I started my arts story at a time that I can't even remember, but unfortunately there are pictures! This was performing on carnival floats when I was very young. From a time that I can remember, I started with my local town's Children's Theatre; generally getting involved in performance. I was in every annual production through school up until the age of 15 I think it was, and it was whilst at middle school (years 5-8) that I got introduced to the technical side of the entertainment sector. My earliest design memories include setting up annual variety shows and making school bands look great by hiding lights within the drum kit set-up and using the polished silver edges and stands to help make a great effect!
Carrying on though, I continued my technical interested in to Youth Theatre, and then joined the local Theatre Royal's Youth Theatre where I both performed and got involved in the technical side. Having this direct connection with a professional value was integral to my development and meant I was also in a great position to work with other local theatre companies as they invariably targeted an annual highlight of performing there.
I still maintain that the 8 years I spent both performing and running tech was the best way to improve at both. Time consuming yes, but the ability to appreciate both sides of 'the wings' meant hitting my light, putting up with 'drama queen' performers and all round being able to work with the full range of a creative team.
Having the chance to do tech at youth theatre was great, and being involved in national programmes like the Shakespeare Schools Festival, Shell (NT) Connections and National Association of Youth Theatre (NAYT) events meant the chance to broaden my horizons and work in other professional venues in the region too. And then I brought in my passion and work I had started within the youth sector and political advocacy by starting to run local events that gave young people the chance to share their skills (musicians mainly) and give their views.
My next step out in to the arts world was the chance to do my Silver Arts Award with my Youth Theatre. I started it when I was 15 and finished it later that year; I focussed on Technical Theatre as my Unit 1 and created a lunch-time drama club with friends for my Unit 2.
After that came my first big chance, a professional contract when I was 16; a month long and part of quite a tight team doing a big theatre tent production of Alladin with plenty of fire and aero-acrobatics. An exciting large scale show with a full band of professional musicians, professional technical staff and actors who were highly experienced and had been key soap opera actors too. It was a fantastically fun time, a great complement to my A-levels (seriously!) and at the age of 16 gave me much more spending money that most of my friends. This is why I advocate starting young, getting good at what you do, volunteering for all the positive and useful opportunities that you can garner, and not getting sucked in to anything that's 'over your head' or debates about pay. When you get good at what you do, when you can replace otherwise other paid staff, and you can commit to the responsibilities and expectations of the role; that's when you must be paid. Don't get exploited, but remember who helped you on your way and always be willing to learn and expand your 'box'!
Shortly before this I got stuck in to my Gold Arts Award. I progressed from 'Technical Theatre' to 'Arts Management'. I focussed my Unit 1 on getting involved in as many productions and events as possible; learning from event managers, technical managers and production staff what it takes to manage a whole range of arts processes and elements. From the ordering and fit up of lighting right through to managing cast members through a rehearsal process. For Unit 2 I ran a 1 day 'mini arts festival'. By mini I mean that we took over a beautiful section of the big public gardens in the centre of town. Using the landscape to create a workshops space, performance area and exhibition area. There were great performances, drama and circus theatre workshops and a generally great atmosphere developed on a budget under £5k for an outdoor event. An epic opportunity for a 17/18 year old and all thanks to my Gold Arts Award.
Another major opportunity I got around this time of life was the chance to join the Arts Council England's Young People's Participatory Theatre Project (YPPT). A unique opportunity and one of about 45 originally selected, and astonishingly one of about 14 who completed the 3 years. This opportunity meant I got involved in creating major Information, Advice & Guidance resources (including getintotheatre.org - now a part of creative-choices.co.uk), an awesome film to market this (play it below), attend lots of events, learn how to evaluate artistic quality and impact, and again run an 'Action Research Project' which involved a day long programme for regional youth arts organisations to workshop, share and perform.
In the latter stages I was fortunate to chaperone the Arts Council England Chief Executive (now heading to BBC Radio 3) and be an opening speaker for the International Arts Festival created as part of the project. It was also thanks to this that Stuart Mullins recognised my experience and work, and I got involved in running youth arts and professional theatre projects with Theatre IS.
Well done if you're still reading. The point I want to make out of all of this is that I took a practical route in to Arts Management. I seized the opportunities I could, and I had massive fun along the way.
I applied to create the Arts Award Youth Network with Trinity College London, the organisation that runs Arts Award in association with Arts Council England. Yet more forward thinking, perhaps, for a chap that hadn't even graduated from his degree yet to be allowed to do this. And I worked to emulate the successes of the YPPT project, bring in my background in youth advocacy, and set-up a team of young people to access some of the unique opportunities I had the fortune to be offered. The project started out called the 'Arts Award Participation Project' and below is the film we made to sum up the year.
I have skipped a lot of activity and vital people who feature in my story; but frankly I'd need a whole book. If you have any inclination you could download this summary I used to use about the major opportunities I had.
So, get gold with your own arts story. Embed it in what you do already, and use it as a springboard to urge you in to doing something bigger and further afield than you might have done if you weren't in the fortunate opportunity of doing a Gold (or any level) Award!