The end of 2017 is drawing ever-closer, leaving me feeling somewhat reflective.

It is natural, I suppose, as one year ends, to muse over the highs and lows experienced in the twelve months that have gone. As a self-employed Creative Practitioner, whose professional identity was given a makeover at the start of this calendar year, it is with pride and satisfaction that I find myself contemplating just how busy a year it has been.

Earlier this year, I made an active choice to seize every creative opportunity that came my way, as long as it offered me the potential for professional growth and development. Those opportunities came thick and fast, leaving me with precious little time to pursue my ambitions within the corporate market. That said, the corporate world will still be there in 2018, and I will be a better practitioner for the work I have done in 2017. All in all, I will be far better placed to market my training packages to any business prioritising the well-being of its employees whilst focusing on skills-building and professional development.

So What Have I Been Doing?

The year began with my biggest venture to date. Last year, I was commissioned by Leeds City Council, to plan and deliver a production project open to all schools in the Outer North East ward. The concept was simple (famous last words!) in that my plan was to facilitate regular exploratory workshops with all participants, using these to generate a piece of theatre with inter-connected chapters. This meant we could assemble the production episodically, and the children would have ownership over the content, as it had come from their own ideas.

By January, Imagine was rapidly gathering momentum, with three primary schools and two secondary schools signed up, and over 150 youngsters already involved. In April, the project reached its climax, with a mini Yorkshire tour and performances on three of the city’s acclaimed professional stages. The cast and crew showcased their hard work and passion to sell-out audiences, and the pilot project was a rip-roaring success.

Creative Partnerships

2017 has also been a year for cementing, and creating, partnerships. I am very excited to have been able to take a hands-on, active role in developing projects with long-standing visual arts organisation, SKIPPKO. I have worked for SKIPPKO as a freelancer on several occasions over the years, but this year has seen changes for the company, meaning they are now putting Artists at the helm. We have launched our first big project, A Curious Chapter, designed to inject life back into four of the city’s branch libraries, and improve adult literacy through creative engagement. There has been a great deal of artistic collaboration, and I am loving being part of a team for some of my working week . (Being a company of one can sometimes feel a bit lonely, you know.)

I have also officially joined the education team at City Varieties Music Hall and Leeds Grand Theatre, as one of their regular facilitators. This means I have the chance to work with numerous schools, taking theatrical exploration to their eager youngsters, instilling them with the same excitement for the Arts that I developed at the tender age of three. Being able to preserve, nurture, and share the magic of such a key piece of Leeds’ cultural heritage has been a gift of a job so far, and I am looking forward to seeing the role evolve.

Arts On My Side Of The Moors

To all those cynics who think creativity only happens in the more vibrant cities, I am delighted to say – ‘you’re wrong!’ The final creative collaboration of 2017 has been with ten-year old company, Freedom Studios. Based in Bradford, the projects I have devised and delivered for Freedom, have enabled me to draw on my Applied Theatre background, as they have seen me working with the more marginalised and overlooked sectors of society.

It isn’t that I ever forgot how passionate I am about this type of work, but sometimes we all need the fire in our bellies reigniting. Freedom has certainly done that for me this year, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for this particular creative partnership.

More Applied Theatre

My long-running affiliation with Manchester-based company, TiPP (Theatre in Prison and Probation) with whom I trained a scary number of years ago, still thrives. This year, we began working with final year social work students, offering hands-on, immersive training sessions with fantastic results.

I also delivered my first prison residency in a number of years, working with inmates on the addiction recovery programme at HMP Kirkham. The first open prison I have ever been to in the seventeen years since my first residency, it was something of an eye-opener for me. Like Freedom, this project awoke something in me that I hadn’t even realised was sleeping. The idealistic nineteen year old me, who wanted to change the world one marginalised group at a time, has suddenly come out of hibernation. I think there is a lot I could still learn from my younger self, and perhaps 2018 is the year for those lessons.

Under Examination

I have been a LAMDA tutor for around eleven years now, and have built up my tuition business from scratch. I love working with all my pupils, preparing them for formal exams and informal showcases alike. My challenge for the coming year is to find enough hours in the day to offer everyone on my waiting list a place in my classes.

I have another challenge for 2018 where LAMDA is concerned. In summer this year, I attended the teaching workshops down in London. This was a fabulous opportunity for lots of like-minded individuals to come together, share best practice and explore new ideas, as well as gaining valuable insight into the syllabus and its ever-changing demands.

On the last day of workshops, I found myself chatting at length to the practitioner who had delivered a particularly inspiring session that day. He wanted to know why, with my experience, I hadn’t yet made the leap from teacher to examiner.

All of a sudden, I started wondering the same. So I applied. 

At the end of November, I was appointed by LAMDA, and my examiner training has already begun. I am confident that working as an examiner will help me grow as a teacher, and I am enjoying every stage of the journey so far.

Something For Me

You could argue that with a job as rewarding as mine, and with the freedom self-employment offers, every project I take on is something for me. In some ways you would be right.

I can remember in the early days working for myself, friends would comment that I was so lucky. They would go on to tell me that all my work sounds like such fun and then declare that they really wished [they] could do the same. It got to a point where I began to feel spoiled in my professional life. I actually almost felt guilty for being happy to get up and go to work.

If so many people put it down to luck, it must be true.

Then one day I realised that, whilst I do feel blessed beyond belief to do a job from which I get such immense satisfaction, I am certainly not spoiled. I have worked incredibly hard to reach a point where I can make a living from doing what I love. I have sacrificed job security and all the perks that come with climbing a conventional career ladder. Where work is concerned, the buck stops with me – there is no line manager to tackle the more difficult scenarios for me, no boss to advise me when I am struggling. It is all me. I have had to start from scratch to build a network of associates whom I trust to work with. I have gone out on a limb to offer training and development opportunities for ex-students just starting out on their own creative professional paths.

The truth is, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I would happily take the pitfalls for all the perks which balance them out.

Am I Mad?

Plenty of people will be shouting YES at their screens right now. Do I think it’s madness? Possibly to some degree. I am certainly not risk-averse or I wouldn’t have stuck at it for so long.

I can tell you exactly why I love what I do so much, though, and it isn’t down to folly. Being self-employed and running Inspire by EG. not only offers me variety in terms of the projects and partnerships I get to develop; not only does it allow me to take holidays out of peak time; not only does it enable me to spend some mornings working in my pyjamas when it’s an admin catch-up, it affords me all those things and more. It enables me to devote some time each month to nurturing my own creative exploration, and flexing my muscles as a writer. 

Pen To Paper

It’s no secret that I came to my role as a Creative Practitioner via the stage. I fell in love with performing as a tot, and I knew that whatever shape my future would take, drama would be its backdrop. Thanks to a rather pessimistic teacher in sixth form, I read a book about Drama Therapy, just in case the Acting thing didn’t work out and my eyes were suddenly opened to a whole new universe of possibility. Then I went to university and experienced what it was to use drama for something other than entertainment with my Applied Theatre training.

An undergraduate degree, a post-graduate teaching certificate and several years later, the rest is history.

I have never professed to have fallen out of love with the spotlight, however, and my heart still skips a thousand beats when I have the opportunity to perform. Writing has felt like a natural extension of this love affair, and this year has seen me strike up a whirlwind romance with pen and ink. Actually, I tend to do it the twenty-first century way on my tablet, but pen and ink has a  much more poetic ring to it.

The Year In Review

In conclusion, I think you will agree that my year has been colourful, varied and all-in-all fairly successful. If 2018 brings me half as many highlights, I will consider myself very lucky indeed.

So cheers to a brand new chapter.

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