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Victoria Firth: Becoming an emerging, middle-aged artist at Edinburgh was terrifying but necessary

Victoria Firth in How to be Amazingly Happy! at Pleasance Courtyard. Photo: Nick Wesson
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I have been visiting the Edinburgh Fringe for more than 15 years. It’s the place to immerse yourself in live performance, see multiple shows on the same day, find out what to book and what not to, encounter emerging trends and meet up with unfamiliar artists and old colleagues. Yet, 2018 marks a first for me. I am taking the plunge and bringing a solo show for the first time.

Before becoming artistic director at Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, I had some success as an artist both directing and performing. It was why I got into theatre and the bedrock of my passion for it.

It’s also partly why I’m good at my job. Venues should be artist, or art led. Although I have built a reputation as a ‘safe pair of hands’ in running an organisation, I absolutely know this is because I manage the business end of things in tandem with my artistic sensibility.

While the role at LBT didn’t initially call for directing or producing it was important for me to find ways to hang on to my identity as an artist and to exercise my creativity. This included getting an Masters’ in ensemble physical theatre, a residency with Pacitti and making live art pieces.

But over time, the tide of emails, policy demands, fundraising issues, local strategy group meetings and personnel needs – while trying to keep a work/life balance – meant I basically now have a desk job.

After 10 years in the post it seemed important to claw back my sense of self as an artist and the pleasure and inspiration it gives me. But how? Where are the resources and the time to do it? What about conflict of interest, what about risk management?

Solo work, self-produced with the support of other venues, seemed the only way to go. Despite being a reasonably well-known programmer, the thought of stepping out as an unknown, emerging artist in middle age, was terrifying. But I have had nothing but support, including from the LBT Board.

And so here I am in Edinburgh with my show. I didn’t know how it would go, whether anyone would book it, but on some levels it doesn’t matter. I have already had a compelling insight into some of the challenges that artists are facing, seen first-hand how the producing ecology – and self-producing in particular – is working and have a much stronger idea of how LBT can help.

I‘ve met countless new artists who have been generous with their time and I’ve remembered why I do this and that’s made me more playful, less tired and much clearer.

In short, it’s now more important than ever, that everyone working in the arts has opportunities to nourish their creativity, explore their passions and take risks. It has value and if we need to find new ways of working and shift perceptions in order to do it, all the better.

How to be Amazingly Happy! is at Pleasance Courtyard until 27 August

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