Save The Arts, by Erin Walcon, July 2020

We worked with Erin and the team at Doorstep Arts in Torbay for seven years as part of the Collaborative Touring Network. We’ve learned so much and been frequently inspired by the rigour and beauty of Doorstep’s work, as well as always loved to visit Torbay. This message feel like a really important part of the conversation happening in the world today, strong ethos built with masses of tried and tested experience. Have a read and please share further.

#SaveTheArts: let’s talk about it, reposted from Doorstep Arts of which Erin is Co-Director; see the original post from 8 July 2020 at https://doorsteparts.co.uk

“I’ve seen the hashtag #SavetheArts circulating a lot on social media this week and I’ve also seen some brave calls-to-action from those who feel that the arts need to change. I agree with much of what David Jubb and Byron Vincent have said – and I appreciate the candor and courage it takes to be honest to a sector which we love and which is in deep turmoil right now. In this moment of disruption, we have an opportunity and the responsibility to let that go which is no longer serving us – especially when it isn’t serving all of us. But I also think it’s important to name the good work that has been going on, quietly, tirelessly, and often without public recognition. There are some part of the arts that I deeply and passionately believe are worth saving. It’s just much of that work doesn’t get on the news.

I teach Applied Theatre at the University of Exeter. My Applied theatre students do residencies in schools, in childrens’ wards of hospitals, in Pupil Referral Units, in dementia care facilities, work with adults with learning disabilities. Their job is to work responsively and provide what that community or site needs – often it is laughter, or joy, or play or a space to feel connected to other people. I also co-run Doorstep Arts in Torbay, alongside a team of part-time, freelance staff. I care for my own two young children in, around, underneath, and throughout this work. The work that I do, both at the university and via Doorstep – it’s about social change. We believe that if you want to change the world, and make it better and more fair, that the best and only way to do this is to focus on the children. That’s where social change and social justice can most meaningfully happen.

Doorstep is a small arts organisation and we are based in an area of high deprivation – Torbay tops the national ranking for deprivation vulnerability post-Covid, so this work just got harder and more important. This work was already precarious – it just got more so. For many of the families we work with, their access to food and housing is now even more uncertain than before.

We run drama groups – 14 of them. Across Torbay, for children and young people, located in accessible and safe community spaces like church halls and youth clubs. That work sounds like a small thing when you’re talking about people struggling to make rent and feed their families, but I would argue that it’s the most important thing we can do. In order to explain to you why, I would need to take you by the hand (haha, can’t, social distancing) and lead you into a room full of 7 year olds, stood with their feet planted firmly, confidently raising their chins, feeling a part of something important. Feeling that they matter, and that they have power and that their voices have power to change things.

In working with the children of this community, day in and day out, we create opportunities for children to tell their stories, to try out their voices, to experiment with different identities within safe spaces, and to make beautiful community moments happen where they get clapped and applauded for being brave and strong. This work is about long-term change. We build trust. Families stick with us. The stories they tell – the plays they make up, the songs they sing, the poems they write, the drawings they do – are all about diversity and strength, because that art is all about them. In the process, we have big complex conversations with them about justice, about equity, about hope – they are smart. They teach us back. These young people deserve to have access to spaces where they can feel safe, powerful, and valued. These spaces are precious in Torbay.

We run a lean grassroots operation, across 5 strands of work. Most of our funding goes directly into live delivery. We intentionally keep ourselves lean, agile, and responsive, so we can react to what our community needs. Everyone in our team is part-time and freelance. When Covid hit, we were able to almost immediately repurpose our budgets and work to support local freelancers. We have sustained our work throughout the last 14 weeks of lockdown, continuing to provide support for schools, our local freelance community, our families. We have delivered cabbage plants to people’s doorsteps and read stories to children over Zoom. We have danced and asked others to join us. We have checked in, again and again, on people that we care about, here in our community. We have created resource packs and coordinated responses with other small organisations. These things are not rocket science. They are our basic and essential duty of care. They are our human responsibility to our community. We have worked every day through this crisis. Not a single member of our team has taken a day off.

So… here’s the tricky bit. The big buildings and big venues of the UK are in serious trouble and it’s going to take serious money to help ‘rescue’ them. And this is a really uncomfortable conversation to be having because we love these venues and our arts and cultural sector is amazing and important.

But I’m worried if we keep focusing the conversation on the buildings that ‘need saving’ we’ll forget that it is often the leanest and smallest and most responsive work that can do the most good right now. My life work is not arts as ‘entertainment’ – it is arts as an act of service, of help, of social justice, of change. Direct action is key, and the arts in the service of children in areas of complex deprivation is key work right now. The work that Doorstep does, it takes place in lots of unusual venues. Yes, sometimes theatres – we love our local theatres and we will fight for them to survive this crisis. But also libraries, community centres, parks, in the streets, in derelict shops. Schools.

My personal passion area is schools – they hold enormous potential for meaningful change. Participatory arts, embedded in schools, is front-line support right now for students and it has a vital role to play in supporting the next phase of recovery. Teaching Artists and participatory workers are essential keyworkers in helping children and young people to re-adjust and re-build social bonds and ensure that they can navigate a return to formal education in a healthy and resilient way. Teaching Artists and participatory workers can facilitate children and young people’s re-engagement in learning, using play and embodied approaches, supporting positive mental health through trauma-informed creative practices, reducing isolation, and providing necessary spaces and structures to make meaning of the Covid 19 experience. We are in regular contact with the 150 children and young people we work with every week and we’ve seen first-hand how Covid has impacted them. This next stage of work facilitating the emotional, mental and personal needs of children is just as important as the work of managing the physical pandemic.

Doorstep has written a Manifesto for Change (pasted below) for the arts sector – please have a look and share it if you feel the same way. And if you feel differently, let’s have a respectful and full conversation about it. We need dialogue right now – not social media ‘comments’ dialogue, but real conversations about the way forward. We need to listen to each other. We worked on this manifesto in partnership with our friends at Beyond Face, and we are hosting an online conversation with David Jubb on Thursday 23 July, via Zoom. Come join us? I want to have this conversation – I want to embrace the healthy friction which this moment has brought us.

Please come join. All welcome. Let’s find our way forward by walking where we need to go. With love, Erin ”

image description: a line of people in various bright outfits dancing proudly along a beach, most have black and yellow make up across their eyes and their hands on the shoulders of the person in front  (Screenshot from Doorstep Arts website, no photo credit)

Doorstep Arts’ Manifesto for Change

Across the UK, participatory arts organisations are working deeply embedded in their communities. This is long-term, rooted and socially relevant work. Sitting within (not alongside) our local communities, we have a vital role to play in supporting recovery from Covid-19.

This is not Arts as entertainment or luxury. This is Arts as a tool: for wellness, empathy, communication, for imagining and manifesting the future we want to live in. The Arts are necessary agents for change. They are integral to communities, inherently collective, potentially transformative. Now is not the time to return to ‘business as usual’. There is an opportunity now for a hopeful revolution of our creative industries – working from the margins inward, not from the centre outward. Listening, responding and acting in unison with what our communities voice and need.

As our economic, social and cultural models shift, we must imagine fiercely, drawing on alternative ways of working that can bring real benefit and hope to our communities. In this new landscape, participatory arts must be viewed as Key Work.

We advocate for:

Investment in grassroots & socially-engaged creative infrastructure

Covid-19 recovery must escalate ambitions to build a more resilient, diverse, democratic and relevant cultural sector. Grassroots organisations have shown themselves to be highly agile over the crisis period. Already rooted in communities, they have been able to respond and adapt quickly, from a position of deep local knowledge and trusted networks. The demand for a sudden change has been a wake-up call for our sector. As a result, diverse-led organisations have been called upon for their knowledge and expertise – this needs to be recognised with investment.

A re-imagining of touring theatre and performance platforms

Facing a difficult new reality for many of our theatre buildings, the value and potential of non-traditional venues needs to be recognised. Parks and green spaces, community halls, libraries and schools are part of our everyday. These can provide trusted entry-points for communities and help to redefine the relationship between audiences and performers.

Investment & advocacy for the role of the arts in public health

We face an epidemic of mental health concerns, in particular amongst young people who have lost many of their social coping structures and Black, Asian & ethnically diverse communities who have been disproportionately affected. This is as urgent as the physical pandemic itself. Participatory arts can bring transformative outcomes for health and wellbeing. The Arts need to be part of public health planning and delivery, supporting recovery in communities.

Changing the narrative

The codes of the cultural sector need to be punctured and redefined. Now we have the opportunity to reframe the cultural narratives we are used to. We must ensure that there is a representation of diverse voices across every platform; from leadership positions, to pathways into opportunities for artists and young people. Long-term change means embedding thinking across every aspect of our cultural sector, to ensure authenticity and renounce tokenism.

A commitment to equity of opportunity and experience

Covid-19 has amplified economic, emotional and health challenges faced by disadvantaged communities. Systematic privileges and deep-rooted inequalities in our society cannot continue to be ignored. We must turn to those already rooted in communities of need and ‘cultural cold spots’, working across sectors to create opportunities to be heard, to learn, to work, to experience a quality of life. Their expertise and voices need to be amplified into, and for the benefit of, our wider arts ecology.

Environmentally-responsible and inclusive economic recovery

We have seen how society can shift behaviour in a time of great need. We now have a choice to commit to a recovery that is both sustainable and equitable, embracing an intersectional approach, ensuring multiple narratives are heard. To meaningfully address Climate Change, we must imagine and establish new norms, create green jobs, change how cultural businesses operate, how we travel, live, create and share work. This will take brave, visionary leadership. It is both urgent and possible now.

Written by: Doorstep Arts and Beyond Face


Join in the discussion

We’re hosting an online conversation with David Jubb, former Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Battersea Arts Centre on July 23rd at 1.30pm. Join in the discussion as we attempt to re-imagine a cultural sector with community at its heart. https://doorsteparts.co.uk/whats-on/davidjubb

An access response to ‘Twenty Theatres…’, by Pippa Stacey, June 2020

Pippa Stacey is a chronically ill writer and blogger from Yorkshire. She currently splits her time between content creation in the charity sector, writing articles and opinion pieces for various publications, curating her own blog, and authoring books. In her free time, she enjoys theatre, reading, and fundraising, and can most often be found wearing pyjamas and drinking tea. 

“I’m sure I won’t be the only one craving theatre like never before. These are difficult days for the industry, and I have no doubt those who work in the theatre environment will be missing their patrons as much as we’re missing them.

As such, Amber Massie-Bloomfield’s Twenty Theatres To See Before You Die was ultimately a comforting read. As readers, we’re warmly invited to join the writer in her adventures to iconic theatres across the UK, learning more about the historical and cultural contexts that brought them into existence.

Now, I know it’s unlikely that I’ll manage to visit all twenty of these theatres before I die: having a rather problematic chronic illness does limit my ability to travel, and I began reading this book in the knowledge that it would act as more of a stagey pacifier than a bucket list of my own. However, Massie-Bloomfield’s storytelling abilities do far more than simply paint a picture of the theatres in question. With her words, the author easily plucks you out of your current circumstances and plonks you firmly in the midst of the unfolding stories of each chapter.

From the stony coastal edges of Cornwall to a former Victorian Lavatory in Worcestershire, a stage with a floor made only of Earth in the middle of urban London to the unconventional territories around industrial estates in good old Leeds: within each of the relatively short chapters, you find yourself immersed in the culture of the location and the stories of the individuals who nurtured these performance spaces into existence.

One theme that remained consistently clear throughout this read was the author’s undeniable love and appreciation: not only for the magic of performance that occurred inside each of these unique venues, but for the venues themselves. Massie-Bloomfield’s reflections on the bespoke architecture of each location and how this intertwined with her own lived experiences really hit me… because for the first time, it caused me to reflect on my own relationships with the venues I frequent.

It began to dawn on me that so often, my personal experiences of theatre are shaped only by what takes place inside the building: the performance, the atmosphere, the front of house staff… the various factors that influence me are numerous, but never once have I stopped to reflect on the locations themselves, and how much of a role they play in reflecting the culture and values of wherever they happen to be.

With these thoughts brimming in my mind, I continued to read. It wasn’t until a few chapters later still, towards the middle of the book, where the realisation hit me in full force: the reason I wasn’t so heavily influenced by the architecture of theatre venues is because as a disabled patron, these very buildings in which the magic takes place are often a physical barrier themselves. I haven’t ever fully appreciated this element of theatres, because I’ve somewhat unconsciously been demonising them.

It’s no secret that the theatre industry has a long way to go in becoming inclusive for all. As an ambulatory wheelchair user, I know there can be any number of issues to contend with in reaching my allocated seat. If I’m using my wheelchair, the simple act of getting through the door, contending with disproportionately small ramps and lifts, and identifying accessible facilities can be overwhelming and energy-sapping. If I’m not using my wheelchair, we commence the always high-stakes game of ‘find Pippa a chair before her legs give in for the day’, with bonus points for any tutting or disapproving glances from the elderly population who couldn’t possibly fathom that this invisibly ill twenty-something year old isn’t sitting down in spite or selfishness. Essentially, the journey from A to B in the theatre environment is always the most stressful part of the experience for me; something I just want to get over with as quickly as possible. Until now, it never really occurred to me that I could be missing out on a fundamental part of the experience.

This realisation stayed with me throughout the rest of the book, and from this point, reading about others’ profound connections to the places they experience theatre actually made me acknowledge my feelings disconnect from the industry. As such, it would have been easy simply to write this book off as ‘not inclusive for people like me’ in a huff, but to do so would be ignoring another fundamental element of this read: making the case for radical, quirky, and non-conforming performance spaces.

So much of the appeal of this book, in my opinion, lies in the fact that the author has deliberately connected with and showcased diverse and unconventional settings. Rather than sticking with grand old listed buildings, we’re invited to embrace the more unique theatre environments that have come about due to people creatively problem-solving and doing their best with the tools they have available to them. And as somebody whose everyday life depends pretty heavily on these exact principles, doing what they can with what they have, this appealed to me enormously.

Yes, we still have a huge access and inclusion issue in the theatre industry. I truly believe that intentions are good, and nobody deliberately stigmatises against disabled patrons and those with additional needs, but we’re yet to see these values reflected in practice… and the accessibility of theatre environments is a prime example of this. However, I’d like to believe that Twenty Theatres To See Before You Die makes a compelling case for capturing the magic of theatre in increasingly diverse ways: experimenting with environmental factors and what they can add to a person’s creative work, and how they can contribute to a safe space that’s welcoming and inclusive for all.

As such, I hope that as the industry becomes more and more informed on how best to meet the needs of their disabled performers, it will follow that existing and future performance spaces adapt accordingly. And in the meantime, if you want to reignite your love and appreciation for the creative arts without the inconvenience of leaving the house, I’d highly recommend this book. It truly is a love letter to Britain’s theatres.”

Where I Am Now, by Ayla Huseyinoglu, June 2020

We have been catching up with some of the people we’ve worked with in the past, hope you enjoy this series as much as we’ve done creating it. 🙂

“I got involved with Luxi’s projects when I was 14, and met Caroline and various other wonderful people. I’d had an interest in theatre from a performance perspective but Jabberwocky Market made me realise how much was involved behind the scenes, and how interesting it can be to be involved in that side of things. Jabberwocky Markets were the first time that I dipped my toe in this behind the scenes work. I remember walking around Darlington town centre with another member of the team who was dressed in a tent, helping to paint the Jabbervan, chairing a panel discussion about theatre and going out and doing face-to-face marketing by chatting to people. When I went to university in Manchester in 2015, I loved looking through Jabberwocky’s social media pages and seeing how well the events were doing. It brought something really great to the arts world in the north east.” 

“In terms of where I am now, I’m at a crossroads. I graduated last year from the University of Manchester in Politics and History, and have been working as the Women’s Officer at the Students’ Union, after being elected to the post when I was in my final year. It’s been a crazy, wonderful five years in Manchester; I’ve really become the person I am today. However, I’m writing this from my home in County Durham. It was sad to leave Manchester under lockdown, without saying goodbye to the friends I’ve made and places I love. I’m looking forward to the next chapter though (hopefully a Master’s in Public Policy). 

I learned about feminism and its importance as a student, which is what inspired me to take the job as Women’s Officer. However it’s only in the past year, since I’ve been in post, that I have realised how important it is for feminism to be intersectional. This week, when I’m writing this, that means supporting Black Lives Matter. I couldn’t in good conscience write a blog post and not mention this. As a white person, I am not going to reiterate what black people have been saying for years but I am going to encourage readers to research, educate themselves and use their agency to take action to stand up to racism by writing to MPs, donating and calling out racism.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, and for reading!”

For more about Ayla Huseyinoglu, check her LinkedIn 

Access is kindness, by Lisette Auton, May 2020

The Inaccessibility of the Future (or, What To Do When You Just Can’t Zoom)

There are incredible articles in the internet-verse about Zoom fatigue, about access, about connectivity for those where physical access to space was impossible, about people meeting and connecting from all over the world. I don’t intend to duplicate those here.

I want to ask the question, what if you can’t Zoom? What if you can’t do any form of group meeting online? AT ALL.

I always get a worry in my tummy when I’m about to say how I feel, that it may be dismissed or seen as combative. I’m learning to listen to my tummy at the moment, it’s nearly always right (need for biscuits, bad men, dubious work decisions) so in order to placate it, let’s begin with the following:
1) I speak only for myself, but hope that others feeling the same may find a beginning or solidarity.
2) It is not an attack on those doing wonderful work in extraordinary circumstances, it is a question about kindness and how we can be together.

The world has changed. Especially for those of us in the arts. For now? For how long? I don’t know those answers, all I know is that I don’t think I have ever felt so lonely, so missing.

I lost my Zoom-ginity and had my first time group experience on the 1st April 2020. I should have been at Northern Stage performing in Vital Xposure’s Medicine’s Monstrous Daughters on the second week of our national tour. I wasn’t. I wasn’t in my office. I was at home dealing with how to work, and is there any work, and stress, and the noise of the boiler in the little room that I’m now using to write which turns out plunges me in darkness then overexposure on a second by second cycle due to the position of the window.
It was odd.
Seeing all these people I knew in a rehearsal room now placed within their home environments. It was heart breaking that we weren’t together where we should have been. But at least there was a way to try and support each other, to laugh, to plan. Oh my goodness, I’d missed laughter and silliness. I’d missed people! Wondrous, kind, funny, joyous, creative people bouncing off each other. Laughter. I had forgotten all their laughs.
I felt weird afterwards, out of body, and put it down to how surreal it felt, went on with my day.

I had my last group Zoom/Skype/Teams/WhatsApp/Messenger/Google Meet on the 20th April 2020 and then spent the next five days in bed.
I haven’t been part of a group meeting since.

It has to be said, I feel/felt (is this past-participle time yet? Be honest, Lisette.) a failure. Again.
I mean, it’s dead easy, innit? You turn your laptop on, make sure it’s on wiffy, go to the correct website or app, sign in, put in IDs or passwords or follow links and turn on your audio and camera and then there you are, let’s begin – ta dah!
Let’s break that sentence down:
Do you have a safe, quiet space? Do you feel okay showing the inside of your home? Do you have a home?
Do you have any technology that works – smartphone, laptop, desktop? Is your device too old and glitchy to run the meeting programme? Can we hear you on your microphone? Do your children need to use it right now?
Do you have access to reliable Wi-Fi? Can you afford it? Is there enough bandwidth to share around with all of you now working and schooling from home? Does your rural area have it, because now you can’t escape to the coffee shop or office? What if your only space to access the internet was the now closed library?
Are you able to create an account with a multitude of multiple mediums for meetings? Are you able to follow the instructions to log on or get your camera working? Is this all just incomprehensible gobbledygook and you feel silly asking again so you’ll just pretend you can’t make it?
Can you follow what’s happening without BSL or captions or facial cues or audio description or when there are lags and everyone overlaps? Is this causing too much anxiety?
Are you still working so can’t be involved with any of these shenanigans because you’re either at work, eating, sleeping, begin cycle again?
Are you overwhelmed and exhausted by the sheer amount of time now spent in front of a screen?
Do you feel like the only one in the world whose eyes dart around the screen and then there’s vertigo and nausea and sickness and now it happens immediately and you can’t afford five days of horizontal dark room recovery so you’ll just retreat quietly away like you once had to do twenty years ago and it hurts and you feel lonely and like the world will move on without you and forget you and you’re missing out on so very much?

The movement online is wondrous in so many ways. Poetry slams are being attended by people from all over the world. There is no need to rely on rubbish building access information only to arrive and find out it is accessible if you don’t mind being seated away from all of your friends and you can’t have a wee all night because the loo is down a flight of stairs. There is so much I ruddy love about the opening up of the world! But….

….I think we may have forgotten that access is love and kindness. That there is not one size fits all. There never will be, and that’s okay. That access is a continual evolutionary and creative way of being. That there is no solution which will fit everybody all of the time, and we will continue to search for multiple solutions and multiple ways of being with no hierarchy until we can all be equally together. We should celebrate difference and multiple ways to connect.

We know that, don’t we? DON’T WE?

What frightens me at the moment is the way that so many of the group events happening, especially about the creative world in which I live and thrive and breathe, which are inaccessible to so many people for so many different reasons, are billed as building THE FUTURE.
We just can’t build a future for the arts whilst leaving people behind. We cannot set out into a brave new world without taking everyone with us.
We have done that too many times to too many different groups of people, some may say we still do.
We are, we should be, in this together. We are not okay until we’re all okay.

I do not have the solution. Sorry. Were you expecting that having read this far? I really wish I did. This is the beginning of a conversation, not an answer. But you’re a clever, creative lot out there, full of heart and wonder, surely we can work this out together?

The things I have learnt thus far through trial and error, tears and wonderful conversations and would like to share are:
1) Captions and/or BSL – make it happen. As standard. Cost is an issue. I know this. Cost is always an issue. Tough. We need to work out a way that this is maintained in both the virtual and real world. Baseline. Full stop. Build it in to budgets as a non-negotiable.
2) Audio description – begin with your name. It locates and grounds a conversation. Do it.
3) Don’t stop inviting people to things because they can’t attend. Don’t pretend it’s not happening. I’m down with the kids, I’ve discovered FOMO*, it hurts.
4) Record content, let those attending know that content will be recorded. It means that people can catch up in their own time if they weren’t able to attend, if attention waned, or the hamster escaped. Or if they can only attend for a short while.
5) If this is a private meeting and the content is not intended to be available to the public and purely for those that attended, open that up to those that were invited, make sure that those in attendance know that there are others that wanted to be there but couldn’t, that they will be given a copy.
6) If there is networking then, with permission, say the names and brief description of those who could not be there, keep their names and work alive. Send out a list of (non) attendees with their website or contact links.
7) If there are to be presentations, consider using pre-recorded material from those who can’t be there, or reading out their words.
8) Use snail mail, phone calls, pigeon, anything necessary to ensure those who are not there can be represented and informed and not left out, left behind.
9) Take a group photo with permission. Those who don’t want that, that’s fine, turn off your cameras. Wave. Smile. I miss a sea of faces. Send me your faces.
10) Have an idea of what’s going to happen beforehand and send it out. Ask those who can’t attend if they’d like to contribute. Make that contribution and name known, with permission.
11) Make brief minutes of what occurred (please add in the jokes and loveliness) and send out to those who couldn’t be there. Give space for those missing to contribute to this too.
12) Ask, does this meeting have to be in this format?
13) Dialogue. Perpetual, open, dialogue.

I miss you.
I miss you plural.
I feel like a missing.
I said I would never be a missing again.
I said I’d never leave anyone behind. I mess that up all the time. But I own up to it, ask, think, learn, apply, stuff up again, ask again. As long as access is done with kindness and love and willingness to learn and adapt then I do not believe that there is any space for animosity and aggression.
I do hope that you know I don’t feel angry towards you. I just feel a bit sad, and left out, and sad for all those who must be feeling the same.

We are creatives. We are used to problem solving with no money, no time, and the audience about to enter…
Could we please work this out together? Work out the future together.
Make sure no one is left behind, make sure no one is missing.

*FOMO – fear of missing out. Exactly what would have happened without this asterisk and handy explanatory note.

image description: section of Lisette’s doodle diary drawn in black pen. A doodle of a bat, an Aldi shopping bag, a rain cloud, a budget in a notebook, pots and pans freaking me out, and in the centre in large block capitals; CRASH, surrounded by a big spiky bubble. My digital radio tuned to 3, me in bed, sad face, curled up with my dog, me on a sun-lounger with a blanket curled up with my dog. In my handwriting: Back to bed today, too much screen, too much stuff, ugh, tomorrow restart Cloud watching with pup, I am human dog bed, sun turns into rain Bullet journal bliss, stationery is despatched, much better PM

For more insights check out Jo Verrent‘s blog of other brilliant tips and tools for making your online events and meets accessible on www.TheSpace.org

Community & Collaboration by Leila d’Aronville, April 2020

Leila set up a new community in the form of a facebook page called Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers in March 2020, it was received like hot cakes. Here she talks about how and why and what.

“So, this is my first blog – and it was originally written before CV-19 took hold of us all in such a life changing way. I have edited it slightly to be more relevant to the current situation, although most of what it says is relevant today…in fact it is more relevant in some ways! 

 I am starting the first of my blogs off looking at the network and community which we have created together, exploring how and why it is so successful and also exploring my own journey over the last 12 months.

Firstly it might be worth giving a small amount of info about me! I worked for one of the biggest NPOs in the North East for a lot of years, 12 to be exact. That 12 years at Sage Gateshead helped me grow professionally and personally and developed my professional network exponentially. I started in the communications team, but went on to run strategic projects across the region and the country. I left 5 years ago, and have been working freelance ever since – in that time I have had the privilege to work on some truly special projects.

It might also be worth saying that I grew up in a cultural freelancer household with my mother working as a jobbing actor in the North East – a job which she is still doing.

My career has usually been about firsts, as well as being about connecting people and extending and connecting networks.

During my time working for Sing Up – the National Singing Campaign, I was able to test out the idea and usefulness of networks; exploring expectations, purpose, participation and momentum. Moving to the Bridge North East team (not Culture Bridge) meant I was once again in a privileged position to explore and test networks. One of my most positive and successful experiences here was the development of the Sunderland Learning Network, which was set up in partnership with my wonderful colleague Helen Connify.

So, jumping forward to now. A little over 12 years since setting up TWCF. People have recently asked why I think the network works, and I have flippantly talk about it being a happy accident whilst having a glass of wine one Thursday night.

These things are technically true, but the network was formed and based on my extensive experience of testing and developing useful and successful networks.

I recently re-read David Price’s Open; as well as Clay Shirkey’s book on cognitive surplus. David talks about global learning communities and the fact that effective networks are built on 3 main principles; Participation, Passion and Purpose.

If we translate that into TWCF, what do we get?

PARTICPATION

David talks about participation and engagement being essential to a global learning community, and the fact hierarchy gets in the way of collaboration.

In relation to the community of TWCF; the network has always been about the members. Without their/your participation the group would be stagnant. Don’t get me wrong, Caroline and I spend a lot of time and energy making sure people feel supported and able to engage, and the network was set up with collaboration at its heart…but the membership is keeping that going and making sure the online community is all about supporting each other in which ever way they need – being agile and flex to what that is.

PASSION

I don’t think I really need to explain this one! We are all doing what we’re doing because we are passionate…and when we are challenged by the conditions we’re working in and we realise others feel the same, the passion is tenfold.

PURPOSE

The group was set up with purpose! The purpose of relevance. We are collective group with several things in common: the cultural sector; freelance / independent; Tyne and Wear.
The rule is anything posted needs to be relevant. Individuals have been unbelievably good at sticking to that rule! It means the group has clear purpose and has remained relevant.

We have been able to shout with a collective voice – we have been in a position to sit at the table with other loud voices. The experience and network of the members mean our reach is far and high. For once, the grass roots in the North East seems to be gaining and voice.

This is important anyway, but this is especially important right now. We are in the midst of a life changing global experience – and the other side is going to look different. It is up to us to make sure that different is as positive as possible for us!

We are in the process of making the model of TWCF sustainable, building capacity to run it as well as providing opportunities for us to pay other people to work alongside us on pieces of work.

On the other side of CV-19 our sector will still need us, we will still be the makers, the producers, the crafters and the grafters. In the NE freelancers (did) make up over 50% of the creative sector – it is time we use our collective power to ensure a better deal for ourselves! Being a freelancer or an independent organisation is a choice for most of us, which brings with it many positives and some serious negatives, which have been highlighted by the current situation. We should not be in such a precarious position. On the flip side, the funded part of the sector will need us more than ever. We are used to adapting and flexing to the situation; building businesses from the ground and working in a precarious environment – being creative and entrepreneurial! It isn’t about an us and them situation, quite the opposite. It is about creating equity between funded and independent, with an understanding of our value and worth across the sector. I truly believe we need to rebuild this together! “

Visit Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers on facebook or the new website https://culturalfreelancers.wordpress.com 

Failing Better podcast, 30 March 2020

Community – an inspiring conversation about participation, purpose and passion

Recorded on 21 March 2020, marking one year since the Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers online community was launched, a birthday party of sorts; a conversation celebrating the value of community, of this community and of some of the important things relating to cultural freelancers that it’s enabling us to share and consider as the world changes in unprecedented ways.

The podcast series, Failing Better: inspiring conversations about failure are chats with brilliant people to hear their stories; having important conversations, sharing them with the world, challenging assumptions, sharing the experiences we’re taught to hide and reflecting diverse perspectives – with all the implications that term offers.

Hosted by Leila D’Aronville and Caroline Pearce as part of Tyne & Wear Cultural Freelancers

Failing Better podcast, 17 March 2020

Fear of failure and perspective – an inspiring conversation with Paul James

This time we talk to Paul James, Senior Creative Associate Children and Young People at Live Theatre, Newcastle about his persepective on failure through his life and career as actor, director and beyond. Check out more of Paul’s work at www.live.org.uk

image description: Caroline in a colourful jumper and blond hair, with Leila in a black top and long brown hair and Paul sitting in front with a dark top and a flat cap

The podcast series, Failing Better: inspiring conversations about failure are chats with brilliant people to hear their stories; having important conversations, sharing them with the world, challenging assumptions, sharing the experiences we’re taught to hide and reflecting diverse perspectives – with all the implications that term offers.

Hosted by Leila D’Aronville and Caroline Pearce as part of Tyne & Wear Cultural Freelancers

Failing Better podcast, 3 March 2020

Equity and privilege – an inspiring conversation about failure with Nadia Iftkhar

Leila and Caroline are joined by choreographer, Nadia Iftkhar, Artistic Director of Company of Others for an insightful chat about different perspectives on failure.

image description: head and shoulders of Nadia, smiling, she has long brown hair and a black top, in front of and a pale wood panelled floor

Nadia is a professional dance artist with over 15 years’ experience working with companies such as; Talawa Young People’s Theatre, Tyneside Women’s Health, and Janice Parker Projects. To date she has made and collaborated on over 20 works that have been performed at Northern Stage, Maltings Berwick, Sadlers Wells, Dance City, Konzerthaus Wien, Theatre Royal Newcastle, MuTh and SommerTheatre Detmold. Her work is honest storytelling of the human experience told through movement, spoken word and film. She is interested in people, the stories they hold, the things that happen to them throughout their lives; how they survive the most traumatic situations and how they celebrate the joyous moments in life.

If you have responses to our ideas, please message and comment, we love to continue the conversations.

The podcast series, Failing Better: inspiring conversations about failure are chats with brilliant people to hear their stories; having important conversations, sharing them with the world, challenging assumptions, sharing the experiences we’re taught to hide and reflecting diverse perspectives – with all the implications that term offers.

Hosted by Leila D’Aronville and Caroline Pearce as part of Tyne & Wear Cultural Freelancers

Failing Better podcast, 18 Feb 2020

Failure and value: PRESS ON FOR SUCCESS – an inspiring conversation with Stella Hall

This time Leila and Caroline are joined by Stella Hall for our first guest conversation about failure. Stella runs Festival of Thrift, see all the details at www.festivalofthrift.co.uk and save the dates 12-13 September 2020 to be in Redcar. 

image description: 3 women smiling, left to right, Leila has long dark hair and a black and white striped top; Stella has light brown hair and a fringe, a black top and dangly earrings, her picture is collaged on top of the background; Caroline has a blue top with black neckline and hair tied up.

We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our ideas about failure and value. Thanks for listening!

The podcast series, Failing Better: inspiring conversations about failure are chats with brilliant people to hear their stories; having important conversations, sharing them with the world, challenging assumptions, sharing the experiences we’re taught to hide and reflecting diverse perspectives – with all the implications that term offers.

Hosted by Leila D’Aronville and Caroline Pearce as part of Tyne & Wear Cultural Freelancers

Failing Better launches, 4 Feb 2020

Episode 1: the beginning. If not now then when? If not us then who?

Leila D’Aronville and Caroline Pearce, from Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers, share our current thinking and some stories about why failure is really important, how we can have better conversations about it and squeeze learning from every little bit. We’re new to podcasting so please forgive any hiccups – we’re old hands at cultural freelancing so we know what we’re talking about and really want to know your thoughts. In later episodes we’ll be talking to other inspiring people about their stories.

The podcast series, Failing Better: inspiring conversations about failure are chats with brilliant people to hear their stories; having important conversations, sharing them with the world, challenging assumptions, sharing the experiences we’re taught to hide and reflecting diverse perspectives – with all the implications that term offers.

Hosted by Leila D’Aronville and Caroline Pearce as part of Tyne & Wear Cultural Freelancers

A festival or not – the evolution of Jabberwocky Market Pop-Up Theatre Events, August 2019

When we first established Jabberwocky Markets, they were set up as festivals. We love festivals, they are events that include a load of brilliant things all happening in some way together, they bring artists and audiences together who might not normally mix, they offer opportunities for people who want to see a few things to do that all back to back in the same place, they can be exciting and create loads of unexpected opportunities and synergies and magic.

As well as that they require a lot of energy to run and mean that scarce resources (in this case generally people’s time) are spread really wide, and when audiences want to see loads of things but actually have lots of other commitments and obligations in their lives, they can be time-poor and only manage one event a week or month.

After we’d done 4 festivals of Jabberwocky Market events in the first two years, we realised through talking to our audiences, artists and venues, that our events in this place might actually work better if they were more widely spread, like a season of shows across a few months, so people could come along to more shows and events, and so our team had more time to concentrate on the planning, promotion, support and running of each separate event. In spring 2016 we changed the model from a 4 day festival of over 20 events, to a 3 month season, and it worked brilliantly. Each event happened around a headline show, maybe one we’d programmed in partnership with our national Collaborative Touring Network, or sometimes one that was homegrown or separately programmed, but however it was chosen, that headline show dictated the theme for a small amount of related events, designed to complement the event and provide activities that the main show’s audience would also enjoy, and generally there was a 2-3 week gap between events.

The new model meant that audiences could afford the time and money to see more shows that they wanted to attend and fit that into their busy lives, which meant more tickets were booked and shows had fuller audiences, which means the shows were better because performers and artists love having bigger audiences and everyone has a richer experience. The artists had a better time because our team had more time to welcome and support them when they’re in town, and we enjoyed it more because the little bit more time meant we could do a better job and making other people happy makes us happy.

For a long time though people still used the word festival and that was frustrating because we like to be really clear with visiting artists and audiences about what they can expect when they arrive – if you arrive expecting one thing and find another, whether you’re there to watch or perform, you might be disappointed – even if on reflection you recognise that you had a much more meaningful experience than you’d anticipated, it’s really important to us that we have great first impressions as well.

What we learned through this journey was that in this context we do a really brilliant pop-up theatre event – we can also do a really great festival and sometimes we bring together a series of events into a small space or time and make a festival of events, but whatever we do, we describe in the most appropriate way to ensure people have the best experience.

The next Jabberwocky Market Pop-Up Theatre Event is currently in the planning – it’ll be announced as soon as there’s anything we can share.

In Conversation: Mobility & Change, April 2019

Mobility and Change, 2019, featuring Caroline Williams, artist and creator of the show Now Is The Time To Say Nothing and Fran Wood, founder of the charity Darlington Assistance for Refugees ,chaired by Caroline Pearce; taking place at Darlington’s Quaker Meeting House.

When Britain First marches outside your show which is on at a Quaker Meeting House, by Caroline Williams, April 2019

Reposted from CarolineMaryWilliams.com See the original post from 12 April 2019 at https://carolinemarywilliams.com

“The producer of Jabberwocky Market, Caroline Pearce has organised for DAR, Darlington Assistance for Refugees, to be at the end of every showing of Now Is The Time To Say Nothing, offering tea, cakes and a chat about how to help with local refugee support in the area. It is almost the perfect blueprint for how I wanted the show to be held – come see the work, connect to a displaced artist’s story and then find out how to help refugees who are right on your doorstep.

Tonight, I met two local women who regularly check in on Syrian families who have been placed by the Home Office in Darlington, as well as an elderly Yorkshire man, Paul, who up until recently had two men from Sri Lanka staying with him – they were meant to stay for two weeks and stayed for eight months. One day the two men said they’d received a text message that they were leaving the next morning but they didn’t know where they were being taken. Paul stayed home from work to be there when they left, questioning the van driver in order to get assurance that they were going somewhere safe.

The show is in a Quaker meeting house right in the city centre. Around the walls are slogans ‘Quakers for Equality’ and campaign against arms trade posters. One lady in her eighties who works at the meeting house and is a practicing Quaker tells me she thought of WWII (which she remembers) while watching the show and kept telling herself off – ‘I’m meant to think about Syria’. Her words made me think about the themes a little differently – about the show a little differently – it made me think about war outside of Reem’s story, war as an imprint, a mark on people who lived in places and times where it took something from them and lives were changed. The same lady tells me about her neighbour Pam who when only five got sent out of London during the Blitz to Wales –  which meant she is now fluent in Welsh.

A show about the every day of war is being performed in a Quaker Meeting House. As the subs rumbled it felt odd to be shaking the floors of this building – a building which stands so clearly as a statement against war. A sign on the wall says it was used as a hospital during WWII. In the very housing, the brick and mortar of this showing, is a shared set of values: war is madness.

We all drink tea and share nods, stories, values and more nods. It is lovely and also a little sad – this isn’t a show that sends you skipping home. Yes war happens, it is sad but also as Reem says ‘we are lucky enough to be alive’ and we are lucky enough to be having a chat and a cup of tea.

While nodding and feeling happy to meet these nice people and hear their stories I get told that on Saturday there is a Britain First march. It is scheduled in Darlington town centre, almost right outside the venue. This is a party that specifically targets Muslims and revels in Islamophobia. A party against multiculturalism in all its forms, who want to bring back the death sentence, ban the use of the word racist in the media, and bar followers of Islam from public office. I was told this while nodding and I noticed my head became a little heavier and a little more bowed.

And yes my first, naïve perhaps, artist thought was those Britain First people they are the ones who should see the show – that’s the outreach we should all be doing – down with all this nodding, let’s have the difficult conversations. And yet today, even though I do advocate and believe in difficult conversations and for art to attempt to truly be less social acupuncture and more social dynamite, I feel that after a day of meeting beautiful people who are all made weary and heavy by the way the world looks right now I feel like maybe us nodders need to stick together right now and on Saturday.

So I am going to go to that march and stand with the others who’ve come to show support for the Muslim community. I know that some of the people I’ve met at the show will be there, people I’ve met who aren’t afraid of difference, who have housed people who are scared, who have known the scream of the Blitz and want Britain to be a place of refuge from places in the world that currently aren’t safe.

I know people’s reasons for their political alignment is full of complexities and I don’t want to stand and judge but I also do want to stand fully in a place of saying no to racism and no to Islamophobia. While the work I spent five years making with my beautiful friend who happens to be Syrian, who happened to live through a war she didn’t plan, rumbles the floorboards of a Quaker’s Meeting House, I’ll be in Darlington town centre. If you’ve seen the show in Darlington and it moved you or if you just want to stand alongside some friends so you don’t feel alone in saying no to Islamophobia – see you there at 1pm.”

“Whether in times of war or times of peace the Quaker is under peculiar obligation to assist and to forward movements and forces which make for peace in the world and which bind men together in ties of unity and fellowship.” -Rufus Jones

Never organise anything, ever… by Dave Windass, March 2019

While we are three weeks away from our twelfth season of Jabberwocky Market pop-up theatre events in Darlington, our colleagues in Hull are doing something very similar and one of them put a few thoughts in a blog. To see the original post see www.headsup.e52.co.uk  or read the words below. We feel similarly and differently about lots of the things, we both love and hate being reminded of that; but ultimately want to share the conversation. Over to Dave…

“With little over a week until the 12th Heads Up Festival, producer Dave Windass shares what’s on his mind.

My advice to wannabe producers, event organisers and promoters is fairly consistent: “Never organise anything, ever.”

For, as much fun as pulling events together might look when you attend, say, four days of theatre, performance and live art, and as much kudos as can be attached to being part of the team behind these things, the reality is that the whole venture is one brimming with pain, suffering, arguments and piss-poor remuneration.

I’ve known this for some time. I ran a monthly night in a warehouse venue for three years that provided theatremakers with an opportunity to scratch their work, and for writers to make the essential development journey from page to stage. We had no budget, the venue was very understanding re the door split, and, despite it being only one night a month, a lot of hours, and several days, went in to pulling everything together. And mostly, I’d be there, and be thinking, before doing some haphazard compering, this night is shit (albeit well-supported and valued by the people that used it for what it was). And at the end of the night, having paid essential overheads out of the meagre net box office takings, I’d be lucky if, on the long, miserable walk home, there was enough loose change remaining to buy a small kebab. And often, there wasn’t, so I’d find a crumb on the kitchen worktop when I got back to the house before crawling into bed and sobbing into my dramatic pillow.

Naturally, after every one of these nights I vowed “never again”. All that energy, that went into that one night a month, could have been used more wisely. I could, for instance, have hit several deadlines, or written something. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t. There’s a simple reason for this – nobody else was doing it, nor seemed prepared to do it. And this is Hull, and, back then, some of us, those of us that could, needed to do something in order that the arts eco-system could improve and not rely on the handful of NPOs that the city has to do it for us.

So, there’s some context. The story of how and why Heads Up Festival came to be has echoes of the above. In the not-too distant past (2011 or thereabouts), Battersea Arts Centre hatched a plan to create a touring circuit for the work that’s produced out of that wonderful place by developing a network of producers in towns and cities deemed ‘cultural cold spots’. And, yes, despite all the fireworks, large-scale spectacles and people painted blue we’ve enjoyed more recently, Hull was very much one of these cultural cold spots eight years ago. So BAC had a chat with Hull’s leading producing theatre but they were too busy sorting out the aftermath of being devoid of an artistic director, money and the means of production that someone there seemed enthusiastic to dismantle, having being appointed in a role akin to Ian MacGregor and his “savage rationalisation” of the British steel industry, to get involved. And somehow, we (E52, as we’re now known, but back then the bafflingly, for some, difficult to pronounce Ensemble 52) were approached to move things forward. And we did, because nobody else was doing it, nor seemed prepared to do it, and if we didn’t, then this opportunity for Hull would have gone elsewhere. And that, my friends, is how we came to be ‘accidental producers’.

We’re now almost at the eve of our 12th festival in six years. Yes, you read that right. 12 festivals. In six years. Only stupid people would organise, produce and promote 12 festivals in six years. And we are stupid. Although we have grown, along with the rest of our Collaborative Touring Network partners, as people, as producers, and as a festival.

It’s fair to say, with confidence, that we knew what we were doing, even from the first festival. None of this fazed us. None of it took us by surprise. It’s just that we forgot, I think, that ventures such as Heads Up brim with pain, suffering, arguments and piss-poor remuneration. And either way we were doing this.

At our first festival, in 2013, having applied for permission to take something into public spaces in the city centre, things majestically and instantly unravelled when the artist at the heart of what was something quite bloody brilliant, as it happens, opted to perform elsewhere in Hull. Sans permission. And I have a lovely recollection of a big spat I had with my co-producer in a lift, when we were both attempting to out-stupid each other, as neither of us are blessed with the high levels of testosterone required to just have a bloody fight and get it over with. And things have pretty much gone on in a similar vein. We’ll let things brew in the run-up, have a row, realise during the festival that what we do, and bring to Hull, is damn good, then forgive each other and, given that two festivals a year is an ever-spinning hamster wheel, prepare to do it all again.

At this point, however, this 12th Heads Up is the last in its current format. Although something, of some sort, will be back, at some point. So after this round of brewing, arguing, and well-earned back-slapping, we can actually draw breath, sit back, and consider what we’ve achieved in those six years. Which I won’t list here, because we’re not there yet, although I can say, in all honesty, we’re incredibly proud of everything that’s been included in the Heads Up artistic programme to date, and this swansong is right up there with our finest moments.

Right now, we’re not quite vowing “never again”. We’re looking at the options, and attempting to raise some much needed funding. And considering the impact that the energy that has been spent on pulling those six years together has had, and whether we might have been better investing our time hitting deadlines, and writing something, or creating something else, or even getting a paper round. Yet we did it, we are proud, and we did it because nobody else was, or did, nor where they prepared to give it a go.

When the history of Hull in this decade is documented, I doubt that Heads Up will get much more than a footnote, at best, but more likely not even a mention. Which is fine, we’re cool with that, because history, as we know, is written by the victors. And in most cases, of course, this is right and just: For example, the history of Hull Truck will not be written by the hatchet man who was appointed by a then very troubled board of directors but by his predecessors, Bradwell, Godber and Tudor Price, and his successor, who’s now writing the next chapter. Yet in the run up to 2017, and the progress that made the artistic and cultural eco-system of this city so buoyant, spare a thought for the many (how do you think those gigs, spoken word nights, comedy nights, other festivals and the like appeared?) that did it because nobody else was doing it. Not for recognition (producers and promoters should be unseen and invisible; it should be about the artists), a large salary and healthy remuneration reflective of the blood, sweat and tears, or for a notch on the CV, or a CBE, but because they were in the right place, at the right time, to do some of the essential legwork that nobody in their right mind should ever contemplate. Never organise anything, ever. Unless, that is, you want to make a difference to and for the place and the people you love.

Hopefully, you’ll come along and join us at the 12th Heads Up Festival to help us go out in style. More information and tickets are available at www.headsuphull.co.uk ” – DAVE WINDASS

Great Access is When Disability seems to Disappear, by Kerami Roberts, March 2019

Great Access is When Disability seems to Disappear… Worth Taking a Risk?

To mark Disabled Access Day 2019, (Saturday 16 March) Kerami Roberts is back with more insights into how spaces and venues can make her feel more or less disabled and help those of us running events to gain a greater understanding of how to make important tweaks that help all audiences feel equally welcome.

“Despite my body needing a wheelchair to get around now, there are many times when I’m out and about in my powered chair, happily able to get things ticked off my ‘to do’ list, feeling able to go where I want to with independence. I am in control of what I do and able to do it.

More often, as a wheelchair user with a weak upper body and chronic pain, there are times when I have to admit that I need help. I say “admit” as even after 6 years of relying on the assistance of people I don’t know, it can make me stick out and feel awkward. There are unfortunately times where even with help, aids and lots of creative thinking…. I am not able to do what I need to do. I am totally disabled by what (and sometimes who) is around me. This idea that it is my circumstances that can disable someone, rather than their own body, is known as the social model of disability. To read more CLICK HERE. l feel that accepting this this model can help us understand what is fantastic access.

At the heart of ‘Disabled Access Day’ this March is confidence. Confidence to take a risk, try something new and discover ways of breaking down the everyday barriers so that as many people as possible can join in. Those who find themselves disabled take risks and are forced to be brave everyday. A simple trip to a show becomes a complex manoeuvre:
where do I park?
Will my wheelchair fit?
Will I be able to see the person signing the show?
How do I afford to pay for tickets for me and my carer because I can’t come without them?
How do I get to the toilet?
How on earth do I come to a show if I can’t sit still in a hard chair for an hour?…
It is stressful and exhausting and often the only answer is to give up and miss out. For me, as a disabled person, to be present in an audience represents effort, lots of questions, a little pain, but most of all risk and being brave.

To really invite a diverse audience into venues, theatre must also be brave. Theatre makers and venues must also take risks and must also be asking these questions and many many more. Venues must create real conversations with the audiences they want to be present. I have found when talking to venues, shops and business owners that almost all are passionate about being accessible but are shy to ask what people need for fear of offence or getting it wrong. That’s why Disabled Access Day can be a fantastic way of starting that dialogue.

My advice to venues wanting to see more disabled people in their audiences? Use empathy but not sympathy.

Think about what barriers we might face and help us knock them down but don’t feel sorry for us (we can smell it!). Make changes to spaces if you can, use as many ways to communicate as possible, give accurate information and be tolerant if we don’t act like your average audience member but we don’t need babysitting. We understand about listed buildings and small budgets and we don’t want you to ruin a beautiful piece of architecture or the creative work of a theatre maker either. You may find that we are the experts when it comes to how to adapt your venue because our life is a constant stream of compromises and creativity. So open up ways for us to talk about it before the performance. Be honest and realistic and give plain, objective descriptions. Let us decide what we can and can’t manage. Treat us like paying customers whose trade you want… because we are!

Being more accessible can be harder work but you are widening your audience and paying customer base. Where I am able to see a show my friends and family will follow. A venue where all members of the family can relax and enjoy the show will be returned to, recommended to others and will be more successful. Very much worth the risk and effort. And the worth to that family or disabled person? When access has been done well, when it truly works, disability can disappear… and I become just another person in the audience and that normality is a rare treat.

I recently experienced amazing access while on holiday in Leeds. We went to see The Magic Flute, my favourite hilarious opera by Mozart performed by Opera North at the Leeds Grand Theatre. I enjoyed that wonderful feeling of just being a human being the same as all the other people around. The venue had put real effort into every stage of access from the first phone call, to pricing, seats, refreshments and communication. I was in less pain, I could see, hear and read well and I experienced much less anxiety and stress. Not everything during that visit was ‘perfect’ for example when you use the more accessible back entrance you miss out on the beautiful entrance way and we had no where to buy a programme. But they had taken a gamble on a new system that made such a big difference that these little tweaks were just a tiny part of a fantastic evening. Slowly I dissolved into the show I was watching until I realised I felt like me again. It was fantastic, it inspired me and I will be returning and recommending.

I am so looking forward to the next season of Jabberwocky Market events, and will be working with the team to present as much information about the spaces and communication used in the shows. Together we know that everyone’s the expert of their own needs, and we do our best to enable everyone to be comfortable and able to fully participate in events.”

For more from Kerami, see:

In Conversation about ROOM FOR MORE, chaired by Kerami

Meet Kerami, new Access Consultant blog

To view the Access Guides that Kerami helps to create, have a look at the Jabberwocky Markets venues page.

BIG Little Gigs : The journey so far, by Sarah Wilson, November 2018

BIG Little Gigs was born out of a conversation between myself and Caroline (Luxi, Jabberwocky Market). One gloomy morning chatting over coffee and finding myself in an unfocussed state, suffering from some confidence issues and trying to find out where my creative journey needed to travel to next. To put it very simply the light bulb moment came when Caroline asked “what matters to you?”, my answers were “children” and “live music”.

That was it! The light bulb moment! Within a very short space of time BIG Little Gigs was born! With support and guidance from Luxi, I held my first event as part of Jabberwocky Market’s Autumn season of 2015. We launched with a pay what you decide gig featuring a New Orleans inspired brass band “Burbank Street Brass” playing to a crowd of over 100 families in Darlington Crown Street library. The band were wonderful and in amongst the New Orleans jazz , they played a beautiful cover of Frozen’s “Let It Go” to a room full of small people singing along.

Three years later and BIG Little Gigs has been on a very diverse journey. I have held performances featuring folk, jazz, ceilidhs, Beatles tribute, pop, silent disco, funk and soul,classical quartets, beatboxing, swing band, raves, blues, world music, electro-pop and even branched out into the world of dance by beginning 2018 with a sold out breakdancing workshop. I have run BIG Little Gigs events in Barnard Castle, Stockton, Bedale and Durham.

As an events producer who has 15 years of experience, putting on family events has expanded my skill set and broadened my horizons. Due to the popularity of BIG Little Gigs I have pushed my boundaries and branched out into the world of being a community musician. I have been running musical workshops not just to children but also to vulnerably elderly people at ARC, Stockton and for Equal Arts project Hen Power. I have created and run fun, musical installations for TIN Arts family festival Includfest, for Theatre Hullabaloo and learnt a whole host of new skills, met a great network of musicians and other creatives, whilst having a lot of fun along the way.

My passion in setting up BIG Little Gigs was to bring families together to have a joint, enjoyable experience of music, to inspire a love, interest and respect for a variety of musical genres in the next generation and to have a fun sociable experience that is accessible to all. Lack of funding and running costs has meant that BIG Little Gigs has not run as often as I would like, but looking ahead to 2019 I have grand plans for the future and with a very lovely supportive circle of BIG Little Gigs “goers’ and network of support, I feel there is room for the project to continue to grow and develop. In the spirit of BIG Little Gigs and my love of music, here’s a Curtis Mayfield quote for the future of BIG Little Gigs and, I guess just a mantra for everyday life too xx

“Move on up, and keep on wishing
Remember your dream is your only scheme
So keep on pushing”

– Sarah Wilson

To find out more see their own website BIG Little Gigs
Email biglittlegigs@gmail.com and like their facebook page

Finding my future path, by Kirsten Yates, Nov 2018

Jabberwocky Market as a project has been described as something for people in a space of transition, which is exactly where I was in 2014. I had returned to Darlington after completing my degree in Fine Art at Newcastle University and had no clue what was going on in my hometown. I heard about Jabberwocky Market through Darlington for Culture, a local volunteer group who put me in contact. I was looking to keep in touch with the creative industry and Jabberwocky Markets helped me do just that.

I began volunteering, helping out in a few ways from helping decorate the Hub to standing in a tent handing out flyers (more fun than one would think), and talking to people I probably wouldn’t have otherwise engaged with. You can see a little clip of me talking about it in this video from all that time ago (I’m about 1 minute in).

 

My first Jabberwocky Market event was a dance show called Solas Fae, I feel it’s important to note that I don’t come from a theatre background and honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. It was set in the Cattle Market on a cold October day but it couldn’t have been a more warming and brilliant experience. I had gone in with a perception of what I thought theatre was, and this could not have been any further from that thought. My definition had changed for the better, and I continued to witness more brilliance as the seasons continued.

As the seasons progressed and I became more involved and began paid roles such as  Distribution manager; creating the Jabberzine (a zine of all things jabber, and local goings on); and generally supporting the planning and execution of the events. Each of the roles had a different set of skills some of which were brand new to me and others I already had to develop on, I think what I’m trying to say is, I’m constantly learning and developing.

In 2017, I began the role of Project Coordinator of ‘Our Line’, “A story you can listen to on the train from Darlington to Bishop Auckland” by Hannah Bruce & Co. This was my first experience of project management, although challenging it was very rewarding to work on such a great project that we could see was enjoyed by all those who took part.

Fast forward to today, I’ve just finished my 8th season of Jabberwocky Markets and by now have seen my fair share of brilliant theatre, some of my personal favourites have included:

As you can therefore see, the theatre I enjoy very often doesn’t conform to the red velvet reputation.

The past 4 years have been an exciting, stressful, wonderful, inspiring and a constantly developing journey. I began as a volunteer not knowing where my career path would lead, to now Trainee Producer, which (hopefully) will lead to a producing role. I am currently assisting the developing project called “Luxi Asks”, which will be running on the trains between Darlington and Saltburn in November/December as part of “The Big Conversation” for Tees Valley’s City of Culture preparations.

I found Jabberwocky Markets during my stage of transition and I’m happy to report that I’m feeling pretty settled on my current path.

– Kirsten Yates

In Conversation: Room for More, Oct 2018

Featuring Miriam Sherwood and Thom Andrewes from the show Rendezvous in Bratislava, and Jade Byrne, associate artist and creator of Pricks, chaired by Kerami Roberts; taking place at Polam School’s Liddiard Theatre foyer.

Meet Kerami Roberts, Access Consultant, Sept 2018

Hello! I’m Kerami and I have just joined the Luxi team to help create better information about access for our venues.

I am passionate that information is key to audience members when planning their visit, especially to those who consider themselves to have a disability or long-term condition that sometimes makes getting out and about more difficult. Luxi is about creating world-class theatre and ensuring that everyone can feel able to be part of it. Choosing more accessible venues, having access strategies and audience experience at the heart of the creative process is important and so is giving an honest account of exactly what the audience and performers can expect. I have met with venue staff, visiting the very places where performances will be held and even tested out ramps and surfaces as a wheelchair user. I have taken part in training with Jess Thom and used my recent experiences as volunteer ‘Community champion’ and speaker for Scope.

More importantly I have felt what it is like to be given no or wrong information and be left out and disappointed. I have seen my family left out only because I am disabled by a society that caters for ‘the norm’. When I first came into contact with Jabberwocky Market events I was excited that I could finally access EVERYTHING on that programme and that I could take part in events as I did previous to becoming a wheelchair user. All I needed was the information and confidence to go for it… And that’s what I, with Luxi, am hoping to achieve as Access Consultant.

How I got here

I am currently rebuilding my life after coming to terms with the unplanned changes that came with becoming disabled 5 years ago. After spending all my school life wanting to become a music teacher I gained my Honours Degree in Music in 2004 from the University of Edinburgh. I loved my student years learning and studying in the ‘Festival City’ and enjoyed all the opportunities that came along. As a student I led music workshops and community projects with groups including ‘Headway’ for those with head injuries, local schools and the Children’s Secure Unit. I performed on piano, clarinet, percussion and voice with various groups, studied history and composition hoping to pass on these skills to others passionate about music. I also found roles as Secretary of the Edinburgh University Music Society and as Orchestral Manager for diverse ensembles gave me an understanding of the nuts and bolts of putting on a show and giving the audience a great experience. During summer vacation (in between earning rent) I was part of several teams who brought quality student opera shows to the Edinburgh Fringe.

In 2005, after completing teacher training at University of Durham, I married and settled down in Darlington near to where I then started my dream job, teaching music to pupils age 11 to 18 in comprehensive schools and sixth forms. Every day was exciting, challenging and inspiring. My students were talented but lacked opportunities and my job was to give them the skills they needed to build their craft. I was also charged with building up my school’s music department, creating a program of weekly mini concerts, termly shows and charity events supporting students in which ever instruments and musical styles were possible. Music is about relationships and creating a culture for staff, students and the school’s local community.

I was made redundant after government cuts in 2013 then shortly afterwards I became unable to work due to decreased mobility and chronic pain. I have to say that as it is true and such a big part of this role with Luxi, but it is hard to talk about because it’s painful and does not fit with my very positive outlook on life!

5 years later I have found the gap left by this loss is being filled! I started volunteering on a flexible term with Scope, the UK’s charity for disability. I started as someone who chatted with other disabled people online, sign-posting them to help and being a friendly face. Often this is on rest days or even during boring time spent waiting somewhere in my wheelchair. This presented opportunities to speak at an event in London to Scope managers and then as a guest speaker for the Helplines Partnership’s National Conference. The scariest stuff is no longer about public speaking or content… but around ‘Will I be able to get on the train in my wheelchair?’ and ‘Will there be a toilet?’… Gosh yes… I feel I’m constantly on the phone asking strangers about parking, the width of doors and toilets!

And now

2 years ago I became entitled to an electric power chair and this changed my life. I became much more independent on ‘getting out’ days and less exhausted on ‘rest’ days. It was during a trip out to a craft event in Darlington that I was introduced to Caroline, to Luxi and began to realise that perhaps my perspective as a musician, orchestral manager and teacher could be filtered through my newer experiences as a wheelchair user and create the Access Guides that I wish existed for everywhere I go.

Obviously, my perspective as a disabled person is as unique as every other unique person so I have spent time and energy in attempting to gather the questions that other people ask as they research venues and events to their own specific requirements. I have had advice from the RNID, from the deaf club where I used to learn BSL (I am very rusty now) from friends, parents, local venues and Scope colleagues that experience different conditions. I also volunteered as a teaching assistant for North East Autism Society to gain experiences away from mainstream education.

However! I am profoundly aware of my limitations and aware that no venue or event could provide everything that every person could need. Information is the key. Accurate, clear and honest information means that people can make their own mind up if and how they attend these performances. When I get good information, it means instead of being anxious and concerned about an event I can look forward to it, confident that I won’t feel disabled but just an average audience member.

I hope you find our Access Guides useful and please do send us comments and feedback as they’re new and we want to make them as useful as we can – I am certainly enjoying making them.

Orange Bin, by Jade Byrne, May 2018

Tomorrow morning I start rehearsals for Pricks. Pricks is the first piece of theatre I have ever written and performed by myself. Pricks is about Type 1 Diabetes and my almost 29 years of living with it, along with the support of other people’s Type 1 stories. It’s an emotive piece about with a strong family story.

It’s a big deal for me. No, it’s an absolutely humongously huge deal for me and at 21:56 the night before rehearsals I’m obviously trawling the internet in a desperate search for an orange bin. Not just any orange bin, the most perfect orange bin, the right orange bin.

It’s a bit like buying a house. I’ll know as soon as I see it, I’ll get that feeling in my tummy if it’s the right orange bin. It needs to be built to last. It needs to be big. It needs to have everything on my checklist. If it doesn’t tick all of the boxes it just won’t be good enough. How could I live in something…sorry I mean live with something that isn’t right.

Who knew finding an orange bin, the right orange bin could be such a task?

I should be getting prepared for my first day of rehearsals, as well as sorting out sound recordings but I’m not, I’m looking for an orange bin, and now I’m writing about looking for an orange bin.

I best go. Toodles!

Jade’s show Pricks was at Jabberwocky Market’s ALL NEW Weekend on Saturday 23 June in Darlington