2019: My Year in Numbers

As the decade comes to an end, I look back mainly to this year but also to what I have achieved in the past 10. The past 10 years were cracking- mega tough and mega brilliant. I left London, I left my ex husband, I embraced the unknown and the unknown finally lead me north and I have been enjoying north since I made the big move three years ago. I have been with the same darling for ten years and that feels really special. I have been so fortunate to work with some top theatre and dance babes and I love what that brings with each project. I have made some real friends and I have been so saddened by losing some of those I thought were my friends when I left London. After years of trying to fit in, I decided that will never happen so I began to embrace not fitting in and especially foregrounding my culture and language.

I started the decade completely broke, having little to eat, crying every day and while I carry some of that with me every day, I have more to eat and I am very happy to be sharing what I have with family and friends. 

2019 has been a very busy year for me, the busiest I have ever had spanning all three of my favourite things- Two Destination Language, designing with / for brilliant artists and showing my visual art work. So, here is my year in numbers!

I designed 5 shows with collaborators/artists other than Two Destination Language.

My designs reached audiences in Ireland (with 2 different shows), China, Japan, Canada, Germany, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In royalties I received £510 for one show and £0 for another despite it being written into my contract and it touring the world. (Don’t think about saying- Why not chase it? I will tell you why- chasing money is easy for some and rather hard for me, again, wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to chase those royalties!) 

The work I have designed reached 8855 live audience members.

My design fees for the 5 shows total £7900.

That is £0.89 of my work for each of those 8855 audience members.

My designs for Declining Solo are in a group exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and this year alone, live audience members are around 18,000. I have spent £734 of my own money towards this exhibition and it’s damn worth it. 

I designed 2 Two Destination Language shows, both premiering in 2020, so watch this space! More about that below…

I had 1 solo exhibition featuring 101 drawings, prints, paintings and objects.

The exhibition reached more than 3,600 live audience members.

I received a £5,000 artist fee for the exhibition

The exhibition costs were £1,475

I sold 3 works during the exhibition and another 3 at other points in the year

Total sales for the year are £1354.50

I performed Fallen Fruit 29 times this year, my performance fees total £5,000.

I performed Manpower once totalling £250

I performed Lone Wolves as work in progress 4 times, totalling £750.

I saw 51 shows this year- dance, theatre, live art and I went to 1 gig. Yes, I saved up to see Bjork! I paid for 43 of those shows totalling £620. I too don’t have the go and see budget which so often programmers tell me is the thing that stops them seeing (more) work.

I shadowed 2 large scale productions with my design hat on. Both shows were interesting projects. One made me feel like despite my humble working class, unprivileged and unconnected migrant background I could make it, the other one was an absolute disaster in that respect, an affirmation that I will never make it because of my background and lack of London-based power-agent bullshit-bonanza.

I spent £1,620 on travel to meet programmers, directors, i.e people who may give me/us jobs/gigs. I can’t calculate how much of that time and expense may come off- maybe sometime in the future a project will come to live to cover that.

My total fundraising towards personal projects is £13,560 from which I paid 7 artists.

Participants in the 3 workshops I ran this year total 35 young artists, my workshop fees total £800.

So, there we have it – my total live audiences in 2019 are 30,455. THIRTY THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED and FIFTY FIVE THOUSAND. My earnings will be about £24k that is before my expenses and of course pre tax! It may seem like little to you but for me 2019 has been a phenomenal year in my calendar!

First up in 2020 is

Fault Lines in February alongside Drawing Fault Lines throughout February then Lone Wolves at the end of February!

Come see us! The first drink is on me!

Four Legs and a Flat sheet!

As I tidy my desk, my working table in my studio, I keep finding bits of old card. Card for model making. Or, as I like to think of these seemingly old and discarded bits of card- the leftovers of ideas. I am confronted by my own leftover ideas which have in the past year more or less resembled evolving ways of situating spectators on the same field.

In the past year I have mainly been creating spaces around tables. Tables for eating and tables for discourse making. In some instances tables that will facilitate both – discourse making for the soul and feeding of the body. Tables have been taking centre stage. Sometimes cheap trestle tables, other times custom build tables. But broadly speaking a flat surface on four legs around which people could gather.

All of these projects have essentially been looking at ways to structure, enable and carve space. Space for conversation and space for meeting one another. Space for difference and space for communality. Space for growth and space for debate. Space for anger and space for delight. A safe space. Space without discrimination, where listening takes place, where what is said lands in solidarity.

A meeting place. A place where a meeting will happen. Time will pass. Ideas will forge, ideas will break, change, evolve and transform.

Conversation is how I make anything happen. Yes, I often close the door to my studio so that I can draw uninterrupted but then, I open the door and ask of those around me – what do you see? More and more I wonder how much of theatre making is really given time for a genuine critical conversation to take place around any given live work.

So, what happens when the live work is the conversation?

What happens when we stop “entertaining” you, and instead ask of you to be present and participate? What happens when there is a demand you listen?

Back to tables! In the past year, most of the projects I have designed have been about facilitating conversations. Often conversations between strangers. When an invitation is presented, to share a small space and to investigate a common ground, often I find that people arrive prepared to do just that- find a common ground, listen and contribute, even though their contribution maybe appear to be small and quiet, they are there for a reason. That reason could be simply to listen. Listening as contribution.

This has really altered how I think about designing space. I think of them now as listening places. A place to allow that space to actively listen, because when you do actively listen it allows you to hear another voice, a voice different from yours. So, when we talk about diversity in the arts, for me that means- voices I know little of, voices I may not understand, voices I hardly hear, voices I barely see. It is though enabling listening that I hope I enable change. Change to enable and foreground exchange!

Four legs and a flat sheet is not simply a table!

Sortition by Selina Thompson

The next Selina Thompson project I am working on as a designer and creative collaborator is SORTITION! Continuing on from the brilliant Missy Elliot Project working with Black British teenage girls in Manchester, London and Leeds, SORTITION is asking you, the young people across the UK to think about ‘our’ political system. So, if you are 18-30 year old, GET INVOLVED!

www.sortitionproject.com

Drawing by Katherina Radeva

To cross a Border is to cross a Past

Earlier this year I crossed the midpoint. A midpoint for me.

I am 35 and I am from Bulgaria. I am Bulgarian (an ethnos of South Slavs,Thracian,Turks or locally known as Pomacks and Roma) holding a Bulgarian passport. A European Bulgarian passport. It’s red and it has a chip in it so I can go through those fancy automated gates at immigration desks on arrival at various European cities.

I was born in Plovdiv, with its beautiful old name of Philippopolis, a future European capital of culture in 2019. I am, I must say, very proud of that. It’s a small city of extreme beauty famous for its culture, a melting pot of visual arts, theatre and folklore; a large open air Roman theatre which is very well preserved; and the stunning architecture of the old city. It is also known for the problems around segregation of the Roma ethnos community, the dramatic closure of all of the old Turkish baths, and a glorious mosque bang in the centre of town — literally built on top of what used to be the entrance of the Roman Stadium. Plovdiv is probably the most diverse city in Bulgaria!

Stop with the bragging! I am currently sat on a plane, mid-air, flying, flying to Bulgaria. A thing I have been doing for the last eighteen years. And since 2008, I have had the privilege to travel all over Europe freely, without a visa, whenever I need or want.

I say a privilege because it is exactly that!

Born in 1982 — the year Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Kate Bush’s Dreaming came out and in Bulgaria the big cinema hit Band with No Name came out — I was raised under an authoritarian regime of the Communist Party. The Prime Minister at that time had been in power since 1954, a year before my dad was born and eight years before my mum was born. So I and my parents were born under the same political regime, under the same political party and under the same Prime Minister of the Republic and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

I was about two when my mum and dad went on holiday to Germany — East Germany, to Dresden via Yugoslavia (now Serbia), then Czechoslovakia ( now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Poland. It was just before Christmas and they brought me back brown corduroy dungarees and Polish leather boots. On the way back, they stopped by the Corecom and brought back Toblerone. This not simply a journey or a trip but an experience of a lifetime.

In those days, back in the 80’s we, I, the common Bulgarian, couldn’t travel easily beyond the Borders of our country. If you were high up within the Party membership you could visit other communist states but travel outside the Soviet Union was almost entirely unimaginable. It was impossible.

Then ‘89 came. I was 7. Travel was still unimaginable, impossible, but no longer because of the borders. Lots of the middle class and wealthy Bulgarian families emigrated: to Germany, Australia, New Zealand, the United States to name a few. They were ready, prepared; the wall came down and they fled. My family, whilst having the foresight, didn’t have the finance. So, many years went by, the country was struggling with inflation, corruption (still very much a problem, more on a governmental level, then the common police bribery) and poverty.

We lived through that. In the 90s I was a teenager and more things felt possible. The first time I traveled abroad was visiting Istanbul with my parents, I must have been 14. The second time I traveled abroad was when, in 1999, I went with my class from the High School for Fine Arts, to Prague in the new Czech Republic. It was extremely exciting. The first time I visited the Prague Quadrennial I was 17 and I didn’t really know I would become, amongst other things, a set and costume designer.

Me, in Prague!

My parents began to travel a little more, to Turkey, to Greece, to Serbia, to Croatia; on rare occasions to northern Italy or to Germany, the western parts. It was a time of possibilities. As cultural workers, my parents were part of many cultural peer exchanges, cross border programmes between artists unions in the old Soviet Block.

In 1998, I came to England, for the first time. I remember my English teacher queueing outside the British Embassy in the bright spring sun for our visitors visas. I don’t have a copy of my first visa to the UK but I so wished I did. Then in 1999, I came to England to study for a year. One thing lead to another and I stayed behind. Ambition got the better of me. Or capitalism. Or both!

I went to Wimbledon School of Art, then an independent institution, now a part of the University of the Arts London. I paid what overseas students paid! I had no loan, I worked every weekend from the second week I arrived in London in my first year. I made friends, I fell in love, I kept working: both the paid work which meant I could live, and the artistic work which kept me going.

I spent many years, during all seasons, traveling back and forth, and many hours queueing at the British Embassy in Sofia. My identity, my motifs, my moves, my jobs, my work was all scrutinised. I remember clearly one of those times: a while after my wedding, Bulgaria still outside the EU, I was applying for a spouse visa. A grilling interview in which every word I said had to be proved. Having to show photos of my wedding, legalised documents, proofs, character references by people I worked with back in London. Quizzed by my choice of church where the ceremony was held and best of all, how many times had my then husband visited, did he understand my culture, what did he think of the food? Although he was sat outside the interview room, he was not allowed to join me. Frankly, I had no freaking clue if he liked the food, to me it seemed a strange question I did not know the correct answer to. Then I waited a few days. My life in the hands of others.

Then in December 2007, I travelled to Bulgaria, to stand on the central square in Sofia to countdown the seconds which welcomed Bulgaria at the European Union. Boom: 2008!  In the same square, I remember marching in the freezing cold, nineteen years earlier, next to my mum and dad in celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the dictatorship my family and I were all born under.

Since 2008, I have travelled within Europe quite a lot. I have loved and cherished rail trips, overnight Eurolines coach journeys, flights. I started to approach the immigration booths with a little more confidence and a little less fear. I smiled, wished the people at immigration a nice day.

Now, it feels like a right. A human right to be able to move freely. A privilege I have become used to, a privilege which sees me now going to Venice, Brussels, Edinburgh, London and Sofia in the space of just three weeks. I have favourite airports, favourite cafes in those airports and a speedy way of negotiating manoeuvring at various ports.

I have also grown to love the in between, the between places and counties, between cultures and languages. I have grown to love the act of travel.

Earlier this year, on my way to Dublin to lead a DIY project On Otherness and Othering I was asked if I needed a visa to flight to Dublin. I replied sharply that, as a European citizen, I didn’t! But perhaps, soon, again, I will need a visa to visit the place I live and work and the people I call my friends and the one I love.

I am 35. In my lifetime so far I have seen dictatorship, post communism, failed capitalism, neoliberalism, populism and Brexit-ism. My life continues to be its own journey of negotiating and manoeuvring between the power of borders, barriers and in-betweens.

My life in the hands of others, your life in the hands of others. Our lives in our voting hands!

PS — Mentioning voting reminds me it was Theresa May who, as Home Secretary, abolished the UK Border Agency in 2012 and introduced Border Force. What do those words mean as we wait to approach the desk?

On Otherness, performance workshop in Dublin

Supported by Live Art Development Agency and Create Ireland, I ran a workshop exploring identity, otherness and difference in Dublin in September. Working with a bunch of brilliant artists we had a roaring time exploring, pushing, and instigating change. Boom!

Alister and Gemma killing it!

Barny and Vikki killing it!

17/17

It has been one hell of a choppy week!

Waves crashing into rocks, making a racket in my head.

A very unsettling sort of a feeling, as if like walking on broken glass. Dodging shards of opinions and looking for space to land my own. To nest my own feeling of despair, uncertainty and unknown.

I think, two things have contributed to this.

One- saying No! Saying no to an outrageously bad deal and feeling guilty about saying no, recognising my powerless position, recognising how that can become quite the powerful position if I spoke about it and how by speaking about it I might then deal with the consequences!

Two! The Referendum! Everything about it. The in, the out, the unknown, the known, and where I sit amongst all this.

I am 34! I left Bulgaria when I was 17, precisely 17 year ago. I am in the middle. My childhood background defined by communism, by rules, by being from the provence, by poverty, by running wild on the streets, by going to school on my own changing buses and feeling totally safe, by my utterly brilliant young parents who instilled every sense that I can do whatever I want, by my dog Sara, by being other, the chubby one, the one with short dark hair, the one that was the first on the dance floor. The one unafraid to be looked at.

In November 1989, I was 7! Then, there was rebuilding! Of almost everything!

In August 1999, I landed at Heathrow Terminal 2. I remember queuing at The British Embassy in Sofia on a hot summers July day preceding that landing, well actually three days of being totally petrified – “what if they say no?” People: I had won a scholarship! A scholariship to study in the UK for a year, a full, all expenses paid sort of scholarship. A dream come true sort of a scholarship, one place sort of a scholarship with 200 others students fighting for that one place. And yet, what I remember most is queuing. Waiting. For another person to make the decision on my future. I got a yes!

A year later, I did some more queuing! A year later, more queuing, more queuing etc, etc, you get it. I became quite accustomed to being the other, to queuing, to waiting for others to make those decisions. Don’t get me wrong, in the meantime I was working my little socks off. I paid for my education almost entirely, I had no loans. In the first year, my parents helped me – and a very generous donor. I got a job and paid my way entirely from then onwards. Between my second and third year at college, I took a year out to work and make the money for the final year of my studies. I got a 1st Class Honours Degree, not that that fact counts for much in life, but it does look nice on paper.

In 2005, I married an Englishman. On my interview for a spouse visa, they asked me the most scrutinising questions about our relationship, they wanted to see photos of our wedding, they asked what food we had, who were the guests. They asked everything you can imagine and the things you probably can’t imagine. I got the visa.

In 2008, Bulgaria became part of the EU. I went home especially to join in the celebrations. I remember drinking cheap fizzy wine with my parents and my brother in the main square in Sofia. Dancing and feeling a great sense of jubilation. Not a great deal has changed since then but one defines all my parents dreamt they were able to do. To travel!

I remember the next time I returned to the UK using a different aisle on my way to passport control. I remember having the feeling that now I would like to travel a bit more and learn about other cultures and countries.

Since then I have done a bit of travelling, mainly in Europe. I have learned a bit about every country I have visited and I have loved being at each one. I absolutely love going online and being able to search for short holidays in Europe knowing I could visit if I wanted to. I absolutely love being free to do that without visa restrictions.

So, here I am, writing this from a small conservative village in Hampshire on the Sunday of the monarch’s birthday, hearing stories of English football fans embroiled in violence, the day after a visit to London seeing an exhibition of knickers at the V&A, after a night on which 50 or more people have been killed in Orlando, on the day when no doubt some boat somewhere is trying to reach Europe. Trying to reach Europe! Oh, Europe!

I write this as I feel so very totally unsettled by the provocations of the Out campaign, the scaremongering and wondering, really what would happen on June 23rd! Where would I be, not geographically but where would I end up being as a human, as a Bulgarian, as a European, as a person who knows Britishness so well, as a person who thinks and dreams in English, as a person whose identity and place will never be clearly defined. As a person who opposes definition. As a person who rebels to be defined. As a woman dating a Scotsman. As an artist?

I am an immigrant! I came from one place to another. I migrate between borders. At each place I change and return different. I am not just a woman, not just 34, not just a Bulgarian, not just European, not just an artist, not just heterosexual, not just into grapefruit in the morning, not just a resident of a small conservative village in Hampshire, not just….

And the crashing continues, the radio is full of debate, and imagining the ugly faces of some politicians keeps annoying me to no end. And the waves get higher and higher and my breathing is somehow slowed down, like slow motion horror movie, and I am poised and I just can not wait for the horror to finish. Then, I will deal with the consequences……then I will try and deal with whatever comes.

Two award winning shows at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014

I am just back from a fantastic month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival . This year’s Festival was extraordinary! I return to England with TWO AWARD winning shows, both costume and set designs by me, Katherina Radeva!

– Falling in Love with Frida by Caroline Bowditch won a Herald Angel Award

– Near Gone won a Total Theatre Award for Innovation, Experimentation and Playing with Form.

Falling in Love with Frida
Falling in Love with Frida by Caroline Bowditch

Near Gone
Near Gone by Two Destination Language