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Slung Low’s Alan Lane: “However long we are needed: we’ll keep going.“

“We didn’t change, the world did. I want the community to rise up and set fire to something,” says Alan Lane, Artistic Director of Slung Low.

Through the long and painful months of the pandemic, Lane and his team extended their remit to meet immediate local needs during the coronavirus crisis.

They have been co-ordinating the community response in Holbeck and Beeston on behalf of Leeds City Council, meaning any requests for help from the 10,000 households in the area have been passed on to them.

As well as running a foodbank from the Holbeck, picking up prescriptions, putting bins out for residents, Slung Low curated a community art exhibition on lampposts around LS11.

For Lane, and for Slung Low, everything they do is to entertain or provoke or inspire to connect directly with their community.

Still, it is all in a day’s work for Lane who has been hosting an online fortnightly gameshow called You Can Bet? He has the confidence and experience to continue to redefine what an artistic director does.

Alan Lane

Alan Lane

We are talking on the phone the day after he successfully hosted a drive-in edition on Facebook Live. “Essentially, we made 3 hours of live television in a car park. 2,000 people have now watched last night’s episode on Facebook. We were being pushed along on a wave of enthusiasm. We used a drone, we used an axe, we strapped knifes to hats. We’d run out of silly or dangerous things to do! It was great fun.”

“I want the theatres to be vital in whatever way that they want to be. What I get furious about is that not all arts organisations are using the full range of their imagination in their response to all of this. As a community of artists and arts organisations that to me feels like a real failing,” Lane says

That is crucial. Because here is the thing about Alan Lane: he is uncompromising. He has no time for platitudes.
So, when I ask him about producer Sonia Friedman’s recent article for the Telegraph citing Slung Low as a key community focussed organisation, I quickly get the impression that he is not particularly fussed.

“On the one hand it was very kind, but I don’t think Sonia Friedman would recognise me in a line-up, actually,” he says.

Does that bother him? “It can be frustrating. Obviously, I get that we do not have to all be the same,” he adds. “It does not mean that I hate commercial theatre. I value and respect that world completely. But when leaders of British theatre go on Radio 4 to save us, it does feel strange. I do think that perhaps British Theatre is too wide a term now. I don’t see it all as the same thing.”

What we are doing is trying as hard as we can and trying hard to live our values; the aspirations that we have,” he says. “In another reality we are basically a large events company, and the conversations that we must have as organisations around surviving, or not being able to survive is how are our values driving what we do and who we fund publicly. However long we are needed: we’ll keep going.”

Recently, though, Lane published a blog advocating for a fairer system and exposed some of the overwhelming factors his team faced during the ongoing community response for Leeds City Council.

Slung Low artistic director Alan Lane helps one of the volunteers deliver food parcels in Holbeck . Picture: Steve Riding

Slung Low artistic director Alan Lane helps one of the volunteers deliver food parcels in Holbeck . Picture: Steve Riding

Would he have done anything differently? “I don’t regret a moment of it, even though some of it has reduced me to tears,” Lane reflects, describing the beginning of lockdown as “very dark.”
As such, it is impossible to read Lane’s recent blog without being forced to cope with bouts of sadness and helplessness – true to form it is direct and uncompromising.
Lane knows it is long, slow, patient work. Would he, I ask, say that he was an idealist. “I don’t think I am an idealist,” he says quickly.

“I’m not winning an argument by writing my blog. I am, though, winning the patience and the labours and the value of our supporters. You can talk about it from all perspectives. What I do get furious about is that not all arts organisations are doing their best. I do not envy them, cultural leaders. God love them. But I do think we all can and should behave with a common decency.”

Slung Low HQ - The Holbeck

Slung Low HQ – The Holbeck

The theatre world must connect with those who are disaffected, and now more than ever should be facing some unpalatable truths about how the artform is perceived.

Does he think theatres will regret making content like One Man Two Guvnors available for free online during shutdown? “Essentially, we have to stop trying to fix a business model that is fucked during a crisis,” he says.

The current structures we have involve us spending hundreds of million of pounds of public money on the arts in this country, and it still has to charge ticket prices that are beyond the reach for much of the nation. That’s not a sustainable, useful or kind structure. It never was. There are people in this country who cannot afford a pound for a ticket. I know these people exist because I am delivering food to them. They are a part of a wide community who are locked out of an arts provision that we’ve all already paid for through our taxes. It has a cruelty to it,” says Lane.

When I interviewed Lane in 2019 we talked about a fairer system of arts funding and the challenges of making work in an uncertain time.

The Slung Low Team

The Slung Low Team

With Brexit round the corner and the nation coming to terms with a new normal post-coronavirus, where do we go from here?

“I am interested in what people do, not what they say, he says. “Every time that we are faced with this problem the answer is to do the thing itself.”

He continues. “So, If we are truly serious about disabled creatives, working class artists, artists of colour or young people, then we are going to have to do better and adapt, and fully embrace change that is ahead of us.”

Lane and Slung Low leave their mark on the people of Holbeck, with profound and personal, political acts, as well as continue to reveal a unique readiness to respond to these extraordinary times. Their message is one of humanity. It is a reminder that we are always stronger together than apart.