and financially achievable can be one of the greatest challenges when creating a new work. Rehearsal Space Finder is a great online resource to help get you started. It caters to all types of creative work and allows you to set location, budget, size, etc. Ultimately, every project is different and in a city that is as rich in performers and creatives as London there is always a perfect space somewhere, the key is finding it.
Chris Neels is a writer and director based in London. Originally from New Zealand, Chris is a founding member and Co-Artistic Director of Fledgling Theatre Company.
For more ideas, take a look at our list of rehearsal spaces on Contacts.