A Catch Up with the ‘Tales of the Witch’ Cast

Happy Wednesday everyone! Last week, I had the chance to catch up with Jay MacGregor and Vicky MacRae who we worked with for WIP1 back in September for Tales of the Witch. With last Thursday being six months since WIP1, it was lovely to get to catch up with them and see what they have been up to since.

Vicky in the foreground with Jay behind her, performing a 'fun run' in preparation for the performance.

It’s been almost six months since we worked on Tales of the Witch together, could you give us a little overview of what you have been up to so far?

Jay has been applying for various student-led projects based in the Central Belt. She’s happy with the level of feedback given on each audition and it has been a great opportunity to network with other emerging artists based in Scotland. You may remember a previous blogpost where we plugged Jays YouTube channel, where she posts lots of her creative ideas. She talked briefly about the challenges and rewards of building your brand and community on an online platform. If you haven’t checked it out already, we highly recommend that you do.

Vicky now has her own website to document her recent work, so you can keep up to date with what she’s been up to. She is also working alongside Laura (Vivid Roots Co-Founder and Director) on creative learning workshops around Highland schools hosted by Dogstar. Vicky has experience already working with the Junior Florians, but comments that this experience has boosted her confidence in leading a workshop. From this, she has also landed a role working with the youth theatre at Eden Court.

What are your personal goals?

Vicky would love to be working in theatre full time, defining this as a salaried or regularly paid role, alongside her freelance work. She highlights workshops and stage management as her main points of interest in the future.

Jay focuses on acting and the creative aspects of the industry, citing her YouTube channel as the source that keeps her creativity. She would like to branch out her channel into more theatre performance elements, performing monologues online. Jay also lives with fibromyalgia and would like a job that would be accommodating to that. I asked Jay if she felt comfortable speaking a little more about what she, as a performer, would like to see in the industry to be more accommodating to people with disabilities.

She named three areas where there needs to be some responsibility taken: the performer, the director/production team and representation. The performer has the responsibility to be upfront and honest about their capabilities from day one and keep communicating if these capabilities change. This allows for the director to adapt rehearsals to suit the performer if they are struggling physically in the performance space. However, responsibility also falls on the director to listen to their performers needs. This may mean changing the rehearsal plan to allow your performer to recover, respect their boundaries and when those boundaries change as well as keeping that open communication going throughout so the performer feels comfortable voicing if/when they are struggling to the director. She also touched on that she would like to see more disabled roles in theatre, especially ones played by disabled actors. Representation is important, and Jay would like to see more disabled artists being seen onstage and considered for parts.

What fuels you as an artist?

Vicky finds with workshops that seeing her pupils get excited over a new idea is what drives her. She loves watching them get really immersed in the work they produce and loves identifying areas where they can really shine. She also adds that she loves writing, specifically writing for herself and not for any particular goal or deadline. She finds it very freeing and it gives her time to explore the piece in whichever way she wants to in the moment.

We’ve already touched on Jay’s YouTube channel, which keeps her creativity engaged regularly. For acting, Jay likes reading and watching plays and movies that really inspire her. It drives her to try new things and go for new projects.

Both also elaborate that it doesn’t matter if what you write/record right now isn’t great. As long as you are engaging yourself creatively, you are developing your practice and doing something you love. You can always come back to an idea if it may be useful later, but it’s better to have it written now.

How are you navigating your way through the industry?

Vicky admits to struggling with rejection from many of the things she has applied for, but still keeps an eye on things such as Creative Scotland opportunities page and various facebook groups. She also knows that something good will come and nothing you are doing currently is a waste of time. She talks about the challenges of not feeling dejected when it doesn’t work out and reflects that each experience is an opportunity to grow and hone your skills. You also mentions briefly that you have to be specific in what you’re looking for. Apply to jobs that play to your strengths.

Jay points out that if you don’t try, you’ll never know. So take risks, try everything, send emails and see what comes back. Jay feels like she’s still at the start of trying to navigate the industry, so she’s focused on gaining the experience and evidence of what she can do (student films, which leads to footage for showreels, etc).

If you had a limitless budget to do whatever you wanted creatively, what would you do?

Jay agrees in the disparity between the Highlands and the Central Belt. She also feels that there’s less general support in the Highlands, which manifests as there being less respect for it as a viable career. She thinks there should be more belief and faith in what can be achieved in the Highlands (in terms of the creative industries) because there is a wealth of talent, it just needs the support.

Vicky would rent out the Royal Court in London, hire all of her major theatre inspirations (due to being excited over the prospect, we could only name Simon Stephens for definite), to create one of her many wonderful ideas that she’s had for a long time. She would spend as long as she liked on the rehearsal and development stage to make it perfect and then let people see if for free.

Jay would do a National Theatre-esque (think Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch) all-female production of Shawshank Redemption, where she would like to play Andy. It’s one of her favourite movies but she’s always thought it’d be interesting to put it on stage and genderbend the characters. (Interviewers note: I am inclined to agree).

What is it like being an emerging artist in the Highlands?

Vicky says it’s hard because the pool of opportunities is much smaller and it doesn’t feel like there’s the same wealth of opportunity to get the foot in the door, so to speak. Especially compared to further down south. However, it is also excellent as it means that everyone up here knows each other. This leads to being recommended for opportunities you didn’t think possible if you prove yourself reliable enough. It doesn’t feel like a feasible full time career.

We came up with a concept of a freelance artist ‘phonebook’, where any artist in the Highlands could sign up and connect with each other, or companies or small projects and find/make work that way. This was a quick brainstorm idea to combat the lack of short-term contracts that there seem to be a plethora of in the Central Belt that allow people to jump from project to project seamlessly. We could also use a company like the Traverse or the Tron, a professional company that makes work and give opportunities to emerging artists in the area.

Keep up to date with Jay and Vicky to see what exciting things they come up to next! And thank you to both for speaking with me, always a pleasure!

Keira

Our #WIP1 Report

We recently published our report for #WIP1. This includes an overview of the project, a discussion of some of our challenges and achievements, and an analysis of the feedback from the VRC Directors and the performers.

You can read the full report here (the link will take you to the webpage for #WIP1).

As our first project, we have a lot to learn from our experiences and we hope that through our transparency in publishing our evaluations that any other emerging artists or companies might be able to learn from them too.

Some of the key themes that emerged from our report are:

  • #WIP1 was a successful event with a significant turnout for the size of the event.
  • #WIP1 was unsuccessful as a work-in-progress as we failed to generate meaningful feedback and conversation about the performances.
  • The performers generally felt safe and supported throughout the project.
  • The directors were creatively fulfilled through the creation and development of the work.

Company of the Year Award (SETA21)

The content of this image is primarily text on a pastel yellow background. In the top left corner is The Scottish Emerging Theatre Awards alongside their logo; which is a small orange outlined trophy. The top right hand corner displays who this award is supported by Dogstar Theatre. A large portion of this image is taken up with the text: Company of the Year, orange in colour. Directly below  showcases the Runners-up of this award of whom are: Elfie Picket Theatre Company and Some Kind of Theatre.

We are beyond delighted and rather overwhelmed to have been awarded Company of the Year! Like many, we tend to undervalue the sheer amount of effort, time and passion we put into our practice as a company (let alone our individual freelance careers). I think this award is an acknowledgement of all that work. We would also like to say a massive congratulations to the Runners-Up: Elfie Picket Theatre and Some Kind of Theatre; both are amazing companies to keep your eye on!

The Scottish Emerging Theatre Awards (2021) hosted by Framework theatre, is an awards ceremony that celebrates emerging artists and companies based in Scotland. The purpose of these awards is to recognise artists and companies alongside their work who may ordinarily go unnoticed. The Company of the Year award, supported by Dogstar Theatre, celebrates an emerging theatre company making significant strides in their work.

On a personal note: I think when you are an emerging artist who is also surrounded by other emerging artists we are all too quick to compare ourselves to one another and worry about our progress and success; this means we often forget to celebrate our achievements. It is absolutely vital to be celebrating emerging talent as this encourages emerging artists to develop their practice and continue making work they are passionate about. It affirms us, building motivation, inspiration and confidence. This is super important as, at the end of the day, we are future of this industry.

We would also like to take this opportunity to recognise and applaud Framework Theatre for all of their hard work in initiating these awards. We believe that SETA will open up so many doors for emerging artists and companies especially for funding and networking opportunities that will further creative development and practice. Just to be nominated brings such a boost in morale and motivation. Thank you, Framework!

It is an honour to be celebrated amongst so many other emerging artists and companies in Scotland, we look forward to seeing so many new faces in next years awards! We hope to see you there too.

Our Survey Results

Read the full report here (this will direct you to the VRC Survey 1 on our website)

VRC Survey 1 was the first market research survey that we shared as Vivid Roots Collective. It allowed us to reach out to our new target market and assess the needs of local emerging artists. This was a very limited survey – reaching only 20 respondents – but it did: make us reflect on our business plan; reinforce the need for VRC to operate; and reflected the findings from Framework Theatre Company’s Building a Framework Survey. (Click here to be directed to the Our Publications page on the Framework website where you can access the report). In this short blog post, I would like to share some of the key insights we gleaned from this report with a focus on how VRC will respond to them.

About Our Respondents:

We reached a broad age range: from 21 to 70. All of the young people (under 25s) who answered the survey identified as emerging artists but we also had a respondent in their 40s who identifies as emerging, and some respondents over 50 who were unsure.

We had a good geographical spread of the Highland areas though 55% of respondents were based in Inverness. We even reached those outwith the Highlands.

The ratio of gender identity between male and female was mostly even across the board with one respondent who identifies and non-binary.

Due to an oversight by us, we failed to ask about ethnic/national identity which is a failure that we will correct in future, especially due to the stark underrepresentation of POC in the Highlands (see full report for reference).

Key Points:

On ’emerging artist’: there was a good variety of responses describing ’emerging artist’. These are outlined in the full survey, but no response was the same. We grouped these into themes but some defined emergence as coming out of education, others as skills development, others as still looking for paid work.

On the Highlands: The most common response when asked if they would like to remain in / move to the Highlands was ‘yes’ though almost all respondents cited reasons why remaining in the Highlands to practice art is challenging.

On opportunities: By far, the most common response when we asked what opportunities they could identify in the Highlands was ‘none’. Eden Court, residencies, and the University of the Highlands and Islands drama degree were other more common responses.

On future opportunities: Funding and paid work, opportunities to create new work, opportunities to collaborate, and more local theatre companies were the top responses when asked what opportunities they would like to see in the Highlands.

On the scope of the survey: Analysing the data from the survey and collating this into a report was a fairly large task and, upon reflection, we decided that analysing the responses to Highland Arts and Culture generally was beyond the scope of our resources. The issues with Highland Arts and Culture were generally reflected in previous answers about barriers and opportunities though there were also comments about central belt bias and a Highlands monoculture which focuses on the romanticised tourist-friendly version of Highland life. We have still included the responses in our full survey report but they have been left out of the conclusion and recommendations. Perhaps this is something to which we will return in the future.

Our Recommendations:
  • Focus groups: We will begin to set up focus groups to gather more targeted and nuanced responses to our business plan.
  • Protected characteristics: We will be more careful about recognising, celebrating, and striving to improve the diversity of Highland Arts. This starts by identifying our demographic reach. 
  • ‘emergence’ as a matter of identity: We will decidedly leave the interpretation of emergence down to the individual to decide and will assess conflicts on a case-by-case basis. 
  • A network: We will continue to develop plans for a local and national network of organisations and artists. 
  • Travel: We will create a plan to reach rural areas without an expectation that they will travel to Inverness for work. We will offer travel reimbursements, work online, and travel to these areas where possible.
  • Paid work: We will maintain our ethos of fair pay for artists and do our best to remain current on national and international trends. 
  • Facilitating new work: We will bring our plans to facilitate the development of work by local artists to the fore and begin work on this strand of the company now. 

Thank you for reading, and we look forward to sharing more news and reflections with you soon!

A Chat with Emerging Artists

Last week I had a wee chat with the emerging artists involved with The Owl and the Imp production at our Work-In-Progress (#WIP1) event; John Tulloch, Alina Ben-Larbi and Heather MacDonald. All are at various stages in their career so it was refreshing getting to catch up with them all.

We started off with some discussion around our personal goals and interests. This highlighted that while these artists are either still in education, aiming for drama school or are just out of education, ambitions are high with motivation wavering ever so slightly, between Heather’s personal statement, John signing with an agency (fingers crossed) and Alina’s assignment due! We discovered that John has a passion for storytelling, and wants to use theatre as an educational tool by bringing theatre into schools, using the learning by doing approach as this is what helped him the most during his studies. Alina, all whilst doing an MA in Arts & Social practice, aims to use performance as a catalyst for social change in the hopes of creating a more positive future and fulfilling a need for hope! And finally, Heather is focusing on getting into drama school with a great interest in acting and directing.

We moved on to some more industry specific discussion, we talked about what fuels us as artists and how we are trying to navigate our way into this industry. We learned that all of us (including myself) are mainly finding our path into this business through education, through learning, teaching and just giving anything a go! The more you learn the more things you have to offer. We also addressed that it is a struggle to balance time for both your career and for taking care of yourself, it’s a slow but steady process. Each artist has a plethora of motivations to keep creative, from; using performing as a comfort and as an escape; to using theatre and performance as a gateway to create hope within a fairly negative world; to using writing and acting as a source of therapy, to deal with personal issues and events.

We all know that within this business funding and finances is one of the most difficult of the trials and tribulations there is to conquer, so just for fun I asked our artists: If funding was not an issue what would you do? I must say it took some warming up for our artists to truly have fun with this question but we got there. We had the classic answers; of collaborate with other artists on projects and practice based research, hire physical space for artists to use as and when they need; but my personal favourite: to create a sustainable and eco-friendly theatre – which would also be known as an Earth Ship! It would be good to see more theatre’s head in a more sustainable direction. Personally, I would use the money to fund a theatre for Vivid Roots Collective.

Our final point of discussion was targeted around being an emerging artist in the Highlands. There was lots of interesting things that came up here. Besides the general lack of opportunities specifically in relation to fees and expenses, we did find a positive. The landscape of the Highlands provides much inspiration due to the physical openness of space; from nature to a connection with water and land, it provides a unique richness to the culture here. In addition to this, there is also much to be said about the historical and socio-political tales and myths that are centred around the Highlands. Creatively speaking there are so many things to be energised and inspired by. I think that, having lived here for over four years now, it is something that is easily taken for granted – I am absolutely guilty in that respect.

It seems the Highlands play a significant creative role for our artists, hopefully going forward we can imbed this cultural richness within our practice.

Sophie x

Parliamentary Motion

Hello all to our first ever blogpost on our website! We are looking forward to sharing more content with you. Here we plan on updating you on what we’re doing next, introduce some incredible emerging artists in the Highlands, and just share some of our good news with you. If there is anything you would like to see in this space, let us know.

This post is all about some very good news! In case you haven’t heard already, local MSP Emma Roddick put forward a parliamentary motion about us, recognising the work we have done since the inception of Vivid Roots Collective! You can find the motion here:

Background is light purple with a white footer. A purple line separates them. A headshot of Emma Roddick in white scarf and red coat with a winter landscape behind is to the right with a purple circular border. The main text reads: S6M-01216: Vivid Roots Collective
That the Parliament recognises the efforts of UHI graduates, Laura Walker, Keira Smith, Sophie Bender, and Sophie Wink, in setting up Vivid Roots Collective, which is a group of talented performers who aim to make the performing Artis more accessible tor residents of the Highlands and Islands; acknowledges the importance of such projects in encouraging emerging artists to pursue their careers in the area and countering regional depopulation; thanks the collective for its part in providing aspiring talent with a professional base in the Highlands to develop their work; congratulates its members on their upcoming production, #WIP1, which highlights social issues such as gender roles and social stigma surrounding abortion, and wishes them luck in all their future endeavours.
The footer reads: Emma Roddick MSP
Highlands & Islands | A' Ghàidhealtachd agus na h-Eileanan
A Scottish Parliament logo in purple is on the right of the footer.

Having this recognition and support from our local Government Officials feels really gratifying for us. Anyone who has lived through the last year of the pandemic has some idea of how the arts industry has been impacted and the struggle that artists have had to face because of it. This struggle is a factor as to why we wanted to create Vivid Roots. So this notice of our hard work over the past year means the absolute world. It also serves as a reminder to thank everyone who has been following our work, for however long that has been. So from all of us here; thank you, and I hope you continue to follow us into whatever we do next.

Keira

An Introduction By Sophie

Hello! I’m Sophie Wink and I’m proud to be a co-founder of Vivid Roots. While my role within this collective is mainly administrative and social media related, I am also super creative! My passions are performing and writing, because of this I have an understanding of how few opportunities there are here in the Highlands of Scotland which is why I am so eager to create loads and loads and loads of new exciting opportunities for artists to take advantage of.

To give you some more wee details about me… I’m from Elgin but I am now situated within Inverness. I studied here at the University of the Highlands & Islands and achieved a First Class Honours degree in Drama & Performance and graduated in a pandemic – we love that! My fourth year is where I creatively came into my own, as I discovered my style and my love for autobiographical performance. This is how Making Coffee was born:

Making Coffee is a semi-autobiographical performance exploring how dementia reorganises the family dynamic. Throughout the development of this piece I learned that autobiography is a useful tool for the contextualisation of complex societal issues. This performance fuelled my interest in autobiographical performance (and writing) so much that an MRes in the subject may be on the cards! Since then, my writing is inspired by themes of family, loss and truth and is heavily influenced by Pinter and Brecht.

I expect my time at Vivid Roots will push my creative and directorial abilities and hopefully help me find my place within the minefield that is the arts industry.

An Introduction By Keira

Hi there! This is Keira and welcome to the Vivid Roots website!

Just to tell you a little more about me, I am a young queer artist situated in the Highlands. I am from Aberdeen originally, where I was really involved with the amateur arts and theatre scene. In recent years, I’ve taken a step back from performing to focus more on other areas of theatre that interest me.

As I mentioned in the video above, I work in a lot of areas creatively such as acting, directing and writing. However, through Vivid Roots, I am the communications director. This entails networking with our partners and artists, making connections and laying groundwork for future collaborations.

Creatively, I’m inspired by things I read, watch or experience in my day to day life. I have a particular interest in queer theatre, verbatim theatre, and recently, live interactive performance art. Much of my own work is centred on themes of queerness and feminism and the intersection that exists within identity.

An Introduction By Laura

Hello! If you want to know a little bit more about me as a director of Vivid Roots, this is the place to be.

As an emerging artist, my practice has been evolving rapidly over the past five years. This is both creatively and professionally. Since Higher Drama in 2015, I have been driven by a desire to direct live theatre and this passion has never gone away – in this, I think I am really lucky. However, my creativity was often put to the side in University as I discovered skills in producing. Managing group work and my own time was often my asset in creative collaboration so it wasn’t until our 4th year Autonomous Performer project that I truly got to explore my own creativity. I discovered that over the five years of my degree, informed by (literally) scores of live productions, I had been nurturing a preference for storytelling, physical theatre, and puppetry.

Although my skills in organisation, networking and communication meant that I was pushed towards the role of producer, it has only let me discover a new passion.

By the way, if you’re wondering if you are a producer at heart, there is an easy way to find out. If, when you see a beautiful spreadsheet, or a well-organised filing system and your reaction is like this gif of Amy Santiago from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you should do some producing.

As a creative practitioner, I also discovered a love of research. I work on a philosophy that research helps to inform practice by ensuring that socially, politically and creatively it remains relevant to contemporary ethics and ideas. In autumn 2021, I hope to begin a Masters of Research, exploring the relationship between physical theatre and Feminism through a phenomenological framework. I expect this research to provide me with new insights into exploring social issues through movement-based praxes. My skills as a researcher will inform all of the work that we produce creatively with Vivid Roots Collective.

Our April Update

Hello and welcome to Vivid Roots Collective. We have been working since August 2020 on deciding what VRC will look like as a theatre company. Please watch our introduction video!

These are two things that have changed since we released this video:

  1. The Project: It turns out that getting funding for an emerging company is really hard. Our vision for a showcase of new work still exists, but for our first year, we have stripped our project back to the bare bones. We will be producing an online work-in-progress event, for which we are CROWDFUNDING so that we can pay our performers; unfortunately, this won’t be industry standard pay, but we will be dividing all of the money made from our crowdfunding (above the £159.90 for the performance platform) between the 9 artists working on the project.
  2. The Focus: We started Vivid Roots as a platform for us to create our own work. Having had some time for our vision for our company to settle and mature, we have decided to focus on providing opportunities for local emerging artists. Creating new work under the theme of social justice will be a part of that journey, but this intent has now moved into the peripheral of our company aims.

Follow our blog to stay up-to-date. You can also subscribe to our mailing list or see the bottom of our HOME page to find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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