Politics and Small Businesses

Since I turned 18 in 2008, I have tried my best to be knowledgeable on the different political groups, and make sure I vote when I can. I often struggle, as I can’t understand why the country just can’t be run on simple human rights beliefs – let’s not be mean to each other, let’s help out those less fortunate and not kill the earth.

Since setting up OmniArts in April 2013, I have had to learn a lot of things – I taught myself how to run a business, how to “read” and talk to people, I have had to make difficult decisions and have always done my best to help out those who want to join the group, but struggle in one way or another. Looking at all I have done over the last year and a half, I honestly believe that a politician should be required to set up and run a small group on their own for at least 2 years before being allowed into the House of Commons.

Any group would work – drama, art, archery, reading club – even a debate group. However, part of the requirement should be that they have to find as many opportunities for the people in the group to enter competitions, perform or get published depending on the sector, as well as get involved with the local community to get the group a good reputation in the area. They should be required to budget, plan and run the group on their own – with help in places of course, but they would be required to find volunteers. They would need to think about how to promote the group (and where the money for this will come from), manage social media, keep accounts up to date, find time for networking (both physical and online) and keeping the group interested in what they are doing!

My reasoning for this is because it would not only would this give them a fantastic insight into how hard it is to run a small business, it would also help with diplomacy and dealing with people, as the amount of ‘politics’ you can end up with in a small group is astounding!

Since setting up OmniArts, I have had to learn a lot of things “the hard way”. Many of these things a politician would already know, but some things they wouldn’t, and I personally feel that it would give them a much more rounded view on people.

I’d love to hear what you think – comment below or fill out my poll!

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Making the arts accessible

I recently read this article on the BBC about the fact that the arts is becoming elitist, and that something needs to be done about it. I totally agree with this, however at the same time, I see another point of view.

I run a theatre school in Portsmouth (OmniArts Performing School). I set this up with my own money that I made by teaching singing while working an almost full time job. I am lucky enough to have been able to leave that job, and now work full time self employed, doing what I love, but my private teaching and another industry I work in still help support OmniArts sometimes – especially in the lead up to a show with licencing costs!

What we do

We have 2 trained professionals teaching at all our classes (singing and acting) and a third who comes in to teach dance at some sessions. We charge a very reasonable £9.50 for 3 hours (or £5 for our 1.5 hour class) every week, however we are struggling to get more members in to allow us to be able to offer more opportunities to our members, and do bigger shows.

We have offered private tuition ‘for free’ to members in the lead up to a show (as part of their weekly fee – we welcome donations for our time, but understand if someone can’t, and would rather they had the extra time with us and were confident on stage, than not come for a private lesson because they feel they can’t pay for it). We also offer family discounts, and look at each persons situation, to see if we can help them with payment in anyway possible.

We even set up our Professional Development Bursary Award, to try to help members out with extra tuition – either via a private course, or help with finding the funding for less well off members to go to Uni/drama school, as well as running one off specific workshops for not just our members, but others as well. The members that we have appreciate what we offer, and because of this we are currently also setting up a skills only group to run alongside the main groups, where people will just learn acting techniques to help them better perform, rather than working on shows.

The Problem

Although I have managed to get OmniArts to a point that it can be sustained – to be able to keep offering everything mentioned above, we need more members! This brings me to my main problem: the cost of advertising to get people in. We get flyers printed, which costs, and then we have to take them out everywhere to be put up – which costs time, which is something most of us don’t have due to working so hard to make sure we have enough money to live.

As for advertising in a magazine or newspaper – let alone a performance paper like the stage – it is costly, and to get an article in the news these days it seems you have to write it yourself and chase someone for days or weeks to get in published in the smallest, furthest back part of the paper – again, spending a lot of time and energy which most small theatre companies don’t have (the time that is – not the energy!)

It’s not just me!

Since I have been running OmniArts, I have seen a number of similar groups forced to close due to low member numbers. There was also an amateur theatre within Portsmouth which had a fly system (one of only 8 amateur theatre’s in the UK with one) which has closed because the church it was attached to chose to move, and blocked all attempts to get a trust to take over the building.

We want to help teach the next generation of actors, and give them skills to help them go forward in performance – be that on stage, in film, for private functions, and even the ‘backstage’ things like makeup and crew work, however it is often a struggle for the small, accessible groups to be able to get the word out to the people that would be interested in joining them!

I am sure that it isn’t just my group that faces these issues, and there are so so many groups up and down the country like mine, which are accessible in their costs and what they offer, but because of this, don’t have the money to advertise to people who might be interested.

Thank you for reading this – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter too, so please comment below. 🙂

Using music as a team building exercise

A little while ago I recieved a phone call from a lady who opened with “I’ve got a bit of an odd request for you” – I was intrigued!

She said that she had seen on my website that I teach singing lessons, as well as running a performing arts school, so thought I might be up for a challenge. She was looking for someone to teach a group of IT workers a song as a team building exercise. It would be a group of about 30 people, and as a whole they didn’t have any singing experience – although there were a few people within the group who did.

I said yes of course – what a brilliant opportunity to do something new!

The song that was chosen was Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – in three part harmony – not one of the easiest songs to learn, but I was determined to make it work. We decided on me being in my “vintage war time” outfit, and I also took two union flags along with me, to add to the atmosphere.

On the day I set up, and stood at the front of this room with my keyboard and PA system, in full vintage war time attire, as the group I would be teaching gradually wandered in. I got a good number of very strange looks as they entered!

The event itself was brilliant. The group were hesitant to begin with, but after they started getting into it they were even asking me to go over bits that they couldn’t quite get. As I only had an hour and a half to teach them, we didn’t get through the whole song, but we did get a couple of solos from some reluctant members of the group who were volunteered by their work collegues! The final piece sounded really good, and I was impressed with how quickly they had picked up quite a tricky song.

I asked a few of the after how they felt it worked as a team building exercise, and the response I got back was unanimous – yes it had worked – job well done!

I thouraghly enjoyed the experience, and would love to teach singing as a team building exercise again, so if you or your boss are looking for something slightly different to do as a team building exercise, get in touch with me!

Sneezing / Yawning while Singing

I got onto this topic in a conversation with one of my vocal pupils – what happens if you suddenly have to sneeze, or yawn, while you are performing on stage! Sometimes you just can’t help it, sneezes, and often yawns, are unexpected bodily functions that we don’t really have any control over.

I had a quick think, I can honestly say, that I don’t think I have ever done either of these things while performing on stage. HOWEVER I know for a fact that I have done both of these things while practising. My pupil Rizlene had a think, and she came to the same conclusion as me.

So, we were wondering if this was the same for every singer. Does the adrenaline and everything that you get when on stage just overcome things like sneezing and yawning, or have you ever sneezed or yawned while singing on stage?

Please tick the relevant boxes in the poll below – I’m a curious soul, and want to know!

“Belly Breathing”

I read today that Adele is learning to “belly breathe” to help her overcome stage fright.

My initial reaction to this was, I will admit, of great surprise, as from the description in the news article, this is what I teach my pupils from day one! Just in case I was mistaken, I did a bit of research, however my finds have shown me that I wasn’t mistaken.

Belly breathing is defined on Wikipedia as “Diaphragmatic breathingabdominal breathingbelly breathing or deep breathing is breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the chest cavity and stomach cavity. Air enters the lungs and the belly expands during this type of breathing.”

The reasons I give to my pupils for breathing like this, is that it gives you more breath to work with for each line you sing, as well as making it easier to release your breath and breathe in straight away at the end of a line in a song, however it is interesting to see that famous stars use it as a calming mechanism!

Find out more about singing lessons from me here.