On Thursday, 28 January, Flying House will launch. Its mission is to help independent practitioners in the performing arts to better sustain their livelihoods. With a grant from the Arts & Culture Trust and Nedbank Arts Affinity, the organisation is able to take the first step towards realising their vision.

A home for the performing arts?

“Freelancers in the performing arts have a tough time,” says Tamara Guhrs, one of the founding members of Flying House. “They have to be their own accountants, marketers, administrators, and often work two or three jobs at a time just to be able to create work. There is an incredible amount of innovation out there – people making world-class theatre and dance –a huge amount of energy is expended just getting a new piece out, which then has a short life and dies. We speak of an arts industry, but as it is currently, things are not working. People burn out, we struggle to pay ourselves, and the funding environment as it currently stands is not serving artists sustainably.”

“We want to create an environment where artists can share and reduce the costs of admin, fundraising and production; explore new models of funding and create excellent new original work in a supportive environment.” In the process, they aim to bridge the gap between audiences and artists, making work that is accessible and innovative, not tucked away in theatres but alive – in workplaces, schools and public space.

How do they intend to do this? Primarily by creating a platform. Events that tackle the issues directly, and a conducive space, or hub. “We’re not saying we have all the answers,” says Guhrs. “But we know enough people with brilliant creative brains who want to make it work. We want to do it playfully and on our terms. So we’re starting with the Stock Exchange concept as a way of getting all these people into one space and creating ways to engage imaginatively around the idea of value, exchange, art and product.”

A theatrical stock exchange?

The first of its kind for South Africa, the Performing Arts Stock Exchange promises to be a night of “sharing trades and trading shares”, but not in the way that your average economist or financier would understand it.

Dancer and choreographer Athena Mazarakis, another of Flying House’s core team explains it like this: “We want to disrupt the current ideas about art as commodity, about funding and the arts, exchange and how to make a living out of creative production. With the performing arts – what are you selling? An experience? Tickets? Your skill? An idea? So we’re using the stock exchange as a creative form. You can think of it as a marketplace for anyone in the performing arts industry – from carpenters to lighting designers, writers, performers. But, it will also be an incredibly entertaining night. You can watch people pitch their ideas to a panel of producers, funders and festival curators, for example – a bit like the Dragon’s Den format of reality TV. There will be live improv comedy with high stakes attached. There will be performances.”

“We’ll also be styling it like a work of art,” reminds Flying House’s associate designer Jenni-lee Crewe. “We’ve got this flying metaphor going – our Thundafund campaign allowed our crowdfunders to be cast as Pilots, Ground Staff, Air Traffic Controllers. At the launch, we’ll be playing with the idea of early Joburg – traders and pioneers striking deals in bars and on the dusty streets.”

Actor Craig Morris and actress-director Khutjo Green are also part of the core team and they’ll be bringing their performance flair to the proceedings. However, Madeleine Lambert, the organisation’s arts management expert, emphasises that it will also be a forum where artists can genuinely further their careers.

How do artists participate?

For a minimal fee of R100, artists can list their stock. This will get them a live listing on the night as well as a longer term listing on the website. Stock listings could include anything from a show, a service or an idea – and will be subjected to facilitated interactive processes where the “market” decides on the worth of the stock. Think trading floor meets Theatresports.

Other platforms include a Dragon’s Den style format called Pitch it Rich. A panel of industry heavyweights will hear artists pitching their production proposals. Ismail Mohamed from the National Arts Festival, Ashraf Johardien from UJ Arts and Culture, festival curator Gita Pather from Wits theatre, Pieter Jacobs from the Arts Culture Trust, Hayleigh Evans from Pop Art Theatre, Yvette Hardie from ASSITEJ, Michelle Constant from BASA and Gerard Bester from Hillbrow Theatre may offer participating artists programming opportunities, network connections or simply a professional endorsement.

Actors can submit 90 second showreels for directors or producer to view on the night.

Designers, writers, directors can make use of guild corners to show their portfolios. Artisans - carpenters, set builders, welders, costumiers, transport services, printers - anyone who is part of the performing arts supply chain can either take out a formal ad or play the stock games on offer. There will also be a section of “Transparent Tenders” for artist or organisations looking for specific skills or arts service providers.

The organisers welcome formal pitches, donations of products for auction or portfolios to exhibit. Write to Tamara on info@flyinghouse.co.za for more information, to submit your pitch, or if you’re interested in being a financial backer and joining the panel of “dragons”.

Artists still interested in pitching must send their proposals in by Monday, 11 January.

For more information, visit www.flyinghouse.co.za.