I worked at Spare Tyre from 2004 - 2008 and its no exaggeration to say that my experiences there have shaped my career and, to a large extent, my politics and life philosophy ever since. When Spare Tyre claims to change lives, it’s not just the participants it’s referring to - it’s everyone that comes into contact with the organization.
After I left Spare Tyre, I braved the world of freelancing. I directed a couple of plays, learned how to facilitate the odd workshop, and spent a lot of time setting up spreadsheets to deal with my taxes. After a few months I found myself working with Capital Age Festival - London’s arts festival for older people. This was an incredible opportunity, a chance to take the lead on a fantastic community arts festival and continue exploring the world of arts with older people that I’d been introduced to at Spare Tyre. I worked as the Festival Director at Capital Age Festival until 2012 when life took me away from London and all the way over here, to Providence, Rhode Island, USA. Actually, love brought me to America. I followed my partner here who had been accepted to a PhD program at Brown University, an ivy league school on the east coast about 4 hours north of New York. I applied and was accepted to a Masters program in Public Humanities (think community arts but applied to the humanities as well as the arts), also at Brown. After graduating, I somehow landed on my feet again taking up my current job as Marketing & Box Office Coordinator for the theatre department at Brown. I now spend my days exploring this strange new world of college theatre and picking up some useful design skills as I go.
Moving to London to work with Spare Tyre was a big decision and it’s been a whirlwind ride ever since. It’s a ride that has exposed to me a huge range of incredible work. I continue to struggle looking for language to describe the breadth of the work. I’ve found that the US doesn’t seem to have a coherent “community arts” scene in the way the UK (or at least London) does, and the phrase “community theatre” here can lead people closer to what we’d call amateur dramatics. Also, a lot of what is sometimes called “community-based arts” here seems to focus more on geographic communities than on any other defining characteristic. That said, the intention is largely the same regardless of the method or the name. I’ve seen a community come together through performance in memory of a nightclub fire that killed 100 people. I’ve seen international PhD students perform scripts written by school children from the poorest neighbourhoods in the city. I’ve seen older people sing karaoke Chinese Opera in Hong Kong. I’ve discovered a world of academic discourse on community-based arts and confronted impossible questions on its meaning and purpose. I’ve spoken to women who make theatre in Israel while gunfire literally strafes across their rehearsal room. I’ve seen a city’s leading arts & cultural organisations work together to celebrate the Unicorn, and pay homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones. And I’ve seen leading New York choreographers brought to tears watching adults with Parkinson’s Disease perform seated adaptations of their signature dance works.
My understanding of the work I want to make, what it’s possible to achieve, and the world I want to realise has exploded in the years since I left Spare Tyre. Everywhere, I’ve seen the arts being used to make people’s lives richer, give voice, raise protest, create opportunities for expression, and more. None of this would have happened without the brave choice of the Spare Tyre team back in 2008 to take a chance on a freshly-minted university graduate from Yorkshire.
I’ve been in the US for about three years now. My language shifts daily depending on who I’m speaking with and what we’re talking about. But some US lingo has definitely crept in to my permanent vocabulary. So, with that in mind: keep on rockin’, Spare Tyre!