Back in 1995, after we'd made our first show, Testcard, Rachael and I went to Bakewell for the day. We'd been asked to apply for a few commissions, and were getting asked things like "Where do you see the company in five years' time?" by potential funders.
We realised that there was more work to make together, and that we needed to think a bit more about what this collaboration - or company - might be, beyond that first show. We spent the day walking, talking, drinking coffee and eating Bakewell pudding. We set ourselves a five year plan, which we went on to stick to and achieve nearly all of.
In the years that followed, "Doing a Bakewell" became Third Angel shorthand for going and having one of those future planning days. Or, more recently, half-days; there never seemed the time for such long discussions.
That changed this year. The reason it's been quieter on this blog for the last six months is because of the Organisational Development project we've been running. We've been having conversations and making plans: really useful and challenging conversations with consultant/advisors Joanna Ridout and (our board-member) Kamal Birdi, plus a generous group of producers and artists who have given us their time, experience and wisdom for free: thank you Artsadmin, Jo Hammett, Ric Watts, DepArts, Natalie Querol, Sheffield Theatres, Stan's Cafe, Forced Entertainment, Peter Reed, Gary Hills and others we are still to schedule chats with (and others I have no doubt temporarily forgotten). We've got a "fridge door" full of thoughts, realisations and ideas to explore further, along with a new company structure to implement. Fruits of the business developments born of this process will fall into place over the first half of next year.
But without doubt the most significant part of the process was the week Rachael and I spent at Cove Park in September, supported by Fuel Theatre and Cove Park themselves (big thanks to both organisations).
It is a wonderful, inspirational place - just remote enough to give you the isolation from the day-to-day pressures of running a company. There's a communal space with a huge table, library, wifi and computers. The accommodation has no wifi, and no phone signal, but room to talk. And space, amazing views and lots of weather - weather you can see approaching down Loch Long.
At some point that week Rachael said to me something that I've been repeating to people ever since. The value in it was the time it gave us to have "the conversations that are too big for a meeting" - that can't be fitted in to two or three hours, or even a whole day; conversations that can't be restricted by having to make room for other things on the agenda. Conversations that, therefore, get put off.
This space enabled us to have a three- or four- stranded conversation over the five days, pausing one strand to pursue another when needed, recognising that we couldn't always make a decision until something else was discussed. So we got to have, seventeen years down the line, as fundamental a conversation as we had in Bakewell. The decisions we made probably won't seem massive from the outside; nor will they produce a Radical New Direction. But they have clarified things for us, inspired us and given us a renewed energy.
We immediately scheduled another, equally useful, company away day with General Manager Hilary, and put plans in place for this to be a fixture in our annual planning. Get out of the office and walk and talk. For whole days at a time.
It's been a really good year for Third Angel. The tour of What I Heard About the World / Story Map went brilliantly, working at Northern Stage at St. Stephen's was fantastic, The Machine was something quite different for us, and this was all complemented by a series of other repertoire shows and new video work. Education and mentoring projects were rewarding, successful and great fun. We've pretty much made the next show Cape Wrath and have exciting plans in place for the two shows after that... To have the view from Cove Park in addition to all of that makes it feel like 2012 has been a very important year for us.
A massive thank you to all of the other collaborators, supporters, partners, friends and of course audiences who have been part of the last twelve months with us. Happy New Year - we wish you a brave and rewarding 2013.