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’.
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?
Well I’ve been meaning to write this for almost a month,
after meeting Mike on the 15th May – the Wednesday of Mental Health
Week. Deliberately chosen as I wanted to
touch on my challenges with mental health, honouring my soul’s calling to be
open about such things. I recently came
across this quote again (I love quotes you may start noticing!): ‘To be
yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the
greatest accomplishment’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Hmm. The advice out there can be confusing can’t it. I am regularly
needing to go within to find my way, and ask for divine help with releasing
that which is not truly mine.
I have A LOT on at the moment so actually prioritising this has been tough. Organising my family’s washing for the millionth time today, I said to myself there is more to me than washing. And I’ve left it, and the other ‘to do’s’ that are crying out to me. Order in my son’s sandals, reply to emails, apply to that job. I’ve put 44 mins on the timer and I’m writing.
So I have just had a horrid winter where behind the scenes I fell into a cycle of anxiety and insomnia which led to burn out by the end of March – triggered by financial uncertainty bringing up ancient wounds of questioning why am I different? Leading into dark feelings around myself and voices of judgement. When you are afraid over one fundamental thing it clouds the rest of your life. I get Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs more now. For me, going under £500 in my bank account and not knowing where the next bit of money was to come in from triggered my inner child feeling petrified in a way that meant I woke up at night – frequently. It lasted from January until April. On Monday 1st April, my son burnt his arm on a cup of camomile tea I had, owing to mind fog caused by the ongoing depletion on my general health, accidentally left on the sofa rather than the side table. I had already been to see the doctor the week before but this signified the climax of my hell, and also the start of the end. From May, I have a temporary loan of £500 a month from my father which has helped me regain my balance and strength so I can get out and find long-term solutions to this jigsaw puzzle.
There are multiple layers to my journey – probably too complex to go into, and I’m still very much learning. All I can say is it takes huge guts to fully step into your soul’s purpose and look to break free of limiting conditioning I have subconsciously absorbed – conditioning that surrounds money and being a woman and an artist. When I spoke to Mike about mental health and artists, he says it is a common challenge. On the baseline trying to fit into the world and finding it difficult has an effect on your mental health, as you just feel like an outsider. He told me about the artist Bobby Baker who has had bouts in and out of care, who was driven around London shouting to passers by from the back of a van “Pull yourselves together”. Also about Ashokkumar Mistry writing ‘If you don’t belong anywhere you belong everywhere’ on his experiences of not fitting into society’s ‘boxes’ which resonated with me as I am similar.
I’ve also put this off as it’s hard to find the words, to know quite what to say, and share a part of you that you feel ashamed of. But then I met a mother last Saturday who shared that her daughter, just graduated with a dance degree, was feeling suicidal this winter, owing to similar challenges to my own, and, by sharing my pain, I feel I can help her and hopefully others. I had a rough twenties too trying to figure it out. I’m nearly 39 – and this recent bout of mental illness has residues of my struggles in my twenties. I feel for artists, and any who are ‘different’. I am feeling good now, but aware I need to take action to stabilize and prepare for next winter. I am having a smoothie of celery, ginger, apple and banana in the morn, doing stretches more (strengthening my core), attending yoga weekly (don’t give up your weekly yoga practise just when you need it the most!), using the IAPT Silver Cloud online wellbeing platform (you can self-refer as long as you registered with a GP). I’ll also start taking Vitamin D (25mg) from November. I’m keeping up my floradix twice daily (my blood tests did show I had low iron and vitamin D in March). Just sharing in case the practical information helps you.
But really I’m generally fine in Spring, Summer and Autumn. It’s in Winter that the ‘wrong mind’ can take over. I love the Buddhist parable of the cold birds, basically the message is to do the work in the day while the sun is shining so you aren’t freezing cold at night when it comes around again. The birds in the parable don’t take action and remain stuck in their cyclical suffering. That’s why I’m writing this blog. So I don’t brush this recent bout of mental instability under the carpet and instead, face it, thinking proactively how to address it, and encourage others who are challenged like me to do the same. To set up their ‘nest’ in time for next winter. I’ve set up a compulsory cuddle with my husband every day! One time he said to me “Hannah there is nothing to forgive as you are ill.” I’d said sorry many times for asking to go rest yet again and him to look after our son. The feelings of guilt are horrid when you are struggling with mental health. That was a moment when I knew I had been seen truthfully. Unfortunately, within my mind I judge harshly – it can become vicious, modelling the lack of understanding or empathy I have experienced in the outside world. Anyone who knows me I hope sees that I am a fundamentally good person, and I am walking this path out of love.
The timer’s just gone.
I’d like to end on two points: if you are afraid, don’t push it away. Feel the fear. Honour the fear. I am now quicker to just stop and accept I am afraid and send love to the petrified inner child / ego – I’ve started to imagine really giving her attention, she often shuns me, but if I steadily give her attention she’ll let me in and just hold her in my imagination, giving her the unconditional love and acceptance she desperately craves just as she is, in that moment, in all her complexity. All of us need our own love. Resist the judgments we feel others place on us; they are often mirrors of our own inner critic hidden in our subconscious. The truth is you have always been doing your best and always deserve love and acceptance and, actually, your own praise and admiration through thick and thin.
My last point is another quote, this time from Dr. Dain Heer: ‘What if your difference is your gift to the world?’ He said it in a you tube clip I watched last January. It encourages me to keep going in accepting and fully being ALL of me out there in the world. Find the space to ask yourself the same question. It feels good to strive to answer that question. It feels freeing.
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?
To answer or at least beat about the bush around this mammoth
question (!) and ideally help me continue to take action, Stage Directors UK
have provided funding for me to be mentored this year. I have luckily found not one but two mentors
who feel right. Both working in the arts in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. They are
Maggie Love, the Artistic Director of Shrewsbury Youth Theatre and Mike Layward,
Artistic Director of DASH (Disability Arts in Shropshire).
As part of the remit of the SD-UK funding, I am to record my
learning and engage in regular self-reflection ‘of whatever kind is going to be
most helpful to me’. I felt starting to
write a blog would be the best way of diarising my thoughts, and making them
accessible and visible to those who can help the theatre company grow and also
be helped by its’ growth.
I’ve made up a rule that I’m to blog after I meet with either
mentor – if I’ve not got much time, I’ll still get something up!
So I had my first meeting with Mike Layward last Thursday. I opened up and shared a lot about me. He’s a great guy who I feel I can be open with and not be judged, in any way really, just held and listened to compassionately – that’s a superior skill not many have in my experience.
It’s been coming to a head that I’d sort of forgotten I’m slightly dyspraxic. I was diagnosed late – when I was 30, studying for my drama teaching PGCE at Goldsmiths. And this part of me has been ‘playing up’ ever since I left Concord College in 2017 to pursue the dream of setting up the theatre company and being a fully present mum. It’s been a bit of a mystery maze and, as I’m so out of my comfort zone, in pretty much all areas of my life (and my energy has been seriously zapped by all this change), I’ve felt overwhelmed regularly and my dyspraxia has played up. I sort of zone out and my brain melts and I feel panicked when my system overloads with too much new stuff. As you can imagine, I’ve not really known what to do with having being diagnosed slightly dyspraxic and I really had just forgotten about it completely and got on with being a drama teacher just accepting I have to work hard behind the scenes. I hadn’t told any of my schools I worked for I was slightly dyspraxic. And I’ve survived this long without needing any help with it.
However, now, with feeling on a mission to birth this theatre company and hopefully help many, I need to admit I really do need help first! I am too much at sea with the dyspraxia side of me playing up much more often. Boy I’d be relieved if I didn’t feel so isolated with this mission and found people who compliment my skill set who can equally see how awesome this theatre company will be for Newport and its’ neighbours.
I never set out to be a one man/woman band. I’ve always felt the right people would appear at the right time. In allignment with this quote: ‘A woman who walks in purpose doesn’t have to chase people or opportunities. Her light causes people and opportunities to pursue her.’ (Dr. Farrah Gray) . I still have to walk though. And get better at meditation so I’m ‘in purpose’ every day! Last year my original plans fell apart (get an arts council grant!) and I’m in that vacuum post plans and really just needing to accept more time is needed. And to take a much wider view. I feel the right people will emerge if we do a project together but I’m not yet in a position to do a full-blown project… and I’m also still balancing my son’s delicate needs. He’s nearly 3, and there’s no way I want to let him down by disappearing into theatre director / project management distant mum just yet. I did leave Concord partly to be there for him at this crucial early time in his life, and I hoped my quest with the theatre company would entwine nicely with my quest to be a great mum.
And then there’s the maintaining an income bit which I’ve so not yet resolved, although I’ve managed til now (with a huge slice of support from the ‘universe’ around me shall we say). Hunches are coming up as to the next stage of rolling out the green financial carpet beneath and I will take action. It’s very much an intuitive journey.
Which leads me to saying at the heart of all this brave transitioning I’m doing lies my spiritual side I’ve been developing for a long, long time. I now believe in Angels, Fairies, Unicorns, Dragons, the Universe, Source energy, my sixth sense. You name it. I’m very open and curious about the invisible; however, I stay much on the side of the light and what I deem to be a good influence. And I’m totally aware I need to be grounded too which I can struggle with. I hugely believe in nature. Connecting with trees is becoming paramount to my health. And the words: surrender, trust (ok, this one p**s me off at times as it’s tough when you can’t see land yet) and hope.
So, back to what I learnt from Mike, he’s shared with me practical advice that I can get free ‘access support’ with my next Arts Council application (my last three attempts failed) and it may be worth my while looking into the new ACE ‘developing your creative practice’ fund. Something about ‘Access to Work’ being a government initiative that can support someone like myself. Loads of people he thought of who sound interesting (but yes I got wholly overloaded by email links after and can’t take on board at the mo!). Oh yes the neurodivergent movement which sounds very cutting edge and, although I’ve heard the term bandied about, in actuality I know nothing about… I sense I am neurodivergent but then. wouldn’t we all be? Perhaps some are simply more ‘off the beaten path’ than others?!
I did share with him a dream is to co-create a spectacular community event like the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony in Chetwynd Deer Park one day. “Nothing big then” he said. Yup. I’m aware that’s years away. For today I’m learning how to write a blog, and I sincerely hope I haven’t bored you – I’m learning you see. Think perhaps I’ve written too much… but I’ve started 😊
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?
Such a big question, it’s where I’m at starting 2019. I see it as walking an invisible tightrope to the moon most others don’t really see or ‘get’. An invisible path. On the surface, I am just another mother with a toddler having a tantrum I don’t know how to calm, except wait. And witness. And offer. And hope he stops soon as my inner child can’t take it for over 5 minutes. Deep breaths.
deep breaths with swimming through this time of my life. I am changing
identity. Every level of my life is changing. I am no longer in a
well-paid salaried job at the pinacle of my drama teaching career. I have
become a mother. An entrepreuner, a spiritual one. A splurgy person no longer
treading the conventional line, but walking the invisible line at the edge.
Brave oh so brave. As well as scared, excited, vulnerable, content,
grateful, free, terrified all rolled into one.
A stray cat, a unicorn, a foolish dreamer. Who knows. I am listening to the call though. Having seen my mother die, I go deeper than most. The gift is to know I’d far rather swim in this mess than regret my choices on my deathbed. The visceral truth of knowing how the end will look, my last breath mirrored in my dear mother’s, gives me sterling unbending courage underneath it all. This dream of a theatre company that unites thousands has been inside me for over 10 years since the words ‘Moonstruck Astronaut’ landed with definition walking home alone in London looking up at the moon. There was no going back. There is still no going back.
already leapt, I’m 2 years into this muddy messy heroic strange path. How
to move forward? What to do next?
to keep my head above water in terms of maintaining an income of sorts
Need to be there for my son or else why did I jump?
Need to do the washing and the food shopping.
Need to make contacts, get to know the theatre landscape.
Need to eat that frog and do an actual business plan.
is this CIC going to make money?
it matter? First just dream of uniting many people.
And be a mum.
Oh it’s a splurge.
brain just goes dead. Murky. Still breastfeeding you see. Yes
he’s nearly 3. Blurry boundaries everywhere. I look at the River Severn
from the Theatre Severn. It just keeps flowing. Let go like the
water. Just let go with the mind.
are meant to be walking this path.
all there is to know.
feels right. I’m pleased Stage Directors-UK gave me the opportunity to
parcel my dilemma in a question that sums it all up. And I don’t how to
answer. The universe does. It wants to make this easier than I’m
Let go. Enjoy.
alive and this path is entirely possible – you’re already walking it – you’ve
managed so far.
go and Rest.
Give yourself permission to rest, fried brain.
written 13/03/19 – after meeting Maggie Love, Artistic Director of Shrewsbury Youth Theatre for the first time in the Foundry restaurant, Theatre Severn – Maggie is to be one of my mentors funded by the Stage Directors – UK Mentoring Scheme 2019.