I'm Charlie Hammond. I was a NTW TEAM member from some time around 2011-2013/4. But as Catrin Rogers, Press and PR Manager for NTW, reminded me when we met as this year's Edinburgh Fringe festival: 'Once a NTW member, always a NTW member'.
So here is a suitable self-indulgent but possibly interesting post about my journey from Cardiff 2013 to Edinburgh 2017, via the West Midlands, Paris, and Manchester.
This is 2013 me.
AND THIS IS 2017 ME
I wanted to keep this short and sweet but have failed miserably. So you have been warned.
Cardiff was first brought to my attention by my being there to study English Literature at Cardiff University. This I did for three years, from 2010-2013. During this time I became involved with various parts of the arts in Cardiff, including events run through NTW Team.
Now my artistic life in Cardiff began largely through poetry. (I won the audience choice in 2013 - maybe- NTW poetry night). I wrote love poems because I studied english literature and I was young and that's what you do.
Look at me, smiling and reading. So embarrassing.
Having benefited from various aspects of the NTW scheme, including the 10-day residency at Anglesey, in the summer of 2013, I applied to go up with NTW alongside their production of Tim Price's The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning. Laura Thomas and myself were awarded the opportunity, and for 10 days we watched shows, blogged about our experience, and promoted NTW's show. Our accommodation was provided for as well as subsidies for 2 shows a day (but one had to have Welsh connections).
Having looked backed over my posts and our vlogs (which are way too long), it's actually so clear how important that opportunity was. Not only did I watch artists who's work I am beginning to steal and re-work for myself, and who's artistic circles I now stand on the periphery of (I am this close to performing at the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society, so help me deity-I-don't-believe-in-but-respect-enough-to-occassionally-invoke). The experience also validated my voice, my opinions, and helped boost my path into the arts.
I can even follow a trail of events that leads to where I am today (in some sort of boring art sci-fi thriller but not-really-that-thrilling about my life.
It goes like this (this is the long bit fyi. I mean it is also MY LIFE):
NTW Team blogging at Edinburgh Fringe 2013 - In one blog post I wrote about Les Enfant's Terribles 2013 production The Trench which I disliked (still do), and worded my review so.
This was read by Adele Thomas. She subsequently asked if I wanted to assist her on GaggleBabble's The Forsythe Sisters. I said yes faster than I could work out any potential work complications.
October 2013 I was Assistant Director for Adele. It was GREAT and EVERYTHING I ever wanted working in the arts to be.
Then came November 2013, and I struggled.
I was pretty broke, working two jobs, not really happy with the fact that I couldn't go straight into the working full-time in the arts when my brain was making up hypothetical young human beings who were - I mean they definitely did exist I just didn't know those particular 22/23 year olds personally. Also, I had cockroaches in my flat - in Cardiff, yes, isn't that weird, yes it is weird, and yes they can only be brought in from an outside source, and no my landlord didn't understand that, and yes I did pay for all the 3-4 extermination events we had to have. On reflection I was probably some level of depressed during that time. I was frustrated, I was tired, and I was unhappy.
So I did what any aspiring young person in the arts would. I moved home to my mother.
Jan 2014, I moved home to rural Worcestershire. Here's where another life dot comes in. My wonderful mother stumbled across a press assistant job at Giffords Circus in Gloucestershire, with the chance to be a runner during rehearsals, a job I got pretty much off the back of assisting Adele on GaggleBabble (and my sparkly personality of course).
So, I began working at Giffords' Circus, learnt a ton, and then assisted Cal McCrystal on their 2014 show. Continued to work through the summer 2014 for Giffords.
My laptop has never been the same after that sawdust.
In October 2014, I went to Philippe Gaulier to study clown and playful performance. This came idea to study came from clowns I had met in Cardiff, one big influence being Mark Winstanley and Alice Robison of ClownLab, another improviser Nathan Keates, Iain Gibbons as well - a friend who was studying there, and being advised by Cal McCrystal to go.
The money to do this on the other hand, the untold story of any prospering / floundering arts career, came from: working and living at home (during which I did three part-time jobs), writing to charities for funding (kindly granted from The Elmley Foundation who I cannot and have not thanked enough), and money left to me by my grand parents.
Studying at Gaulier taught me so much, and I met people who I would never have had the opportunity to work beside, and taught me to push for more, to be happier, be bigger, and question my own bullshit. But again, it also showed me that money talks, and I only studied for one year, because I couldn't afford more. Is that important? It absolutely is.
May 2015, I return to England to work as Associate Director for Cal McCrystal on Giffords Circus' 2015 show. I do the same in 2016.After a final three weeks at Gaulier, I moved to Manchester summer of 2015. I do this knowing NOBODY in Manchester, simply because I had heard things and took a gamble. Was it worth it?
The first year I did some of the most horrible jobs I have worked. I mean they weren't actually the worst jobs.
First, I was a host at Jamies' Italian, probably the biggest Jamies' outside of London. It was busy and stressful and money.
After too many stress dreams of organising tables (I would literally wake up sweating thinking I had to find tables for people to sit at), I quit. And a friend got me a job somewhere I had vowed never to return: COSTA COFFEE.
A little aside here. I walk past my old Costa most days now on my way through Manchester Piccadilly station. It is a terribly small, hot, busy kiosk, where I sometimes got up at 4 in the morning to go to. I managed long hours with scratch nights and art nights and comedy spots as I tried to work out how and what I wanted to perform. And because each one of these opportunities were on the odd occasion, maybe once a month, these were pressured and stressful because I wanted to be GOOD and I wanted it NOW. Luckily, I worked with and made same dear friends in that store. I laughed a lot. I found a small cupboard at work we could climb into and occasionally would go and scream in that to exorcise the demons of the petty, rude customers we had to deal with on a daily basis. And also because it made my friends laugh. It was also legitimately some of the most soul destroying days of my life.
I quit Costa multiple times in 2016.
Then I made my first solo show, Beaut, at Manchester Fringe 2016. I STRUGGLED. The show was fine but not what I wanted it to be but I made it and that was fine. Fine.
Did I mention this was fine.
In January 2017 it finally stuck. I quit costa and I got a job as a Maze Master at the Crystal Maze. Which was life changing. I was a regular paid performer. My outset changed considerably. 2013 Charlie would be proud (god bless that personality's cold, cold, grave that 2017 Charlie has feasted upon).
Through being in Manchester I met Jasmine Chatfield, who had seen my show, Beaut, and liked it. On the other hand, I recently found out she had rated a open slot I did at Flim Nite, an arts night she runs, as being 'just terrible'. Jasmine asked if I wanted to collaborate with her. We did.
We made Clonely during the first half of 2017, alongside everything else we had to do. It premiered at Greater Manchester Fringe 2017, then onto Edinburgh Fringe festival 2017 where we received four stars from EdFest magazine, and four stars from the Scotsman, who described us as 'gifted physical performers'.
We are SO gifted.
Now, that was a much, much longer trail than I had wanted it to be.
It's been a long trek. But a lot of where I am now I can trace back to my time in Cardiff, and early on I was aware of how important every opportunity was to me, and blogging for NTW was definitely one of those. Connecting with people who shared some of my views on art and theatre and life was defining. It's what made Clonely a relative success. You make work and hope that people respond to it and that from that like-minded people wish for you to make further work.
But looking back there has been so much luck and probably a lot of privilege.
Obviously I am delighted with how Clonely was received at Edinburgh, and I know how fortunate we were. A lot of my very talented friends were much less lucky. We had a relatively good location, we had a USP of weird existential sci-fi which worked this year, we happened to be seen by people who liked our work and helped us. But the other thing I can take from Edinburgh this year is how many people I knew there involved in some way with making art, and it was amazing that a good portion of those people were from Wales. It feels a little like bragging but that network of people I now know is from 4, maybe 5 years of doing stuff, and part of that is from having moved to discover a new network of people.
So what am I trying to say? Invite me to perform in Wales? Pay me for art? Maybe.
But also I guess to share the maxim I remind myself of when I am frustrated, and low, and feeling poor and like I am being cheated by those with more money, with parents who live in London, with theatres they basically grew up in.
'We're on the long road'.
That's what I tell myself, usually followed by a loud audible sigh.
You keep taking opportunities as they present themselves and you hope that they lead somewhere down the line, even if you can't see where it leads now. I certainly couldn't have forseen where I have ended up. But I did know that I would keep at it.
So if there are any fresh faced English Literature graduates reading this. Opportunities might seem scarcer than you'd like, but they exist. You might just be on the long road I'm afraid. And you're might have to live with that. But if you can, it's gonna lead you somewhere.
Actually the phrase I tell myself is a little more like: 'It's always the f**king long road, isn't it?'.
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