Quotes for Motivation and Presentations

The other day, I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated that I didn't seem able to make headway on certain goals I had set for myself. Sometimes I have to be honest with myself as to whether I am prioritizing the correct things, or that I should be putting my energy toward the tasks that I would rather avoid, but which would light a fire under me if I accomplished them.

Sometimes finding a little inspiration is necessary. Similarly, finding a quote, image, or story upon which to anchor a presentation can be key. It is not a bad idea to have a collection of ideas and quotes that you find will support you in your work.

Here are some of mine:

Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe

"Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”
- Janelle Monáe 

"Speak your mind even if your voice shakes." -Maggie Kuhn

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” - Ellen DeGeneres 

“These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” - Najwa Zebian

"It doesn't get easier. You get better." - Unknown

"I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars." - Og Mandino

 

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style" - Maya Angelou

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” - Maya Angelou

“Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you see can inspire you.” — Grace Coddington

"Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire." - Unknown

 

 

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King

“Champions keep playing until they get it right.” - Billie Jean King 

“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo—far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” - Jodi Picoult 

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” - Unknown

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation—either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” -  Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” - Barbara De Angelis 

“It’s not the events of our lives that shape us but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” - Tony Robbins

“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.” - Simon Sinek

 

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


#PodcastReview: Storytelling For Adults

I am an avid listener of podcasts, be they news, business, politics, health, economics, culture, literature, education, drama, and more. Sometimes it feels as if I don't have the time to read. Therefore, I love having the opportunity to hear stories while I am doing something enjoyable, such as cleaning, organising, or cooking. Here are two that I am enjoying right now. When I don't have time to read for pleasure, I can listen!

 

LeVar Burton Reads

levar-burton-reads.jpeg

I grew up watching LeVar Burton host Reading Rainbow and perform as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. His is a fantastic example of a beautifully trained and unique voice, clear, expressive, authentic, and immediately recognisable. As an Actor, Director, Educator & Cofounder of the award-winning digital library for children Skybrary App, it comes as no surprise that LeVar is the face (and voice) of great literature. The first short story I listened to was "What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky" by Lesley Nneka Arimah (the fifth episode of the podcast). I was hooked.

http://www.levarburtonpodcast.com/              

                                        

Talespod.jpg

 

Tales

These are not your Disney-style fairy tales. If you like fairy stories but want to hear them in their original, great gory detail, this may be the podcast for you.

Vanessa Richardson is the co-host and researcher of several other podcast shows on the Parcast network, experienced in weaving together storytelling, voice acting, and psychology to educate and entertain listeners.

https://www.parcast.com/tales/

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


Transform Your Talk: Ten Tips

TransformYourTalk.jpg

 

When working with clients preparing to give a presentation, we rehearse and break down the speech in detail. We also get into how best to prepare prior to the talk, how to manage unexpected things that might occur during the talk, and how to decompress afterward. Here are some general considerations to get you started:

1. Drink Water

It is important to hydrate your voice well before your talk, even more so if you are in a dry environment or tend to get a dry mouth when speaking. If you are using a microphone, it will amplify those qualities in your voice even further. A warm-up that incorporates your articulators will help to prevent tongue suction and popping. If possible, have water with you when speaking. Don't be afraid to pause at an opportune point in your presentation in order to take a drink if you need it.

2. Get Excited, Not Anxious. 

When we drive a car, we don't stare at the barriers. Instead, we look where we want to go. Prior to a competition, athletes will go through every aspect of the game or course, imagining everything detail. As Vanessa Van Edwards says, "Anxiety and excitement are similar emotions the only difference is mindset." Focus on where you want to go, on how exciting this opportunity is. Instead of thinking, "I have to do this" change your mindset into "I get to do this!"

 

TransformYourTalk3.jpg

3. Channel Your Nerves

While waiting, move your body. Walk, shake out your hands, contract and release your muscles without movement at the joints, push against a wall. Listen to a song that gets you dancing. Use power poses

4. Breathe

Bring your awareness to your breathing and consciously drop it down into your diaphragm. If you feel adrenaline course through your body or anxiety rachet up, simply inhale for a slow count of four, exhale for a slow count of four. Inhale for a slow count of five, exhale for a slow count of five. Inhale for a slow count of six, exhale for a slow count of six. Inhale for a slow count of seven, exhale for a slow count of seven.   

5. Move with Purpose

When speaking, nervous speakers will often sway or pace or gesticulate in ways that are distracting. It's a good idea to video yourself in order to notice your "tells." A good strategy is the "rule of three" sometimes used in theatre.If you notice that you are repeating a gesture more than three times, you are not supporting your words. Instead, walk a "map" of your ideas. When making a new point, walk to a new spot. If getting personal or driving a point home, walk toward the audience. If the room needs to breathe, or you are speaking more universally, put greater space between yourself and the audience. 

Source: http://voice-international.com/

Source: http://voice-international.com/

6. Your greatest Asset is Your Voice

The quality of your voice can support the content of your talk or detract from it. Developing a voice that is expressive, powerful, and authentic is one of the greatest investments you can make in yourself. This includes the musicality of your voice, the pace with which you speak, how and where you pause, the words you emphasize, and more. The more skilled and intentional you are with your voice, the better you can craft your talk, and the more influential you are.

7. Allow People to Adjust to Your Delivery

Open your talk with a well-rehearsed opening and speak at a slightly slower pace with attention to emphasis and inflection. This will give the audience time to "tune their ear" to the sound of your voice and any accent differences between you.

Pictured: Artiz Aduriz

Pictured: Artiz Aduriz

8. The Audience Wants You to Succeed

Remember that each person in the audience took the time to show up to see your talk. They want you to do well. Few speakers are their best if they perceive the audience as antagonists. Come in with an energy of welcome, high regard, and excitement. Put your focus on them instead of your nervousness and you will transform as a speaker.  

9. Allow For the Unexpected

No matter how much you rehearse, allow there to be room for something to happen. Technical glitches, or tripping over your own feet doesn't have to be embarrassing or a "loss of face," it can be an opportunity. Have a joke ready or be prepared to ad lib. The audience might take it as an opportunity to relax. 

10. Be Prepared To Be Done.

It is a skillful speaker who has a decompression strategy in place. A presentation will take a lot of energy and may stir up anxiety - which will lead to a crash. You may also experience a lot of emotions stirred up inside you. Have something set up beforehand such as a debrief with a trusted friend, sit down and write a reflection, go for a walk, or sit in a hot tub or bath. Take some deep breaths, shake out your hands.

Sources And Further Reading:

A TED speaker coach shares 11 tips for right before you go on stage

Does body language help a TED Talk go viral? 5 nonverbal patterns from blockbuster talks

You Are Contagious - Vanessa Van Edwards

Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are - Amy Cuddy

Is Your Voice Ruining Your Life? - Roger Love

 

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


#CreativeInnovative with Lee Su-Feh: Yielding, Dissolving, Fighting, and Dancing Within Inquiry

Lee Su-Feh on Creating, Communicating, and Encountering the Humanity of Others

This is the sixth in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

Lee Su-Feh, Still from the film Migrant Bodies, Dir. Laura Bari

Lee Su-Feh, Still from the film Migrant Bodies, Dir. Laura Bari

Lee Su-Feh is a force of nature. Until December 2017, we have been two ships passing in the night in the “real world” but we operate in some of the same circles. I avidly follow her online and come to her for advice. I am lucky to consider her a mentor and friend. In December, we finally had the opportunity to sit down together and our discussion ranged over the personal, the political, the artistic, and several other topics we won't divulge here.

sufehlee2.jpg

"The notion that you can make a go of anything all by yourself is a capitalist myth. You are who you are because of others" 

 

 

Photographer: Joerg Letz

 

F: Lee Su-Feh, you has a remarkable background in children’s theatre, traditional Malay dance, contemporary dance, contact improvisation, and martial arts, and your career is a neverending cycle of shows, projects, accolades, and collaborations. You have also recently been touring your latest show, Dance Machine. This work consists of a kinetic sculpture, formed by sticks of bamboo suspended from a copper disk, creating an immersive space in which the public is invited to work with the artists, becoming collaborators and mindful participates in cause and effect, play and rest. Oh, and you are an Instructor in the Theatre program at Simon Fraser University where you teach voice.

LSF: You should write my bios from now on!!!

F: Well, I try my best! Now it's your turn to tell me a bit about yourself - what about your training in the arts?

LSF: I did Chinese martial arts as a kid, when I was 11-12. Not a lot. But enough to awaken something in my body, something about the pleasure moving my body, training. When I was 15 or 16, I joined a children’s theatre class led by Janet Pillai, who is now an award-winning arts activist, recognized for her work in cultural mapping. We learned traditional South-East Asian forms like Pencak Silat (martial arts), Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry), and became part of a larger questioning of what it meant to create contemporary Asian performance out of the debris of colonialism, half-remembered traditions and sitting in the interstices of multiple cultures and languages. We created work and toured across the country. Through this experience of Teater Kanak-kanak, I met my first dance teacher, Marion D’Cruz, from whom I learned traditional Malay dance as well as Western contemporary dance. These lessons took place in the basement of a place called The Temple of Fine Arts, which was a temple honouring Krishna as well as a school for Indian classical dance and music. So I was immersed in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak, even though I never studied those forms. My first performance in public with Marion D’Cruz and Dancers was a dance from the East Coast of Malaysia called Timang Burung; and we performed it amid a show filled with Indian classical dance with The Temple of Fine Arts. All this is to impress upon you the plurality of approaches, aesthetics and culture that surrounded my entry into the arts. Janet, Marion and Krishen Jit, Marion’s late husband and a notable theatre critic, historian and director in the region, were my teachers and mentors; and they eventually founded, along with others, Five Arts Centre, which remains a provocative arts organization in Malaysia. This hotbed of cultural activity which also grappled with post-colonial politics really set the foundation for me as an artist. I think how I see the world and how I approach performance has been formed by this period. I eventually left Malaysia to go to Paris to study contemporary dance. And eventually ended up in Vancouver, where I continued learning new skills (more Chinese martial arts, more dance, contact improv), but always, always wrestling for my sense of self while being acutely conscious of how power structures play on my body.  

F: How Has your art/training taken you to other places? What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced?

LSF: Lots of places. Lots of complex relationships to different places. Two examples: Paris for being an incubator of my western contemporary dance ideas, and where I awoke to being othered by white society. Manitoulin island recently for showing me a glimpse into Anishnaabeg ways of being and artmaking as an alternative to settler-colonial ways.

Lee Su-Feh and Benoit Lachambre, Body Scan, 2010

Lee Su-Feh and Benoit Lachambre, Body Scan, 2010

F: Many of your projects are collaborative and call on your ability to communicate. What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration? 

LSF: Collaboration invites you to expand your knowledge - of yourself, of your collaborators and of the form you are engaged in. Any kind of growth is often also painful and involves judgement, a dissolving of who you think you are, a constant question of whether you yield to new knowledge or to take a stand and fight for your (tenuous) beliefs.   

F: How did you decide to take your art in this direction?

LSF: I’m not sure it was a decision. The notion that you can make a go of anything all by yourself is a capitalist myth. You are who you are because of others - humans and non-humans. I usually choose to work with people who I think I have something to learn from. 

F: Did this require you to take on additional training or did you encounter any learning curves?

LSF: Choreography requires communication skills - listening deeply, speaking honestly, while taking care of everyone’s humanity. Maybe my history as a marginalized, racialized person has contributed to my skills in this department. But as I encounter new knowledge and new areas of my ignorance, I also become inspired to learn new skills. Contact improvisation, voice, new ways of dancing...

F: What drives you in your work?

LSF: My questions. About myself, about my relationship to the world, about my relationship to the sacred.  

F: How do you create? From where do you draw your inspiration?

LSF: Usually, the spark of a new project comes from the unfolding of the previous project. For example,  the beginning of my current project Dance Machine was 8 years ago and began as simply an inquiry into the energetic relationship between the human body and inanimate objects. This question came out of working on a piece called Body Scan with the Montreal choreographer Benoit Lachambre, where we worked a lot with fabrics and texture and sensation. I really loved the energetic quality of the costume designer we worked with, Alexandra Bertaut and proposed to her that we explored some things together. I proposed that she do my physical practice, which was deeply informed by Qigong and martial arts, and then see if she could respond by making objects. I would then live with those objects for a period of time and see what came out of my body as a response to those objects. It was during this period of living with the objects - which were fabric based, with personal objects of mine knitted and woven into them - that I went into the studio with my friend and colleague, the choreographer and dancer Justine Chambers. For about a week, we hung the objects up with fishing line, made very shoddy pulley systems and the beginning idea of an environment that was attached somehow to the dancer emerged. After that, I invited a designer/architect Jesse Garlick to help us actually build it. Along the way, I also started to want it to address a whole bunch of concerns - political, social, and underneath it all, my questions about what it means to dance. Anyway, this is a long story. But the gist of it is that works don’t usually pop out of anyone’s head fully formed. I’m usually looking to ask the most interesting question possible and then to construct a process that can lead me to an even more interesting question at the end of that process. Repeat as often as necessary.

You can follow Lee Su-Feh and her work through her company website, Battery Opera, her blog, and on her Twitter page.

 

 

We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


#CreativeInnovative with Emma Dean: Leading From The Heart

Emma Dean Reflects on Forging A Unique Creative Path And Using The Healing Power of Music to Build Community

 

This is the fourth in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

Born in Brisbane, Emma Dean is Australia's best-kept musical secret. A genre-bending powerhouse with a heavenly voice, she garners accolades and conquers the hearts of audiences and critics wherever she performs. In 2013, she lit New York's off-Broadway scene on fire and the New York Post named her “one of 10 artists to know." 

Returning to Brisbane, Emma fell in love with music all over again. While her work has always been ethereal and electric,  this latest phase of her career is a whole different level of musical magic - new creative collaborations, a community choir, and a business collective.

Emma Dean's many contributions to the communities in which she comes into contact are immeasurable. She is someone who lifts up and inspires others simply by embodying what it is to be a creative entrepreneur who leads with her heart. 

Note: "Tall Poppy Syndrome" refers to an aspect of Australian culture where people who are seen as aspiring to excellence are targeted, resented, criticised. It is often contrasted with the way America tends to celebrate those who work hard with the dream of attaining success.


F: You have spent a lot of time in Australia, but also have worked in New York. 

E: Yes, Brisbane is home. Though, I have lived in both Sydney and New York. Both of these places were vibrant and alive, but I have found I need somewhere smaller and quieter to create. 

F: How did the New York scene compare to communities in Australia? 

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

E: Both Aussies and New Yorkers are a friendly bunch. The thing I loved most about New York was the non-existence of ‘tall poppy syndrome’. If you were talented and good at what you do, people would WANT to work with you, not find a way to cut you down. What I missed about Brisbane, in particular, was space and time. Everyone in New York was so busy, juggling multiple jobs, sometimes just to get by. I missed having the space (I lived in a shoebox) and time to invite friends over to eat and jam and drink wine. 

Working in New York taught me about what I didn’t want. I saw firsthand what I needed to do in order to climb the ‘ladder of success’ as an original musician and I realized I wasn’t cut out for it. So, I had to redefine what ‘success’ meant for me. I continue to redefine it’s meaning all the time, but I always come down to a few simple things: Success, to me, is to lead a rich life, full of adventure, earning a comfortable living from musical pursuits, working to create a supportive and thriving musical community, helping people find their unique creative voice, and always nurturing my own. 

F: What skills served you in these different places?

E: In New York I was often asked, “So, are you any good?” As an Australian with a long history of dealing with ‘tall poppy syndrome’, my ‘humble’ answers often sparked remarks like, “Oh stop all this false modesty!” I found that really challenging. I was also told, at the age of 29 that I should lie and say I was 24. New York certainly taught me how to hustle, took me to my edges, and brought me out of my shell. I still struggle with confidence, but I do believe the experience of living in New York made me prove to myself that I am tougher than I think! 

F: You have released EPs with an American label. What has it been like engaging with companies in America and Australia?

E: I had a really positive experience with Candy Rat Records in America. One of the owners – Holly - I now call my ‘US Mum’! They were very nurturing, which I think is a quality lacking in a lot of music companies these days where the emphasis is to keep churning out new material rather than nurturing and growing raw talent. Nowadays I don’t have much experience dealing with companies at all, as I am 100% independent. If I met someone who wanted to work with me, I would need to feel nurtured and safe and that they were as passionate about my work as I am. 

F: Tell me a little about your background in the arts.

Photographer: Kate Davies @ KD Photography

Photographer: Kate Davies @ KD Photography

E: I started at a classical ballet school when I was 2 and a classical music school when I was 3. By the age of 6, I was learning classical violin and a few years later, a horrible dance teacher told my mum that my bum was too big to be a ballerina, so as much as I loved dance, an emphasis was placed strongly on music. In late primary school I began learning piano, though I was a terrible student and only wanted to write my own music rather than learn the pieces my teacher had given me! I was terribly shy growing up, so I used to lock myself away in my bedroom and compose songs, kind of like a diary entry. When I was 13, I started my first band – Halo. We performed my biggest gig to date, at The Brisbane Entertainment Centre in front of about 7000 people, when I was just 14. Band politics and hormonal teenage girls did not make for a good mix, so the band broke up a couple of years later. Though it sparked my love of singing, so I auditioned for the school musical – Little Shop Of Horrors – and got in as the lead character, Audrey. After school, I had a gap year and completed by AMus A in classical violin and then went on to audition successfully for the Queensland Conservatorium Of Music in Jazz Voice and completed my Bachelor Of Music. I have also trained with Brisbane physical theatre company, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre, which gave me a brilliant insight and awareness of my body and made me remember how much I love to move, beautiful big bum and all! 

F: Your projects often involve collaboration with other creative professionals and incorporate music with dance. What are the benefits and challenges of working this way?

E: I have tried to ‘go solo’ and I just get lonely. One of my favourite spaces is the rehearsal room, bouncing ideas off other creatives. It’s a space that can open your mind to new possibilities; things you might not have thought of before. As previously mentioned, I grew up studying dance, so movement has been an important part of my performance history. As much as I adore music, I have been equally as intrigued with the physical interpretation of it, and adore pieces with both music and movement. I suppose it is a natural progression to merge the two art forms in my work. 

Source: https://emmadean.bandcamp.com/album/dr-dream-and-the-imaginary-pop-cabaret

Source: https://emmadean.bandcamp.com/album/dr-dream-and-the-imaginary-pop-cabaret

F: How did you decide to take your art in this direction?

E: I actually wanted to get into acting so I contacted Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre and they so bravely asked if I wanted to audition for one of their productions – The Tempest. I got the role as Arial and this is where I met my dance collaborator, Jamie Kendall. The rest is history. 

F: Did this require you to take on additional training?

E: Yes! I began training with Zen Zen Zo and was in a number of their productions. I had to increase my fitness and get reacquainted with my body. It was life-changing. 

F: What drives you to be a musician?

E: It is when I feel most in flow, and connected to myself and the world around me. 

F: Am I correct in understanding that you have managed to make music an aspect of all of your jobs as a performer and teacher. How did you make that choice?

E: Yes, you are right! This has been the case for a number of years now, and I am blessed to have this reality. I perform, write songs, teach, arrange choir music, hold workshops and conduct my community choir – Cheep Trill. I made that choice because I’m not good at anything else. Ha ha! 

F: How do you create? From where do you draw your inspiration?

E: It depends. I used to really completely on the creative force to strike me down. Then things got busy. I am sometimes part of the I Heart Songwriting Group which encourages members to write one song in an hour each week. When it comes to my arrangements, I have to be very disciplined as I’m usually on very strict deadlines. 

F: When I look at your biography, I don’t know where to start, you have performed with Amanda Palmer and the Dresden Dolls, been nominated for a myriad of awards, played sold-out shows, and, above all, are known for creating moving and innovative performances. When you consider your career thus far, of what accomplishments are you most proud?

E: Starting my community choir, Cheep Trill, which is now 150 singers strong and in two locations in Brisbane; writing a vocal arrangement of You’re the Voice for John Farnham to sing with 2500 choristers, singing out about domestic violence; moving to New York and giving it a red hot go; and the work I am currently doing with my brother – our upcoming EP and Cabaret, Broken Romantics A Vicious Song Cycle… 

F: How do you manage burnout/feed yourself creatively? 

E: Wine. 

F:  Part of the Vibrance philosophy is that some training in voice, movement, and performance gives individuals concrete and adaptable skills that enable them to excel at whatever endeavours they choose.

E: Yes, I agree! I think voice/movement/performance skills train you to listen, to adapt, to compromise, to negotiate, to work alongside other people who have similar beliefs AND different beliefs. I also think training in these ways gets you in touch with who YOU are – with your body, your mind, your soul. 

F: Yes, exactly! And in your own experience, what adaptable skills have you gained through your training that you apply in other contexts?

E: My singing training has helped me with public speaking. My jazz and improvising training has helped me to create work on the fly, under pressure. My movement training has helped me to be more at peace with my own unique body. Working in performance teams has taught me how to work alongside other humans in a respectful way. 

F: Then how do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces?

E: I am an incredibly private person and live alone. However, I also teach and work from home so I am constantly having to invite people into my personal space so I can work. I try to set boundaries around work times, however, this is an ongoing process for me that I am constantly refining. 

 

F: Do you use intuition and aesthetic to help you manage this process?

I am trying to listen to my intuition more when it comes to work. I am trying to embrace Michael Leunig’s JOMO (the joy of missing out) mentality, as my tendency is to take on too much work, even if it doesn’t feel right. I think as freelance artists we get used to saying YES to everything for fear that the work will one day dry up. I’m trying to shift this and feel into my decisions more. Is it a F*** YES or just a YES? 

F: Your work involves you being involved in several communities - the music community, theatre community, and wider community. What drives you to do this? What do you get out of this engagement?

E: I feel like I am mostly connected with communities I have built myself, such as Cheep Trill community choir. The reason for this is because I have never really felt like I fit in a box or been part of the music or theatre communities. Instead I have lived on the fringe of all of these worlds. 

F: That's one of the incredible things about you, the entrepreneur in you creates something unique and the artist in you fills it it magic! Tell me about your community choir Cheep Trill. How did your idea to form it originate?

E: The idea was born from loneliness and a lack of community when I was living in New York. I decided I would move back home to Brisbane and I wrote a facebook status asking if anyone would be interested in joining a singing group. The next day I opened my email and facebook and had approximately one hundred inquiries. The choir has grown exponentially and we now have two locations and 150 members. 

From our humble beginnings rehearsing on a verandah in Everton Park, we have expanded into two locations. This allows us to keep growing but also keep an intimate feel at rehearsals. We have a north and a south side location to also cater for people’s many a varying locations. 

F:  What are your proudest accomplishments?

One of my proudest moments was arranging ‘You’re The Voice’ for 2500 choristers (including Cheep Trill) to sing at a Queensland Music Festival performance, singing out about domestic violence. John Farnham made a surprise appearance and sang the arrangement with the choir. It was the only different arrangement of that song that John Farnham had ever sung. 

Another proud moment was singing at Queensland Performance Arts Centre concert hall stage and ROCKING OUT! Also, seeing the female Cheep Trill members accompany Deb Conway, Clare Bowditch and a bunch of other amazing female artists at The Tivoli, singing my arrangement of Hymn To Her by Pretenders. 

F: That's remarkable - and in a comparatively short time. It also strikes me that Cheep Trill integrates your skills as a composer/arranger, teacher/conductor, and singer/musician. You have been teaching private lessons for several years. What first drew you to teaching?

E: At first, it was quite simply the need to fund my art (and being a bad waitress). 

F: Who do you teach?

E: I have actually quit my teaching job in 2017 because choir work was getting too busy. I was teaching beginners or people with naturally good voices but limited experience, mostly between the ages of 20-40. 

F: Wow, that's really exciting! What approaches have you developed to work with choirs or individuals?

E: I put emphasis in finding my students’ unique voice and working with that, rather than teaching a particular technique or telling them how they should sound. 

I try to make each lesson fun as well as informative and challenging

I value wo rds, so putting strong emphasis on story telling as well as technique 

F: Describe your dream student

E: Someone hungry to learn, able to take constructive criticism, someone who practices, who listens, who is excited to try new genres and who is interested in song arrangement and writing! 

Source: Emma Dean's YouTube channel

Source: Emma Dean's YouTube channel

F: What do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

E: I’d probably say ‘B******t’. Then I would try to create something with them and prove them wrong. 

F: How can musical training benefit someone who doesn’t wish to be a singer or musician?

E: Listening skills, confidence, connection, storytelling, public speaking, controlling nerves and breathing, fun and play, creative release, a sense of belonging, a sense of achievement…and the list goes on. 

F: What are the moments that reward you as a teacher?

E: When someone walks away from a lesson feeling happier and more connected than when they walked in. Simple. 

F: In your own learning, did you have any teachers who were pivotal ? What qualities or actions made them so influential? 

E: My high school music teacher, Narelle McCoy! She is a firey, passionate, highly intelligent red head and she forced me to audition for the school musical after I had been in hospital with depression. She believed in me and showed me that I could do more than I ever imagined. She was the reason I realised I could become a singer and probably the reason I had red hair for so long too! 

Source: https://www.tigercommon.com/

Source: https://www.tigercommon.com/

F: What is your business?  What is unique about it/them?

E: The Tiger Common is my music school. We are different because we place emphasis on community and try to connect our students as much as we can, through choir, workshops and other informal events. Our mission is to encourage creativity, human connection, self-love and respect through the magical and healing powers of music.

F: How did you get into starting your own business?

E: I had already started Cheep Trill and I was working with Tony Dean (my brother) and Corinne Buzianczuk and we were looking to ‘formalise’ what we did and include our teaching work and workshops. It was a natural progression. 

F: Do you feel that there are unique challenges when ones’s business is so personal?

E: It is certainly harder to not take conflict personally when you run a heart-based business. But I have learnt that the bigger we get, the more likely it is that we will not be able to please everyone. 

F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced?

E: The toughest thing to do so far was splitting the choir in two. We were responding to so many location requests and we thought the best idea would be to have a north and a south side location. However, many of the choristers believed this meant we were splitting up the family. Another tough learning curve was to figure out what to do when we would receive gig requests for a choir of 50 people. We have 150. We are still figuring this out! 

Source: https://emmadean.bandcamp.com/track/feed-it

Source: https://emmadean.bandcamp.com/track/feed-it

F: What are the most useful strategies that support your business and work?

E: Honestly, the key is communication. Tony, Corinne and I have a whatsapp thread that has been invaluable and we have regular in person meetings. Knowing where all our different strengths lie has been incredible. 

F: What performer skills have come in useful in your business?

E: Standing in front of a choir for two hours two nights a week and trying to teach as well as entertain is a performance in itself. My career as a performer has been invaluable! 

F: Is there a tension between your career as an artist and your business?

E: Only when it comes to scheduling!  In terms of the creative stuff, the business feeds into the artist stuff and vice versa! I feel more balanced than ever before because both itches are being scratched. The business also helps to take the pressure off needing to make a certain amount of money from my artistic pursuit! 

F: How do you go about networking/promoting your business?

E: Word of mouth has been the most valuable thing alongside performing in front of new audiences! 

F: What challenges does your business experience?

E: Community choirs have TAKEN OFF here in Brisbane (and perhaps everywhere!) which is a wonderful thing. Recently we had an experience where we had an idea to expand the business and reached out to a venue with a proposal. We didn’t hear back and then next thing we knew, an acquaintance was doing the exact idea we proposed at the same venue… This might have been a coincidence, but it took me about six months to emotionally recover. Now I keep things closer to my chest and instead of comparing our business to others, I focus on making our business the best it can be. 

F: Yes! I have definitely seen that happen a few times in a city like Brisbane, unfortunately. When I get excited, I like to share or bounce ideas off others and I have to remember to stay quiet. Where do you see your business going?

E: I actually don’t want it to get much bigger, because the sense of community is lost when it gets too big. I am being contracted to do a lot of other choir work outside of Cheep Trill which is keeping me busy without disrupting the preciousness of my own choir community. 

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

F: What is the most draining aspect of your business?

E: It involves constant, time-consuming  music arranging and having to be somewhere in real time to actually make money.  So there is no passive income, it’s just a bit of a long hard slog. A slog which I love and enjoy, but a slog nonetheless! 

 

F: And how do you manage maintain your enthusiasm for this work? 

E: As mentioned, I don’t manage this very well. Wine? 

 

You can follow Emma Dean through her websiteInstagram, FacebookTwitter, YouTube channel or on Candyrat Records. You can read further interviews with Emma Dean and articles about her career here.

We didn't have nearly enough time to cover everything! I invite you to learn more about The Tiger Common, a collaboration between Emma Dean, Tony Dean, and Corinne Buzianczuk offering creative workshops, musical coaching, and the community choir Cheep Trill in order to build a community united by a love of music.

 

We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


Success Is...

With the beginning of a new year, it is common to take stock and set goals for the months ahead. An important aspect of this process is to understand the elements of what ensures success. There are six skills that successful people excel at and you can develop to ensure your success. This framework shapes the Vibrance philosophy and influences how we teach our clients.

 

1. Grit

Grit is a marathon, not a sprint
— Angela Lee Duckworth
Do-your-best_WEB.jpg

The foundation for success is grit. Grit means having the motivation to work toward your goals, the perseverance to keep going when things get difficult, and the passion to keep your heart and soul in the work. As Duckworth argues, Grit is key to success.

Impress this on your mind: grit is not based on talent or intelligence. In fact, those with talent may become complacent, preferring to coast along thinking they can fool everyone. Despite being intelligent, individuals may be ill-equipped with problem-solving skills to meet challenges and setbacks. Grit will get you where you are determined to go, and the skills you acquire along the way will make you more successful at success.

 Part of grit is developing a growth mindset. This contrasts with a fixed mindset, the belief that failure must be avoided at all costs because it reflects a failure of the individual's intelligence or character. A growth mindset acknowledges that the human mind is plastic. It adapts and changes all the time. This means that we always have the ability to learn if we put in the effort and grow our passion for learning. Think of what you would teach a child, that they are not a failure, but rather their plan was not adequate to meet the demands of the situation or that they have not yet acquired all the skills they need to meet the challenge. Failure is never permanent if you cultivate a growth mindset. 

My husband has an incredible a growth mindset and I learn much from his example. He was raised with the ADB philosophy, Always Do Your Best. The outcome was less important than process as long as he was doing his best. If he knew that he was and learning along the way he was realizing his potential. My husband has taught me that there is always a solution, one simply needs to find it.

 

2. Discipline

Discipline builds on your gritty foundation. To succeed at anything you must put in the time. More than that, it must be quality, focused time. You cannot phone it in. You must be fully present and bring your complete concentration to the activity.

learn-practice-and-improve-on-three-red-dice-for-betting-on-your-future-in-attaining-new-s-Stock-Photo.jpeg

 

For some endeavors, this takes the form of practice. Remember Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of diligent practice? This is certainly part of the puzzle in situations with stable structures and unchanging rules. Individuals must also be good at practicing and know how they best learn. This means constantly building skills and aptitude, raising the bar constantly so that there is failure at times, and having a feedback loop in order to perceive areas for improvement and to take appropriate action (think of dancers practicing with a mirror or artists attending a weekly class).

Always do your best .jpg

I like to use sports analogies because people understand that athletics entail effort, challenge, focus, hours, practice, and difficulty - elements that some are less willing to apply to other areas of their lives. A person gets stronger quickly at the gym by lifting heavy weights until failure (8-12 reps) meaning their muscles simply cannot complete the exercise with full range and structural integrity. They will use the mirror, peer feedback, and video recordings to improve their form. They will follow a regime that challenges them mentally and physically while ensuring adequate recovery and nutrition to maintain progress. Lastly, they will incorporate enough diversity that they stay passionate and prevent injury, tedium, and burnout. 

For other contexts where there are no set rules or constantly changing frameworks, as is often the case with creative and entrepreneurial endeavours, practice, however diligent is not the X factor, Instead, discipline may take on another form. A choreographer will get into the studio space 4-5 days a week, an artist will paint for a set number of hours a day, a writer will commit to writing a certain number of words before bed. A stockbroker building a client base may determine a quota of cold calls for the afternoon, a medical specialist may read a specific number of articles a week, an entrepreneur building a business will decide upon a minimum number of meetings a fortnight. 

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most consistent and successful comedians in the industry. On Lifehacker, Brad Isaac relays a story regarding receiving advice from Seinfeld about becoming successful. Seinfeld has since claimed that this advice was never his to give, but the  "Seinfeld Method" remains the stuff of legend. Isaac claimed,

"[Seinfeld] said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

'After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.' ”

3. Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are often described as "soft skills" (to contrast with the "hard skills" of STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and are becoming recognized as more important than ever.

These include:

  • communication skills (verbal, non-verbal communication, listening skills)
  • emotional intelligence
  • team-working
  • negotiation, persuasion and influencing skills
  • conflict resolution
  • problem-solving and decision-making

As Cathy N. Davidson describes, 

"among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas [....]

[Google] enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs [....]

Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety.  "

    Source: http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2011/05/facial-expressions.aspx

    Source: http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2011/05/facial-expressions.aspx

    One of the simplest ways you can develop your interpersonal skills is to slow down, listen, and observe without immediately thinking of what you want to say or of the next place to which you must run off. Try it with your friends and romantic partners, listen to them without trying to solve problems or to judge. Try it with your coworkers and notice what changes.

    Another important skill to develop is to understand facial expressions. This will allow individuals to better develop connection, rapport, and trust, in an individual's professional and personal life. Facial expressions have been found to be universal across cultures, both in interpretation and production. There are seven basic emotions, anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. This field has been widely developed by Dr. Paul Eckman. We now understand the concept of micro-expressions, involuntary responses that can be as brief as 1/30 of a second, and therefore can be a very honest portrayal of emotion. 

    Vibrance offers programs to build interpersonal skills in young people and adults.

    4. Failure (is Success)

    You will become clever through your mistakes.
    — German proverb

    Ooooof, this one is very difficult for me!

    Set time at the start of the week and month to set new goals and reassess old ones. Starting now, your aim is to fail at 20-50% of the goals you set yourself while aiming to attain 100% of them.

    This indicates that you are setting goals that are just the right challenge, with the stakes being high enough that  you must exert yourself. If failure is possible, you will work harder - within reason.

    With my school-aged students, I will often pick up a pencil, do a bicep curl, and ask "will this make me stronger quickly?"

    "No," they will say.

    "If I used a much heavier weight instead, will this make me stronger?"

    "Yes!" they exclaim.

    "If I try to pick up a truck, will I get stronger?"

    Mixed answers.

    truck.jpg

    "No, I won't because a truck is too heavy for my muscles to engage at all" (at least at this stage). If the bar is set too high, it can be demoralizing, failure seems certain. Here is where my husband offers another bit of wisdom, how do you eat an elephant? The answer?One bite at a time. Break larger tasks into manageable pieces. Maybe I cannot lift an entire truck, but I could work on flipping one of its tires, once, then twice, then ten times and more.

    That being said, ensure that you don't become attached to output or outcome. Some days may not appear productive. You may be gathering inspiration, learning a new skill,  or finding yourself going down some dead-ends before finding the right path.

    Source: http://www.escapeseriestri.com/philadelphia-escape

    Source: http://www.escapeseriestri.com/philadelphia-escape

    Another sports analogy: I attended a triathlon workshop that focused on transitions. Being new to this sport, I had not realized how much strategy and practice is involved in ensuring smooth transitions that will support your overall performance at a triathlon event! The coach reminded us to keep moving forward and to find economy in movement. When switching from the swimming to the cycling, have your equipment arranged so that you can bend down once instead of multiple times. Then move forward as you finish buckling your helmet and arranging your number. If you practice enough, you can even keep your cycling shoes clicked into your pedals and learn to fasten your shoes as you get onto the bike! Find ways to introduce economy of effort into your day and know that forward momentum (whether a slow plod or a lightning-fast sprint) is progress. Sometimes, just showing up and putting in a diligent effort is forward momentum.

    Failure is how one learns. Whenever I am embarking on a creative endeavour, it feels as if I have to fail a few times in order to figure out how I need to do it. Bring curiosity to your risks and focus on mastery instead of success. We see this in children. A toddler learning to roll over or to walk will try and fail - until they succeed. As we get older, failure is associated with shame and fear of looking incompetent to others. As adults, we must ensure that we support failure in others and facilitate reflection and learning. Perform post-mortems of your own failures without ego or shame, commit to remediating any areas in which you need to improve, and your progress will be exponential.  This is growth mindset in action.

    Embracing failure will also reduce suffering. Think of the opportunities you have missed due to fear of failure, the agony you experienced when venturing into unchartered territory resulted in a mess instead of success. How might you have changed your experience by looking for the learning opportunities in every "failure?"

     

    5. Mentorship

    In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.
    — Phil Collins
    Source: http://zelig880.com/the-power-of-mentoring

    Source: http://zelig880.com/the-power-of-mentoring

    Better yet, conduct post-mortems with a mentor. Find someone you respect, who shares some of our values, and is willing to give you their time. Ideally, this would be on a monthly basis. In health occupations, this is a common aspect of professional development. A mentor can offer you perspective, inspiration, and accountability. Be prepared to be vulnerable and transparent. Picking the right mentor is vital. They must be able to balance empathy with neutrality. Ensure that they do not shut you down or frustrate your vision, but that they still challenge you and hold you to account.

    In the future as you progress, consider mentoring others. Again, ensure this is free from your ego. We often learn best by teaching others and it supports perspective-taking. Don't become attached to your mentee's progress. In my dramaturgy course, I remember my close friend talking about the choreographer she was working with. My friend personally didn't find the performance that they were working on personally engaging however, she realized that it didn't matter. The performance wasn't her "baby." Her role was to support this choreographer in bringing forth her baby.

     

    6. Voice and Body

    istock_000012499903small-trans_543_300_c1.png

    Often, my clients come to me hating the sound of their voices. Therefore, when they speak to others, it is under duress and tension. They will even say their own name apologetically or with contempt, revoking the power of their existence. Listen to your voicemail message and hear how you say your name.

    Voice teacher Roger Love rightly us to percieve our voices exist as a gift for others. If we want to speak to our selves, we can simply speak in our minds. In order to reach others, we much open our mouths.    By thinking of our voices as a gift, this moves our attention away from our selves, our nerves, our inner-talk so we can focus on reaching the other person and reading their responses.

    People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. The way that you speak informs your listeners as to whether they consider you a knowledgeable and trustworthy person. For example, if I end every statement as if I am asking a question, I am unlikely to convince a client that I know what I am doing or have anything useful to teach them. If I use a monotone speaking voice, I am unlikely to maintain a client's attention long enough for them to retain any information I am trying to share.

    The body, breath, and voice are inexorably linked. Amy Cuddy's research focusses on the way that body language impacts our body chemistry, the way we see ourselves, and the way we are seen. In training the body and voice we can transform our lives. 

    Peter Strick's research uncovered evidence indicating that our stress responses are tied to the primary sensory and motor cortices through complex networks:

    "The motor areas in the brain connect to the adrenal glands. In the primary motor cortex of the brain, there’s a map of the human body—areas that correspond to the face, arm, and leg area, as well as a region that controls the axial body muscles (known to many people now as 'the core').

    breathing_painting.gif

    The Pitt team didn't think the primary motor cortex would control the adrenal medulla at all. But there are a whole lot of neurons there that do. And when you look at where those neurons are located, most are in the axial muscle part of that cortex.

    'Something about axial control has an impact on stress responses,' Strick reasons. 'There’s all this evidence that core strengthening has an impact on stress. And when you see somebody that's depressed or stressed out, you notice changes in their posture. When you stand up straight, it has an effect on how you project yourself and how you feel.  Well, lo and behold, core muscles have an impact on stress. And I suspect that if you activate core muscles inappropriately with poor posture, that’s going to have an impact on stress.' "

    The body is how we encounter and filter the world. This, in response, shapes our inner world which, in turn, influences how we re-encounter and interpret our surroundings in a constant loop.

    Vibrance specialises in training the body and voice to be free of unnecessary tension, to be dynamic, supple, and supportive of our presence in the world.

     

    Other Reading:

    Six elements of success adapted from Science of People

     

    Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


    #CreativeInnovative with Gabrielle Leah New: Passion Is Creating

    Gabrielle Leah New On The Healing Power of Connection and Being An Artist Who Doesn't Paint

    This is the third in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

    You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

    Bystander. Copyright © 2017 Gabrielle Leah New

    Bystander. Copyright © 2017 Gabrielle Leah New

    Gabrielle Leah New is a practicing performing artist and a senior Occupational Therapist (OT). She runs her own theatre company, The Space Between Performance Collective, and has traveled around the world for numerous residencies, performances, and exhibitions, which can be read about further here. Her OT work, blended with her surrealist costume, installation, video, and live performance works means that Gabrielle is rarely ever still - and never bored!

    I had the privilege of meeting Gabrielle in 2010 when we were both interns at Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company in Brisbane, Australia. I performed in her butoh show Creature, and I have been following her work ever since.

    Stair. Costume by Camilla Gough. Image by Tony Banks

    Stair. Costume by Camilla Gough. Image by Tony Banks

    F: Tell me a little about your background in the arts. 

    G: I grew up in Melbourne Australia. I studied art at high school then went on to do a degree in Occupational Therapy. I have traveled extensively living in the UK, New Zealand and India. I feel like I’m a citizen of the world.

    My training is quite unusual. I have always had an arts practice but it wasn’t until I was 30 that I began my formal training post high school. I went to the Conservatorium of the Arts in Lismore where I studied dance. I was particularly interested in Butoh (Japanese contemporary dance) which I had discovered the year before by attending community classes. I went on to study Butoh with teachers around the world and working with MAU Dance Theatre in New Zealand. I then returned to Australia and studied 3D Art and did a directing internship with Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre in Brisbane.

    My main art form was dance and physical performance for many years and I still train and attend classes regularly but over time my practice has developed to be more of a multi-arts practice. This particularly changed after completing a Masters in Fine Art a few years ago and since then I have been exhibiting more in the gallery space than theatres. I now consider myself a multidimensional performing artist, as performance and the body always underpin my multi-arts practice.

    F: Your art has taken you to lots of interesting places. What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced?

    Working with MAU in the early 2000s took me to the 4 yearly Pacific Arts Festival in Noumea, New Caledonia. Here I had a major identity crisis as a white Australian performing Japanese dance for a pacific Island dance company and delegation from the Aotearoa, New Zealand. I have danced in Fjords in Norway, In storms painted gold in Japan, in creeks and the ocean in New Zealand and in a city park in Vancouver, Canada. I love making work in/for extraordinary spaces.

    Most recently I exhibited and had a residency in Lisbon, Portugal and am on my way to India and Sri Lanka to make work.

    Blue. Image by Karsten Muhlhaus

    Blue. Image by Karsten Muhlhaus

    F: You have created many collaborative creative works. What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration?

    Collaborating with other artists is my favorite way to work and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing people. One of the challenges is finding people you gel with and can create a shared vision and language with, this can take time. The benefit for me is having someone to bounce ideas around with and I think that the outcome always benefits from collaborating if people are clear on their roles. Sometimes it’s been tricky when creatives disagree but a resolution has always been possible through listening well and respecting each other. I have been collaborating with sound artists Norman Skipp for over 15 years now even though we live on other sides of the world.

    Working in theatre, collaboration is a necessity. You need other people to do the things you don’t have the skills for, like sound and lighting for me. I usually have a lot of input and discussion with collaborators but ultimately I trust them to do what they do best. In my extended arts practice I still work with other people who have skills in areas that I don’t. for example I have made two projects with a videographer/editor, I WANT… and ‘States of Being.

    F: Did this require you to take on additional training/learning curves?

    G: No, as a therapist I had already developed good communication skills. I’m a team player as well as being really comfortable to share my ideas and opinions so collaboration works well for me. 

    F: What drives you in your work?

    G: I have a passion to create. I constantly have ideas forming in my mind. My main interests, that all the content for my work comes from, are from my therapy practice and a deep desire to understand people. Archetypal stories and myths as a reflection of the human condition alongside current contemporary dilemmas such as Greed, a project I created that had a number of components including two video installations, an internet group and a live, participatory, site-specific performance. My work often externalizes internal worlds making the invisible visible.

    Bird. Image by unknown

    Bird. Image by unknown

    F: To what extent have you been able to make your creativity work an aspect of all of your jobs? Do you have other (non-creative) work that you engage in? How did you make that choice?

    G: I feel that creativity infuses all that I do. In my work as a therapist, I integrate creative activities (which is par for the course for OT’s). I have developed movement therapy groups for people with serious mental illness and a creative art based group for people with mental health and substance use issues. I use it in my work with individuals and with making dinner in the evening when I get home.

    F: How do you use your performance skills in undertaking “non-creative” jobs?

    As a group facilitator and therapist, I need to be able to perform, improvise, listen and respond. My ongoing training allows me to be constantly developing these skills. I think a lot of my training is about being present. In my work I need to be present with people who are in psychological pain and also be available to them authentically but without my personal shit interfering with the process. I think my practice as an artist and therapist feed and support each other.

    F: Yes! Your ability to be seamless between Artist and Occupational Therapist had a profound influence on my own career.

    What does your creative process look like? 

    G: My creative process is a lot of thinking to start with. I create things in my head before making them in the real world. I tend to create in bursts and I work best under pressure, when I have deadlines. Also if I make dedicated time and space. Physical training and writing are important ongoing elements of my practice. I flood with ideas; I’m never short on them. It’s a process of sifting through them, which ones stick, which are practical and achievable and starting them and seeing where they go.

    F: Gabrielle, you have such an impressive list of endeavours, performances and exhibitions. What are your proudest accomplishments thus far?

    N: I think my biggest accomplishment is supporting people to move through mental and emotional difficulties to create a better life for themselves. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with people at their most vulnerable and see them rediscover their personal power.

    I am also immensely proud of making CREATURE- a shapeshifting journey in butoh wonderland with the company I directed - The Space Between Performance Collective.

    More recently, it has been my solo exhibitions, residencies, and receiving an award for my video performance installation Persephone 7 of which I am proudest.

    Free. Photo by Shelley Wilson

    Free. Photo by Shelley Wilson

    F: What role does communication, performance, and using your voice and body to connect to others have in your life? Why is it important?

    G: I believe one of the key elements in healing trauma and addiction is connection. Often verbal communication is difficult initially so having other ways of communicating through movement or drawing or other creative forms can be great initially and I use these creative tools a lot in my work. OT is about healing through doing. I think that doing, action, being in the body allows one to find their voice. We all have multiple and individual ways of expressing and as a therapist, it is important for me to be able to offer a range of meaningful alternatives to my clients. My job is to be creative in what I can offer my clients and not to be stuck in one way or one thing that I offer. When working with trauma clients memories are often stored in the body (differently how regular memories are stored) moving in new ways can help move clients through these stuck emotions and give them more options for responding to events and their environments in the future.

    F: Working so intensively with people, how do you prevent burnout? 

    G: By not working 9-5, 7 days a week and taking lots of holidays. Having a balance between my personal, creative and work life. Having a supportive partner. Staying healthy.

    Porcelin Face, SJD Music Video

    Porcelin Face, SJD Music Video

    F: My own work is founded on the belief that an arts education not only makes people better citizens (heck, better human beings), but that training in art gives individuals concrete and adaptable skills. 

    N: I definitely agree. I think anything that makes you more tuned into your own creativity gives you more options on how you respond to situations, we break out of habitual patterns and understand ourselves better,

    F: What skills have you gained through your art form that you apply in other contexts?

    Improvising. Trusting my instincts. Listening (half of communicating). Self-reflection. Giving feedback to others generously. Being grounded in my body. Facilitating groups. Creating activities to meet a particular investigation. Trying new things. Dealing with failure. Persistence. Acceptance. Intuition is a daily part of my life. Everything is based on my intuition. It is strong. I trust it and I listen to it. My aesthetics are present in my home environment, how I dress and the art I make.

    F: How do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces?

    G: I’m not sure that I do. They often merge. I have really clear personal boundaries and sense of self which helps me to create balance in my life. My boundaries often blur but I don’t have a problem with it and I don’t question it. I think it’s difficult when we compartmentalize our lives. My life is my life it’s messy and not in little boxes. I don’t separate my creative skills with my life skills. It’s all blurry. I am what I am not what I do.

    F: Do you have to behave “differently” depending on the environment you are interacting with? 

    G: Yes and no. I’m always just being me but at the same time using Improvisation Skills and Being present to the moment, the person, the situation so what I do is different and individually tailored.

    F: Tell me a little about your teaching.

    G: I teach butoh when I’m asked to do so. This includes performance/art professionals and novices. I also facilitate groups for people with trauma, mental health and addiction issues of all ages and stages. It's rewarding when students discover something new in themselves and they change habits. Or as one of my teachers used to say ‘Find another way.’

    F: Do you have an "ideal student"?

    G: I’m not sure I have one. I suppose one that challenges me, one that I also learn from.

    Baby Bird. Image by Aven Darling

    Baby Bird. Image by Aven Darling

    F: With such diverse teaching work, what values underpin your approach to teaching?

    G: Growth, trust, exploration, risk, adventure, self-reflection, challenge

    F: And what do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

    G: I think everyone is creative but they have a narrow definition of what creative is. People are often injured in their school education by being told that. I try to help them to see all the ways that they are creative in their lives that aren’t being able to paint or draw or sing. Living is a creative act.

    F: How can art, music, or movement training benefit someone who doesn’t wish to be a performer?

    G: This is the key question. The answer is ‘In so many ways!’ They are kind of elusive and magical and amazing but include; confidence, self-esteem, personal power, better communication, passion, fun, community, mind expansion, connection with others, self-reflection, self-expression, new friends, using new parts of the brain, new skills, spiritual development, etc, etc.

    When I went to dance school I had no interest in being a performer. I went because it was something I liked to do. Over time it grew and grew and grew.

    I’ve been lucky enough to have many amazing teachers. I think my favorites have a generosity of spirit and they are always learning from their students and refining their practice through their teaching. They do their job but don’t put themselves above you. They are very positive people and have so much to give that is truly authentic. The training is physically and mentally hard but they remain soft. They are fun.

    F: Tell me about your business.

    G: I’m not really that interested in business. I do what I do because I love it. I don’t fit the mold and I don’t do things the way others do. I’m just making it up as I go along. I follow my intuition and my passions and dreams. I am unique so what I do is and how I do it is. I like making stuff and helping people find more joy in this difficult world.

    I started my business because it was something I needed to try. It’s hard and a lot of it is pretty boring. I’m not sure it’s for me. I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur. I’m not that driven by money or business more by what interests me and challenges me and creating a life where I can utilize my skills and develop them and support others as I do that. It’s about following my passions. I’m not cutthroat and I don’t think that actually serves anyone. I think we all need to work as a community and support each other where we can in whatever way we can. 

    Fear, States of Being. Image by Robert Spillane.

    Fear, States of Being. Image by Robert Spillane.

    F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced in running a business?

    G: Early on I realized that the hardest times were the times of biggest growth. I relish them and use them as opportunities for my personal growth. I always trusted my instincts and faced my fears trusting that things would work out. Never do things that make you feel terrible for too long.

    I think self-doubt is part of growth and moving outside of one's comfort zones. Growing is uncomfortable but soooo rewarding. I think my arts practice and training has taught me how to do this and know that it’s safe. It has also taught me how to fail and manage rejection. Being an artist you really need to know how to manage constant rejection and keep going.

    F: Do you feel that there are unique challenges when ones' business is so reliant on you? How do you manage these?

    G: Yes. I think this is my biggest obstacle as I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe. I find it hard to stay in the same place doing the same thing for too long which makes it difficult to develop my own business. I also find it hard to do things I’m not interested in likes tax and plan for more than 6 months in advance which you need to do as an artist and with your own business. 

    The environment constantly changing. I’ve been in the therapy business for over 25 years and in 3 different countries. In Australia, customers are wanting more choice. 

    In my private practice, getting clients is difficult as I often don’t put much energy into promoting my business. When working for others, it's key to find support to take creative risks. And in my arts practice, the challenge is managing rejection as well as finding time, space and resources to continue.

    I just keep on trying to do the best that I can do.

    Jump. Image by Robert Spillane

    Jump. Image by Robert Spillane

    F: What are the most useful strategies to support you through these challenges?

    G: Having good regular supervision. Having great supports and mentors. Getting other people to do the stuff you don’t like or aren’t good at.

    F: Is there a tension between your career as an artist and running a business?

    G: Mostly time and splitting my attention but I have made peace with this and do both to my best ability as I know that I need both in my life. Both are of great importance to me. Tension is Ok. I think I could be much better promoting my business. This is one side of the business that I feel I’m not great at. I need a Personal Assistant. There is so much documentation and form filling and rubbish that needs to be done now.

    F: Where do you see your business going (eg. is it about consolidation/growth/transforming services)?

    G: Currently, I’m not sure. I’ve taken 8 months off to travel and work on creative projects but I want to head more into Community arts and engagement with a healing focus. 

     

    You can follow Gabrielle Leah New's work through her websiteInstagram, FacebookLinkedIn, or Redbubble

     

    We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


    #CreativeInnovative with Natalie Schneck: Dancing the Bottom Line

    Natalie Schneck On Bringing Dance to Every Body, Building a Business, and Achieving Balance

    This is the first in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

    You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

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    Natalie Schneck is a performer, dancer, choreographer, teacher, and entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Owner of the dance company 123 Steps Ahead. As 123 Steps Ahead's first American partner, Vibrance is very excited to bring this program to the Atlanta area in 2018. Stay tuned!

    F: We first met each other in 2004 and were in the same theatre ensemble at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. While we remained friends, our lives have taken us in different paths. However, what is remarkable is how our complementary underlying values have directed our lives. This has led to an exciting new chapter, a partnership allowing us to foster and support each other professionally. 

    N: Yes, you and I ended up in quite an eclectic ensemble at SFU and what was great about the group was the collective work ethic we created. I feel like that work ethic combined with a strong inclination for innovation and creativity has absolutely brought us to this new and exciting chapter! 

    F: To start with, tell me a little about your training in the arts.

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    N: I’ve been involved in creative arts since preschool. I was born in Edmonton, Alberta. As a teenager I performed in several musical theatre shows both in and out of school, and took some dance lessons. I went on to complete a BFA in theatre performance from SFU followed by a year intensive of contemporary dance technique and choreographic training at Concordia University in Montreal. Throughout my training, I was often creating and performing in my own theatre and dance works or in the work of other artists. One of the highlights of my performance career was my very first professional dance contract in French choreographer Jerome Bel’s international hit piece, The Show Must Go On. I also had the pleasure of dancing in a creation by Catherine Gaudet for the 2015 TransFormation program.  I have been lucky to have my own work shown across Canada, in Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton, and Toronto. Recently, I created and performed a show in Vancouver with musician and composer Elliot Vaughan, under Iffy South, his band's name.

    F: Has your training taken you to other places? What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced? 

    N: Yes, I took a trip to Berlin and Poznań, Poland a few years ago and spent time in the underground dance clubs moving to industrial music, eurodance, and dubstep. I also saw shows at small theatres and cabarets. I’ll never forget witnessing the woman dancing alone in a park in Poland, the park was idealistic in its landscaping while she was totally disheveled in her movements. These images and experiences continue to be very inspiring and informative for my artistic work. 

    More formally, I took dance workshops with Polish and American artists in Portland as part of the TBA festival and I found that city energetic and also soothing, especially during festival time. I also took classes in NYC and that was cool, being taught by former Russian ballet stars in Manhattan and then learning from a contemporary company in Brooklyn, it was a good experience to get both types of work in my body. Then, being chosen to work with Compagnie Marie Chouinard in Montreal for an répertorie intensive of The Rite of Spring. I loved that! So imaginative and open, a lot of release and breath work and you can see this softness and responsiveness in the bodies of her dancers. 

    F: You have created some incredible projects, many of which are collaborative and call on your ability to communicate. 

    N: Thank you! Yes, communication really is a skill. 

    F: What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration? 

    N: The benefits are that you are working with people and the challenges are that you are working with people! Haha. But in all seriousness, when you collaborate you are able to work with another perspective, another skill set and another sensibility, this can be such a strength if it aligns well.  The challenge is separating the actual work from one’s own personal projections and what I call “stuff” while still expressing a sensitivity and openness – it is quite delicate and requires a lot of presence. I always think about laying the most fertile and fun ground for someone else to flourish and for his or her ideas to come to fruition - for each person that looks quite different. A good question I like to remember is, “what does this person need right now?” 

    F: Yes, I find myself asking the same thing! It’s a totally different mindset when you make it about where the other person is “at” and use that awareness to shape your communication with them.

    N: Yes, communication has to be flexible because connecting with other people requires flexibility, people come to the lunch or coffee table with a lot of their own stuff and it’s complicated. Flexibility and knowing when to actively listen is important. 

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    "communication has to be flexible because connecting with other people requires flexibility, people come to the lunch or coffee table with a lot of their own stuff and it’s complicated. Flexibility and knowing when to actively listen is important."

     

    F: For you, what are some of the accomplishments of which you are most proud?

    N: First, I am developing a life for myself that is true to who I am (this is ongoing), I have lived where I want to live, I have allowed myself time and space to become and evolve as an artist, I have met amazing and inspiring people from all walks of life. 

    The second is in creating the 123 Steps Ahead program and seeing the positive impact it is having on people, it really is a feeling like no other. 

    Third is my education. I think education is so important and I really do have mine to thank as a gateway to a different and beautiful life. 

    F: How did you decide to take your art in the direction of creating 123 Steps Ahead? 

    N: I started working in education in Montreal and I saw the benefits of physical educational programming. I also Loved the kids and wanted to be able to take my training and experience in the arts into a program that would benefit them long term. 

    I am passionate about dance being for everybody and I fundamentally believe in this. This does not mean that I think “democratizing dance” is better than say training intensively in ballet since the time one was three. Rather, it is a different way of seeing a possible dance training trajectory for someone. I have an innate sense of justice I think the 123 philosophy really is an extension of this.

    F: Did this require you to take on additional training/encountered learning curves?

    N: I did the additional year of training at Concordia in Montreal as a mature student and then it was many workshops and ordering books on fundamentals of creative movement for children and youth that I would draw from in my research and creation of a curriculum, it was also consulting OT’s such as yourself, Educational Psychologists and RCC’s. All of this was necessary for where I am now. 

    F: Are you able to make your creativity an aspect of all of your jobs?

    N: My creativity and rigour is always present. Sometimes it comes out in my ability to hyper-focus and concentrate on a task, or in ow I collaborate on a new idea or come out with innovative solutions to problems big or small. Or just dipping into my sensitivity when I see that a colleague is needing something different from me in terms of communication. 

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    F: Do you have other (non-creative) work that you engage in? How did you make that choice?

    N: Yes – I work in development at The Cultch, a contemporary arts theatre and gallery in the city; I chose this particular job because it required a solid combination of skills I already have along with the opportunity to sharpen new skills such as running campaigns and copywriting. 

    F: And that dovetails with your business education, another way to combine that with the arts and support you own business. 

    How do you use your performance skills in undertaking “non-creative” jobs?

    N: I am an active and present listener with coworkers and clients. I also can read situations quickly and respond appropriately. I am skilled at problem solving quickly, at reading situations and the emotional tone quickly and adjusting. Emotionally intelligence is immensely valuable; reading between the lines of communication and responding appropriately, or knowing that if something seemingly negative happens it is almost always not personal. And also awareness of other cultures, when I am in Montreal I do my best to speak french, stuff like that…it goes a long way.

    F: How do you create? From where do you draw inspiration?

    N: It really depends. Sometimes ideas come to me quickly and intensely and I have to respond and then sometimes there is nothing for a little while. My inspiration is not consistent but I do know that when I feel inspired I am committed to that feeling and it is almost like I have to respond to it – I have to express something put of it. Lately, it has been music, a lot of music, which aligns well with my program and with my choreographic work; I love how words in a rhythmic form such as a song can fit so well with movements.  

    F: What role does communication, performance, and using your voice/body to connect to others, to create an impact have in your life? 

     N: It plays a huge role on a daily basis, my work really only manifests through other people so clarity of communication both physical and verbal is vital and necessary. Also, you can’t do it alone in this world so earning how to connect genuinely and in the present with other people is key. 

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    F: You're juggling two jobs and still creating work! How do you prevent burnout? 

    N: I take a day off – a true day off and I let myself flow, just do whatever I want in no order and in no set rhythm, this is usually quite nourishing creatively. 

    F: Oh my goodness! I do the same I need a day or two that isn’t run on the clock, where my brain can just idle and process as it needs to.

    Do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces? 

    N: Good question. Personally I am actually quite introverted. I need a lot of alone time and I enjoy being alone. So I suppose that’s a boundary in itself. It’s like when I collaborate it’s social time and I enjoy that, but I know at the end of the night or day I am going home alone and I need that. I also work to keep relationships in the context they are in, if it’s work it’s work, if it’s friends and business then it’s friends and business, if it’s intimate then it’s intimate. However, I think adapting and compartmentalizing too much is not good – it means I can’t be my holistic and genuine self. I am aware that my ability to compartmentalize can be an impediment so I practice flexibility with these ideas as things always change.

    F: Yes, I like people and I like finding those who collaborate well, but I also find myself “on” around others and know that I recharge alone.

    What roles do intuition and aesthetic play in your personal life?

    N: Intuition has come more and more into play as I get older. I just have feelings about situations, both work and personal, and I have started to trust those feelings more and respond or make decisions in accordance. I am always drawn to creating a certain aesthetic; I am really sensitive to space so I like things minimal for the most part. Although one of my dreams jobs is doing window displays! I think it would be fun – maybe 123 Steps Ahead will have a window display one day. 

    F: Can you give us an idea of what some of the communities with which you are identified?

    N: I connect to the artistic community, families and youth, the business community, the philanthropist community, the legal community. I think it informs me in the sense that I take on projects that are both creative and pragmatic. I love meeting new people and I am forever curious about people. Before I go to dinner or coffee with someone I often think “I can’t wait to hear this person’s story!” This excites me. I love people and I am fascinated by where they come from them, all the experiences they’ve had, and how all this has shaped their perspective and what’s important to them. 

    F: Has your community activism evolved?  What lessons have you learned along the way?

    N: It really has. I am proud of bringing 123 Steps Ahead to so many people so far and leaving a positive and empowering experience with them. What have I learned along the way? To get really comfortable with failure, to make friends with the idea – when you try something new there’s growing pains, there’s iterations, and there’s problem solving, all these things are OK and necessary. 

    F: What type of students do you teach?

    N: Right now we teach children, youth and adults from 18 months – no limit …we want to pilot a senior’s program and we are currently looking at PEI as a starting place. At all levels. Just be open and imaginative with a sense of humour. 

    F: What values underpin your teaching approach?

    N: I believe in the value of 123 Steps Ahead because our program is graded to meet each client, child or adult, at his or level, developing functional and efficient movement in a creative and fun environment. 123 Steps Ahead is about the democratisation of dance, creating opportunities for children and adults regardless of their circumstance, to experience a dance class and to receive dance training. The 123 Steps Ahead kids are not judged on technique or by living up to a coded dance standard; they are nurtured and encouraged to grow from the level they are at. With 123 Steps Ahead, there is space for everybody, and every person is a valuable member of the class. This ideology works to create confidence in each child that his or her presence and ideas are worthwhile, and regardless of background, everybody has a voice and a valuable contribution to make. This way, we build confidence and social skills.

    We have grown throughout Canada, offering our program in community centres, schools, and daycares. Recently,  in partnership with March of Dimes Canada, we have been able to offer our program to children who have special needs. This year, we started offering private sessions with children and adults. Now it is time to begin expanding this program into the United States.  

    Image used with parental permission

    Image used with parental permission

    F: What do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

    N: I just don’t agree! I think creativity is a human quality and yes there are varying levels but I believe that everyone has creative ability, it just comes out in different forms and on different scales and that’s actually really cool. 

     F: What are the moments that reward you as a teacher?

    N: When a student take a concept and tries it autonomously; when he or she is able to fully integrate a movement pattern; when we work together to see that “failing” at something actually just created another movement that is more beautiful in it’s authenticity.  

     

    F: How did you get into starting your own business? 

    N: I was in Montreal. I was lonely, uncomfortable, and felt challenged by being an outsider and at a transitional time in my life. Making art in theatre and dance didn’t hold the same meaning for me anymore. I started leaning towards teaching more so then performing and I found this aligned passion working with kids. I loved seeing the positive impact I could bring to them. This started with teaching a sports program to several public and private groups in Montreal, then, because schools and daycares wanted me to stay on board working with the kids, I proposed a creative movement program that I had begun to create - 123 Steps Ahead. 

    F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced? How did you tackle this phase? 

    N: My very first class of 123 Steps Ahead in Montreal was very difficult, it felt like I was continually failing and it almost caused me to not take a much larger contract which would have been such a mistake! My program ran so well at Garderie Papillon. What got me through was my ability to problem solve and then to incorporate solutions that worked into my next contract. Also being aware that personalizing the situation was not useful. 

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    F: It’s all that creation process isn’t it, not everything works out the first time. The wheels fall off and you think either, “Oh now I know what to do” or, “I have no idea what the solution is but that isn’t it!”

    Do you feel that there are unique challenges when ones’s business is so personal to you? 

    N: Yes I feel highly responsible, which is true – I am, for many things. I think practicing boundaries is crucial. Otherwise it is easy to become overwhelmed. I am also interested in having a business partner; it just needs to be the right fit. I suppose we are doing a sort of model of this, and I like it! It feels right (there’s that intuition!)

    F: What are the most useful strategies/tools/devices/programs that support your business and work? 

    N: Definitely our lesson plan manual and the website. I am actually in the process of transitioning over to Square Space. And then there are our partners, March of Dimes Canada, CPE terre des Enfants to name a few…Vibrance Center soon as well!

    F: As an entrepreneur, what creative skills come in useful?

    N: Knowing when to be extroverted, bringing form to the chaos, problem solving, emotional intelligence, sensitivity to other people, also knowing when to let go of an idea or a possible contract or partner

    I have a sense of humor. Also personality wise I am innately practical and work with “the bottom line” but I also allow myself space for creativity. When I feel myself becoming severe or falling into the anxiety of the high stakes I practice self care, maybe it’s a movie, maybe a bath or a dance class, this always helps. 

    F: How has the landscape of your sector changed? Have customer’s expectations changed? 

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    N: I think now more then ever parents are looking for programming that will instill confidence and social skills in their children along with physical literacy that will be with them for the rest of their lives. I can speak to the huge benefits of exercise and physical activity as a healthy regulation and coping tool 

    As my program doesn’t teach traditional coded dance such as ballet and some schools really want defined dance programs – hip hop, ballet, etc. That is just not 123, and it’s crucial that we stick with our branding and our value system, even though it means losing some contracts. 

    F: Where do you see your business going?

    N: Eventually 123 Steps Ahead will be global for children, youth, and families. We will also expand to adults and seniors. It’s really going to open up a “I can do it” attitude in learning dance and break down the notion of elitism. I think we will have a whole new global generation of dancers that are amazing just the way they are. I am excited for this!

    You can follow 123 Steps Ahead through the website, Facebook page, and Instagram

    Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


    Neil Gaiman on Why Our Future Depends on Literature

    This is an edited version of Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14, 2013 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agency’s annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

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    It’s important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members’ interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I’m going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

    And I am biased, obviously and enormously: I’m an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

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    So I’m biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

    And I’m here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

    And it’s that change, and that act of reading that I’m here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What it’s good for.

    I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

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    It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

    And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

    Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

    The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

    I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

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    It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

    Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

    We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen King’s Carrie, saying if you liked those you’ll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen King’s name is mentioned.)

    And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

    Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

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    You’re also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this:

    The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.

    I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

    It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

    Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

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    And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

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    If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

    As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

    Another way to destroy a child’s love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children’s library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children’s’ library I began on the adult books.

    They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader – nothing less or more – which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

    But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

    I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

    I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories – they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

    In the last few years, we’ve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That’s about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

     

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    Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

    I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

    A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. It’s a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world. It’s a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

    Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

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    Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.

    According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the “only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account”.

    Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

    Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

    I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us – as readers, as writers, as citizens – have obligations. I thought I’d try and spell out some of these obligations here.

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    I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

    We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

    We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

    We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

    We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers’ throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

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    We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we ‘ve lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

    We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

    Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I’m going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It’s this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

    We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world we’ve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

    We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

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    Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

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