The HighTide theatre group is a charity company set up in 2007 to support and produce plays from new writers.
HighTide has gone on to produce numerous critical successes and helped to launch the careers of hundreds of writers, in addition to running the annual HighTide festival.
We caught up with Steven Atkinson, HighTide CEO and Artistic Director, to find out more about running a business in the arts and their unconventional workspace arrangement.
How would you sum up HighTide in a sentence?
The producer of exciting new plays by the best up-and-coming writers.
Can you briefly summarise the background to HighTide and what you did before?
I was frustrated that my peers who I thought were very talented writers were not being produced by major theatres. People like James Graham, who has now written for the National Theatre and the West End and Broadway, and Jack Thorne, the writer of Harry Potter in the West End. So I set up a company that could commission new writers, produce their plays, and present them in a festival alongside the work of their peers.
What were the challenges around launching the business? Where did you find your time being spent?
The main challenge, unsurprisingly, was financing it. HighTide is a charity and the first festival cost around £80,000, with less than a quarter being recouped from sales. So we worked hard to make relationships with philanthropists, and to inspire them to support us rather than a more established theatre.
How has the business evolved since your launch? Have there been any particular milestones?
Following our second festival in 2008, we were invited to partner with the National Theatre to present one of our productions, ‘Stovepipe’ in London. It was listed by the Sunday Times in their top ten of the decade alongside shows like War Horse. The profile of the show was huge and it also recouped its investment so it was our first real critical and financial hit that set us on our way.
How did you come to your current workspace arrangement?
The Chair of Lansons, Clare Parsons, is a Suffolk resident and she became aware of our plans to launch a new festival. We couldn’t afford workspace but we wanted to be based in London amongst the creative industries to have access to artists, funders and colleagues, so she invited us to be resident for a few months. The relationship grew organically and it’s now been a nine-year partnership.
What are the advantages of sharing a workspace?
Lansons is a very successful and respected business, and we’ve learnt a lot from being based in this environment. There’s a great exchange of how they approach work and how we do, and as you would expect there’s a lot of interaction between the two staffs so we’re constantly exchanging ideas and practices.
What are the challenges around running a business in the arts?
You’re only ever as good as your last show…
What are your proudest achievements?
We’re a small company that has had a major impact on the people working in our cultural industries, so not just theatre but also increasingly television and film. In addition to championing new talent broadly, we’ve focused on female writers and BAME artists, so I’m proud that we’re helping to diversify the voices who make our culture.
What are your top 3 tips for someone looking to launch a business?
Know the history of the marketplace, not just the current trends.
People always would rather meet the CEO, so be available.
Steven was interviewed as part of our #InspiringBusiness series, watch the full video below.