Selina Thompson’s Round Up
If I recall correctly, on Monday 12th November 2018, my General Manager at the time let me know that she needed to quit, effective immediately.
Then the next day, the 13th November, my Producer told me that she was also leaving her job at the end of March.
The 14th was pretty stressful.
And then on the 15th November Forced Entertainment sent me an email – innocuously titled ‘some news’ – to offer me the Forced Entertainment Prize.
So I tweeted this, which for me summed up my experience of that whole week, to be honest:
It feels really important that that context is acknowledged when talking about my time with FE this year, because so much of how I’ve spent my time with the company is bound up in change, and in those changes specifically.
The money element of it (the prize comes with £10,000, which is life changing money, for me anyway) was fairly simple.
I used just under half of it to clear the payday loan and credit card debt that has been a source of terror for me for the last 7 years, and sobbed, and sobbed, and called my Mum and sobbed some more. I always feel like these were the debts that paid for me to become an artist, and I am pleased that in the end it was an artistic prize that paid it off. Feels right. The freedom I feel, having cleared that… wow. Wow. Utterly transformative. The other half I’m spending on a trip to Brazil with my assistant to do the Augusto Boal School’s Theatre of the Oppressed School this December. This feeds into a couple of things I’ve wanted for some time – some space to be taught, to tool up and learn some new skills that I can apply to the part of my work that is focused on exchange with non-professional performers, and also a desire to return to Brazil, because it’s a context that I find really invigorating and instructive for my practice. Also, taking a trip to warmth in the middle of the Winter is very, very useful in terms of my mental health.
I’ve also had a year where I’ve felt a lot like an Artistic Director, and a person that is suddenly managing people but has no idea how to do that well, rather than an artist, so I’m glad I get to end the year (the Boal school is right before Christmas!) doing something which feels art and creation led.
But the really big thing for me this year with Forced Entertainment has been the subsidiary support and mentorship really, which has largely come from Eileen Evans (Executive Director) and Tim Etchells (Artistic Director), and which I’m so grateful for.
We’ve done a couple of road trips!
I got to go to IETM when it was in Hull, and FE supported me and my assistant to do a week in Edinburgh. The latter especially was excellent. Mitigating the huge financial risk that is that festival, and laying the ground work for Salt going to NYC, and a couple of new commissions for next year. It also opened up space for me to think about what I, as an artist who has really benefitted from the fringe, want to do to support others when they’re up there. It’s very hard to organise whilst you are also creating and performing, so I was hugely grateful for that space to really engage with both Jess Bough, who runs Fringe of Colour, and Shaina Lynn, who pulls together the Fringe POC meet up remotely from LA every year, to think about how I can be in service as a Black, English artist at the fringe.
I also got to watch a couple of Forced Entertainment shows and watch one day of rehearsals. The year has been very full, so I’ve not been able to make more time for that. I think seeing other people’s processes is such a precious and privileged thing, and I was hugely grateful for it. It reminded me very, very much of meditation, to watch; trying to sit with silence and pauses and not knowing and pulling yourself back into the space and into presence. You are sitting with a room full of people who have been making work a really long time, and know themselves and each other really well in a way that sometimes needs language, but often does not. I dunno. I think about it a lot.
(I also started giggling at one point because we’d been sitting in silence for a long time, and I’m a 12 year old apparently, but everyone was very nice about it.)
Exciting times ahead!
But also, my company has been in a really big period of transition, and that’s why it felt so important to establish the context in which I even learnt I had the award: one in which changes were occurring within my company that were sort of out of my control, and would require me to be adaptive and calm in the face of change. I’m neither of those things, really. I dislike change, it makes me panic, and not working with Emma, especially, my old Producer, made me feel a bit like things I had been building over the past seven years were all going to crumble. So having the support of FE over this time has been invaluable.
Eileen was on the interview panel when we hired a second Producer – I have only ever worked with one producer, so having an outside eye there to give us advice was really essential. We’ve also had a couple of meetings with her about everything from budgets to business plans. These things are not how my brain is naturally wired up, so having someone to take us through things slowly, with lots of experience we can draw from has been really useful.
Tim also joined out board of Directors (my company is Ltd by Guarantee) – and has been really present and active – he did the staff reviews for my Producer Rachel, and for my assistant Toni, and has been on hand with advice on our website design and even things like how to talk about Rochelle Rose performing salt this year (another big old change). The company put in a huge ACE bid this year for Organisational Development, and I was so appreciative of having both Tim and Eileen on hand, even at silly o’clock in the morning to read over what we’d written and suggest edits for us.
I think my key experience of having this award is feeling held. I’ve felt a bit guilty at times – that I’ve had access to all this artistic knowledge if I wanted it, but actually, my priority has been asking about managing the context to be able to deliver it well. Seeking advice on stability, the roots of the company, how those that work with me can have positive experiences, and how I can feel like doing that part of the work is also fulfilling. I’m without a Producer at the moment, and this has pushed me even further into having to figure out how the bits of my company that I’ve been lucky enough to be able to ignore actually function. It’s very scary, but this award has given me permission to pick up the phone and be able to call in 30 years of experience. And that’s really amazing.
Selina Thompson, 2019