This is a little blog Jake wrote when we were working with Camden People’s theatre in June. Just some insightful musings about what it’s like to be a full time theatre maker/artist…..
Yeah, but what do you REALLY do for a living?’
Okay, so maybe this isn’t especially about our show (don’t worry I’ll tell you more about that in a bit) but more being a theatre company in the first place. For Paper People Theatre it’s been a long grinding road. Two members of the company graduated from their MA in 2011, one graduated from their MA in 2014 and one looked at various MA courses in 2013 but was too poor (me). All of these courses taught us a lot of skills in creating, devising, performing contemporary theatre and practise, and we’ve been trying to do it since.
Scratch nights here, ideas there, festival pop-up performances over there, kind support from small spaces and theatres in the area, connections of other makers going through the struggle and by doing so creating a community of like-minded individuals. This is what I’m most grateful for I think, that creating experimental and contemporary performance work in Manchester makes you part of a vast and friendly network of amazing creatives. You’re never more than one degree of separation from anybody in the area – we all know and all support each other’s work.
But then how do you become a ‘professional’?
What’s that line between ‘emerging artist’ and ‘mid-career’ artist? How do we push ourselves out of our north-western comfort zone and create an impact and open a dialogue with an unfamiliar audience territory? Technically speaking Ouroboros is probably PPT’s first professional performance piece. It’s a piece that started out as a ‘fun show about facts’ a year and a half ago, had one performance last year under a completely different name (and style) then by the time we find ourselves able to meet up again and work through what we learned from that performance, the whole show completely changes. But that’s the exciting part for me, I don’t think anything I’ve created has ever been completely ‘finished’.
I think something we all as a company firmly believe in is that our theatre work consistently looks to push boundaries of performance styles, and remains relevant and up to date to the wider world we perform in. So this show started out about facts and the nature of facts and what that means.
But then, as if it could be ignored, Brexit happened and we really began as a society to question sources of information and what it is we can trust. Then as if we needed knocking around the head to make the show more politically relevant, Trump happened and completely disregarded anything we thought we knew about what facts even are.
So how the hell do you go about beginning to create something about that?
We started with what we already had: interesting visuals, performer relationships, and a huge amount of confusion we can’t begin to vocalise. So we didn’t, we looked straight into this idea of not being able to vocalise how it felt for us for all these things to be happening and took all of the words out of the show.
It’s not our job as theatre makers to stand up on stage and tell you how bad we think everything is, constantly shouting into our own echo-chamber. What we want is to create something that seeks to reflect this feeling and mood of living in a post-brexit UK, and to invite an audience to join us as sit and wallow in this space with us for an hour no matter how they voted.
Accessibility is also something that comes up in our creative circles a lot. It’s one thing to say ‘our show is for everyone really’ but how can we as makers do more? PPT are lucky that one member of the company is undergoing BSL lessons and, primarily as a movement based artists, is looking for ways of integrating BSL with performance.
By doing so with Ouroboros we are exploring this boundary in between a captioned version of a show and movement or visual based that doesn’t require spoken language to understand, and finding an in-between where moments of BSL are integrated and create a piece that is D/deaf friendly and accessible for those with or without hearing impairments. This is a small step in recognising the accessibility needs of audiences and with further development of the show we hope to integrate further accessibility needs from other audiences so that our practice and performance doesn’t become restrictive.
Okay see there’s a bit about our show
But as a company this will be the first performance of what is our first professional piece. Which is terrifying and exciting in equal measure. But something I have begun to realise more and more over this process is that creating and being proud of your work (which I really am) is one thing, and the admin is another.
Countless hours sat in my living room with a laptop on the table and records spinning (currently playing The Glass Trunk by Richard Dawson) and countless cups of coffee so I can send emails, design posters, marketing, outreach to people who might be interested in our work, tweet, facebook, reply to emails, plan rehearsal sessions, sorting out everything we need for the show (set, props, costume), organising a photo shoot (which I think looks really good by the way), putting our name out there, writing applications, applying to ACE for a small bit of funding, getting rejected and picking yourself back up to write and submit another one, more emails, oh and finding time to make the show as well. If you’re looking to start a career like this, be prepared to play multiple roles – and not just in performance.
Along side this, other members of the company are working full-time jobs, taking classes (in circus tumbling and BSL) and are also finding time to meet up and create something we’re all so passionate about. It’s a lot of hard work. I realise that talking about being able to pursue theatre creating and performing as a career is coming from a place of certain privilege.
Sure freelance work in this sector comes few and far between for paid opportunities, and I’m incredibly lucky to have worked in other industries for 5 years to be able to save and pursue this career. It’s unfortunate that the state of the arts for creatives and institutions alike is in a tough spot, and the small trickle downs of money where any of us can get it goes a long way, not also forgetting what some industries do for creatives and the amount of in-kind support PPT have been incredibly lucky to receive. Especially with the help and support CPT have provided – trust us, they’re one of the good guys. But that’s a conversation for a whole other blog I think.