This year we have a new weekly class, Company Development. It concerns the practical issues of putting on theatre: finding collaborators, forming a company, finding space, promoting shows, applying for funding, etc. Our first homework was to write down our “dream life as a creative artist” and the obstacles in our way. This was my attempt:
This is the third occasion in my adult life that I’ve had to write down my ambition.
The first was ten years ago, when a friend said the book What Colour is Your Parachute? had helped her work out what to do with her life. I bought a copy and worked my way through it but was stumped by questions along the lines of “Would you prefer to live in the country, a village, a town or a city?” The problem was that I could be happy in any of those places, and the best choice would depend on so many other factors — how I would be making a living, the composition of my family, my age, the locations of friends and, of course, the particular country, village or town in question.
In 2000 I had to write an essay on my personal future for the Future Studies course I was doing at the time. I ended up writing about how I hadn’t had a plan for my future since I gave up my childhood ambition of becoming a detective, and I didn’t intend to start creating one now. I was fairly happy with making life up as I went along without a single goal and couldn’t see things changing in the future. I used the analogy of improvising music, compared to reading off a score. The musician will have some basic guidelines (type of music, key, time signature, etc.) and while they’re probably thinking ahead to some degree, they will hope to create something wonderful as the piece progresses. Some phrases won’t work, but others will. They’ll be able to cope if people join or leave the band during the improvisation, and they’ll be able to bring the tune to a close when the time is right.
My philosophy hasn’t changed much in the past seven years. I still have no single ambition and I’m still improvising life as I go. I’m not suggesting everyone should improvise. If you have a definite ambition then it’s a great idea to set out where you want to be in, say, ten years and work back from there until you know what you must do today in order to achieve your goal. But if one has many ambitions, and expects to discover new ambitions in the future, sticking to a single life plan is unnecessarily restrictive. Of course, the danger is that one will never achieve any of one’s goals. On the other hand one might satisfy more than one ambition. Either way one is sure to have an interesting and varied journey.
Some people work in industries that are relatively traditional and for them a career plan might make more sense. You’re twenty years old and want to make partner in a City law firm by the age of 35? Or you want to end up with your own doctor’s practice? Your career path is pretty well defined, congratulations, here’s your first step… But if you work in most of the technology or “creative” industries, to name just two broad fields, then you should be prepared for a few bumps and unexpected forks in the road along the way. One should do as many things as possible, so long as one finds them interesting, and see what sticks and what opportunities come along.
Ten years ago I was the “webmaster” (a job title that barely exists a decade on) for a small company in London and would never have foreseen that I’d do a degree in Future Studies in Houston, Texas, or that I’d now be halfway through a two year acting course. Twenty years ago I’d never heard of the internet and any plan for my future would bear little relation to an adult life I’m pretty content with so far.
But, to attempt to tie things down a little, I’ll do my best to describe some personal futures.
Where would I like to live? It’s hard to separate this from many of my ambitions, as some locations are incompatible with some ambitions. In terms of cities I’d like to live in London, Bristol, San Francisco or Paris. And I hear Vancouver’s lovely. I’d be happy if I lived in any one of those during my life, or several of them at different times. I’ll probably add other cities to this list over coming decades if I travel. But then I’d also like to live in a cosy house in beautiful countryside, more than shouting distance away from other humans. I could also be happy in a small town, if it was the right town for me.
What would my family be like? I would be happy if it never changed beyond its current state, myself and my partner. We’d both be happy with this, but we know we’d also be happy if we had children, and have yet to find a way to make a solid decision either way before nature makes it for us. If we have children that, again, will affect how easy it would be to achieve some ambitions.
As for what to do with my life… Well, here is a list of some current ambitions, without letting reality restrict the imagination too much. I’d be happy if I managed one of these, and could also be happy if none were achieved; there are so many worthwhile ways to spend a life.
Find a group of people with whom creating new theatre is a pleasure rather than a chore, and create theatre that makes people laugh, cry and think. Make a living from creating and performing work. Be popular enough that we can’t perform everywhere people ask us to. Win popular and critical acclaim and enjoy ourselves.
Form an atheistic “religion” or society that acts as a guide to leading a good life without having to believe in imaginary beings. Inspire thousands of people who are only religious by default of upbringing, not because they’ve made a conscious decision to believe in a god. Have a membership larger than the Church of England and see faith-based schools banned in the UK.
Spend most of my time reading, learning and watching the world go by.
Start an internet start-up with clever people whose company I enjoy, producing something that people would get pleasure from, that makes their lives and the world slightly better, and that provides us with either a decent living or the opportunity to sell it all off for a lot of money and do something even more worthwhile.
Become a theatre/film/TV actor successful enough that I can pick and choose which roles I want to play. Have any talents I possess respected by people whose talents I respect.
Run a profitable magazine or journal that readers look forward to receiving and that inspires useful conversations between them.
Become a politician who, against all odds, is powerful enough to make the world, or at least a part of it, a more humane place to live. I would be a straight-talking breath of fresh air, like a middle class version of A Very British Coup’s Henry Perkins.
Become a theatre/film/TV writer and/or director. Be successful enough that I can choose which projects to accept, and can get funding for my own projects. If in the theatre, have shows performed in major London theatres and also performed by enthusiastic amateurs. If in film, have films that are released to cinemas and be described as a cross between Hal Hartley and Peter Greenaway (for example). If in TV, have programmes broadcast on major TV channels during the evening and be favourably compared to Dennis Potter.
Make a modest living selling prints (maybe lino or woodcuts) that I make in the studio we’ll have built at the end of the garden we’ll have.
Make a living from writing things, fiction or non-fiction, which change the way people see the world. Someone will like my fiction so much they buy the options on my stories solely so that no one can ever turn them into bad films.
Start a college that provides a new kind of creative education at degree level. It would acknowledge that aiming to provide a complete training in a specific field (like normal institutions) does a disservice to many young people beginning a life in the creative industries. Students would leave armed with huge numbers of inter-disciplinary ideas, with a foundation of basic skills and knowledge in many fields, rather than specific skills tied to a single profession.
If I only held one of these ambitions then stating it now and creating a plan to achieve it would no doubt be of enormous help. But I have no way of choosing between those above, or any other ideas I might come up with in future years. It’s a desire to not rule anything out. Or possibly it’s just indecisiveness. This may hinder me in the long term, and lead me to not persevere hard enough at any one thing to achieve greatness in a single field, and this is something I need to think about.
As you can tell, I didn’t get as far as defining any obstacles. I think all those who read their ambitions out in class concentrated solely on forming theatrical companies of one kind or another, like the first item in my list. I don’t know if this is the sole ambition of everyone in the group, or just the one that everyone focused on for the purposes of this class.
From one week to the next I’m mentally adding and removing ambitions from this list, and shifting the priorities as various aspects of life excite or depress me. There are couple of things up there that I’ve been meaning to write about in more detail for months, and hopefully I’ll get round to it soon.
Finally, if you’re interested in reading more about attempting to balance multiple ambitions or why planning one’s life might be a futile procedure, a few days ago I linked to a bunch of books and websites on this theme.