“Creating art is beautiful.
Creating art is painful.”
Introducing Artist Wellbeing…
As an Artist Wellbeing Practitioner I provide a service to artists that is centred upon the emotional and psychological wellbeing of the artist*. The wellbeing of the artist will then therefore increase the sustainability and success of their art.
* The term “Artist” refers to anyone who considers themselves an Artist. Be they a theatre practitioner, dancer, writer, actor, director, visual-artist, musician, painter, sculptor, drawer, poet, producer…
Artist Wellbeing sessions offers an artist or artists a dedicated time in which they can explore their thoughts, feelings and behaviours that may be in relation to their artistic process. This may be in regards to research & development stages, performance, touring and company/collaborator issues.
The aim of Artist Wellbeing is primarily to facilitate the health and success of the artist, however, the success of the art is also of great importance too and is always held in mind. This differentiates it from ‘personal therapy’ alone. Therapeutic approaches and reflective techniques are used in response to the needs of the artist. Artist Wellbeing is respectful, individualistic and confidential.
Artist Wellbeing tends to the place in which the personal and performative meet.
Louise as an Artist Wellbeing Practitioner…
After graduating in Drama & Theatre Arts in 2002 Louise became a theatre maker and performer, co-founding the Birmingham Based theatre company The Other Way Works, to which she is now an associate founding member. Throughout her career as an artist Louise has had first hand experience of not only the thrills and wonders of creating art, but also the trials and tribulations too. It is her experiences as an artist, and also a dramatherapist and clinical supervisor, that have led her to the development of Artist Wellbeing.
Louise views Artist Wellbeing as a constantly evolving provision that is re-shaped and developed by the unique therapeutic encounters she has with each artist.
Artist Wellbeing in action…
All artists below have given permission for their experiences to be shared.
Stephanie Ridings: The Road to Huntsville
Stephanie Ridings is a writer and performer creating scripted theatre for ensembles as well as solo shows which she generally performs in. She likes to write about quite big subjects but always infuse them with dark humour. She feels the difficult subjects are the ones we should be talking about.
With the show The Road to Huntsville (2016-17), Stephanie says: “I’m trying to understand why British women fall in love with men on death row. I’m corresponding with Jonny, incarcerated in Texas.I’m trying to understand the death penalty and how that fits into our 21st Century world. I’m trying not to be judgemental.” The Road to Huntsville is an exploration into unconventional love, state homicide and challenging preconceptions.
Stephanie sought help with this project and her overall relationship to her art. She had a number of individual Artist Wellbeing sessions. In her own words…
“I’ve always been very skeptical about this sort of thing so potentially I was a little reserved during the first session. However, I feel I committed to the sessions and actually uncovered and dealt with some issues, which were having an effect on me performing without me realising it. I did worry what I would be asked to do but actually it was a very safe, calm and relaxing space, which made me very open. On reflection it feels like I had been emotionally constipated for years and identifying issues and exercising some of them was the equivalent to a course of laxatives which has allowed everything to flow again.
I think it has made me a much better person to work with. I’m calmer before performances and actually enjoy performing the piece. If I start to worry about the audience during performance I ground myself and remember some of the things we talked about and I’m now able to ignore it. Before working with Lou this would not have been possible.” Stephanie Ridings, 2017
China Plate are an independent theatre studio that works with artists, venues, festivals and funders to make original, exciting theatre that plays with form and has narrative at its heart. They generously run an innovative and much needed project for artists called The Darkroom.
In their own words The Darkroom “… invests in creative relationships rather than pieces of work and aims to give each company we work with space, time, and money to experiment, to rejuvenate, to enliven their processes and to grow creatively.”
In 2016 I was invited to run an Artist Wellbeing session with the artists invited to this year’s Darkroom: Caroline Horton, Selina Thompson and Duncan Speakman. This year it was held at Battersea Arts Centre, London. A group session was run as an introduction to Artist Wellbeing in which the key concepts were explained and participants were invited to consider their relationship to their own wellbeing as an artist. After this, each artist was offered a private individual session in which they could explore any concerns arising whilst in The Darkroom and contemplate/explore how this supportive model could be made use of in their future artistic endeavours.
Overall, there seemed to be an air of “why hasn’t this been available to me before?” suggesting an inherent need and desire to tend to the holistic welfare of both the artist and their art beyond the safety and introspection of The Darkroom.
“Thanks so much for your input into The Darkroom, it feels increasingly important we put in place strategies for well being and for artists to look after themselves during making process and although we only had time to scratch the surface I know it will have been extremely useful for the participants.” Ed Collier, co-director of China Plate, 2016
‘The Shape of Pain’ – Rachel Bagshaw
Rachel Bagshaw, a theatre director and maker from Crouch End, north London is creating a piece of theatre based upon her own experiences of chronic pain. Rachel experienced severe pain after she fell while running and suffered a serious injury to a tendon in her right leg in 1999. She said she experienced a feeling of “not wanting it to be near”. She was eventually diagnosed with CRPS – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. She has been working in collaboration with China Plate, Chris Thorpe, Melanie Wilson and others on creating the show ‘The Shape of Pain’. A work in progress is being shown at PULSE FESTIVAL IPSWICH 2016.
In the Research & Development stages in 2014-15, Rachel asked for some support. I ran an Artist Wellbeing session for the company and from this we decided to support Rachel on a more individual basis, providing her with artist wellbeing sessions in which she could receive support and guidance on issues that may not have space for expression and understanding in the ‘creative-work-room’. As creator and director Rachel used the sessions as a way to express and understand her own personal thoughts and feelings in response to the R&D process. This enabled her to return to the creative process, as divisor and director, with a clearer head and a greater capacity to be available to her creative team and the production.
Here’s what Rachel has to say about the Artist Wellbeing support she’s received so far…
“I am currently developing The Shape of the Pain, a semi-autobiographical theatre show about living with chronic pain. Lou has been working as part of the team on the show through the research and development process. She has worked with the whole creative team, as well as individual support for me as both subject and creator of the work
The show is a particularly challenging piece of work for me to make as we are drawing very actively on my own experience of pain, which in turn causes my pain levels to increase. Lou’s involvement in the process has been vital to ensuring the safety of the work and provided an outlet for me to reflect on how to make the best possible show from my experiences. She creates a welcoming, safe space within which we have been able to talk freely about the process. I highly recommend her work to other artists where the work might require therapeutic support, and look forward to working with her again myself in the future.”
‘Ishbel and I’ – Julia Voce
Julia Voce’s 2014 solo piece ‘Ishbel and I’, explores Julia’s childhood and her family’s struggle with mental illness, in particular, her relationship with her sister Anne who lives with bi-polar disorder.
“It’s a delicate slip of a show but a unique and charming production.” (Miriam Gillinson, TimeOut London)
Julia invited me into the rehearsal process to offer support and guidance. This helped her navigate personal experiences exploring the intimate, funny and often painful dynamics within her family whilst trying to balance the pressures of devising and putting on an original auto-biographical show. Initially the whole company was offered a safe space in which they could explore their inter and intra personal dynamics.
From this, Julia was offered a space away from the pressures of the production in which she could explore her thoughts and feelings in relationship to not only the auto-biographical content to the show but also what it means to her and her family to “tell our story”.
Here’s what Julia had to say about the Artist Wellbeing support…
“Thanks for everything, Lou. The work with you was a truly invaluable part of the process. I’ll definitely be in touch about working together in the future; I’ll keep you posted about the next wave of activity.”
‘Mess’ – Caroline Horton
Caroline Horton is a multi-award-winning artist based in Birmingham who makes theatre and audio drama. She has written and toured a show called Mess based upon her own personal experiences living with an eating disorder. Caroline invited me to facilitate Artist Wellbeing sessions for herself and the touring company in order to offer a space for emotional release and reflection when in the pressure of touring a show. I also offered Caroline individual sessions to self-reflect and take care of herself as she toured the show.
“I really appreciated having the group sessions as well as the phone calls in between. It felt like a really good balance between group and personal concerns. I felt very supported. I also enjoyed the fact that in our Leicester session, we allowed the sense in the group to dictate a quite different, imaginative, physical session.” Caroline Horton, Mess tour 2013
This is KILN in their own words:
“Our productions are collaborative, with a focus on the ensemble. We reinvent narrative through a collision of art forms, from music-theatre to food design, plundering epic stories and filtering them through personal experience. Our performances have taken place in a range of spaces from the back of a van to decommissioned factories, a gothic church to traditional theatre spaces.”
In 2012 they experienced critical conflict within the company structure and employed me to provide mediation and supervision. This then progressed into being a monthly arrangement where I held space for the emotional narratives that unfold whilst running a theatre company to be voiced, understood and worked through where necessary.
“You were an incredible light when we needed guidance, kindness and warmth. Thank you so much for bringing in a new chapter with us.” Emily Ayres, KILN
“Thank you very much for holding us so that we could talk, think, listen and thank you for your honesty. Sometimes frightening but always vital.” Olivia Winteringham, KILN