Artistic Director

Dear Hull, our worries are existential

Dear Hull, our worries are existential

By | Artistic Director, Blog, News

Artistic director Paul Smith writes about the need to support arts and culture in Hull, ahead of the opening of Baby, He Loves You

The cast of Baby, He Loves You

Dear Hull,

A few weeks ago, we announced our new show Baby, He Loves You and shared with it an accompanying blog post, which outlined the challenges around making and selling theatre right now.

One of the things we try to do at Middle Child is be transparent and open about the difficulties we face day-to-day as a charity who exist to produce theatre in Hull.

So, here goes…

A few weeks have passed and unfortunately, one week before opening we are not where we hoped we’d be in terms of ticket sales. We’re at 32% of our target.

This makes for a significant and terrifying impact on the future of Middle Child, if we do not reach our financial target of £19,500 ticket income on this show.* However, no-one gets into the arts to write blogs about balancing the books, so I wanted to write to you for a different reason.

I am doing this, of course, as the artistic director and CEO of Middle Child and a founding member of the company. More importantly I’m writing to you as someone who has an unwavering belief in the power, importance and potential of live theatre.

I am so incredibly proud of this show.

I’m incredibly proud of what it means to put this show into the world right now. I’m incredibly proud that Baby, He Loves You is a world premiere of a brand-new play by a Hull writer, Maureen Lennon, with a brilliant local team, at a time where big-budget revivals and celebrity names dominate our industry and the box office.

It breaks my heart to think that, at present, many people in this great city will not see this brilliant play made with them in mind. I hate leaving a rehearsal full of excitement at what we’re creating here to check sales reports and be met with disappointment.

I’m aware that a big part of this is on us. Us as in Middle Child, us as in the theatre industry, us as in the arts sector. Money is tight right now: we’re having to prioritise getting by in this (awfully-named) cost-of-living crisis. Clearly, and for a variety of reasons, live theatre isn’t always high on that list. We exist to change that perception and are doing everything we can to make the case that art, theatre, culture enrich our lives.

Times are tough too for art, theatre, culture. Audiences simply haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. Funding is more competitive than ever. Costs are going up much faster than our income levels. You know it, we know it.

Running an arts organisation has never been harder than now. Our worries are existential, if not immediately so. As we have already seen with fallen friends in recent times, companies like Middle Child are not guaranteed to be around forever. Unless things change, we will lose brilliant art and brilliant arts workers. We will lose those magical moments that bring us out of our houses and into one space together to witness something that challenges the world around us.

None of this is new information. These conversations are happening daily behind closed doors. Theatres and theatre companies nationwide are struggling in similar ways. We often feel ashamed to admit it. But clearly, we are in the midst of a very real fight for a cultural future and we have to be honest about that.

I lay awake at night unable to sleep questioning how we crack this puzzle.

Last year, we decided to refocus our work more directly on reaching the people of Hull and better serving our local communities. We did this because we believe in Hull, love this city and want to help make a difference here. Money that would have previously been put towards touring the show or taking it to London has been put towards doing it in Hull. Help us justify this and keep doing it long into the future.

The thing I realised I haven’t done is “say the thing”. So here I am, saying the thing in the hope that it galvanises something.

I want to say that:

– Hull has grown one of the most exciting, talented and bold playwrights in the entire country in Maureen Lennon. Her incredible, authentic, Hull-centric writing stands-up against that of any other writer in the country – I’d put my house on it.

– Hull grows brilliant actors. We all know about Isy Suttie, Tom Courtenay and Mike Jibson but that’s not all. This show alone includes three outstanding local talents, from Dan McGarry who grew up on Chanterlands Avenue and is now into his 25th year as an actor, to the fantastic Laura Meredith who I first met through Hull Truck Youth Theatre and Elle Ideson, a former Archbishop Sentamu student, who is exploding onto the professional scene as Lucy. These actors are the product of Hull and to see them perform on its stages is not only a joy, but also exactly what makes regional theatre so special. These actors know these streets, they know this city and some of them probably know you. Come and support their incredible craft, which was developed in the schools, colleges, playgrounds and after-school detentions of this city. Showing your support sends a signal to Hull’s young people with similar aspirations that their dreams are possible, that the city will help them to get there and come and clap and cheer for them when they come true.

– Hull knows how to put on a show. Most of our brilliant creative team live here and are having successful careers from within its borders. Careers are built here and have no limits. Your support shows the incredible people who already live here that they should stay, and that others should join them.

– We know there is an audience out there. You sell out our panto every year and we love you for that. We shed a tear every year when so many of you tell us how our silly little pantos have become a staple of your family Christmases. Take a chance on us. Live theatre and new writing can be as good a night out as panto, albeit with fewer knob gags. These shows are made by the same team, with the same amount of love, hard work and Hull spirit. We know loads of you already come but we’d love to look out and see even more our panto pals smiling back at us, though maybe with fewer boos.

– Funding to the arts is being cut across the country. We must show that this can’t happen here and that we value our art and our artists. New work is harder to justify than ever. While Shakespeare adaptations, syllabus plays and celebrity casting all have their place, we cannot allow them to become the only theatre that is viable to produce. What would then happen to stories about places like Hull, with people from places like Hull in them? If you don’t come, they won’t happen. Please show us that new work has value to you and that stories about your lives, where you live now, matter.

– I’m sorry. I’m sorry it’s come to this. That Middle Child, theatre and the arts haven’t made the case well enough for you to buy a ticket to our show yet. That the world is so tough right now that many of us are having to choose between essentials and things like theatre tickets. I really don’t want to write this blog and ask you so directly to come and see Baby, He Loves You; I’m only doing so because I believe so strongly in what we’re creating and know, deep in my soul, that if you come and see it then it will have an impact and prove our worth.

Hull proudly and rightly speaks of itself as a cultural city.

I implore you to come and support us, see this thing we made for you and I promise, you won’t regret it. The feedback we receive from our audiences is always gorgeous and we want to impact more people with our work.

The fact we have regular support from Hull City Council – who are huge supporters of the arts – and the Arts Council means we can exist at all. I’m also aware that I’m writing this at the same time we’re launching our incredibly exciting new playwriting festival, Fresh Ink. I just wanted to take a moment to say that is only possible thanks to major funding and wider support from our founding partners Wykeland, investment from the brilliant J F Brignall Trust, as well as trusts and foundations like the I Am Fund and Garrick Charitable Trust, who are directly supporting the commissioning of new plays.

This shows how we can and are thinking outside of the usual system to keep supporting the creation of new work, but we do also need to talk about ticket sales.

If you already have a ticket and are reading this, then I’d love you to think about how else you can support this hard-working team. Is there a friend who you know would love live theatre, but hasn’t tried it? Do you have a family member who is a huge advocate of the people of Hull and their unlimited potential? Do you know someone rich who can pay for all of the tickets so anyone in Hull can come for free? (A boy can dream). If so, please take 30 seconds to share this blog, talk about the show, share the booking link.

Thank you for reading. I write this not as a plea, but as a statement of unwavering confidence in what we are building and how it relates to Hull. I believe wholeheartedly in what we are doing, and I care passionately about fighting for the value of arts in Hull and further afield. I’ve dedicated my life, my career, my work to lessening the barriers to theatre I felt as a young working class kid in Essex and which have only widened in the 18 years since I moved to and fell in love with Hull.

Join us on this adventure. Let’s pack this show out and show that work by incredible artists from Hull such as Maureen Lennon have as much audience appeal as a bloke from Stratford who died many moons ago, or that fella from that Marvel thing.

*I should say a bit here about that money bit at the top. We have a £19,500 target for Baby, He Loves You, a £40,000 fundraising target and a £38,000 panto target this year alone. Failure in one or more of those things puts us in genuine and immediate risk, as it does for all arts organisations. Please, support local art.

UPDATE (17 April): We have been blown away by the response since this blog post went live. While there is still a way to go, sales have rocketed from 32% to 69%. We have also received a number of one-off donations, including from anonymous donors wishing to buy tickets for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to go. Thank you so much for your support, and to everyone who shared, bought tickets and donated so others can see the show for free. Thank you for supporting live theatre.

Why we’re adopting the four-day week

By | Artistic Director, Blog

Artistic director and chief exec, Paul Smith, writes about our move to a four-day week, from piloting compressed hours to reducing hours with no loss of pay

As part of our adjustment to the start of the pandemic Middle Child made the decision to pilot four-day working, based on a recommendation from outgoing executive director Lindsey Alvis.

This was an attempt to address work-life balance at a challenging time, exploring a different way of living and working when everything was up-for-grabs and everyone seemed to be talking about how our industry had to take the opportunity for change.

It was also a time where the number of parents and carers in the Middle Child team and our wider network was predictably growing in line with our arrival at our mid-thirties.

The four-day working week is a growing trend in the UK and for good reason. Studies have shown that a shorter working week can lead to increased productivity, better employee wellbeing and lower rates of absenteeism.

I must admit, I was sceptical. Could we really make such a huge change? Would we get less work done? Would people think we were slacking, or taking our foot off the pedal? How could I possibly lose a whole day from already tight rehearsal schedules?! And anyway, these 9-5 Monday to Friday structures exist for a reason, right?

On the other hand, isn’t the reason you set-up your own company to be able to do things differently? Be the change you want to see in the world and all that. At Middle Child we’ve always prided ourselves on being a forward-thinking company that finds a way to translate our values into action.

We believe in the power of art to create positive change in the world, but also recognise that change can also start with rethinking how we operate as a company, including our approach to work and our employees.

A successful pilot

And so our pilot began. We would compress our hours and introduce four-day working across the team, with most of us saying goodbye to Mondays, but with freedom for people to choose their own hours across the team in-line with our flexible working policy, developed with the support of our pals at PiPA.

I quickly found that my initial misgivings were unfounded. Four-day working was a revelation, both personally and professionally.

I have always worked hard, sitting somewhere between “I love what I do, so it never feels like work” and a genuine obsession with all things Middle Child. I find switching off difficult and spend the majority of my waking hours plotting, planning and problem-solving.

In recent years I developed an anxiety condition which manifested in both intense panic attacks and a general state of constant lower-level panic, forever bubbling underneath.

While I believe this will always be a part of me in some form, my ability to manage it has increased massively since trialling four-day working. Not just that but I now feel able to find more time across every area of my life – from seeing friends and family to tidying the house, walking the dog and, yes, work.

Because my biggest revelation amongst all of this is that working ‘less’ allows me to work more. When I return to work on a Tuesday after a three-day weekend, I feel more rested, better nourished from time to cook properly and buoyed by my tidy house and time well-spent with loved ones.

Suddenly, travelling the four and a bit hours to visit my much-missed family now feels endlessly more achievable without sacrificing any chance of rest and frantically rushing back to be in the office for a 9am Monday start.

All of this adds-up to allow me to give the Tuesday to Friday working week my everything, with sharper focus, more energy and less guilt at all the things I didn’t previously have time to do.

My fear about getting less work done has been proven false.

I can confidently say that I am getting through as much as I ever have, and in my mind to a higher standard than before due to my extra energy and focus. The feedback from actors, creatives and production teams has been hugely positive too, with actors no longer having to spend every waking hour before and after rehearsals looking at lines or squeezing-in life admin.

Those working away from home for long periods now have the opportunity to make meaningful returns to rest and recharge.

People now don’t have to leave the office anywhere near as regularly for trips to doctors, dentists or doggy day care.

Those with caring commitments are saving money on one day less of nursery and have more time to spend with young families.

The company saves money on energy and working four days is much more beneficial environmentally.

The flip side

Of course, as with everything there are two sides to this. Sometimes I still wake up on a Monday catch up on some e-mails, join a meeting or read a play, though I should say there is no expectation for others to do so and it remains a personal choice.

I sometimes still find my mind wandering to the stresses of work on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and of course at times the Middle Child office still has as much stress, panic, fear and exhaustion in the air as most arts offices. But there is a big difference too and, let’s be realistic, it’s going to take a lot more than losing one day a week to fix everything.

We have also yet to crack the issue of long hours often associated with tech days, though hope to think about this more deeply in the near future, while acknowledging the requirements for getting a show off the ground.

Following a successful piloting of this change we have decided to stick to it permanently, and introduce actual four-day working hours across the organisation – reduced hours with no loss of pay.

Everyone in the team has found different benefits and different ways of making this work for them. It’s by no means perfect yet, and we’re constantly striving to make further improvements and adjustments that help to make Middle Child the best it can be while better supporting the people who make it happen.

We know first-hand that the theatre industry can be a demanding and often unsustainable workplace, particularly for those working in production and technical roles.

By moving to a four-day week, we hope to create a more sustainable and equitable workplace for everyone we work with. We want to create a workplace where everyone can thrive, both creatively and personally – and we want to retain people who may otherwise be lost to our industry.

We’d love others to give this way of working a try in their organisation too and, if useful, are always happy to have a chat about our experiences.

Top tips for trying a four-day week

Below are a few top tips from our experience over the past few years:

    • Some people will treat the idea with complete conviction it simply cannot work and that Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm is the minimum requirement for success. Of course, it may not work for you, but there is no harm in trying it out – and at the very least let’s acknowledge that we can all be more creative in finding working patterns that support a more positive work/life balance and help us do all the things that come with being human.
    • Others will think it is a way of working less or avoiding hard work. This requires confidence, belief and trust in yourselves and those you work with. I’m still yet to meet many (any?) artists or arts organisations who avoid hard work. I’ve found that a four-day week has no relationship to how hard people work, only a change to when people work hard.
    • Find a way that suits you and your organisation. There is no one-size fits all method. Speak to people, offer flexibility, trial different options. For example, we moved from compressed hours in our pilot to genuine four day working. We have also now developed a more flexible model where we shift to working longer hours, 9am-6pm, in rehearsal periods to deal with the additional pressures that come with making shows.
    • One of my initial fears was that I would miss vital meetings that happened on Mondays. Again, I’ve found this not to be the case – you just need to develop confidence in saying ‘I don’t work Mondays’ and there is always an alternative.
    • Don’t be ashamed. At first, I felt the pressures of capitalism and would constantly excuse or work extra hard to justify why it’s okay that I don’t work on Mondays. Now, I am proud of our new way of working and have developed the confidence to talk passionately and honestly about its benefits. I’ve now started to find that the majority of people are really intrigued about how it works and begin listing their imagined benefits. Become an advocate, share your successes and failures with others.

In other people’s words

To widen the perspective on four-day working, see below for a few short quotes from different people we work with about the impact it has had on them.

Lindsey Alvis, executive director:

“Whilst I have always worked four days a week for Middle Child, extending this to the core team and adopting it on productions seemed like a big ask. It is hard to put your head above the parapet and ask for big changes and it’s important to recognise that it takes a lot of emotional labour to drive change, particularly when the outcome will have an impact on you. The biggest shift at Middle Child has been creating a culture of caring, where we can talk about wellbeing, what it’s like being a parent and what we need to do our best in the job, at board meetings, at our desks and in the rehearsal room. I hope that doing this authentically from my own point of view has paved the way for others to say what they need and will serve the company by retaining staff and attracting and better supporting freelancers.”

Jamie Potter, audience development manager:

“The shift to a four-day week has instantly made me feel lighter, more relaxed and less guilty about spending my Sundays climbing, knowing I have all of Monday to catch-up on other life stuff. It’s actually a new change for me, as I initially worked throughout the week when we trialled compressed hours, but I finished at 5pm and had Wednesday afternoons off, instead of a full Monday. That later 6pm finish never worked for me and the caring commitments I had at home, but the four-day week of reduced hours is such a breath of fresh air. It especially feels welcome given that we, as a country, still haven’t taken stock or acknowledged the trauma of Covid-19 and seem far too willing to continue as though nothing has happened. Now, however, I feel like I’m coming to terms with that and finding more energy.”

Erin Anderson, assistant producer:

“I love working a four-day week with Middle Child. Being able to take the space to fully decompress from the work and build back up work again with enough space for myself in the middle is so lovely. Monday is the Sunday you always feel like you need. I don’t know how I would ever go into working a full week.”

Josie Morley, freelance theatre maker:

“I really appreciate a four-day working week because as a freelancer you often have a second or third or fourth job. Working a five-day week I rehearse Monday to Friday and then often had to work Saturday and Sunday to keep my secondary job. A four-day working week means at the very least I can have one full day off. It leads to a better work-life balance generally, because even now I’m fully freelance and don’t have a second job it allows more time to catch up with life stuff and socialising. Also as an actor it allows more time and space to learn lines, which I’m very grateful for as in a five-day working week I’d be going home and cramming lines with a tired brain of an evening. It feels like you have more time to breathe and I feel much more productive.”

Jack Chamberlain, freelance theatre maker:

“The four-day working week has helped me achieve a greater work/life balance in a profession that often challenges these boundaries. It gives me a weekend off and then that extra day to either relax or catch up on work in whatever way that can be helpful. My experiences have inspired me to integrate the four-day week into my work in the future and I can’t recommend it enough.”

Get in touch

I’d like to close this reflective piece with a thank you to Lindsey Alvis for raising the possibility of four-day working at all.

I now recognise that it’s not an easy thing to advocate for and that systems are hard to change. But Lindsey’s absolute belief in this alternative way of living and working has been of huge benefit to Middle Child and has radically changed what we do and how we do it.

As Lindsey moves onto pastures new with our friends at PiPA, it is clear that Lindsey’s impact will continue to be felt through our new way of working for a long time to come.

If you would like to discuss anything raised in this blogpost in more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact me on

Welcome to your new home

By | Artist Development, Artistic Director

Nearly two years after leaving Darley’s, we’re ready to open our new space to the public. Artistic director, Paul Smith, explains how you can make it your own.

In the early days of Middle Child we used the phrase ‘more than a theatre company’ to give ourselves something to aim at, amidst having no idea what we were doing. It meant a variety of things to us at the time, but mainly it related to our dream, that this thing we were building would eventually have a wider focus than just putting on plays.

So, it is with years and years of excitement running through my fingertips that I write this post as we prepare to (finally) open our brand new space in Hull. I won’t waste too much time talking about how much sooner this was supposed happen. You all know why and we’ve talked enough about that for now.

But, I do want to reflect on how opening Bond 31, on High Street in Hull, feels more emotional than I ever thought possible. Because now we know what it’s like when we can’t be together. We know what it’s like to see our library books gather dust, and our rehearsal room sit in silence. We know what it’s like to one day leave our beloved pub, built over years of hard work and never go back.  

And it is with those memories at the forefront of our minds that we’re flinging open the doors and saying to you – to Hull – let’s be having you.

Because, yes, the sign on the door says Middle Child and we’re footing the bill, but our space 100% belongs to the people of Hull, and is nothing without you here making magic happen.

Two men in fancy dress stand on stage and point at a cheering audience

The opening party of Darley’s in 2018. Photo by Sarah Beth.

We’re doing all we can to make Bond 31 a place where anyone is welcome, and where anything can happen. Where people come together to dream, dance, play, create and learn. It can be your living room, your office, your library, your kitchen, your recording studio. We’re here if you want to pop in for a chat or camp out for months on end, crafting your latest masterpiece.  

We’re putting on events and making plans but we’re also open to your suggestions on what should happen here. So, think of this as an invitation. An invitation to our launch party, yes, but more than that. An invitation to help us shape this place into something useful that can last long into the future, and help Hull artists and arts workers be their brilliant selves as easily as possible. 

We know things are getting more expensive and we know how hard it is to work in the arts, so we won’t charge local artists and arts workers to use any of our spaces. We’ll also provide free WiFi, hot drinks and biscuits! 

So here’s what’s on offer so far: 

  • A rehearsal room with newly fitted dancefloor, available for free use Tuesday to Friday, between 9am and 6pm whenever we’re not using it 
  • A private writing room complete with desk (for the more traditional writers) and bed (for the more honest writers) 
  • Hot desking space  
  • Our Theatre Library of over 2,000 new plays, classics and textbooks 
  • Private ‘Zoom room’ or self-taping space. This currently has plain walls and one wall with a Middle Child logo but we’re open to suggestions.

Snazzy pics and video to come soon.

The rehearsal room for There Should Be Unicorns. Photo by Tom Arran.

We also plan to run a number of regular events here, such as: 

  • Our annual Writers’ Group, with Tom Wells 
  • Concrete Retreat writer residency 
  • Quarterly quiz events, bringing the local arts scene together to say hello in a low-pressure and fun environment (with a bar!) 
  • Our brand new Acting Gym: The Lab 
  • Regular Acting Gym workshop sessions 
  • 1:1 Script Support sessions with our brilliant literary manager, Matt 
  • Focus groups 
  • R&Ds on upcoming productions, including our panto and new writing work 

I’m certain there’s plenty we’ve missed, so if there’s anyone out there with a great idea in need of a home, then please do get in touch.

Perhaps you want to get together with some friends to try out accents, or you want a space to practise yoga, or you have to hear your latest music through a PA system? Whatever it is, give us a shout and if we can help make it happen then we will. 

I really hope to see as many of you as possible at our launch party. You’ll get to see the space in all its fresh new glory, we’ll talk a bit more about our plans and return to Middle Child’s old faithful: A PUB QUIZ! (NB: We bought a massive trophy for the Darley’s pub quiz, which never happened, so that’s up for grabs to our winners. It’s massive.) 

There’s a lot of space here, and we mean it when we say it belongs to you. Help us fill it. We’re really excited for what this could become and the impact it could have on our city in the coming years.  

Let’s be in the same place making good things happen.

  • Our space in Bond 31 opens on Tuesday 14 June. Booking forms and information packs about the space will be available on our website from the same date.
  • Book pay what you decide tickets for the launch party on Friday 10 June.
Recover Restart Reimagine Artwork

Why we’re supporting Hull theatre workers to Recover, Restart and Reimagine

By | Artist Development, Artistic Director, Blog, Uncategorised
Recover Restart Reimagine Artwork

Artwork by Joseph Cox

By Paul Smith, artistic director

This time last year I wrote about how Middle Child were going quiet for a bit so that we could make more noise in future. A lot has happened since then, with more uncertainty crammed into a 12 month period than I can remember at any other point in my 34 years. During that period Middle Child, like all of us in the arts, have had to try new things, find new ways of working and try to keep hold of our purpose as the world twists and turns. It has been, without doubt, the hardest period in our company’s 10 year history as we – a company who exist to bring people together, celebrate liveness and fight for the underdog – lost projects, lost our home and, truthfully, lost everything we knew how to do. Speaking personally, the year has taken its toll, leading to a crisis of confidence, of purpose and of “is theatre really the best way we can put something good into the world?”

But with this introspection and amidst all of this uncertainty comes a unique kind of clarity. A clarity around values. Around why we do what we do. Around the decisions we need to make. And it is these core values that have guided the way for Middle Child throughout this entire pandemic and which have led us to each and every decision we have made along the way. They were central to our decision to start a fundraiser for freelancers who had lost income, our choice to introduce flexible working to our organisation and our decision to continue employing freelancers and investing in people throughout the pandemic.

They are also the cause of areas of hesitancy, caution and nervousness. They tangle us up in knots as we try to navigate complex issues and they dominate our conscience as we try to grow as a company in a way that feels “us”. Our values are what we return to when balancing creative ambition, financial sustainability, politics, morality, health and safety, work-life balance and straight-up uncomplicated ego. They are there when we consider whether to apply for the Cultural Recovery Fund, whether to put the panto online, whether to take over this new building or that one. When all else is dark it is these values that light the way and lead us onwards. And so, in deciding what to do next and how we ‘re-emerge’ from the pandemic we must do so guided by our values. 

As a company whose guiding vision is for a fair and equitable world, where anyone’s story can be told and heard, it is clear that we simply cannot stand by and risk losing a generation of theatre workers either as a result of a pandemic or because of an industry that continues to be built to work only for a select few. And so we got to work.

On 11 March this year we hosted a day online, which we called Imagine the Future, that brought together a group of brilliant freelancers from theatre and further afield to help us consider four questions:

  1. What do you need post-pandemic?
  2. How do we better support freelancers?
  3. How can we be more inclusive as a city and a sector?
  4. What should an arts hub look like, feel like, what should happen there?

It was an incredible day, full of brilliant ideas, generosity and a conviction that things can be better. We listened, learnt and were left with an overwhelming number of great ideas for what the future could look like. We felt the weight of those conversations, and also of those that weren’t had, of those who weren’t there. We felt energised by the potential of our action and tired by the thought of its scale. We were inspired by possibility and overwhelmed by choice. We looked at the list of suggestions with optimism and then at our budget with pragmatism. A few things became clear:

  1. We can’t do everything. Not yet anyway.
  2. We can do something. 

And so, what we are announcing today isn’t the “Middle Child 20 Year Action Plan for a Better World”, it’s simply our next “something”. It’s a something based on the listening, learning and reflecting we’ve been doing over the past year, and we truly believe it will make a genuine difference and is gently radical in its own way. And then one day soon we’ll announce another something, and another something and another something

Recover, Restart and Reimagine

From both our Imagine the Future day and some of the wider reading we’ve been doing, such as from Freelancers Make Theatre Work, it’s clear that there are calls for deeper, more meaningful engagement with freelancers, a call for more equity and power to be distributed to freelancers, and a call for an investment in people, rather than projects. Our Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme is built on these three pillars and designed in response to an acknowledgment that the past 12 months have led to a loss of confidence, income and opportunity for freelancers across the sector. 

Everyone at Middle Child is determined to contribute to a sustainable reimagining of our industry following the impact of the pandemic, and our first offer to this end is a partly-curated, partly-self-led programme, which will last for three weeks, paying 12 Hull freelancers £1,500 each to come together to rebuild confidence, develop skills and take stock. 

The programme, which runs four days per week, 9am – 6pm, from 15 June to 2 July, represents a space to think, breathe and play without the pressure of coming up with an output. It is designed to inspire, stretch and develop participants in a safe space, which acknowledges what we’ve been through and the impact on our work and our practices. Everyone involved will be paid for their time and also benefit from a wide range of free workshops, masterclasses and training alongside group time, individual time and free time. To partially quote one of our Imagine the Future post-it notes, it’ll be a bit like Byker Grove meets a Rocky montage, but with a spa soundtrack.

The first week will be dedicated to recovery with a focus on wellbeing, self-care and reflection. Week two will focus on restarting with time to refresh skills, make plans and try something new. Week three will be all about reimagining, with time spent envisioning the future, dreaming about what it should look like and putting actions in place to make it happen. Alongside all of this run a number of recurring events, from group play readings and coffee mornings to skill sharings and open discussions. We’ll create our own haven fuelled by respect, curiosity and care.

Our ambition is for these three weeks to be transformative for all who take part with participants leaving feeling ready for the battles ahead but not burnt out by deadlines or pressures of output. 

We would love to hear from people who live and work in Hull and who contribute to making theatre in any way, be it through acting, directing, designing, stage managing, producing, composing or any other role you might find in a show programme. We want applications from those we know and those we don’t, from people at the very beginning of their career to those who’ve been around a while. We welcome and encourage applications from everyone regardless of their age, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, disability or nationality.

We are a PiPA (Parents and Carers in Performing Arts) partner and are always happy to discuss solutions that allow people to balance caring responsibilities with working lives, for example through sharing a place on the programme or a flexible attendance arrangement.

You can apply because you know exactly what you want from life, or because you have no idea. We’re as interested in chaos and confusion as we are in clarity and certainty. Our application process is simple and straightforward, and all we ask for is honesty and for you to be yourself. In line with ongoing efforts to decentralise power and decision making in our organisation, choices around selection for this programme will be informed by an advisory panel of freelancers. 

This programme is representative of our ongoing desire to offer practical solutions, and take action to return with renewed energy for an improved theatre industry. We believe this radical programme, which invests in people, rather than projects, represents a good first step in doing so locally and is a meaningful investment in the freelancers upon whom our work depends.

We will continue to listen, take stock and lead necessary action across other areas of our company to improve what we do, and how we do it. There is much more happening in the background that we will talk about when we can, but for now we hope this programme is an exciting offer, which is proof that we will turn words into value-led action as we build a better future together.

Artistic director Paul Smith wins Olwen Wymark Award

By | Artistic Director, Awards, News

Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, has today been recognised for his “exceptional encouragement of theatre writing” with an Olwen Wymark Award.

The gongs are handed out every year by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), with the winners nominated by WGGB members.

Long-time Middle Child collaborator Luke Barnes, who has written All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, Weekend Rockstars and Ten Storey Love Song, nominated Paul.

Luke said: ”Paul Smith is the best thing to happen to me as a writer.

“When I was young Paul and I met, in Newcastle, and we talked about John McGrath and he mooted the idea of making work that talked about the biggest ideas as a good night out of theatre.

“This was the starting place for me finding my voice, my art, and my purpose.

“Paul is the most generous person I know in theatre”

“Not only has Paul shaped the way that I see the world and how I see theatre, he has also pushed me to think bigger than I ever would have given myself permission to.

“He has given me the self belief to know that, no matter what privileges I exercise, I can be useful to the communities and audiences I serve.

“He has taught me that the audience and the people that our buildings, organisations, and art, serve are bigger than us.

“He has given me confidence, activism, and artistry and continues to every time we collaborate.

“Paul is the most generous person I know in theatre, to artists, to communities, to audiences; and people like Paul go unnoticed and it’s my privilege to nominate him for this award and to see him win it.

“I hope he carries on inspiring writers for work for audiences and communities for decades to come and that as many people as possible benefit from knowing him like I have.”

“Working with writers to develop new plays is one of the best parts of my job”

The Olwen Wymark Awards are the brainchild of playwrights Mark Ravenhill and David James.

They were set up to give WGGB members the opportunity to publicly thank individuals, rather than institutions, who had given them exception encouragement in theatre writing during the past year.

They are named in honour of playwright Olwen Wymark, passionate supporter of WGGB and former chair of the WGGB Theatre Committee, who died in 2013.

Paul Smith said: “I’m really delighted to win this award as working with writers to develop new plays is one of the best parts of my job.

“Middle Child, a company I co-founded in 2011, exists to support, champion and showcase the work of brilliant playwrights.

“In my work as both a dramaturg and director I aim to put processes and practices in place to support writers to tell the best version of their story, and Luke’s nomination for this award feels like recognition of that approach.

“It’s been brilliant working with Luke to create good nights out with big ideas and his work has massively informed my own over the years.

“He is an incredible writer, person and friend and I simply wouldn’t be where I am in my career without him.

“I’d also like to express solidarity with all freelance writers in our industry at this difficult time, and can’t wait to get back to working collaboratively to bring plays to life soon.”

The Little Mermaid - Hull Pantomime - Sarah Beth

Christmas, coronavirus and… panto in Hull?

By | Artistic Director, Blog, News, Panto
Production shot from The Little Mermaid - Hull Panto

By Paul Smith, artistic director and joint-CEO

Somehow it’s already that time of year. You know the one? Where we dust off the rat puppets, cobble together an under-rehearsed yet well intentioned finale and let our dame, Marc Graham, run wild on Hull audiences. But it’s not quite the same this year, is it?

Nothing’s quite the same. Instead of excitedly planning this year’s family Christmases or work parties we’re sat wondering what’s going to be left

It’s just Christmas” some people say, but really it’s about more than that isn’t it?

It’s about seeing family and friends. About seeing kids’ faces light up. About belting out some Wizzard with strangers on Whitefriargate, while dressed as a Christmas pudding. And for us at Middle Child it’s about panto. Usually it is, anyway. But not this year. This year we haven’t said a word about panto.


That much loved tradition that is, frankly, a bit odd, but a lot special. Where else in this stressful, anxiety-inducing world do adults and children alike come together to share in such unbridled joy? To cheer and boo, laugh and cry, hope and dream together, all while watching a dame dressed as a milk bottle tearfully sing to two actors bent double in a cow costume? 

We love panto. 

For us it’s what all theatre should be: totally devoted to its audience, woven into the fabric of local communities and able to magically transport us away from the real world, into one of magic and wonder. 

But this year it is the very nature of panto that makes it so challenging to realise. The things we love about it have become a barrier to it happening at all: being together in a space with loved ones and strangers, being noisy, being close, singing along, dancing together, avoiding the dame’s eye contact, being dragged up on stage, flashing our wands, rustling our sweets, elbowing granny to wake her up and reliving our favourite moments together in the interval.

It’s about connecting with other human beings through a story that is ridiculous and silly and soppy, but full of searing hope and belief.

It’s everything we’re already missing.

So why haven’t we said anything about panto? Why haven’t we been bombarding you with posters and trailers and ticket offers?

Nigel Taylor dressed in yellow with a blue baseball jacket and fish hat with his hands on his hips

I guess you know why.

In every good panto there’s a moment where all looks lost and we have to dig deep to believe we’ll get to the ending we’re all hoping for. 

We’ve been stuck on that plot point for a while now, hence the silence. Honestly? We didn’t want to say it out loud. That panto can’t happen for us how it usually happens and has happened for the last eight years, from our beloved Fruit to the last two brilliant years at Jubilee Central. 

We’ve had an inkling for a while now.

The nature of our show is proudly intimate. It matters that you (yes, you) are there with us. If you shout out we will hear you. We will respond. Your voice matters. You being in that chair matters. So, frankly, right now a live panto simply isn’t an option for our humble show. The production usually ‘pays for itself’ and without your support, there is no panto. We don’t use celebrity casting to bring in audiences. We rely on word-of-mouth. We rely on the hard work of our incredible local cast and crew. We rely on you, coming together and having a great night out. 

So I guess this is us saying it out loud. 

Panto can’t happen for us how it usually happens.

But that’s not the end of the story. Like all good panto heroes we’re refusing to accept defeat when the odds seem stacked insurmountably against us. We’re trying to find a way up the beanstalk, to the ball, through the enchanted forest. But there are challenges lying in wait and the ending is truly uncertain.

So what we want to do at this point is be honest with you. Tell you how it really is.

We aren’t going to be able to bring people together in a space to do panto this year.
We’re really sad about that.
Like, really sad.

But, we’re trying to do something else. Something digital.
Which, as I’ve said before, isn’t what we do, so we’re linking up with some brilliant people who do.

It’s something that we think could be really special.
It won’t be the same.
But we really do think it could be really special.

Thing is, we’ve never done anything like it before.
And we’re excited about that, but we’re also a bit scared.
Will it work? Will you like it? Will the internet be able to handle Pattie Breadcake?

Marc Graham as Hull panto dame Pattie Breadcake, in a sparkly top and pink dress, with blonde wig and crown.

And then there’s the virus, which is making it even more difficult.
Giving us even more to overcome.
Causing unpredictable twists and turns at every stage and in every detail.
Making us ask what happens if we tell you what we’re trying to do but then, for whatever unforeseeable reason, it can’t happen like we hope it can happen.

So this is where we are. 

We would like to make three promises to you:

1/ We are trying really hard to bring you something special this year to combat the gloom. Something you can enjoy for free from the comfort of your own home which will help us celebrate Christmas together again.

2/ We are doing all we can to make it happen, even if we don’t know what is around the corner. 

3/ As soon as we can, we will tell you more.

All we ask, is that you keep the faith and don’t give up hope. In us, in panto and in being together again.

This story isn’t over yet.

Big love and stay safe.

Paul x

Artistic director Paul Smith speaks into a microphone with script in hand

Paul Smith: Goodbye to Darley’s

By | Artistic Director

Artistic director, Paul Smith, pays tribute to Darley’s, our home of almost a decade, as Middle Child prepare to find a new space in Hull, following Goodwin Development Trust’s decision to sell the building.

Middle Child company members sit outside Darley's in 2011

Middle Child company members outside Darley’s in 2011.

Wasted hours, before we knew
Where to go, and what to do
Wasted hours that you make new
And turn into
A life that we can live
– Arcade Fire


Holes in the floor, the smell of stale beer and foundations built out of nothing more than dreams of what could be. We fell in love instantly. The imperfections working only to make you more perfect. We were kindred spirits; rough around the edges, off the beaten track, needing someone to see what we could become rather than focusing on our flaws. 

And so, with a blend of practicality and kindness from SomewhereTo and the Goodwin Development Trust less than a year into being a theatre company we had a home. 

A single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub. And it was the best of times. It was the best of spaces. It was all we needed. In that single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub we dreamed of changing the world. We grafted and we worked for free and we argued and we laughed and we made so, so many mistakes. But throughout what fuelled our ragtag bunch of Uni mates was an unshakeable belief in what was to follow.  

The building typified everything we felt about the world at the time. It had rebellion in its bricks. It had to – it was on a council estate in the ‘Number One Crap Town’ in the country. But the magic of this city was always obvious. Well before City of Culture this was a city of culture. And we simply wanted to do our bit. To have an impact in a city we love. Our dream was simple. Why shouldn’t a dilapidated pub on the Thornton Estate in Hull be a place where incredible art is made? Why shouldn’t it be a place where ideas are tested, dreams are dreamed and people come together?

And so, making it up at every step of the way, we cracked on with doing our little projects in our little room. We were tiny and poor but felt huge and lucky. And in that room, over the years, things happened. Plays, pantos, rehearsals, parties, workshops, funding bids, romances, relationships, revolutions. We celebrated successes and forgot failures. We dreamed and we dreamed and we dreamed and we dreamed.

A young Asian male sits on a chair in the middle of a room, smiling, script in hand

Nima Taleghani in rehearsals for Mercury Fur, 2015

You said we’re not so tied together
What did you mean?
Meet me in the stairwell in a second
For a glass of gin
Nobody else will be there then
Nobody else will be there
Nobody else will be there then
Nobody else will be there”
– The National


Dusty tables, empty bins and that sign. “For Sale By Auction”. On the wall hangs a framed picture of our first successful funding bid. £8,850. The space filled only by the ghosts of what went before; another quiet place in a quiet industry. But you can still imagine it, if you try hard enough. Six months ago that feels like six years. The full building now, not just a single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub. A National Portfolio Organisation now, not just a ragtag bunch of Uni mates (though we’re still around). A now dusty theatre library with over 2,000 plays free for anyone to borrow remembers when you came in and discovered that play that felt like it was speaking directly to you. Dusty desks remember when you came in to work and cracked that big idea and rushed into the office to excitedly tell everyone. Dusty walls, if wiped, would still shine with that glorious pink lovingly splattered by our city’s amazing volunteers. The dusty rehearsal room stands stoically, like an industry veteran remembering its finest performances but knowing those days are lost to the cruel relentlessness of time. 

Without being able to say goodbye, we get ready to say goodbye. The rebellious bricks that inspired us to carve out a life are unshakeable in their duty. 

We are older now, all of us. We dream differently. We do differently. The world is different.

Perhaps there was a day where we outgrew each other, but neither of us wanted to admit it. Perhaps parting like this was inevitable. But it is unavoidable that when saying goodbye we focus on the best times. And, even as I type this with a tear in my eye, I know that you’ll live on. Perhaps even stronger in our memories than in reality. There you don’t age. The drains don’t smell as strongly, the water doesn’t taste as metallic and someone always remembers to put the bins out. There we did all the things we wanted to do.

Two men in fancy dress stand on stage and point at a cheering audience

Lock In Festival, 2018

Darley’s. It was our space.

Not Middle Child’s, but ours. Hull’s space.

You came in and you lit it up. You made noise, you borrowed books, you changed the world. It was a place where anyone was welcome and where anything felt possible. We’ll never forget that. 

But things change. And soon, we will find a new home. We’ll fall in love with imperfections all over again, and we’ll argue and we’ll laugh and we’ll make so, so many mistakes. But we won’t ever stop dreaming. We won’t lose our unshakeable belief in what is to follow. 

Some time in the future, we’ll welcome you all once again into a new space. It’ll feel different. There’ll be inevitable comparisons. But we will do all we can to make it a space that welcomes you; a home for dreamers who know they can change the world. Today we mourn, but tomorrow we start over again and we’ll dream and we’ll dream and we’ll dream.