Re-entering the industry

I had been ‘in exile’ for three years, between September 2012 and November 2015. That may not seem like a lot, but when you work at such small-scale in such a closed industry like theatre and performance, it feels like a huge gap in your career. I tried to keep developing professionally as best as possible during that period, attending workshops and residencies that were within my reach and organising my own projects to keep being seen on both sides of the Atlantic. Within a couple of months of arriving back in Porto Alegre, I organised an intervention for the International Migrants Day. In early 2013, I managed to get a grant from Creative Scotland to run a residency in my hometown. In 2014, I created La Niña Barro, working for 6 months over skype with the performers in Spain, and took it to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it had a nightmare run, but it went on to tour Spain, Brazil, Uruguay, and the USA, winning an award in Miami just after I moved back to Edinburgh. I mean, I tried to keep myself in the loop, relevant, and in people’s minds. It’s hard enough when you are in the same city, let alone in a different continent. But now I was back and to make the most of the 3 years ahead, I had to re-enter the Scottish theatre industry.

For the first couple of months back, I signed up to everything I could. I needed to show face, catch up with people. I attended an excellent two-day seminar in Glasgow organised by Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, including a one-to-one appointment with a producer facilitated by the Federation of Scottish Theatre. I went to a launch event for a network of artists of colour. I attended the recently-formed EPAD networking events. I turned up at Creative Salon meet-ups. And I went to the theatre furiously. I went to see lots and lots of plays – granted, mostly at our main stages.

All the networking amounts to nothing if you don’t have much to talk about, though. OK, I had my PhD to talk about, but I needed to start making theatre again. I hadn’t flexed my directing muscles since La Niña Barro, which had been over a year before. Understandably, I was a bit aprehensive about getting back into a rehearsal room with some actors, so my first project after coming back was a low-risk, yet stimulating one: I volunteered as a director for a 24-hour play event at the RCS. Led by some of the MACCT students, the event involved all levels of courses at the institution. We all met at the RCS on the evening of 1st February, 2015 and each director was paired with a playwright and then we got to choose 4 or 5 actors. The actors were sent home and the director/playwright pairs convened in one of MA students’ flat to write a 10-minute script overnight. We gathered back with the actors at the RCS the next morning and rehearsed during the day. In the evening, we showed our pieces to a sold out house. The slightly annoying thing about it was that years ago, back in 2009 or 2010, my friend/long-term collaborator/other side of my brain Jen McGregor and I had tried to run a similar project in Edinburgh, specifically themed for Halloween. We simply could not find a venue that would take us (Summerhall didn’t exist yet, they might have gone for it) and had to abandon the idea. I licked my wounds and got on with it, and I’m glad I did. I got to work with a bunch of fun, talented new people and got to experiment a little with my cultural fusion thing. I had a cast of British, Czech, and Portuguese actors with a Singaporean writer and was allowed to use some Indonesian gamelan instruments. It actually turned out quite beautifully. One of the organisers said he welled up during our tech run.

It was a great challenge and an excellent way to worm my way back into directing without risking my sanity so soon. It was also a way of getting more involved with life at the RCS, as I would have to start honing my academic skills pretty sharply as well. It didn’t actually mean re-entering the industry per se, as it was a student project, but it gave me that little confidence boost that was necessary to pursue bigger things, and something to talk about at networking events.

24hourplay

 

 

 

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New strategies: job hunting

OK, so I had made my way back. I had bought myself 3 years to find a way of remaining. I would need to review my strategies and begin to search for a job that would allow me to get a word visa post-PhD. I had already organised to do some volunteer Front of House work for the History Festival, which I really enjoyed doing but was unpaid. I thought I could relax a bit in the first few months as I still had money coming in from my freelance translator work, and therefore avoid wasting too much time and energy in dead-end jobs in hospitality or retail. Don’t get me wrong, a job is a job when you really need it and I have massive respect for people who work in those industries, as I did too during my undergraduate years, but at this stage I needed something to make my CV more attractive to recruiters in the arts and academia.

Just before leaving Brazil again, I had applied to an Assistant Director job with a company specifically seeking an AD that could speak Spanish. I got my rejection email the day after I arrived back in Edinburgh. As usual, no feedback other than ‘we’re not taking your application further, but will keep your CV on file for future reference’. The first email I received was also not meant for me, but for someone called Alejandro – I had to write back and request that my own rejection be confirmed.

Within the first week of being back, I also contacted another organisation about an advert they had put out for a part-time administrator and I never heard back. I also got in touch with someone doing a theatrical project involving multiple languages, who was looking for someone to join the crew. We met and had a great chat, but didn’t end up working together for some reason that I can’t even recall now. I got in touch with a translation agency that I had done some work for before, asking whether they had any in-house vacancies and they said they didn’t. I applied for jobs at the Edinburgh Art Festival and with a publisher, both fruitless. Within a month, I cracked and found myself requesting application packs from a wine shop, which I couldn’t proceed with, as they were advertising full-time positions only and I am restricted by my visa to working no more than 20 hours a week. Just before Christmas, I managed to secure an interview for a customer service role in a well-known tourist attraction. I thought I had done well both at the group and individual interviews, focusing on my previous experience working with walking tours and Edinburgh Castle, but I was turned down. When I asked for feedback, I was told my skill set did not quite match up what they were after. A fried who worked there then told me they weren’t impressed with the fact I was wearing a thick knit jumper for the interview, and that was the real reason why I was turned down.

I tried expanding my search to jobs in Glasgow. I applied for a receptionist position at an art studio, unsuccessfully.

When 2016 started, I applied for Development Officer and box office positions that either never got back to me or just said no. I was worried now. I had been back for nearly three months and hadn’t even found a low-profile part-time job. This was when a good friend stepped in and offered me a temporary gig selling books for Blackwell’s at my old university campus for a couple of weeks. It was minimum wage, it involved some heavy lifting, and it was in Musselburgh, but I was very happy to have that. It was like running my own tiny bookshop and I got to catch up with some former lecturers and update them on what I’m doing now (playing the long game here).

It didn’t solve any of my main problems but it helped me relax for at least another few weeks and get on with stuff. I could do my own reading while on shift during quiet periods, and because the bookshop was set inside the library, it was handy to do some PhD work too. Also, the staff discount to buy my own books was much appreciated.

I would have to face the job hunt again later that month, but for now, things were OK.