Keeping your practice alive

21 June 2022

By Helen Abbott

ISTA Artist Manager and Event Manager

When the opportunity to go from part-time to full-time with ISTA came up I found myself having to think long and hard about whether to jump on the opportunity. Not out of any doubts about ISTA and my love and commitment to the organisation, but what did this mean for me as an artist? Having been a freelance artist since the age of 21, would I be giving that up? Did I want to? Could I somehow pursue both? 

I had certainly got to a stage in my life where I was yearning for something more consistent and my job with ISTA had grown and developed in a way I could only have dreamed of a few years ago,

so what was holding me back? 

The idea of identity is so complex. I remember when my mum retired she was a bit lost. For 40 years she had been a physiotherapist. For 40 years, after asking her name and perhaps where she was from, people asked her ‘so what is it you do?’. Without the label of ‘physio’ she couldn’t work out what she was anymore. Luckily, after some time to think, I realised that life, jobs and careers aren’t so defined anymore. The idea of a portfolio career is much more understood and celebrated and the lateral skills and experience picked up along the way can be hugely beneficial. In considering this full-time position I realised that my work as an artist can be woven in and give me a platform of understanding and knowledge that would serve me, and hopefully ISTA, well. 

It is also important for me though that I continue to work as a creative, both for ISTA and independently. It is part of who I am. It’s a bit like exercise is for some people, without that outlet I start to feel lethargic and less nimble, a bit like I need to get out there and stretch. From my chats with many of the ISTA community, I know this to be the case for many theatre teachers out there too – the commitment to bringing fresh ideas, energy, excitement and avenues of exploration back into their classrooms is so vital in their teaching. 

Persuasion, Rose Theatre, Alexandra Palace & Oxford Playhouse, Mar-May 2022.

Bearing this in mind, I actively pursue opportunities to keep my practice alive. To keep learning, diversifying my skill set and working with other professionals in theatre. Not only does this benefit me and my development as an artist but it has a direct impact on my role at ISTA – it’s some of the best PD I can get (and I am extremely fortunate that ISTA recognise this and support me in my endeavour)!

In recent months I have worked as Associate Director for Jeff James’ production of Persuasion in London and Oxford, Artistic Director for an ISTA Digital Theatre Project and am developing my own movement project. I am also soon to start formally learning British Sign Language which, long term (and I know this will take several years), I hope to use to sign for theatre performances.

I will admit that it is not easy to work full-time and take on these other roles. My commitment is first and foremost to my role at ISTA and I am extremely careful to protect this and ensure I am able to give it my full energy and attention, but, with careful planning and breaks between these additional commitments, the benefit is well worth the long hours!