The iF Platform is back, this time taking on Brighton Fringe and a fresh audience of curious, critical and creative disabled artists and allies. Hosted by Stopgap Dance and the Sallis Benney Theatre on Monday May 9th 2016.
Bookended by daft flatulent cabaret from Moxie Brawl and ‘The Awakening Process’ film from Stopgap, the first session was on Funding, always a tricky subject and a conversation frequently filled with high emotions, wether it be down to cuts, broader social injustice or personal frustrations. In particular I was impressed by the succinct, practical advice from Alice Regent from The Art Fund, her focus being on humanizing organizations to make them more approachable, and by the passionate rally from Jenny Williams of Take the Space to reach higher, ask more and to value your own strategy.
Lily Davies from the Wellcome Trust hinted at some interesting developments to make their funding easier to access coming later in the year but was unable to give details beyond an interest and intention; one that I know to be genuine as I was invited by Wellcome last year to advise on the same initiative.
Producing followed, panelled by Elizabeth Mischler of South East dance, Clara Giraud of Unlimited and Sarah Perryman of Brighton Fringe, the latter taking a little flak from the audience as her relative lack of experience in working with disabled artists showed, but it was pleasing to see a keen representative from the Fringe attending to learn and share with the community; Brightonians, get in touch after May to get your work shown and catered for.
Producing, and the artist-producer relationship are often difficult to describe, and I remember my own frustrations trying to see into this dynamic when I first became curious about the work; it seemed to me that saying ‘it just takes a conversation’, ‘it’s a dynamic specific to each relationship’ or ‘you’ll know when they’re the right person to work with’ were being deliberately non-specific to keep other hungry upstarts like me from poaching their gigs, but now that I’ve cut my teeth a little I know that it really is that simple. Exactly like making friends or choosing a lover, the artists I work with have to click with me, and I with them, and it’s an invisible and subtle thing.
I was lucky enough to be approached by two potential new collaborators at the iF Platform; Nigerian live art practitioner Vivian Chinasa Ezugha and I had MUCH to say to each other on the topic of exploited bodies and locked in to each other right away, and Friction Ropes took the all important step of interrogating me about my background in pornography as a way to starting a conversation about disability and sexuality, re-lighting my fire to produce a piece of theatre on this topic, their particular skillset being a possible key to the method of story-telling…… watch this space!
I was especially excited to see a performance from Yolanda Mercy, having followed her development for a while (which leads me to suspect I actually like spoken word but am probably not ready to admit that to myself). Utterly likeable, funny, frank, and brilliantly evoking the horrors of unemployed graduate life, Mercy is absolutely one to watch.
Speaking on the Personal Journeys panel alongside choreographer Tim Casson and dancer, artist and holder-of-all-the-hot-gigs Dan Daw was a really lovely experience, and I was pleased to share my learnings from my first year working in Disability Arts, advocating for learning things the weird way and staying outside of the system until you are ready to subvert it to your own dastardly ends.. We were (I think) the youngest panel of the day and it was so nice to meet some of my contemporaries who were also kicking ass, taking names and tearing up the rulebooks presented to us.
Housni Hassan aka DJ of Corali presented an artful, engaging dance piece with modernist projections which I found to be uplifting and elegant, and so skillfully delivered that I was temporarily rendered a contemporary dance enthusiast, much to my surprise. Energetic, charming and affable, DJ delivered an insightful glimpse into the creative process behind the piece and provided the ideal opener for the last panel of the day, Leading Change.
Jeff Rowlings of Shape, Laura Jones of Stopgap Dance and DAO super-chum Bella Todd took the last panel of the day from ‘stagnant pools’ of lazy critique causing harm to creative process to radical revisions of policy and provision. To close the day was a set from Lost Voice Guy, a very likeable performer who I look forward to seeing develop more sophisticated material as his career progresses; the man can structure a joke and time it beautifully, I would like to see the amount of self-deprecation come down and an increase in observational matieral to give longevity and broader appeal to his act.
Finally, it was a great thrill to see Silent Faces, the winners of the iF Bursary, give an energetic, Dario Fo-inspired financial farce with fantastic comic timing. They are a young company with great potential, and whilst their themes and stylistic choices were ones I have seen done extensively, their skill and focus is palpable as was the audience’s enjoyment of the piece. I look forward to seeing them develop as a company as quality farce and social satire is so desperately needed in these choppy times. Hurrah the youth!
Hi everyone! It’s been a little while since my last update and a glance at my increasingly mangled diary (apparently I do most of my smoking and hair dyeing towards the middle of the month) makes me wonder if I’m not perhaps a tad over-stretched. But with so many wonderous arts projects to get my grubby little paws on I’d rather regularly sleep on trains and get home late than miss out.
I did have a couple of anxiety attacks recently though so I’m cutting back on the travel and have a hot date with my hypnotherapist next week. A little snooze over Christmas has helped immeasurably and Trish and I are now working full-speed ahead on some daring manouvres to keep Dao’s engines purring.
Whilst I cannot reveal the details of the loops we are looping, I’ve been enjoying a little reflection on how much my life has changed since I came out as mental, decided to move up the food chain from dancing monkey to producing/curating monkey and fell in love with Disability Arts.
Before I started working for Dao most of my work was as a showgirl/pornographer/overdressed mouth-piece and it’s wonderful to see how my old world blends with the new sometimes, and the last few months have brought about a couple of doozies...
Belarus Free Theatre- Staging A Revolution. November 4th.
Thanks to super-chum Mat Fraser’s recommendation I had the absolute honour of speaking on a post-show panel on ‘Taboo in London 2015’, alongside Alastair Stewart from the Kaleidoscope Trust, an wonderful LGBT human rights organisation, and Reverend Jide Macaulay, Nigeria’s first openly gay minister and founder of House of Rainbow.
I’ve been a huge fan of the Belarus Free Theatre for some time; they are banned by the KGB from performing in their own country and as a result their secret events are frequently raided with arrests aplenty. Their commitment to political and artistic freedom under terrifying circumstances are a huge inspiration to me, and to be able to meet and swap cries of resistance to oppression with them is something I will treasure always. The most exciting part of the night was the live link with a hidden audience in Belarus joining us for two short plays as well as the discussion; waving at our brothers and sisters across the internet was truly a moment of solidarity and subversion.
Camden People’s Theatre- Let’s Talk About Sex. October 4th.
Let’s indeed. Specifically I was asked to gob off on what the arts and pornography can learn from each other, and shared the panel with smutty film-maker Vex Ashley, theatre director Josh Roche and sex writer Gareth May.
My favourite position (fnar) is as provocateur; I adore speaking on panels as an excuse for saying the unsayable to rooms full of strangers, to break the ice, raise a smile and get the real questions flowing, part of the reason I started working with porn on stage in the first place.
As ever, the thrill of having ‘a real life porn star’ in the room, in the form of Vex, brought out a few shy-but-pervy types, who we had great fun rolling our eyes at and shutting down with well-practiced intimidating sex chat, as well as teasing our fellow ‘straight’ panelists on their relatively chaste approaches to sex on stage and page. The discussion of fetishing body types and impairments came up and I was glad to cite the work of Outsiders and the Sex Maniacs Ball, and some of the groovy disabled sex workers I’ve met over the years.
This article by Sophie Saint Thomas on disabled porn stars came out recently, and I’m hoping to meet the performers mentioned in it sometime.
Graeae- Board of Trustees. December 2015.
Oh proud and happy day; one of my favourite theatre companies thinks that I am useful! Graeae has invited me to join their board of trustees, and of course I was pleased to accept. The opportunity to contribute to the well-being of such a progressive and interesting operation is a huge privilege, especially when the existing crew are such a joyful bunch of folks. I’m particularly interested in the talent development and education aspects of Graeae’s work, and it’s fascinating to see how every moving part fits together to form the behemoth of art, activism and awesomeness that is Graeae Theatre. It also feels pretty spiffy and grown-up to be on the Board of anything at all, having worked primarily by myself for so long, and I have already been using board meetings as a blatant excuse for power-dressing.
In case you didn’t catch it first time round, have a butchers at this video of John Kelly and Mat Fraser on the closure of the Independent Living Fund http://www.graeae.org/news/the-closure-of-the-independent-living-fund-an-exclusive-video/
Also, book your tickets to see The Solid Life of Sugar Water on national tour! It was an absolute stand-out for me at the Fringe last year, particularly in the sensitive handling of a seldom-told story. You will cry. http://www.graeae.org/productions/sugar/
2016 is going to be one hell of a year; my training with Dao will end in March (gissa job, yeah?) and I’ll be out in the world again curating a new programme of work by disabled artists for a South West venue, so watch this space. I’m also working with the lovely Priya Mistry on her project Musical Mental Health Cabaret, which is just another one of those perfect meetings of all my interests. Huzzah!
Thank you to everyone who has helped this to happen, it's really fantastic.
Now, I’m getting back to the funding applications, see you all soon!
I tried stand-up once and it was horrible. Being used to the open-armed cabaret audience I was surprised to find that comedy punters were a lot more ‘Go on then, do your jokes’ than ‘Yay! Jokes!’ Not exactly how a life-long jazz fiend had imagined her first gig at Ronnie Scotts, but I limped through with a basket of fruit on my head and had a nice time getting pissed with the acts who were off of the telly afterwards.
My respect for a comic who can nail it went up one-hundredfold that night, and whilst stand-up is not always my bag owing to the boy’s club/lowest common denominator vibe of a lot of mainstream TV routines, I’m always pleased to hear from a truly interesting take on the world and snort-laugh uncontrollably in support of a zinger. Despite almost enitely avoiding stand-up at the Fringe in favour of intense theatre I did find a good'un for you.
Lost Voice Guy’s “Hated By The Daily Mail” t-shirt made me warm to him immediately, and his solo show ‘Disability For Dunces’ was enjoyable and, best of all, totally daft. I love a silly sausage, and Lost Voice Guy aka Lee Ridley has appealing self-deprecation down, and despite a bit of an energy dip in the middle and a few tacky Hitler jokes I left ‘Disability for Dunces’ impressed by his work.
The premise is a Q&A session on the most outrageous, stupid and rude questions he has been asked about having cerebral palsy, or as he put it “a disability FAQ for stupid people”, and incorporates pop music, tech jokes with his Lightwriter and iPad and the joyous pupetting of a smashed-up vent dummy named Ian Duncan Smith. I felt both welcomed and challenged, occasionally directly insulted, and his connection to the audience was genuine and playful.
Opting for a pan-generational attack, he delivers a dizzying rant encompassing Bond villains, the Green Cross Code, Middle Ages burnings, Kanye West, religious curses and, of course, Edinburgh’s famous inaccessibility which told the audience exactly where they stood in his opinion; “the general public are totally stupid”. Fluffy disability confidence training this is not, and all the more memorable for LVG’s prankster vibe.
Towards the end of the show there are a couple of highly quotable jokes that I won’t spoil for you as LVG is on tour round the UK and will appeal to dunces, disabled folks and comedy fans of all stripes. So, get on it, tour dates here.
Of all the many exciting things I’m being allowed to put my clammy little paws on during this training, one of the most thrilling has to be Viewfinder.
I was seconds from stepping on stage to ringmistress for a circus when I found out we’d secured the funding (thank you Arts Council!) so the audience got QUITE the performance out of me that night! Trish, Colin and all the project partners and I have been rustling up the goods to get Dao’s most ambitious project on the road, and indeed your computer screens, ever since.
We are growing; having interviewed a seriously impressive group of candidates for the newly-created role of Sub Editor, we now have Joe Turnbull working with us to flex his journalistic expertise, and we are currently in conversation with Now Take Up Space to assist us in delivering a snazzy new look for Dao and the brand-new Viewfinder video platform. Their work in politically and socially engaged branding and marketing campaigns is ideal for our plans to give the ol’ girl a facelift and better convey the diversity and dynamism of the disability arts scene, so I’m really excited to see what they come back with.
Now Take Up Space were my top choice as soon as I saw their portfolio, particularly for their spot-on Olympic Housing Crisis campaign and the fun use of textures and media used in other images. And, if I’m honest, they have a disco-mirrored carrot on there somewhere and I’m fatally attracted to shiny things….We get the first batch of sketches this week; stay tuned!
Recruitment and consultation is something I’ve only ever been on the scary end of before; that is, I’ve only really been the hustler and not so much the hustlee, so this has all been really interesting to be part of. It’s almost as sicky having to decide who to employ as it is prepping for an interview or pitch, but a great challenge to think about the future of Dao. It's pretty gratifying to have had my top two choices selected for the roles, although competition was close! You know that bit where judging panels say "Now, this wasn't an easy choice to make..." and it sounds a bit tacky? Turns out to be true.
Since I last blogged Trish and I did my 6 month review of this training process, writing 6 meters-worth of notes on rolls of brown paper to figure out where I’m at, what the future might look like and just how much there is to cram in to my last 6 months with Dao! It’s so funny being a hot-housed producer; sometimes I feel like I’m doing a degree in Disability Studies, others that I’m a jammy little chancer clinging on for dear life!
I’ve been referring to myself since the start of the programme as a High-Powered Arts Bitch In-Training, which loosely means I want to be in charge of a big pot of money to dish out to shit-kicking artists who are subverting the status quo and go to lots of parties; having been invited to dinner at the Wellcome Trust this week to help discuss how they can make their pot of gold more accessible to small-scale projects and individual artists I feel I might be moving in the right direction, tiny step by tiny step. Hopefully I can commission a snazzy website for myself soon, with a frequently-updated ‘Artist Commissions’ page, to which you will all be invited of course….
One of the best things about this trip to the Fringe has been meeting other producers (trainee and pro) to have a good old rant, especially when it's in an absinthe bar full of circus honeys. Hey, when I'm working late I want to be at a party, even when I’m not drinking (touch me, I’m a saint).
I’ve spent the week banging on about funding, curation, policy, mentoring, what a racket the Fringe is, what a great thing the Fringe is, how far disability arts has come and how far there is to go….
What excites me the most about disability arts is that so many of the people involved are so deeply politicised, resistant and subversive. I love a rabble-rouser, a shit kicker, an eloquent arguer for justice and anti-bullshit, and I personally see the world as hornet’s nest that needs to be kicked every once in a while lest we settle for too little. It’s up to you wether you do it with art, activism or rhetoric.
Explicitly political work of any nature can be difficult to get funded and appreciated by the mainstream, and so the value of a clear and simple message for any arts project is easy to grasp. With so many barriers left to blow up for disabled folks generally it can be tempting to focus solely on the specifics of access, but having sniffed around for a few months now I’m starting to wail the siren song of intersectionality in the hope of luring a few sluggish vessels onto the rocks of progress. And I’m not the only one.
The arts in the UK are white as fuck, middleclass as hell and I’m only partly convinced that the sudden surge in feminist enthusiasm isn’t going to be regarded as a phase the minute Bryony Kimmings drops her sprog. This is NOT good enough.
As far as disability arts goes, for a movement tied so closely to the politics of equality I’m shocked by the number of backwards statements I’ve heard from folks working in disability arts regarding gender, specific impairment groups, age and sexuality.
Nobody is politically perfect but if we really want the arts to reflect the full diversity of life then it doesn’t start with inclusion policy, with the Creative Case, with Equal Opportunities or curated showcases; it starts with us, all of us, making our equal-mindedness LOUD AND CLEAR and calling out anyone for using sexist, ageist, homophobic, racist or otherwise derogatory bullshit language.
Yeah, I know it’s a pain, (I miss the days when I’d just kick out the headlights of curb-crawlers rather than talking to them), but what is the point in fighting for equality for some if others are left out in the cold?
More power for one doesn’t mean less power for the other- the nice thing about empowerment is that it is limitless. Yeah, I’m talking from a position of relative privilege- white, invisible impairments, educated- but top to bottom, gallery volunteer to organisation director, we are all responsible for making nice, levelling the playing field and trying not to be a total ass-hat.
[Dao writers, you'll be delighted to know I've added 'feminism' and 'intersectionality' as tags in the CMS so you can write about them to your heart's content now.]
I am in bits. Sue MacLaine and Nadia Nadarajah have taken me apart by subtle means, by invisible means, with fast-moving fingers, and I am discombobulated by unnamed emotions after their performance of Can I Start Again Please?
MacLaine and Nadarajah’s dissection and examination of language, meaning and intent is so elegant that even though I knew the themes of the piece were going to be hard; abuse, survival, silence; the slow burn build still took me by surprise when I found myself crying and speechless. An amazing piece of theatre from two gifted performers.
Their synchronised movements and expressions are both visually arresting and moving, and recall how lonely it can be to try and express individual experience, even with shared language and understanding. Go and see it whenever you can!
Part of the emotional shot to the heart surely came from my having spent the preceding morning getting revved up at Fringe Central, listening to Jess Thom, Richard Butchins and Jo Verrant speak dynamically about ‘Disability: A Creative Advantage’. A great hour of discussion, frankness and calls to action, from both the new and older guard of disability arts.
It is notable throughout my whole Fringe experience that public/panelled discussion of disability arts is vehemently positive and progressive, whereas the experiences reflected in performance and art are more diverse, touching on sadness, frustration and isolation too, much of it specific to experience of impairment or disability.
Art and debate serve different functions, yes, but ultimately do we not want a joined-up sector where critique and creation equally reflect life? Can we rally ourselves to surf the wave of public interest in disability arts, whilst also sharing truth about anger and injustice? Are we setting up arty super-crip expectations, or is there simply still an ocean of patronising attitudes to swim through, best done so with a clear ‘fuck you/piss on pity’?
Being an artist is hard; one of the most challenging and under-supported roles a person can take on, and it is up to every individual artist how they position themselves in the public eye, and the right of every panellist and participant to share their stories however they choose.
Nobody wants to be inspiration porn, or be to spoken down to, looked over or left out, but the juggling act between funding, PR, touring, creative expression, practicalities and logistics and the existential nature of the profession should be more openly discussed. This shit is TOUGH!
There is everything to play for right now, even with the budget looming and the arts’ delicate neck first on the chopping block, and I am interested to see how this phase pans out; with the British Council, Arts Council and some mainstream media starting to wake up to the value of diversity and equality it’s a good time to figure out our narratives and our place in history as whole, flawed, individual people with as much to learn as to teach.
Yesterday I was supposed to be swanning about Edinburgh seeing shows and catching up with old pals, but an airport bomb scare threw things off so all I managed was to go to the iF Platform launch and British Council Showcase opening party and give myself a hangover before leaving. Should have had more cheese nibblies. Today; actual work, in the form of the If Not Now, When? conference, attended by the great and the good, and the new and wide-eyed.
As a rookie producer also pretty green to Disability Arts I am conscious of my potential role within a community seeking to amplify and develop it’s own voice, and how best to sculpt my skillset and knowledge to best serve it.
‘Producer’ is a pretty nebulous job title, defined by individual relationships and techniques, and by the specific artistic and practical requirements and ambitions of the project.
Back in 2013 I attended an event hosted by Theatre Bristol called ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’; a day dedicated to examining some of the permutations of the artist/producer relationship, and a day on which I rather starrily-eyed met the fabulous Jenny Sealey, who’s relationship with producer Hetty Shand was the strongest and most pragmatic of those expressed by the panel.
Their working relationship seemed to fit my just-forming ideas of a role where I could be a critical friend, a cheerleader, an opener of doors and a charmer-off of powerful pants for the development of subversive and radical ideas, ideally all wrapped in a powerhouse package of strong personalities, unique vision and unrelenting hard work. (Yes, I do think producing is a bit of a buddy movie. What of it? Cue montage!)
I’m not there yet- speaking to one of the delegates on the British Council ‘Emerging Producers Platform’ at the swanky Showcase party last night I realised that I am not yet even an emerging producer. I am a pupil, a larvae, pupal, but the time to learn FAST how to play the game and change the rules at the same time is NOW.
Our final panel today asked Where Are The Champions? and I want to say, I’m right here. My track record is shorter than my mini-dress but inch by administrated inch I am learning, and my commitment to the possibilities and politics of this avant garde scene deepens every day.
Amongst the leading voices in Getting Shit Done In Disability Arts today almost everyone referenced the repetitious and historic nature of labels, access, perceptions and opportunities. Well, I’m part of the new guard, and whilst I want to know the heritage I am becoming a part of, I also feel that my freshness and relative lack of ties to the movement can work in my favour.
I think it’s time we 18-30s in Disability Arts had a little shindig and figured out our place in all this, and what we can manifest as the next chapter in Disability Arts. Colin Hambrook has told me that there has been a huge resistance amongst younger disabled people to be identified by or associated with the Disability Arts scene, and I think that a large part of that is the increasingly individualistic culture we have grown up in.
‘Community’ means ‘available resources/influences’ to someone who had the internet from age 14 and sought out people from across the globe who could take me away from my rural prison. My community is an international one, one of diverse people taking what they need to learn from each other to add to their ever-growing collection of influences. We rarely meet, if ever, but that makes it no less real, and we’re generally really good at things like change, persuasion, branding, marketing and mass communication. Most of all we’re good at not accepting what we’re given and instead forging our own paths, making us ideal leaders and allies within artistic and social movements.
As a champion I will:
1. Find ways to bring the disability arts avant garde the proper recognition it deserves from the point of conception through securing easily accessible development money, and not waiting for invitations from venues to suit their agendas and responsibilities. Art is happening all the time, and to be satisfied with the opportunities available from a few dedicated platforms and funds is not enough, although a wonderful place to start from.
2. Use my marketing and persuasion skills to forge influential mainstream connections and pitch work at the highest possible level- leading by example in terms of scope and standard.
3. Be ever-inquisitive about how conditions for artists can be improved, and how best-practice can be most effectively shared between producers and programmers to benefit them.
4. Get my ass out of bed every day I can and keep learning.
Thrilled as I am to be representing Dao at the Fringe this year, from even the briefest glance at the programme I can tell I'm going to be a whimpering, knackered mess by the end. There are so many performances and events by and for disabled artists this year that I'll need equal amounts of speed, spirulina and 'shut up, you have the coolest job going' to keep me going.
Unlimited and the British Council are in town, and shows touching on everything from mental health to mortality can be found across comedy, theatre, dance, music, events and cabaret. I'll also be getting jacked up on professional development at events at Zoo Southside, Summerhall, Forest Fringe and Fringe Central.
Colin Hambrook and I will be up reviewing and schmoozing from August 23rd-31st so if you see us do please say hello.
A few of my top tips and tantalising treats for your dance cards are as follows:
Dive Cabaret: Last year the lineup included some of the most riotously profane signed poetry imaginable, and as DIVE organisers Annabel and Annabel have started working with local disability social network Get2gether I'm hopeful of meeting some new pals AND expanding my pornographic BSL vocabulary.
Good for: queer cabaret, inclusive programming, dirty thrills.
iF Platform: A gorgeous collection of leading UK disabled artists covering heaps of styles and approaches curated by Stopgap. I'm particularly looking forward to Jo Bannon's Alba; her sensitive style and chic aesthetic make my heart sing. Touretteshero's Backstage In Biscuitland looks like an absolute scream, and our man Rowan James' Easy For You To Say looks like it'll ring my bell politically, despite my mild allergy to beat-boxing.
Good for: connecting the regional dots of the UK's rich scene, assured quality.
Black- Le Gateau Chocolat: The first solo show from international operatic drag star Le Gateau Chocolat promises a soulful look at what a picnic it is growing up black, gay and depressed in Nigeria. Having seen Gateau as a cabaret performer many times I am already in love with his voice and adorable stage presence, and Black is top of my list for confessional one-handers.
Good for: knee-tremblng vocal talent, testing the resilience of waterproof mascara.
Abnormally Funny People: Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, Abnormally Funny People has a rotating all-star cast of stand-ups bringing you their best bits every night, including Gareth Berliner, Eshaan Akbar, Liz Carr and Tanyalee Davis. This is where mama keeps the juice; go at least twice.
Good for: variety, famous faces, songs and laughs.
Bryony Kimmings- Fake it Til You Make It: Bryony's previous work on sex, celebrity, feminism and drunkenness make her something of a performance pin-up of mine. Partnering with her fiancee Tim to present a work on severe clinical depression, masculinity and love with her trademark humour looks to be another in a long line of hits for her.
Good for: fantastic aesthetics, frank humour and live-art influences.
Guerilla Aspies- Paul Wady: I'm a sucker for a spoof lecture, and Paul's whip-smart daftery should do really well to promote his book 'Guerilla Aspies- A Neurotypical Society Infiltration Manual'. Aimed at preaching to the unconverted but with plenty of insider jokes for his fellow aspies, Paul is on a mission to help you 'see things our way'.
Best for: TED lovers and haters, slideshow junkies, fact-finders and newbies.
Euan's Guide: Not a show but a resource listing and reviewing venues for accessibility. You can also get helpful info from the EdFringe website.
Anything I simply MUST see? Stick your recommendations in the comments below please, and I'll get back to trawling the programme for even more goodies to check out.
Hey everyone, howdedo?
I'm pooped from another Immersed in 360 exhibition (running at Plymouth Uni until Friday) but cheered to have found a new poitical in-up in the barnstorming form of Mhairi "halt the rollout of PIP in Scotland" Black who's maiden speech this week made me want to stand on my chair and cheer. Love her.
Bleak times are upon us, but Black's vigorous performance and absundance of common sense and compassion are giving me hope for a new generation of politicians who may dare to give a fuck. Even just 10% more fucks given, in line with recent payrises, would be smashing.
All thoughts are on the future here at Dao; given our joyous success in funding Viewfinder annonced this week, and with our trip as speakers and Catalyst partners to 'Shaping a Diverse Future' last week at The Point, Eastleigh, what else can we do but try to visualise the best possible arts scene the UK can have? Well, bloody loads of work, obviously, and that's coming thick and fast!
'Shaping a Diverse Future' was a day of performances, provocations and debates around the funding of new work, the language of diversity, and the future, with panelists and delegates representing Unlimited, British Council, Arts Council England, Stopgap Dance and multiple smaller UK arts organisations and companies.
Much of the conversation was dance-focussed, something I have minimal interest in, but the broader conversations about the sector were on-the-whole very positive and productive. I'm more interested in what actions will come out of the day than the specific debates; I'll keep you posted.
As for my contribution to the day, I prepared a short presentation on crowdfunding, specifically how organisations can use this amateur fundraising tool to their benefit.
I was pretty nervous, starting off speaking too fast for the BSL interpreters to keep up, but I'm told people both laughed at my jokes AND took notes so I'm pretty happy. I'm digging this new career shit, and feel like presenting as part of a fancyschmancy line-up is a good step towards my goal of being a fully fledges High Powered Arts Bitch.
Please click on this link to read the full presentation, should anyone find it handy.
We've got just a few days left on our crowdfunding campaign for Rowan James, so chuck us a couple of quid and help out a cool young artist on the rise.
Full disclosure: I’ve seen, and worked in, a lot of immersive and promenade theatre and its offshoots. Probably too much.*
With companies like Shunt, Carnesky's Ghost Train, You Me Bum Bum Train and Punchdrunk leading the scene there have been some pretty awesome feats of immersive/interactive theatre pulled off over the last 15 years, but it’s a tricky thing to get right, and often it fails to engage, let alone transport.
Sensibly-shod, I entered the secret FO[U]ND Corporation building in Cardiff on Friday, willing the combination of Punchdrunk’s deservedly excellent reputation and Hijinx’s expertise in working with learning disabled actors to bring out something to sock me right in the jaded eyeball. Given that their last collaboration bagged them Wales Theatre Awards’ Best Production in English, and the show promised themes of corporate skullduggery, memory and secrets my hopes were high.
The basic ingredients of an immersive show tend to be
- Use of derelict, unusual or secret location for staging.
- Themes of intrigue, mystery and unveiling.
- Medium to large cast of actors, often interacting with audience members to influence their experience.
- Promenade; audiences generally being free to roam the spaces as they choose to ‘drop in’ on the action around them. A ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ book made 3D.
- Elaborate art direction and sets/installations, frequently with excessive knick-knacks and vintage miscellany. A filmic feel is common in the sound and lighting design.
- The grand reveal! Your hosts want you to stick around the buy from the bar afterwards so the final scene is usually a party.
- Fairly high ticket prices.
Lost and Found hits some, but not all, of these points, and unfortunately fails to progress or subvert what is a well-established trope. Alas, it falls a bit flat.
Once masked and inside the building you’ll be greeted by a hammy ‘sinister woman’ and directed into the guts of the building to explore detailed installations of vauguery, repetitious performances and as much Jean-Pierre Jeunet/Terry Gilliam aesthetic as you can stuff in your face holes.
Speaking of face holes, asthmatics beware; the hazers are on high and the building is a dusty bugger. Wheelchair access looks possible throughout but there was some loose flooring around Lost At Sea that could be tacked down. Access information was very good before and at the show though, and the production team were very attentive.
There is some nice interplay between the actors in the Lost departments, particularly the spies and the corporation officials, and the costuming is stylish although often a little mature for the ages of the performers. In exploring I tried to tail the likable post-master figure but appropriately he lost me pretty quickly, and I found myself at a rack of luggage tags asking for me to write down a memory. (What is it with luggage tags in theatre these days?)
The best bits were the genuinely creepy washing lines and witnessing a resurrection at sea, and one could have a good time playing hide-and-seek in the set with a mate. The actors mainly, but not consistently, pretend you’re not there so as long as you’re not deliberately disruptive (it’s got to be unnerving enough playing to a masked audience) I encourage you to make your own fun. If you get lucky you’ll be siphoned off for a one-to-one performance; the one I witnessed was genuinely clever and stylish.
Above ground, a plot reveals itself in printed materials, ironic artefacts and a confrontation scene which was well delivered but in which I felt some of the disabled actors were presented as props rather than characters.
Whilst I’m splitting hairs, I’m also not totally down with how acquired disability was used as a metaphor in a narrative about “who we used to be” either.
The meta-nerd in me really liked how the themes of augmented reality being sold to a jaded population were being explored through trendy immersive theatre, and I had a nice little flirt on the way out the building with one of the characters, following a patchy-but-sweet finale, so I guess I had overall an enjoyable but pedestrian experience.
If you’re in Cardiff and you’ve never seen a Punchdrunk or Hijinx show, or indeed attended a promenade show before, then go. For £10/6 it’s a fine price to take a punt on something new.
Overall, I feel the attention to detail in design and process was well-developed but the resultant message and characters were unclear, so perhaps go and view it as installation rather than performance. Or just rewatch Brazil.
Beneath The Streets: Lost & Found will be on until July 3rd as part of the Hijinx Unity Festival, Cardiff at a secret location revealed after booking. For tickets visit www.hijinxunity.org.uk
* In 2004 the first show I saw upon moving to London was Shunt’s Tropicana, I’ve performed in The Apocalypse Gameshow several times, worked (regrettably) for Secret Cinema, performed in spoof séances in Masonic temples and attended tons of performances from professional and amateur companies seeking to transport and bamboozle their audiences, as well as gigging at ‘immersive dining experiences’ attempting to cash in on the popularity of the trend. I also studied at Goldsmiths College 2004-7 and as such had site-specific and promenade work presented to me as my new religion, and for a short time worked as a Kalashnikov-weilding insurgent in crisis simulations for special U.N and Medcin Sans Frontieres envoys.
Ahead of his first Edinburgh Fringe show ‘Easy For You To Say’, I met up with punk poet Rowan James to welcome him to my neck of the woods and find out his ambitions and motives behind the piece.
Rowan has been based in Ipswich for many years but has come to the warm, cidery bosom of Bristol to develop his first feature show in a new context and to gain a bit of perspective on all that he has achieved so far, an impulsive decision his producer Luke Emery regards as typical of Rowan’s style.
From supporting Scroobius Pip and Attila the Stockbroker on tour to teaching at special education schools Rowan has broad experience as a creative practitioner; I was most struck by his considered and open identity as an artist and activist, and his ability to bring his artwork to many different arenas.
“There’s no hard or fast rule about what an artist should do; some people aren’t up for changing anything socially. Personally that’s not art that interests me, I’m always into things that surprise me, turn my head and challenge me,” says Rowan, “I started out on the music scene being the poet on between bands, and that’s the audience I prefer. I haven't always enjoyed the sit-down poetry gigs as much. I like captivating the audience be a challenge. I like having to work the mic and my physicality to bring people in, having to be in people’s faces in a way that finds balance.”
I can relate; as an emcee I always love the freefall, the risk, in daring to make an audience love me for being provocative, maybe even making them uncomfortable yet always included. A few beers from now Rowan and I will have bonded over the social construction of gender, classic 80s trainers, the importance of outrageous flirting and the scandals and gossip we know from the performance poetry scene; a bender is brewing, one that will leave me with disco whiplash in the morning, but for now all is professional…
The first time any artist offers their heart on a plate to the Edinburgh Fringe is an important moment, and I wanted to know what Rowan’s intentions were for his ‘big push’, performing a continuous poem in a rave setting accompanied by beatboxer Marv Radio to explore labels, self identity, perception and about the aspiration and lack of understanding within society around learning difficulties and disabilities. Well, shit, there goes the neighbourhood.
“One of the themes of the show is looking at diversity, how in the same way as globalisation and immigration, it makes us stronger. I’m looking at medical advances since the 1970s, that I’ve dubbed myself a first-generation survivor of, from being the first generation of congenital heart conditions that babies have survived and the knock-on effects of that.
I’m fascinated by Socrates’ distrust of writing; he thought that our brains would change if we weren’t holding information in the same way; I’m someone who finds the journey from brain to page really difficult and I want to look at how that has been under-represented in an unfair way and why that is.
I want to talk about my frustration about how, for example, when people talk about the Holocaust how it’s never mentioned that disabled people were the first people to disappear.
I don’t know if I can do all that in one show. It’s hard, quite heart-breaking, to research the sense of apathy around how far we should go to change our systems to include more people. What is the ideal? What is fair? What is reasonable?”
Conversation of this scope obviously requires more space than one blog post can contain, so, in the interests of developed discourse Rowan and I hit the backstreets of Bristol to wreak havoc, dance like twats and inflict ourselves on the general public in the name of critical dialogue. Nice work if you can get it, folks, and I'll be bringing you more on this dynamic artist as we sober up.
You can get your tickets to 'Easy For You To Say' at the Edinburgh Fringe HERE
Rowan will be performing and Alice will be giving a presentation on crowdfunding at 'Shaping a Diverse Future' on July 10th at The Point in Eastleigh. Tickets HERE
And you can donate to our crowd-funding campaign to support Rowan's show HERE if you'd like to chip in a few quid towards the poking of the status quo and the development of a young artist on the verge of kicking up a stink as part of the iF Platform at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Proving wildly successful for some and a total wet fart for others, crowdfunding is a formulaic process that requires planning, perseverance and, preferably, an existing strong fanbase or audience for whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.
It’s easy to focus on the funds, but without a crowd you ain’t gonna get ‘em.
Alright kids, this is going to be a long post as it's something I've been thinking on for weeks whilst I've been putting together a crowdfunding campaign for punk poet Rowan James. Stay tuned though, it could bag you some cash for your next project.
The practical tips are in bold if you're not as obsessed with funding streams as I am *ahem* and I'll give a case study of Rowan's campaign so you can see it in action.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to crowdfunding, just the ramblings of a producer on deadline day, which as we know is a rich source of strategic gold.
Crowdfunding, if somehow you've escaped being asked for money from your friends for their projects constantly since about 2008, is an alternative means of fundraising, utilising online platforms like Crowdfunder, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and myriad others, to draw donations or investments from fans, strangers and friends to complete a creative, start-up, or charitable project.
Social media sharing and short films about the project form the basis of almost all campaigns, and rewards are offered to supporters as thanks yous. This reward structure has also been successfully used as pre-sales for products and as company investment shares, but for arts projects generally you'll get tickets to shows, memorabilia and VIP experiences, thank yous on patron pages and shout-outs on Twitter depending on how much you cough up.
In theory, crowdfunding opens your ideas up to a world of generous benefactors, but realistically you’re more likely to get a tenner off your auntie by asking nicely than to be stumbled upon by a millionaire searching for that perfect niche project to drop a grand on. It does happen, it can happen, don’t stop believing, but get that cap firmly in your hand and be ready to ask everyone you’ve ever met to chip in if you want to do this.
In this regard, crowdfunding is somewhat problematic; why should our friends and family pay for our projects? Are we just passing the same fiver around between us in turn? Does a project have to be populist to be successful in this format? If you’ve previously been funded why should people help you now? If public funding is a question of worthiness, is crowdfunding a popularity contest?
Whilst I don't think crowdfunding is a sustainable way of producing art in the long term, I do like its DIY style, the high-stakes all-or-nothing factor, the instant cash and for the complete lack of application forms, and for the opportunity to promote ideas and get people engaged ahead of a project. If you’re digitally savvy and well-connected you can get great things done. Crowdfunding is both a fundraising and PR exercise. Even if you don’t meet your target you’re still making new audiences aware of your work.
If you’re a lone star, unattached to venues, funders or organisations, then fundraising can be a bit daunting, and I’ll give it to you straight; if you don’t have a mailing list, healthy Twitter following or other network then it’s going to be tough, but not impossible.
Even if you do have those things you’re going to have to put the time into contacting people personally, asking directly and clearly for what you need and keeping the energy of your campaign up with updates and news. If you can assemble a team of champions around you this will become a lot easier; consider sharing the load of tweeting and begging with a collaborator, a team of friends or an organisation.
Some basic considerations before launching your crowdfunding campaign:
You probably won’t get many shots at crowdfunding as it’s so reliant on people close to you, so don’t launch one until you’re sure you’re really making a step up, taking a risk, or offering something nobody has ever dreamed of.
Recording your first album after gigging for years to delighted audiences? YES. Crowdfund it.
Creating an eco-creche in an area with crappy public services? YES.
Hoping to go on retreat sometime to write your first novel? Probably not, unless you’re the King of Instagram or you recently saved an orphanage from burning down.
1. Build your team- share the load. Crowdfunding is an emotional process and it’s best to have folks around you to share the highs and lows and to expand your reach. If you’re an artist with a producer then great, get to it, but if not then asking friends, fellow artists or colleagues to give an hour of tweeting/emailing time per week will help enormously.
For this campaign I'm working with the four Catalyst organisations, plus Rowan's production team and Cambridge Junction. I've also listed all the influential people he's worked with before to be our cheerleaders.
2. Make the best video you can afford as this is what will engage most of your crowd. Have fun, be clear, include as many voices and perspectives to vouch for you as you can. It doesn’t need to be a feature-length spectacular; between 2 and 4 minutes of interesting footage is fine.
Working with The Point's resident film-maker Marina Moya and shooting fast during rehearsals we made the most use of the venue and time by organising ourselve ahead of time and planning as little disruption to Rowan's schedule as possible. With limited time available we wanted to get a flavor of the show through capturing rehearsals and interviewing key team members about their experiences of the project.
Our first draft was over 4 minutes long so Marina trimmed it down to the snappy 3 minutes and 4 seconds you see now, the shortest we could make it without losing vital information.
3. Identify your crowd. What networks do you have, and where else can you tap in to? Basically, who thinks you’re cool? Don’t do anything sleazy like buying mailing lists, but do get in touch with everyone who has ever said they like your work and ask them to fund/pimp your project.
I spoke to Rowan about his gigging history and fans, and with Luke about the venues and organisations that have been supportive of the project throughout, as well as rallying all the Catalyst partners to engage their audiences through newsletters and social media, for which a schedule sharing the load of coverage was created.
4. Get press coverage- editorial is best. Make your project relevant beyond the fact that it needs a cash injection by writing an article about the themes your project addresses, or the people involved. Local radio is a great way to get the word out to tons of people and show yourself off as a charming swine to the public.
Lyn Gardner just listed the show as one of her Edinburgh picks and Luke Emery will be writing a piece for Guardian Culture Professional. And you're reading this!
5. Transparency- be extremely clear about what you are spending money on. Include a budget breakdown if you’re asking for a large sum.
6. Make your rewards realistic to deliver. You don’t want to spend half of what you raise and all your rehearsal time hand-engraving silver plates, tattooing the names of all your supporters onto your thigh or whatever. If people give it’s generally because they like your idea, not because they desperately need a new hoody with your face on it. Can you find a company that would donate some nice merchandise as rewards?
We've put a limit on the larger rewards, and are offering rewards that can be delivered without costing the team excessive time and funds. The show's the thing!
7. Do the maths; how many people can you think of that will actually give you that shiny £500? How long will it take you to contact the £10 crowd? You cannot predict who will give what, and there will certainly be surprises, but making a few estimates can help you stay focussed during the countdown to funding day.
8. Watch as many crowdfunding videos as you can- the good and the bad- to decide what is best for you. Interviews, a music video, animation, a spoof advert? Consider it all before getting in front of the camera.
9. Time scale; Yes, the longer your campaign the longer you have to badger people to give, however most donations will come in right at the start and end, no matter how long it is. I’m not suggesting you try and raise £120k in three days through sheer hype and excitement, but if your other commitments allow then keep it snappy at around 4-6 weeks.
10. With or without a safety net? If this is your one shot at your project happening what will you do if you don’t meet your target? Some sites offer a keep-what-you-make option, taking a higher percentage commission to people happy to part-fund a project. Maybe you can use the sum you raise online as the root of an Arts Council application; being able to demonstrate a demand and investment from your audience will really help your case. You may have to reassess what you can achieve, and you may have to wait, but don’t forget to thank your donors heartily and keep them updated on your progress.
Case Study: Raising £1500 for Rowan James’ “Easy For You To Say”
Back in February, my first day on the job at Dao, pencil case and shiny apple metaphorically packed, I attended a meeting between Dao, Salisbury Arts Centre, The Point and Stopgap Dance Company, all working together as Catalyst, a partnership investigating the future of funding and development in disability arts.
Previously, I’ve raised a few grand for my own Edinburgh Fringe run through crowdfunding, successful due to the existing audience and mailing list from cabaret and smut events I’d produced, my connections in arts and sex journalism, the favours I could pull in from top-quality film crew from various projects I’d helped out with, and the fact that I was going to be offering the show free of charge at the Fringe to make it accessible to everyone. Offline I also talked a celebrity gynaecologist into donating a grand in exchange for their practice logo in the show credits and lifetime guestlist to my vintage porn salons. Whatever it takes.
In Rowan’s case I’ve got a few advantages to work with; he’s been gigging for a few years, supporting big name artists, as well as teaching and kicking about the party and circus scene. Catalyst is made up of four influential organisations, giving us a great network to draw from, and the show we’re raising money for is part of the iF Platform at the Edinburgh Fringe, making it shiny and new and a bit fashionable, and the show is rooted in social commentary and human connections. Ideal.
My first concern with this campaign was that it not get in the way of Rowan’s rehearsals and preparation for his shows; I know exactly how stressful and all-consuming it can be mounting a new production and if raising money takes over creative work then I consider it a waste of time. The show, and Rowan, has to come first.
Meeting initially with Luke Emery, Rowan’s producer, we discussed what the team needed financially; technical and production support (people hours essentially) and per diems so that the cast weren’t paying out of their own pockets to do the show. Easy enough, essential to the show and a relatively small amount to raise.
I really like campaign videos that are a bit fun, a bit clever, and really show off the goods, and so initially I wanted to ask Rowan to write a script in rhyme and deliver a performance piece as the ask. Obviously I’d be violating my own rule of not stressing the artist so had to let it go in favour of working around the team’s existing rehearsal and performance schedule and using a more traditional interview format to sell the project.
The shoot took place at Cambridge Junction, and went like a dream. Everyone was articulate and great in front of the camera. Marina and Henry, our film crew, were consummate professionals and totally respected my plan to be as unobtrusive on the rehearsals as possible, and we were treated to a one-off soundtrack improvised by Marv Radio for the film as well as performances from him and Rowan.
Whilst Marina has been editing the film I’ve been putting together packs for our team of champions, including a schedule for everyone’s social media and newsletter output, making sure everyone takes an equal and manageable share of the work, and gathering press quotes, reviews and photos to share and keep the campaign lively.
Wish us luck! Or better yet, chuck a couple of quid towards the campaign and help out a cool artist on the rise.
I am sitting in a darkened theatre watching Sue Austin fly around me in her underwater wheelchair at her first ever hometown show, and I feel the traces of her soaring ambitions everywhere. This will be a more personal blog than my last; not because I’m not engaged in the work of this exhibition but because the journey I am taking feels poignant today.
As a dreamer of dreams and a maker of bold moves I hope Sue will forgive me for not giving a more thorough coverage of the piece here, but I do encourage you to come and see us next week in Salisbury. Reactions to the exhibition thus far have been great, and to see new technology being wrangled for positive social change as well as artistic expression is thrilling.
Since my last blog post I have written my first large funding application (£208k of fear and adrenaline), taken on a crowd-funding campaign for performance poet Rowan James, contributed to Dao’s planning meetings at Pallant House, started scripting an educational film, written press releases and tweets galore and zoomed through miles of sunny countryside, pages of ideas and the bloody, beautiful history of the blues with my mentor Trish at the wheel. This week has mostly been gaffer tape and ad-hoc modifications to parabolic mirrors, so I’ve got my tecchie swagger on.
It sounds completely daft but I can’t remember the last time I was treated with such intellectual respect, had my ideas and experience valued so much, trusted even, and felt a sense that I have something of substance to offer other people, even now in the first few months of my training. To dig the way that I think is about the biggest compliment you can pay me, and the generosity of Dao, Freewheeling and the other teams who have contributed to my learning so far is quite humbling.
I fell on my feet into performance, starting out as an accidental showgirl at 18 and making cabaret my shiny, unpredictable domain for ten years. In many ways I’ve grown up separate from a lot of the ‘real world’, mainly due to working during most other people’s leisure time and being out of step with regular working hours. At 29 I am having my first real weekends! I feel part of the world in a way that I always thought I wanted to avoid.
Maybe it’s just me growing up a bit, shedding a little of the arrogance of showgirlish youth, but I feel connected to, and appreciative of, people in a new way since making moves towards producer-hood. I suspect the novelty of a regular modest paycheque is doing a fair amount of this legwork; I always joke that performance is a great career if you aren’t into financial stability or a personal life, but it appears that not having to chase (my own) money all the damned time really is rather good for the brain.
“Worrying about money is a waste of your intelligence”, said my dear friend Aste Amundsen last year, (lending me train fare after another gig paid late), and I think she is right. Being broke, starving artist-style, is good for a lot of things; it teaches you great blagging skills, sharpens your creative focus and gives you plenty of time to consider the imbalances in the world, but the creative benefits of sometimes not being sure if I can pay my rent have long worn off and I want to use my brain for ideas, not fear, and to make that release possible for other artists too.
This new world of funded, ‘legitimate’ art, administrated art, has so much planning, strategy and partnership involved that even when working remotely I never feel alone as all activity is towards shared goals; by turns leading, following, supporting, promoting, speculating and facing facts.
The 14+ hour days, the race to get the show fit for public consumption, the ready bonds of teams thrown together are all familiar territory, as is bright lipstick and red wine to warm up and cool down respectively, but this feeling of coming inside, of being part of a mission, is gratifying in a way that a round of applause for a few witty songs has rarely fulfilled. It’s not as rushy, as sparkly, as reach-for-the-moon as performance adrenaline, rather it is something approaching wholesome, and exciting in a far-reaching way.
I’m discovering fears and strengths I didn’t know I had: scaling 20 foot ladders to adjust projection rigs is one stomach-churning thing, but it turns out that flyering and asking strangers into an exhibition spooks me far more than bowling on to stage in a latex catsuit to entertain a couple of hundred people.
Having been a professional show-off for so long I assumed I could rely on an ability to speak to anyone, anywhere, but I’ve often also joked that I like people, at a safe distance from the stage, preferably whilst I’m armed with a microphone, and it turns out it’s true. It’s also possible that I just hate canvassing, but in small teams needs must, so I shall do my best to be brave.
Approaching art projects that have existed long before my involvement is interesting; being able to adopt a concept and work out how I can be most useful is a world away from the sweaty-palmed experience of being the main and often only driver of a project. It’s wonderful.
I am emotionally invested in the work in so far as I want it to do well and want to do as best a job I can, but the action of having an overview, keeping in mind always the bigger picture, the ultimate outcome, the best for everyone, is very freeing compared to the agonies of solo leadership.
I want to be useful to others, to contribute to change and to progress, and I want some damned power in this world. Being a performer, no matter how popular, hardworking or successful, means you are mainly at the bottom of the arts food chain and dependent on the tastes of others for work.
I want to move up the food chain and steer my destiny and those of others, and I get the sense that producing is the best way for me to achieve this. I’m still occasionally moonlighting as Ophelia Bitz for fun and extra cash, and I hope to develop new theatre work in the future, so do keep your eye out for a dingbat in a catsuit talking faster than she can run. The ol’ broad has shown me a wonderful decade and I’m not about to put her out to pasture completely.
I am listening and watching for now, trying not to see into the future or over-think the changes that are happening to me. To be paid to learn, to not have all the answers, is unbelievably freeing, and I am delighted and grateful that Trish and Sue chose me to be here.
Staring vaguely into the middle distance in a chalet in rural Wales, it’s hard to process that for the last week I’ve been on a tidal schedule; a wind-burnt face and a sleep-deprived sense of befuddlement my only souvenirs of a week on the bank of the Thames helping Liz Crow bring her ‘Figures’ project into being. Was it only a few days ago we stood outside Parliament giving interviews to Finnish news channels and to Occupy? The BBC DID show up, didn’t they?
The human cost of austerity as a theme for a project is one I’m totally behind and the value of humanity in arts production has featured heavily in lessons learned this week. Working under tough conditions, be they battling 60mph winds or a being in a group of strangers thrown into a flat together, is par for the course in production, but the ability for a team to pull together and play nicely is key to success.
3am rarely brings out the best in anyone but we managed, by and large, to bring a little gallows humour to our early starts and heavy loads.
Every court needs it’s jester, and when I realised I was unable to help with a lot of the physical aspects of the performances due to a back injury I took my role as Production Support to be in part serving as a cheerleader for physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing amongst the team. Yup, a bit of mucking about whilst loading a van can go a long way, I feel, as does the timely application of bacon sandwiches, so I hope I was able to contribute a little to the team.
None of this would have worked without excellent planning, and commendation must go to Producer Jess Edge for preparing the most formidable schedule to help us keep on track! I’ve worked with complicated scheduling before as part of the production team of the Unfairground at Glastonbury Festival, and the skills of good resource- and people-management are totally transferrable in all outdoor arts endeavours. If everyone is clear on their roles and know exactly where they need to be at any given time it allows for much better problem solving in the moment.
I tip my hat also to Liz’s PA Jess Keily; her amazing skills and patience really highlighted the importance of skilled and properly funded assistance for disabled artists. Without her we would have struggled to keep the project afloat, and her excellent communication between the team and Liz helped us to adapt to Liz’s energy levels and requirements.
Liz herself has been a joy to work with; even freezing her fingers and toes in the clay and wind for hours at a time she always came back from the shore smiling and kind. Endurance work really is a test of the body and will, and Liz’s commitment to her work has been unshaken throughout. She’s a very impressive woman who’s work I will be following from now on.
Please do have a look at the Figures twitter account for details of the project and the stories behind the sculptures. We live in uncertain times and I will be watching the results of the general election closely for movement in funding to arts and disability.
It’s nice to be back in the real world, and to not have to wear four pairs of trousers to keep warm, but there was something magical about being the only people awake on the riverbank watching a lone figure making many small ones, making a quiet but powerful protest for vulnerable people in society. Let us strive to take care of one another and keep up the pressure on government to be accountable and fair to us all.
In the week dominated by coverage of Martin Sheen’s speech on the danger of middle-of-the-road politics whilst the NHS is eroded I found myself sporadically weeping into the pelt of a Golden Retriever called Archie and plotting to blow up Parliament. Welcome to arts administration.
In preparation for Liz Crow’s new sculpture performance ‘Figures’, I had the grisly-yet-illuminating task of copy-editing 650 stories of the human cost of austerity, each one to be represented by a clay figure made by Liz. At the office of CoQuo, the digital agency supporting Figures, I plugged in, caffeinated, and nearly dislocated my jaw from the number of times it dropped in disbelief.
As a borderline anarchist, the depths to which the authorities will stoop to do over the public in the name of budget cuts didn’t come as a total surprise to me, but my ignorance as to the situations of some people claiming Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments was a bit of a shock.
I knew when starting this training that my limited experiences of personal disability were going to be challenged, something I am grateful for, but the total outrage I felt at reading the unfair ways in which claimants have been treated was a baptism of fire into disability politics that has brought me, still smoking, to total belief in the relevance of Liz’s arts activism.
People are dying waiting for their PIP re-assessments, families are being put under terrible pressure, and press propaganda is turning neighbours against each other.
The metaphorical clay from which we are all fashioned will, I hope, be transformed into literal protest in Liz’s hands, and I will be there, along with CoQuo and Dao to support this performance as it happens. Archie, my respite hound friend, will unfortunately not be in attendance as he is enjoying a retirement most humans would be lucky to have.
Matthew Fessey of CoQuo made an interesting point about the power of digital media; in that whilst only a few hundred people were in attendance at Martin Sheen’s speech his message has now been spread to millions thanks to a couple of smartphone cameras. Whatever our stories we must document them; the status quo cannot be trusted to record an accurate history.
Make art, share stories, shout loudly.
As I finish writing this post I have just received the great news that Trish and I have been accepted as Joint Fellows of the CultureHive Digital Marketing Academy; we applied with the intention of upskilling ourselves in the promotion of disability arts projects to even wider audiences.
Watch this space artists, or better yet, fill it!
Please sign up to follow @WeAreFigures on Twitter, where the 650 stories will be shared.
Hello everyone, howdedo? Big news.....
I am thrilled to be the first ever Producing the Producers guinea pig, an Arts Council England-funded scheme cooked up by Trish Wheatley of Dao to address the lack of producers with appropriate skills and knowledge to work with disabled artists. JOY!!!
Paid training in anything is amazing, but paid training in exactly what I want to be doing....WELL. Happy dances all round my dears! The past two years of my life have been spent in equal measure trying to figure out what to do to position myself as an arts producer and stuck in bed staring at the ceiling; I’m delighted the career plan is winning over the mind-weasels and I look forward to getting to know a new gang of artists and facilitators.
Ultimately I’d like to be a High-Powered Arts Bitch with political clout in charge of a huge pot of money and a multi-platform festival programming exciting disabled and non-disabled artists. For now, I’m a listener and a lover of art. An art-lover who sees the potential for social change, justice and enlightenment through cultural exchange.
“The South African writer Antjie Krog described meeting a nomadic desert poet in Senegal who described the role of poets in his culture.
The job of the poet, he explained to her, is to remember where the water holes are.
The survival of the whole group depends on a few water holes scattered around the desert.
When his people forget where the water is, the poet can lead them to it.
What an apt metaphor for the role of the artist in any culture.”
Anne Bogart, And Then You Act (Making Art In An Unpredictable World)
The relationship between producer and artist and/or organisation is as varied as it is difficult to define, but I am in the extraordinarily lucky position that I have a year to ask as many questions as I can and to observe and contribute to several existing and new projects around the UK. Wether I am a compass, a camel or a conspirator to you wandering poets I hope to be of use.
I have a lot to learn, both about producing and disability arts, so any reading or viewing suggestions are gratefully received.
This week I’m getting stuck into Strength by Paddy Masefield and Disability Aesthetics by Tobin Siebers, between learning to break the Dao blog, paddling at the keyboard like a dog in a river and drinking a lot of coffee.
This week has been something of a crash course for both Trish and I; I accepted the position on Friday afternoon and arrived on Monday morning to head straight to our first meeting with producers from Salisbury Arts Centre, The Point and Stopgap to discuss a funding and performance event in July. Jumping in at the deep end, I offered to help with a crowd-funding campaign, something I’ve used previously to get my own show ArtWank to the Edinburgh Fringe. [Please see below]
Tuesday saw my first visit to the stunning grounds at Holton Lee, which, having recently merged with Livability, are at an interesting time of change and new ideas. I started to learn about the distinctions between arts in health, disability arts and art therapy, and the importance of understanding the difference. The specifics of language and attitude are one of the aspects of disability arts I am most drawn to.
The rest of the week Trish and I have been cosied up round our laptops writing our contracts and a plan for our year together and later we’ll Skype with the amazing Sue Austin about her all-swimming all-flying adventures for Freewheeling.
Next week I’ll be reporting from Bristol and Salisbury as I start helping on Liz Crow’s new project Figures, and hopefully get the hang of LinkedIn.
See you soon!
Love Alice x