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Artist Development

A white woman in a black t-shirt holds a white coffee flask

“Like a spa retreat for creatives” – Kerrie Marsh

By | Artist Development, Blog
A white woman in a black t-shirt holds a white coffee flask
Kerrie Marsh reflects upon taking part in the Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme.

It’s funny how quickly you can adapt to routine, especially when it’s one that aids you. Waking up to a new week, but realising, “why am I alone in yoga this morning?”

Because I’m at home, in my front room. Awakening my body, mind and soul on my own and not with the amazing bunch of people I have done during those three weeks.

Middle Child’s Recover, Restart and Reimagine residency is over and, after a reflective weekend, I knew I’d pine for it as a new week dawned.

In a few reflective words I shared on the last day, “it’s been like a spa retreat for creatives”. One I would have happily paid for too, never mind be financially supported to take part in.

It was too hard to put into words as the programme came to an end just how important, special and inspirational the three weeks have been for me and I know I’m singing from the same hymn sheet as the rest of the group.

The love in that space was unquestionable. It was emotional and I can’t cope with emotions. If you tell me a movie you watched was sad and you cried, then I ain’t watching that movie!

I’m much more comfortable saying “was alright that, yeah”, rather than speaking from the heart and crying a river into the room. Peeps would have needed floats for real.

Though in saying this, I did share a tear or two hundred as others reflected, sharing their words with the group and trust when I say, it was most certainly a safe space to do so.

It’s still hard to put into words just how epic this experience was. I have never been part of anything like this before and I have never known of any other companies offering anything like it.

A place where artists can share, be vulnerable, be supported, offered guidance and provided with the space and expertise to allow themselves to exist, be heard and seen without any pressure of an end result other than personal gain.

It feels dramatic to say, but it felt ground-breaking as I looked back over it. I honestly have not stopped feeling inspired.

I hear echoes of the words people have said from my awesome group members to the workshop leaders or the Middle Child team. I smile and I’m prompted to jot a note down into my writing pad, a Middle Child one they provided us… for free. Who doesn’t love merch, right?

I have a growing list of inspo from as simple as changing my bio, writing a manifesto to taking over the world in an attempt to save humankind and nature, implementing green-only policies and making humour the only source of entertainment. Laugh or leave! Book now with Elon Musk.

A white woman in black t-shirt and red shorts sits in a chair by a white wall, next to a man in a black jumper.

So, although I’m still finding it hard to put into short, definite words, and sum up such an experience I am full of all the feels.

This residency will stay with me for a long time and the gratitude I hold for being blessed to be a part of it, is still overwhelming.

Massive thank you to Middle Child, the magical members of such an inspiring group to be around and to all the professionals who shared their wisdom with us.

This has been an experience like no other and one I would champion other companies to do, please.

Please do it!

Invest in your local artist, your freelancers, your creatives. You will undoubtedly make an important and extremely valuable impact upon them. That I can reassure you of, I promise.

I may never be able to say that the Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme by Middle Child was…

[Fill in Black]

Though, believe me when I say, I’ll be going away from this with such a positive mindset and I do feel truly blessed.

I’ll also be going away with a free tee, tote bag, keep cup and yoga mat.

As I said, who doesn’t like free merch eh?

Photos by Anete Sooda

In the foreground Black hands holds a notebook. In the background a white woman sits, looking at a notebook.

Learn how to write a play from scratch – with Tom Wells

By | Artist Development
In the foreground Black hands holds a notebook. In the background a white woman sits, looking at a notebook.

The Middle Child Writers’ Group, led by Tom Wells, is back in October!

Burning to tell a story on stage, or just curious to see if you can write a play? Then our free introduction to playwriting course could be for you.

Led by associate artist and Hull-based playwright, Tom Wells, the six week-long programme will take you through a series of workshops, to help you find your voice and set you off writing your first script.

And you don’t need to have written anything before.

You just need to have a few good stories to tell – funny stories, sad stories, tough stories, tender stories – stories we’re eager to see on Hull stages.

The workshops will run weekly on an evening from Wednesday 6 October.

Applications are now open and close at 9am on Wednesday 15 September.

See the Writers’ Group page for more information about the programme and how to apply.

A white man and white woman sit on a floor discussing a playscript

What’s the cost of value?

By | Artist Development, Blog

By Joe Hakim

Beginning June 2021, Middle Child facilitated a three-week programme entitled Recover, Restart, and Reimagine. Partly inspired by their Concrete Retreat writer residency, Recover, Restart, and Reimagine was a period of masterclasses, workshops, and self-development. But what separated this programme from your usual artistic residency/development opportunity was its acknowledgement of the effect that the previous year has had on everyone trying to eke out a living in the creative sectors, not only freelance creatives, but as human beings.

One of the main driving forces behind the inception of Recover, Restart, and Reimagine was the Imagine the Future conference that Middle Child organised back in March. Taking place almost exactly a year on from the first period of lockdown in 2020, I don’t mind admitting that I was initially sheepish about attending it.

For me, ‘Imagining the Future’ meant thinking ahead for the next few weeks or months and wondering what I’d be doing for work. However, I put my misgivings to one side and what I found was a room full of grouchy, angry and confused creatives, from many different areas/fields, all ranting and moaning about pretty much the same issues I was grappling with. And it was exactly what I needed. It was exactly what everyone who attended needed. After over a year of isolation, inactivity and watching projects, opportunities – and in some cases, careers – go down the plughole, the chance to spend time in a space, even if it was virtual, with other people who felt the same way was a tonic.

Imagine the Future wasn’t about networking or meeting people to get specific projects up and running. It was about venting, connecting through shared experience, and asking difficult questions, not just about the practicalities of the industries we work in, but how we work within them and more crucially how they work with us.

Recover, Restart, and Reimagine was a direct response to the issues that emerged during the conversations. I wanted to follow its progress and examine the programme as a direct response to the circumstances that we’re all currently coping with as we crawl from the wreckage towards a post-pandemic world, and I was given permission to drop into the final discussion of Recover, Restart and Reimagine to observe. I sent some prompts for discussion, but I knew that after three weeks of intense, emotional work, the key points, themes and observations would rise up like steam escaping from a New York manhole cover. And while I won’t be quoting participants directly, here are some of my thoughts.

A group of performers stand and watch somebody speak via a projector screen

Recover, Restart and Reimagine. Photo by Anete Sooda.

Recover

Ordinarily, I would have applied for an opportunity like Recover, Restart, and Reimagine, but I decided not to, on account of receiving other support from different sources. It didn’t seem right to potentially take up a place that could be used by someone who hadn’t been as fortunate as I was in that regard. But I felt invested in it as a project and I was curious as to see how it turned out.

Shortly after the Imagine the Future conference, Middle Child, along with other organisations based in Hull, such as  Hull Truck TheatreHull Jazz FestivalArtlink, the John Godber Company, the Adelphi ClubWrecking Ball PressNorthern Academy of Performing ArtsITSL and HPSS, were successful in their applications to the Cultural Recovery Fund, which were made available by the Arts Council.

Almost immediately following the news, Middle Child made a statement via their website, outlining exactly how much funding they received, and exactly how they were going to use said funds. They announced they were going to focus on working with freelancers, both in terms of activities and development and opportunities for paid work. But something that really stood out for me was their tacit commitment to focusing on physical health, mental health and well-being.

The staggering cost of the pandemic on our collective mental health has yet to be fully grasped. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from or what your circumstances are, all of us at some point – if you aren’t already – will have to wrestle with the consequences.

And let’s face it, the creative industries don’t have the best track-record when it comes to promoting and encouraging good mental health and well-being. I’m going to break it down in more detail in the last section of this piece, but the very nature of freelance work and its precariousness – whatever your chosen graft – adds up to a completely seat-of-the-pants existence, that is perpetually one or two jobs away from total extinction. And this freelance, ‘you’re-only-as-safe-as-your-next-gig’ way of life now extends far beyond your creative endeavours and into every other aspect of working life, even the jobs you’d ordinarily fall back on when the stuff you’d rather be working on doesn’t pan out.

Gig theatre. Gig economy. Gig life.

All it takes is an illness, a bereavement, the arrival of a child, an accident – y’know, life stuff that happens to everyone, all the time – and you’re out of it. No benefits, no sick pay, no paid leave. No holiday time to book in. Nowt.

Imagine carrying that worry, that anxiety around with you, all the time. That feeling in your gut, that voice in your head: “I hope such-and-such is OK, so I can get focus on the next three weeks, get some work and pay the bills.”

What am I on about? If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t have to imagine it: you’re living it.

A white woman in white vest and black leggings, and orange scarf, sat in a chair with her right arm held up

Recover, Restart and Reimagine. Photo by Anete Sooda.

Restart

When the participants were announced for Recover, Restart, and Reimagine, something I immediately noticed was the range of the circumstances and backgrounds of the participants and the different areas they work in. This meant that when I got to sit on the final session, I got the chance to find out how lockdown and Covid-19 has affected practitioners across a wide range of age and experience. One of the key issues highlighted was how these past few months has been for actors, writers, directors and producers that graduated last year.

If you’ve been doing the freelance thing for a few years, put yourself in the position of being at the beginning of your career and graduating into the wasteland that was 2020, because the next generation of talent will not only have to overcome the ‘traditional’ barriers to careers in the arts, but will have an entirely new set to break through. And when you consider that theatre as an industry is notoriously difficult to break into, those impossibly high barriers to entry have just become stratospheric.

When I was starting out, a sense of belligerence and injustice was enough to keep me going. “I’ll show you,” was my personal mantra, “I’ll prove you all wrong and make this work.”

It was sheer bloody-mindedness; a somewhat naïve belief that if I worked hard enough and kept writing, things would eventually work out. But when I was in the Recover, Restart, and Reimagine process listening to a young person talk about what they’ve been through this last year, I knew in my heart of hearts that, if I was starting out today, I’d have been crushed by the weight of it all. So what, exactly, is being done by the establishment to address this? While it’s very nice that things are ‘returning to normal’ and we can start filling buildings again, what are we going to do about the precious few pathways into the arts that are becoming even harder to find? Whose responsibility is it to address this?

Because I’ll tell you something now: if there was a lack of diverse voices in theatre and the creative industries before, that gap is only going to increase unless we start to address it now. And I’m not talking one-off opportunities; I’m talking dedicated, long-term investment and development for young artists. Genuine opportunities and pathways, with increased support for those who really need the leg up.

Actually, scratch that; dedicated support for emerging artists, no matter what their age. And while I appreciate that we’re all in survival mode – buildings, organisations, and companies as well as individual artists – unless we start to take stock of where we are and encourage these difficult conversations NOW, we’re potentially going to lose that generation of new artists. One of the criticisms around theatre and the arts is their tendency to be elitist. To be fair, over the last few years it feels like there’s been a little progress – not a lot, but some – owing to a willingness for more discussions around these subjects, but we’re in danger of an atavistic slide back, not just back to how things were before pandemic, but to a much worse time when inequality was even more pronounced than it is now.

A woman with orange hair in jeans and black vest leans to her right

Recover, Restart and Reimagine. Photo by Anete Sooda.

Reimagine

We can’t carry on like this.

It’s difficult for me to be objective when discussing the issues that have been thrown up, but there’s one thing I’m certain of, and that’s Covid-19 has had the effect of peeling back a layer, to expose the dysfunction and inequality that already existed.

As buildings, companies and organisations have begun to grind back into life, a lot of the funds that are being made available to artists and practitioners have been in the form of small, contained opportunities or commissions.

Full disclaimer: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with smaller commissions. In fact, they’re my bread and butter, and if it wasn’t for receiving three of them in quick succession at the end of last year, I dread to think how I’d have got through Christmas after losing my job. But let’s do a quick thought-experiment, shall we?

Let’s say that I want to fully focus on getting my work out there. I want to create, to make stuff, theatre, literature, music, whatever. If your average commission is between £1-2k, that means to stand a chance of a decent yearly income, you’re looking at doing about one a month per year to earn in the region of say £18k (national average wage is £31,461 as of 2021), and that includes applying for them in this time as well.

“But that’s ridiculous, Joe. Most of these opportunities come with the caveat that additional funding must be found, to get the project up and runnin.”

Okay, so let’s say I cut down my yearly commissions to half, take the pressure off, and set about getting one every two months instead. However, what we make up for in time by taking on less commissions is immediately lost to applying for six additional pots of funding, to support the other applications. And that’s before you even think about hiring on additional artists and producers help you achieve this. And because you’re taking on fewer commissions, not only do you have to find the funding for the projects, but you’ve also got to make up for the roughly £9k you’ve already lost by applying for fewer opportunities. Plus, there’s no guarantee you will receive additional funding, so if you don’t, you’ve got to produce something anyway.

And here’s the real kicker: this is how it was before the pandemic.

And now?

Good luck. You’re going to need it.

A white man and white woman sit on a floor discussing a playscript

Recover, Restart and Reimagine. Photo by Anete Sooda.

I realised something earlier this year, something about Hull specifically. Following the shut-down of our local institutions, there was an explosion in creativity and art as freelancers and practitioners quickly tried to adapt to their new circumstances. But then something occurred to me: where are all the major works of art emerging from Hull? Where are the novels, the scripts, the films, the albums? Where are the young spoken word superstars, comedians or musicians heading out on their first tours?

If you ask many organisations this question, they will often reply that, by bringing work of a national and international calibre to Hull, they expose the city to new influences, art and opportunities, which in turn benefits everyone, including Hull’s own artists and creatives, by raising standards.

Fair enough, I’m sure you’ll agree. But if that’s the case, where are the results of this creative and cultural osmosis? As I say, where are the big works that are being produced in Hull to that same standard, that have been inspired by exposure to these events and activities? That take advantage of the networks and opportunities established by their existence?

And I’m not talking about City of Culture and its legacy; personally, I’m over all of that. I’ve moved on. I’ve had to. I know many other people aren’t ready to let go, but what are we going to do, erect stocks in the city centre? I’m talking about now, here in 2021, following a global pandemic.

And this isn’t to denigrate the achievement of Hull artists who have managed to find success and recognition in their chosen field. In fact, now I’ve got your attention, let me ask you this: for everyone who has had their novel, script or performance picked up or developed, how many of you had to seek advice, resources and networks outside of Hull, in order to have your work fully realised?

Obviously, these are gigantic issues we’re grappling with, but they’re not going away.

While Recover, Restart and Reimagine didn’t seek to specifically find solutions, by inviting its participants to consider them, and to explore and share their own experiences, it ignited discussion and created a space in which the participants could be honest about where they’re at, professionally and personally, which creates an atmosphere in which people can begin to talk about these issues.

Because when you boil it down, what we’re left with is this: a completely traumatised sector of freelance creatives who are being drawn back into the rat-race of punting for work and opportunities, while dealing with everything they’ve been through this last year. All these people who have been abandoned – emotionally, financially and artistically – are now expected to jump back on the merry-go-round as though nothing’s happened.

We need time to heal. We need time to recover. We need opportunities and programmes like Recover, Restart, and Reimagine, that put our health and well-being front and centre, that seek to find another way of doing things, or at least talk about it and imagine it.

Because I’ll say it again:

We can’t carry on like this.

Joe Hakim is a freelance writer and radio producer from Hull

A white woman in brown dungarees with long dark hair gestures with her hands

Gallery and podcast: RTYDS assistant director, Belle Streeton

By | Artist Development, Podcast

Throughout the summer Middle Child have been joined by the wonderfully talented Belle Streeton, on an assistant director placement with the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS).

Her time with the company and Hull Truck Theatre picked up on an original three-month long placement that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

During Belle’s placement she spent time in rehearsals with the company of we used to be closer than this, our first live, in-person performance in over 18 months, featured in Anete Sooda’s photographs below.

You can also listen to a mini-episode of the Middle Child Make Theatre podcast, featuring Belle in conversation with guest host, Jenni Harrison, about her placement.

A Free Writing Response to ‘Misty’

By | Artist Development, Blog, Uncategorised

Each week as part of Recover, Restart and Reimagine, there is a set play text to read, which is then discussed at length in a session led by Middle Child’s Matthew May. During the second week of Restart the group had the spoken word play Misty by British playwright and actor Arinzé Kene to unpick and respond to. Michelle, one of the spoken word artists on the project, felt inspired to respond with this creative free writing response to the work.    

 

Misty by Arinzé Kene a creative response by Michelle Dee  

 It’s a play about race but it is not a black play 

cos the stuff that goes on is due to poverty 

and lack of opportunity it is not speaking 

about the black experience per se but the 

crisis in masculinity in the UK a lack of role 

models the scales tipped against success 

he says some things about gentrification 

fitting in adapting throughout the work 

Arinzé is told he should be changing his 

words how he couldn’t tell this story 

because it predicated a stereotype he 

tells it in patois in yardie speak dutty 

lingo in a ‘featre’ he paints a dangerous 

dynamic picture his world is full of characters 

who challenge his views like an argument 

on a social news feed echo chamber 

baiting the base scoring hit points on 

how society should think about race 

it is not Arinzé’s responsibility not to to 

offend there’s a great line maybe the best 

line page 56 ‘If the audience aint ready to 

be challenged maybe they shouldn’t come 

to the theatre…’ then there is a the Sixth 

Sense Fight Club return seats to the upright 

position moment and I’ve not mentioned the 

virus and blood cell ting I wonder how much 

struggle he really has had with the Rebecca’s 

and the Producers in this world to make  

this show happen: it begs the question.  

Two women walk and chat

Working Better Together

By | Artist Development, Blog, Uncategorised

Last week, the Recover, Restart and Reimagine group joined Steve O’Smotherly to learn about a useful tool for teams to more openly communicate about getting the best out of each other.

Most of us have worked with people who, despite all the will in the world, we feel we struggle to mesh with. I’ve worked with many teams, adapting to various working environments and systems, and I can pinpoint where it’s been a breeze or where I have had to exert a lot of energy to be at my peak. Interestingly, until listening in on Recover, Restart and Reimagine’s Four Season Profiling session, I had considered this to be a ‘me’ problem. Turns out that often where things don’t mesh can be related to the personalities in the room, and with reflection and communication, barriers can become significantly smaller. 

Four Seasons profiling encourages reflection on the impact we may have on the people around us. Based on traits and preferences at work, we fit into four different categories: Spring, Summer, Winter and Autumn. Each season has an opposite (Spring/Autumn and Winter/Summer) to how they naturally engage with the task at hand, with strengths and weaknesses in all. The model encourages a team to communicate their preferences and what they need from other seasons to get the best out of them. 

For me, the biggest lightbulb moment in this session was the concept that the better the day an individual is having, the more they lean into their season tendencies, which can naturally have a negative impact on their opposite seasons. Look at it like this: as a Spring, I am a ‘blue skies thinking’, big ideas person with an enthusiasm for new projects, problem-solving as we move, but this ‘go with the flow’ mentality is the foil of an Autumn. Autumns prefer a cautious approach, moving with purpose to avoid errors. They prepare, research and analyse, carefully planning every move until a project is complete. So if I’ve got a big idea, I’m moving existing projects and meetings around, raring to go THAT DAY on a shiny new passion project, so an Autumn is going to get hella frustrated with me. Equally, an empathetic people-oriented Summer, who prefers consensus and considering others to alleviate stress, is going to clash with an efficiency-focused Winter who wants quick and effective results – very ‘work now, feelings later’. 

Two women walk and chat

Our Recover, Restart and Reimagine group were made up of mostly Summers (9 people) with the remainder being Springs (4 people). With being only a small sample, this figures when we compare this to a typical organisation or groups of cultural leaders.

From the group, actor and writer Angelo Irving is a Summer. He had the opportunity to discuss various points with other Summers around strengths, weaknesses and preferences. The Summer group identified themselves as friendly, stable, laid back and authentic, being good sources of morale through comedy and understanding, although admitted that where they may negatively impact other seasons is resistance to getting stuck into a task and struggling to focus, finding themselves juggling a lot at once. Facilitator Steve encouraged the groups to communicate openly and honestly, giving prompt questions for each group of seasons to explore, something that comes naturally to Summers but other seasons may have had more difficulty with. 

The biggest take away from this session is that with good communication and clarity, polar opposites do not mean that there is chaos in a room when put together on a project. Rather, knowing your seasons and acknowledging your preferences can help start a preparation to better communicate an effective way of working with each other with understanding. And it works! In the past, I have been in a two-person team with an Autumn before, and as we had brilliant communication of what we both needed to be effective on the project, we played into our strengths with consideration of what we both needed from each other. 

If you’d like to explore the following season descriptions and think about which one you most identify with, then use the prompts at the bottom to think deeper into how we can better work with others. 

Spring – Is a preference for blue-skies ideas, creativity and spontaneity. A Spring is resilient under stress, being an adaptable ‘go with the flow’ personality. Seen as ‘fire starters’ they are enthusiastic about new projects and enjoy change, but certainly aren’t completer-finishers, causing other seasons stress by changing goal-posts and shifting focus often. With their passion, they are emotionally driven resourceful members of a team and offer much value through harnessing their wide network and skill base. 

Autumn – The opposite of a Spring, Autumns are evidence-based thinkers and act cautiously with purpose to avoid errors. Rarely taking things at face value (‘Don’t tell me you’re funny, make me laugh’-types), they prefer to establish the facts, looking for clarity and information. Autumns are perfectionists and use a thoughtful approach to work, enthusiastically research and analyse. With being detail-oriented, they can get bogged down and over-analyse, and can be very sensitive to feedback because of the energy they put into a project. 

Summer – Being the largest represented season according to Steve’s research (49% of thousands of participants across various sectors), Summers are people-oriented. They lead through consensus, promoting harmony and balanced, often talking of the collective success of a team (“We” achieved X, rather than “I”). Warm and easy-going, they have a calm approach to stress, putting others first thinking of the impact on the team, but often become stress-sponges putting other’s problems on their shoulders. A Summer can have a lack of self-belief and undervalue themselves, struggling to take positive feedback, with an approach of ‘I am just doing my job’. 

Winter – The opposite of a Summer, a Winter leads through compliance. They like efficiency and focus and are extremely hard working with a preference for action, competition, achievement and results. They have high levels of self-belief and confidence, and some may define this season as the typical ‘Alpha work culture’ stereotype. Often seen to handle stress well, they may perceive a pressured work environment as an ideal which can result in a lack of empathy for others. Their output and work ethic is exemplary but can struggle to know when to stop at the cost of their own personal needs. A Winter won’t use 25 words if 5 is enough, and with that can be impatient, seeing their way as the only way. sometimes coming across as insensitive. 

  1. What do you bring to the workplace?
  2. What do you struggle with? 
  3. How do you like to communicate? 
  4. What does someone with a different season need to do to get the best out of you? 
A woman with orange hair in jeans and black vest leans to her right

Gallery: Recover, Restart and Reimagine

By | Artist Development, News
On Friday 2 July we drew to a close Recover, Restart and Reimagine, our gently radical programme to support Hull theatre makers to emerge from lockdown – and what a time it has been.
The wonderful people you see in the photos below spent three weeks exploring and growing together, leaving feeling ready for the future.
Middle Child would like to say thank you to all of the team who made this possible: from our workshop facilitators and Jack Chamberlain for producing, to Princes Quay Shopping Centre, for providing a space so we can be safely together and The HEY Smile Foundation and Culturad Recovery Fund for funding.
And finally to the participants, Ellen Brammar, Adam Foley, Angelo Irving, Alice Beaumont, Josh Overton, Alex Parker, Kerrie Marsh, Lizi Perry, Michelle Dee, Alice Palmer, Emma Bright and Rachel Dale.
Paul Smith, artistic director, said: “The feedback has been fantastic, with many of the participants commenting on how valuable it has been to spend paid time focusing on themselves and building a new network without the pressure of output.
“We’re delighted with how Recover, Restart and Reimagine has gone and would love to find similar ways to support freelancers in the future.”
Photos by Anete Sooda.
A white woman in white vest and black leggings, and orange scarf, sat in a chair with her right arm held up

Invitation of Structure and the Stress Bucket

By | Artist Development, Blog, Uncategorised

Michelle Dee, writer and performer, is one of our participants for the Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme and she has taken some time to reflect on thoughts after the group’s first week, with a focus on recovering.

When you’ve spent the last 16 months on and off with your doorstep as your full stop, the invitation of structure is either just what you need or maybe tempting fate. The line ‘invitation of structure’ came from one of the other participants in the programme but it resonated with me, it landed in my lap like a warning.

During the three lockdowns, I quickly fell into a routine of getting up each day, eating breakfast switching on or avoiding the news depending on my mood. I moved around my flat like a robot from one space to the other, finding different ways to pass the time. I found I couldn’t bring myself to focus on reading an entire book, so read bits of poetry, articles online, the minute details of how to shield that fell through my letterbox on a regular basis.

The Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme demanded the attendance of each candidate 9am to 6pm, four days a week. That has come as quite a challenge but so far so good. I have got through the first week and not been late.

As a freelancer in the before times I didn’t have regular hours, that’s not to say I didn’t work hard, but it would be at irregular hours, forever changing and some weeks would be intense, whereas others would stretch out: empty as my bank balance.

We artists have to be able to adapt to different situations, some projects demand more from us than others, sometimes this is dependent on whatever fee we have managed to negotiate. With the Recover, Restart and Reimagine project the fee is set, the rules have been negotiated by each one of us, we all understand. I wasn’t prepared for how it would feel to be in a space, day on day with the same group, each one passionate about their work, each wondering how they can ever get back to how they expressed themselves creatively before. It has felt quite overwhelming at times and emotional. I have come to recognise how much I need this is in my life, the chance to connect with new and familiar faces, talking, laughing the ebb and flow of conversation, without a screen between us.

Another idea introduced by a participant on Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme was the idea of a Stress Bucket. They described how we all have a stress bucket and how it might contain a manageable level of stress-inducing things. With the lockdowns and Covid paralysing many of our lives, the levels of stress have increased. They talked about each of us having a background stress level before Covid, and how new stresses wouldn’t necessarily tip the balance. With Covid and all the different ways that has impacted and changed our every day the background stress levels have increased significantly so that a seemingly insignificant incident or issue can now fill the stress bucket so it overflows much more than it ever would before.

Recover, Restart and Reimagine has been designed not to add to that stress bucket but to try to understand and find new ways to counter the stress feelings, to lower the background stress levels to a manageable level. It does this in a number of ways, one of which is the introduction of Yoga sessions every morning. I have found I have had to adapt some of the moves to meet my own abilities, while some are in downward dog others are in tabletop or when warrior pose is called for I’m managing waving at seagulls.

The necessity of taking time out to breathe has never been more important or rewarding. I have been reminded once again that I have spent the last forty years breathing incorrectly, instead of filling the belly with air when breathing in, I have always pulled the stomach in creating a hollow, then releasing the breath. After these sessions, there is a wonderful sense of calm in the room, that before I might have disregarded as new age nonsense, but now I think there might just be something in it after all.

A white woman in white vest and black leggings, and orange scarf, sat in a chair with her right arm held up
Recover Restart Reimagine Artwork

Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme launches

By | Artist Development, News, Uncategorised

Today sees the start of our gently radical Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme, in which 13 Hull theatre workers will be paid to come together to think, breathe and play.

Those involved will be able to participate in organised activities and self-led time to inspire, stretch and develop creative muscles after a year of lockdown and theatre closures.

Recover, Restart and Reimagine combines masterclasses and workshops with skill-sharing and self-development and time to play, with sessions by Tabby Lamb, Nastazja Domaradzka, Tobi Kyeremateng, Mick Ord, Sagar Shah, Jon Beney and many more.

The first week will focus on recovery, wellbeing and reflection. Week two is dedicated to restarting, with opportunities to refresh skills, plan and try new things and week three is all about reimagining, with time to dream about what the future should look like – and put actions in place to make that future happen.

The programme will also form a crucial theatre worker support network in Hull as we ease out of lockdown.

The 13 participants, who were chosen by a selection panel of freelancers after applying last month, include two parents who are sharing a place around childcare.

Follow Middle Child on Twitter and Instagram for updates throughout the programme.

Recover, Restart and Reimagine is made possible by the Cultural Recovery Fund and Smile Foundation I Am Fund. Thanks also go to Princes Quay for providing us with a space for three weeks.

Alice Beaumont

Actor and theatre maker

Ellen Brammar

Writer

Emma Bright

Actor and theatre maker

Rachel Dale

Actor and writer/comedian

Michelle Dee

Writer and performer

Adam Foley

Lighting and video designer

Headshot of a smiling Black man in a yellow t-shirt
Angelo Irving

Writer, theatre maker and artist

Kerrie Marsh

Writer and performer

Freya Noman

Actor and theatre maker

Josh Overton

Theatre maker

Alice Palmer

Actor, theatre maker and facilitator

Alex Parker

Theatre maker and poet

Lizi Perry

Theatre maker

Recover Restart Reimagine Artwork

Why we’re supporting Hull theatre workers to Recover, Restart and Reimagine

By | Artist Development, Artistic Director, Blog, Uncategorised
Recover Restart Reimagine Artwork

Artwork by Joseph Cox

By Paul Smith, artistic director

This time last year I wrote about how Middle Child were going quiet for a bit so that we could make more noise in future. A lot has happened since then, with more uncertainty crammed into a 12 month period than I can remember at any other point in my 34 years. During that period Middle Child, like all of us in the arts, have had to try new things, find new ways of working and try to keep hold of our purpose as the world twists and turns. It has been, without doubt, the hardest period in our company’s 10 year history as we – a company who exist to bring people together, celebrate liveness and fight for the underdog – lost projects, lost our home and, truthfully, lost everything we knew how to do. Speaking personally, the year has taken its toll, leading to a crisis of confidence, of purpose and of “is theatre really the best way we can put something good into the world?”

But with this introspection and amidst all of this uncertainty comes a unique kind of clarity. A clarity around values. Around why we do what we do. Around the decisions we need to make. And it is these core values that have guided the way for Middle Child throughout this entire pandemic and which have led us to each and every decision we have made along the way. They were central to our decision to start a fundraiser for freelancers who had lost income, our choice to introduce flexible working to our organisation and our decision to continue employing freelancers and investing in people throughout the pandemic.

They are also the cause of areas of hesitancy, caution and nervousness. They tangle us up in knots as we try to navigate complex issues and they dominate our conscience as we try to grow as a company in a way that feels “us”. Our values are what we return to when balancing creative ambition, financial sustainability, politics, morality, health and safety, work-life balance and straight-up uncomplicated ego. They are there when we consider whether to apply for the Cultural Recovery Fund, whether to put the panto online, whether to take over this new building or that one. When all else is dark it is these values that light the way and lead us onwards. And so, in deciding what to do next and how we ‘re-emerge’ from the pandemic we must do so guided by our values. 

As a company whose guiding vision is for a fair and equitable world, where anyone’s story can be told and heard, it is clear that we simply cannot stand by and risk losing a generation of theatre workers either as a result of a pandemic or because of an industry that continues to be built to work only for a select few. And so we got to work.

On 11 March this year we hosted a day online, which we called Imagine the Future, that brought together a group of brilliant freelancers from theatre and further afield to help us consider four questions:

  1. What do you need post-pandemic?
  2. How do we better support freelancers?
  3. How can we be more inclusive as a city and a sector?
  4. What should an arts hub look like, feel like, what should happen there?

It was an incredible day, full of brilliant ideas, generosity and a conviction that things can be better. We listened, learnt and were left with an overwhelming number of great ideas for what the future could look like. We felt the weight of those conversations, and also of those that weren’t had, of those who weren’t there. We felt energised by the potential of our action and tired by the thought of its scale. We were inspired by possibility and overwhelmed by choice. We looked at the list of suggestions with optimism and then at our budget with pragmatism. A few things became clear:

  1. We can’t do everything. Not yet anyway.
  2. We can do something. 

And so, what we are announcing today isn’t the “Middle Child 20 Year Action Plan for a Better World”, it’s simply our next “something”. It’s a something based on the listening, learning and reflecting we’ve been doing over the past year, and we truly believe it will make a genuine difference and is gently radical in its own way. And then one day soon we’ll announce another something, and another something and another something

Recover, Restart and Reimagine

From both our Imagine the Future day and some of the wider reading we’ve been doing, such as from Freelancers Make Theatre Work, it’s clear that there are calls for deeper, more meaningful engagement with freelancers, a call for more equity and power to be distributed to freelancers, and a call for an investment in people, rather than projects. Our Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme is built on these three pillars and designed in response to an acknowledgment that the past 12 months have led to a loss of confidence, income and opportunity for freelancers across the sector. 

Everyone at Middle Child is determined to contribute to a sustainable reimagining of our industry following the impact of the pandemic, and our first offer to this end is a partly-curated, partly-self-led programme, which will last for three weeks, paying 12 Hull freelancers £1,500 each to come together to rebuild confidence, develop skills and take stock. 

The programme, which runs four days per week, 9am – 6pm, from 15 June to 2 July, represents a space to think, breathe and play without the pressure of coming up with an output. It is designed to inspire, stretch and develop participants in a safe space, which acknowledges what we’ve been through and the impact on our work and our practices. Everyone involved will be paid for their time and also benefit from a wide range of free workshops, masterclasses and training alongside group time, individual time and free time. To partially quote one of our Imagine the Future post-it notes, it’ll be a bit like Byker Grove meets a Rocky montage, but with a spa soundtrack.

The first week will be dedicated to recovery with a focus on wellbeing, self-care and reflection. Week two will focus on restarting with time to refresh skills, make plans and try something new. Week three will be all about reimagining, with time spent envisioning the future, dreaming about what it should look like and putting actions in place to make it happen. Alongside all of this run a number of recurring events, from group play readings and coffee mornings to skill sharings and open discussions. We’ll create our own haven fuelled by respect, curiosity and care.

Our ambition is for these three weeks to be transformative for all who take part with participants leaving feeling ready for the battles ahead but not burnt out by deadlines or pressures of output. 

We would love to hear from people who live and work in Hull and who contribute to making theatre in any way, be it through acting, directing, designing, stage managing, producing, composing or any other role you might find in a show programme. We want applications from those we know and those we don’t, from people at the very beginning of their career to those who’ve been around a while. We welcome and encourage applications from everyone regardless of their age, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, disability or nationality.

We are a PiPA (Parents and Carers in Performing Arts) partner and are always happy to discuss solutions that allow people to balance caring responsibilities with working lives, for example through sharing a place on the programme or a flexible attendance arrangement.

You can apply because you know exactly what you want from life, or because you have no idea. We’re as interested in chaos and confusion as we are in clarity and certainty. Our application process is simple and straightforward, and all we ask for is honesty and for you to be yourself. In line with ongoing efforts to decentralise power and decision making in our organisation, choices around selection for this programme will be informed by an advisory panel of freelancers. 

This programme is representative of our ongoing desire to offer practical solutions, and take action to return with renewed energy for an improved theatre industry. We believe this radical programme, which invests in people, rather than projects, represents a good first step in doing so locally and is a meaningful investment in the freelancers upon whom our work depends.

We will continue to listen, take stock and lead necessary action across other areas of our company to improve what we do, and how we do it. There is much more happening in the background that we will talk about when we can, but for now we hope this programme is an exciting offer, which is proof that we will turn words into value-led action as we build a better future together.

EN PL