On Friday 13 March 2015, physical theatre company Gecko were mid-run for their celebrated show Missing at London’s Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) when the company’s lighting designer, working on set in preparation for the evening’s performance, noticed a fire. He raised the alarm and the venue was evacuated – but the fire caught hold, completely destroying the roof and main hall of the beautiful heritage building, along with the entire set of Missing.
Amit Lahav, Gecko’s artistic director, had been in a café across the road. He tells me he remembers kneeling on the pavement, thinking: ‘It’s all over.’ All his touring belongings – laptop and all – were inside BAC, and the show was due to tour to Mexico as soon as the London run had finished. But then, in this moment of crisis, the director’s skills kicked in. ’As a leader, what the hell do I do?’
The days that followed, Lahav says, turned out to be one of his ‘favourite weeks of life’. There was a huge public outpouring of love for both BAC and Gecko. They were ‘battered with love – and pummelled – battered and pummelled’. The overwhelming support promised them that ‘you are not going to fall to your knees’ over this. The support came from the theatre industry in the form of crowdfunded cash donations from individuals, as well as contributions from organisations including the National Theatre, who donated their facilities to re-build the set in just eight days, in time for the Mexico tour to go ahead. The company wrote the names of everyone who donated to the crowdfunder on the back of the set, and those names remain there as a reminder of the love (and money) that Gecko received, whenever the show is toured.
Much is made of crowdfunding as a funding stream for the arts, but this was a unique case, and the kind that you’d never, ever want to engineer; nor does Lahav see crowdfunding as a magic fix for the future of arts funding. Nevertheless, it was an extraordinary, heartfelt show of support for a company loved not just by their industry friends and the younger companies Lahav has supported coming up, but by audiences around the UK and, unusually for a British company, around the world.