Jack Boal shares his experience of CPT's Starting Blocks programme.
At the end of 2021, I was thinking about what show I wanted to make next. I knew that I wanted to explore something more personal: my desire to start a family. Taking on this more autobiographical topic, one that I would discover my relationship to, I wanted to make sure that the first stage of finding this show was done with support.
This support came through the best kind I could have imagined; Starting Blocks is THE artist support programme for emerging artists making work on the fringes. The significance of the support, in my case, that Camden People’s Theatre provided was the financial one. £900 goes a long way for a solo artist. It is the most amount of hard-cash that has been invested into my practice and work so far. Reserving £200 for materials (my puppet pictured) and £700 for whatever I saw fit to do with. I paid myself for the first time to make work. £15 an hour meant that I had just over 40 hours to explore what this new show could be. It really felt like I had all the time in the world to take a risk.
This financial investment alleviated various emotional and pragmatic stresses that come along with making work as a working-class person. The time to focus on how I would make this new show meant that I could challenge myself and expand the possibilities of my practice. I decided that throughout the process I would make this show by myself. No one else would enter my rehearsal room. I wanted to know if I was made of the stuff to be in a rehearsal room by myself for 10 weeks and whether anything dynamic came out the other side.
The only eyes that would look upon the mess I was making of it all would be my fellow Starting Block artists and the CPT team. I didn’t really realise this at the time, but these were all fresh faces getting a look at my work. I was terrified! No friends to politely encourage me as I flounder or catch me as I fall flat on my face. Rather, those in a similar boat to mine would tell me honestly and directly what worked, what to provoke, and what to follow. There wasn’t much hiding from them or myself.
Spending 4 hours in the CPT basement asking myself questions, playing with my puppet, as well as the quiet panic of staring into the creative void, were all brought to our regular peer-sharing sessions. The shared experiences of eureka and crisis moments were encouragement enough to spur on each other to continue to discover what we were all creating.
For myself, the process was challenging and rewarding: I discovered that 10 weeks is far too long by myself (4 weeks will do, thank you), I created a compelling onstage relationship between myself and a puppet, and I have something new to say: that the climate apocalypse approaches but I still want to bring a new life into this world. This sticky contradiction materialised with humour and sincerity that I can’t wait to continue exploring when the time and opportunity arises.
The support from CPT does not end after Starting Blocks. Other venues and organisations may cut ties once a support programme ends - short-term and short-sighted development for the future generation of theatre artists. Not so at CPT. As I get ready to perform my first show, Thatcher-Rite, in December I go in with the knowledge that I have found a creative home in CPT.
As for the work-in-progress I made during Starting Blocks, The Children are Leaving exists with my drag-clown Grace Fool. I hope to pick this show up soon, with similar support that CPT offered, to continue Grace Fool’s and The Child’s journey. Wherever it may arrive, it could have only begun through Starting Blocks.
Deadline: Thu 27 Oct 11.59pm