Louise Oliver: It takes guts to create art

Listen up, creative types; our associate producer Louise Oliver has got something to tell you. Whether you’re about to battle the wild and fickle beast that is the Edinburgh Fringe, or pack in a secure day job for a precarious career in the performing arts, Louise is here to remind you of how much the world needs you. And as a seasoned arts industry manager, who also acts, writes, sings, and produces for a living, she knows what the hell she’s talking about. 

In the run-up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, there will be a lot of ‘top tips’ and ‘how to’ blogs circulating. These are great, and useful, and if they come from Barry Church-Woods you should definitely read them.

But to me, there won’t be enough writing done on just how brave and important it is that you’re even taking on the Fringe in the first place.

Louise stand upMaking art is hard. Especially in the current social and economic climate. It takes guts.

Artists live in a fairly cruel dichotomy, in that we’re often dismissed or perceived as less useful members of society, but at the same time we’re absolutely essential. Without people writing songs, getting on stages, shooting movies, or displaying their work on a wall somewhere, then where’s the joy?

I’m certain no one would disagree with me that a little joy in our lives is essential. Now more than ever.

And yet, you’re really up against it, aren’t you? Artists are the world’s hardest working, most underappreciated, precious commodity. Artists need to be flexible with their availability, while most often juggling several other jobs to keep their heads above water financially. They need to be accommodating, but at the same time stand firm on their self-worth in order to survive. And they are frequently expected to provide what they do in exchange for “exposure”.

But exposure doesn’t put food on the table, and I’ve yet to attend an event where the caterer, sound engineer, or PR manager worked for exposure. The world wants what you do, but doesn’t want to pay for it. A double standard of value.

Artists are expected to be able to move administrative mountains when it comes to justifying what they do. In addition to your talent, which we all know is something that needs its own level of care and work, you must be able to grasp what it means to create a workable budget, write excellent copy in order to sell your show, design a flyer, negotiate with venues…the list goes on and on.

If you’re an actor, you need to become an expert in your own personal brand management, spend money on head shots and train travel to get to auditions, and keep soldiering on even though your life is about 80% rejection. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s exhausting and incredibly admirable, and it takes a unique kind of psychological stamina.

Amidst all of this, despite insurmountable odds and obstacles at every turn, you still make it work. You still turn up. You still get on stage. You still put pen to paper. You still tour that show. You still expose the most vulnerable parts of yourself and offer a piece of your humanity to the rest of the world for examination, scrutiny and celebration, in the hope that someone, somewhere sees themselves reflected back in whatever story you chose to tell, in whatever medium you chose to do it.

Redettes

I’m writing this because I see you. I know how important that is. This world can be a violent, oppressive, and confusing place, but you, the people who make art, you are one of the things that make it worth living in. I say that without hyperbole. Theatre changes lives. Movies and music bring people together. Art is an absolutely essential component of the quality of human life. Even in times of extreme strife, people find a way to sing songs and tell stories.

To bring it back to the context of the upcoming Edinburgh Festival Fringe; a lot of you will be self-producing, and in most cases doing a three-week run of your show. It’s going to get hard. You might not get the audience numbers you need to break even, or you might not get the level of critical praise you were hoping for. There’s a chance you will have your own self-worth tested.

So I want to take this opportunity to remind you that you are amazing. You are so brave. Not many people have the guts to do what you have done, which is to take something you are passionate about and throw it out there, into one of the most competitive and intense performing arts environments in the world. The very act of creation is a defiant move. By creating something, you’ve done the opposite of everything negative in the world. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t win all the awards. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make you famous. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t smash the box office. It matters that you did it. When you share your art, whatever it may be, you share a little part of yourself. It’s an extraordinary and beautiful act of empathy.

So when the going gets though, please remember that your small and precious act of creative defiance was not something just anybody could do, and that the world needs you to keep trying to create joy and tell stories. A lot of us are very grateful that you had the guts to do it at all.

Louise is a Glasgow-based actor, producer, writer and arts consultant with over a decade of experience working in theatre and festivals, both in Scotland and internationally. She has a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Glasgow in Theatre Studies and European Civilisation, and also trained as an actor at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. 

Follow Louise on Twitter: @MsLouiseOliver