National Novel Writing Month

The month of November is known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), it is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in writing novels to take the plunge and see if they can write fifty thousand (50,000) words (the length of a stardard novel) in 30 days.

Now any writer will tell you that the hardest part of writing, it writing. As a blog writer and someone who trying to right their first novel I can vouch for this. So let’s just be clear on a few things when writing a novel in a month. This is not about you writing a polished novel ready for sale to the world in 30 days. This is about encouraging as many people to write as possible, old and young. However if you are someone who would like a manuscript to be published, and you have been saying for too long ‘I’m going to write a book’ then this is the perfect opportunity to get your first draft of that story down on paper. The thirty day challenge should give you the motivation to get it done as you can record your word count on the NaNoWriMo website (see below) and measure your own success against others.

NaNoWriMo is a really great way helps with work ethics as you have a word target each day of about 1,667 and then the deadline to finish by the end of the month and with prizes up for grabs there’s an incentive (as if you don’t need any more of one along side wanting to be published). Can you hit your target by the end of the month and still have a manuscript that makes some sort of sense?

Whether a story is classed as a novel is determined by the word count. For works under 7500 words this is a short story, between 7500 and 17499 is a Novelette, works that are between 17500 and 39999 are classified as Novella’s and a Novel is 40000 upwards. So the target for NaNoWriMo pushes writers to achieve above the minimum word count for a novel, there are writers who set their word count to over 100,000; but the choice is your own.

National Novel Writing Month is not only a great way to bring out the writer in you, but it is also a great opportunity to spent time writing with other people. The writer’s career can be very isolated at times when you are sat at the computer all day wrapped in the world of characters and the wolrd you have created.

Writing a story of any length needs some level of planning and those who participate in NaNoWriMo usually take the month of October to prepare. This way writing becomes a lot easier and getting the 50000 words is like a breeze (they wish).

But preparing for this month long challenge involves things like getting a title, an outline of the plot, character profiles, a chapter and scene break down and anything else which could be classed as essential to the writing. If you are writing fantasy then maybe a map of the world you plan to create, and any rules or laws that that readers would need to know about.

There are many variations of the event with camp NaNoWriMo earlier in the year, which is a chance to camp with other writers as you complete the writing marathon. These all happen in April and in June.

So if you are planning to take part this year’s NaNoWriMo then let us know, we would love to know what you are writing and how you get on.

Becoming family friendly


It has always been known that working in theatre as an actor or crew member with children can be hard, especial for single parents or where both parents are in the industry with school aged children. And working in not the only problem finding the time to go and get the work, the auditions can be difficult as well.

So are parents being pushed out of the industry? Do directors and producers really not understand the issues surrounding parenting? I am sure many parents themselves! All other industries where employees are parent, whether that’s full time, part time or contractor, there is some form of flexibility, there is an appreciation of the time and effort children play in the lives of parenting.

For the first time a childcare service has been set up in London for those artists and crew with children, at the moment it is only one day a week; a Saturday, the day when most productions have a matinee. It’s called the Matinee Club, and it aims to deliver a program for creativity to the young people who use it, while their parents are working.

Getting the childcare physically isn’t always the only problem, financially there’s a strain on parents in the Arts, it is time consuming looking for affordable childcare. Now you may argue that as parents they should know when they are working and therefore should plan ahead or that becoming a parent they should consider these things. But the arts and theatre particularly can be very unpredictable. Yes there are schedules, but like many other industries those schedules aren’t always based around social able hours and producers and directors don’t always give sufficient notice on changes when the things need extra practise or where there has been a rewrite on the script. It has been said before that as an artist you are ‘at the beck and call’ of the producer.

No theatre or production company can afford to run its own crèche as there is no guarantee it would be used regularly, especially with all the cuts to the industry. Not all cast and crew for every production would require it, but as a group of theatres; whether London or Regional, could have a central fund for childcare service and an agreed list of ‘approved’ services that cast and crew can use. Then when the services are used during productions or auditions the central fund contributes to paying of the service. Yes! The production company contribute, why not? You have said the individual is good enough to be part of your show as you gave them the chance at the audition and interview, and they would have told you that they have dependents!

As the Equity/SOLT agreement on pay and other allowances come to an end April 2019, Equity have put together a various ambitious package that looks at sustaining the future of the industry across the board.

Some of the suggestions being put forward for negotiation are rehearsals to be Monday to Friday, and no rehearsals on Sundays. Better conditions, pay rates, travel allowance into London to be raised, bigger venues pay cast and crew more.

But the one thing that really goes with today’s post is to enable the right to job share. Charlene Ford, a performer in London’s 42nd Street made history by becoming the first actor to job share her role in the show after returning from maternity leave. It was hailed by the campaign Parents in Performing Arts, in the article to Charlene explained to The Stage that it took a lot of conversation to have the notion carried by her producers.

Producers argued that it is best to have the same cast and crew night in and night out. But the truth is that never happens. Holidays, sickness, cast changes in long running shows, so it is just not a reality.

Producers and directors need to wake up the 21st century. Women do have children, they do have dreams, the do want to work. But they will negotiate, they will listen to what is being said, they will offer their own opinions on things that matter them. But above all, they auditioned for your show because they believed in it and want it to succeed and all they ask of producers and directors, just like everyone else in the industry is for a bit of give and take.

This industry may be being crippled by the government cuts in funding and the access to arts from primary education, but within the industry itself it needs to be sustained from the top, the producers and directors. The industry is at a point where these individuals at the top could really help and invest, but they have to listen to be able to do so wisely.

Health and Safety in the Arts

Here is another episode from the series of ‘How to in the Arts…’. This post we are looking at the Health and Safety in theatre and the arts. This is obviously one of, if not the, most important part of running theatre as it can be the most costly if things go wrong.

For the purpose of this post theatre is defined as anything where a live performance is created, whether the audience is paying or not, from street theatre right up the stadium and big arena productions.

I have been involved in the Health and Safety for many years for several businesses ranging from completing checklist as a worker to creating the companies Health and Safety strategies. I recently completed an official IOSH Creative Industry Passport course with BECTU and Creative Skillset which refreshed and reestablished what I already knew.

So here are my top 5 bits of advice for theatre or any creative professional on Health and Safety when surviving in the arts industry:

1. Ensure it is written down

So often management try and get rid of staff for breaching Health and Safety as the individual is seen as a liability to the company, but in fact the liability is often on the company simply because they had not got the procedure in writing in the first place. The aim of Health and Safety is remove assumption and grey areas from the line of work, so one of the best way to do this is to simply write it down and make sure staff, crew and freelance are all aware of it and know where to find information if they are not sure. Even better get them to sign to say they have read and understood.

2. Training is never too expensive

While most theatres and industry personnel may feel confident to train their own staff in house, never be afraid to invest in some professional training by sending individuals on external courses. This does two things, firstly it will raise the morale of the individual as they feel appreciated because you value them enough to invest in their learning. Secondly the training will pay for itself as it will mean less accidents, less injuries, less time off as things are being done not just efficiently but safely too. There are far more courses and expertise available external to your business then what you can offer. To help decide what people need to be trained on look at their job role, CV and your business risk assessments. A great example of some training the arts fail to complete although it is stated in almost all risk assessments is that of Manual Handling. Something that most industry professional look for when taking on freelance and contractors and even staff is the IOSH Creative Industry Passport training provided by BECTU.

3. Don’t be afraid to say NO

This is really important, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure everyone who works for them, including contractors and freelances are safe in doing their required job. So if you see something that you feel is not safe then say. If you are required to go up a bit scaffold and you don’t think it looks safe then you have a right to ask to inspect risk assessments and other appropriate paperwork that declares the structures safety. Also be clear beforehand what exactly it is that you are required to do, this relates to the first point, don’t assume. The last thing you want to do is turn up to a theatre assuming that the rig is on electric motors only to find you have to climb up and lower bars by hand or worse still they don’t move at all and you have to hand ball lights up and down ladders. Ask for risk assessments and any other relevant paperwork before you sign the contract.

4. Be Prepared

The Scout motto is Be Prepared. This leads on from point 3 as a freelance ask the right questions before you take on a job, you are entitled to see paperwork relating to Health and Safety. Find out exactly what you are being required to do, the more information you get before the day the better prepared you will be, theatre is by far the most dangerous place of work. Most of the crew are freelance or work with touring companies that go from one venue to the next, safety should never be compromised and anything can happen so you need to know what is what, who you are working with. Better still write your own risk assessments for your line of work, then you can align them with those of the company and venue’s assessments as part of the negotiations.

5. Take Ownership

Whether you are management, staff, volunteer, contractor or freelance, make every task you do your own, take the responsibility to make the area safe. Communicate your thoughts and ideas about safety in the area you are working, because safety is everyone’s job regardless of grade or role. If something goes wrong or looks like it may go wrong tell someone, don’t just assume someone else has said something. When I was overseeing the health and safety strategy for a business I always said that I would rather be told about the same problem by every person on site, and that may well be 50 or more times, but that is better than nobody say anything and an accident happens. Things can only be sorted and changed if people speak up. The human condition means we are always looking to put blame on someone else, but sometime a fault in the first instance may not be anyone’s fault, it only becomes someone’s fault when they do notice and fail to report it. We often fail to see our own mistakes which could simply be not saying anything when something looks wrong.

So there you have it, Health and Safety in a nutshell. Remember if things do go wrong and you end up in court on the grounds of neglect of Health and Safety in the workplace, whether a company or an individual you are guilty until proven innocent, the reverse of criminal law. Judges will often use the view of an everyday passer-by to determine fault, then set the penalty and sentence on what could have been the worst possible outcome, and that is not going to be pretty if it could have been fatality.

Health and Safety is everyone’s responsibility and only a team can produce a production worth paying to see.

Mental Health and the Arts

It’s so good to see that mental health in the arts is finally making its way up the industry’s agenda. Across the social spectrum as well there are so many organisations and a campaign trying to break the stigma that surrounds what is often a delicate and sensitive issue.

I briefly touched on this in June 2018 as I write about GPs in Wales putting the arts ‘on prescription’. You can read that post click here. But with an ever increasing strain on an underfunded health service by a government that has put money higher on their agenda then the people they serve, it quickly becomes apparent that industries need to find ways to look after their own.

Mental health is so important, it can either make or break a person whatever industry they are in. The creative arts are one of those industries that can be very isolating at times especially in the current economic climate where jobs are not guaranteed, and almost by irony the same creative industry can be a help.

So wouldn’t it be good if venues themselves had an in house service or at least someone that staff, cast and crew could all use whether they are resident or not. I am not saying that each theatre needs to employ a specialised doctor and councilor, but just have appointed resident staff that have the appropriate training and can be available.

Wiltshire Creative has published a guide for venues to use when working with artists with Mental Health Problems: Click here to see guide.

The guide lays out exactly what Mental Health is and how it sits within the UK laws and regulations. It also gives a list of charities and organisations that can be of help, as well as recommending the ‘Mental Health First Aid’ Course which is very quickly becoming widely available across the UK.

As a venue or theatre having this information is so important, you may not be able to deal with the immediate situation, but you should be able to support an individual by being able to point people in the right direction and that can only be effective by having the right contacts.

We are not just looking to make theatre accessible to more artist, we need to be open a wider audience. How about becoming an autistic friendly theatre? While autism is not a mental health problem statics have shown that those with autism are at a high risk of having mental health issues.

A lot of venues are now creating ‘safe spaces’ for those with dementia, while this again is not a mental health problem, those who care for loved ones with the disease can feel isolated, and it is this feeling that can lead to mental health problems.

Opening your venue to become a hub for individuals with mental health issues to use the creative arts as a means of support, while allowing them to socialise and gain confidence in a safe environment. Of course nobody is expecting a creative team to organise a support day or group as experts in dealing with mental health issues, but by taking the advice of Wiltshire Creative about building those contact of organisations that can support that is the first step for a venue when it comes to stamping out the stigma surround mental health.

Remember any charity or organisation will be more than happy to help and support a venue that wishes to reach a wider audience while supporting those artists who work for them. If any industry can be the driving force behind removing stigma about anything in society the arts can, but first they must lend that support to their own.

NEW AWARDS: Unsung Heroes

Theatre website WhatsOnStage has launched new awards to celebrate the offstage work of venues and staff to improve the theatregoing experience.

The WhatsOffStage Awards include prizes for a front-of-house team, food and drink, and accessibility, as well as for theatres that are child-friendly or community-driven.

As with the existing WhatsOnStage Awards, winners for the offstage awards will be voted for by the public. Voting is already open, and nominations can be submitted until October 5.

Sita McIntosh, chief operating officer of WhatsOnStage, said the awards would be “a huge round of applause for all those unsung heroes who make the theatregoing experience the best it can possibly be”.

She added: “We are delighted to announce the first ever WhatsOffStage Awards this year. We want to celebrate areas of the industry that don’t always receive the recognition they deserve but which are instrumental in ensuring audiences and communities are able to engage with and enjoy live theatre.”

Categories also include best box office, best stage door, best theatre website and favourite theatre.

Votes can be cast here.