Karen Herbison, who had a 25-year career in social care, has enjoyed working freelance as H-arts for almost six years. Also a playwright and actor, she adores her work as a creative facilitator. To this end, she produces large-scale creative and performance community projects, provides training activities for social care organisations, and runs creative writing workshops for groups who create and perform their pieces. Karen is artistic director, producer, and company director of local production company, Punch Productions, and several of her character creations make regular appearances at functions and events, for which she creates bespoke pieces.
I believe we, in Paisley, can, should, are ready, and will be a town which ignites & nurtures creative aspirations with a high number of our residents working in the “creative industry” This journey, described below, explains why…
When I was directing my first musical (for a local club) I had to write a biog. It got me thinking about how I “got there”. Where/when/how did this start? I experienced a flashback. Come with me…
I’m in my very early years, playing with my teeny, wee toy people. A Bunty annual (or such) is lying on the table. You’re really asking what the book’s for? Well, clearly, it’s the stage! DAH!
Look! I’m choreographing and directing an elaborate number.
Flashback (2) … My older brother and sister and I are creating variety shows for Mum & Dad.
Through several, narrow & very local footpaths we (never having been in a “real” theatre) found ourselves entertaining at a Rotary Club annual dinner (in a poash hotel, by the way). Just a wee show us, very inexperienced, little people devised and performed.
Now I’m in the playground… Tiny, happy, but really not confident amongst a circle wider than my own. Why then, can you see me gathering fellow pupils, suggesting, planning and directing a wee show then approaching teachers to arrange a “tour” (I’m sure I didn’t really use that term) our “production” (nor that one) round classrooms!
WHIT!? Where on earth did THAT come from!?
But… they (I’m not sure who) say we can look at the child’s passions and interests to glimpse what the future adult “should” do.
It hadn’t even flamin’ crossed my mind, ever, to think it possible for me to make creativity my “job”! Sad? Yes. But also a turning point. Not quite a U-turn… More of a wee scoot round a roundabout. But, I saw. Things were ticking, clicking and working on me. If the paths, events, people and “networks” had brought me to that point, where else could they take me? Where did I hope they’d take me?
My journey of personal growth had already, previously, begun. Twenty-six years ago, following a challenging, prolonged physical health issue, I chose to not only move on in recovery, but also find and be the “self” I ought to be.
Press “fast forward”! Go on.
Here we are, glimpsing six years ago. I’m stronger, confident and fulfilled. I enjoy a varied, twenty-five year career in social care – direct practice and then as an SVQ Assessor and Verifier. I work part-time, using the rest to pursue and grow experience in creative and theatrical activities. I’ve founded Punch Productions Ltd (with Cheri & Jon). I’m writing, devising, directing and performing more than ever.
My confidence to create and truly grab (politely, obviously) opportunities means I’m blending my social care, trainer/assessor and creative/theatre experiences in devising and facilitating bespoke trouble-shooting type training for social care providers.
Yet, you’re looking at me, on the edge of a cliff. The view ahead looks truly beautiful! Exciting! Precarious? Yes. Certainly…
… I peek back and, to be fair, it’s also beautiful. Not flat and even. Some excitement, challenges and fun. I have, surely, the best of both worlds. Standing on solid ground and enjoying a nice view. Why, then, would I consider stepping off? I mean, would I fly or nose-dive?
“Don’t be flamin’ daft, Karen! You’re pension! You love your job! Blah blah… Blah Blah … BLAH BLAH…”
I stepped off. Of course, I stepped off! I became a freelance creative, working as H-arts.
The paths of networks and events had become wider roads with unexpected corners. New stop-offs: Bespoke large-scale community (creative-to-performance) projects & social care training. Writing. Producing. Directing. Performing.
My first play (written 2008), “Say You Love Me”, enjoyed some full-house/standing ovation, fantastic review status at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe.
Look! Another new path …
An audience member is commissioning creative writing workshops for Advanced Higher English pupils!
What!? Me with a sluggish ‘C’ English O’grade!?
More proof, if proof were needed, that those paths, roads, twists and turns are something we must all trust, take, build and enjoy.
We’ve nudged towards two years ago. My new trilogy had already premiered. I’m preparing to perform, “Say You Love Me”, in a delightful, off-Broadway (yes, NYC) venue with my original cast, produced by Mind The Gap Theatre Co. I was living a long-held dream!
Oooh! … Paisley’s bidding to be 2021 City of Culture. A grant award supports me by part-funding the trip! Wow! At one of the “creative conversations” (during the bid period) I introduce myself as, “Karen Herbison, Playwright”. I had never felt able to say that.
During this period, I’ve had a further year of health challenge, but, the absolute love for what I do, means that, rather than being thrown off-path, it has intensified and I am more (in measured terms) involved and fulfilled. This is important to share because it carries the message that nothing need throw you off your path. Just find a new route?
So, today, I can say I felt/do feel … “legitimised”. The paths and roads have become a HIGHWAY …
I mix with countless, talented creatives, I wouldn’t have, otherwise met. I’m involved in the re-birth of Creative Renfrewshire and assisting in the toddler phase of Creative Connections (for freelancers). Of course, it can be a lonely and isolating “job” but I have more contacts, support & opportunities than ever and truly love my work!
I wish I could bottle this feeling/the formula and GIVE it away! Instead, I’m here saying that we must be a town of creatives & networks which helps existing creatives blossom, to see how far their paths have brought them and how far they truly can go. Vitally, Paisley must be a place – a network of networks – which offers opportunity, nurtures and supports young people to know that, as they grow, they can and should explore their creative passions and interests; a place to help young people create aspirations, and/or invest in their existing ones, by taking paths, safe in the knowledge that they can and will lead to a creative profession.
Look back here at my journey. Many, seemingly small, points truly changed my life. But, what if wee-person-me had a network, right back then, lighting my way forward?
I’ve walked tough and challenging paths over the years (personal and work), but as one of my character creations once said, “I am, who I am today because of all the paths my life has trod.”