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

 

Theatre Saved Me From Myself

It sounds like a crazy claim but I honestly believe it to be true and I think, until recently I’d forgotten how I got into theatre in the first place.

I do apologise this started as short blog post and has become something of a lengthy autobiographical account. A lot of it I’ve never really spoken about before and it has brought a lot of emotions back to the surface.

It wasn’t until something was re-ignited in me whilst listening to Jill Bennett’s (Theatre Royal Bath Engage Programme Co-ordinator) speech at our recent Breaking Boundaries Conference on the question “Is Amateur A Dirty Word?”

Jill rightly said that no, amateur isn’t a dirty word and shared stories of her childhood being involved in a theatre family.

I have no idea where my love of theatre came from. No-one else in my immediate family is particularly theatrical and my childhood memories of theatre are slightly traumatic. When I was quite young I was taken to the Merlin Theatre in Frome where we watched a production of the Wind In The Willows. The actor playing Toad had a full character head on. There was one scene where he was sat on a bed feeling sorry for himself and suddenly his head fell off. For a child, seeing a Toad’s head fall off and a panic-stricken man’s face appear and then quickly fumble and replace the head was not only terrifying but completely destroyed the fantasy world that until that point you had believed in. I remember sitting listening to the adults in the audience laughing and feeling deeply upset that something so horrific should be so funny. Suddenly, in that one swift moment the scenery faded away into the darkness and the characters became nothing more than people in silly costumes. From that moment on a sense of the magic was irretrievably lost, as was my interest in theatre. I didn’t want the reality, I wanted to continue believing in the characters that I thought were real.

The only other family ties with theatre I have found include a single photograph of my Nan dressed up as an ugly sister in her families annual Boxing Day performance of Cinderella. My great-great-great grandfather was a Shakespearian actor who toured the country with a group of travelling players and he later went on to marry a dancer. That is all I’ve been able to find out about them so far but perhaps somewhere in the distant past theatre did have a part in my family.

I always used to hate performing in front of people, I used to suffer from full on shaking stage fright to the point I felt physically sick. I think it goes back to being quite introverted but with extrovert tendencies. Once I was onstage I was fine.

It wasn’t until Secondary school that I realised the real benefits of “acting”. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you will know that school was not a happy time for me. I couldn’t handle the change going from a tiny village school to a large secondary school, not helped by the fact I’d fallen out with all of my friends at the time and felt isolated and alone in a completely alien environment. Kids can be mean and because I’d fallen out with my group of friends from the village it made it much harder to make friends with anyone else as you were seen as an outsider.

So I spent a good part of the first year at secondary school alone or hidden in the library out the way to avoid any hassle or the teasing that came with being an oddball. It was a very strange experience and led to me developing a fear of school and I was eventually diagnosed as school phobic. It got to the point where I refused to go and the education welfare services got involved and took me to court and placed me under an education supervision order.

It put my parents, particularly my mum under a lot of strain and stress to the point where she tried to physically drag me to school. On one occasion I ran off and hid in the woods near my house. The police were called and they eventually found me, bundled me into the back of the police car and escorted me up to school. We arrived bang in the middle of lunchtime. The school’s dinner hall had large glass windows which looked out on to the carpark out the front. The police car pulled up right outside the window and I was escorted into the school by the two police officers. Every single head in the dinner hall turned to look at me and I could feel their eyes following me as I did the slow walk of shame to the reception. I was mortified. If it wasn’t bad enough that I hated being in the place I was now paraded on show to the entire school. I was then forced to sit down and tell them why I didn’t want to be there and they figured that I was being bullied. I didn’t see it like that – I just saw it as I’d fallen out with my mates. I was escorted to my English lesson and made to sit there and await the rest of my tutor groups arrival. The class arrived and a lot of them had forgotten who I was but they all had seen me arriving in the police car. There were lots of whispers and gazes and I just sat there, head down, eyes bloodshot and red from crying and wishing the ground would open up and swallow me.

An action plan was put in place and I was eventually given a home tutor who was great and slowly but surely I got the confidence up to actually set foot on the school grounds again. It was a gradual process but there was a time when I couldn’t even step foot on the school grounds without turning into a shivering crying wreck, the fear of just being back in the place that made me so unhappy it was hideous.

Something had changed in this period. People’s attitudes towards me were different. In a strange way, and as traumatic as arriving in the police car had been it seemed to earn the respect of my peers. I was invited to join in things and soon I was in with the “cool” crowd. So I started playing up to the part. I was so desperate to be liked and not go back to the way things were before that I took on the role of this “bad boy” just to fit in. The image and the charade held up and I somehow maintained it for a number of years. Possibly one of my biggest regrets.

In switching sides I became what other people wanted me to be. I changed the way I acted, the way I spoke and the way I behaved just to fit in. I was soon in and out of lots of trouble – suspended several times and had lots of black marks against my name. I’d gone from troubled to just trouble. And still deep down I knew I wasn’t happy. We all started smoking pot heavily at this time as well and that made me even more paranoid and edgy than I was before. It heightened all the wrong emotions but at the time I didn’t see how destructive it was – we just thought we were cool.

On one occasion when I’d been given an after school detention I was taken off privately by one of the teachers who I guess could see through the character I was performing and knew that it wasn’t really me and didn’t want to see me carry on going down the road I was going down. You always get one teacher like that don’t you! He’s still at the school and still brilliant from what I gather. Anyway on this one time we went into the school hall and they were rigging lights for a school production, I believe it was a sixth form show. And I was asked to sit on the little manual lighting desk and push the faders up and down when asked. I started enjoying it. I had finally found something that I enjoyed doing – not as someone else but as me. I don’t know why I was drawn to it but I knew from that moment that I wanted to be involved with theatre.

I used the false confidence that my new character had found to get involved with as much theatre as I could. It was at that time that I auditioned for Bath Light Operatic Group who were staging a production of Oliver! and I joined them as a member of Fagin’s Gang and the Artful Dodger understudy. It was an amazing experience and it did completely change my life. For the first time in a long time I found that I was accepted for just being me and that was good enough for the members of the group. I no longer had to pretend (although I did, ironically want to be an actor). I found real confidence in myself for once and I took this from rehearsals into my school life. I decided that I wanted to take Drama and Music for GCSE (which came as a shock to everyone I think!).

The school was holding auditions for Little Shop of Horrors and I managed to secure the role of Audrey II the Plant. It was all going brilliantly until I went down ill with flu during the first week of rehearsals. The director didn’t want to take a chance on me (as my past record of attendance was far from great) so she cut me from the part and gave it to a supply teacher. Confidence once again back down to zero. This one event completely knocked me back after I had come so far and once again my attendance at school drifted. It wasn’t until one day, during lunch when I saw my science teacher playing with the lights and I went and started asking questions. I became interested again. And he got my out of lessons to help with the lighting of the show. I ended up operating the lighting during the performances of Little Shop of Horrors and my confidence slowly came back. Plus it proved a point to the English teacher director that I could be reliable and turn up for things. More than that though it proved a point to myself. I gave up on following acting, from then on I was only interested in technical theatre.

I applied to join Bath College on their technical BTEC and also at this time directed my first play at the age of 16 with the Bathford Players. Unbeknown to me one of the college lecturers who was on the interview panel was Katie from Bath Light Operatic Group. She had seen me during Oliver and remembered me. I got offered a place. I didn’t however get the grades. I didn’t care about school anymore at all. I knew what I wanted to do. Luckily Katie fought my corner and took a chance on me. They dropped the technical BTEC as only two of us applied to do it so instead I spent two years performing and joining in technical lessons with the second years on top.

The two years at the college transformed my life. The classes gave me confidence and a belief in myself. Sure I was never going to be the best actor there but I put all of my energy into that course and by the end of it I was a completely different person. I understood and learnt more about myself in the two years I was at the college than I had in my whole time at secondary school. Finally I felt it was okay just to be me. And it was the drama training and exploration of myself that the course allowed which enabled me to do that. I completely broke away from the group of friends I had established at school, stopped smoking dope and completely changed who I was or should I say became who I am now. I cannot say thank you enough to my college lecturers for believing in me and taking a chance on me, Katie, Matt, Laura, Paul, Yvonne, Helen and Deirdre – I don’t think you realise how much you actually changed my life – so thank you, thank you, thank you.

Anyone who says that drama should be seen as a “light subject” or that it should be cut is a complete ignorant idiot. The benefits of drama as a tool for self growth and even therapy cannot be understated. It’s more than just meeting up with a group of people and staging a play. It”s more than just acting. It’s about becoming part of a family, sharing experiences and creating deep friendships that last for years. It enables you to think for yourself and discover things about you that no other job can reveal. I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be and I can only imagine how things would have turned out if it hadn’t rescued me when it did.

Theatre did save me from myself and I will forever owe it a huge debt of gratitude.