Community service?

Community service?

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time eating macaroons, wearing a tight white suit and singing a song about breaking a man’s leg. This strange and questionable behaviour can be explained by the fact that I was in a production of Acorn Antiques – the Musical, produced by my theatre group, Company MK. It’s not ‘my’ group because I own it or run it like a tin-pot dictator, but because I belong to it.

I belong to the group because I share its aim to produce top-quality amateur musical theatre. I belong because lots of my friends are also part of the group. I belong because it gives me the chance to show off perform on stage in interesting shows. I belong because I feel proud to be identified with the group… and I know lots of other people feel the same way.

When we started to put on productions again after a two-year hiatus, one of my objectives was to help build a community that was welcoming, fun to be part of and that gave everyone a fair crack at being cast in a role. By no means do I think we’ve done this perfectly – we’ve got things wrong on the way. We’ve made mistakes and have offended or disappointed people, or just got up their noses (and if we’ve done this to you, we’re really sorry).

However, I think we’ve started to build a group where people enjoy themselves, are stretched artistically and feel welcomed and included. People have stuck with us and the feedback we have had after successive shows has been how much people have enjoyed being part of our community. We’ll probably make more mistakes and be idiots from time to time, but we’ll try our hardest to continue this ethos and produce the best shows that we can, as we look to 2015 and beyond.

Thinking more widely, surely this is the same with any group we’re part of: a church, a sports team, a school… Even if we’re working with dysfunctional and difficult groups (and, given that all groups contain humans, each one is going to have its dysfunctional and difficult aspects), we need to work together to make things better. We need to be generous and gracious when others make mistakes or get on our nerves, just as we hope they will be when we inevitably mess something up ourselves. We need to encourage and push each other to reach higher, to develop skills and to surprise ourselves in what we can achieve.

Talking about groups in this way can sound idealistic and a nice idea (‘it’ll never happen’). But if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know.

Ten things I have learnt so far

Ten things I have learnt so far

On this rather cold Friday afternoon, I’ve come to a pause in my work. Some of my projects have finished and others are in various stages of waiting. So I thought I’d make myself a cup of coffee with my new machine and look back at my first four months working as Creative Daydream. In a move that should only be described as ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, rather than simply ‘stealing’, I’m going to make a list of ten things I have learnt, after Becca Dean (@beccadean).

1 Darren Hill has done wonders with my website. I have had so many great comments about the website, and I can’t really take much credit for it! All I did was come up with the text and then Darren worked his magic* on it. And lovely it is too.

2 I am terrible at resisting temptation. To eat, that is. Being so close to my entire food supply is incredibly tricky. The temptation to make for the kitchen cupboard every five minutes has been so overwhelming that I’ve moved as far away as I can, without actually being outside.

3 People have received me with such warmth and encouragement. I have to say, this surprised me a little, I don’t know why. But every time I’ve talked with someone about work, rather than being met with resistance and awkwardness, people have been really open and welcoming. So thank you, people-I-have-already-worked-with, you’ve made starting this venture much smoother than it might have been.

4 I love writing. I was surprised initially when the majority of my work turned out to be writing, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Some commissions have been trickier than others, but they’ve all taught me something about various writing styles, and helped me improve. So if you want anything written, you know where I am… 😉

5 I love being creative even more. There have been a couple of projects that have given me the chance to get the big pieces of paper out and let my imagination run riot. It was fabulous to be so free in coming up with new ideas. I’d love to do more.

6 My feet get cold really quickly. Not as quickly as they did when I took the youth group ice skating (I didn’t even go on the ice and my big toe went completely white), but they do get chilly. I have developed a coping mechanism made up of a duvet, Totes Toasties** and giant slippers.

7 Collaboration is the future, but takes careful planning. I put together some films for a Lent project with two very creative people, but I struggled a bit because we didn’t do the creative work face to face. I found discussing things over the phone or via email very difficult. There was a natural lag in the conversation caused by a delay in the phone line, and I didn’t know if my collaborators were being reticent because they didn’t like my ideas or if it was just the mobile network. Next time, I’m going to insist on being in the same room! The films are fantastic though. Check them out here.

8 I’m useless at Popmaster. I like having the chance to listen to a bit of radio when I work, but when Popmaster comes on, my quizzing credentials go out the window – I rarely get into double figures. Sorry Matt Bayfield, I feel I’ve let you down somehow…

9 I don’t miss being in an office as much as I thought I would. I’ve managed to put stuff in the diary that means I see people regularly and don’t turn into a mad man who constantly talks to himself.*** And sometimes the solitude allows me to concentrate! Also having great friends and good hobbies outside of work helps massively. I do miss office conversation though – have you got your wide-fitting trainers on Eddie?

10 I’ve loved the variety. So far I’ve done work with Youthwork Magazine, Scripture Union, Jo Dolby, Becca Dean, Authentic Media, Youth For Christ, BRF, the SU/American Bible Society international partnership, Childrenswork Magazine, Speakeasy writers’ group and my friend Mel. Brilliant.

This is only a snapshot, I’m still learning so much! And here’s to learning more in the future too.


*Metaphorical magic of course, he’s not a warlock.

**Other thermal slipper socks are available.

***Though I have to say that I’ve always talked to myself, so this is actually nothing new.

Creative inspiration

Creative inspiration

I have a personal Tumblr blog, called Alex’s Creative Daydream (it’s where the company name came from!).  I don’t post very often, but I do visit the blog every day. You see, I use it as a kind of voyeuristic creative inspiration. At the moment, I’m following about 15 bloggers who post regularly – everything from an American obsessed with ‘olde worlde’ Britain (particularly the Sussex town of Rye) to a Spanish guy who posts pictures of amazing locations and landmarks from around the world. I picked these blogs up from here and there, many recommended by Tumblr itself.

There are three that I really like reading:

Humans of New York – this is a man who goes round New York, taking portraits of people whom he thinks are interesting in some way. He captures a sense of humanity and individuality in a city which can seem huge and overwhelming. There are some wonderful moments of poignancy and joy. He has become quite a celebrity, with the subjects of his photos often really excited that they will appear on HONY. At the moment, he’s on holiday in Iran and taking portraits there too.

Piano Across America – this man plays his piano anywhere and everywhere, in the company of his dog, Brando. When I first started following him, he was travelling across America, but at the moment, he plays in New York. He’s planning to make it down to Panama, starting out with just a tank of petrol and $2, surviving off money earned playing the piano as he heads south. It’s inspiring to see someone follow a dream like this – he gave up a lot to follow his dream of playing his piano.

Becca is Learning – Becca Dean is a great blogger. She strives to be real and vulnerable, and her posts are reflections of what she has learnt from her life, both formally (she is doing post-graduate studies in Durham) and informally. She is funny, honest and thought-provoking. And a shameless devotee of Instagram.

I think the point of what I’m saying here is be a bit voyeuristic* in your search for creative inspiration – absorb all you can, even if you don’t like what you see or don’t agree with what people say. Reach beyond your comfort zone and hear lots of voices: follow people on Twitter whose political viewpoints you don’t agree with. Read something by an atheist, Muslim or Christian. Switch newspapers/news websites for a day, walk in someone else’s shoes. After all, if you only see and hear things you agree with, then you’re never challenged and you ignore chances to grow. Only listening to voices you approve of can lead to a very narrow world viewpoint. I’m on the look-out for more contrasting voices, so if you know some, let me know.

And if you want to follow my personal blog, it’s Who knows, I might start posting there more regularly myself…

*Not illegally, mind. I’m not advocating being a peeping Tom.