After twenty or so years in arts fundraising I was particularly struck by two things I read this week. The first was about the epidemic of sobriety amongst twenty-somethings.
This particular article (which was one of many as I now understand it) made me wryly smile and roll my eyes in equal measure. The latter (the eye-straining dismay) was my first instinct. “How on earth to they have fun/meet people/get over the disappointments of the day that has passed and the inevitable crushings of the one that is to come?”, I thought. The wry smile was because I had, over the last few years, come across a large and growing group of high-haired, lengthily-sentenced and incredibly earnest individuals who had tried to convince me, with a degree of success, that sobriety was the key to both their future fame as well as their financial security. Drinking is expensive. Drinking increases the likelihood of finishing one’s evening with one’s arse in the air. On Instagram.
I’m not supposed, in an age that frowns upon everything from data-profiling through to stalking, to locate interviewees for positions in my department on social media. I do. And I don’t tend to interview the ones who were last seen launching themselves off of diving boards, naked, whilst drinking frozen margaritas. Although sometimes I do.
The other thing that I read this week was the memoir of a now Oscar-winning Director who was, at the point in question, hosting the final fundraising dinner for the restoration of his theatre. A marquee in West London had been packed full of back-combed ladies and over-combed gentlemen who had been plied with warm white wine (such was the budgetary rigor of the occasion) and who were now looking forward to being appropriately and fawningly begged for their spare change. I wasn’t struck by either the author’s wit nor his description of his particularly well-styled fundraising ‘ask’. The thing that stayed with me most was that he took pains to mention in his account that his Head of Fundraising was using the pause in proceedings to throw up in a flower pot just outside the flapping entrance to the tent. The Fundraiser in question wasn’t mentioned by name but, knowing the Oscar-winning Director and the theatre, it was easy to deduce that he was talking about a now be-gonged member of our professional community who lectures widely on the subject. On fundraising, not hurling into flower arrangements.
I was left with so many questions although I also appreciated that I had jumped to a variety of conclusions too. He/she might have had food poisoning. I, too, have succumbed to both a dodgy prawn sandwich as well as a hastily-bolted nicoise salad that has had me casting the toilet bowl in a variety of new shades of merlot in the middle of the night. But the questions that I dwelled upon were around what it is about our work that results (as it has done with myself as well as many folks that I know) in gut-wrenching stress and anxiety? And what is it about the nature of our business that means that the only support or outlet that we have is a skinfull of the aforementioned warm white wine? And what is it about our work that means that a day rarely goes by without it being accompanied by said accompaniment? And how do those abstemious Development Younglings do the job without it?
A ‘Development Do’ just isn’t the same without the haze that comes with the bin-end donated bottles of new world chardonnay. And getting through those discussions about everything from Jonty’s traumatic term at Radley and, of course, how on earth we’re going to mount next season’s production of The Tempest, with Prospero and Ariel being doubled by the same up-and-coming actors (coupled no doubt with the latest innovation in design by projection) without that self-same warm haze, is equally unthinkable.
I was left with the realisation that I had probably been drunk in charge of a fundraising event on a twice-weekly basis for over twenty years. And (good for me) I’d saved the throwing up until I’d gotten home. Most of the time. And when I wasn’t having to attend a fundraising event I was probably drunk in charge of social occasion designed to get over the disappointments of the day that had passed and the inevitable crushings of the one that was to come.
So many stories. “101 Drunken Development Do’s”, perhaps? All of them starting with words to the effect of “I’d had a couple of drinks on the way there”.