October 21, 2018

Q&A with Michelle Barwood – creative business challenges

GSM London programme leader on the Business Management with Creative Industries degree, Ann Healey continues her interview with Michelle Barwood on her experience within a creative industry and the difficulties of business and managing in this sector. This interview is part of Ann’s strategy to bring the experiences and challenges of creative business into the classroom.

Michelle Barwood creative business interview with GSM London

How much focus do you place on the ‘business’ of your industry and how much on ‘creating’ and how do you juggle both your creative and business hats?

Honestly, I am terrified of the ‘business’ of my industry. I find the theatre world, or mainstream theatre world quite an ugly place that seems so at odds with creating anything that you could come close to describing as art. That said there are some great places. The National Theatre is my personal favourite.  As an actor, if you are in it for the ‘business’ and the more mainstream side of theatre, and screen, then you need to be invested in the superficial: the way you look, who you network with, what you are willing to do to achieve ‘success’ etc… It is a side that I have consciously and unconsciously avoided, in the past and even more so now. That has its advantages and disadvantages (usually to my bank balance).

As an actor on the fringe it has been easier to avoid. I have always chosen my work and parts carefully, hunches, good contacts, understanding what challenges I am ready (or not ready) to take. I can then focus solely on the creative side of the work. Which has been good while I have been learning the trade. However, as I start to work towards writing my own theatre work, I now have to begin to face the part of the ‘business’ I dislike. That said, I have worked with some incredible small and unique theatre companies, and I have watched from the side how they deal with the business, finding funding, venues, marketing, production… mostly funding. In addition, I am actively working with two theatre companies at the moment, and with one organization, who are seeking to counter the current theatre making ‘business’ processes. I think in all the arts there is a pre-occupation with results and not enough focus, understanding or empathy for the actual process of creating art. And this is putting a wholly unfair strain on artists produce anything that resembles good quality work. This is probably actually true of all industries actually. Hypercycle is an organization ran by a friend and mentor, Dannie-Lu Carr, that deals specifically with this ‘over processing’ (she has even done a TED talk). And a fact I learned from one of the Hypercycle Events is that the Arts is the second biggest industry in the UK. Yet the business of applying for funding to create new theatre is impossible, they place ‘business’ methodologies in an industry that is and should actively be in opposition to the business model in order for it to function healthily as true art. So the business side is difficult, and getting more difficult and as I progress more into theatre writing I am keen to take the principles I have about the art into that side of the process also

What do you know now, that you wish you had known when you started out in this industry?

That I really can do ANYTHING I want. No matter how strange or weird, or even banal. What interests you is the ONLY thing that matters. It’s not ability, only an insatiable curiosity that will lead you to creating interesting work. I watched a colleague of mine create the most sublime mime that involved her spending 10 minutes sniffing icing sugar and wiping raspberry juice on her face. It was the best work I have seen in a long time. It was her curiosity, her heart and soul were completely invested in that moment and I have never seen anything so compelling. As I said before, perfect and right don’t matter. These are my personal demons. And I wish someone had bent down and whispered in my ear, “carry on being curious. Don’t stop. Please don’t stop. Don’t be afraid. Don’t give up, because curiosity is where real perfection lies.”

How important is it to be able to connect with your audience via platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook?

Very. I have a battle with social media, as on some levels I think it disconnects us from physical and social human interaction that is in real decline proportionately as the levels of loneliness and disconnection increase. That all said, from a theatre perspective, it is fantastic and desperately needed for the smaller and fringe theatres I work in. It helps connects us to audiences. It creates a space for dialogue and connection between groups to give them more power and voice. For example, a friend just held the first ever Feminist theatre festival in London (and the UK for that matter) and that could not have taken place or been the success it was without social media. The response was incredible, and for me personally I got to see and potentially work with people out there working hard to change the landscape of theatre in terms of gender, ethic and politics.

Contact and keep up-to-date with Michelle’s work

Twitter: @veryberrycherry

Instagram: @veryberrycherri

Spotlight: https://t.co/ajfDSczXd2 (showreel)

Agent: Robot Fish https://t.co/XXXlhTkBdK

Check out more articles about business and managing in the creative industries >

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