Creative Producers International
I seem to have misplaced my Creative Confidence. I think she simply walked away sometime after 1986. I can be that specific because that year I was 15-16 and designing costumes for a school show. I put the entire cast of Jesus Christ Superstar in metallic coloured unitards and Pontius Pilate in an opera cape. I still get letters complaining of the psychological scars I left on my school friends. It was thrilling.
It was no ones fault. A series of decisions, some by me, a lot by others. I needed to earn a living early and quickly. All my ‘creative/arty’ friends weren’t making any money so I compromised and got a job in theatre putting actors into costume rather than designing them. Pragmatism kicked in again. I left theatre and became a good project manager and producer, then a good exec producer, a good mentor and trainer. I developed a reputation for getting things done, helping other people and organisations to achieve their goals, creative or otherwise.
When I finally did get the chance to do something that was my own, I chose to take the safe option and handed it over to my project partner while I helped another cultural institution figure out what it needed or wanted to do.
So I can hardly blame CC for wandering off. I had barely given her a thought in years.
Two years ago, I made a change. And with the change came a chance to walk on the beach every day. And slowly, wave after wave, I started to remember. The poetry, the primary school art prize, the dress making & designing, the hours spent at the pottery wheel in the garage, the photography and the dancing - so much dancing! And I remembered all the conversations throughout my professional life. All the crazy ideas that turned out not so crazy with hindsight, just not imaginable by most people at the time. No one stopped me doing them. I stopped me doing them.
Which is when I realised that she hadn’t wandered off. CC had sprinted as fast as her heavily modded jellies circa 1983 would allow. Who wouldn’t in the face of so much creative apathy.
Somewhat in desperation I applied to Watershed's Creative Producer International fellowship programme. It had been a long time since I had called myself a producer but it had creative in the title and getting back to my roots with a bunch of folks from around the world could only be a good thing.
It was more than a good thing.
The team at Watershed found a bunch of the most disparate, wonderful, feisty, thoughtful, inspiring people from around the world and put me in a room with them. And then asked us what we needed to make the world we imagined. For three weeks they prodded, cajoled, laughed, and cried with us, as we redefined ourselves as more than simply people that make other people's visions come alive.
And that was tricky. Because for most of us, we had long defined ourselves by a set of skills that can be described as Producing skills; a bit of project management, a bit of budgeting, a bit of people management, a lot of negotiating, a lot of hours, a lot of crisis management and a lot of coaching aimed at extracting and executing a vision from within an organisation or an individual. We had been the facilitators, the ones behind the curtains, making sure the urn was turned on, the rent paid, the first aid kit ready, the tickets sold, the vision achieved.
To make it even trickier, this group of people are very good Producers - some of the very best in the Art/Tech/Activist intersect. They are building places and reasons for people to play again in cities where earthquakes/violence/poverty/ambivalence have taken everything; curating street parties and city events that provide an authentic place for exploring and showing off new identities in reimagined cities; creating stages, spotlights and cultural spaces for otherwise unheard and unseen people of all shapes, colours, abilities, genders, sexualities and cultures; finding extraordinary beauty in technology; fighting to keep our cultural institutions relevant to all their possible publics; and ensuring that the Arts continue to provoke, irritate, inspire and change those that need it. These folks are amongst the best at producing wonderful, powerful experiences in a city near you.
Perhaps it was the sheer mass of us, or the extremely talented Watershed team (it was definitely this!) or maybe Watershed had simply found a group of people who were ready...
But it was hard to be with these extraordinary people - people who's skills are supposedly extracting other people's creativity and delivering other people's vision - and not be struck by the sheer creativity and vision within each of them. Far from being just Producers, we all share this crazy vision that we can make the world better through play - artistic play, theatrical play, intellectual play, naughty play, political play, subversive play, funny play, serious play and good old simple play play. We have vision, we have creativity…oh and we have the skills to get it done!
Somehow the folks at Watershed had spotted those fabulous jellies when I couldn’t. And I can’t thank them enough.
There were so many moments for me. A discussion about what we should call ourselves (Producers/Creative Producers etc) touched on an anger about inequality in the workplace that I hadn't known was lurking just below the surface. It culminated with the words: "I don't care what you call me, just don't tell me I can't f**kin' do it". I love that I am finally getting properly angry!
Another incredibly cathartic session for me was run by Alice. Too often as Producers we are so busy looking after everyone else that we don’t notice our own health and wellbeing. Alice ran an extraordinary session on thinking about, and articulating what our needs are. How to move beyond surviving to thriving. Thank you.
But the main event was, and hopefully always will be, the gang of people that came together, allowed themselves to imagine and plan change according to their own unique vision and then went back out into the world. Something extraordinary is already happening in a city near you.
I can’t wait to do it all again next year in Tokyo.