Artists Development at Bath Fringe

May 21 2018

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Bath Fringe Festival

It's not always easy to give your life to the arts but without the artists, this world would be a much duller place. Artists offer their joy, creativity and courage to explore the human condition so that we can see ourselves more clearly. So who's taking care of the artists? Bath Fringe, that's who!

For the last 4 years, I've had the pleasure of co-creating and facilitating the New Work Works Artist Development Scheme for Bath Fringe. It's a chance for emerging and established street theatre performers to get support to develop new ideas and try them out on the street at Bedlam Fair, Bath Fringe's anarchic street theatre festival.

Each artist / company gets a day with an experienced street theatre director to explore their ideas, as well as a place on a 2-day group workshop, where they get to know each other, brush up their street performance skills and explore the business side of street theatre. During the festival, they get to try their shows in 2 different environments on 2 consecutive days with on-site support for all their practical and emotional needs as well as dedicated feedback sessions with seasoned professionals. 

Here's a video from last year's festival:

The group workshop happened last weekend, co-faclitated by street arts business guru Gwen Hales and me, with assistance from Robyn Hambrook. Performers from the 8 supported companies, ranging from dancers, circus performers, physical theatre practitioners, interactive character comedians and installation performers, came together for the first time. The Weekend felt so joyful and packed with juicy tools for artist development, that I feel compelled to share some of what happened with you, dear reader, including a couple of exercises to try at home.

For me, the heart of street theatre is (wait for it, you can probably guess if you've read any of my blogs.....) CONNECTION! So the first day of the workshop is a play day, all focussed around the theme of connection; connecting with ourselves, connecting with each other and exploring audience connection. In my experience as a street theatre performer / director, when you put connection at the heart of your performance, you tend to make wiser choices with your material. So for this play day, I ask the artists to leave their performance material at home and just come out to play as themselves.

In the morning, we played outside in the sun in a little courtyard out the back of a church hall in Bath city centre. The participants opened their senses to their surroundings, touching warm paving stones with their toes and succulent moss with their cheeks. They led each other on sensory explorations, finding their way into playing simple games like blowing raspberries on window panes and scaling craggy walls. They found that connection is best established through following and offering simple, clear impulses. Developing these impulses with curiosity and sensitivity (as opposed to panic / worry about whether your idea is good enough) helps to maintain the connection.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Beccy Golding- taken during the same exercise on my 5-day clown course (I was so engrossed on the Bath Fringe weekend, that I didn't take any pictures!)

You could try this exercise for yourself right now if you like? Explore your immediate environment through your senses, slow down, breathe deeper, drop right into those experiences one by one. Stay with your experience for as long as you're engaged, if you start to get bored, either develop your interaction a little bit or find something else to interact with. The aim of the game is to maintain awareness and keep your curiosity wide open. This exercise may help you get present, turn up your curiosity and open you up to your wiser impulses. I'm sure your boss / the waitress in the cafe you're sitting in / your fellow hot-deskers won't mind if you rub your coffee cup all over your face or start licking the wall paper.

The second day of the workshop is devoted to the business side of running a street theatre company. The wonderful Gwen Hales gave an all-day interactive seminar on how to live a life in the arts, drawing on her wealth of experience as a performer / director and company manager of two successful outdoor performance companies. Throughout the day, Gwen steered the group through exploring The Why Of Street Theatre (why do you want to perform on the street?), Money In Street Theatre (where does it come from? How much can you charge? and what does it need to pay for?), Helpful Organisations To Know About and Future Dreaming (what do you want to be when you grow up and how will you get there?).

One of Gwen's brilliant exercises was the good at, bad at, love, hate exercise. This one helps you get clear about what you're doing with your time and how your time might be better spent! If you'd like to have a go at it, here's how it works.

Thinking about all the activities that make up your working day (from performing for audiences to doing your tax return to ordering stationary online to strategic planning). Place these activities into the boxes below.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: My version of Gwen Hales' exercise

Top left is things that you love and are good at.

Top right is things that you love and are bad at.

Bottom left is things that you hate and are good at.

Bottom right is things that you hate and are bad at.

You may find that some activities want to go in more than one box, that's OK, write them twice. Be honest, be ruthless, which boxes do the things that take up your time belong?

When you've finished, have a little look at all the activities in each box and see how the following sits with you:

Top left - things that you love and are good at – this is the nice box, full of pleasurable things that allow you to use your skills and experience. How can you do more of these things?

Top right - things that you love and are bad at – this is the future learning box, full of lovely invitations for training and experience. What training could you undertake to get better at these things?

Bottom left - things that you hate and are good at – this is the danger box, full of annoying things that will suck away all your time if you let them. Can you let any of these things go? Can you minimise the amount you do of any these things?

Bottom right - things that you hate and are bad at – this is the avoid at all costs box, full of things that will drag you into the abyss of despair. Can you delegate any of these things? Can you pay someone else to do them?

I'm really proud of this scheme and glad to have had the opportunity to nurture artists in this way over the last 4 years. It's my pleasure to hold space for those that give so much to others. Thanks to Gwen, Robyn, Liz, Wendy and Steve for your support. Long live the artists! 

Come and see what the New Work Works artists have been creating with their time at Bedlam Fair in Radstock on Saturday 2nd June and Bath City Centre on Sunday 3rdJune. 

Bath Fringe Website here.

Facebook event here.

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