Green Class – This time it’s personal…

This Friday the Peer Productions’ team led by my colleague, the creative and dynamic Rebecca Alloway, will record my audio drama Green Class as part of the Forgotten Women Podcast series.

And I’m nervous…

I’m nervous not just because, as someone who usually writes for the stage, this format is less familiar to me.

I’m nervous not just because this recording will be these emerging young actors’ first attempt at audio drama and they will have to hold their own working alongside two professional artists.

I’m nervous not just because one of these artists is autistic and the other has learning disabilities and I want to be sure that my writing has done justice to them, other people like them and their families.

I’m nervous because this piece draws on my own experience in a way that none of my other plays have. All playwrights will tell you that there are pieces of them in everything they write and I’d agree with this. As I often write for teenagers I regularly draw on my own adolescent experience but, as I turn forty next year, that me feels so different to who I am now that it might as well not be me at all.

No, this time, it’s deeply personal and it feels exposing. It feels dangerous and it feels exciting!

I have been a parent of a special needs child since 2009 and am now mum to two autistic girls with learning disabilities. I can’t help but wonder why it has taken me almost a decade to charter this terrain. When my eldest daughter was small, a much loved writing mentor told me that one day I would need to walk down the cellar steps and open that door and that, only when I was able to do this, would I really find my voice. He was referencing Caryl Churchill talking about writing her surreal play about depression, The Skriker which uncharacteristically took her seven years, as she could apparently only bear to step into the cellar for short periods at a time.

I don’t know if it was my reluctance to ‘go there’ that stopped me or whether I needed longer to process and reflect. Perhaps only now I feel able to talk about my world and the ‘extreme parenting’ that it involves.

Maybe I just wasn’t ready to expose this bit of myself to the young artists who I mentor. This year’s team are a particularly kind and compassionate bunch. Maybe I needed this particular team to be able to tell this story.

Mainly, I think it’s the opportunity to delve into history and draw connections between then and now. The space that Rebecca has created, in the Forgotten Women podcast series, has opened up this possibility for me.

Rebecca’s vision for the project was that it needed to be as intersectional as possible; women of colour, non binary folk, trans women and disabled women’s stories have been particularly marginalised and she was, understandably, keen to use the project to address these inequalities. When I started to research I was looking for a disabled or autistic campaigner to write about. That’s when I discovered Judy. Judy Fryd founded the charity Mencap back in 1946 when she struggled to find appropriate schooling or care for her daughter Felicity, who would probably have been diagnosed as autistic if she was a young person today. Judy was not disabled or autistic herself but, as a mum to special needs kids, her story resonated with me so strongly that I knew I had to write about her.

Together with colleagues from Peer Productions, Rebecca has gone back to Arts Council Engand to ask for more funding to employ a disabled or autistic writer to write a piece about a disabled or autistic campaigner and we plan to work with our friends from The Orpheus Centre to realise this. If this funding bid is unsuccessful we will keep applying to a range of sources as we remain committed to telling stories from this perspective.

Meanwhile, it was Judy’s story that was crying out to me to be told. From interviewing one of Judy’s daughters and one of Judy’s granddaughters it was clear to be that she was an incredibly tenacious woman. She spent a lifetime fighting for opportunities for people with learning disabilities. It was, in a large part, owing to decades of campaigning for children with learning disabilities to have the right to an education that resulted in an amendment to the education act in 1971 that, for the first time, included learning disabled children.

Whilst, as any SEN mum will tell you, if you want something for your child you have to fight. At a mediation session with the local authority about my eldest daughter’s schooling I was forced to repeat the same question over a dozen times until my point was acknowledged and heard. I was reminded of the suffragettes asking the same question over and over again, “When will you give women in the vote?’ and of Judy’s tireless campaigning and with all of it, with the spirit of tenacious women who have walked my path before me, I felt a little stronger.

When I started to research Judy’s story I didn’t know that I planned to intertwine it with my own but, the more I learned about her, the more I felt a connection with her.

I’d like to thank Judy for giving me the strength to share my story alongside hers. Hearing and researching her story has given me the courage to share my own.

Thanks Judy.

If you’d like to join us for the live recording at South Hill Park there are a handful of tickets available – https://www.southhillpark.org.uk/events/forgotten-women/

Alternatively subscribe to the Forgotten Women podcast where the finished piece will be dropped – https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/forgotten-women/id1441259768?mt=2

 

 

When there are just too many damn balls!

I am not juggling nor levitating any balls in this workshop with young people in Mumbai organised by the G5A Foundation.

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?”

In truth,

“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.