Working Freelance in the Arts - A Week In The Life

I was chatting to a friend who doesn't work in the arts today (that's a more unusual occurrence than it should be...) they asked me what I was up to and, having explained my week to them, they looked at me with horror. "That sounds like a nightmare."

For me, however, it was a great week that was varied, interesting and rewarding. "I like to go to the same place every day, know I'm starting at 9 and finishing at 5." They continued. That didn't sound like fun to me...

Working multiple jobs at the same time can be a bit of a mental challenge

I thought it may be of interest to those who are perhaps thinking of going freelance to see what an average week looks like for somebody like myself, a self-employed theatre practitioner. I don't really like that term to be honest, but it's the best way to describe the various bits and pieces I do. Here's my diary for the last week:

Monday - Auditions
9.00-18.00 on Monday was taken up with sitting on the audition panel at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It was the last day of auditions before the final recall so we were very busy. I only occasionally sit on the panel and it's a great opportunity to see new talent, meet interesting people and also get an idea of the lay of the theatrical land. The RCS, in this probably final post-Brexit year, has been incredibly busy for auditions, close to 1600 have applied and there are only around 24 places available on the course, so it is incredibly tough. We also want to have a year group that is diverse in all aspects, so it's quite the challenge. My job, however, is simple enough. Watch the participants in a workshop, watch their pieces, give them a little bit of redirection to see how if they can change their performance (or challenge any weakness that we may think they perhaps have) a short interview and then myself and a fellow panel member discuss if they are for us. 
Auditions can  be fun, but also difficult when decisions have to be made

It can, at times, be a cruel and difficult job. The worst is where you really get on with somebody but they just aren't making the grade and you can't put them through - there are no easy decisions and, of course, we will get it wrong sometimes. But we are desperate to find the best people so are always on the side of the auditionee.

Tuesday - Funding Application
This was a day in the house at my computer. The admin side of being freelance is easily the worst part of the job for me! I had spent the last 8 weeks creating an application to send to Creative Scotland for my theatre company's next show. It is a huge huge task - I mean huge! The budget is like something out of the Matrix and, by the end, the application form rivals War and Peace for thickness. It seems like an unusual way of doing things to be honest, if I didn't have previous applications to go on, and access to people who know what they're talking about then I wouldn't have a hope in hell of applying for money. I am 100% certain that Scotland misses out on brilliant creative ideas because the initial forms and detail required by Creative Scotland is just too intimidating.

As I want to tour the show I'm making I have spent a great deal of time getting in touch with theatres and booking a virtual tour. Everyone knows how the game works, so theatres are booking my show on the understanding that we might not get funding (which would mean the whole process is a total waste of time) however we won't get the funding without a tour pencilled in, so it's vital that it is done and it's always good to touch base with theatres that we have visited before. 

Having checked my numbers 338989 times and had a couple of colleagues read over the form, Tuesday was the day to finally hit 'send'. Now I need to wait twelve weeks to see if I am successful. If not, then that's weeks and weeks of unpaid work gone, if I do then it will be a great opportunity to bring my latest play to the good people of Scotland. 

Wednesday - Teaching & Play Development
Wednesday was an unusual day for me. It started like every other Wednesday that I've had for the last few months. I have been teaching an acting class 9.00-13.00 at the RCS for the Musical Theatre first year students. We have been making our way through The Three Sisters and are working towards a classroom performance of some of the scenes. It's a very fulfilling job that involves teaching the students about textual analysis, stage craft and the art of acting. Not being an actor this may seem like an odd job for me, but I actually think it helps. I can offer notes and advice to the actors but I never feel the urge to 'show them how it should be done'. I can also offer them advice on how they handle themselves in the rehearsal room and what, in my opinion, directors are looking for in an actor.

After the class I hopped on a train from Glasgow and headed towards Newcastle. I have recently been commissioned to write a play for young people from 6 different theatre across the UK. This has taken me to Northampton, Dundee, Derby, Leeds, Plymouth and now Newcastle. 



Having found the Northern Stage theatre (thanks Google maps) I then met the Young Company leader and set up my workshop. This was the last workshop I had before I have to deliver the first draft of the play in October, so I had a good idea where the story and characters were going. I presented some of these ideas the group of young woman, aged between 16 and 21, who had showed up and I left them to create their own pieces using the framework I had provided. I got some brilliant writing and viewpoints. It's a play about young people so it is vital that the characters are relatable and sound like the people they represent and there is no better way of achieving that than actually getting the voice of actual young people.

After the two hour workshop I headed back to the train station. The journey home allowed me to collate some of the work that the group had done and I began to write some scenes inspired by their evening. I arrived in Glasgow at 23.30 - too late for a train home - so got a taxi and was in bed for midnight. A long, but worthwhile day.

Thursday - Meeting and Writing
On Thursday I met with a producer and director about a new commission that I had just received. I am going to be writing a new Christmas show for a theatre in the Southside of Glasgow. It's the first time the theatre have commissioned a show like this, they normally just buy one in, so there is some added pressure but also a lot of freedom as to what we can do. We pitched to the theatre a few months ago, and the idea was to have a fun Christmas show that wasn't a panto but had some panto elements.

This was a meeting for me to meet the director, chat about the concept and get information from the producer about what the expectations are. How many actors I need to write for, how long it is to be - that sort of thing. We then made a deadline for the delivery of the first draft. It's vital that I'm always on top of my calendar as the problem with writing something is - you need time! So, working freelance, it is very very difficult to leave weeks empty in your schedule, but you absolutely have to otherwise you won't be able to deliver on time. I've recently had to turn down some work as I'm seeing my writing weeks slowly disappear - it's tough to do it but necessary! I know I will be writing and directing another Christmas show this year, so the sooner I can get this one done - the better!

Having had a great, inspiring meeting I then headed home and started write the beginning of the play.  

Friday - Design meeting and composition
I headed to the West End on Friday. I am writing and directing the Summer Panto at Oran Mor - it's what Frozen would be like if it was set in Glasgow. It's a rude, hopefully hilarious play. Today I was meeting the designer - this is always an exciting part of being a director. I love the collaboration involved in theatre. You come up with an idea then other people build and build on it. 

We sat in the Oran Mor pub and looked at various costume ideas, then moved on to the set. The designer had made a to-scale model of the what she thought we would have. This allows me to get a great visual idea of what the final thing is going to look like, it helps clarify entrances and exits and gives you an idea of how set changes will work.


After this meeting I then headed to Partick where I have a little studio. I continued working on backing tracks for the panto. Having done all the songs I am now going through the script and trying to second guess where I will want musical moments. Something when the baddy comes on, a wee love theme here etc. As I'll be directing the show I won't have the time to compose lots of new material when we hit rehearsals, so I try and get as much done a possible beforehand. I've found that this sort of organisation and being ahead of the curve is vital to work successfully freelance across various projects. If you leave things to the last minute then you'll cause yourself a lot of stress and also won't be able to deliver work that is your best. 

Saturday and Sunday - Rehearsal
I normally have Saturdays off, but this week we have an extra rehearsal for the play Waves at the Junior Conservatoire at RCS. It has been a lengthy process of devising and writing that has led us to this point. The play will be presented at the Citizens theatre in a fortnight. It's always a challenge to create something new, especially with young people who may never have done such a thing before, but it's also incredibly rewarding to see their ideas come to life.

We will be rehearsing most of Saturday and all day Sunday, we are now at the part of rehearsals where we are running the show. So my job is to watch the show and write notes. These can be about performance aspects, poor writing that needs fixed, sound effects - anything really that I think can improve the show. As a director you put yourself into the audience and try and see the show with fresh eyes, always clarifying moments, always thinking about pace and making sure that the writers intention is clear.


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And that was my week. It's unusual that it is 7 days (but not that unusual) however there could easily be a week coming up where I have nothing, and it is this uncertainty that puts a lot of people off of being freelance. But for me the insecurity, the toll that that takes on your mental health, is worth it as it allows you to pursue work that you are interested in and - though the pay may be nothing special - there is nothing better than waking up in the morning and looking forward to going in to work! 

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