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.


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!