The word ‘emerging’ is one that is full of hope and promise, full of potential and expectation for the future. It implies that one is leaving one state of being and entering another. When one thinks of ‘emerging’, one may be prone to think of the butterfly emerging from it’s cocoon, transformed from the earthbound caterpillar into a multi-hued winged beauty, ready to soar into the skies...
But I’m not sure if many of us are entirely aware of what exactly happens inside the cocoon in order for this miracle to occur…
Well, first the caterpillar digests itself. It literally eats itself alive. Pleasant experience? Well, I’m not a caterpillar so I can’t claim to know for sure, but apparently were you to cut open the cocoon at the right moment, then a tasty caterpillar soup would ooze out and fall onto your shoe. Nice.
Then, once the caterpillar has disintegrated all of it’s tissue, it uses the protein rich soup to fuel the advanced cell development required to form all the various parts of the butterfly… the wings, antennae, eyes, genitals, beer belly, the whole shebang.
In other words, a caterpillar basically destroys itself in order to become a butterfly.
So, why the shit am I talking about caterpillars and butterflies? I suspect you can all guess. It’s that word, that vague, nebulous word:
This word is often placed just in front of another fun, rather vague and nebulous word:
Thus the two words combine to create the increasingly vague and nebulous term:
Now, When one thinks of an ‘Emerging Artist’, there is I suppose, a not entirely unexpected notion that they will one day ‘emerge’ from the chrysalis of their training and burst forth onto the theatrical scene, their beautiful butterfly wings shimmering in the glow of the footlights.
However, there seems to be a problem...
The cocoon in which a person transforms into a theatrical artist in the UK doesn’t seem to contain all of the necessary protein-rich resources available to our dear friend the butterfly.
To become a writer (and I’m still working on it, believe me) you have to do what the caterpillar does. Yes. Basically, you have to eat yourself. In order to master anything you need to spend a huge amount of time actually doing it. And time is a limited resource. You have to eat, you have to sleep, you have to pay rent. And whilst your earning the money to do those things you also have to find the time, the inclination, the motivation and the energy to actually write. You live on friends couches, you shower in hostels, you drink Asda brand lager and you write. You do this for years. It ain’t no holiday but it’s all in the service of a hope that one day, the sacrifice will pay off and you will emerge from your cocoon as a fully formed, skilled writer, able to afford Heinz baked beans and Sainsbury’s Finest Brand Ginger Biscuits or even the occasional shopping trip to Waitrose.
This hope, assumes that the cocoon will provide the protein necessary to build your soupy dreams into something of a writers career, but unfortunately such resources, so abundant in nature are not so readily available to the theatrical wannabe in the UK.
In the UK theatrical world there are a number of schemes that are focussed upon ‘Emerging Artists.’ This is great, it’s really good that our industry wants to build new voices, there’s clearly an intention there, what’s a little disheartening is that while the industry wants to develop new voices it doesn’t seem to have any real idea of how to do that.
It’s not good enough to say to someone relatively new to the craft:
“Here, you look like you’re working pretty hard, you have some talent, have an opportunity.”
Great, you’ve been given an opportunity. That opportunity will develop you, it’ll help you grow as a writer, you’ll learn things you never even dreamed of, you might work with some great people and make some great connections. But that opportunity will come to an end. What do you do next?
Well you look for the next opportunity, the next award… only it seems that in having had the first opportunity it disqualifies you from having another one. Are you now considered to have emerged? Are you ready to fly boldly into the theatrical world, your wings unfurled, blinding all who see you with your unique and powerful artistic vision?
No, of course you bloody aren't. One opportunity does not make a writer. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to have close to 30 professional shows produced in the UK and internationally. I’m still considered to be a new, emerging artist, but many of the opportunities that are available to emerging artists are now closed to people like me. And I am by no means the exception to the rule. I have known writers who have been ‘emerging’ for over ten years.
Make no mistake... We are the rule.
There is a huge amount of luck, hard graft and good timing that goes into a writers career. You also have a responsibility to build an infrastructure for yourself (people and theatres and venues who will believe in you and produce your work).
But beyond this, I believe there should be an industry infrastructure that goes beyond single awards and opportunities, or even, two or three or ten. It’s simply no good to put a couple of stepping stones into a huge swamp and say:
“There you go, we’ve done our bit! Good luck me old mucker!!”
I accept that writers must do their part to help their own careers but if the industry doesn’t step up to put down a couple more stepping stones then our best writers are going to fall into the swamp. They’ll be overwhelmed by life’s financial responsibilities and the wonderful work they might have produced will be lost at the bottom of a bog.
Someone once asked a really smart CEO the following question:
INTERVIEWER: "What do you invest in? An idea or the person who had that idea."
CEO: "The person of course. They could have a million ideas just as good or better, especially if I give them the chance to think of them."
This is a serious question that needs to be asked of the gatekeepers of the theatrical industry in the UK both for the sake of the artists and for the artistic future of the industry.
Fortunately there are wonderful organisations that do incredible work specifically to support the writers of new musicals at every step in their careers such as Mercury Musical Developments, but there is only so much they can do to help. We really need the larger theatres, commercial theatres and national institutions to start following their lead and provide more investment for writers to support them as they build their careers. The future of the industry depends on it.
We need more resources in the cocoon so we can build more butterflies.
Wouldn't that make the world a more beautiful place?