20th September: Arts and Business …The can the circle be complete?

Another week in Kosice…dynamic  and challenging.

This Eastern Slovakian town is pretty and interesting.wpid-20140917_085335.jpg

I am working with the guys from Kosice 2013 to set up a new company Arts and Business Connections. This new organisation of which I will be Artistic Director/Advisor/Slave, will foster relationships between the two sectors encouraging dual opportunities in creative learning, exchange of personnel, training, incubation etc.


My specific role is to up-skill artists to deliver training for companies. This week I have a dozen meetings and three key training days.

Day one includes training Na Perone Theatre in improvisation delivery as actors in role-play. The guys are really talented and actor Peter creates some of the best improvs I have seen for a while including role-play for dealing with a colleague who is consistently late. In one improvisation he offers his watch as an incentive to encourage on-time delivery and in another allows his frustrations to bubble over to the point where he doesn’t speak but just plays out his emotions by drumming on the desk – the result is a terrified employee and a hilarious scenario of a manager being tipped over the edge. Haven’t laughed so much in ages. These guys at NaPerone have what is a key quality for workshop delivery; improvisation skills, ability to listen, a connection with the audience but mostly they have energy and presence.

In all of my workshops I talk about the energy and presence as vital dynamics in leaders or entrepreneurs but as well as talking about it, it is great when participants can see and feel it.

The skills of actors in training is to play and explore. It is the facilitators’ job to guide, provoke and cajole meaning through the participation of the audience. Our training scenario in this workshop has learning around action and reaction in behaviour and some techniques in opening and closing certain situations, but its real legacy and impact is that it is… memorable.

This idea that you are entertained whilst learning gives a real depth and value to training. We will never forget the techniques used or behaviours observed that made us smile or that we recognised in ourselves and others. Delivery of scenarios and characters are in many instances in cartoon form – but therein lies the opportunity for learning, it is the facilitator picks away at the cartoon until this truth is revealed.

If I want to watch real workplace scenarios then I can go and sit in an office.

If I want to watch a real domestic drama I can sit in my own living room. Neither have the craft to engage and reveal…and entertain.

I am however not a fan of pure role-play between colleagues in the training room. Mix an actor into the scenario and validity and impact grows. There is no longer competition between colleagues, but rather the challenge of engagement with the unpredictable actor expanding or challenging the rules and skills of the participant.

When we worked a few years ago with McLaren Formula One Racing it was the work with Comedian Darren Strange that brought a leadership training event to life. The group was not so engaged with management theory or self-reflection groups – they wanted a spark and Darren gave them that. Suddenly in word-play games and improvisation they had someone who they could pit their wits against. Someone who had skills that they could try to imitate but would find hard to conquer.



In all the years of training I have realised how much leaders in particular want to engage with people of talent. Whether they are musicians, actors or visual artists, the factor which heightens impact is the challenge of being in the presence of someone of talent.

I don’t necessarily include myself in this category – I hope people are intrigued and inspired by what I do, so it is often that I will bring in colleagues who are true experts in their fields to challenge people in how they see the world.

I have done this with Conceptual Artist Chris Dobrowolski, Actors Jasmine Hyde, Helen Gould, Caroline Rippin, Daren Strange and my colleague Patrick Morris, with Writer Fraser Grace, artist Idit Nathan sound composer Andrew Lovett, Musician Tom Harding (Tom the Pom), director Rachel Aspinwall etc

Fraser Grace- Writer: http://www.frasergrace.co.uk/

Chris Dob: Artist http://chrisdobo.tumblr.com/

Tom Harding Musician: http://www.tomthepom.com/

Jasmine Hyde, Actor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jasmine_Hyde

Andrew Lovett, Musician: http://andrewlovett.virb.com/

Idit Nathan designer: http://www.iditnathan.org.uk/

Rachel Aspinwall: http://theenginehouse.org.uk/

More about Rachel and others later but  her Engine House Project is fabulous.

In one session for The BBC we assembled ‘all the talents’ literally getting five world-class artists to simply spend a day exploring the nature of their Creative Thinking (ok so that’s what they spend the License Fee on!!)

So stage one of my week was I think a success – I engaged also with a digital Artist Michaela Bottkova. Who I think is interesting – we have to work out how she can engage with businesses. One thing we are looking at with her is around an Artistic Residency where she can work with an organisation looking at their Products, People and Processes and articulating a response that could be of value to her as an artistic endeavour and for the business as an intervention.


The value of interventions is what took up a lot of day two in Kosice which featured a very interesting Case Study from Gothenburg with the project Tilt run by Pia Areblad who I co-presented with..


More on her dynamic ideas of the cross fertilisation of arts and business to follow…but here is an introduction to a comparative study on the impact of Artistic ~Interventions


But for me I have to ensure I can continue to feed Menagerie and myself with these experiences. I enjoy the challenge this world brings but for me as an Artist I need to ensure the circle is complete and it is not just money that is generated through these workshops and relationships.

The good news is that we are in agreement in 2015 to bring one of our shows Bloominauschwtiz to Kosice (and on to Moscow) so I guess the circle will start to seem more complete…

Bloom 1




“Bully Busters”… The Power of Theatre…

So I read the report that confirmed I was right! Luton is OFFICIALLY the worst airport in Britain (see previous Blog from Luton to Goa…)

See report: http://ind.pn/1wlXx1Q

This morning heading to Kosice. It was chaos at Luton with total dis-organisation as per norm. But the biscuit–taker was the unnecessary ‘cruelty’ of staff demanding money at the gate from passengers for extra luggage … so aggressively.

Come on WizzAir lets have some sense of compassion, common sense and understanding … you are damaging yourselves and gaining nothing by this power trip of aggression.

Yes you want the money, yes it is printed on the poster and website that you can only take one bag on the plane but this is like some form of Torture Sport and you are trying to take the gold medal away from Ryanair … Yes I know this has all been said before and there are so many ways to approach challenging situations …blah blah blah… but the fact is that the way you act towards someone is so easy to adjust to get a cleaner more efficient response…and I’ll say it …nicer and more professionally handled too.

OK .. breathe …

… better…

So on my way to Kosice again for an Arts and Biz event… Creativity and Business…

And indeed this week has been the week of Slovakians as I have also been working with a Kosice 2013 study group in Cambridge too. More of that later.

BTW I am listening to new Kate Tempest album – great…


Before the Slovakians come and go .. I have briefly been over in Germany (Kaiserslautern) on a big US Army base… !!!

I am working with an “old” friend Dane Winters on a project using theatre as a tool for combating Bullies (should do one for WizzAir never mind US Army).

This project is right up there in terms of left field I have to admit.

But what can’t theatre be used as an instrument to explore…clearly very little!

We are going to work up an interactive Forum Theatre piece which can be used by local communities in American Schools in Europe (Armed Forces families) to help understand and hopefully have an impact on combating Bullying.


We will be working on cyber bullying and the “old school” bullying… “give me your sweets (candy?)”… playground stuff.

Aimed at two age groups 8-11 and 12-16, we will create a framework theatre piece that kids will then take ownership over and promote their own solutions for each of the characters and situations.
I am working with Playwright Craig Baxter to produce a quality play and hopefully a quality product. Craig has written many pieces for us and a while back won a v. prestigious award for his play The Altruists (and $10,000!)


Working within sensitive but dynamic boundaries I hope we can create something of real value that the kids have ownership over.

This type of Forum Theatre – interactive style – has of course been used for centuries in community environments.

At College we study Augusto Boal as the architect of modern forum theatre where social and political issues would be explored on the streets of Rio or Sao Paulo. Essentially he sought to make the people /audience/witnesses active participants in the theatrical experience:


His work fusing theatre with citizens had a great impact – establishing large and small-scale work on the streets of Brazil focusing particularly on issues of Human Rights through the Theatre of the Oppressed:


Our bullying forum project is more controlled/sanitised and certainly on a smaller scale, but using these techniques we can get closer to this community approach and potentially have a high impact through “ownership of ideas” .

Indeed my maddest use of interactive discussion was at the British Consulate in St Petersburg, Russia where we explored “Bullying and Harassment in the workplace” as part of staff professional development. This sounds strange, but of course is as relevant to train people in all elements that can put pressure on organisational culture. These challenges arise in a Consulate as in any other workplace environment and in fact it is sensible and important to explore. It just sounds weird taking the phone call … “can you do a work a workshop on Bullying and Harassment for the… British Consulate, Russia.”.

 In workplace scenarios “bullying” can often be about mis-understanding of culture and expectations. For example additional workload which is acceptable for one side is not for another and tensions can easily rise.

When tensions rise in a Consulate, the Playground or the Airport – it is about communication – and making sure that the communication is clear and fair and yes … even empathetic!

It is not about being just nice to people, it is understanding the impact of your actions.

The saying goes you are being bullied if you think you are being bullied.

So our focus is to establish measures to understand the dynamics and not allow outside pressures (time, money, culture, background, looks etc.) to prejudice us in our interactions.

Yes… we feel stressed, angry, mis-understood … but the aggression and wilful injuring of a 2nd or 3rd party is then when it becomes bullying.

And then what…? Well you need the power of theatre to solve the problem – of course!

Bully Busters are on the way..!

Blog: “Teaching” Six Steps of Entrepreneurial Thinking (… or seven).

BLOG 1st September 2014

Teaching time is almost upon us and I will resume my role consulting in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in Cambridge with CEDAR. Or as my contribution is know in our household… “Teaching” (said with accompanied hand-movements of speech marks).


Today was the first day looking at plans for me to support teaching (“teaching”) on the BA and MSC In Entrepreneurship.

The question comes – firstly can you teach Entrepreneurship?

Then if you can why is a theatre director involved?

Well the answer to number one is beyond my pay grade (dividend grade?) and the answer judging by the number of courses worldwide seems to be yes. Everyone I know says the number one course is at Babson College in the States but the course at CEDAR is also unique and interesting because of the practical content.


What I do know, is that you can immerse yourself in a world that can equip you to really understand and to and prepare you to be a professional part of it. I feel there is plenty of motivating, cajoling and inspiring to be done besides planning and strategy, and I guess this is where I come in… focusing on what I know about: getting the best out of people.

Challenging thinking around People, Communication and Creativity in the workplace, I try to be practical, a bit of a bully and a critical friend.

I also learn a lot myself …as the students constantly ask “what on earth are you doing teaching on this course? If you were that successful you wouldn’t need to.”

To which I answer: “ you can learn a lot from my mistakes ??? “.

It is clear from the faculty meeting today that the powers that be (Professors etc..) don’t want me to spout from text-books on Maslow’s’ Theory of Motivation or Schumpeter ‘s Big Bang opportunities (although they are interesting).



It is clear my role is about shaking students up – motivating them and getting them to understand and explore some clear dynamics around how they operate as potential Business People in a shifting landscape full of opportunities and pitfalls.

My teaching (Yes… “ “ ) will focus on exploring some fundamentals in Entrepreneurship:

  1. Be Brave: Make things happen
  2. Create Frameworks: to enable you to think both big and small
  3. Network (ing): vital
  4. Make decisions (start with a good name)
  5. Do the simple things: really well
  6. Work with good people: Nice (and effective) if you can
  7. …?

This idea of Networking is so important. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who I know that got a job or created a business stir through the old channels – it is all about networking, opportunity recognition, recommendation and serendipity.

What are you doing if you are an entrepreneur whether in the UK or USA or Nigeria? Finding and exploiting that gap in the market before someone else, or developing your idea or version of the business better than others.

Looking at the list it is clear that you make things happen by being in the right place at the right time or finding a way to get there quick. Then once you are there implement your Framework; knowing what you need to about the law, the market and the money to make stuff happen…

The Frameworks are essentially plans that can be adapted whether they are for employing, training, distributing or selling, it is about taking the big picture and not missing out on the detail.

The rest of the list (1-6) speaks for itself but I am reminded of Anthony Alderson from the Pleasance Theatre talking about taking a risk or not feeling in control… well, you are never fully in control, but there is always someone on the end of the phone who can help you. You can’t be an expert in everything but you can find someone who is. So if it’s a good idea, never mind how scary… go for it.


In our team at CEDAR there are a number of really interesting Entrepreneurs in Residence and four of them are really really interesting. I will write about them all at length but here are their profiles and briefly why they are interesting case studies;

Natalie Haywood a Scouse dynamo – who runs the fabulous Leaf – teashops and venues. She has confidence in abundance, is a great deal maker and fabulous networker. She does what she says, she will has a vision and knows every detail of her business. Don’t mess!


Neil Muspratt is on the fringes at CEDAR but in the middle of the business world when it comes to Gaming. He spotted an opportunity to “Make things happen” and took it. He brought the site Simply Games.Com about 6 or 7 years ago and invested in all the right places (People, Marketing and Distribution) to create a truly successful independent gaming company. His style is to take the risk but to have 100% trust in who he does business with, where and how. Most of it is incredibly done on a handshake. He also understands international trading and that is where you can adapt to the system and create surplus.



Paddy Bishopp of Paddy and Scott’s Coffee started out grounding roast coffee beans to support this own café in Suffolk. They have become one of the fastest growing Cafes and distributors in the UK – why? – they know their customers and  they do the simple things really well but mainly have good coffee – don’t compromise on this sort of thing and you are in a good place.


And Finally…

Jason Graham who runs ICE Bar in Mayfair. He visited an ICE BAR in the frozen North – wanted to run one. Where should be have his bar? Only the best will do – Mayfair. The Council immediately rejected his bid – no more bars needed – so became super resilient and got people who could make it happen – and it has…


And the being Creative bit? Isn’t that just a throw away that everyone uses – “we need to be more creative..”

For me I like to think in real terms…Where do ideas come from? How do you stimulate these ideas and then implement them.

This is the topic I will be addressing at Le Change Conference in Kosice entitled “Creativity at work: Jekyll and Hyde?”


I wrote the title of the talk in a hurry and have no idea what it really means, so when I have written the speech I will let you know!

Oh and number Seven on the list..? well you have to have seven steps don’t you – it can be whatever you want it to be…

I like “get the best out of yourself and others” but – but let number seven be whatever you want or need it to be to drive you to success…

See now that’s worth going to college to be “taught” by a theatre director…