Interview with writer, director, actor, content creator & fave human – Eilish Stout-Cairns, ahead of her theatre directorial debut TONIGHT!

I’ve been looking forward to this interview for AGES as it is with one of my favourite pals in the entire world, but first some context! Today, Monday 25th January, is the premiere of the theatre performance The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust.  This production is free to watch and will premiere tonight at 7pm– streamed live over on Gosforth Civic Theatre Facebook page.

This theatre show tells the remarkable true story of two eccentric, opera loving lasses from Sunderland who achieved truly extraordinary things! The sisters, who lived to travel the world to listen to their favourite opera performers sing, used this passion as a cover, to secretly work to bring Jews out of Nazi Europe. In total, the Sunderland sisters, Ida and Louise, saved the lives of 29 Jews during the Holocaust and this theatre show tells that courageous story. Extraordinary lasses who did extraordinary things!

Graphic advertising The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust

This production is part of Brundibár Arts Festival; the first annual Festival in the UK dedicated to the Music and Arts of the Holocaust. I’ve supported Brundibár Arts Festival for the last few years – it’s a super important and special festival; it seeks to find new ways to positively document the astonishing achievements of artists under adversity, and to keep their stories alive through music and the arts. They will be back (hopefully) with an in-person festival in 2022!

I’m so excited to watch The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust tonight and not just because it is part of Brundibár Arts Festival or because it is amazing two amazing North East women, I’m super excited because it is Culture Vulture pal Eilish Stout-Cairns directorial debut! YAS! Eilish is such a glorious and talented creative chameleon and one to watch with a bright future ahead.

I recently caught up with Eilish for this lush interview – we chatted Cook sisters, mental health, social media, Melva and online trolls….over to you Eilish!

Eilish Stout-Cairns head shot on a beach

Can you introduce yourself for my readers? 

My name is Eilish Stout-Cairns and I’m a 24 year old actor and creative freelancer from the North East.

Well hello Eilish! Can you describe what you do?

Goodness, second question and it’s already a tough one! I act, I work as a content creator for two online companies- with that I also video produce, I work as a facilitator for young people, I just wrote my first show last month and I guess now here I am directing The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust. It’s a big mixed bag!

Picture of Eilish Stout-Cairns performing

Questions like that also send me into an existential crisis! How did you get into creative industries?

As far back as I can remember I wanted to act. I loved being on stage, even if one of my earlier roles in life was ‘Window Number Two’ in a Youth Theatre production of PeterPan- I made that window my own! I jest. But I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.

I left sixth form at 18 and went on to work in makeup, all the while still auditioning- without having a clue what I was doing, then I went on and trained at Project A at the Theatre Royal when I was 20, since then I’ve been in the professional industry.  

Eilish leading a workshop as Feggis in a school

People don’t really understand the fact that us creative freelancers – do A LOT. Multiple projects, jobs, businesses, freelance shenanigans. I think your portfolio of work sums that up……can you briefly describe the melting pot of wonderful things you do? 

Wow, Okay!  Being an actor was always my main job, even if, at the start, that didn’t necessarily make me that much money. So, then I had to put my eggs in other baskets. I trained to become a spray tanner in April 2019, bought the kit and I am now a Silver Level Professional Mobile Spray Tanner! But of course, that was also freelance, I then because a facilitator for theatre, drama and creative learning company Mortal Fools and started working with them on some of their projects for young people such as: Future Ready, a project they do with Collingwood School in Morpeth. I then started to work for them as a youth theatre practitioner and still am to this day.

Back in June last year, I applied to be a content creator for an online company Latest Deals, they hired me and 4 weeks later, so did their sister company- Latest Free Stuff, with them I make short videos, I do Facebook Lives, run competitions etc. It’s a bit like QVC but in a more modern way!

Eilish in character

What is the Brundibár Arts Festival? What’s been your involvement in it?

The Brundibár Arts Festival is the first annual Festival in the UK dedicated to the Music and Arts of the Holocaust. And that topic is something that personally I never learnt much about. I didn’t know about the music associated with the Holocaust and we should, as it’s such an amazing way to keep individuals’ stories alive.

I was part of the Festival last year as an actor in the performance- The Last Cyclist, and this year, myself and Northumberland Theatre Company had an idea- we approached the festival and here I am directing this year’s show!

Brundibár Arts Festival is important because, it shows us some of the great works of art that emerged from such horrific circumstances.  We should be educated on these things; the art we see in the festival is often a lesser known story and we’re truly giving it an important platform and telling human stories of creative courage.

Eilish performing at Gosforth Civic Theatre – The Last Cyclist – Brundibár Arts Festival 2020

Tell me about this year’s production – The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust?

The production is all about The Cook Sisters; two ordinary lasses from Sunderland who achieved extraordinary things. And that’s not me calling them ordinary- they called themselves that. It’s such a gorgeous local story about two young women who saved the lives of 29 Jews, that a lot of people may not know about.

Why is it important to shine a light on lesser-known courageous stories of women like this?

Because often, when you think of wars or fighting or courage, you may think of a male dominated picture. And that’s not the case. For years. We learnt from male dominated history books and it’s time that that was changed.

When I was at school, I can’t remember learning about one woman who wasn’t a wife of a man. Apart from maybe Cleopatra and we glossed over her. – The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust isn’t a story of royalty, it’s about two ORDINARY lasses who were young and passionate, and the things they achieved are worth knowing and celebrating.  These women saved lives.

What do you hope people take away from The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust?

I want people to sit, enjoy it and to allow themselves feel – then to go away and learn more about the sisters.

Why should people tune in later today at 7pm to see the production? 

If you don’t know the real story of Ida and Louise Cook- you need to watch it! You’ll wanna learn. And even if you do know their story, still watch it- feel proud that you know this story and that you’re a part of it. The performance is littered with music, opera and it’s uplifting. There’s something for everyone.

I’m so excited to tune in later to see your directorial debut! Right so tell me about your role at Mortal Fools?

I started working with Mortal Fools back in 2017 with their first production of Melva and then toured a new version in 2019/20. And now it has been made into Melva Mapletree & the Quest for Barnabas Boggle, an interactive, online storytelling game and one-stop resource to support children’s everyday worries and anxiety

Then I started working as a facilitator for them in January 2020 working with various schools, running the younger Youth Theatre sessions and participating in their audio theatre experience When The World Is Loud back in August. They can’t get rid of me!

Team Melva during 2017 show run in Prudhoe

Tell me about Melva and your involvement? And the big Q, who is Feggis?

Melva is a show for children (and their parents/carers) and it’s all about mental health! Worries are “worrits” in the show and Melva is dealing with a lot of them and it is giving her  anxiety. Melva approaches these subjects in a light-hearted, accessible and child friendly way and it invites young people to talk openly about their own worries and thinking about how they might manage them. Melva also shows that grown-ups get these worries too- and that that’s okay!

Feggis! Yes, one of my roles in Melva (There’s 6 in total- 4 in one scene!) is Feggis the talking, fainting goat. Feggis went to goat school and that’s why they can talk but not write. Feggis helps Melva be calm and chill out- showing her how to breathe! Feggis is an audience favourite and pretty adorable.

Eilish as Feggis during a Melva workshop at a North East school

Melva Mapletree & the Quest for Barnabas Boggle, Mortal Fools’ interactive, online storytelling game launches to schools TODAY! What was your involvement in the game?

I’ve played it and it’s fun! It did leave me going- Is that really my voice?! And seeing this character, I’ve worked on for three years in animation is so weird, but in a wonderful way! We had quite heavy involvement in the game development, from the very beginning with some of our initial ideas being brought in to the final project, It was lovely for it to be done this way and was so collaborative! The Melva cast are so rooted in the characters and the story, so having a say in this next chapter felt vital.

Graphic depicting Melva game

And you managed to find time in 2020 to write a Christmas show?  Tell us more!

Eeeek, This was big! I wrote my very first show the back end of last year- The Elf Who Saved Santa. It all stemmed from a casual chat with Northumberland Theatre Company about a silly Christmas idea I had, to which they said- write it! And I did!

The show centres around Bubblegum, a little elf with a big heart who tries really hard but might not actually be great at what she does- apart from music! It tells the story of Santa feeling lonely, jumpy, grumpy and lost because of everything that was happening in the world and COVID-19- so Bubblegum tries to show him that the Christmas spirit still exists. It touches on some mental health topics too and it shows that even the people we least expect can feel sad sometimes.

Eilish as Bubblegum

What was it like being able to bring something magical (and very contemporary) to families at such a challenging time?

We got some brilliant feedback, which was so rewarding with it being my first show! It was filmed and put online; not getting that initial audience reaction like you get in a live show, just left me unknowing and worried that people wouldn’t like it! But it was well received with some people even saying it helped their children understand adults’ emotions better.

I think it gave everyone some much needed relief at this odd time. I think it’s important that there was something out there to help families have conversations about their emotions at the moment. Life is weird and none of us REALLY know what we’re doing- so talking about it can offer a bit of relief. I’m pleased I was able to help some people do that.

Eilish performing Christmas 2020

You’re a gigging actor, theatre practitioner, writer and now Director – what’s the impact been of COVID to you personally? Has it made you “pivot” at all? 

COVID-19 definitely made me re-think some things. I had two tours cancelled and multiple shows- like many others! I was fortunate enough to be working online for the Mortal Fools Youth Theatre when this first started- so that kept me busy. I’m not going to lie to you though, I’m sick of the sight of Zoom! I can’t wait to never use it again!

Because of COVID- I applied for the content creator job- something I probably would never had had time for, as prior to the pandemic I was working at the O2 Academy Newcastle and the Airport. (Both of which I’ve now been made redundant from) So now I spend Monday-Friday (usually) filming, editing, being on social media and it’s taught me so much! I’ve done multiple social media courses, I’ve became a Mental Health First Aider, I even did an Excel course! I guess having all this time made me want to better my skills. I’m now pretty capable in editing and have done a few fellow actors showreels, I’ve learnt how to use greenscreens and done a lot more VoiceOver work. It’s made me adapt and grow the skills that I maybe didn’t use so much.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been given the jobs that I have had during this time. But I’ve also worked my arse off for them and created my own work- I ain’t waiting for anyone else, I’ve gotta make work for me!

Eilish as Feggis performing in Melva with actress Katie Powell (Melva)

What do you think the theatre landscape will look like beyond COVID?

Well, this is a question and a half! I think streamed performances will be common, and to be honest I don’t really know about the wider landscape. I’d like to think there’d be more appreciation for theatre, and for artists. Because people have gone so long without them. Maybe people won’t be on their phone during a performance anymore or look down on our jobs and stop saying “yeah but what’s your real job? or “what else do you do to support that?”.

2020 has oddly been the first year I’ve been able to support myself financially solely by being a creative! From a professional perspective, I think casting directors are being more lenient with self-tapes and imperfect zoom backgrounds. If I was being sickly positive, I’d say this has forced us to use our brains in a different way, a new way of accessing and making theatre- and that’s not a bad thing. That being said, I cannot bloody wait to be sat front row in an auditorium again!

One hope personally in 2021? 

I want to achieve a better work/life balance. 2020 was an odd year and I don’t think I took enough time for me, when realistically that’s all I had to do. I’ve set boundaries and I’m hoping to stick to them, 2020 has taught me that ultimately family and friend comes first. They are the people who matter. There’s no point being consumed in work if you’re not happy with yourself at the end of the day. I want to get that happiness back! I also want to do music more; I play ukulele and guitar and I was gifted a piano early last year- I don’t play or sing half as much as I used to and I miss that.

Eilish playing her Uke

Work life balance….what is that!? You work on social media like me…..social media is a brilliant place but also TOXIC AF. How do you manage trolls? Any advice to aspiring content creators in this area?

Oh my goodness! Learn and accept that people can be stupid and are bored right now so have time to type silly comments! I’ve had hate because I ordered a medium meal at McDonalds instead of a large! Or that I wore the same top 2 days in a row! (Most of the hate came from middle aged white men).

I usually laugh at it, but sometimes- especially if it’s a wide viewed video- the hate can come thick and fast. I did a 60 second video on Doritos once and I never knew people could get so angry about those chilli heatwave triangles of deliciousness!

MY advice is to sit in the sadness for a minute, then try to brush it off- ultimately those people don’t know YOU and you wouldn’t want them too. It’s worth noting that whenever I’ve had those comments- there’s always a stranger or 5 sticking up for me, which is so beautiful.

Wider career advice wise, LEARN EVERYTHING! If you can film, edit, voice record, do admin, graphic design, know the best times to upload on different platforms and understand algorithms- even just basic on all of that- that’s AMAZING! You can never have enough skills; social media is ever-changing and it’s changing fast! The quicker you can adapt and keep up- the better. But also, don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s enough people trying to do that for you! Keep that chin up and be you, unapologetically!

Eilish laughing

Any other new projects/happenings on the horizon for Eilish in 2021?

Aside from Heroines! Melva is coming back! We’re filming the show (oops, am I allowed to say that?!) and I couldn’t be more excited. I also have my first Adult Panto tour booked in for this year March-July (fingers crossed) where I’m playing two characters- I’m starting to see a multi-character theme here. I’m beyond excited for the show and we’re playing in some gorgeous venues like the Darlington Hippodrome! I’m still writing, as and when, and who knows, those thoughts could become another show! There are a few things pending which I know I’m DEFINITELY not allowed to talk about- so, if you’re interested- WATCH THIS SPACE!

Eilish performing in Melva 2019

Ohhh we will Eilish….. we will be watching. (Sounds a little bit creepy…..). Make sure to watch the premiere of The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust later today at 7pm.  This production is free to watch and streamed live over on Gosforth Civic Theatre Facebook page and is part of Brundibár Arts Festival.

Graphic promoting The Cook Sisters performance TONIGHT
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Interview with Liv Hunt – artist, activist, proud freelancer & puppet master!

Liv Hunt – Culture Vulture Artist Interview

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

One of the biggest blessings of 2020, is that whilst the year hasn’t played out as anticipated (understatement alert!), I’ve had the privilege of working on lots of brilliant and unexpected projects. One such project was #Gateshead10x10 – as someone born and bred in Gateshead, it’s always exciting to work on something in my own community, on home turf and especially a project like this, that really has such brilliant aspirations.

Creative community project 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead launched in August to connect and inspire Gateshead people during the pandemic, through activities devised by Gateshead artists. 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead involved the creation of two booklets, one for adults and one for young people and families; each with 10 creative activities created for the people of Gateshead. The activities include a wide range of art forms from mindful writing, to puppet making, to origami, to Gateshead celebrating creative prompts and can be used indoors or outdoors, alone or as a group.

Gateshead based community organisation Dingy Butterflies has been heading up the project and across August, hundreds of activity booklets were distributed across the Gateshead community. Each booklet features 10 activities created by Gateshead artists, developed in collaboration with 10 Gateshead community and creative organisations. These physical packs are targeted at people who have limited or no access to the internet; Gateshead has a high proportion of residents without internet access and low levels of digital literacy.

In addition to the hundreds of physical packs being distributed across the community, there are digital versions of both 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead booklets available for ANYONE download now from www.dingybutterflies.org/10×10-creative-gateshead/ – follow the link to check out the booklets and have a go at something creative. All materials for the activities are inexpensive and easy to find in shops or you will find them around the home.

10 x 10 Creative Gateshead has also provided paid work for 15 Gateshead artists/freelancers during a challenging time for the cultural sector, in which paid freelance work has been decimated (how lush is that!?) It has been such a beaut project to work on and meeting so many artists (some I knew and others I didn’t) was ace! So al a Culture Vulture – I thought I’d reach out to one of the #Gateshead10x10 artists for a Culture Vulture interview to find out more. So for this interview, I went after a goodie and an artist, I’ve wanted to interview for a LONG TIME!

So step right up – Liv Hunt – artist, theatre maker, puppeteer, lovely human and freelance champion……let’s GO!

Liv Hunt – photo credit : Michelle Bayley

Well helloooooooooo – for my Culture Vultures, can you tell me who you are, what you doyou’re your practice?

Hello, I’m Liv Hunt.

I’m a theatre-maker, facilitator and activist working in participatory arts. My practice is centred around telling, sharing and imagining stories and to do that I use different mediums such as music, puppetry and sensory theatre. I began my career delivering theatre projects in care homes, schools and community centres working with people from varied backgrounds and abilities in partnership with Equal Arts charity for older people. I then began developing my practice with arts organisations, delivering on freelance contracts to produce theatre. 

I am also the community engagement coordinator for Alphabetti Theatre where I designed and coordinated participatory projects Walter (2018) in collaboration with The Discovery Museum and Write Something Junior (2019) in collaboration with 6 primary schools across the North East. My role is to ensure that everyone has access to the theatre and to develop Alphabetti’s networks within the community. My approach is quite hands-on. I get out and talk to people and, in the process, have formed strong relationships with organisations, groups & individuals.

In 2019, I formed Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. Our aim is to create theatrical experiences with, for and by older and neuro-diverse audiences. Our first company project was to create a piece of multi-sensory theatre for people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound. I am driven by arts for social change and champion for inclusivity and accessibility in theatre.

Tell us about your journey into creative industries?

I wasn’t initially going to be in the creative industries. I liked drama at school but I wasn’t really sure what I would do with it. When you’re at school you’re not taught all the jobs that are in the arts. So, I thought studying drama would make me an actor, a director or a teacher. I had no idea about participatory arts or how the arts work with communities and the possible jobs tied in with that. A friend told me about a drama course at Northumbria University called Applied Theatre – I had no idea what applied theatre was but when I started looking into it, it grabbed my attention. I knew I wanted to learn more about it, so, I enrolled. Towards the end of the course I became interested in working with older people with dementia, which framed the first 3 years of my career in the creative industries.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Tell me more about your experience in theatre and puppetry?

My experience with theatre and puppetry is through a participatory arts perspective, the work is centred around the communities and people I work with. In my early career I was developing theatre in care homes, community centres and schools. In 2017, I was commissioned to work on a project with St Marks Care Home and Battle Hill Primary to develop a piece of theatre, celebrating the Gateshead born Dodd Sisters who founded The Little Theatre, Gateshead. The project was to produce a retelling of The Pitman’s Pay written by Ruth Dodds, to be performed at The Little Theatre.

I have been a drama worker for Live Youth Theatre for the past 4 years where I have directed youth theatre shows with young people aged 13 – 25. In 2019, I started working with Unfolding Theatre to develop a Christmas show with Edberts House over 12-weeks. The Edberts Express was then performed at St Mary’s Church. I am an associate drama worker with Open Clasp Theatre Company where I have delivered drama workshops exploring issues related to women.

I’m currently developing a theatrical film with my company, Woven Nest Theatre. The film is called Mariana’s Song and is about a woman who is in love with the sea. We are just in the pilot phase of this project. It has been created for older people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound and incorporates sensory stimulation, lighting and sound.

Prior to lockdown we were developing a touring puppetry show specific for care homes. We were developing a tea trolley theatre complete with tea-pot puppets, original music and sensory surprises. We were commissioned by Sunderland Culture to develop the piece with a Sunderland care home but sadly due to COVID it was postponed. When we get the chance and it’s safe to do so, we’ll be dusting off our teapots again!

Wow….what an accomplished portfolio! Puppetry is something that absolutely fascinates me….can you tell me a little more about your puppetry experience?

I’ve always really loved watching puppets and puppetry shows. I became interested in using puppetry within my own practice after I did a course at Northern Stage with Tom Walton. He taught us how to make really simple puppets using materials found at home. I loved the way you could make a puppet out of an old newspaper and some masking tape. I was doing a lot of work in care homes with older people at that time and decided to try it out in there. We built a simple newspaper puppet as a group which they really enjoyed (it involves a lot of repetitive actions such as crunching and rolling the newspaper.) I then brought the puppet to life and moved it around in the space.

I was amazed at the reaction that this had. The older people were calling for the puppet to come towards them and when I came over with it they would smile, laugh, stoke and talk to the puppet as if it was a living breathing thing. I don’t think they really saw the puppet as though it was real, but they were able to take it for what it was in that moment and connect with the emotion that the puppet was portraying. So, if I was portraying sadness, they would comfort it and if I was portraying happiness they would laugh and smile with the puppet. That’s what I love about puppetry –they can portray emotions in a really pure form.

What is the puppet scene like in the North East?

The puppetry scene is good and growing in the North East. We are really lucky to have a growing number of puppetry companies in the region and of course Moving Parts – Newcastle Puppetry Festival which was held at Alphabetti Theatre last year. The festival showcases fantastic puppetry from companies all over the world so what you see there is really diverse. I love going and just soaking up all the different kinds of puppets. Moving Parts have also brought lots of training opportunities to the region which has meant that more artists, such as myself, are starting to use puppetry as part of their practice. So, what we’re starting to see is a ripple effect of more freelancers starting to use puppetry in performance and also participatory arts which stems from these training opportunities.

Tell me about a recent project you’ve worked on?

Last year, I co-founded my company, Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. We are a company that produces theatrical experiences for neuro-diverse audiences, specifically older people with advanced dementia. We were just about to start our first company project, with a care home in Sunderland when Covid-19 started so everything had to be cancelled and put on pause. The project was to develop a theatre show in collaboration with the elderly residents there at their bedsides using elements of puppetry, lighting and sound.

In June, we were funded by Northumbria University to do a research project, looking at ways in which we can provide a theatrical sensory experience, digitally. It has been great – we have had space to collect our thoughts, plan and start filming snippets of our story. The entire experience has been really eye opening. I would never have dreamed of doing a digital project but now I genuinely believe using digital media is better suited to the project than the original idea on pause.

I think this time is really interesting for artists, we’re having to adapt our work in a really interesting way. We are not able to work like we used to, but by having this new barrier, it’s starting to unleash new artistic possibilities which is producing some really exciting work.

Can you tell me about a recent theatre production you’ve contributed to?

I was commissioned by Alphabetti Theatre and Fulfilling Lives charity for people who experience homelessness, substance misuse, ill mental health and offending. I worked with a group of experts by experience and their support workers over a 2-month period to develop a piece which would later be performed at the Fulfilling Lives Annual Forum. The piece was centred around commemorating the lives of the experts by experience who had passed away in the previous year, which had been particularly high and so the group was experiencing a high level of trauma. We developed a series of short pieces, taking inspiration from creative writing, spoken work and contemporary performance, which we then crafted into a script. The piece was performed to a backdrop of an outline of a human which was gradually filled in as the piece unfolded. The aim was to show that people who had died weren’t just numbers on a page but people with complex and rich lives that deserved to be celebrated. The group performed the piece themselves and then we took part in a Q&A with the forum.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Can you tell me about your experience as a freelancer so far?

Generally, I love being a freelancer. I love how versatile and surprising the work is and all the lush people you work with along the way. I like the thrill of starting new projects and don’t get me wrong writing funding applications is a nightmare but when you finally get funding it’s like you’ve won the lottery. That being said, I definitely find it stressful sometimes. It’s a lot, constantly. And the idea of job security sounds dreamy.

What has your lockdown experience been like?

During the lockdown I found it really hard at first. All the jobs I was working on/about to work on got cancelled and you watch everything you’ve built topple down in front of you. As freelancers we’re so use dto keeping the cogs turning, day in day out, so to have everything come to a really sharp stop with no sight of starting again was really jarring. After I got over the initial shock, I decided to use the time to take a well-earned break to recharge, plan, reflect and read. I used the first half of lockdown to basically check back in with myself after years of going full steam ahead. I started doing art just for the sake of it, which I hadn’t actually done in a really long time. Then for the second half of lockdown I started to turn the cogs again, but I definitely felt the benefit of giving myself time to breath. It’s made me think that every freelancer needs a 1 month paid recharge holiday (if only!) I started picking up more freelance work and volunteer positions. One of those was being on the Freelance Task Force.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Ohh tell us more about The Freelance Taskforce?

The Freelance Taskforce was an initiative started by Fuel Theatre. There are over 150 freelancers from across the UK on the taskforce. And I was really lucky to have Karen Traynor and Sian Armstrong on there repping the North East with me. We formed the NE Freelance Taskforce – we have a twitter page where we post regular information out and we going to be announcing some exciting updates soon so check us out!

If you could change one thing about being freelance, what would it be?

I’m a big fan of the initiatives that pay freelancers just to be freelancers. This isn’t centred on a product or a particular project you have to work on. You can use this money however way you want obviously within reason. I think that’s a brilliant idea and would solve a lot of problems. We spend so much time looking and searching and frantically running from job to job we don’t allow ourselves time to stop and think, reflect and check in with ourselves. I think if there were more initiatives that paid freelancers to do that, more people would.

PREACH – love the sound of that! So, tell me about your role/work on #Gateshead10x10?

I was commissioned by Dingy Butterflies to create two activity packs, one for families and one for adults. The idea was that the activity packs were for people who are having to spend time indoors due to self-isolating but were unable to access online activities. The pandemic has really shown the digital divide. For some, the arts have become more accessible. Suddenly, you can watch brilliant theatre for an affordable price and in the comfort of your own home. Fab! But, for those who do not have access to a computer or internet it has been tricky to find stuff to keep the kids and themselves entertained. This project aimed to provide the community in Bensham, Gateshead with activity packs complete with instructions and materials. I was one of 11 brilliant artists who worked on the project. The artists were diverse in art form; creative writers, visual artists, illustrators, bee conservationists and theatre-makers. It was my first time making an activity pack or a booklet and I absolutely loved it!

Each #Gateshead10x10 artist was partnered up with a Best of Bensham Collaborative member organisation – which organisation were you partnered with and how did you work together?

I was partnered up with The Comfrey Project in Gateshead, a charity delivering a programme of activities in gardening, languages and arts for refugees and asylum seekers. As you come in you get a glimpse of the beautiful gardens they have there where they grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers for the bees. I always feel 100% calmer after a visit to The Comfrey Project.

I started volunteering there around June time, and straight away I felt really at home. Over the summer I have been delivering some socially distanced activities with families visiting the centre. When we met to discuss the Dingy Butterflies project we talked through the needs of the group and ideas around activities. One of the main things that I needed to think about was how to make this accessible for people who have English as a second language. I went away and began developing the ideas and playing around with puppetry techniques that relied on easy-access materials and simple but effective steps. The packs have gone out now and I’ll be keeping up to date with how they get on. Hopefully at the end when they have created some puppetry magic we are going to have a sharing of what everyone has made.

Can you tell us about the #Gateshead10x10 two activities you developed?

For the family pack, I have done a how-to-guide on making a shadow puppet theatre out of an old cardboard box. This is really easy to make, uses materials found round the house and is good entertainment for the entire family! Once you have made and decorated your shadow puppet theatre you can then start developing your story. When I trialled this activity out on my niece we used her favourite story-book for inspiration but you can use your imagination to come up with a story as well. Once you have your story and the characters in your story you can start making your shadow puppets using black card and kebab sticks. Finally, all you need to do is put a lamp in the right position, turn the lights off and begin your theatre show.

The pack designed for adults shows them how to make tin foil puppets. This is a little bit trickier but the result is a defined puppet which looks great and has good movement. Tin foil is a brilliant material to use as you can get really good definition on the faces. One you have sculpted the tin foil into the right shape you then layer on baking paper with glue. The result makes the puppets almost look like there made out of wood. I then encourage them to start exploring with their puppets and record a short story using their puppets as the main character.

Creativity is a huge part of #Gateshead10x10 – Why is creativity important to you? How do you think it can help others?

Creativity is one of the brilliant things that makes us human. I think it plays a huge role in how we process ourselves and the world around us. I rely heavily on creativity to get me through and I think without creativity life would be really really really boring. I see it as something that we all have inside us, some people may use it more than others, but it’s still there.

When I work in communities a lot of people tell me that they are not creative, and that the arts isn’t for them. But with a little unpicking we realise that they lead very creative lives, so somewhere along the line there has been a disconnect between the creativity in people’s everyday lives and creativity as a concept. I think we have got confused in thinking creativity is only for some people and not for others. Labelling some as creative and others academic and so on. I think that’s a huge mistake as it’s robbing people of the opportunity to express their inner creativity.

What are you working on right now?

I have just been commissioned by Helix Arts & Gateshead Arts Team to run a pilot project with unpaid carers. This project has been a long time in the making, so I am absolutely buzzing to finally get it off the ground! I’m going to be working with them over 8 – 10 weeks to develop a piece of forum theatre which will then be showcased to a closed audience. That’s all I can give away at the minute but I’ll be sharing out more info soon.

Do you have any advice for future freelancers AND/OR folks wanting to enter into creative industries?

Ahh there’s tonnes…. Here are just 5

1.            Find your tribe, the people who have your back and are going to support you. We are really lucky in the North East there seems to be a really good ‘ladder-down’ mentality.

2.            Being a freelancer is hard graft, make sure you give yourself time to rest so you don’t burn out.

3.            If you can, continue to find training opportunities. I believe we should never stop learning. Whilst working as a freelancer I have continued to train in performance, puppetry, movement, voice, playwrighting. Some have directly benefited my career and others have been good for me creatively.

4.            It’s ok to ask about pay, please please do, and make sure you know your own value. I did a lot of work for free at the beginning which is fine to some extent. Sometimes I still do bits for free. My general rule is that if I feel like I’m getting experience out of it that I ever wise wouldn’t have then it’s ok. But know what your limits are – these are just mine.

5.            Shy bairns get nowt. This saying has helped me in so many ways. If you want to work with someone, send them an email. People are generally nice and want to help you. 

Great advice….you’re a gem! Anything else you want to tell us about?

I’m setting up a network for participatory artists – #ParticipatoryArtsSocial. It’s a space to come together and share, reflect, listen, learn, rant and support one another. We meet fortnightly and if you want to join the mailing list please email me on oliviahunt11@outlook.com. I put regular updates via my twitter @LivHunt_11

Well thanks Liv! See – I told you it was a goodie of an interview! Very excited about Liv’s upcoming projects and happenings!

If you get a chance – please check out #Gateshead10x10 activity booklets and why not have a go at the activities! I’ve love to see how you get on and see your creativity!

Interview with Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw – creative, designer, interiors & 3D visualiser….

I’ve got some corking Culture Vulture artist interviews coming up – it’s such a privilege to be able to reach out to connect with and champion creatives. It also gives me hope during this strange old world/Black Mirror episode we find ourselves in that there a wonderful talented creative people out there, smashing it. I find it really motivational on a personal level, but at a time, when freelancers have but really hit HARD by the pandemic, I’m feel it’s even more important for me to champion folks when I can and use my platform to profile and amplify!

So here we go with another wonderful Culture Vulture interview – this time with Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw (@watchsophiedraw on Insta).  Sophie has a wonderful Insta feed, sells lush prints and creative products alongside a whoppingly brilliant design portfolio.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Well hello Sophie – long-time admirer right here! For my fellow Culture Vultures, introduce yourself!?

Hi there! I’m Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw; I am a 27 year old cis woman from the North East, living in Newcastle.  I am an all-round creative and illustrator with a background in Interior Design.

How would describe your creative practice?

Watch Sophie Draw is a funnel for my self-expression. I have all these interests (some people say too many) like architecture, art history, travel and culture, psychology, minimalism and living sustainably – they all influence my work.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Have you always felt drawn into the creative industries or described yourself as creative?

Absolutely! I grew up around creative minded people like my grandad who I hail as my ultimate hero; it was always a path I was going to pursue. The biggest question was what direction I would take?

I really had no clue on what to specialise in at University and ultimately it was my lecturer’s enthusiasm during my interview that made me want to study Interior Design. Outside of my studies and developing within the industry, I have always loved the arts scene – my friends often refer to somewhere a bit arty as “very sophie”… which could be taken either way.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

You’ve had roles like “interior designer” and “3D visualiser” – tell us about those roles? What on earth is a 3D visualiser?  Are you still doing it freelance?

I was really fortunate after graduating to be offered my first role working for Ikea as an Interior Designer. I had three fun, chaotic and flourishing years designing room sets for Ikea Gateshead and commuting to London working on a brand new store, with some of the most creative people I have ever met from all over the world. I really do owe a lot to the team from Gateshead and specialists I worked with in London; they made me the designer I am today.

The best way to demonstrate my role as a 3D Visualiser, is if you look at an interior design magazine and really look closely at the “photographs” of bathrooms, 90% of them will be CGI. That’s what I did. It is now something I can never unsee; the talent and skill that goes into these images is beyond crazy. It was the most challenging role of my career.

Just last year I ventured into the corporate and leisure side of Interior Design and thought finally “this is it” but in all honesty I hated it. I really struggled to align my values with the industry and found it to be, as much as this word is overused, toxic. I quit instantly and started doing some casual freelance work to pay my bills, but it was never going to be a long term plan as I had fallen out of love with design. That was until I decided to use my time of unemployment to finish all my personal art projects and that led me to ‘Watch Sophie Draw’.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

How does your brain manage the focus, precision of technical drawing for your interior design and then the freedom to be creative and illustrate within other areas of your practice? To me, that seems opposing and contradictory – (I’m creative; the least precise person in the world and as delicate as a fat elephant)….

You are right! They are completely contradictory. I hated technical drawing when I was learning but somehow now it’s like my own personal ASMR. I used it daily for one of my roles and it is so natural to me now that the days I wanted to throw my computer out the window are long gone. It actually relaxes me now.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Oh gosh – love ASMR – obsessed and addicted. Tell me about your illustration work and how that came about?

I never set out to start illustrating, my main aim was to finish all my unfinished art projects as a way of therapy when I was in a really uncertain position after quitting my job and feeling really burnt out. I started flying through old sketchbooks, experimenting with new mediums and then my sister donated an old tablet to me and I started dipping into digital illustration. It wasn’t until lock down, that I really sat and found my groove.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Tell me about your graphic design style? You seem to have a love affair *like me* with colour!

I think my graphic design style is really driven by my interior influences. I love mid-century design and my ideas are often just me designing for myself. Which often means a lot of colour and bold lines.

You’ve illustrated iconic buildings and places in the North East – what do you love about the North East?

I love the people, the culture and the architectural history. I love how it’s so diverse and you can meet people from so many walks of life. Mostly I love the creative buzz and how, as a community, the north east always comes together to support small businesses and the arts.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

In your spare time what is your creative pleasure or indulgence? I.e. something creative that you do just for yourself?

I have an overwhelming amount of old interior magazines and I try to repurpose them into collages. It often breaks down my creative block, but it is also just a really relaxing activity. I have a few of my pieces framed around my home. They often are very punchy and bold like my illustrations.

I do love collaging as an activity – very soul soothing! Where do you seek inspiration from?

I am really fascinated by old matchbox graphics, particularly those from Japan.  I did a little sketchbook study during lock down and I am constantly going back and forth to it for ideas. The graphics are fun, bold and colourful yet still simple; I try to mirror that in my own designs.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Tell us about a highlight of your career so far?

This is probably the unexpected answer, but it would be leaving the corporate world. I am so much happier now having found something that I can really express myself doing and being part of a great community of creatives in the north east.

It’s a more common highlight than you’d think…. So, how have you been spending lock down?

I really developed my style and identity as an illustrator, I decided to dive head first into my illustration to cope with being locked up in a tiny flat all day. It really was a bridge between me and self-care, in a time where I was concerned about a decline in my mental health. Between illustrating, watching Tik Toks and my daily walks, I decided to teach myself hooping – lets just say I almost broke the tv and a few windows practicing some basic techniques.

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

Do you sell any of your work? Take commissions?  

I do, I’m currently selling prints on Etsy and Redbubble and I am always open to commissions. You can catch me on my Insta @watchsophiedraw or on my website.

What are you working on right now? Any projects?

My local illustrations were really popular, so I am working on a few more and I have some commissions brewing inspired by our north east mining history. So there is a lot of exciting things to come.

Can you share with me a few artists that are inspiring you right now or suggestions of artists I need to check out?

I think everyone in Newcastle already knows of Nolasean, I am obsessed with her work and it definitely inspires me especially when I’m collaging. Another is a friend of mine Curious Smark, her embroidery work is beautiful and totally reflective of her fun personality.

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nolasean

What’s next for you? Any projects or creative happenings in the pipeline?

I’m hoping to host a few stalls at local markets this year, to really get out and meet the community. If all works out my first one should be in November, fingers crossed! I am also in talks to get some of my north east illustrations stocked by a local business, which would be amazing.

How can we stay connected with you?

You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram @watchsophiedraw

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Sophie Mosley aka Watch Sophie Draw

All sounds very exciting – loving hearing an empowering story of a creative finding their voice and honing their practice during lock down. Check Sophie’s work out and I guarantee you will fall in love with it like I did!

Big love fellow Culture Vultures!