"...a radical little experiment in kindness and practicality" by Alice Holland

It's all very well and good being a diverse person for hire til one's neuro-atypicality kicks in on the job, innit? I had hoped to be a much more visible blogger and Agent whilst I've been working with Kate and Matthew, but I've been busy being a mad person who's life went up in smoke over the winter so we're focussing on flexibility and vulnerability as our major themes, with a fat side order of patience and honesty.

Working as a freelancer, especially in the arts, sounds a lot more like high-adrenaline hustling lunches and networking than the pajama-ed reality for many of us, and we all know secretly that we're boasting JUST A BIT online about how busy/successful/blessed*shudder* we are.

And yet, admitting to a fellow art bod that sometimes it's downright awful spending days alone in front of a laptop waiting for that invoice to drop so we can put more electric on the meter seems somehow less terrifying than confessing that your last project was in fact a scam and you're retiring to the Canaries on a fictitious access budget.

Why? Why must we be so bullet-proof? So slick? So professional we can't be real with one another? We deal in emotion, peddle in dreams, ask for more understanding from the world for concepts and movements we care deeply about, but not for ourselves so easily.

As a sector we must absolutely defend the validity and magic of what we do, and there's nothing wrong with pushing yourself to be the best you can; I'm shamelessly ambitious myself and read articles on anything from corporate law to childrearing if it'll help me refine my goals and practices (goal to not rear children seems to be pretty well-established).

There's a lot to be said for professional conduct, for leaving your shit at home, even for fake niceness if it gets you through the day working with someone you can't stand, but I know many of us are hiding mental and emotional health concerns for fear of seeming flaky, unreliable, unprofessional, bonkers....

I know this because I have developed a habit of being really damned open about my mental health, be it depression, psychotic episodes, anxiety and all the other delightful aspects of my personal brand of crazy, and when I am people almost always open up about the same. Just mostly in private messages, secret conversations and in shame.

This habit was not formed by any emotionally-expressive parenting or naturally eloquent self-actualised self-esteem, it was formed because I tried to kill myself a couple of times last year and when I came round decided that I wanted to live, and not in the dark by myself anymore.

Unless we learn to talk about, describe, work with and for our vulnerabilities we're going to become robots, shovelling anti-depressants in the loo and running out of dead uncles to mourn when maybe all we really need is a day or five off to cry into the abyss, phone our therapists and just BE. Or just feel confident that we can phone in that we're going to be late because we didn't sleep last night due to PTSD horrors and not have our capabilities brought into question, and to be trusted to do what needs to be done or to delegate. I believe the support systems can be put in place, but we need to be more vocal and honest to make it work.

Interest in access and disability has spiked in the arts, which is totally fantastic, and whilst there is definitely and always more we can do to include and understand disability and differing needs, mental health, invisible disabilities and emotional strain always seem to come bottom of the pile.

MAYK and I have been kicking about the idea of a Wellbeing/Mental Health/Kindness and Flexibility Charter for a while now, and we're launching a research enquiry into how they can best work with artists, producers and each other through the rollercoaster that is freelance life and art madness.


Please do participate, all your responses can be anonymous and we will use the information to guide our thinking and writing towards what I hope will be quite a radical little experiment in kindness and practicality.

Producer and artist, Alice Holland is our Agent and we've been working with here as part of the Arts Council's Agents for Change programme. More info on that here. Alice specialises in interdisciplinary performance, disability arts, neo-cabaret, political theatre and arts festivals, with a "particular soft spot for uppity feminists, flamboyant queers and truth-tellers". She was previously the Associate Producer at Theatre Bristol, a member of the programming team at legendary art house The Cube and the Creative Director and Producer of ArtWank.