How to start to establish a community theatre company based in Newport, Shropshire whilst managing the demands of being a new parent and maintaining an income?
On Monday 14th October, I met with Maggie Love at the Foundry Restaurant in Theatre Severn restaurant, after attending my first Partners for Social Enterprise meeting next door at University Centre Shrewsbury. My first blog was written after meeting Maggie in the Foundry Restaurant back in March so there was a sense of a cycle completed being there again for my final meeting with her (under the SD-UK 2019 mentoring scheme). We went over my plans for the next year which mainly consist of looking to teach LAMDA speech and drama term-time and running the Summer Drama Retreat next August. She praised me for how far she felt I had come – in my first meeting with her she said I had “absolutely no idea how to structure my thinking and now we’ve just sat with a timeline in existence and a framework until next August”. It’s not really me to not be organised or not to have a plan – I think structure is very important. However, she is correct, when I first met her I was fatigued, confused and felt lost and unsure what to do. This was not the state in which I’d started my journey of setting up the CIC in Shropshire back in 2017.
What had happened since then is I’d had plan upon plan evaporate. This blog reflects back honestly on ‘failing’ again and again in the hope it helps you and me find meaning!
My first plan had been to re-stage ‘Wulf’s Quest’ at the Potteries Museum (which had been a wonderfully successful MA project in the summer holidays of 2015) – I’d pushed myself to put together an Arts Council application in the Easter holiday while I was still teaching at Concord (heaven knows how I did it as I was also pulling together the script of a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for 44 Year 9s that holiday while looking after a ten-month old!) but I’d made silly mistakes in the application and it had been rejected, and I just didn’t have enough time to put in another application correcting the errors (as I was then kindly advised) before the project would have taken place so I put it down as a learning experience. The museum was getting refurbished also and so the opportunity to re-stage it passed.
My second plan, which was my biggie, was to get funding to create ‘The Banana Show’, a children’s comedy show, at the Hive. I spent a good six months sourcing a team, making connections, and working on my Arts Council applications, both of which got rejected. I got one in for December 17 and the next Feb 18. The second application I remember I worked through the night and didn’t sleep at all to get it in. There was a great team forming and the application was strong – but unsuccessful (the rejection letter said no suggestions for improvement, just ‘other applications preferred’ – which I am told is the best rejection you can get from ACE). I faced the music and let go of the project, accepting the timing wasn’t right (which was true really as my son needed me too much at that time anyway).
And so ‘The Banana Show’ was left squished on the sidewalk. The irony is that the proposed show has the premise that the banana fruit is frequently overlooked and undervalued (priced at a mere 18p) at it’s heart, and that he is hoping for his time in the spotlight once more..! Sadly, his project is now in the shadows of the Moonstruck Astronaut freezer (the next time you see a banana or eat one please do send him some warm fuzzy sympathy – it’s tough for him ;-)). I have no idea if all that hard work will ever pay off (not just mine but some great collaborators who of course I feel sad and embarrassed not to have not come through for – I usually do). Just to add the project was successful in a funding application to the Co-operative Community Fund (but as the funding decision didn’t come through until October 18 I couldn’t accept it – they take a long while to process applications) and the project received funding from the Split Infinitive Trust; but without the ACE grant coming through, the idea wasn’t in a position to step into the light.
While I’d been pulling together the ACE application, I was also setting up the CIC with its’ myriads of admin, registering it, progressing with the IT side, doing a mail chimp newsletter, liasing with Higher Horizons+ about the Zombie Challenge Day project and organising and teaching the weekly LAMDA group acting classes at Trinity Church. This was against a backdrop of my son only being in childcare one day a week, he started to have two days at nursery in January 18. In short, I was doing my best with the knowledge, time and awareness I had. After my efforts proved ‘fruitless’ (enjoying the puns!), I was unsure where to place my energies as goes developing the theatre company and, understandably, deflated and lacked energy. There were things to take from that experience, like not rushing developing a project – making sure there is far more time allocated for research and development, and the harsh truth that it’s just not healthy needing funding from any external organisation to come through to give you a salary. I had to look elsewhere to find financial stability, hence the search for the ideal part-time job to work alongside the CIC, which can come into play more easily when my son starts school next September.
Whilst Moonstruck Astronaut has had some lovely successes over the past two years, with ‘Harry and Dolly’ at the Dorothy Clive Garden being an absolute blinder of a success, and the LAMDA students achieving distinctions in their first year, I have still experienced a hefty dosage of failure, rejection and have made plenty of mistakes. The sign ‘The Man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything’ speaks volumes (apologies, I don’t know how to make it ‘fit’ the box shape at the top of the post – a timely shortfall though!- it’s a poster I picked up from Blists Hill Victorian Museum in Ironbridge). For me, learning comes from doing, from experience – having a go is true learning. I feel these first two years have been messy, but I’ve got up again and I haven’t given up, despite some horrible lows. As Maya Angelou has said, ‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated’. She then goes on to say: ‘In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.’ Yes, it appears the greater learning for me over the past two years is in defeat and my plans not working out, and opening up to other ways of moving forward. There is a much bigger picture to my journey I am sure, and I seek to align with the flow rather than resist it. I am adapting and doing my best to learn and take wise action to find a stable work-life balance, one that has space for developing the CIC.
By the way, I find ‘failing’ as painful, embarrassing and tough as the next person, especially when others are watching. Yes you do develop more resilience with every learning experience, and it is far easier to get up again when you have a wider, wiser perspective, but I don’t think I’ll ever be immune to ‘failure’ – it will always sting and bring out my ‘what’s the point?’, dejected moments. Still, when the dust has settled, and I find calm, the deepest truth for me is I’d rather look like a fool for love and take brave risks than stay ‘safe’ inside a comfort zone (that often proves illusory anyway) to avoid further pain. What keeps me going is the privilege of seeing my beloved mum die when I was 18. Odd you may say, but so much falls away when you see death. The other thing is my mum died aged 50 with unfinished dreams inside her and the starkness of this must spur me on. A few days after she died, I found a notelet she had written saying ‘when I am a head, I will..’ (can’t remember what it was, something about being considerate!). She was touching on deputy head roles when the demise of cancer rudely interrupted. She had great potential and would have shone as a primary school head. I feel the least I can do for all she did for me is get out there and act on my dreams.
What really matters to you? What really matters to me is that by the time I die, I know I did my best to live a life true to my soul, where I fulfilled my greatest potential, and, in doing so, I helped many others. I have stumbled many times, I’ve looked a fool many times but I can look back and know I was always striving to do my best for myself and others. I love Shaina Noll’s lyrics towards the end of her song, ‘Everything Possible’ on her album ‘Songs for the Inner Child’:
‘the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.’
Please listen to the actual song if you can, it’s beautiful. These nineteen words are what matter most to me. I have a vision of touching many people with Moonstruck Astronaut’s work. To me, this vision, this ‘inner knowing’ you could call it, this ‘dream’, is worth staying on the pitch for, in the ‘arena’ that Roosevelt talks of, trying again, failing again, trying again, failing again, succeeding again, basically getting up again and again and again, in the hope that the full scope of that vision can be realised before I too die.
Thank you very much to all who’ve read any of my blogs so far. I hope this one helps you put your life and bravery into perspective, reminding you to congratulate yourself for all the ‘failure’ you’ve encountered so far on your own journey! I’ll leave you with this simple poem. Keep your head up and remember to look back to see how far you’ve travelled up your own particular ‘mountain’.