This month, Creative Access is focusing on the jobs you didn’t know existed. That means all the amazing jobs happening behind-the-scenes in the creative industries to hopefully inspire you to think about some of the career paths you might not have considered or known how to access before. This week former Creative Access intern and current guest artistic director at the Kings Head Theatre, Isabel Adomakoh Young tells us all about her new role…
What does your role entail?
I’m an actor, writer and voice artist so I do a lot of different projects, but my main role at the moment is Guest Artistic Director (GAD) of the Kings Head Theatre in Islington. I am programming a season in spring for them, which means I choose what shows will perform at the theatre during that time.
The role is a newly invented one as the theatre doesn’t have anyone currently doing the job of Artistic Director, so they’ve chosen to invite four theatre artists to do it in the interim as part of a project called ‘The Takeover’. Usually, being Artistic Director (AD) of a theatre company or theatre involves other elements beyond programming too.
I’ve called my season ‘Sight Unseen’ and I’m asking the questions: “Who should finally get their turn in the limelight?”, “How can we take a fresh look at old narratives?” and, “What have we taken as read without ever asking ourselves why?”.
Being a GAD involves a number of tasks…
- Designing my season, writing some text that explains my vision and what type of work I’d like to see
- Researching and contacting artists I like to see if they’d like to propose a show
- Reading applications from the public ‘open call’ and opening a conversation with projects I like the look of. Most projects will be headed up by a producer and will have a writer (whose script I’ll read) and possibly a director and cast also attached, though that can also be arranged later.
- With the information they provide about their productions, deciding how many performances the show should do and what time it should go on. Alongside our ‘main’ shows that do 6 performances a week, we have shorter slots and late-night ones that better suit comedy or cabaret.
- Most slots require a refundable deposit from the production, but for the latest evening slot we simply divide box office takings between the theatre and the company.
- Working through the financial, time and production requirements the theatre has with the producers and negotiating how those can work for each project.
- Drafting and issuing ‘Deal Memos’ which act as a contract, once all points are agreed.
- Handing over to the theatre’s in-house producers to see the show through to opening night.
- Promoting the season, creatively supporting the artists I’ve booked, fostering networks between them, and being a vocal champion of the work.
- Us GADs also receive skill development and mentoring as part of the role, so we attend workshops, one-to-ones and networking events.
“It’s not always obvious how, as the industries ostensibly differ a lot, but knowing how to handle artists, or familiarity with contracting, or simply an appreciation of an art form, can prove useful in unexpected ways in this sector.”
What’s your favourite part of your job?
It’s very exciting thinking and researching who might fit my season. Despite the somewhat uncertain outlook in theatre, there are always amazing artists full of ideas and determination out there. I love finding new theatre companies or writers and thinking: “I have an opportunity that could help you grow and succeed”. It’s an interesting challenge navigating what the Kings Head audience might be interested in, what I think might sell, and how to achieve a balance of different types of work and topics across the season. The best moment is when you’ve made a formal offer and they reply saying “Yes please!”.
How did you get onto this career path?
Part of the invention of The Takeover at the Kings Head was because the existing path to becoming an Artistic Director is very opaque. There’s no specifically required skillset or professional background, and the way people achieve it is not clearly set out; it’s often based on ‘relationships’ with theatres and powerful people. The exciting thing, though, is that one can come at it from different directions – you don’t have to have been a theatre director, for instance. As an actor, my experience has been more on the making shows side rather than running a company or building. The Takeover means I’ll be better prepared if I ever choose to pursue becoming an AD.
As for how I attained the role – full transparency – I was asked by simple invitation. While I was invited to take on this role, the theatre has assured me they will look at making the process much more accessible – so keep an eye out for that!
Reflecting more broadly on what got me the offer, I’d say every job, from my internship via Creative Access with a literary agency, to being in a drag collective, to running my own arts festival on a shoestring, brought me experience and insight that I’m using now. It’s not always obvious how, as the industries ostensibly differ a lot, but knowing how to handle artists, or familiarity with contracting, or simply an appreciation of an art form, can prove useful in unexpected ways in this sector.
And importantly, courage and a bit of self-belief helped. I nearly turned this opportunity down, feeling inadequate, but my mum told me “Say yes, and figure out how to do it later”, which is exactly what the Kings Head were inviting us to do!
“Don’t be shy! Shout about your work and your achievements, because you can trust that other people will be shouting about theirs”
What’s been one of your favourite projects that you’ve worked on?
I can’t talk yet about what’s on in my season but performing at the Kings Head in 2021 was an amazing experience. They ran a season called ‘Barstools to Broadway’, about their 50-year history as a fringe theatre nurturing shows and writers that went on to huge things in the industry, and I loved reading an early play by a writer I love and respect, Stephen Jeffreys, as part of that. I’m actually using his book on playwriting to help me write my first play now!
What would your advice be for anyone looking to break in or move up in the sector you work in?
- Don’t be shy! Shout about your work and your achievements, because you can trust that other people will be shouting about theirs. Put the effort into presenting yourself well, as well as your work; for better or worse in the arts, opportunities come when people perceive you to have potential.
- But alongside that, create relationships where you back one another. It can be a lonely industry and a boost from someone you rate will keep morale high and hopefully get you both some work/ audiences.
- See other people’s work and think critically about what you liked, what you’d do differently. Also, keep abreast of opportunities like grants, workshops and networking events. There’s so much out there that people just don’t know about, and these can be a great start to a relationship with an institution too. Think of yourself as part of an industry you can both benefit from and change for the better.
If you’re feeling inspired to find a new role in theatre, you can see our opportunities here.