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SCAN sat down with Elspeth Dale, the Creative Producer and Company Director of theatre company Three Left Feet, for a chat about the company and upcoming projects.
How did the four of you meet and how did the idea for Three Left Feet emerge?
All four of us attended Lancaster Uni and all studied theatre, but we actually met as part of LUTG. Lara and I began the company after working together on a production of Twelfth Night, which Katie and Andrew were also involved with, however, they weren’t actually part of the official Three Left Feet team until more recently as the company expanded. I always wanted to start a theatre company, but the light bulb moment didn’t really happen until after I got passed up for an arts job I thought I had a decent shot at. Which, if you’re ever privy to a Three Left Feet team rant about the difficulty of getting into the industry, you will know is not an isolated issue! All of us have first-hand experience of being turned down for entry-level jobs, despite our degrees and additional experience outside of academia. And if that was a problem before COVID, it will be much worse now considering the number of arts jobs lost to the pandemic. Really, we started Three Left Feet because we wanted to make theatre! We are particularly interested in creative adaptation – taking old classics and giving them a fresh twist. We also like to incorporate all sorts of elements into our productions, like live music and puppetry, as well as performing in more unconventional spaces – so far, we’ve performed in a Waterstones and the Maritime Museum.
Have you encountered any difficulties in starting your own company?
Starting a company was pretty intimidating. We had no business acumen or experience so didn’t even know where to start. However, this never became too much of a problem because the first thing I did was approach Work In Progress at the university. If you’re a current student or recent graduate of Lancaster with an entrepreneurial idea, they have oodles of support and expertise to offer on all the tricky businessy bits which is invaluable when you’re starting a company.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about starting their own business?
Firstly, do it! Especially in the current climate, the job market is going to be a complete nightmare. Now, I’m not suggesting it will be easy and you will immediately be able to make a bunch of money from it and quit your zero-hours contract straight away, but if you commit to it and keep at it, you’re creating your own job and probably in a line of work you are passionate about. You will, of course, need funding and there are a lot of options out there – the Prince’s Trust is a good one for young entrepreneurs.
Ask questions! Get advice! Find a mentor! Be honest with yourself about what you don’t know and go and find out the answers. (If you’re at Lancaster, seek out Work in Progress!) We all know a huge range of people with different experiences – someone will have the answer you’re looking for and they really won’t mind you asking.
I actually have a blog series about this on the 3LF blog!
How have you coped with the past year?
We’ve had to be really flexible and throw our preconceived notions out the window. Honestly, that’s just true in general because not all ideas work out at the best of times! We had to cancel our big, outdoor Summer performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the debut of our arts festival, Arts in the Park. It was crushing because so many people had worked so hard on it. It took a while to get over, but eventually we realised that there’s not a time limit on our ideas. We can still do all these things, just in the future.
We’ve also taken this time to put more focus on our online platform and on producing work that can be delivered virtually. I think this is a positive because this makes our work more accessible to those unable to physically or financially get to the theatre. For example, in December we released a shadow puppetry performance of The Snow Queen (in partnership with the Dukes, funded by the Arts Council) which was available to stream online. And that was made because the pandemic forced us to think outside of the box.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Collaborating with and giving other creatives a platform. We work with some really talented people and want to keep expanding that creative network! Our newest project launched in April: ‘Feetured’ with Three Left Feet (pun and misspelling intended). This is where we put a spotlight on other artists and performers based in the North West; every month we will post an interview and a blog post with the ‘feetured’ creative so our followers can hear all about their work. It’s a lovely opportunity to meet other people trying to make it in the industry and that’s really rewarding.
Virtual Arts in the Park is going to be held on the 12th June! Can you tell our readers more about this project?
Originally, this was our answer to having to cancel the live event last summer. We thought it was unfair that the people who had already signed up to perform wouldn’t get a chance to showcase their work, so we decided to offer an online festival opportunity instead. It went down well, so we decided to bring it back this year! It will take place on Facebook and images/videos of participants’ work will be shared throughout the day. Applications are currently open on our website if you would like to sign up to share your work!
What are your plans for the future? Any future projects or collaborations?
Let’s just say we have a lot of exciting ideas in the pipeline. It might surprise people to know how long it takes to get a project up and running; there’s a lot of time spent writing funding applications, waiting to hear back from funding applications, and actually bringing all the aspects of that project to life! I’ll give you some teasers: radio plays, Lancaster Music Festival and Shakespeare – take from that what you will…
Do you have any social media accounts where our readers can follow your projects?
Yes! We are @threeleftfeetuk across most social media platforms and our website is www.threeleftfeet.co.uk. You can also sign up to our mailing list via our website so you’ll never miss what we’ve got coming up next!