We are emerging artists; we are hungry and excited to learn and grow; and we can satisfy that hunger by using our talents and opening up our learning experiences to benefit others too.
Victoria Urquhart is the founder of Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare Collective, and also our 100th follower on Twitter. (Thanks to everyone for their support!) To celebrate this milestone, they are our featured performing artists in a Q & A that underscores the common challenges faced by emerging talents regardless of artistic boundaries.
Tell us about yourself. What is your interest or involvement in the performing arts?
As an individual, my interest in the performing arts is that of a director and actor. I love creating lives and stories. I love exploring emotional processes and asking questions. There are some stories and lives that I think I can certainly explore and play with further, but it all grabs me right now.
As a company owner, my current interest in the performing arts revolves around benefiting communities. There are tons of emerging artists in Toronto who are just as hungry and just plain want to work. A lot of us are still exploring why we perform too, so it makes sense to explore that part of ourselves as artists and fill in that blank through different performances that benefit surrounding communities.
And, of course, what better way to do that than through Shakespeare? The guy wrote the head, shoulders, knees and toes of a character. It gives an actor everything he or she needs.
Can you tell us more about SOTMSC? As artistic and executive director of the company, what was your motivation and vision for it?
Originally the collective started out as something strictly for the use of emerging artists wanting to create with Shakespeare, and wanting to be involved with the artistic community. It all came from the message of “we are so hungry we will go beyond the stage—all the world’s our stage!”
We wanted to address barriers to classical text and performance, and maintain the relevance of Shakespeare’s work. But then we started doing this work for community causes, and while the previous is still true, we’ve realized that there is a lot more productive, beneficial work that can be done while exploring and honing our craft.
Shakespeare-On-The-Subway gave high school students on their summer vacation a chance to be exposed to Shakespeare through the lens of something exciting (in the style of a flash mob) without it being crammed down their throats by forcing it to be quietly read on the page—and best of all, they didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg (or half their brain) to see it. The run ended with not just youth but a lot of patrons appreciating the show, and it contributed to the “kindness of strangers” culture that pops up on the subway from time to time.
Shakespeare-In-Hospitals started by targeting patients who were bedridden and who didn’t get a night off from healing. It now runs annually with a more fully realized program that goes where accessibility to recreational therapy programs is an issue.
Now I am finding that the company is all about the cyclical benefits. We are emerging artists; we are hungry and excited to learn and grow; and we can satisfy that hunger by using our talents and opening up our learning experiences to benefit others too. And there are a lot of communities and facilities that want it and could use it.
What projects or upcoming events are you currently working on?
Currently, we are just finishing the fourth session of the Shakespeare-In-Hospitals program, “Shakespeare’s Briefs.” For the first time ever, we are sharing this artistic process along with some anecdotes with friends, families, and peers in the community on December 17th and 18th at the Winchester Kitchen at 8 p.m. Come on out! Admission is $10 at the door. I’m nervous and terrified, but it’s going to be an awesome experience.
Next year we are looking at expanding our web presence (I keep making the joke: “We’re addressing technological barriers to the text now!”). We’re also looking to get back to cultivating the artistic conversation in the community. I can’t say any more than that right now, but I can tell you that it’s going to be a hell of a ride. Stay tuned!
What do you see as the main challenges for those in the performing arts?
I think one of the biggest challenges we all face as artists is finding the drive to keep going. It’s very, very easy to get discouraged, whether it’s by a flop, others’ remarks, funding decisions, incident reports—you name it, it’s there. But I think we tend to forget that we are almost always further along in life and in our work than where we perceive ourselves to be: the show can almost always still go on, and at the end of the day, we have gained and developed more skills to help get us where we need to.
And there’s almost no way we could have gained these skills or known these lessons without having made those mistakes in the first place. Having patience with yourself and maintaining a mindset of having no regrets is a great way to avoid the judgment and the discouragement. It also helps you maintain a kick-ass team.
Do you have an example or examples of the kinds of challenges that you have faced yourself as a director or event organizer? How did you overcome them?
I’m pretty sure I have faced a challenge at each of the above mentioned stages: feeling like a show is a flop, getting poor remarks, funding decisions going another way, having incident reports—it all happens. I keep picking myself back up and taking the learning experiences from it, because in the end, I’m further ahead now than where I was then.
I think one of the biggest and most important challenges that we all face in running a company or managing a project is that of funding. It’s really hard to do the grant thing, and you are constantly asking friends and family for support. So you hold a fundraiser, which could involve a lot of creative activities, but most of the time it’s holding a party and charging admission in the name of your next project.
There are many things at stake in running one of these, but if you recognize and play to this, it becomes another great way to support your work in terms of both funding and getting to know a lot of amazing people. And you can actually start to enjoy everything that’s going on. Once again, you can’t learn about it or run it effectively without making a metric ton of mistakes. It’s like riding a bike that way.
What would you like to see happen in support of the performing arts, and why should it be supported?
I think that we need to start bridging the age gap that is happening in all industries right now. What used to only take five to 10 years to get into your career now takes 10 to 15. I strongly believe in two approaches:
Firstly, keep making opportunities for performers from this generation to engage in conversation with those from the last. There are a lot of great emerging artist programs out there, but we need to take it further. I’m not sure that there is only one way to do that, and I’m still fleshing out the possibilities myself.
Secondly, while we naturally look out for our friends in the industry, we also need to care for our peers. We have all been at a point where we are inclined to choose our friends because we know we work well with them. However, we can’t afford not to meet and work with other emerging artists at this point; otherwise, we risk creating unnecessary gaps within our generation and even larger gaps between generations in the future. Inevitably, the grants that we normally apply for won’t exist anymore, when there are fewer advocates who have shared the same experiences growing in the industry as we have.
This is just another means of us standing behind our work, and if we don’t do so in every sense that we can, we are going to lose it. Some of the best casting decisions I have made have happened through casting those whom I don’t know at all over friends. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s harder. Still, it’s saved me more times than it has ever hindered me.
What role do you see a service like BeMused playing in supporting the performing arts community?
It keeps the artistic conversation going! It caters to accessibility issues and the next generational shift in the industry. It keeps the community informed.
What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out?
Oh, god. So many. And as I just said, no regrets! I think I prefer the way I had learned things anyway. I don’t know if I would have heard it all in the right perspective or order back then if things had been done differently. I think my most recent lesson, though, has been the most rewarding. A friend and colleague told me something recently that didn’t really sink in right away: she told me that I don’t have to kill myself for the projects that I want to do.
There are certainly sacrifices made in this work, as in a career in any industry, but it’s not just about being healthy to make it happen. It’s also about giving yourself time to live, both before and after and even during a project. That’s what feeds you as an artist.
And if you engage in a project where you eat, sleep, and breathe the work, get ready to give yourself downtime, because whether you like it or not, your body will make you take it in the end. It’s not about who is the most dedicated or “hardcore” in what they do—it’s about keeping enough of a healthy balance to not just wear the hats you need to, but to wear them well.