The Theatre Bath Bus and the Creative Process (or YES! We bloody did it!)

The Theatre Bus has launched – wahoo!

I’m feeling incredibly happy, proud and thankful for everyone’s hard work and support. Particularly to Zoe and the Theatre Bus team for putting up with my mad ideas for the last year. But also to everyone who has donated money – however much and to everyone who has donated their time, commented on ideas on Facebook or supported the project in any way. The bus is for you. It’s not for me and never has been. This is about a creative space that can be used by the whole community and can benefit so many different people in so many inspirational different ways. We have merely provided you with a blank canvas to use; how you choose to fill it is up to you! I cannot wait to see what you all come up with and supporting your creative projects going forwards.

 

I’ve had a lot of people asking me how I do the things that I do and why so I thought I’d write a brief blog about my creative process and what works best for me. Different people work in different ways and if the arts teach us anything its that we all have unique individual strengths and weaknesses. So what works for me may not necessarily work for you and vice-versa.

1. Come up with an idea

“From small acorns grow mighty oaks”

The first thing is just come up with an idea. It does not have to be groundbreaking, original or unique. It doesn’t have to be something on a epic scale. Just an idea. Any idea. Even if it’s just the faint shimmer of an idea parked on your periphery and you have no idea what form it will eventually take. Grab hold of it. Write it down. Leave it in the desk drawer for a week and come back to it. Discuss it with close friends or colleagues. Find an idea that works for you and begin thinking about where it may go.

 

2. Expand Your Idea

Brainstorm or write notes. Expand on your original idea. Use keywords or word association to expand your thoughts about the idea. Your idea will change. It will evolve. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Don’t become so fixed on one final outcome that you miss other potential opportunities. See the bigger picture. Evolve with your idea and see where it leads.

 

3. How Will You Make Your Idea A Reality?

So you have the idea. You have played with it and expanded it. You probably have a whole load of other ideas now. How do you bring it into fruition? Think about the end goal. Why are you doing this? What is your driving force behind it? What do you wish to achieve from doing it? What is your purpose? What does your idea look like in its fullest form? Visualise the end product. Once you have that clear you can begin to move backwards from there. So for me the end goal was a multi-purpose mobile performance space situated inside a bus. That was the vision. I then looked backwards from there to see what steps I would need to take to make that happen.

In my case it looked something like this:

  • END GOAL – Mobile Performance space in a bus
  • Need a bus – where do you buy a bus? How much will it cost?
  • Need someone to convert the bus – who does bus conversions locally?
  • Need to raise money to make that happen – who will fund it? How? Why?
  • Need a team with different sets of skills – who? why?
  • Need help from a designer
  • Need a timescale – how long will this take?
  • Technical equipment – what will the bus need to be able to operate?
  • Paperwork and legislation – what will we need in place? Who will insure it?
  • Where will the bus be able to go?
  • Who will use it? What is its goal?

There were several hundred more bullet points to add to this list but already you can see how once you have an idea you can work backwards and create yourself steps. Each step raises more questions. More questions lead to more knowledge and more answers. Question EVERYTHING. Do not stop questioning. The more you question the more different ideas you’ll come up with and solutions you’ll find.

 

4. So I Now Have An Idea And A Massive To Do List – Help I’m Overwhelmed & A Tiny Bit Scared!

Good. If you’re not scared your project or idea is not ambitious enough. You’re being too safe and playing within your comfort zone. It is absolutely okay to be terrified. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. And it’s okay to not know where to start and what to do first.

Create yourself a to-do list. Actually create yourself several. We broke the project up into different sections and had to-do lists for each of them. Breaking the project down into manageable sections allows you to really focus on the details and not feel completely overwhelmed with looking at the project as one whole thing.

Our sections looked something like this:

  • Conversion work – stage one – emptying the bus
  • Conversion work – stage two – creating the wooden structures within the bus
  • Conversion work – stage three – electrics, cabling and distribution around the bus
  • Conversion work – stage four – painting the inside of the bus
  • Conversion work – stage five – Curtains, Seating and other fixutres
  • Conversion work – stage six – Technical equipment
  • Paperwork
  • Fundraising
  • Materials and sourcing
  • Research and ideas
  • Launch party
  • Marketing

There were more sections but this gives you an idea. Under each of these headings we then could look in more detail at what we needed to achieve each thing. So for example the first stage – emptying the bus. We knew that we needed to take out the chairs. All the metal vertical poles. Barriers around the front wheel arches. Old fluorescent lighting. Old display boards in the front, back and sides. Once all of that was done we then knew we could move on to the other sections.

A lot of these sections over-lapped and were running concurrently at the same time. But it became more manageable because we had a plan in place that we could follow.

 

5. My Plan Has Gone Out Of The Window What Do I Do?

Sit and cry!!!

No.

Projects evolve. They change all the time. You are constantly challenged by different things that come up and surprise you. No project ever goes 100% smoothly. That’s a fact. What you have to do is be able to adapt to the changes and challenges when they arise in a positive way. Don’t focus on the problem. If you focus on the problem it won’t go away. Focus on the solution. Or better still focus on different solutions. Rome was not built in a day. Which is just as well as the Roman’s would have all been knackered and wouldn’t have been able to enjoy all they had achieved. There is always a way forwards. Don’t become so obsessed with something having to be a particular way that you allow it to stunt and damage your end vision. Be open to change, embrace it and see it as a natural evolution of you idea.

 

6. Ask For Help & Share With Others

This is a biggy. Do not try and do everything yourself. You will burn out and the project will probably whither and die or will not live up to expectations. Two heads are definitely better than one (and four or five is an explosion of creativity). Be open to others suggestions and advice. A fresh pair of eyes on an idea can bring solutions that you would have never dreamed of. It can also help identify problems before they crop up. When you’re passionate about a project you become very close to it, attached and somewhat protective. Don’t be scared to let others in. Step out of your comfort zone and collaborate. Use other people’s knowledge and experience and fuse it with your own.

 

The Theatre Bus has changed constantly. In fact it’s still changing now even after the launch we already have a list of things we can do to make it better. To improve upon what we have already done. This has come from seeing the bus in action at the launch and also from the suggestions and ideas of those who were present. Their feedback, both positive and negative has been a massive help to us and will allow us to move the project onto the next level.

 

7. People Tell Me It’s A Bad Idea And It Will Never Work

You always get negative people with small minds who have the creative ambition of an overripe peach and if you leave them in the sun they start sprouting little hairs and grow moldy.

There will always be negative people.

There will always be those who doubt you.

But you know what – they don’t matter. Not an iota. Who knows why they like to put others down or rubbish their ideas. The fact is they exist. Acknowledge that fact and move swiftly on. Focus on the people who do believe in what you are doing. Focus back on why you are doing the project in the first place. Don’t let them suck the life out of your creativity and ambition. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you too. When met with negativity always go back to your idea, find that inspiration, find that drive and hug it a little tighter.

 

8. Just Do It

Seriously. Stop procrastinating. Stop reading this blog looking for answers you already know and have inside you. Get off your arse and start work. No, put Facebook away… no more posts of hilarious cats or cute dogs… No… Twitter will still be there in a few hours… Put that phone down… Pull out your notebook and just get on with it. There never will be a right time or a good time except right now. Just get on with it. If you want my advice. Turn off the electronics. A notepad and pen (or pencil) are your best friends. Get away from distractions. Allow yourself the time to work. And then just do it. It will only happen if you make it happen. Do not wait for anyone’s permission but your own. Allow yourself the time and get on with it.

Happy creating!

xXx

 

A Career In The Arts – Is There Such A Thing? Education and employment.

How many times do you find yourself keep on saying that you can’t do this anymore? That enough is enough?

If I’m honest I go through periods of it. The majority of the time I’m quite content with just pottering along and getting by, and it is just that… getting by!

I’ve worked professionally in the arts for just over 10 years now doing a whole range of jobs, the majority of them paid, some of them not. I always realised that to survive in this industry you have to have a range of what schools and colleges would call “employability skills”, skills that are transferable and can be used in a multitude of different ways. So with that in mind I set out to learn as much as I could about all the different roles and art forms.

Now for me, personally, my journey has perhaps been different to many of those getting into the arts.

I hated secondary school with a passion. I didn’t fit in and the normal education structure did not work for me at all. I rebelled and fought against it in every way I could. Part of the problem was going from a tiny Primary School to a massive Secondary school – I couldn’t cope with it at all. On top of other problems I had whilst being there I was classed as School Phobic (yes it’s a real condition I haven’t made it up), it’s a horrible thing to suffer with and I had it so bad I couldn’t even face being on the school grounds without having panic attacks and physically shaking. After being dragged through the courts by a system that didn’t understand the problems I was facing and having an education supervision order slapped on me I finally managed to get back to school.

Anyway I finally got back to school and did really well in the year 9 SATS getting good marks in Maths & Science, the top mark on the Shakespeare paper in the school (wahoo get in!), and 2 marks off a level 8 in English (2 bloody marks!!!). Things were back on track for a while but then I couldn’t cope again and I think everyone had just lost patience with me. So after rubbish attendance I ended up leaving school with one GCSE at E grade in Music.

The only thing that kept me going at school and the only thing that I felt confident doing was helping out with lighting on productions. I fell into this role accidentally. I took GCSE drama and as part of this we were allowed to audition for the lead roles in the main school production which happened to be Little Shop Of Horrors. I was cast as the part of the plant. However due to my poor attendance I was cut (I only missed one rehearsal – lesson learnt the hard way). So that was upsetting but at the time I happened to be in the hall when they were setting up and playing with lights. I took an interest, and the rest is history. I found a place that I felt I finally fitted in and that I could be me.

It’s a really horrible experience to feel like a square peg in a round hole for most of your life but when something finally clicks and you find a way of studying/working that suits you and your abilities – finally the world doesn’t seem like such a scary place anymore.

So that’s where my passion has come from and why it makes me so enraged and feel the need to speak out when I see things in the industry and the education system falling apart.

The latest reports about changes to Dance and Drama in schools are quite frankly stupid. The sooner Michael Gove is forced to leave office the better. I’m fed up of Governments writing policies and creating blanket education programs that remove all creativity and individuality from the subjects. All students are unique. They all learn in different ways. Forcing them to act like sheep and parrot learn pages of ridiculous drivel is not going to help shape them as people or prepare them for the future.

The Government needs to start investing in children as individuals. They are not a collective mass. They are making teachers jobs harder and they are losing the one-on-one time which is invaluable for each students individual needs. Teachers are already over-worked and over-stressed and having to jump through more hoops, and wade through more political bullshit is going to have a detrimental effect on students in the long term. It’s time for a change. It’s time for the Government to realise that actually they don’t have a clue what works best and perhaps if they took the time to actually speak to teachers and allow them a chance to shape policy and curriculum then we may begin to get somewhere. The reason I hated school was because it couldn’t handle me as an individual. It was in no-way prepared for this. The system simply did not allow for any deviation to the archaic boundaries laid down for it. This has to change. I strongly believe that vocational training is the way forwards. Encourage creativity and encourage students to learn for themselves through actually doing things and not being told them or having to write pages and pages on some pointless exam paper about them. Prepare them for the real world through actual experience of the real world. Break some boundaries.

On to my next rant… (Apologies bear with me it almost ties together coherently… almost!)

Like I have already said I’ve worked in the arts industry professionally for ten years. I use the term “worked” fairly loosely.

I have in that time been lucky enough to work on some amazing productions and get some great experience. I have a lovely portfolio of work, a full CV, numerous certificates for different skills and a shiny degree…

But what does that actually mean in real life?

Perhaps not as much as it should.

There is currently an over-saturation of people working in the arts and fewer and fewer roles for them to take on with more and more arts organisations folding due to funding cuts or loss of revenue etc. Each year more and more people emerge from drama schools who have exactly the same qualifications as us, albeit slightly less experience. It’s common knowledge that it’s more who you know in this industry than what you know – don’t get me wrong you still have to be able to do the job but having a foot (or sometimes feet) in doors is invaluable in getting your next job. The trouble with the arts at the moment is that there are more and more highly skilled and experienced people out there looking for work, people who have lost jobs from some of the bigger arts organisations that have closed. Some of these people who were on huge salaries are being forced to take jobs with much less pay. Jobs which they are perhaps over-qualified for but because of their experience they are able to pick up with ease. That’s great for them. But what about everyone else? With more and more roles disappearing where do the rest of us stand?

Top this with the very unhealthy culture of unpaid or low paid internships, the dreaded profit-share and “work that you won’t get paid for but will look great on your CV”, and that leaves all of us who are stuck in the middle of our careers fighting hard to try and secure what little work is out there. When the work does come along you cannot afford to turn it down, no matter how stressful or impossible that may be.

There is also a scary trend of people working for free. Often they are unqualified but because they can offer their services to some small company or other they are snapped up. This is not only wrong it is potentially dangerous. The theatre is a highly dangerous place to work in and it risks not only the lives of the cast but also audience members. Anyone who “works” in a theatre should have training of some description. Even something as simple as working with someone who is qualified for a bit would be an advantage. Low pay or no pay should not mean that we are willing to take unnecessary risks. Unfortunately it is becoming more and more frequent (as are the inevitable accidents associated with this).

One person trying to do every job seems to be another trend with small scale companies recently. More so over the last few years. Whereas before you would have a team of two or maybe three crew more often than not I’ve seen companies with just one technician who is expected to do everything from build the set to light the show and make the tea all whilst precariously balanced on a ladder fiddling with a projector (ok that’s not true but I hope you giggled as much as I did at the image…).

Directors on tight budgets are more frequently using cast members to change scenery, set props, create music… there is nothing wrong with this.  I think all actors should have experience of technical work and vice-versa all technicians should have experience on stage at some point. The danger lies in the fact it’s actually taking a job away from someone else. With smaller budgets this seems like an inevitable cut – but it’s not healthy for the industry.

Another common occurrence is companies wanting more technical support but trying to pay less for it. I  know lots of people and hire companies that have been under-cut by people willing to do the work at a cheaper rate. With less and less work available this is inevitable. But these companies and individuals have to realise that at the end of the day, like with anything else in life, you get what you pay for and there are only so many cuts you can make. I had one director asking me to take a pay cut because they couldn’t afford to pay for the set… I told them no. You pay me what we’ve agreed or I’m afraid you’ll have to find someone else. Luckily in this instance they saw sense – but it could have gone either way. It’s not a nice feeling when people try and take money away from you especially when you have worked your arse off for the show to make it as good as it can be.

Personally in the last few months I have regularly been forced to work more than one job a day, more times than I can remember working seven days a week – often rushing between different venues, sometimes even venues in different cities, just to try and make ends meet. Last Saturday I worked on 3 different productions starting the first at 8:30am and then rushing to the next venue, setting up and operating that show before heading on to another venue and working through until 4:30am on Sunday morning. There was no real time to stop and eat, just grabbing something quickly on route from one place to another. It is tiring and stressful. Of course you could always say no… of course you could. But then you lose the money and as we’ve already established that might not be an option.

When you are self-employed there is nothing to protect you from exploitation except for yourself. But when you cannot afford to turn work down because of a combination of the things mentioned above what do you do? What is the answer?

I’m at a turning point at the moment. I know I cannot sustain this lifestyle for much longer. You keep on holding on and hoping that some kind of break will come along – it’s a hope all of us freelancers hold on to. It’s what keeps us going. I’m not sure what to do about it… I am not one to give up on anything easily but at the moment one single, comfy, 9 to 5 job where you can go home and forget about everything at the end of the day is looking more and more appealing.

I love the arts and I love what I do and I’m really proud of everything I’ve achieved. But is that enough reason to keep on going and plugging away at it? I’m honestly not sure… Chances are I’m just having one of those moments we all get when we question everything… I know I’m not the only one that feels this way though… I think we all do at some point. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. Chances are I’ll wake up tomorrow and be back to my positive self… but now I’ve finally set this blog up I’ll keep you posted…