The Joys of Making Your Own Work
words by Kara Chamberlain
If you are already a theatre-maker then I am probably preaching to the choir, but if you are starting out and wondering if theatre-making is right for you then I have to tell you, IT IS!
Making your own work can seem downright terrifying, and at times it is, but it is also an incredibly rewarding and satisfying experience. I never imagined myself as someone who would create shows, let alone do the accounting and learn about Qlab. Seven years later I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here are some of the things I love most about making my own work, hopefully they will inspire you to do the same.
No more waiting for the phone to ring.
As a professional actress I know the pain of waiting by the phone (or hitting refresh on my email every 15 minutes) in the hopes that my agent will tell me I have an audition. Not being able to work is one of the most painful things an artist can experience, and actors in particular face this struggle constantly. A painter can paint, a writer can write, and I guess an actor can go to dance class or workshop or do a monologue in their bedroom - but it isn’t quite the same.
The frustration that I feel when I’ve been ‘resting’ a little too long is wonderful fuel to start writing and creating. Being able to make my own work means that I have work. It doesn’t pay right away, though you can apply for funding to develop a project, but it fills that need to be doing my art. It takes away the pressure of getting work from other people, and puts me back in the driver’s seat of my career.
As a bonus, making my own work is what allowed me to get an agent in the first place. Never underestimate the power of creating your own opportunities.
Writing stories only you can tell.
There is still an incredible lack of diversity in the stories being told, especially for women, minorities, and those who are differently-abled and/or neurodiverse. By making your own work, you give yourself the opportunity to create a new story that only you can tell. Natalia and I have both explored stories of immigration, female health and sexuality, and relationships from a female perspective. These are not new topics by any means, but we have our own experiences and stories that are unique to us. Waiting around for someone else to represent your perspectives on stage or screen may take decades, but you have the chance to do it right now. There are so many people similar to you who are aching to see stories they connect with, and you could be the one to write them.
Finding your tribe.
Storytelling is a collaborative art, not a solo sport. Collaborating with other artists is a wonderful way to meet new like-minded people, expand your skills, and make work that you would not have thought of on your own. Whether it is R&D for a play you want to write, making a web-series with someone’s phone, or throwing around ideas over dinner, getting people together brings new energy to a project.
Most of my friends are wonderful people I’ve connected with through projects that one of us created. I am very grateful for all of the artists I have met who have offered their guidance and support to my projects. They keep me going when I am uninspired, and lend a hand when I have a project that needs support.
Taking big risks, getting big rewards.
One of the scariest things I’ve ever done was stand in front of an audience and say words I had written. The fear of them not liking it, or not getting it, was constantly in the back of my mind during that performance. But every laugh, gasp, or clap felt amazing and at the end of the show we got incredibly positive feedback. It can feel like a huge risk to put yourself out there, but it can be the most meaningful work you’ll ever do. And maybe they won’t like it - we’ve all been there - the most important thing is that you are sharing your work. You can only learn, grow, and develop your art by putting it out there.
Recently, Natalia and I were finally given funding for a small tour from the Arts Council of England, which meant we were able to get paid for our work! Over the past few years we have faced a lot of rejection, but also some amazing successes that were only possible because of our willingness to be brave and put ourselves out there on a stage. It all starts with a bit of courage and an idea.
If you have been on the fence about making work, or if you have a play you want to perform but haven’t taken the chance, I hope this has inspired you to put yourself out there. The risk is scary, but the rewards are great! Once you begin theatre-making, so many opportunities will present themselves. Scratch nights, funding possibilities, collaborations, performance slots, all of these things are out there waiting for new work. Why not make some and see how far it can take you?