By Bryony Kimmings

18 June 2015 - 15:22

'Unless I am feeding my creative brain, I dry up.' Photo by Richard Davenport, used with permission.
'Unless I am feeding my creative brain, I dry up.' Photo ©

Richard Davenport, used with permission.

Theatre maker, performance artist, activist and self-proclaimed loudmouth Bryony Kimmings invites us into her creative process. Her latest piece, Fake it 'til You Make it, has been chosen by the British Council as part of this year's Edinburgh Showcase.

How did you get started?

I was turning 30. I had been working in the London club scene for a long time, making work by the seat of my pants. I was running a venue helping young dance artists to be experimental and giving them the time and space to make mistakes that all artists need, and I suddenly thought: I am ready.

So I decided to start to make my own work. If I had started earlier, I would have made really bad shows. I needed that decade after graduating to see and absorb the world. I knew I would make work about my own life and political opinions and it takes time to develop those opinions. A venue in my local neighbourhood was looking for new artists with new voices. I approached them with an idea, they gave me some money, and the rest is history.

How do you pick an idea to develop into art? 

My work always comes from something that I am consumed with. A question about the world that is really grating into my brain or living under my skin. It will always have something to do with my everyday existence. I use this direct question to begin a piece of work, and the work investigates this question.

My current work, Fake it 'til you Make it, asks: 'What does it take to be a “real man" when you have clinical depression?' My last work, Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, was a collaboration with my nine-year-old niece, and asked: 'Why is the world trying to sexualise and commodify childhood?'

I am a massive geek. I spend lots of time with the subject matter, allowing it to seep through me and becoming as expert as I can in it, with other people's help. I don’t try to make lectures, but my work is factually dense.

I always decide exactly what my 'audience intention' is. For Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, I wanted my audience to cry for the loss of their own childhood, think about the pop culture they consume, and want to do something small to change the world around them. The worst art is art that doesn't know what it is asking of its audience. Once I have the question I want to ask, and have done the research to begin to understand my version of the answer – as well as what I want the audience to feel – I am ready to make the work.

Do you believe that art can instigate social change?

I think I became an activist after I became an artist. I come to things late! I have always been interested in socialism and politics, but my early works were more consumed with inward-looking subjects, like sex and alcohol. But soon enough, I started looking outwards, mostly because there were too many injustices in the world that I could no longer ignore.

Now, all the work I make has to have activism at its heart. It should always inspire, provoke, or even force change. I believe that theatre can't do this alone, but I also believe in the power of live theatre to transform its audience in a way no other art form can. So my social experiment-based projects always have other art forms or communication methods embedded within them: an active campaign, a viral element or a televised strain. For Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, we invented a non-sexualised, feminist pop star, whose influence went far beyond the reach of the show itself. The physical show reached an audience of 20,000, but the echoes of its heartbeat were felt all over the world, as more than 22 million people around the world had seen the character online.

How do you get into the creative zone?

It is totally and utterly about time. If you don’t give yourself the time to create, away from admin and invoicing and rent and money jobs, then your practice suffers. Unless I am feeding my creative brain, I dry up. Reading is my way of staying creative: I absorb information and turn it into thought.

I am a massive procrastinator. I will always do the most boring tasks first, as I am often fearful (as all artists are) of being alone with my brain telling me I am rubbish at making art. Over the years, I have developed techniques that stop me doing that. I having a thing I call 'blitzing', where I dance like a maniac for three minutes to free my brain from all negativity and heavy thoughts, and then I do a writing task very quickly. I repeat this exercise throughout an entire day. It's partly about discipline, but it's also about understanding yourself well enough to identify the conditions you have to provide yourself with, in order to make your creative thoughts flow.

What's the best way to get over your fears of failure and protect your time?

I think that it is a mental shift that happens, normally after experiencing one or two successes. Being kind to yourself really helps. I fill my studio with things that feed me, I don’t punish myself with blank sheets of paper and empty rooms, but instead surround myself with people I like, and make sure I have a full schedule with time to play.

All artists create terrible work sometimes. It’s important to accept that it isn't the end of the world, and that it can actually be rather funny – it’s all part of mining the good stuff. So it’s good not to take yourself too seriously. But it is also important to be strict with yourself when it comes to working hours. Just because you are self-employed, it doesn't mean this isn't a real job. Put the hours in and you’ll reap the rewards.

How do you balance teaching and creative work?

I see them as very separate things, but I enjoy them both immensely. I try to teach four week-long workshops a year. I love getting artists in a room to germinate new projects, watching their ideas grow and seeing the artists gain a sense of freedom as the week goes on. I find it fascinating and rewarding, and it helps my practice too as I am engaged in critical thought. It's nothing like writing your own, which is harder. But when an idea begins to come to life, it is like holding a tiny delicate thing, which is changed by every choice you make. It feels wonderful and scary and precious all at once.

How do you manage the business side of things?

Nowadays, I am lucky enough to have an office team. I have an administrator who looks after my website, tour travel and admin; a general manager who takes care of funding applications, payroll, and budgets; and a great agent. And as a limited company, I also have an excellent board. I am still very much involved in the business and plan everything creatively.

How important is your online presence?

Social media is definitely important, but it's not everything. I have a strong following on Twitter and Tumblr, but what I do is very niche. I like my followers and fans to come to the shows through word-of-mouth, or something I said that ignited their interest - not just from campaigning for popularity or buying likes. I have loyal 'superfan' followers, and I love Twitter because it gives me the chance to connect with them.

However, my website is more important, because to me, it is also a work of art. I love working with my designer and photographer to make it look wonderful, and take great pride in having some of the best images and design in the business. I always want to keep pushing that forward.

How do you ‘market’ yourself and balance that with artistic integrity?

I want people to see my shows, so my PR campaign, design, trailers and advertising are slick, high-budget and pull no punches. I love causing controversy and conversations with my work, and this normally makes them newsworthy and appealing. So I very much play the market and see it as another art form. It has nothing to do with my artistic integrity. If I want people to come and see how excellent my work is, I will simply tell them that, and not feel ashamed of it. As long as the art is faithfully represented by the marketing, then it's cool with me - my pet hate is slick marketing with no solid show to back it up!

What are you working on next?

I've got two big projects coming up. One is a musical about cancer, made in collaboration with six cancer patients, which is about our relationship with death and our fear of the 'C word'.

The second is a social campaign in collaboration with West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Court, working with 50 young lads from council estates across the UK. It aims to challenge the stigma attached to being a young, working-class man in Britain today.

Find out more about the Edinburgh Showcase, which takes place on 24-29 August 2015. 

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