What are you working on at the moment?
That question used to make me want to hold my breath.
It’s complex, it’s complicated, mind your business, I’m busy in the shed with it. I’m stuck and lost with it.
Okay look, thanks for asking...the artist in me is benched until the producer in me raises the money to make it and that is taking up my whole life so that’s what I’m working on!!! And after the months, if not years of the yes’s and the no’s we gather together a talented team ready to race beside us at pace.
I tell you what I’m working on, I’m working on getting enough sleep and being ready for the small window of opportunity to get this right, to make the work we want to make, the way we want to make it.
Seriously, my answer to the question above lately has been, what am I working on? Trumpet. I’m making it with Shirley Harris of Vanitas Arts. I don’t even know what to tell you about her...that will need to be another blog, at another time when I’m sat by a river talking about life changing talent, deep care, strength, resilience, paying attention to detail, winning your own race and cake.
So Trumpet...based on the book by Jackie Kay. We met with Jackie in Manchester and she listened to our hopes for Trumpet. She listened and listened then said ‘I believe in you’. We paused, took it in, we then took that and placed it in our bag of dreams and kept her in touch with our progress. Since then in January this year we shared a research and development day & night. Jackie was there that night, alongside a trailer load of Arts Council Officers, Academics, Arts Activists and Artists. We gained powerful support from our friends and colleagues virtually and for real which spurred us on.
With the support of XRStories, Sheffield Hallam University and Theatre in The Mill we then followed this up this Autumn, with the creation of a final digital testing space, again inviting our guests to engage with our work and respond.
Within the first week of this testing period we created a Black Female led space with guests who joined us virtually from Jamaica and New York, we listened and connected to each other discussing the brand new characterisation of Sophie Stones as a young ambitious Black British woman journalist, 90’s RnB tunes included!
Within the second week we continued to ask the questions of our work and ourselves. Our visiting audiences told us about their experiences of our work. Whether that was dancing at a wedding, walking in a procession of grief, witnessing the dismantling of a life lived or being privy to the moment love grabs hold of you and promises never to let go and then it does.
From our learning and along the way, we have been making the adjustments needed in order to take care of us all moving around somebody else’s story.
What Shirley and I have found from our work overwhelmingly is that we are on the right path…the audacity of it all! Who are we?
We are two women based in the North of England pushing to make the best work of our lives, using digital art, new writing, social dance, contemporary dance, live music and installation. All this whilst inviting others to bring their best selves whilst travelling at pace and with open hearts and minds. We are consistently challenging ourselves to use all these creative elements to tell the story whilst finding the language for it all.
We are not only building Trumpet as a concept but as a new model of working. We are using the research and development for real in every single aspect of our work...we have to do better to be better.
Between us we have a bag of stories we’ve collected along the way that both inform our choices and decision making.
Ultimately this is the crunch of the matter. It’s not just the subject matter of living the life you dare to live but who chooses to tell these stories and how they are told. There are those of us who are in charge and making decisions that make some people feel nervous about it, in a way they would never feel nervous if we looked and felt like the people they are used to seeing at the helm. As my friend and colleague Suzanne Alleyne has said multiple times, the further away you are from that ‘traditional’ image of leadership, the harder it appears to be for others to follow, Shirley and I are of course doing it anyway and doing it well.
We intend to land Trumpet to our audiences next year and we are doing it by being brave enough to push ourselves to our limits, believing there are no limits to be had. Just like the story we are telling, we are encouraging ourselves, our teams, our associates and our audiences every step of the way to create an outstanding experience for all.
Script development with Chérie Taylor-Battiste.
I want to take the time to step off my track and address something briefly...In the history of modern humans I’m certain it has been written about before, but I write from the point of view of my many ridiculous firsts and I use the English word ridiculous with precision.
In my career in the U.K. I have found myself to be often the first Black woman to have led in that space, to have presented work on that particular stage, to have sat at that particular table of power, to be the first Chair of Sustained Theatre Yorkshire, Artistic Director of an RFO (back in the day NPO), Chair of Governors, or sitting on the Senior Management at Hull Truck Theatre. I could list many of my opportunities and experiences over the years in the Theatre Industry,long enough to remember when we first started calling ourselves an industry.
Now to return to that word ridiculous. It awaits anyone brave enough to step into a new space. To step into that space you often have to be over qualified to be taken half as seriously.
Those who have fought for the likes of you to be heard really meant for the opportunity to be either for themselves or for one of their own people they have backed. They struggle if they haven’t invested in you, taken the time to know you and assume a number of things about you and how you got into that room. They virtually join forces with those at the other end of the argument who don’t believe in the need for the likes of you or your representation in that position of power.
The assumptions made about you may be based on your seemingly lack of a gang or agenda even though you will have both. It’s virtually impossible to survive these rooms if you don’t have a plan or support.
This distrust and disrespect coming from both sides could leave you feeling unnerved, paranoid, undermined and isolated in the very spaces you need to be strong, centred and connected in. That terrible place of doubt can then build, with you questioning your own merit for being in the spaces you worked hard to get in and having the right to speak and share your experiences, knowledge and insight.
Let me say this, those of us who are underrepresented have little time for doubt, mistakes or failure as the imposter badge is gifted at the door. I’ve used the low expectations and initial invisibility of me to my advantage, only recently, because I’m not only stepping in but speaking out people are beginning to suss I might know some things...
If you see or hear of anyone who has stepped into the spaces, consider how you are supporting them, consider your aim when you throw that rock and smash that glass, you may well be aiming right at the very person you say you are protecting.
The institutions and public spaces deserve to be held to account and the lack of pace of change is a national disgrace. Whilst we are moving forward at all, let us take care of each other in this fight. I’m getting back on my track now, doing what I do every given day.
Sometimes this Blog leads me, sometimes I lead the blog. As you may or may not know by now whichever way it goes, it’s the truth. The thing about the truth is you have to be clear of your intentions and where it may land. Because your truth is your truth as far as you know it, as far as you have experienced it or as far as you have observed. I’m glad we are now moving away from ignoring or worse still denying people’s lived experiences and learning to listen and take action for a better future for all. I’m landing what I can whilst I can and sharing what may be my most useful lessons for us all. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside fellow artists, thinkers and academics and people going about their daily lives who share their points of view coming from where they’re from. If I’ve come from more or less the same place, then we are able to use our common language, code and short cut in order to communicate and connect together. Sometimes however this very fact of familiarity has caused a pause for concern, questions on my ability because we quite simply have been told that what we know is of very little value. We are only to be studied and be part of a conversation about us not with us. We rarely have a chance to take part in these conversations much less lead. If this is the case for those of us who come from more or less the same place then how is it with those who feel like they are from another planet? Those people who are valued more than us because of the way this world has been constructed. In the case of Black women that would be everyone else being valued more than ourselves. The world though has changed from when I’d run home to tell my Mum & Dad about my lessons. Let’s face it the world has changed since I last blogged in the Summer! I know what I know. I know what I know because I was raised a certain way and I have taken the time to deconstruct what was on offer and build my own understanding from there. I told the good people who joined us here at Hull Truck recently on the Discover Day for Abigail’s Party that I’d come home from school and tell my parents what I had learnt about British History. They’d laugh and look at each other and fill in the gaps with what they knew, through stories of Jamaican National Heroes like Paul Bogle in Morant Bay: https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/tag/paul-bogle/ My Mum took us on a visit from England to Paul Bogle’s statue and memorial in St Thomas, Jamaica. We learnt from songs of resistance and redemption that my Dad constantly played in our family home. Had Bob Marley lived he’d be the same age as my Dad is now. Because of this I’m used to seeing stories from all around the world at all sorts of angles and to ensuring that people coming from where I’m from are in the story too, as well as checking who else may be missing. I love telling a good story, for me casting is like picking a great sports team. I said this to a young man you recently visited on an ‘Off Stage Choices Day’ to Hull Truck with his school. He asked if as a Director I made notes for the Actors? I watched his face light up as I explained that for our current team we did a quick check of the moves, action and set pieces and that once the match starts it’s with them and the audiences. We aim to win every night for our audiences and ourselves. I’ve just completed making Abigail’s Party in a way that I fully believed in, with a team who believed in me. This belief did not come freely, it had to be rightfully earned. I don’t know about you but I know my best work is created where we create a safe space, where we can be free to discuss difficult things, to be brave and to leave very little unturned in the search for the best way to tell the truth of a story even if you have to dig through painful truths. It makes for a rich experience and a chance to get to know ourselves and each other in a better and stronger way. This is why I was excited and delighted to introduce Angela and Tony Cooper as a Jamaican couple in Abigail’s Party, it made sense to me. A young aspirational couple, she a Nurse, he working in computers, moving into the suburbs of a leafy street in England examining a welcome they were truly not made to feel. A play for me that was about class, race, gender politics, destructive relationships, the U.K relationship to drink, loneliness and unlikely friendships. Thank you to everyone who joined us for our version of this rollercoaster classic of a play. So here are some truths from me. I have learnt to use the low expectations from both my own communities and those people different from me who appear to be from another planet to my advantage. I have to smash it harder than expected because I cannot allow these low expectations to limit me or my imagination. Because of my experiences I look to the left and right of what has been presented to me. If I had *two pound seventy five for every coffee I was invited to have over the years to tap my brain of my ideas and not simply share and exchange ideas, I’d be able to seek match funding from the Arts Council for my own Theatre Building. *(Price of actual coffee). Freelance Directors annual income is below 15K a year SDUK ‘successful Directors can expect between 20K – 25K a year Data https://www.stagedirectorsuk.com/2016-fee-campaign/ Campaigning for what is right on behalf on an industry can drain the campaigners of artistic experiences, finding themselves on countless panels and meetings and never gaining the chance to make the actual work. Our actual work with inclusion and integrity at the heart of it, is part of the campaign and contribution to a change that we will all eventually benefit from.