Bonnie Mitchell (BM) I’m Bonnie Mitchell. I’m a creative producer and I live in Devon at the moment and I worked at Spare Tyre. I was general manager uhh and I don’t know what else to say really.
Arti Prashar (AP) So where are you now Bonnie?
(AP) So I am going to take you back
(BM) Okay good luck
(AP) take you back!
(Both AP and BM laugh)
(AP) So what brought you to Spare Tr- Tyre?
(BM) Ahh, what brought me to Spare Tyre?
(AP) I remember feminist roots, that’s what I remember
(BM) Yeah definitely, uhh it was the feminist uhh identity and roots of the company umm that were that were really attractive to me but also just the very political nature of everything that Spare Tyre was about and is about uhh in terms of uhh putting voices that weren’t seen or heard centre stage umm changing people’s minds changing people’s hearts. Giving peoples umm opportunity to umm change their lives for themselves umm yeah it was all of that kind of good politics really that brought me, brought me to Spare Tyre.
(AP) I always saw you as a creative producer, so I know your title was actually when you came in as as a general manager
(BM) Yeah yeah
(AP) But I’ve always seen you as a creative producer
(AP) I think from the day you walked in
(BM) Yeah yeah
(AP) that I think that that’s who you are and who
(AP) you were then as well.
(AP) and you’re still finding that I think.
(AP) But actually how important is that role do you think in an organisation in any org- any arts organisation? Not just a participatory arts one but actually, where did you how did you see yourself within that kind of context as well?
(BM) I didn’t really know what any of the jobs in the arts were because like when you’re, you know I I studied, I studied at school, I studied at college, I studied at university and you don’t really learn about what the things are unless you’re a director or an actor or maybe a designer or something. Those things are kind of really clear but in terms of being an administrator, being a general manager, an executive director or producer like and everybody does it differently and they’re set up very differently in different organisations. I guess the only the, the only thing that I know for sure is that for things to be… successful that then they, they can’t kind of exist in silos so it can’t be that all business happens over here and the strategy and then all the art happens over here because then it just sort of leads to lots of people feeling like dissatisfied kind of secretaries over here and not being able to properly articulate their vision of… from over here. But some of the most umm brilliant and creative times could be when you and I would be sat together at a desk and we’d be working out what our strategic kind of plan is and what our vision for the company is. That is a creative process umm… in the same way that being you know part of a show that is being created and coming in and giving sort of, asking questions sort of giving feedback. That is a creative process but for me they shouldn’t be uhh there shouldn’t be any kind of hierarchy, there shouldn’t be any kind of real distinction. There was a constant uhh motivating but but at the same time kind of like really dispiriting thing of feeling like you’re ahead ahead of the thinking.
(BM) And knowing that in ten years time everyone will be doing this. But if you’re the first person or the first organisation or the first artists doing something you know it’s not received with umm it’s not necessarily received with joy or with understanding. So yeah one of the favourite memories would have to be umm (laughs) one of the schools that we took (laughs) one of the schools that we took ‘Pretend Families’ to just saying “can you just can you just take out the ‘gay’ bits” (laughs) I was like “oh, oh really so you just want the bow at the end or is that too gay?” I mean I seriously don’t know, this is a this is a show about tackling homophobia umm well not about this is a show tackling homophobia. Umm I I which –
(AP) … that is quite surreal
(BM) Which which part, really really challenging. I guess you get thr- through challenges like that through being closely connected with like, what was your reason for doing that so like the strategy like how have you communicated it so it’s the marketing like the recruitment and all the personnel who were the people who were there like who was the person on the ground making sure that they’re having the right conversations with the teachers and the actors and all that kind of stuff. So it all needs to be be connected and I think umm… when you’ve got a really well kind of connected team you, even if it is really hard like that was a really hard project to be working on umm you know that you are delivering on what you set out to deliver and even if people can’taren’t quite ready to
(AP) Yeah I
(BM) hear it, accept it or welcome it in their schools.
(AP) What else for you was a highlight?
(BM) I felt incredibly proud of the way that we umm elevated the production values of the company when we created ‘Feeble Minds.’ Umm because for me there was something there about the status and the value that must be afforded to the artists who we were working with. Umm that, so I remember the walk, when we as the audience sort of walked into that opening night umm and it was the incredible design that Roger had created and you walk in into the Albany and there all of these sort of metal. I’m getting this wrong
(AP) Pans, they wer-
(BM) Pots and pans kind of hanging from the ceilings and they’re making these noises and there’s these smells and it’s you know. I totally love that stuff, the whole multisensory kind of experiential umm nature of it and then you walk in and you’ve never seen the Albany looking like this and there are these… incredible umm uhh like what were they? Like those plastic-y
(BM) sort of materials that like you’re in an abattoir and then you see people umm these amazing sort of shadow shapes sort of behind and this incredible gauze that lights up and gorgeous lighting. Lovely lovely lighting umm and I mean haven’t even said anything about the performances but just for me because the performances were always so raw and powerful and important but I guess for me creatively umm and politically in terms of actually, yeah why shouldn’t this sort of money be spent on putting a kick-ass team together where everybody is understanding what it is to have you know production manager, yeah stage managers plural umm you know a designer, a lighting designer umm costume, make up all of that like a proper you know full team. But then I would also say that what we did with them, ‘Go Inc. to Work’ and the whole show that we put on at the Roundhouse as well.
(AP) ‘I’m an Artist, Let Me In’
(BM) Yes. Yeah yeah absolutely. I mean that was really exciting and I liked it because it was quite confrontational. (laughs) But umm you know in a good way. I think you can be confrontational in a kind of “come on industry pull your you know pull your socks up like why aren’t you umm why aren’t you working with our artists these umm brilliant people? Umm you know why are you casting people without disabilities as people with disabilities? Why aren’t why aren’t any of these voices featured anywhere on your radio stations, and your TVs, like cast within yourwithin your shows?” So that felt really, that felt really exciting.
(AP) What about umm all the innovation that we were doing? And I wondered if we could just talk a little bit about how that innovation has affected our practice over the years and even now that we started a lot of things. So you know with the idea of ensembles?
(BM) Yeah, yeah
(AP) You know and actually professionalising them
(BM) Yeah, yeah yeah
(AP) with our participants effectively is what we did and gave them a huge amount of skills. Umm you already kind of alluded to the fact that you know we’ve always been innovative and forward thinking umm and actually but we didn’t always get umm the praise for it you know a lot of people were always playing catch up with us.
(AP) and then you kind of get lost in all of that. But have any of those umm thoughts and ideas and innovation come through in your practices now today in The Wrong Crowd? Because I I see some of those threads still even from Connected Culture we tried to kind of look at the part- participatory arts world, get people talking to each other about some the issues that were arising then. And I now see some of those threads coming though.
(AP) But but we’re talking nearly ten years later
(AP) actually like you said before. That they’ve they’re beginning to filter through certainly into some of Spare Tyre’s work I see it in other organisations’ work.
(BM) It can be quite a, a sort of lonely place professionally if you’re feeling like you’re you know you’re here and like other people are are sort of pot- potentially taking a little bit longer to have gone on that journey. So I think that’s why doing something like Connected Culture, which is just literally trying to bring together people who could be seen as competitors you know but actually bringing them together to just create a platform and a and a space to kind of all you know all be on the same side. All be trying to learn from each other for that greater good. I sound like such a hippie, it’s not just because I’ve moved to Totnes
(BM) but that is actually but that was the that was the vibe that we were going for really
(AP) Yeah, yeah
(BM) and I think I still I definitely take that with me into my umm into my current practice. Like at The Wrong Crowd we’ve just initiated something called playtime. Which is partly because we were originally just a London based company, The Wrong Crowd and then we moved down to Devon and we didn’t know that many people in Devon. So we thought ‘how do we get to know people?’ Umm and we decided that we just wanted to invite people to come and meet us and we would do a little bit of presenting who we are and they could do a little bit of presenting. Could either be like a a a 20 minute workshop or an idea that they want some input on or that or I mean we did yeah people brought so many different kinds of stuff. People would like doing drawings on their head or doing puppet making or just doing like free form from weird stuff with bits of muslin. It was great umm just just playing all in a in a completely not auditioning kind of way but just in a just really really lovely. Umm and people were just so hungry for it and isolated and not knowing how to meet other artists. The feedback wh- that we got from these play days that we had been running is umm that yeah people just felt really isolated. Especially quite a lot of women who’d been umm off work having kids and had no idea how to return to work and they didn’t even know if they were allowed to call themselves artists anymore.
(AP) So is there is there a kind of like in you as a creative producer also who’s kinda like bringing some of the money in do you have to operate kind of uhh in almost two worlds then? You know so you have to do the speak of the
(AP) funders and then the speak of the artists?
(AP) and then and then marry the two together somehow magically?
(BM) because I hold two roles umm in The Wrong Crowd one being umm very much kind of a creative hat and then one being more of kind of like the business hat, as does Rachael who’s my fellow co-director at The Wrong Crowd. So we actually talk we just talk about our hats so we name them. So I’ll be like ‘let’s just put on our business hats for now and we’re just going to look at the budget’ and then we’re like ‘right let’s that (laughs) business hat off now let’s just forget about any of that and we’re going to talk about what we’re going to do if we are artists dreaming.’ Umm and yeah I really like… yeah I really like having having both of those umm hats on.
(AP) Yeah I suppose that’s what I am suggesting that actually
(AP) it’s a different, it’s shifted but actually
(AP) umm your feminist roots are still extraordinarily strong
(AP) and you’re striving to kind of like give women a voice in a way
(AP) and still be creative
(BM) Well I would say that my uhh my feminism in the last, I dunno however long, in the last couple of years might not have been visible but I have been producing two companies where I’m one of three women and I have been facilitating women to continue to be employed whilst having babies without any regular funding in the arts and I think that is one of the very hardest things to do (laughs) umm so to maintain uhh yeah to just be able to pay people (laughs) and to enable people to have umm good working conditions return to work to kind of go on umm like maternity leave and kind of err not be bankrupt and to be able to have a work to kind of come back to be able to facilitate a return to work where you can have babies in rehearsal rooms, all of that kind of stuff
(AP) And it’s really important. I think it’s really really important. Like we did a lot of pioneering stuff you know on the creative side
(AP) As small organisations I think we should be doing the pioneering stuff
(AP) around around actually how an organisation is run and how it supports its workers
(BM) Well I would say that’s one of the biggest umm things that you taught me in terms of my time at Spare Tyre was all about wellbeing. Before it was like everybody talks about wellbeing all the time now don’t they? They’re like ‘ohh have a latte and do my headspace
(BM) and that’s all my wellbeing and do my yoga’ but you know this was you know a while while ago before people were really talking about it and it was something that we writ really high
(BM) umm and of course it’s really important whatever you’re doing in your job. Umm but if you’re if you’re working in the sort of environments that Spare Tyre does where you can have some really harrowing days because you’re working umm with and for and supporting people who will be going through really harrowing things in their lives and unless unless there is a real kind of umm unless wellbeing is is is like really truly something that is invested in then the work can’t happen.
(BM) I think before coming to Spare Tyre (both AP and BM laugh) I think I probably had a bit of an idea of umm I know I had an idea that you had to be, there was like who you were like in your life and then there’s who you were professionally and I remember you saying to me so many times umm ‘no, you just, I’m I’m just the same like al- I am I am me in all of in all of those sorts of world’ and I was just like ‘I don’t want to be, I want to kind of have this sort of you know work life balance and in order to have that they kind of need to be separate’ but I don’t feel that any more and I don’t know if that changed at Spare Tyre.
(AP) I think it it’s there
(AP) I think it’s there certainly in Spare Tyre and still is
(AP) is that attitude ‘well I’m going to be here and it’s going to be like that’ and actually everybody just needs to be themselves and if you need to be rude, you need to be angry, you need
(AP) to be funny you need to do all of that. You need to be silly
(AP) So absolutely we we get the cake out you know there’s a little bit of less prosecco around now a days (laughs)
(BM) Is there?
(AP) I’m going to have to work on that
(AP and BM laugh)
(AP) Ahh, thank you very much Bonne it’s been lovely chatting to you (laughs)
(BM) Thank you
Bonnie was our General Manager for several years, she is now Executive Director of ‘The Wrong Crowd’, a theatre company which she co-founded.
Bonnie spoke to us about some of the challenges faced during Spare Tyre’s touring shows, and the balance between being creative and business-minded.