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Wonder at a ‘new normal’

From all the devastation of the fires across New South Wales and beyond last year, I was struck by a series of photos taken by my sister-in-law who went off to volunteer with BlazeAid for many weeks helping farmers to repair their land.  The photos were of tiny shoots of natural recovery amidst the wipe-out.  Now, just a few months later, we have our own devastation to our livelihoods and infrastructure amidst lockdown. Nature, here, continues unaffected and I hope everyone wherever they are can take some moments to look out of a window, take a walk, or get into the sun, and see the beauty of our world.

I am looking forward, to November 2nd when the first cohort of creative producers will gather from around the world to begin study with the CGO Institute on the very first Diploma in Creative Producing.  At this point we have no idea whether UK theatres will be open, whether audiences will be returning.  I understand from a zoom session with an international flock of young producers that some countries have already decreed that their theatres and public spaces will be closed until 2021. 

In the words of Charles Eisenstein in an extended article The Coronation, he talks of “feeling that humanity was nearing a crossroads”…and “all of a sudden, we go around a bend and here it is”…“We are right to stop stunned at the newness of our situation. Because of the hundred paths that radiate out in front of us some lead in the same direction we’ve already been headed. Some lead to hell on earth. And some lead to a world more healed and more beautiful that we ever dared believe to be possible.”

The 20 diploma studying producers will be joining us to look at a new landscape. Some theatre and producers around the world will be aiming to re-create the same, because that is what the public loved before.  Some of our closest friends and theatremakers will have chosen, or been forced, to shut up shop.  And some will be contemplating new pathways to reflect on, champion for, and be part of a new more healed world – daring to believe.

Nicholas Berger in The Forgotten Art of Assembly argues for “the urgency and value of our form”. “There are undoubtedly going to be casualties. Theatre companies won’t survive, and the ones that do will be more strapped for cash than they already were. But this environment of scarcity must not be a time for artistic safety, rather a time for leanness and daring. Provocative, risk-taking, unabashedly theatrical work is going to be critical when we are finally allowed within six feet of each other again. Only in our excellence will we make a full-throated argument for the urgency and value of our form. We can use this surplus of time to prepare for that triumphant return, not just to distract ourselves while we wait for it. “

My question at a gathering of the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) last week with fellows from the UK and Australia was to wonder about the audience. I was wondering about the conflicting emotions between the fear of gathering and the need for community.   One expert talked of “furlough as a form of methadone” another the hope that we may see “the folly of so much that was normal’ and come out of our isolation with a desire to witness and be part of a more healed world.

These are big topics which the students gathering in November will be tackling as they learn the tools and rules of creative producing, and work with our faculty of 25 international practitioners.   Each of these people, working in the business, will be coming to terms with the need to understand their audience.

There is hope “history suggests that the performing arts world will be resilient. Bringing venues back on-line and reassuring audiences of their safety is not going to be an easy process, however people will be hungry for culture and engagement once lockdowns and self- isolation end “ says Byron Harrison of Charcoalblue in Performance Buildings in the Post-Pandemic World.

I wonder how strong and resilient theatre and the performing arts’ own natural ecology is. I too am hopeful.  But I sense (with absolutely no research or grounds for sensing this) that the first tiny shoots to grow out of the scorched landscape will be the theatres that are rooted in community. The producers who know their audience personally They will understand their fears and can adapt to grow an offer to feed the hunger for engagement.

As a marketing person I ask many many directors and producers Who do you want on your front row ?  Who are they? Describe them in great detail. Where have they come from? What else do they do with their time? What has drawn them to this particular event at this particular place at this particular time.  Now I think the question has another fundamental level to be explored.  Where is the front row? How are they getting to this place of gathering? How are they feeling about life and this adventure to join community?   Can we ensure that their desire for community and entertainment/inspiration is greater than their fear of gathering?

Felix Salmon in Axios Edge reminds us “A mistrust of mingling with strangers — or even with friends — is likely to linger for a generation” He then adapts Weisberg’s Law to suggest “Everybody more paranoid than you has gone way overboard, while everybody less paranoid is not only putting themselves at risk but is acting in a deeply socially irresponsible manner.“   We have to remember this knife edge balance may be deep in the core of many of our potential audiences. 

But Bryan Harrison believes” We will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a new appreciation for how connected we really are, irrespective of the availability of global travel. At our best, we’ll find a “we’re all in this together” attitude that will embrace new and adventurous artistic work. …Our industry must find ways to be resilient; our humanity depends on it.”

Tonight I go to my second private house concert/international ceilidh produced by Edinburgh based musician and theatremaker Mairi Campbell.  Last week she had artists playing from their homes in Mexico, Nova Scotia, London, Los Angeles and across Scotland. Tonight we will gather again and celebrate the artistry created in community.  It is a glorious gathering without fear.  It is from these seeds that a ‘new normal’ arts and theatre community will grow, I believe.

I can’t wait to work with creative producers in November to explore the new normal. Between now and 6 months time the world will keep changing, and nature will keep growing. Let’s see who amongst the next generation of producer will choose to take roads less travelled.

When This Is Over by Jamie Zubairi

When this is over,
When the numbers have fallen,
When we can give our neighbours a hug,
When we can kiss our grandparents on both cheeks like they do in Rome,
When we can whisper to our parents and our children “I love you” in their ear,
When the sound of children playing is coming from the school yard,
When my neighbour in her blue uniform can finally smile.
Someone baked her a cake last week.
I made her a curry and felt bad
That she had pudding before her main.
When this is over I’ll know her name.
When this is over, can you imagine the celebration of the simple things?
The party in the street rejoicing in holding hands, standing side by side;
The festival we will have after stockpiling love,
Hoarding kisses and hamstering embraces
And dancing like no one is watching
In full sight.

I am sharing this with Jamie’s permission. He read it at a ceilidh last night and it felt positive, heartfelt and hopeful – if presently sad. https://jamiezubairi.com/

Looking for trainee unicorns

Each week, until November, I intend to use my blog to chart the development of the CGO Institute from the idea (Sat 28 March 2020), through launch at the virtual NSDF Conference (Sun 5th April – see blog Launch into the clouds) and onward to the arrival of the first cohort in the cloud on 2nd November 2020.  That’s the plan. It is a selfish practice, to help me see the progress I am making, and hopefully a helpful one to generate thoughts and discussion about the course and the world we are preparing for.

Today, Easter Saturday, week 3 I think of Lockdown in the UK, I am sitting looking out at a deserted Blackness-on-Sea Square, a locked down village pub and shop, and a low tide empty beach. It is a strange time to predict a new world.  But I hope that the planned Diploma in Creative Producing will come at the right time for a re-emergence of creative practitioners across the Globe.

The producer Josh Foyster described producers as unicorns – he suggested that every creative practitioner, company or theatremaker is looking for one to help them realise their project. This was reported by Lyn Gardner, one of the UKs most respected critics and commentators in The Stage, and discussion followed.  I have enjoyed finding images of unicorns to pepper my website.

Immediately following my talk ‘Producing, Proper Job, Honest’ for the NSDF I had three enquiries for places. Each are now preparing their short assignment/application to be considered for a place. The instant response was exciting – but I have to remember that there is a heavy slog now to Base Camp.

This week I completed the gathering of the first 20 Faculty Members who will be with us as we start the Diploma. Most are now up on the website allowing potential participants in the course to see the diverse people who will be guiding me, and them, through the first 16 week course.  Everyone I asked to join said yes. That was my second of many excitements of the week.  Thank you to all of them spread across Scotland, England, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia and the USA.

And then I had tea with the marketing and digital experts Emma Martin (UK) and Ellen Burgin (UK/Australia) – at the Zoom Coffee Shop, bring your own cake or easter egg in one case !!  They put me through my paces to explore how best to use the Facebook and Twitter platforms to amplify the message about this course.  My challenge is, from a standing start, and without being affiliated to a massive University or funded machine, to make a noise in the ears of the exactly the right people.  Maybe you can help…

  1. There’s a Press Release – please shout if you would like to write about it.
  2. Are you part of a network where there might be theatre/arts folk who could be interested to share the word – here’s some pages on the website.
  3. Are you rich in creative friends on your facebook or twitter platforms. Could you help to amplify the message.  Here’s the facebook page for you to Like and talk on…1 day old and being built slowly with loving care by Emme and Ellen.

My fascinating and slow work this week has been to choose one country and to focus on who I already know there who could reach out to the theatre/arts community, or help me find aspiring producers who might want to study.  I have started with Brazil, moved to Korea and India. A few contacts who may have time to connect me with more people. Maybe you know someone I should know.

Next week Russia, USA and China.  I have been so lucky to have had a really helpful response from a lead player in the ITI (International Theatre Institute) and the British Council who have pointed me to bureau chiefs or lead officers in each of these and other countries.  Step by step I reach out to them.

I have to be patient. I have to be steady in the work. I need to find a wonderful group of 6 practitioners to make sure the course runs in November, and we will be delighted with 10-12 if that happens.   If you are a reader of this Blog and you are isolated and locked down, with a moment on your hands. Please have a read of my vision of the Diploma on the website, and wonder whether there is any group I could talk to by Zoom or individual I should know.  Thank you.

But now. It is Easter Saturday and I’m treating myself to Brunch, and being a good citizen and washing the car.  The sun is shining. The Saltire is flying outside the pub. The rooks are going about their business of nesting. Nature goes on.  Stay safe to one and all this week.

Thank you for reading

Chris  

Glass Half Empty – top up needed

Cornish Proper Job in Perm Russia – when my glass was full with creative joy

This week I have returned from an amazing trip to Russia leading a Musical Theatre writing laboratory with Eamonn O’Dywer in Perm funded by the British Council. I have arrived in a shitstorm of virus news, found that a planned paid project in August at the Festival will not now happen, and realised that something I had been building up to for 3 years will again probably not happen.  I began the week tired and excited ready to return to the UK and make stuff happen. I end the week with a virtually blank diary, a cancelled holiday to Spain, and a feeling of relative sadness. 

And then I had a coaching session with someone using me as test-hours for her course. Her magic of listening and questioning has given me a list of things to do, and a sense that my glass is half-full again (just).

50 minutes is all it took, and as a coach myself I should be one of the most difficult people to coach, because I know the questions and can see them coming. But I don’t know the answers until I really drop into myself and ask myself what am I going to do next?  and what is it like to do nothing? 

So I’m not going to share predictions on coronavirus or the state of the freelance, hourly paid, gig economy, or the many festivals and things we love. I am going to start from a point of three questions to myself:

  1. How long can I survive based on the money in my bank? I am very lucky I can survive for 2 months using every saving.
  2. So how do I best use those two months to make sure I am going to remain useful ? And here again I am lucky. I am a life coach and offer training and support for creatives in different fields, much of which I can do by skype.
  3. And how do I use the time I suddenly have on my hands to look at one or two longer dreams of what I could/should be doing with my life ?   And here I am thinking the next 4 years before I get some sort of pension, whilst (gods willing) I have the energy and health to be useful and earn a living.

Those weren’t the questions my coach asked me. They are the questions I am now taking forward as I plan my unexpectedly blank and potentially lonely next few weeks. I am well at the moment, but the theatres are shutting around me, there is a sense of concern about gathering with mates, and the conferences and events I am meant to be at in the next few weeks will also probably be cancelled.  So I could sit in my room with Facebook and Netflix and rot. I have enough soup and loo rolls – but that’s not particularly positive.

And so, let’s get coaching and offering online surgeries and services. I am going to make offers on all the usual platforms for a Pay What You Can or maybe Pay When You Can service, and for some people that will be free sessions because they are in far greater fear/hardship than I am.  By skyping with people and reading people’s scripts and giving online sessions on producing or musical theatre writing/development, I will keep my energy level up and be useful.

So here’s my first draft advert:

Coaching/Surgery for the “worried well”, the “cash poor” and the “poorly/isolated”

I’m available by skype/zoom over the next few weeks, rather than face to face surgeries, for any creatives who need to check in on small steps they can take, to ensure survival (if not to thriving) in the next few months.  Coaching is said to be for the “worried well”. In this case I add “cash poor” and “poorly/isolated” too.  Our life/work balance and our short/mid term plans are being disrupted, and we have to find our own way through.  Sessions will be Pay What You Can, or pay when/if you can. www.chrisgrady.org for more info, chris [at] chrisgrady [dot] org  to book an hour.

Let me know if I can help. Let’s find innovative ways to keep ourselves going through the potentially dark times ahead, and be ready when the one thing everyone needs is Entertainment – a chance to get in a big room together and sing, dance, enjoy music, or watch a damn fine play.  Until then – shout if I can help from my virtual world in Blackness with my view of the Firth of Forth and the idyllic Lobster Pot pub just over the road.   Don’t let me spend too long with a glass half empty – as a metaphore or propping up the bar.

Nudging people, chocolate cake and the gentle art of marketing

I create events and support projects which give people a helping hand as they navigate a forest of ideas, or the foothills of a mountain. I aim to offer a bit of nourishment and some time to help them look at the map, and prepare the path.  But sometimes it takes a bit of nudging to help them realise there are no catches, there is just ‘chocolate cake’

I love this analogy (and we do glutton free and 100% healthy imaginary versions of the same cake). It was described to me by my charity fundraising daughter – in her terms she is not begging for money, she is offering chocolate cake – and you know you like it and will want to pay something towards her charity and that warm fuzzy feeling, or the t-shirt, or the place at the table which your cash, support, legacy can make possible.  I’m doing some workshops for a networking organisation of musicians and storytellers across Scotland and have spent a lot of time talking about the gift they have to offer, the chocolate cake they carry with them, when they are trying to find the courage and best way to negotiate.

And sometimes free events (like this one), and the Producers’ Pool (£5 incl croissant), and CGO Surgeries (pay what you can), take a lot of energy in marketing to get traction.  It is one of the problems of being freelance and not part of a National Theatre team or recognised body. Wow have I tried over the years to offer my chocolate cake on the platers of these august institutions, but maybe my lifelong fringe is just too long. Maybe they just can’t understand how inexpensive the offers are, and how needed they are.

So, dear reader, I rely on your help to spread the word and the fickle word of twitter and facebook. In the end it works but it sometime feels like pushing uphill.  But I know the chocolate cake CGO offers is very good for you.

Here are a few quick dates in case anything in the display cabinet teases your fancy:

Tue 25th – London – Producers’ Pool on post Brexit international collaboration (*)

Wed 26th – Glasgow – TRACS member free event on negotiating (contact TRACS)

March

Mon 2nd-Mon 9th – Perm/Russia – Musical Theatre writing Workshops (1 place available)

Thur 19th – London – ITC Conference debate incl the role of the producer (via ITC)

Tue 24th – London – Producers’ Pool on union/representation for producers (*)

Wed 25th – London – CGO Surgeries / pay what you can consultations (**)

April

Fri 10th – Leicester – NSDF Producer career pathways  (via Nat Student Drama Fest)

Wed 15th – Edinburgh – CGO Surgeries / pay what you can consultations (**)

Sat 25th & Sun 26th – Edinburgh – Revelation workshops (check my website under COT)

Tue 28th – London – Producers’ Pool, host/venue tba

Wed 29th – Inverness TRACS member free event on negotiating (contact TRACS)

May

Wed 13th – Edinburgh – Art of Being Heard Masterclass (email me for details)

And

Throughout these months I continue to offer skype coaching sessions to creatives and small businesses in the UK and internationally.

A marketing/brand expert would rightly say I have too many different products in my cool cabinet, but that’s been my way all my life.  The person who needs a quick surgery on their production plans is a very different person from the business leader who needs presentation skills, or the young person passionate about theatre who has just realised there is a career called “producer”.

I share this list in case any reader wants, or knows someone who might want, anything on the menu  (*) 450 PP members will have the link to book for this event, any producer who wants to attend and doesn’t have the ticketsignite link, just email me. (**) for a face to face surgery, or to arrange a skype surgery on another date, email me chris [at] chrisgrady [dot] org. TRACS www.tracscotland.org, ITC www.itc-arts.org, NSDF www.nsdf.org.uk

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Mary Oliver, poet 

“I have more trees to climb” Ben Moor 

Have a great weekend

Now to prepare for my CGO Surgeries in Edinburgh today

Prepare to be Surprised

I’ve been going to the theatre for 50 years I guess, and I still get a thrill from the feeling of being in a space a few moments before the show starts, as the lights fade, as the collective connected energy & expectation grows around the theatre, at the moment just before I hope to be enchanted, delighted, moved, amazed, upset, cheering or laughing. I try not to read reviews. I try to arrive as un-critical and open-for-anything as possible. I am, in the words of Harrison Owen the inventor of Open Space Technology, “Prepared to Be Surprised”.

Last night I was taken along to a piece about which I knew nothing, in a space I’d never been in Edinburgh, later than my normal bedtime, to see a show by the daughter of a friend of ours.  It started in the dark, with a single hanging body. The presence of the performer willed us into a sense of quiet stillness.  We, the Netflix, quick flick, audience of the future, were willed by silence not to turn away, not to turn off, not to check our phones.  It is too easy with the TV or film-on-demand to make instant judgements and not take our time. In theatre we are always invited to stay, to focus, to join in a longer journey with the creative team. We are invited to trust in the process.  I am glad I arrived. I am so glad I was in an open receptive mind and heart. And I am so glad I saw this dad’s daughters’ show. This is what I wrote quickly on Facebook:

“Rarely have I witnessed anything quite so assured, complete, powerful, sensual, naked, raw, beautiful and deep. If this had been a piece which had been in the repertoire of one of the great aerialists for 30 years I would not have been surprised. But it is a relatively new artist Zinnia Oberski daughter of proud dad Iddo Oberski who gave us this stunning piece. I can’t wait to see it again when it is picked up for its next life. Thank you Kath Burlinson for suggesting we popped in to see a show by the daughter of a mate.  Just to alert you to this talent/show Gabrielle Martin Struan Leslie Aislinn Mulligan Valerie Hager , my high flying friends.”  https://zintrapeze.wordpress.com/

Now I am on the train reviewing applications from Russian composers and lyricists who have applied to join Eamonn O’Dwyer and I for a week of Musical Theatre Workshops on writing and collaboration in Perm. Every time I open an application or listen to a mp3 file I hope to be delighted – and in many cases I am.  I can’t wait to be in Perm at the end of the Month for this special Year of Music British Council opportunity. It looks, from the applicants, as though we will be working in Russian, Spanish, English and French and the universal language of Music.  Thank goodness we have an Interpreter.

And this weekend, in case there is anyone I know who is not already planning to be there, we have the annual celebration of surprise – Devoted and Disgruntled, a conference at the Battersea Arts Centre where anything that is important to you can be raised and will be addressed by you and others.  I hope to see many D&D regulars and many many people who are settling down in the Opening Circle at 11am on Saturday for the very first time.  If you are out of the Country you can follow everything, and even call virtual sessions. I know I will be talking about creativity in Scotland, teaching creative producing, and probably clothing optional theatre praxis…and a host of other things.

So now, train willing, I will rush headlong to Mountview to meet the Creative Producers who make up the 2019/20 cohort – we will explore International Collaboration,  Team building, Group dynamics, organisations, and (because I’ve been asked to focus on this) Royalty Pools – my favourite complex subject.  Now where is James Seabright’s excellent book on Producing…ahh fortunately in my rucksack. Turn to page 55.   Oh that’s surprising.

Congnitive Congruity now

I’m 61. My parents are dead. I have no brothers and sisters who knew me as a child.  Noone really shared my childhood who is currently a close friend.  It is not until 10-12 years old that I have photographs or memorabilia which show my life, or facebook friends who can share conversation about incidents and dreaded/wonderful teachers in our childhood.  But if I begin to decay, wouldn’t I like to be able to go back further and enjoy memories of my early years.

A while ago I went to a Memory Clinic in Glasgow which specialises in research. They build a body of willing subjects who are either confirmed in early stage dementia, showing some signs of cognitive impairment, or fit and well but interested. Both my mother and grandmother had dementia and fortunately I sit in the fit category at the moment.   I woke this morning with an idea which I thought I’d share.

When my mother was officially gathered in to the health system I created a memory book which she could use, and the nurses could refer to. It was slight. I didn’t really know my mother and didn’t really know anyone who had reference material or stories to tell me.

So I’ve set myself a little task, gently, over the next few years. I wondered whether others might like to join me – especially if, like me, you are an only child with little family memorabilia.  I’m going to use facebook and google and other simple tools to try and track a few people who may have pictures or memories from that time.

For example my Primary School still exists – St Dunstans in Cheam. I was there 1963/64ish to 1967 when I was moved to my first boarding school.  Did they take a photo each year? Is there a picture of the main hall from that time with its high stand on which sat a black and white TV showing BBC Schools programmes to us in the mornings?  I guess Miss Rundle and other teachers of the time are quietly retired or beyond reach.   I was at school with someone called Tim who lived on my road. Also David Smith with whom I used to go in the holidays to visit museums and attractions in London.  They are my age. Maybe they are still around.

And then Dorset House near Pulborough was my safe space from 67-69 where I found my love of theatre. Is there a picture of the company making Toad of Toad Hall or Emil and the Detectives. Was there a programme sheet for parents. I know my grandmother was transfixed by the realistic movement of the train carriage Emil sat in. I was the one behind the set wobbling the carriage in time to the BBC sound effect. An early immersive experience.  My mate Chris Harris was an important part of my growing up there, and Chris Harrison who I later used to meet commuting to London in mid-70s.  Whatever happened to them, along with the lad who’s parents ran the Holiday Camp at Middleton on Sea where I went on a couple of day trip adventures.

These are my memories this morning. What more might be triggered if I saw pictures, read school reports, saw images of shows or events, and even had the full names of those people who I knew really well when I was 5 to 10 years old.   After this my memories are easier to find. I still have friends who went with me into Christ’s Hospital in 1969. I started keeping a bit of a diary and an envelope of programmes and cuttings. I was starting my theatre life and my exploring more widely in terms of career. I was 10 and growing up fast.

Let’s see what I can find. It may never be needed for me. I may fall off the perch fully cogent. But maybe I will in the meantime find some people around the globe who shared some of my early experiences in Cheam (Surrey now London) and Bury (Sussex).

Better do some work to keep this 61 yr old earning a living, but maybe at the weekend I will do some exploring.  My Memory Project.

The Sea, The Work, & D&D

Three things set me up for the year: a) taking a week overlooking the churning ocean in Cornwall where any moment I can’t face emails, I can don my coat and go and walk the coastal paths with Kath. b) knowing that Devoted and Disgruntled is just around the corner (8th/9th Feb) when I will be surrounded by new creativity, new creatives, old friends, and old challenges. And c) when I get asked to do a workshop by a theatre dedicated to helping the next generation of creatives see a path forward.

My thanks to Steph Connell for coming up with the title and inviting me to the Tron Theatre to spend two hours exploring tools which we can all use for 2020, and then offering five 1-2-1 CGO Surgeries to creative practitioners where we get down deep into discussing a project or a challenge.

2020 is already shaping up to be a rollercoaster year.  Working with Soha Kahn on creative workshops for young male and female Saudi artists, planning an 8 day workshop on Musical Theatre writing in Perm Moscow, launching with Kath the Art of Being Heard presentation and authentic presence workshops which she ran so brilliantly when we were in East Anglia, working hard with colleagues at the Royal Conservatoire Scotland to launch the MA Creative Producing which I brought to them as an idea, and which is now recruiting for its first cohort in September, working with the Trad Music Forum on workshops around Scotland exploring the business of being a performer, preparing for Edinburgh International Festivals’ Cross Currents programme, and working with the University of West of Scotland on another MA which should start in Jan 2020.   For more information on any or all of these, do get in touch.

But running throughout my year will continue my work on creative business coaching and CGO Surgeries.  Each month I will spend a day in London and a day in Edinburgh offering 1-2-1 surgeries. I will continue to run the Producers’ Pool monthly in London, and I will be opening up for some more longer term Coaching clients.

In each of these practices I ask a lot of questions, offer some wonderful tools that I use and have been taught, and draw on the knowledge that each person already has for possible paths, challenges, aspirations which they may have.  This week I have had time, overlooking Mounts Bay, to check in my CGO Coaching Toolkit and add a few more practices which I haven’t used for a while. I look forward to sharing them with clients.

If you would like a life/business coach, wherever you are in the world, and you have something to do with the creative arts, then do check out whether I might be the person to contact   I’m loving working with a London based screenwriter, a New York based actress/poet, a San Francisco based singer/songwriter, and a London based actor and cabaret performer.  A lovely mix. Come join me if you think I can help.

And so as the sun sets over Mounts Bay, the Tron workshop leaflet goes out on Facebook, and I think about what I am devoted to, and disgruntled with for D&D, I wish you a happy New Year.

Chris