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Artist Development

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.

An actor sits on the floor holding a mic. Text says "Recover Restart Reimagine"

Recover, Restart and Reimagine in 2021

By | Artist Development, News, Uncategorised
An actor sits on the floor holding a mic. Text says

The start of this week saw restrictions on the toughest lockdown yet ease for the first time in months, coinciding with a spell of unseasonal warm weather. For the first time in a long time, it feels like we’re heading towards something that might look like life after the pandemic. Touch wood.

As a theatre company that has been working from home for the past year and exclusively online, we could come out of one of the most challenging years of our lives full tilt. However, from speaking with many of the freelancers who are part of the extended Middle Child family, such as at our recent Imagine the Future discussion, it’s clear that not everybody has the energy just yet.

People have varying degrees of confidence about the months ahead: some people are chomping at the bit, while others may have reservations. Let’s not forget that the pandemic isn’t actually over yet. For others, spending a year or more within the same few walls has worn away at mental health and the ability to be creative. There’s a lot of mental and physical muscle memory to start flexing again and it’s going to take time.

So what are Middle Child going to do about it?

On Tuesday we learned that we’ve received £76,065 from the second round of the Cultural Recovery Fund. It’s a huge sum of money and we take seriously our responsibility to use it to benefit our wider theatre community – both artists and audiences – here in Hull, an already deprived city that has been especially badly hit by the pandemic.

Given all of the above, it’s clear that many theatre makers in Hull need the time, money and resource to Recover, Restart and Reimagine. So that’s what we’re going to do over the coming months, with a bespoke programme of work aimed at supporting our workforce and local freelancers to re-adjust at their own speed, in a way that is safe and sustainable.

That includes putting money into freelancers’ pockets to attend and benefit from workshops, residencies and sharings, as part of our largest ever artist development programme. There is also a programme of work that will see us return to the stage in 2021, which will employ theatre makers as well as once again provide audiences with unforgettable live experiences.

Furthermore we are excited to be able to return to Hull city centre with a new pop-up arts space in the summer, following the closure of our creative hub, Darley’s, last year, while we continue to locate a permanent home in the longer term.

We’re not quite ready to share all the details just yet – we’ll make a proper splash about all of that soon enough. However we are certain that this approach will have a huge impact on the long-term future of Hull, sharing skills and resources to build resilience and confidence in both our workforce and freelancers, acknowledging that we simply cannot be sustainable without you.

It’s an unprecedented situation and we’ll do our best to get this right and respond to any changes around us, putting people’s health and wellbeing first. We are committed to being open about our plans and acknowledging our shortcomings as well as shouting about our successes. Our door is always open and we welcome thoughts on how Recover, Restart and Reimagine, as well as our wider work, can better help people in Hull.

We also remain aware of the challenges our industry continues to face and wish to express solidarity with those organisations who did not receive funding this week. We will do all we can to share resources and support both individuals and organisations in the continued fight for survival. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to talk further.

The life after the pandemic that we mentioned at the top cannot look like the life many people lived before. We remain a company committed to creating greater equity in who makes and enjoys theatre and will use this investment to continue to work towards a more inclusive and representative industry.

We are also delighted to hear that our local partners Hull Truck Theatre, Hull Jazz Festival, Artlink, the John Godber Company, the Adelphi Club, Wrecking Ball Press, Northern Academy of Performing Arts, ITSL and HPSS were also successful in their applications to the Cultural Recovery Fund.

We look forward to sharing full details of what we have planned in the coming weeks.

With love and solidarity,

Middle Child x

Four performers on stage, posed as a band, singing into microphones, bathed in pink-red light

Cutting BTECs will hold back working class theatre makers

By | Artist Development, Blog

In January the press reported that the Department for Education was considering proposals to cut performing arts BTECs from the curriculum. These qualifications were critical stepping stones into the arts for both our artistic director, Paul Smith, and general and production manager, Emily Anderton. Here, Emily writes about her experience of BTECs and why they are so important to working class theatre makers.

  • Listen to an audio version of this post, right, read by Sophie Clay.

My education

Growing up in Hull, I was one of eight children and lived with my mum and stepdad in a council house. Safe to say I come from a working class background and I didn’t have savings in the bank to go to drama school, not that I was keen on being out of my comfort zone and leaving the city. My journey into the arts, then, was different to many.

I went to a local mainstream school and school was school until year 10, when you chose your options. Not really knowing what to do, but also not really wanting to get bogged down in more desk-based learning, I chose the only other options that were available: GCSE PE, art and drama. I hated exercise and was more interested in the lights in the rig than performing in my drama class, but I looked forward to my art lessons.

My art teacher designed and painted the sets for the school productions under the watchful eye of the drama department. That was something I got involved in quite quickly, painting the sets and stage crewing for the BTEC drama exams and Rock Challenge. It soon became an extracurricular activity, doing it most evenings and weekends.

When my secondary school became Northern Premier winners of Rock Challenge, we raised the money to perform in Australia. Rock was a performing arts competition that started in Sydney in 1980, in which schools and colleges brought an eight minute long devised dance piece to the competition and were eligible for a number of awards. Australia felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity and that’s where my passion for the arts began. Those of you who know me will know that I’m not the type of person to conga around the arena on finals day, but the buzz from the whole experience made me want to forge a career in the arts. Behind the scenes, obviously.

Careers days at school always followed a formula. You would go on an away day to Hull College, where girls would be put in childcare or hairdressing demonstrations and boys in mechanics and engineering. You were programmed into thinking these were the only options available. When it came to enrolling in college, I did what most people did at school and signed up for a childcare course.

But during the holidays, abroad with family and away from my friends, I had a realisation: I didn’t need to follow the crowd, but look for something I actually wanted to do instead. So I went through clearing onto the BTEC Stage Management and Technical Theatre Course at Hull College, a course that wasn’t offered to me at school or even openly advertised.

Three performers dance with hands in the air on stage, in the round. A female bassist is silhouetted in the foreground.

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything in the Paines Plough Roundabout, 2017. Lighting design by Emily Anderton.

My career

I had to fight my way into the theatre industry via the only pathways that were available to me at the time. After the BTEC I continued at Hull College with a BA Hons Degree in Stage Management and Technical Theatre, graduating in 2012.

Whilst studying I worked freelance for various production companies in and around Hull and, in August 2012, I was appointed the role of technician at Hull Truck Theatre. Whilst in post I continued to work freelance as a production assistant and lighting designer.

Whilst working at Hull Truck I had my first child and, due to the demands of the role and parenthood, I decided to move on, as the late nights and weekends didn’t work well with family life. In 2018 I joined Middle Child on their journey of becoming an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and became general and production manager.

Aside from the touring aspects of my career, I managed to graduate and remain in Hull. This is quite unusual in the arts, as people often migrate to London to start their career, because that is where most opportunities are perceived to be.

My question to the Department for Education is, if BTEC courses cease to exist in the arts and you are unable or simply don’t want to take an A Level, where do you begin in the arts industry?

How do you get the credentials to get into university? Consider an academic subject at A level you didn’t want to do at GCSE level, drop out halfway through because it isn’t what you actually want to do now you have a choice and not secure a place at university?

I strongly believe that the uptake on such BTEC courses in the arts isn’t as popular as others due to the lack of knowledge they exist, but none the less they are still a pathway for many.

When secondaries in Hull became academies, subjects such as music, art and drama were among the subjects cut in both time and budget commitments, with schools seeing them as less favourable. In 2018, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman even said academic subjects were the best route to higher-level study, particularly for working-class children. The result cuts access to the arts at one of its earliest and most accessible sources.

Performing arts isn’t just for the qualification; it is about expression and personality of the individual, whether it be performing, painting or writing, it is so much more than just learning the syllabus and putting pen to paper.

Four performers on stage, posed as a band, singing into microphones, bathed in pink-red light

Weekend Rockstars, 2016. Lighting design by Emily Anderton.

Plans to scrap performing arts BTECs

Recent media coverage has suggested that the Department for Education is planning to “reform” qualifications for 16–19-year-olds. The alternative options would-be A Levels, T Levels and apprenticeships. Other qualifications at level three and below, such as BTECs, will only be funded if they are high quality, are necessary, have a clear purpose, and lead to good outcomes”.

A BTEC is an alternative qualification to an A Level, based around practical rather than academic study, with course work taking the place of exams. BTECs can be done alongside other GCSEs and A Levels in school and college. Some schools offer BTECs depending on their values in relation to the subject and capacity, as the courses usually require attending college. Similar to an apprenticeship, a BTEC is a great way to do work-based learning, but a better option for theatre, as there are fewer apprenticeships available in Hull.

On the stage management BTEC I took, modules were studied and then applied in live productions. We learnt all the roles associated with making a production and what they did, we set up production teams, took on those roles, teamed up with other courses and made shows. Everything was learnt by applying the skills practically and being able to make mistakes without being failed by a teacher. The course work was paperwork that needed to be completed as part of the role; for example a deputy stage manager would submit their prompt script.

Working in the arts you are always learning on the job and there is always something around the corner that you haven’t dealt with before, so a BTEC is a good place to start. I imagine that the A Level equivalent would be very history based and not as interesting to the practical mind.

People who work in the arts will know that you don’t need qualifications to be good at what you do, but it certainly helps with your CV, in the early days, whilst you build your portfolio. Some employers are also still setting quite ambitious requirements in their job advertisements, which require higher education.

What should Middle Child do?

In the long term we have identified, along with other organisations, the lack of technical and production graduates based in Hull. Most creatives and freelancers are brought from London to work with local companies on a show-by-show basis.

Middle Child offer a programme of freelance training opportunities, taking unnecessary higher education qualifications out of essential job requirements. We have a great artist development programme, and are currently looking into how we can incorporate production and technical opportunities into this.

We are under no illusions that the skills do actually exist in the city, but performing arts graduates tend to move on and people in other fields don’t know their skills are transferable into the arts. Maybe arts employers could help by considering where they advertise and make their job advertisements clear that desired skills could be a conversation point. From personal experience Middle Child know that you don’t have to have five years’ experience to be able to do a good job.

The plan to scrap BTEC courses would mean that arts-based courses, like the one I took, would no longer be available, putting a roadblock in the way for anyone from a less academic or working class background to gain arts qualification for their CV.

What else can Middle Child – and the wider theatre industry – do to protect BTEC qualifications and similar routes into the arts for young working class people?

A night-time light show projected on the Ferens Gallery in Hull, with blue text that says 'We Are Hull'

We’re hosting the City Arts Forum in February

By | Artist Development, Events, News
Join Hull City Council’s Arts Development Team for their next online City Arts Forum, hosted by Middle Child.

We’re hosting the next City Arts Forum on Thursday 4 February (2-4pm) and would love for artists in Hull to join us, with all of our core team in attendance.

Paul Holloway, arts and culture manager at Hull City Council, will chair the meeting, which is an opportunity for artists, arts organisations, and anyone interested in the arts in Hull, to share work, thoughts, ideas and updates.

It’s also an opportunity to ask any questions you may have, to the council and wider artistic community

Registration is free but you must book in advance via Eventbrite. A link to join the discussion will then be sent out 24 hours before the event.

If you would like to discuss an issue, please send your agenda items to cityartsenquiries@hullcc.gov.uk by Monday 1 February.

Pattie Breadcake and four animated panto characters are sucked into a vortex, against a pink background. Text: "Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse"

Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse, a panto-inspired animated Christmas show

By | Artist Development, Panto, Shows
Pattie Breadcake and four animated panto characters are sucked into a vortex, against a pink background. Text:

This year’s long-awaited Middle Child Christmas show has finally been revealed – and for the first time ever it will be animated and free to watch from the comfort of your own home.

Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse sees our favourite dame, Pattie Breadcake, magicked into an animated version of Hull, where she must help four panto princesses retell their stories for a modern audience.

To add to the excitement, a radio version will also be broadcast on BBC Radio Humberside across four mini episodes before Christmas, making it accessible to those without internet access.

With coronavirus restrictions closing theatres in Hull throughout December, this will be the first year Middle Child haven’t performed a panto in-person since we started the tradition at Fruit in 2011, before moving to Jubilee Central in 2018.

We couldn’t not offer families some Christmas cheer this year though, so have teamed up with local animators My Pockets to bring the spirit of panto to life online. 

  • Read more about the decision behind this year’s panto in Paul Smith’s blog post

We’ve also assembled a team of four incredible writers to work alongside Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, on the scripts that combine to tell the tale of Pattie’s adventure into the Pantoverse.

Cinderella by Deborah Acheampong

Deborah Acheampong is one of our nine new associate writers and her version of Cinderella is her first ever commission. 

Deborah said: “It’s honestly been amazing working with Middle Child for their Christmas panto, it’s felt like such a whirlwind.

“I didn’t think that, after sending them a script of mine in the summer, I could end up working on something so fun and whimsical for such a wide audience.” 

Maid Marian by Hannah Scorer

Emerging Hull writer Hannah Scorer, who took part in our Writers’ Group in 2019 and scratch night with Silent Uproar this year, has written Maid Marian for her debut commission.

Hannah said: “I’m a long-time Middle Child panto fan and took my daughter for the first time last year, where we started what will become a new Christmas tradition for us. 

“Before doing the writers’ group with Tom Wells I couldn’t have imagined I’d ever get a commission, so it’s been such a privilege to make something joyful in this weird year. 

“I expect to be completely overwhelmed when I watch it with my kid.”

Sleeping Beauty by Ellen Brammar

Company member Ellen Brammar, who wrote I Hate Alone in 2017 and is currently on the BBC Writers’ Room Northern Voices programme, has written Sleeping Beauty’s tale.

Ellen said: “Panto brings me joy. Full on, pie in the face, wee my pants, joy. So being asked to write for Middle Child’s panto was a Christmas wish come true. 

“I can’t wait to snuggle in with my family and enjoy the mayhem.”

Evil Queen by Maureen Lennon

Finally Hull writer and associate artist Maureen Lennon, who wrote our karaoke cabaret Us Against Whatever last year, has reimagined the story of the Evil Queen from Snow White. 

Maureen said: “I hope people get as much joy from watching it as I have from writing a piece. 

“Never have I felt like I needed children booing, and stupid jokes and messages of joy and hope more than this year. It’s been the absolute dream.”

Paul Smith, who wrote Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, has penned Pattie Breadcake’s introduction and closing missive, performed by company member Marc Graham. 

Paul added: “This Christmas show is extra special to us for being able to commission so many writers and continue to develop their practice, in a year that has already seen Daniel Ward win the George Devine Award for The Canary and the Crow.

Animation by My Pockets

Animator Peter Snelling, of My Pockets, said: We are thrilled to be part of Middle Child’s 2020 Christmas show. When we first moved to Hull we used to sneak into the Middle Child rehearsal space in Darley’s Youth Club when working with young people there.  

“We liked all the posters on the wall, the quotes and the books on the shelves, and thought, who are these guys? Since then we have become big fans and love the way they put theatre in places that it doesn’t normally go, to be seen by people who don’t normally watch. 

“Creativity for everyone is something we really believe in. That and lots of tea breaks.

Will our four heroes get to update their stories before an adoring audience in the (still, just) UK City of Culture this Christmas? 

Find out in Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse, available on YouTube from 19-31 December.

You can also listen to the radio version of the show across four mini-episodes on BBC Radio Humberside, from 20-24 December. 

Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse is made possible with support from the Cultural Recovery Fund.

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