I'm a theatre maker, which generally comprises directing plays, either as part of my own company Under Construction, or for other companies, largely based in Oxfordshire these days. And as well as directing shows I've done a fair bit of community arts based practice. So that’s anything from teaching art and design and drama and multi-arts kind of things.
I graduated ten years ago and the first three years after graduating I was of no fixed abode; working for a number of different productions wherever I could. The one thing that had been preventing me from coming back to Oxford was the thought, I'm not sure if there's enough here, all I knew of theatre that was in Oxford at the time was quite traditional, quite university based and I wasn’t sure how much experimental theatre and new writing there was. I heard that the Old Fire Station was going to be reopened soon, and I thought right I'm going to find out what's happening. So, I emailed Jeremy - I had never met him and didn’t know anything about him previously, and said, I make theatre, can we have a coffee? This must have been some time in 2010, and I just asked him what the plans were. And he told me all about it and I was immediately intrigued. I was still in that floating between London and other places quandary of where am I meant to be - and it was definitely that coffee with Jeremy that made me think, that I could stay here, there's something that could happen. And off the back of that coffee, he invited me to create a performance for the opening, which was in November 2011.
I think the next thing was starting the scratch nights. I launched those in July 2012. It was fairly early days of me being here and getting to know the arts community in Oxford. And one of the things I used to love doing elsewhere was going to see scratch performances and feeling like you were part of the early creation of something and having that buzz of being able to meet the artists and give your feedback to them. It was really simple, I literally just said to Jeremy look I want to start a scratch night, can we do it here? And he said yes, and we started doing it. For me one of the great things about the scratch night has been getting to know so many artists through it, just feeling like that was my introduction to people here. And several years later, I co-founded Oxfordshire Theatre Makers as a network - a place where artists could come together, socialise, talk about projects they wanted to do together, collaborate, maybe as a result of meeting at the scratch night. I think what has been unique for me about OFS is that I’ve always felt I can come here and pitch an idea, and be listened to and – as long as it was a good idea – be offered space and support. All the staff here have been fantastic, but I can really sort of attribute that generosity to Jeremy, and his willingness to take a risk with people and try things.
Less than a year after starting the scratch night, I was lucky enough to be selected to direct the first Hidden Spire project. The aim of it has always stayed the same, which is this three-fold thing of creating a professional level public art experience with professional artists and Crisis members. So it was always equal value in process and product. It would involve professional artists and Crisis artists working together on every aspect of the project, and showing something to the public. We were given an incredible amount of trust really, to just create something. And I couldn’t have done that one without a beautiful little tiny team of artists – only four of us – around me. We did it in the evenings, at the weekends, you know around other jobs and somehow we created something in about six weeks. I feel very fond of what we did and what we explored that time, you know? And when I think back to the people that were in that I just have an incredibly tender feeling, and I always wonder what they're doing now? I wonder where they are now? and the relationships between everyone. Because, even though it was the first time we'd done Hidden Spire and we really were working it out as we went along, what was so profound about it is that I really do think that we worked as equals, us four artists working with anyone we could get into the Loft to devise, and we created some incredibly strong bonds in that six weeks; I can still remember the people who were involved in that one so clearly.
Crisis staff were definitely there to support us, but again because we didn’t have that structure in place that year - like now on Hidden Spire we have daily check-ins, members get one to one meetings, the team get a lot of support. That year we just sort of got on with it. And there were some incredibly fragile people in that group and also some of us were going through certain things as well and I think - I remember that first one so fondly even though the piece didn't have the finesse the more recent ones did, I remember it so fondly, because I do think that we looked after each other so well.
I've directed three Hidden Spire projects here since then, going from the team of 4 artists to twenty-something on the most recent project. That development has – I mean I can talk to you about the sort of very practical aspects, like each time we've done the project, you know the team has got bigger or more refined, and I've learnt a hell of a lot about managing people, each time I'm learning more about how to negotiate people's roles, how to be clear about who's doing what, how to set up a creative process so things happen in the right way, in the right order. It’s been like a really in-depth managerial kind of degree in a way, and it’s so hard to learn those things without actually doing it.
But it’s a lot harder to talk to you about what it’s done personally and emotionally because it is that thing of relationships with people - it’s such an intense project and the experiences you have with people are quite profound, the things that you observe. A lot of time for me it’s about witnessing transformation in people through the spectrum of putting on a show and all the highs and lows involved in that, little moments of transformation in people. I think shows with some kind of participatory element i.e. working with the community – there is a bigger potential for transformation, and I definitely think that is what fuels me - and transformation sounds grand doesn’t it? But just this excitement about the impact it’s had, even if that’s just, ‘that was so much fun’, ‘I’ve never done anything like that before’, or ‘I want to do this for the rest of my life, that was so amazing’, that kind of transformation.
Whenever I cycle into OFS, there’s always a sense of, ooh I’m cycling to my second home, and then I’ll lock my bike and I’ll walk into the Reception and there’ll always be someone on Reception that I know. Then within five minutes there’s guaranteed to be a Crisis member that walks past me that’s been involved in a Hidden Spire, and then there’s a staff member whether they’re from AOFS or from Crisis who I have worked with at some point. So there’s that lovely feeling of this is somewhere I know well and feel at home. I might be coming here to talk about Hidden Spire, I might be coming here to plan the scratch night, I might be coming here for an Oxfordshire Theatre Makers steering committee meeting. Those three things are major parts of my life and take up a big chunk of my week. So even if I’m not actually here, I’m working on something that’s based at OFS. I definitely would say now it feels like a home.
It’s enabled me to exist and live as a professional artist; it has enabled me to direct some really important pieces of work and helped me be acknowledged as a director - you know it’s really hard to get your name out there and get that level of experience. The Old Fire Station has enabled me to keep practicing as an artist, keep evolving, keep developing my approach, and it’s given me security because of that. It’s enabled me to become a director, I suppose.