Working, with any degree of success, in the creative arts usually involves a fair amount of multi-tasking and a decent grasp of project management.
For example, just at the moment I have recently finished redrafting a play which Peer Productions are reviving this summer called That Guy. I go into rehearsals later this month and will also be liaising with designers, musicians, tour booker and tour manager and placement MA student before it goes out on tour a month later. Last week I held auditions to recruit a devising team of professional actors for research and development of my new play LBA which, following my research trip to Mumbai in February, will hopefully be touring to Mumbai later this year. I am also working with Peer Productions’ Associate Director Rebecca on her Forgotten Women Podcast project and, having written one of the pilot episodes last year (about the Women of Greenham Common), funding permitting, I will write another fairly soon. I am undertaking a PhD with Kingston University and have some visiting lecturing work there too. I have been working with a leading academic from a different university and have been part of a team supporting her in developing a major bid which, if successful, will investigate a new approach to using creativity with autistic people. I continue to be part of the management and strategic team for Peer Productions. We are currently auditioning actors for next year’s cohort and supporting our current team through their qualifications and drama school applications. We are working to develop a range of different bids for new projects including the rolling out of our Generation Girls programme which uses drama to empower disadvantaged young women.
I am also a mum to two beautiful little girls with additional needs. We are currently in the process of working with a lawyer to contest the details of the EHCP plan for my eldest daughter, whose needs are extremely complex, whilst her little sister undergoes assessments and therapy. The admin and emotional labour involved in parenting children with special needs is very challenging and that’s before you take into account the burdens involved with being a full time carer.
I am telling you all this not to show off but to prove that it is possible to have a busy life and manage multiple projects even if you’re not the most organised or logistically gifted of people.
When I talk to people about my work/life balance (or lack thereof) they are often baffled by how one person can have their grubby fingers in so many pies.
“How do you do it?” “You must be exhausted.” “Do you ever sleep?”
“With great difficulty” “Yes.” “Not much.”
The reality is that multi-tasking and project management skills are not my strong point. My enthusiasm for all these projects, and of course for my children, far outweighs my desire and ability to manage, administrate and organise them. However, the old adage ‘If you want something done ask a busy person,’ rings true. I am often overwhelmed and never feel like I am on top of things. I do work incredibly hard and I don’t have a magic trick to share to help you manage the unmanageable. I do however have 5 pieces of sage advice.
1) Say Yes
At Peer Productions we wouldn’t have survived these eleven years if I hadn’t, optimistically and often blindly, said yes to all sorts of weird and wonderful requests. We always have to work up and ask for money for more projects than we could ever deliver as we know not every bid will be successful. If, as if by magic, they all are, we will of course have more work than we can comfortably manage but, when this has occasionally happened, it’s a nice problem to have and leads us to think creatively and collaborate with new and exciting people.
2) Administrate to facilitate the art don’t make art just to facilitate admin!
What I mean by this is that it is very easy to get bogged down into unnecessary administrative duties. Think, at the outset – what needs to happen to make this project happen? Then find a streamlined and methodical approach to the work. Work smart. Don’t waste time, and therefore money, using a system that doesn’t quite do what you need it to do. There is lots of free software out there so look for something that will help you rather than struggling on with a glitchy or unfit for purpose system.
3) Surround yourself with the best people.
I am truly blessed that I have a husband who understands me and knows how important my work is to me. He supports me and relishes in my successes and that is a rare and precious thing.
I am lucky to have a team of collaborators at Peer Productions who support my vision and put up with my often chaotic approach to things. They pick up the pieces when I am called away or drowning under the weight of too many things. My students’ talent and enthusiasm remind me daily why I set up the company and how magnificent it really is to see young artists flourish.
Know your own weaknesses and try and find collaborators who complement instead of duplicate your skill set.
4) Know and remind yourself of your privilege
If you work in the creative arts then you are probably privileged to do a job that you truly love.Your hobby has become your career. How many people can say that? Yes, the work is challenging sometimes but it is rarely actually hard. We’re not climbing down mines. We have, usually, some autonomy over our practice. As a working class kid, and one of the first generation in my family to go to university, I am so glad to do something every day that I love.
If you no longer love it. Move out the way and do something else, which will probably pay you more, allowing someone who does love it to fill your shoes.
5) Just keep swimming …
…or juggling, or what ever other metaphor you want to use. Keep spinning those plates for as long as your work keeps fuelling your soul and enriching your heart.