Creative Producers International: Emboldened to Imagine the Future

A topless woman holds her arms up and sticks her tongue out at the camera
Producer Alice Holland. Photo by Rosie Powell

Back in July, Unlimited nominated producer Alice Holland to take part in Creative Producers International, a Watershed project bringing together producers from around the world to become the city change-makers of the future. Alice will be reporting back for Unlimited throughout the process as it unfolds over the next two years, and here she shares her experience of the three-week lab residency in Bristol last month.

Reflecting on the first residency of Creative Producers International, I feel like I have completed a foundation degree in a subject that may or may not exist yet. To be able to describe the full experience with as much emotional and intellectual depth as was felt by the entire cohort will be impossible, so I will instead seek to give you slivers of insight. More to follow.

This lab was the beginning of a 2 and a half year journey for the 15 of us, plus the Watershed team and partners. We are concerned with city-based change, with play and with subverting what that may mean in public spaces. Over the next 2 years we will meet and work remotely to expand our learning and to share our experiences of researching and developing our ideas for change in our respective cities.

As a producer I am a young one, a rookie, and as a person, generally very unconventional so my feeling of anticipation to do my first residency, to meet my peers from all over the world, and to explore our shared skill set values and dreams, came with a heavy dose of Imposter Syndrome.

“What am I doing here?” turned out to be the most common reaction from all of us to seeing the list of our fellow creative producers. This was no false modesty; we are a genuinely unusual and accomplished group of people from everywhere from Tokyo to Mexico City, practicing disciplines including architecture, academic research, cultural production and preservation, theatre, construction of play spaces, digital content creation, interactive performance, music, stage design and engineering.

A great deal of my time was spent staring in disbelief, fireworks going off in my brain, as my fellow producers described their jobs, their working lives, how the system works. “That’s a job?! I do that! I think like that! Can I have a job?”

The first time one of my colleagues referred to the hooting, farting, right-place-at-past-my-bedtime, instinct-driven parade of nonsense that I barely call my ‘career’ as “my practice” I did do a little spit-laugh in their face but am learning to embrace it.

An awful lot of what I realised may be basic information to many of my peers, but my horizons have been expanded so much so that my body is physically electrified by it. Seeing opportunity everywhere now that I know a little of what is possible. Big things, Pinky, big things are brewing…

Watershed is a very unconventional institution, and despite my first suspicions towards the prevalence of bean bags and unusually happy people it is closer to Dr Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters then it is to Google HQ. My outsideness is very welcome here, the spirit of Creative Producers International is that of curiosity, playfulness, the unusual and the seldom-told story, and the team of producers there are some of the most welcoming, enthusiastic and accommodating people I have ever worked with.

Our schedule was diverse and engaging, we scarcely had to make a decision or schedule anything for ourselves, which for many of the overworked amongst us began to feel immediately like an intellectual holiday! It was so relaxing to be taken out of the driving seat when for almost all of us that is our primary function; to be in charge.

Some of the highlights in the first week included the presentations that we individually gave about ourselves in our cities; through images,smells, tastes, games, demonstrations, love letters and analysis we shared a little of ourselves and our culture. It was commented upon early that a sense of trust and of an unusual family situation was emerging; producers (particularly independent ones like myself) rarely get to spend much time together, it can be lonely, and so to meet our Partners in Crime to measure our similarities and differences was genuinely thrilling.

I particularly responded to a map making game, a 15 minute exercise that has become the basis of an Unlimited R&D application for a dance based, map making game platform, something I would have never in a million years imagined I would be doing. But that’s the power of the creative producer: we hold the vision, assemble the team, and the thing, whatever it is, gets off the ground if we tend it tenderly.

We discussed the new rules of public art with Claire Doherty of Situations and Arnolfini, and it was so exciting to feel the very tangible possibility of genuine social interference, seeing how the naughty ones can indeed infiltrate the system.

Unlimited’s Jo Verrent and Clara Giraud came to deliver a workshop on disability and public space and it was with enormous pleasure that I saw what I so often see as soon as people are introduced to the Social Model of Disability; it is such a practical demonstration of justice that people become immediately galvanized and determined to do something to include more people in their venues and their projects.

We studied Hello Lamppost, Watershed’s most successful Playable Cities concept, and began to model ideas around the structuring of technology projects.

It was in week 2 that I began to seriously doubt my capacity and capability as a disabled producer. My mental and physical health depends upon an extremely fine balance and intensive maintenance, and I am nowhere near used to being around people all day all week.

I began to feel overwhelmed and out of step with my usual routine, with my boundaries; “ I have no right to do this, I have no right to ask other people to put their dreams in my hands when I cannot even rely on myself every day” ran the script of my fear, so I asked for pep talks with Clara Giraud and then with Kim Simpson, one of the most prolific producers and disabled professionals that I have the pleasure of knowing.

Through their reassurance and practical explorations of the things that I hope to achieve vs my given circumstances, I realised that it is not for me to decide if I am a failure or right for the job. It is for me to make an offering to potential collaborators and clients as to what it is that I need in order to do my best work, what it is that I can offer them and what it is that I can teach them.

My inexperience can make me fearful, convinced often that I am the only person in the whole industry who does not possess stratospherically high levels of computer skills and a masochistic work ethic. Emboldened now, I chose instead to view the fact that I live in an almost perpetual state of fantasy, of play and of supposition as a strength and a perspective from which others can benefit.

According to Creative Producers International we are “the city based changemakers of tomorrow” and so if it is for tomorrow that I prepare myself then it is my job to create my career as it should be, not to measure myself against the established way of doing things.

If you want to know more about the wider context that Creative Producers International programme sits in, visit the Playable City website.

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