Life at Theatre Royal: A Novella

It has been flippin ages since I wrote one of these things! Work has been slightly more hectic than anticipated, and as I’ve got more settled I’ve started actually socialising! This has all been pretty great for me personally, but it has meant this lil thing has fallen by the wayside. From now on I’m going to be more realistic about how often I can write – I think monthly will be the new goal. I want this to stay something I enjoy, rather than something I stress about not having done.

As it’s been ages since I updated I’m once again in the position of having far too much to say. If I wrote about every aspect of work I’d enjoyed in the last month and a half I’d be writing a novel (probably more of a novella, but still, far more than anyone wants from a blog post). So here’s the cliff notes version of my work life.

Way back in April I got the chance to help out on a fantastic show called Brainstorm. It was performed in The Drum by TRP’s Young Company. Aged 12-16, I was amazed by how much professionalism was demonstrated by the performers. The show was also largely written by the cast, with their own stories woven into an existing frame of a script. I think it made for a really affecting piece of theatre that appealed to and reflected young people. It was incredibly personal for the cast, whilst still resonating with everyone who saw it. And, most importantly, the cast seemed to be genuinely enjoying the experience of acting, whether or not they’d had any engagement with theatre prior to being cast. It was a brilliant learning experience for me too. I got to see how rehearsals vary when young people are involved, I sat in on the whole of a tech rehearsal, I saw how get ins work, I assisted with a get out. There were some props related issues that only came to light in production week. It was so useful to my learning to see how these things are dealt with and how theatre problems are solved under time pressure. I assisted with some stage management and was backstage for every show of the run. Despite my small involvement, I really felt like I’d contributed to the show. I had so much fun and learned so much. It made me realise how much I love the more hands on elements of my job. It was great to work with such a skilled and friendly team. I’ll be acting as deputy stage manager for the next Young Company show and I couldn’t be more excited!

Following Brainstorm I was given the chance to shadow TRP’s sound technicians for the get in of This House. Initially it was super daunting, there’s nothing more awkward than standing watching everyone transport very heavy fly cases while you’re doing nowt (this wasn’t laziness, I’d been told I shouldn’t do any of the unpacking – too dangerous for a newbie). I also managed to get myself lost on a couple of occasions. I’d been sent on what should’ve been like 2 minute errands. Both times I took what I thought was a short cut and very much wasn’t (I really don’t know the Lyric that well, I’ve spent most of my time in the Drum). It was all a bit cringe tbh. But, despite my sometimes embarrassing lack of knowledge, it was still a really useful day. I learned a lot more about how the tech side of the theatre functions, I learned how complicated making a show sound good can actually be and by the end of the day I managed to get a cue light wired up! Which I’m sure is a very easy task, but I was still pleased. I also sort of dealt with my vertigo. A lot of tech work occurs at height, so I ended up just pushing through and dealing with it. I’m hoping to spend a little more time shadowing the tech team in future because it was fun (even when I made it awkward, classic me), plus I figure I should make the most of being surrounded by expertise while I’m here.

Along with all the opportunities at Theatre Royal, the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries scheme offers development and assistance outside of my job. Part of this is the mentor scheme. We’re encouraged to seek out a mentor who will offer us advice and help us with any areas we are particularly struggling with. Mine is Roxanne Peak-Payne, the producer at Clod Ensemble. Roxanne has primarily been assisting me with my ability to network, as it is a major part of a producer’s job, and something I have no experience with. So it made sense that our first meeting was at a networking event! A couple of hours before the event we met to discuss my progress, what I was interested in and what I hope to get out of the year. On the basis of that discussion, we decided how I should approach the event. It was organised by the New British Music Theatre network, which meant I got to interact with artists, theatre makers, musicians and producers from completely different backgrounds to what I’m used to. It really pushed my boundaries and I think helped me to develop a little more professional confidence.

Run-down of other cool stuff I’ve done: Following a meeting with Bonnie (Executive Director of The Wrong Crowd, TRP’s resident company) I was able to sit in on one of their R+D sessions. It was fascinating to see how a show develops, they came up with so many ideas even in the couple of hours I spent with them. I’ve continued with office based administration tasks and sorting through our script archives, I’ve submitted some of our plays to the British Library’s modern play scripts archive, I’ve chosen plays to see on the Jerwood cohort’s trip to Avignon and generally gotten more settled into my role. I went to a feminist performance night with some colleagues and experienced a little more of Plymouth’s cultural scene. I’ve also made some more plans for the rest of the year here – it’s now been confirmed that I’ll be offering production management assistance to our Playhouse project (primary schools perform plays written by major playwrights exclusively for that purpose and they get to perform in the Drum!), I will be production manager for this year’s LAB company summer show, and I’ll get to be deputy stage manager for a show! All very exciting and all hopefully things that will allow me to develop valuable skills. Not work related, but I also went to a comedy festival in Wales and had THE BEST time. It was just the most fun. A gorgeous town, fantastic shows, incredible weather, good company and only two incidents of drunkenly making a fool of myself (both did happen to be in front of a comedian I admire, trying not to relive that cringe too often).

My goals in my previous posts were to be more confident and efficient, and to do a better job of keeping this blog updated. The blog thing, clearly, hasn’t happened. I think from now on I’ll aim to write brief pieces on shows seen and a monthly work update. That way I’m still giving myself a nice track record of everything I’m achieving this year, but it doesn’t become a chore that I beat myself up over not completing. Fortnightly was a tad ambitious, particularly given that it would be on top of all the shows I’m seeing/writing about.

In terms of confidence and efficiency, I really can’t gauge it. They’re pretty broad and unquantifiable terms – kind of the opposite of what a goal should be. I’d like to think I’m more confident! I certainly feel it, which I reckon I can take as a win. I also definitely met one of my more specific efficiency goals – I no longer spend aaaages agonising over what to write in emails. I just send those bad boys right out these days. Well, I still take more care than most, but it’s a big improvement on how I used to be.

Goals for the next month: First off, I’m going to be a bit more specific this time! ‘Be more confident’ is a poorly thought out goal really, even if it is something I’m striving for. So, specific goals: on the advice of my mentor I’m aiming to reach out to a local creative, someone I don’t know yet, and ask to meet them for coffee. Hopefully non-creepily! This will help me with my networking skills but also (hopefully) mean I meet someone interesting and get to learn something new. I also plan to have finished sorting out the script archives in the office. It’s been a mammoth task but the end is in sight.

The issues of confidence and efficiency will remain ‘work in progress’ rather than individual goals – I feel like both of those are going to be lifelong developments for someone as awkward as me.

Man, I really thought this was going to be a quick update! Brevity will never be my bag.

Curling with coins, and other activities

In my last blog I wittered on about the launch of this year’s Weston Jerwood Creative Bursary scheme. As part of the first training day we met some lovely folk from the British Council and got more information on the international opportunities available to us. A good deal of the weeks following that has been me, a little ball of stress, trying to figure out which placements to apply for and what to even write. Turns out my chronic indecision and inability to sell myself (metaphorically, never tried literally) haven’t improved on this placement. I eventually chose to apply to two placements in Montenegro and one in Rome. I’ve never worked abroad before so if I do succeed I might just burst with excitement. I’ve been telling myself I’m not going to get any of the placements though. That way I’m either right or pleasantly surprised – the optimistic brand of pessimism. My application was a bit of a struggle too. I figured a short word limit would make the applications a fairly speedy task. Oh, how wrong I was. Turns out I’m nigh on incapable of brevity so it ended up taking bloody ages. So much editing. It was a character limit rather than word count so I ended up thesaurus-ing all my longer words. Slightly concerned it’ll read like a five year old wrote it, but it’s happened now! No use crying over spilt milk and all that.

I can’t be too sad if I don’t get an international placement as I’ll get to share in the experience through the cohort, the beauty of us all supporting and assisting each other over this year. And also because we already have a wee trip to Avignon Festival lined up! It’s the South of France, in summer, surrounded by loads of cool arts events. Not too shabby at all. Avignon also does quite a cool thing of mainly offering jobs to those living locally (you have to collect the application form in person). The festival attracts international audiences and shows so this doesn’t make the festival insular or anything like that. Having seen the impact of the Fringe on those who live in Edinburgh, I can’t help but think it might be a decent idea for some of the bigger UK festivals to put schemes into place to attract more local workers. Events that aren’t part of the year round landscape of an environment need to make sure they’re engaging with those that are. I know quite a lot of Edinburgh residents who feel completely disconnected from the Fringe. It was something that came and took over their town, not something for them. To me, this issue seems to be tied into the idea of arts jobs not paying proper wages. Particularly seeing as many venues offer accommodation in lieu of better pay (with no extra wages if you don’t need housing).  If you live in Edinburgh, why would you get an unpaid summer job in the Fringe venues, when you could work in the many bars/restaurants/shops that need more staff for August? Working for free would mean not making rent, so I always ended up in bar jobs rather than anything more directly arts related. It’s a shame as I could have had so many great training opportunities if they’d paid even slightly more. Working bars in the venues gets you some arts adjacent experience and transferable skills, but not all arts venues are going to be willing to employ someone on the basis of that (yet another reason I’m super glad the WJCB exists). I’ve always found it odd that staff in the same venues can be getting paid completely different amounts too. In venues I worked in, bar staff could be making at least minimum wage plus tips and free taxis home post shift. Front of house, box office, and technical staff were essentially volunteering with no perks except entry into shows they didn’t have time to see. Grim.

That went on quite the tangent! So, back to what I’ve been up to.

This week I had my ‘TRP Experience Day’, which was an official induction to the company. It happened quite a while after I’ve started, they have to wait for enough newbies to arrive to make having a whole day worth it. It was interesting to learn more about some of the departments I don’t get to interact with as much. We also played some team building games that weren’t awful! It was my first experience of a corporate-y event that was actually fun. Top game = one that involved sliding 2p coins down a table to get closest to a 5p. Basically curling on a much smaller scale (I think, not 100% sure what curling entails).

Run-down of other cool stuff I’ve done: I’ve been continuing with the archive work, unearthing some cool scripts and seeing more of TRP’s history. Also seen some truly horrible poster images, marketing has come a long way in the past few years! I’ve done some email networking, essentially pestering very experienced people and asking them to teach me their ways. It’s been successful so far! Turns out most folk in the arts are pretty lovely and willing to help out. I had a chat with our artistic associate to learn more about how programming for the Drum theatre works. I also got some advice and tips on what theatres I need to visit/what companies I should look out for. Project ‘Educating Lauren’ is in full swing. Finally, I got to see a run through of our latest production 49 Donkeys Hanged. It’s going to be a promenade piece with live music, it’s looking incredibly cool so far. We put together an audience which is unorthodox given that it’s not production week or time for the dress rehearsal. It was decided that given the unusual staging it would be worthwhile to have the cast get used to performing with audiences all up in their grill. It’s looking incredible so far, so if you’re in Plymouth March 22nd – 7th April come and see it!

This isn’t the only work I’ve been doing for the last two weeks, I just figured no one wants to read a list of my various administrative tasks. I am working hard, I promise!

Goals for the next two weeks: My aim for the next two weeks is to finish at least two of my ongoing projects, such as the archiving. I’d also like to try and be more sure of myself and go with my gut more often. That goal is quite closely related to my ‘networking’ this week. It’s been taking me half an hour or so to draft a three line email, panicking about how I’m coming off. And every time I’ve ended up going with what I wrote initially and it’s been successful. I need to worry less basically!

My goals in my previous blogs were to be more confident, be more efficient, keep this blog updated and get better at time management. Keeping the blog updated has gone well!* Confidence and efficiency are still works in progress. They’re big goals so they’ll probably take longer. Hopefully if I start being more assertive and stop wasting ages drafting emails the efficiency will improve too!

* It didn’t end up going that well actually. I wrote it on time! I just struggled to get around to editing it and actually posting,  still need to up my game a bit on this.

London baby! (the big Jerwood launch)

This week I finally got the chance to meet the other 39 recipients of a Weston Jerwood Creative Bursary (WJCB). And I got to do one of my new favourite things – business travel! Paid for trains and hotels will never get old. So it was back on to snapchat for more of those not so humble brags.

As with the other trips I’ve been on, the purpose of this lil jaunt was not as frivolous as my over-excitement about freebies implies. We were there to develop ourselves and to learn more about the year ahead. This all began with the official Jerwood launch at the super snazzy Jerwood Space, where we listened to some inspiring speeches. Hearing everyone praise the scheme and get excited about what we could achieve really highlighted how much of an opportunity I’ve been given. I think my favourite speech was from WJCB alumni Alice Parsons, it was lovely to hear from someone who had been through what we’re all going through. She really helped to drive home what’s possible for us.

The launch also allowed for us to chat to people in the industry and do a bit of networking. I’m still fairly awful at it but I’m definitely less ‘rabbit in headlights’ these days (and that’s only two months in, maybe I’ll be a proper extrovert by the end of this thing). As well as meeting more established industry professionals, we got to meet each other. We’d travelled from as far as Belfast, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff – we’re a spread out bunch! A major aspect of the programme is us creating our own network and collaborating, so all convening at events like this is vital. We had a lovely dinner together and shared our experiences. Nice to know that I’m not alone in my fears and also to hear what everyone else is up to.

The morning following the launch, we were up bright and early to head to The Place, one of this year’s host organisations. Here we had a jam packed day – I couldn’t possibly tell you about all of it. So here’s the highlight reel. The morning session was full of practical information that I reckon will be very handy in future. It was really cool to learn about the various routes people have taken into arts careers, reassuring to know it doesn’t need to be a set path. We also got the lowdown on how funding works, its priorities and a little advice on how to go about applying for it. My arm ached from the speed I was trying to take notes. I’ve not had to do that since uni, which was a fair while ago now.

 

IMG-6502.JPGSnowy views from outside The Place

After some tasty as heck pastries and cups of tea, it was on to speeches from the British Council. In a new pilot scheme for the 2017-19 cohort, the British Council have collaborated with the WJCB team to create 14 international placements within arts organisations throughout Europe. All 14 of the placements look so much fun and, perhaps more importantly, like they could be invaluable in terms of our development. Getting the chance to travel and understand arts initiatives in a broader context than the UK is so important. After the whole ‘Brexit’ debacle (a young person in the arts, not keen on Brexit? Shocking, I know) I feel it’s more important than ever to be forging relationships with our neighbours and ensuring that arts and culture become shared experiences. Competition for the placements will be fierce, every one of the other bursary holders is crazy talented and obviously we can’t all get a place. Therein lies the beauty of us creating a network amongst ourselves. Any knowledge, skills and contacts we gain on the international placements will be shared by the group. It’s all very exciting!

The final part of the day was my favourite. We got to meet alumni, hearing them speak about their time on the placements, their experiences afterwards and what we can do to make the most of it. In smaller groups we were given the chance to ask questions which was great. It meant I could let loose all my stupid questions in a more chill environment. I took away a lot of advice that I want to try and follow. And, in my favourite take away from the event, we’re now all in contact with each other, already discussing some incredible ideas for collaborations. Watch this space!

 

Two months down!

Two months down!

And 10 more to go! I’m really hoping they don’t all go by as quickly as these first two have. I’ve realised I definitely need keep more on top of updating this blog too. Saying nowt for ages and then dropping like 10 posts in one go doesn’t seem like the best tactic. It also means there’s no way I can fit in all the great things I’ve been doing, so this post is going to be but a tiny snapshot into my world.

I’m getting more settled in at TRP. There’s no longer that weird anxious feeling where I’ve no idea what I’m really there for. My line managers and I have formulated some jazzy plans for my development this year and there are so many projects I’m really excited to be getting my teeth into. I’m slowly improving my networking skills, although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to just strut in and start chatting. I’m naturally hella awkward so I think the first ten minutes or so of any event will always consist of me pretending to text while I work up the courage to approach folk. I’ve got that slightly concerned ‘I’ve just received a confusing but important message that requires immediate attention’ look on lock. Seriously, I’ve got it nailed.

As mentioned, part of my settling in has been sorting out some long term tasks for me. One of my favourite so far has been archiving scripts. It’s given me a chance to indulge my inner history nerd and look back over the theatre’s old programmes. It’s been a lot of fun looking at what marketing styles were cool for each era and seeing super early scripts from writers who are now huge. I knew a bit about how much talent development TRP do but I hadn’t realised just how many big names had graced our stages. It’s an ongoing project, there’s still mounds to sort through and I’m looking forward to what gems I’ll unearth!

Another lovely thing I got to do was take a trip out to Cornwall to check on the progress of a set build. The set was for our own production of Clockwork Canaries by Christopher William Hill. I’ve seen the workshops at TR2 before and it was nice to get a view of how other companies function. This workshop has two adorable dogs so it was always going to be a highlight! Although, I can’t express how nerve-wracking it is playing fetch with two rambunctious collies in the presence of some incredibly fragile and/or dangerous items. To get to the workshop we had to catch a little ferry which was a novelty for me. Plymouth is mad pretty if you’re in the right area (see above photo of the view from TR2). The purpose of the trip was to make sure the set was all being built in line with what the designer has envisioned. I got to tag along to learn a little bit more about how a production comes together. This was a great set to see as it involves quite a lot of complicated elements – like a graveyard an actor needed to be able to dig into and a balcony that someone could safely climb down from.

Run-down of other cool stuff I’ve done: I’ve gotten better at IT, I’m not quite as much of a technophobe! That said, my poster making skills leave a lot to be desired. Publisher just won’t ever compare to Photoshop – a programme that continues to flummox me. I’ve gotten better at general office things, like creating contact sheets, using programmes like Artifax, researching/booking casting spaces. I’ve learned more about the interplay between TRP’s many departments, I’ve helped to source/fix props for a few shows and got a far more solid understanding of the production process. I can now explain the difference between a producer and a production manager! I’ve gotten to grips with the rehearsal process having sat in on a few, I’ve seen how technical rehearsals work, I’ve shadowed some technical staff, I’ve been on the roof of the theatre (gorgeous but my god, so scary), I’ve seen how a script develops throughout the production process (I’d always imagined that once rehearsals start it was a done deal, which is definitely not the case) and I’ve attended press nights/opening nights for many plays. This isn’t even close to everything. It’s been a busy few months! I’m now even more excited for what’s to come.

Goals for the next two weeks: first and foremost, actually keep this blog updated! Listing goals for the next two weeks is no good if I’m not checking in at that point.

Get better at time management! I find that I stay on top of smaller, more immediate tasks no bother. This happens at the expense of the long term ‘big’ jobs though, so I need to work on prioritising and making sure I don’t let things fall by the wayside.

My goals for the previous blog were to be more confident and be more efficient. There’s definitely been some improvement with these but there’s still a way to go. They’re pretty big goals though so I suppose that’s understandable. I’ll keep working at it.

I have my own desk! and other thrilling episodes…

The first two weeks.

I began my placement on the 3rd of January 2018 after a somewhat hectic festive period. It was filled with more stressful days of packing and train journeys than Christmassy merriment. The stress was compounded by working off my notice at three different jobs, while also trying to find somewhere nice to live in a city I’d only visited once (for my interview). Paying deposits on a flat you’ve never viewed is anxiety-inducing but thankfully it all turned out okay.

Arriving in Plymouth, I had one day of getting settled before I started work. It felt like university all over again, not least because my mom was dropping me off and helping me get moved in. She also ended up staying the night, it was all very Lorelai and Rory.

My first day was kind of a blur. I arrived at stage door and was given a temporary building pass. Then I got to see my office, which was very exciting and made me feel very grown up. The fact that I was so delighted to have my very own desk may have undermined the whole grown up, sophisticated thing though. I had a similar reaction to discovering I’d be getting my own phone line and email address (complete with an email signature!).

Along with seeing my office (full disclosure – it’s not actually my office, I sort of live in someone else’s. But still, I have a desk!), I also got a whirlwind tour of all of Theatre Royal Plymouth’s departments and got introduced to everyone. Hard to take it all in but I’m getting to grips with everyone’s names now. The TRP staff were very welcoming. I got asked to come and eat lunch with everyone, assuaging my worst Mean Girls-related fears (no one wants to eat lunch in the toilets). I was also given a list of various meetings I’d be attending to help get me fully immersed in the theatre.

So far, a lot of the learning process has involved being around people who are already great at their jobs and sponging in all that knowledge. Some of the most useful information I’ve learned has been gained from conversations with colleagues about what it is they do, it’s taught me how the various roles all fit together, how processes like casting/contracting/commissioning work, how designing sets for plays works and helped me to develop theatre specific language (I was given a glossary of generally accepted theatre terminology too that has proven invaluable).

One of my favourite intro week meetings was with the technical department. I’ve never seen the backstage areas in a theatre that size before and it was so impressive. I saw the giant crocodile from Peter Pan and how it’s operated, the fly towers, the scenery storage, the orchestra pit and the grid. The grid is at the very top of the theatre and it’s where most of the things in a show that move will be attached (writing this section has really highlighted the need for me to keep working on that technical lingo). The floor is just metal slats that you can see through, it’s totally safe up there but still terrifying for vertigo sufferers like myself. I was very torn between how cool it was and how scared I was.

IMG-6473.JPGLook on down from the grid. This isn’t getting across how high up this actually is!

Another very cool thing I’ve been able to do was attending two press nights in London. It was my first ever ‘business’ trip and I snapchatted that hotel room like it was a penthouse suite. It was actually a Travelodge but it was still so much nicer than any hotel room I’ve ever booked myself. Anyway, suffice to say that business travel made me feel like a baller. I don’t think the novelty is ever going to wear off. The press nights were about more than just me feeling super snazzy though. It allowed me to see two great plays we’re staging (The Here and This and Now by Glenn Waldron and Mikhail Durnenkov’s The War Has Not Yet Started, both at the Southwark Playhouse and being performed in repertoire [a new word I learned!]). It helped me understand a bit more about how producing shows works and how partnerships with other theatres are forged. I also got the chance to attend a theatre event and build up some contacts. So far, my networking skills leave a lot to be desired but I’ll have the chance to build on this throughout the year. Hopefully I’ll never again go in for a handshake the person isn’t expecting and just end up holding their hand for a bit. Because, let me tell you, that gets very uncomfortable very quickly.

At the moment I think my nervousness networking and lack of confidence are related to my worry that I’ve somehow fluked my way into this and don’t quite deserve to be here. There’s also the concern that I’m not important enough to be introducing myself to big players yet. These are fears I need to work on and I think that, for me, much of this placement is going to be about building confidence. I was confident in my old job and was initially worried that this hadn’t translated to the theatre. But I worked at my last place for around 4 years. These things take time (hopefully not 4 years) so I’m endeavouring not to beat myself up about it.

Run-down of other cool stuff I’ve done: got to grips with a finance system; printed and bound a lot of scripts; helped prepare a Show and Tell for one of our productions (Show and Tells are where creative teams show the theatre staff what they’re working on, to get people excited for it and help everyone get a feel for what to expect); helped organise a bunch of props for delivery to a rehearsal room in London; attended the first day of a show rehearsal; saw an initial read-through of a script; saw 5 plays I would otherwise never have had access to; packed away an extremely delicate show model; researched travel/rehearsal space arrangements; saw the prop and costume stores at TR2, which is Theatre Royal Plymouth’s production centre – it houses our set building facilities, Engagement and Learning department, rehearsal rooms and all sorts of other good stuff;  learned more about the engagement and learning side of TRP; made some internal posters for our various productions; took minutes for meetings; along with various other tasks as and when!

Goals for the next two weeks: Be more efficient! At the moment, I feel like what I do keeps me busy but I struggle to pin point what it is that’s taking me so long. I want to start structuring my time better so I can get things done to a higher standard, which I think will help make me more able to keep track of what I’m learning and achieving.

Be more confident! The confidence issue is going to crop up a lot I think. Here’s hoping I can start recording some actual improvement in that area!