Risk Assessing Creativity

In the UK we have a brilliant history of daring performance, provocative live arts and risk taking – from David Hoyle, Leigh Bowery, Mouse, Kim Noble, Millie Brown, Chrysalis, the list goes on but is this slowly being killed off by something deep within the system- red tape?

Before you, the punter are allowed to step foot into a theatre we, the artists must fill out endless spreadsheets and second guess the risk of having you, a bunch of grown adults in a room with chairs – this is known in show business as a risk assessment - a document that highlights the possibility of you putting your finger in a plug socket and killing yourself.

Before the doors on any production open in the UK your venue will ask you to supply one of these documents – these should include an explanation of anything that contains risk during your performance - towards the audience or artist and what level of risk is present and the likelihood of it happening, followed by precautions taken to reduce the danger and who will action such precautions, all presented in a lovely neat bit of Windows Office 2007.

The risk assessment is a recent phenomena in the arts that is now indoctrinated within the sector. Arts space’s now legally require fire marshals, health and safety officers and a person employed to wag the finger at unruly artists without a risk assessment template.

The assessments aim is to reduce the risk in your work but without risk are we are all just one giant production of The Mouse Trap? Risk is what makes audiences excited, is pushes the practice of the performer and sector, the fear of not knowing what’s next and ‘oh no she’s not gonna…’ is what has probably brought you to my blog in the first place – you want art that isn’t Simon Cowell endorsed and I bet you want work that hasn’t entirely been thought out and around a document containing the word ‘precaution’.

However I do believe a level of care should be provided to your audience but one that corresponds the care you would give someone if they came to your home – don’t feed them dodgy fish, don’t ask them to change a plug with wet hands and make sure they know where the loo is.

On a recent tour date in Manchester our pre-made RA was deemed insufficient. We were asked to fill out not 1, not 2 but 5 documents all 3 pages long highlighting amongst other ridiculous red tape poppycock how I planned from keeping a cake (that may contain nuts) away from the Anaphylaxis youth group that were sure to turn up that evening.

I’m being a bit facetious here – I understand why these bits of paper exist especially within an environment like circus when an audience is at risk of having a performer land on their head but will 15 pieces of paper prevail over common sense? Venues are now so fearful of the public suing them the work that is being programmed is taking fewer risks – I’m not sure of this is a conscious choice but who can blame them. A space I regularly work in has just received its third claim of the year from a punter that was pissed and walked into a wall – apparently this is the venues fault of not providing the correct level of care!?

Its also a legal requirement when performing or putting on performance to have public liability insurance – this can cost around £600 per year for a small production of 5 – 10 performers with ‘little or no risk’ – this makes the art of showing off in the larger establishments open to those who can afford to jump the health and safety hurdles, again risk taking is not encouraged.

Assessing risk limits the work that’s allowed to be shown and leaves no space for experimentation – is that what you, the audience want?

Is risk assessing limiting creativity? Are we moving towards a safer but homogenized art? Does risk equate progression?

To paraphrase anyone whose ever read the Daily Mail (who would have thought I’d say that)
‘this is health and safety gone mad’ but before it goes made lets talk about how we can limit that risk.

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