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From bedroom to performance space – an artistic journey

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Gemma Connell

Trainee Producer (MIF Creative) at Manchester International Festival

DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursaries - Bursary Blog
In the first of our new series of guest blogposts from graduates on the DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursary scheme, Gemma Connell, Trainee Producer (MIF Creative) at Manchester International Festival reflects on her blossoming arts career.

Creative Bursary graduate Gemma ConnellIf you’d have asked me when I was ten years old, I would have never have said that I wanted a career in the performing arts. Why? Because even at that age, I didn’t think it was possible. I loved to dance, I loved to perform – I was trained as a Street and Hip Hop dancer at that age – but I figured I would be a journalist because somehow it seemed more likely. Yet still, I spent every spare minute at the youth club, learning how to dance. Even when the dance teacher left, and I wasn’t able to pay for lessons myself, I spent hours practising in my bedroom. But there was no future in it, I knew that.
It wasn’t until I went to university that everything changed. I chose Warwick University because of its vast array of student-run dance and theatre societies and in my second term there, I finally saw myself on video. And I was good. I was really good. I don’t know why, but something in me clicked; I no longer cared how difficult it would be to have career in the performing arts – I was having one. I got myself a portfolio together, set up my Broken Rose Performing Arts website and the BrokenRoseArts YouTube channel. I made it my mission to let the world know that I was going to get into the industry if it killed me. So I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when I saw the ad for Manchester International Festival’s new Trainee Producer with MIF Creative, funded by the DCMS Jerwood Bursary scheme on the Arts Council’s Jobs website.
I immediately loved the idea of the scheme; to give young, new graduates their big break in terms of getting into the arts industry. It was just what I needed. And as I filled out the application form, I realised that I’d spent my entire university career producing, without even realising it. My second year of university had been filled with organising various different performing arts events; including a hugely successful multi-disciplinary dance parade as part of the Warwick Student Arts Festival.
There’s so much that all of the recipients will be able to get out of the DCMS Jerwood scheme. Providing emerging artists, directors and producers with the resources to learn their craft is something which all of the bursary-holders feel will be instrumental in the continuing success of the arts industry in this country. Personally, my aim is to learn how to run both a commissioning performing arts festival and a company in the arts industry. MIF have been fantastic in providing me with opportunities to even learn about such things, as well as helping me to acquire skills in drawing up budgets, contracts and in various aspects of research and development that I wasn’t originally aware of. I have even attended a ‘bauprobe’ – a technical ‘marking up’ of a production, showing roughly how the staging will work – a concept I hadn’t previously heard of. Thanks to MIF, I already feel like I know quite a bit about running a festival and I feel quite comfortable in slowly starting to plan my own. I can’t wait for MIF 2011 this summer, knowing that I learn so much more about the day to day running on the various different festival sites.
In addition to all of this, the Creative Bursaries scheme provides me with a mentor and, after having discovered that I aim to set up my own performing arts company and festival in California, MIF found me the perfect person: Gwen Van Spijk, a fantastic dance producer who has worked in the USA. Gwen is currently advising me on business plans, the US market and dance infrastructure around the world.
I feel truly blessed to have been given such a fantastic opportunity to work with a high class arts organisation and to be given the chance to learn such valuable skills. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn, but that’s what I’m here for, and MIF are dedicated to teaching me. I cannot thank MIF, Jerwood and DCMS enough for kick-starting what will hopefully be a wonderful career.

The Bursary Blog is following the experiences of graduates on the DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursary scheme, which offers talented arts graduates from less affluent backgrounds the opportunity to start a career in the arts.
Photos and video courtesy of Francesca Hughes of Original Fuse

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