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Three years since first having the idea to set up a new theatre company, Creative Directors Andrew Muir and MARK SANDS reflect back on the journey so far...

MARK: Back in 2014, a friend of mine – Jim McCarthy – found the play Flowers of the Forest by John Van Druten gathering dust in a Swansea library; a beautiful period piece that explores the morality of sending young people to fight in war. I was desperate to produce it and through a few twists and turns the script landed in the lap of Anthony Biggs, the then Artistic Director at Jermyn Street Theatre.

At the same time, across the corner of a desk, Andrew Muir and I were busy exploring the idea of setting up a new theatre company, one that helped aspiring young actors from low-income backgrounds and from outside London.

ANDREW: I've worked in education on a part-time basis for at least a decade now and during that time I have been lucky enough to work with so many talented young people who want to learn more about the creative industry. I have watched as they have learnt, experimented, fucked up and surprised everyone including themselves and I have had the pleasure of seeing them grow in confidence as performers and as people.

As a result of this type of commitment on their behalf I had always wanted to support some of those talented students who for whatever reason have found it so difficult to access London from the relatively quiet seaside towns of Bournemouth and Poole, where I have spent so much of my time as Writer in Residence at the Bournemouth & Poole College, working mainly with students on the Foundation Degree in Performing Arts. 

MARK: The collision of these two things gave birth to Ardent Theatre Company. It took about 2 months to settle on a name that hadn’t already been taken or registered as a website, and the two of us working through lists of words, thesauruses and online searches. We'd had a great success working with Jermyn Street Theatre on Flowers and buoyed by this experience we made an application to the Arts Council England for £15,000 to produce our next project Party Lines; and got it!

ANDREW: Party Lines was our response to the General Election with 21 artists presenting 5 new plays at the Westminster Reference Library for one electric, heady night; a night that marked our official launch as a new, independent theatre company.

MARK: And then we ran aground.

We had ambitious plans and ideas, that we had built enthusiastic momentum behind, and invested an enormous amount of time making endless funding applications. But our appeals were met with a resounding ‘NO’. As a new company, we were not eligible for most grants because we couldn’t produce a full year set of accounts.

So we bided our time and went back to all the same funders after one year and were again met with rejection. This time grant makers wanted to see around 50% of funds in place before considering an application.

ANDREW: It was a bit like a game of dare, where no one wanted to blink first.

MARK: But a few of the smaller grant givers – the Ernest Cook Trust, the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, The Grocers’ Charity – did take a punt on us.

It was because of their belief in us that we were able to launch our ARDENT8 project and give 8 exceptionally talented young individuals a 3 month experience of life as an actor in London; something that for most was a distant dream.

ANDREW: By setting up the ARDENT8 company we wanted to make London more accessible and allow some students the chance to not let economics get in the way of their progress in the creative industries, which I believe should be an equal opportunity for all.

MARK: I can’t pretend it has been easy. It hasn’t. At times we’ve been floating above the clouds; at others it’s been like clawing our way out of a mud pit.

We've had numerous false starts and 5 consecutive Arts Council England rejections; we genuinely thought about calling it a day. We’d needed a positive outcome to keep a £15K grant from Cockayne Grants for the Arts and The London Community Foundation that depended on matched funding. We needed that money.

ANDREW: Then Cockayne agreed to award the grant unconditionally on the same day a flourish of other applications came back positive. Suddenly, the game was back on.

MARK: What have I learned from all this? That things take time, and resilience and patience. That you have to dig deep in that well of resolve to keep going. Things do and can turn around, sometimes slowly or, as in our recent funding success, in a few days.

I wouldn’t have made it without my partner in crime Andrew and I’m so grateful for all the talent we’ve had the privilege of working with so far.

ANDREW: I am thrilled to have met Mark who has been instrumental in the creation of our company and I look forward not only to the next few years of funding applications and strife but also to those nights sat in a rehearsal room with a bunch of young people who feel as though they have been given another chance. 

MARK: It definitely feels now as though this is the beginning of something very special, not the end.

ANDREW: Cheers to you.

MARK: Yes, our supporters. We wouldn't be anywhere without you.

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