Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Cats, dogs and why we live.

Firstly, before you read any further, let me drop a couple of truths before you read any more (then you can decide whether I’m going to waste your time or not).

  1. This blog post is heavily related to arts marketing and theatre
  2. It is also related to the idea of owning a dog (even though I want a cat)
  3. And it touches on working practice and happiness.

Want to read on?

Here’s your chance to go…

Right, now that I’ve got your full attention I want to talk about a couple of ideas that I have found are dominating the arts and the direction I think we should be going. To start with a few trends I’ve noticed. As always, all opinions are my own and not reflective of any of the organisations I work for.

  • We’re time poor, in static environments non conductive to work and under stress
  • There are highly stressful pinch points throughout the year
  • Wages are remaining static (at best), or are drastically decreasing through inflation, increased hours (we’re all working pro-bono but are in denial about it) or simply through budget cuts.

I’ve also noticed that there are other elements touching my life away from work.

I’d like to own a dog for example (actually I’d like a cat but my other half is allergic…), I’d like to do more writing and creative work, I don’t exercise enough or, and I appreciate this is a contrast, drink in a non-binge fashion enough. It seems that work is increasing encroaching upon life. This naturally begs the question which we all ask from time to time: are we living to work or are we working to live?

I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the centre but slanted towards living to work. What I know to be true is that life shouldn’t revolve around feelings of stress, helplessness or occasional panic, nor should we accept stress, being time poor or wages as “part of the job.”

I’m a firm believer that there’s an issue in the UK where we mistake someone who is good at their job for hard working. After all someone can be shit at their job and hard working – the hard working is, it could be argued, symptomatic of lacking the efficiency to work a sensible amount more effectively.

See what I did, I repurposed hard working to mean something different there. Think about it, we wouldn’t approve of hard-drinking, hard-drug taking, hard-liners or excessive amounts of Laurel and Hardie. Yet when it comes to work we take pride in it. I do it too, and it’s starting to get tiring. We need to work easier, smarter and happier.

A friend once told me that the biggest problem the arts has is mistaking efficiency as a foe rather than a friend. That the prioritisation of getting work done shrouds the greater issue, that we don’t ever look at how we can make that work simpler, faster to do, to free up more time for life and creativity. We doggedly stick to systems that we have always know rather than ever really focusing on how we find an easier way. Yes, sometimes the easier way results in a lower quality of something, but we need to look at balance, efficiency, about whether the needs of that thing outweighs the greater good of the saving in energy both emotional, mentally and physically.

Let’s go back to our list from earlier – so where could we look at ideas surrounding this – i’m going to use examples from my own role.

  • We’re time poor, in static environments non conductive to work and under stress
    We need to look at how to free up time and reduce stress. Why not take a week or even better a month and look at where time is being absorbed. For me it is unfocused meetings, e-mail and lack of flexible working.

    • Meetings should have a clear singular objective that has to be achieved within 30 mins not drag for hours, and decisions should be made at the end – the decisions need to be tracked, progress monitored, and not through e-mails and meetings, through specialist software that manages projects efficiently and effectively. How much time would we gain? Would projects work more efficiently?
    • I trawl through 60+ e-mails on a daily basis – how can I reduce this to focus on the really important?
    • Flexible working is tricky – I work in a busy, uncomfortably small office where there is no space for having quiet space, or being away from people – I realised that if I work from home I do 2 days work in 1 day – how do we replicate that at work? Is one environment appropriate to all tasks we do? I wouldn’t write a play in a busy office, why would I write a business plan or strategy?
    • I’d like a dog, they’re relaxing and calming and bring joy. I work better when I feel joy, relaxed and calm. Would this added feeling make me work better at the cost of 2 x 30 min walks a day and a dog in the office?
  • There are highly stressful pinch points throughout the year
    We need to take a serious look at pinch points. For me three times a year I have near unbearable stress when I put together a brochure. It is, however, at its core, to each element, not a stressful activity (design, writing, pricing). The process that we work to create brochures merely compresses 50 shows going on sale, and everything associated with that into 2 – 3 weeks. Why not have a rolling season? Lose that stress, develop a system that is adaptive and flexible rather than operating within the constraints of the three season structure? What else would need to change? What would be the benefits rather than the costs? Would anyone underwrite us (ACE?) to try this so we don’t avoid change to avoid falling on our arses. How do we mitigate our fear of the unknown?
  • Wages are remaining static
    People do not work in the arts for the money it is said. Yet the arts are still hemorrhaging some of the best staff. Clearly it’s a factor. If we can sort the first two issues to make people more time rich, less stressed and working more efficiently (ideally with a pet) then we should look at addressing the wage problem in a creative way. Maybe not with higher wages but with better conditions. What if you did a 4 day week on the same wages? Or worked 6 hour days instead, again for the same wage? What if you were happier, more motivated, less stressed, more time rich, more efficient and paid for your time more reasonably – would that make us all work better?

I appreciate that people will invariably say that either a) that’s not how the world works or b) (and this is to be blunt) make excuses for why none of this is possible. The question I wonder is that if the arts doesn’t address the status quo, the increasing difficulties that the workers in arts organisations have, how can it expect to sort the issues the whole industry faces organisationally, sociologically, ethically and morally.

The arts are about change for the better, to find a vision for a new hope through reflection or ambition. They need to find a place in the 21st century and discover how they can influence the development of society and humanity in a world that increasingly feels to have lost the wonder, the clear eyed wonder and joy of simply living – and this it needs to start at home.

Big statement? Yes.
Big ideas? Maybe.
Starts from the smallest but bravest of changes? Definitely.

If you found this post interesting then please read this one which I wrote a few weeks ago! Click here!

Any thoughts or comments please tweet me @mrfreeman1984