Earlier this year, Oliver Sykes went being a temp to producing events for Manchester arts charity Contact thanks to the DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme. Here he tells us about organising tours, dealing with budgets and creating (and performing in) his own monthly showcase for young aspiring comics in the north west.
I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working as an Assistant Producer for Contact in Manchester since gaining my placement through the Creative Bursaries Scheme in February. Considering only three months earlier I was delighted to get a temporary position working on a production line as a Factory Operative in Chapel-en-le-Frith, this whole experience seems nothing short of magical.
The work has certainly been varied. I initially assisted on the second research and development phase of a new political play called Fields of Grey, which explores how Western Imperialism – and particularly the War on Terror – has affected the politics of identity in the 21st Century. At the same time as this, I began doing administrative production for Mixed Movement – The Festival, which is a three-day celebration of dance improvisation, creative collaboration, choreographic innovation, dance classes, workshops and discussions where artists, young people, academics and others come along to share, create, learn and look at dance in new and different ways.
During this period I was also juggling the production of pitch parties for Contact’s Flying Solo Festival, an annual event celebrating the art of the solo artist, followed by Contact’s Playspace R&D Commission, which provides young artists with an opportunity to win a cash prize and support from Contact to develop an idea which fuses technology and theatre in a unique and interesting way. As well as this, I have been supporting Re:Con, Contact’s Young Programming Team, to produce their week-long LOST & FOUND Festival.
I’ve also had the opportunity to produce CountryBoy’s Struggle, a one-man show which uses hip hop to tell a tender story about one man’s search for a sense of belonging in a foreign environment. For this, I’ve been organising both a rural and urban tour, negotiating with venues, promoting the show, creating budgets, budgets and more budgets, applying for funding, and assessing technical requirements, among many other things!
But perhaps the most exciting project for me (and that’s quite a statement given how varied and exciting the projects have been) is Comedy Playground, a monthly comedy showcase night I’ve created where emerging comics are encouraged to get up and perform comedy, be it sketch-comedy, stand-up, poetry, film/animation, song, clowning, puppetry or any other genre, in front of an encouraging and appreciative crowd.
The opportunity to work for Contact and create a performance platform for young aspiring comics in the north west is something I never imagined being able to do but here I am working towards making it happen and I feel so fortunate to be here doing what I love.
Contact is without a doubt the most welcoming and friendly organisation I’ve ever worked for. Every member of staff is approachable and everyone shares a unified passion of working in the interests of young people and working in the arts. I, myself, have performed as part of the comedy double-act Seymour and Sykes, on two occasions at Contact and have also showcased my own stand-up material at the Contact event, Showreal. These are both things I would not have accomplished were it not for Contact’s encouraging nature as an organisation and its positive atmosphere.
I’d like to thank the DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme for providing me, and many other young people, with such incredible opportunities and to thank all the staff at Contact for welcoming me into the organisation with open arms, for facilitating my development as a producer with passion and zeal, and for inspiring me to continually strive for excellence at all times.