At the end of 2018, Theatre Forum carried out a survey on pay and working conditions in the performing arts. The results of the survey were accompanied by testimonials from artists who spoke candidly about their financial struggles. These were well-known theatre and dance artists, artists who make a new show every year, who have won awards for their work and toured internationally. They are so obviously successful in their chosen careers that it’s natural to assume that they would also be making a good living but despite appearances, their livelihoods still felt precarious. The results of the survey proved that this was more than just a feeling. According to the 144 artists and creative practitioners and 97 arts organisations who responded, average weekly earnings in the arts in 2018 were 30% lower that the average across all sectors (€494.98 compared to €740.32). As well as low wages, the precarious nature of the work means a lack of financial stability, as well as difficulty keeping up with PRSI contributions. There’s also the fact that most arts organisations do not make employer pension contributions or provide a top up to state maternity benefit.
The Theatre Forum-TheatreNI conference starts today in the beautiful Lyric Theatre in Belfast. The title of the conference is Intersections and there will be discussions on borders, gender equality and arts policy. There’s also a Fun Palaces workshop with Stella Duffy for community groups, after the conference ends on Thursday. I’m a big fan of Fun Palaces – I wrote about it here – and would love to see one in Dublin. You can find the full Conference Programme here.
There’s also a session on climate change, another topic close to my heart. In order to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk the organisers are working to reduce the waste produced by the conference. This means less conference materials, proper dishes used for the catering and instead of a conference bag and printed material, each delegate will get a reusable take-away glass Keep Cup. I love this idea. Waste reduction is so important, particularly plastic which does not decompose for thousands of years. The way we use plastic now – bags, take-away cups, straws, fruit in plastic trays – is learned behaviour, which means that we can unlearn it and start doing things differently. There has been a shift in attitude towards plastic waste this year with things like the Shop & Drop event in April when shoppers were encouraged to leave all their waste behind at the supermarket and the recent EU’s proposal to ban single-use plastic.
It’s not going to be easy – once you start looking, you realise plastic is everywhere – but it’s not impossible. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing to use less plastic this year.
1. I don’t have a Keep Cup because I don’t drink much takeaway coffee, but I do have a fancy glass water bottle. It’s a bit heavier than plastic but I don’t have to worry that chemicals are leaching out of the plastic and into my water! Emboldened by the Refill Project, I’ve often asked staff in bars and restaurants to refill it for me and they’ve always obliged. (These weren’t places on the Refill map, the project just made me feel more comfortable about asking for free water.)
The only place I don’t take it is the airport because I don’t think they’d let me bring glass on the plane. However I have learnt that you are allowed bring empty bottle through security and fill them up at the water fountains on the other side.
2. I switched from hand-wash to solid soap. It instantly cuts down on the amount of plastic coming into the house and ending up in the sea. Bí Urban on Manor Street in Stonybatter do a nice soap which they make using oils discarded in local food production, which is just a little bit Fight Club. It’s a real feel good soap because it’s zero waste and it’s locally made.
3. I started using a bamboo toothbrush. This will make you feel like a bit of a hippy but it’s also a very easy way to reduce plastic and you stop noticing the difference after a few days. (It does feel a bit weird at first!) I got mine in Bí Urban but they are available online as well.
4. I’ve been using more Lush products in their reuseable plastic pots. Some people are very anti-Lush. The strong smell, the bright colours and the overly enthusiastic staff are all too much for them. I have never bought a bath-bomb in my life but I love Lush for their reusable pots. For that it’s worth letting them bombard my senses for a few minutes. They take the pots back off you and reuse them again and again. If you bring back five, you can swap them for a free face mask.
5. I originally started buying stuff from Lush because you can take their solid face-wash and shampoo bars in your hand-luggage when you fly. They also have zero packaging. I love their Angels on Bare Skin face wash and I’ve used Godiva shampoo as well; the jasmine smell is really lovely. I also restarted started using a solid deodorant, I’m not sure how effective it is but it does involve zero plastic!
6. Away from the personal hygiene plastics, there’s the food plastic. I think supermarkets are slowly coming around to the idea that everything doesn’t need to be wrapped in plastic and you can get loose fruit and veg in most shops now. Just because they little plastic bags there, doesn’t mean you have to use them. You can just put six oranges and four apples and a couple of potatoes into your basket! There are also some places like Small Changes in Drumcondra and the Dublin Co-op in The Liberties that are cutting out the plastic used for things like raisins and lentils and pasta. They ask you to bring your own containers and just fill ’em up.
7. Most of these alternatives do cost a bit more than the plastic-wrapped version. I think costs will come down as it becomes more common to ditch plastic, but if you don’t have the extra cash there are still ways to cut down on your plastic just by being generally more aware of what you’re buy. Bring a bag with you, avoid straws and plastic cutlery if you can, avoid things with an excess of plastic like ready meals or salads in giant plastic bowls.
There are a few Christmassy theatre things happening next week that could be described as “networking events”. For better or worse, you get a lot of the work in theatre through who you know so networking is fairly important for a career in theatre. This is not necessarily in a cronyism kind of way, but simply because nobody can hire you if they don’t know you exist or they don’t know what you do.
I am not one of life’s natural networkers and that’s ok – it’s not something I aspire to. In my mind, a good networker is a smooth-talking American business man, bullshitting everyone about how amazing he is and handing out business cards to anyone who looks in his general direction. I’m Irish and I’m a woman – two things that conspire to make me unlikely and unwilling to talk about how great I am. The idea of it makes me cringe.
Through Cultural Freelancers, I found out that I’m not the only who feels like this. I lot of people want to run and hide at the idea of networking. I also discovered that networking doesn’t have to be an ordeal and doesn’t have to involve talking shite about how great you are. It can be about talking to people honestly about what you do and about what they do. I’ve found a new way of thinking about it – instead of “networking”, my aim is to make connections.
Where networking is all about selling yourself, connecting with people is more of a two-way street. Making connections is about finding people you have something in common with, people you get on with and who are interesting to you. It’s just having conversations. You don’t have to talk yourself up but don’t talk yourself down either. Another tip from Cultural Freelancers is to practice your elevator pitch – describing your work in two or three sentences. No bullshit, just who you are and what you do, said in a positive way with no apologising for your own success or down-playing your achievements.
Thinking about it like this makes networking less horrendous. It might help you get work in the future but that’s not it’s sole function. It’s just the social side of business. If we all worked in offices it would be the conversations at break or while you’re waiting for the lift, but because theatre is full of freelancers, we have to go to events to have those chats.
Here are some events to connect at!
TODAY: December 12th – Fringe Elevenses in Fringe Lab at 11am
A general gathering with cake. I’ve been to a few of these and they are well attended, chatty, informal mornings with treats. It lasts about an hour and you can drop in at anytime.
December 15th – Cultural Freelancers – Festive Get Together in Irish Theatre Institute at 11am
This is not a usual CFI meeting with provocations and themes, just food, drink and chats. It’s a nice one to attend as an introduction to Cultural Freelancers or if you just want to talk theatre on Monday morning.
December 15th – Fringe Fuse and Christmas drinks at Fringe Lab, Fringe Fuse starts at 7.30pm and the drinks happen after at 9.30pm
This is a scratch night as well as an opportunity to make connections. It’s also a nice one for those of us who don’t have an office Christmas party to attend. This is the freelancers Christmas party!
December 18th – Theatre Forum’s Tell a Good Story Event at Project Arts Centre, 4pm
I missed last year’s Tell A Good Story so I’m really looking forward to this on Thursday. It’s a really nice way to spend an afternoon because it celebrates the successes in theatre throughout the year, with a wide definition of success. It’s a different crowd as well, usually it’s more companies and less freelancers at Theatre Forum events.
You do have to be a Theatre Forum member to attend but it’s only €25 for a year’s membership as an individual and if you join now, you will be paid up until the end of 2015.
It’s well worth the money. Apart from the annual conference, the other big event is the funding meeting at the beginning of the year which is a great insight into where the Arts Council money is going – it’s a big chunk of information presented in a meaningful way. They also run sessions on tax and being self-employed and it’s another good way to connect with the theatre community.
I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Royal Irish Academy when Mark Ravenhill came to speak in Dublin last month. The event was organised by Dublin Theatre Festival and Theatre Forum and the interview is now available on YouTube. Ravenhill was very open about his own career and the challenges facing artists today. He also gave some great tips on playwriting.
He recently wrote a libretto for the Norwegian National Opera (and admits that he had to ask the stupid question and make sure he wasn’t expected to write it in Norwegian) and says that in opera, the writing has to be pared back – “every single vowel sound has to earn its right to be there”. Looking back on his own plays afterwards, he felt they were over-written because he’d got into the habit of interrogating every word in the text.
He also talks about working with the RSC on a version of Brecht’s A Life of Galileo. The very start of the play deals with the tension between the art of science and doing work to pay the rent. This is a topic that has interested and agitated Ravenhill in the past, as seen in his speech at the opening of last year’s Edinburgh Festival. He talks about how the arts are valued economically, and the different ways that artists have to justify themselves to governments and other funding bodies. He recognises that the cost of being a human being has gone up year after year, making it more difficult to take time to make work that you might not get paid for.
Talking about his own career, he says that he is best known as a playwright because it is what people pay him to do. At the beginning of his career he wrote things because he wanted something to perform or direct himself. He says he would like to do more directing, but does feel that he’s very good at it, mostly because he hasn’t done it enough. Directing is something that you have to be allowed to do, you need resources to get good at it. Writing, on the other hand, you can do on your own at the kitchen table.
His advice to playwrights included the idea of writing the first draft very quickly, as if you were improvising on the page. He also said to write about things that you don’t have the answer to. He says that Brecht gives his characters great ethical choices. He criticises post-modernism because it does away with ethics, and a sense of good or bad, right or wrong. We have an ethical responsibility to attempt to make connections. It’s too bleak to say nothing is connected and everything is random.
Dr. Emilie Pine is a great interviewer and there’s some good questions from the audience at the end. Definitely worth a watch if you have an hour to fill over the long weekend!
- See more dance
- See theatre in new places
- Go to more than just performances.
I’m not sure if I saw any dance theatre this year but I heard wonderful things about junk ensemble’s Dusk Ahead and Cois Ceim’s Missing and I was sorry I’d missed them. This year I will make an effort to see more dance shows. I’ve chosen a good time to do it too as Dublin Dances into Spring is starting at the end of this month. This is a collaboration between Irish Modern Dance Theatre, Liz Roche Company and CoisCéim Dance Theatre and involves lots of performances happening in venues around Dublin between January 25th and March 22nd.
I would love this to include festivals and venues outside Dublin, such as the Limerick City of Culture performances and the Happy Days festival in Enniskillen but I’d settle for visiting a few new Dublin venues too. I only seem to go to The New Theatre during festivals so I like see more productions there and also at Theatre Upstairs. I’m also hoping to get down to The Lir to see a few of their student productions.
Working with Theatre Forum, I attended members meetings and Open Space events and really enjoyed seeing the performing arts community coming together to share information and talk about difficulties in the sector. Community is important and useful. Even knowing other people are having the same problems are you can help sometimes. I always learnt something new at these events and came away with a new perspective on some part of the arts world. And as the commemorative year of the Lock-Out ends, it’s worth remembering that there is strength in numbers and we need to stick together!
This year I also enjoyed the Gate’s World Actors Forum, IETM and coffee mornings in the Fringe offices. They were all good for meeting theatre types informally and see that they’re not so scary after all. The theatre world has a reputation for being a bit clique-y and but generally most people are very friendly and willing to chat. Seriously, I am terrible at networking but even I managed to make a few new friends at events this year.
On a more intimate scale, I started attending the Cultural Freelancers Meetings at the end of September and found them really useful and invigorating. They are designed to give freelancers a chance to talk about their work and the problems they’re facing with a small group of like-minded individuals.
All of these meetings helped keep me motivated about working in the arts this year. Often they were also great social events! I intend to go to lots more meetings and gatherings of like-minded souls in 2014.
On Jaunary 12, the Irish Times announced the short-list for the Irish Theatre Awards. You can see the full list here (scroll down about half the page for the nominees, though the article is also worth reading).
A couple of days later, Caomhan Keane on entertainment.ie wrote his reaction to the nominees, particularly talking about the people who were missing from the list.
And on the Theatre Forum website you can cast your vote and pick the nominations that you think the Irish Times judges should have included.