Monday, June 17, 2013

Living and Working in London, Week 1: "Is that what they call a vocation?"

Some thoughts on touristing...

When I tell people that it's my first time in London, they seem a bit surprised that I'd choose such a lengthy trip as my introduction. In fairness, I've watched enough BBC that I should have a map of the city in my head by now, but anyway. From a tourist perspective, I've found that it's actually ideal. Whenever I go to a new place, the farther away it is and the less likely I am to go back, the more pressure I feel to:

Thank you for the fabulous meme, Hyperbole and a Half.
When you're visiting for a weekend, or a week, or even two, there's this sense of urgency and an imperative to make every day count. To see or do something amazing that you wouldn't be able to enjoy at home. 

But on an 11-week trip, even with a full-time work schedule, I know I'll have plenty of time to see and do as much as I'd like. It means that I don't feel like I'm wasting precious exploration time if I spend a rainy day in my studio doing chores, watching TV, and writing my blog. (Read: My Saturday.) 

and more thoughts on working...

I love it. And I'm not just saying that because both of my supervisors have the link to my blog. Working at a local theatre will teach me much more about life in London than I could learn from any tour or well-planned trip (or even watching BBC! ;-). If I want to know how locals really spend their weekends, all I need to do is ask my co-workers. Moreover, I get to learn about the arts community by helping it from the inside, rather than simply seeing shows and trying to get my courage up enough to approach the artists for a few insightful conversations.

Everyone I've met at the Bush so far has been very warm and welcoming. The Marketing and Development teams brought me right into the mix from the moment I arrived. 

After the grand tour and a little bit of paperwork, I was told that going forward, I'd be leading the social media marketing efforts for the next production, Josephine and I My first assignment: research Josephine Baker and start creating content for Twitter, Facebook, and the Bush Post (the theatre's blog).

I'll admit, I didn't know who Josephine Baker was before I began my research, but I'm really happy I've had the opportunity to learn about her. She was a fascinating 20th century lady: A boundary-breaking and incredibly talented entertainer, war hero, spy, activist, American ex-pat, adoptive mother of 12 children from around the world with a complicated personal life that included love affairs with both men and women and 5 marriages. She even had a pet cheetah (jealous), which she enjoyed taking for walks down the Champs Elysee. Truly a character who led an amazingly full life - I definitely will not be short on content. 

I also had a chance to see Disgraced, the hit show currently running on the Bush's main stage. At some point, I might talk about it more in depth, but in truth I'm still chewing it over. It is one of those shows that stays with you for a long while, turning about in the back of your mind.

Later in the week, I had orientations with each of my supervisors where I learned a bit about the history and the current climate of the Bush. The move into the old library and a change of artistic leadership two years ago altered the direction of the theatre and enmeshed it more deeply in its surrounding community. The Bush remains focused on new plays, as it has throughout its 42-year history, but now it provides a stage for a wider range of voices, bringing in artists from diverse backgrounds with a variety of unique experiences and stories to tell. 

One of the challenges the marketing team faces is how to appeal to new theatre-goers and a diverse audience from the local community without alienating the loyal supporters who have been with them since the earliest years in their previous location, a small space above a pub on Shepherd's Bush Green.

I was nerdily excited to discover that I'd begin working on a technical project during my first week. On Thursday, the team met with a representative from Spektrix, the Bush's box office management software vendor, about implementing their new Development module. I dusted off my business analyst and project management hats and interviewed my colleagues to create a rough requirements document in preparation for the meeting. I had way too much fun. Really. Tech nerd. I know. 

It was great to see the new module in action and to get to ask the rep a bit about how it operated compared to the Association Management Systems I've worked with in the past. On the whole, I was pretty impressed. It met most of our requirements, and even the reporting tools seemed surprisingly user-friendly. It made sense later when a colleague explained that most of the Spektrix team had worked in the arts industry before founding the company and building the software. It's a lot easier to understand your users when you've professionally walked in their shoes.

The next step for me is to clean up the Development data currently floating around in Spektrix so that we can start using the module immediately after it's released to us. Hopefully, that will be at the end of this month, if their week-long beta test goes well. From previous experience, a week seems kind of optimistic for a beta test, but we shall see.

Later Thursday evening, I attended a two-part Development Council meeting. The first half was specifically focused on cultivating relationships with corporate sponsors and the second was a general Council meeting where members and staff discussed upcoming projects and progress towards financial goals. It was really interesting to hear cultivation strategies and action plans like those I've discussed in class being weighed, measured, and applied to an actual theatre.

By keeping fairly quiet and watching people interact as I was taking the minutes, I also learned about the social dynamics of the group - between Council members and with the staff. It was like a more actively engaged (and productive) sort of people watching. 

To sum up all the previous ramblings: So far, so good. :-)

"Is that what they call a vocation, what you do with joy as if you had fire in your heart, the devil in your body?" Josephine Baker 

Josephine doing what she loved: dancing her heart out! Thanks to poppins-me on tumblr for the .gif! 

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jess. It add sounds like you are in a perfect placement for growth and applying your talents! I'm glad you're enjoying your new challenges.