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  • John Scott Arts/ Blogs Old and New

How a Pandemic Forced this Freelancer to get Creative. (TOWER 2.)

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

The last blog may have been seen as a bit of a tirade. As we read in this weeks national press about the potential closure of the UKs MOST respected comedy clubs, The Stand (We have one in Glasgow, Edinburgh and here in Newcastle where I live) that argument still feels highly justified. What was I saying again? Oh yes, my life as an artist is not culturally endorsed and therefore, by definition to certain established norms, not really worth living. No I wasn't exactly saying that, but the idea I've just laid out was inspired by research I've been doing today into the nature of biography, autobiography and marginalised voices.

There are a great many unheard voices in our societies and yet you can't help but feel current circumstances are causing a light to be shone, at times with great intensity, on some of them. As a Freelancer who works in community engagement alongside groups who can be described as marginalised, I understand the power of group engagement and the nature of biography when they're placed beside each other. The book I've been reading today, Speaking From Memory the Study of Autobiographical Discourse. (Rosen, 1998) tells us about such engagement and that the practice should, "amount to a novel socio-political event, often having the deliberate political intent of showing a view of events and experiences unlikely to be represented in official or dominant versions". Therefore, one topic that ties together the last post and this one, is the notion of unheard voices and officialdom. It get's everywhere doesn't it? Harold Rosen, who wrote the book, seems to have good intentions. The book is an attempt to pull away from officialdom and academia the idea of biography being some lofty method of literature invented by white, male, European classicists. It proposes that we should recognise that biography is primarily and most commonly oral, and used by everyday people almost everyday of the week. In fact, the book was written a couple of decades ago and I would argue that nowadays, via Social Media, we have all become the great generation of biographers. We literally document everything!

I'm an artist who has worked closely with biographical elements much of my days. Whether it be early comedy routines about growing up as an outsider in a tough mining town or more in-depth explorations of my experiences with mental health. Elements of biography have probably always been a part of my work, and there are plenty of arguments to say it exists in the writing of most fiction as well.

Thanks to the pandemic my traditional and regular access to an income and platform as a freelance artist has mostly disappeared. We're not really sure how and how much of it is going to reappear. Hence, with zero support from official or public bodies, I've had to diversify. Why don't you just get a real job? I did, and was filled with enough concerns about the work environment that I would have become a whistle-blower or worker rights activist within a couple of months. So the less said about that the better. Joking aside, it genuinely shook me up and made me realise I was going to have to turn all my energies and imaginations back towards doing what I do, and what I do is work in the arts as a freelancer. This time around though, there was a difference. I've now been participating in the academic study of the performing arts for nearly four years. Time to find out if two decades worth of old experience plus the new experience was of any use. I'm happy to say it's beginning to look like perhaps it has been.

I started this post mentioning community engagement because that's just one of the jobs I've applied for today. The job would be to work alongside the local council to create biographical work with vulnerable youngsters and the elderly. I have to say I was also shook up that the elderly were classed as 50+...I turned that age this year. The work will focus around their experiences with the pandemic. I'd love to get the job. Another thought Harold Rosen has about the nature of biography is that, "To speak of ones past is always an invitation to others to think and possibly speak of their own." That's something that community engagement and stand up comedy both do really well. As I mentioned in my last post, it's a lot to do with empathy and shared experience.

The real new work I've been perusing and starting to generate income with is writing. I've put myself into the freelance writer market via a global network site called Upwork. So far I've got jobs writing Dr Seuss style poems for American children, writing highly weird fan fiction for YouTube cartoons that feature everyone from regular Marvel superheroes to Pennywise The Clown of Steven King's It, then onto creating a comedic script for a new website building app, writing some comedy into a magicians stage patter and today being asked to write some highly scatological/filthy toilet humour for a YouTube prankster site. As you can imagine the last job is one I'm particularly keen on. Today as I was doing my academic study I employed a system of studying for 25 mins and then having a 5 mins break. In those 5 minute breaks I found my self jotting down some ideas for absolute filth. I can't recommend enough of how effective and joyous a way this is to get your essays done!

So there may be some light at the end of the path, but the next few months are going to be very testing. I've also got to home produce a 45 minute solo theatre piece I've called Towers. (Ah now the blog titles make sense.) Towers is all about social injustice past and very present. It goes from disgraceful events of yesteryear to the disgraceful events (at least in this country) of the present. It's also about unheard and marginalised voices. Did I mention here the arts council disgraceful stance in regards to comedy as an art form? Maybe I did...We're not going to go quietly that's for sure.

Rosen, H., 1998. Speaking From Memory (The Study Of Autobiographical Discourse). 1st ed. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books Limited, pp.12-15.

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