Each town or city has them - thriving corners of artistic life which reveal whole communities of creative talent working to express their own or others' ideas. I know this for several reasons. Firstly, from joining a network called 'Hastings Creatives' - which in my case means reading other people's email posts about artistic events or shared opportunities in the Bexhill and Hastings area. Through this, I have learned about the Opus Theatre in Hastings, an amazing and historic venue, visited free exhibitions at St-Mary-in-the-Castle, and about the vibrant lives and talents of local writers, potters, artists, actors - and more. I even enjoy the occasional spats that erupt between 'creatives'.
Last week, I dipped my own toe again into the huge sea of artistic life in London. Two of my own short plays, 'Watching Brief' (a companion piece to 'The Summons' which was performed earlier in the year) and 'No Questions Asked' (a new play about identity, borders and homelessness) were given rehearsed readings in 'The Tiny' - the smaller theatre space at Southwark Playhouse as part of 'Write to Right', an event designed to help writers like me refine my work with the help of the artistic community that makes up Directors' Cut Theatre.
The day began at The Park Theatre behind Finsbury Park station - where the writers, directors and actors met for an hour of rapid exploration of the scripts, before we moved south of the river to Southwark Playhouse and the 'Tiny' for the evening readings.
The quality of the other writers' work was outstanding. Simon Jaggers, Matt Wixey and the other writers' pieces were all engaging and powerful in their own right - fierce, funny and thought-provoking. They all made me think - I need to up my game! But they were humble, too - writers are often said to be envious, craven individuals who delight in their own vain successes (not talking about myself, of course) but they were open and thoughtful.
But beyond this, the key thing for me was the fact it was a community event - a communal experience, with all the nuances that adjective brings - of sharing, and worshipping perhaps, though I wouldn't want to overstate the spiritual nature of it. That there was a space, however small, where a group of creatives could share and comment on each other's work is miraculous, at least to me, such a late entrant to this world.
I remember reading Robert Macfarlane's book, 'The Wild Places' in which he set out to find the wilderness places in the UK - to see if they still existed. One of his conclusions was that wilderness is everywhere, if we only knew how to look. Uncover a log or stone, look under the straggly hedge by the main road, or gaze into a muddy puddle, and there it is - the wild life which is teeming under our very feet. I feel the same about the artistic life.
It's all about us, happening in church halls, people's front rooms, or tiny theatre spaces on a mild autumn afternoon. We just need to look.