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!

 

Hairspray!

A very short review of Hairspray.

Hairspray – Theatre Royal Plymouth

The tour of Hairspray is the kind of show I’ve seen crop up on theatrical programmes for years but never taken much of an interest in. I was under the impression that I didn’t like musicals, so wasn’t willing to part with any cash to see one on stage. However, being a big fan of the John Waters film version of Hairspray, I thought I’d give this one a shot. I’m so glad I did! It keeps the kitsch strangeness of John Waters’ world but makes it even more fun. The singing was incredible. In the auditorium I was sat next to a mother and daughter. During Motormouth Maybelle’s big number the mother actually exclaimed aloud ‘oh wow! Wow! Amazing singing! You’re so good!’. Which was both true and adorable. The dancers were great too, every back flip or jump eliciting audible gasps. One thing I will say though is that I never usually feel too conspicuous seeing plays alone. I tend to go for dramas and there’s usually a few other solo viewers. A musical as fun as Hairspray really felt like something to be enjoyed as a group, maybe with a few drinks. I still had fun, but for my next foray into the world of musicals I’ll try to bring along a pal (I do have some, I swear).

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!