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Shadowing at Tall Tales Company

In this post - more impressions from Rotterdam and Tall Tales; chats with MEMBERS OF the Tall Tales team, the importance of good finance, and burn-out.

Week 2 & 3 with Tall Tales Company flew by like a whirlwind roller coaster. By day eight I was running out of momentum to keep up with Maartje & Harm and realized that I needed to change pace if I wanted to make it to the end without burning out. I needed to approach the shadowing experience as a marathon, not a sprint. 

Week two was calmer, with plenty of opportunity to enjoy the Tall Tales studio and to train and meet the members of the community. The space resonated with Harm & Maartje, with their warm and vibrant character and I felt welcomed and at home at the TTC headquarters immediately. As a topic from the NHLP Handbook to focus on throughout the week I chose to consider environment & atmosphere and to observe the studio/office atmosphere and the working environment that Maartje & Harm fostered around them in meetings and rehearsals. 

Week two was filled with rehearsals and preparations for the upcoming Circusvierdaagse, held at the neighboring Maaspodium. Tall Tales Company and Maaspodium jointly celebrated their 10 year anniversary and TTC had been invited to program a weekend of circus. Maartje & Harm had set themselves a huge task,  of which a part was creating two new duet pieces to be performed specifically within that weekend and only taking three days each for its creation. Both duets were to feature in a site specific promenade performance on the Saturday evening. Over the days of rehearsals I was made to feel part of the process and not just a fly on the wall. I was always asked if I had any feedback for the creations, and my feedback was always considered and taken on board. Over the rehearsal period for the duet creations, I observed how personality contributes to creating an atmosphere, and in return the atmosphere affects people’s attitudes, and so the cycle continues.

About Maaspodium

The Circusvierdaagse  weekend hosted performances over four evenings: Revue Regrets with “Dear Doubts”, the 12th Circonstruction edition that presented three works in progress by emerging young circus makers, Tall Tale’s “Speigeling” and  “Small Tales” - an experimental immersive promenade evening throughout the Maaspodium venue where the audience discovered short performances of of acrobatics, spoken word and free-running performed by BeFlat, Hanna de Vletter and the two new duet works performed bySwantje Kawecki & Charlie Hession and Kelly & Melody Nolan.

The hours before Small Tales (which was doubling up as Tall Tales’ anniversary party) brought the whole TTC team together. The rehearsals were lively and the atmosphere was dynamic and colorful. Maartje & Harm’s friend and longtime collaborator Luc van Esch was lending dramaturgical advice whilst the production team Nikki Power and Susanna Pavola were tying up loose ends and preparing the venue. It was moving to see a team (some who had never worked together) create such magic while the theatre, lobby and rehearsal room exploded with circus and telling stories. Over the days spent at Maaspodium I connected with the artistic coordinator and programmer at Maaspodium, Carole van Ditzhuyzen. I enjoyed being in Carole’s vibrant and genuine company and her sharing of insights into her career as an actress, a cultural leader and mother. We talked about hierarchy in culture where Carol shared her thoughts on the communal experience of culture and how having a hierarchical structure within the cultural ecosystem feels contradictory to her. So, to counter that, Carole regularly invites professionals to program events alongside her at Maaspodium, and this time it was Tall Tales’ turn.

Heart for the arts and how to make artistic dreams happen

I was lucky to spend some hours talking with the company’s business leader Helen Hamete, who generously shared a number of funding methods and company advice, all lessons from her own career within the cultural sector. Helen began her career in the arts by studying theatre science and like many of the other cultural leaders I talked with, Helen found her way to her current position as financial director. She’s been a financial manager to artistic companies by following opportunity after opportunity and jumping right into tasks, learning as she went and eventually became financial manager to many artistic companies over her career in Rotterdam and the region. 

Helen is a force to be reckoned with and shares Maartje and Harm’s outlook towards the arts - that it is conscious work that requires balance and honesty. They are fascinated by the theatrical potential of circus and the exploration of meaning in movement. Together they are an unbreakable trio. 

Helen's primary role and motive is to make the company’s dreams happen from the financial aspect and as the company grows, so does the budget and her responsibility. We talked about funding within the arts and how there is so little of it available. I resonated with how she described herself as a “sponsor of the arts” as over the years there have been many unpaid hours, with project success having been rooted in passion and the heart. 

For the longevity of a project, Helen advised on strategising and structuring a team based on identifying personal strengths and distributing roles and responsibilities into four pillars: finance, artistic, production and marketing. She advised and pressed the importance of integrity and solidarity as the core values to working within a team and that the foundations of a team should be built on trust and transparency with open and honest communication. 

The Final Stretch 

My final days in Rotterdam felt like I was tying a ribbon on a carefully wrapped gift. 

Tall Tales were spending the week in residency/rehearsals developing “Spiegeling” into a new production, “Facades” at Circus Rotjeknor. Meanwhile, I had made appointments to meet with some admirable women and key figures in Rotterdam’s cultural sphere. I met with the marketing and communications leader of Tall Tales Hiolanda Fortes, who broke down marketing strategies which have always been a mystery to me. It became so much clearer which marketing strategies  I should apply to my projects. 

I spent a long morning over coffee with the head chair of Tall Tales and former Dansatelier director, Kristin de Groot, a wonderful and inspiring woman who takes pride in supporting the growth of future performing artists. 

My third meeting was with Codarts’ director Anna Beentjes, head of Circus Arts. We talked over a punctual hour about her career and how to become the director of a circus school, the future of circus in the Netherlands and the responsibility she has over the next generation of circus artists. Each conversation was inspiring in its own right as Anna, Kristin and Hiolanda were so generous in lending advice and lessons in leadership and navigating a career in culture (more on this in a later post). 

In Hindsight

It’s been a month since I left Rotterdam and Tall Tales Company, and there has been a lot of processing. I’ve been reflecting and identifying where and how I can apply and implement these tokens of new knowledge into my personal and professional life. 

I have been generously gifted the tools for personal and professional development and need to keep returning to my notes to dig deeper. I’ve reflected over Maartje & Harm’s attitude towards their work,  their dedication to their company and to achieving their goals, which requires endless sacrifices. 

Capacity like theirs is a wonder to me -  having been immersed in their rhythm, honestly I was challenged. I questioned myself if I truly had the capacity to live such an intense lifestyle and rhythm for the sake of reaching my ambitions. Burn-out was a topic we discussed regularly and how they avoid it - for Maartje & Harm, what keeps them going is their passion for the development of circus in Holland. For me, what keeps me going is my fascination with circus, particularly aerial arts and the wondrous beauty it brings to the world and I’m passionate to make more space for it.



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