Monday, 9 March 2015

#GoodbyeIdeasTap - An Open Reply

Dear IdeasTap team,

I haven't written on my personal blog in God-knows-how-long, but I didn't know where else to put this, so I hope I'm not just howling into the wilderness of the internet here.

I should introduce myself to you. I'm a jobbing writer, and I've been a member of the site for some time now. I never won any of your own briefs or applied for any funding. I've still yet to create my masterpiece. I guess in the end I'm not the greatest IdeasTap success story ever. And yet, for all that, reading the news today was like taking a blow to the gut. It made me want to cry, punch back and feel a bit sick all in one go. Because for all I may not be your most prolific member, I cannot begin to quantify what I've got out of being a part of your project.

IdeasTap was how I had my first play script performed. I saw an advert back in 2013 for writers to apply to a youth theatre company. Actual applications were made externally via email, so even though I was responding to a brief, it was a bit different to how those kinds of things usually work on IdeasTap. In the end, I wasn't the winner (in as much as that means anything), but while they decided it wasn't quite right for them, the company thought my work was strong enough to get me involved in other ways (strong enough too that I haven't given up on it – just stowed it away for safekeeping, for now). Instead of my own original story, then, I was invited to create a short piece to preface and feed into the play that did get chosen, and that was how, a few weeks later, I experienced the sheer euphoria, not just of seeing my work performed, but of watching the people around me enjoying it. They laughed when they were supposed to, and I left the theatre feeling light and free and happy in a way I never had before. I can't take all the credit, of course: I was lucky enough to be working with a brilliant, lovely director and a super-talented and charismatic pair of actors - something else I owe in large part to you.

To most people, it wouldn't sound like much, but to me, at that point, it meant everything. My confidence had recently taken a blow when I'd found myself out of work after the exciting BBC job I'd been doing beforehand came to an abrupt end, but more generally, I'd always been so frightened of sharing my ideas - so embarrassed for even having them, that getting that instant and unfeigned positive feedback brought out more courage in me than I had ever thought I was capable of possessing. My sneaking suspicion is that this accounts for the greater part of what you've done for people. The ones who've gone ahead and been brilliant – as much as you definitely helped them by making sure people saw their work, some of them, at least, would have found a way to be brilliant anyway. Meanwhile, those of us who really needed that little extra push – we really couldn't have done it without you.

Ultimately, though, I don't think those distinctions matter much, because this is about all of us: the more reticent among us who needed a leg up, and those more sure of themselves, who just needed a platform to do their thing. The thing is, now I'm in a good position to get a broad perspective on this stuff. As a young arts journalist, I've had the privilege of being able to see and add up the good you've done for so, so many people. The number of talented, successful theatre professionals I've spoken to who have been able to hone their craft and to fund and present their work thanks in large part to the support you've given them is amazing. And every time I think about you going, I think about all of them, and the great work they've done, and how that might not have existed otherwise. And then I think about the people coming after them, and wonder what's going to happen next.

And then, even more troublingly, I think about those conversations themselves. All the fascinating discussions with interesting people I might have missed out on because our paths would never have crossed otherwise. Perhaps in my case, the link is mostly tangential, but this isn't true of everyone: plenty of people, as you said yourself, have met, and collaborated, and networked directly through the site. I've attended workshops that I've discovered through IdeasTap, and met some amazing people that way. But this isn't just about having nice chats. I've been approached about jobs that I haven't actively applied for on IdeasTap. Less quantifiable, but far, far more important is the validation, the mutual support, the realisation of how profoundly un-alone we are that you've enabled us to discover. More than the money, the ideas or the work, the single greatest opportunity you gave to us was the opportunity to find each other.

So here's a question. You said yourself that the enthusiasm and creativity of IdeasTap's thousands of young members were what really made the organisation what it was, and I agree. What if that doesn't have to be over? What if IdeasTap could remain as a simplified networking platform, like a forum, run by its members – plenty of whom, I'm sure, would be prepared to work to keep it operational? And the jobs board – couldn't that stay as well? Surely recruiters would be happy to keep posting their ads on the site? I know it won't be the same: no funding, no briefs, so many of the unique and brilliant things that you did all gone, but something has got to be better than nothing.

If this isn't possible (what a terribly sad prospect), I have just one request to make before you leave us. I see from your FAQs that you plan to leave up a simpler site that will look back at the wonderful things you've achieved over the last six years, which is some comfort. Tentatively then, may I suggest a small inclusion? You may be removing profiles and portfolios, but I hope that somewhere on your frozen site, you'll at least hold onto the names of all of us who are deeply sorry to see you go. Names mean more than numbers, somehow, so I think it would be nice to leave them there, as a memento of what IdeasTap was to those who loved it, and as a reminder of what it could have been to those who didn't.

On behalf of all of us, thank you so much for all your hard work. I can't imagine how difficult this must be for you.

Love, and all the very best of luck,

Heather Kincaid

Writer, editor, passionate young creative