"We must empower our young people to be creative beasts, to take risks and build resilience."
Heidi Irvine is the Producer of Education and Youth Programs at Australia's Queensland Theatre Company. As a Drama teacher she has taught in a range of educational settings both in Australia and Japan, with young kiddlywinks through to adults. Her endearing & courageous entry for The V Project really touches on the importance of embracing Vulnerability in the classroom, leading by example with our youth and leaning into the wisdom that comes with age. She also hits beautifully on the importance of 'finding your people' - surrounding yourself with those on the same mission as you!
‘Creativity is not reserved for a select few. It's available for anyone who has the courage to take it.’ Why is leaning towards creative outlets often met with fear? In my career, I have predominantly worked in Arts education environments. I have been a Drama teacher for over 8 years in a high school, and now work in Arts Administration as a Producer of Education and Youth Programs for Queensland Theatre Company. Every week we have around 75 young people do actor training with us and what blows me away on a daily basis with these students is their inherent desire to push themselves and take risks. They have moved past the fear and embrace creativity with open hearts and minds. I think that creativity is met with fear because we live in a world of right and wrong answers. Of standardised testing and measurement strategies like UAI’s, OP’s and ‘A’ Levels. A creative mind and desire for creativity often works in opposition to this. I remember years ago seeing an interview with legendary Australia artist Ken Done. He talked passionately about how when children are little, they are told “oh, that’s not how you draw a tree. A tree is brown and green”. His art was in total opposition to that – he wanted to capture the essence, the emotion. If you’ve never listened to Sir Ken Robinson’s work on creativity in Education, particularly his TED talk on “How schools kill creativity”, you must watch it. We must empower our young people to be creative beasts, to take risks and build resilience. “Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it's the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.” Sir Ken Robinson.
Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage. Do you agree? For me vulnerability is about willingness to take a risk. To take a risk to expose your true self and beliefs. I think it is courageous to do that. In a world where we self-censor, Photoshop, ‘selfie angle’, Instagram filter ourselves… being vulnerable and owning that is incredibly hard. It’s courageous because not many of us do. I have these moments where I feel like I am on top of the world and can take on anything - I am proud of who I am and what I can do. Unfortunately, these moments often come with a wave of crippling doubt which makes me shy away from saying what I really think and being who I really am. I find that this is happening less as I get older and more comfortable with the fact that I am awesome, and deserve nothing but love and joy.
"Making and believing in a project is often terrifying but you know deep down when it is right. When you believe in it, you can make it happen and encourage those around you to believe in it as well. Undying faith in what your are doing is key."
Worthlessness, lack of self-belief, perfectionism – there are many blocks that prevent us from leaning into vulnerability. How do you move past them? What do those blocks & blurts look like for you? What do you think we can do to make them less controlling/dominant? Similarly to what I spoke about above, those blocks often come from our innate desire to get it right. My blocks, however, are all in my head. Most of the time, my brain is my biggest friend and enemy all rolled into one. I think the key to moving past them is about balance and finding out, truly, what is most important to you. In the past 3 years, I have been the happiest I have ever been. I have found a job which drives me and excites me. I work with amazing people who challenge me and inspire me to do better. I loved teaching. Again, I was incredibly lucky to work in a school which was super supportive and “pro”-Arts (sometimes hard to find). But in the past 3 years at Queensland Theatre Company, I have felt like I have truly found my stride. My Executive Director and Manager are both intelligent and creative women who I continually learn from - they are smart, innovative and dynamic thinkers. Our Artistic Director is passionate about education and young people. He continually supports me and my passion and challenges me to work harder, to dig deeper. His support and enthusiasm makes me want to go to work every day. I work in an amazing team of people who all have a shared goal and vision. It’s very exciting and rewarding – and that has been key for me. The blocks have become less because I have found what feels like “my space”. And not wasting time about worrying about the insignificant moments and the haters. No one is perfect – I have those days where it all gets a bit much. I am better at moving on and getting over it, because I am happy.
"To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength." Vulnerability is often seen as something we admire in others but detest in ourselves. How do we actively try to close the gap with these concepts? I think we don’t talk enough about how we are feeling and about not getting stuff off our chests. I have never been one to hide how I feel, my heart is totally on my sleeve. I used to think it was my biggest downfall. As I get older, I have learnt that it is what helps me and stops me from brooding in my own negativity. I worry about our young people, young men in particular, who feel they can’t share what’s going on because it makes them “less of a man”. I think we need to, as society, embrace our ‘softness’. We aren’t machines that can just move on and get over it. When sadness happens, we need to embrace it and share. It’s not about having a ‘pity party’, but it’s about speaking to our hearts and minds. We have massive rates of youth suicide. Why? Why are our young; people who have their whole lives ahead of them, full of opportunity and hope, killing themselves? I had 3 students in one year commit suicide. This worries me that we can’t truly have conversations about this, because it’s a massive concern.
"Only when we're brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light." How much of your creative process is a battle with power? Do you always find the end result empowering? I think my biggest cheat is working in Arts Education. The end of a process is usually marked by an outcome which is engaged in by a group of young people. Sometimes 30, sometimes 3000. This year we had over 3800 young people come see our production of Macbeth, directed by Michael Attenborough. I still visit schools where students talk about that production being the most amazing work they have ever seen. I just completed a project called THE SCENE PROJECT. Over 300 young people engaged in THE SCENE PROJECT which was a participatory style project involving schools in the creative process of performance, from rehearsal through to production. THE SCENE PROJECT was about acknowledging students and teachers as artists and encouraging live performance in a professional space and manner. THE SCENE PROJECT was also about collaboration, professional development of teachers and students and enhancing existing curriculum in schools. Students and teachers worked with a script commissioned for them called ‘The Landmine is Me’ by two up and coming amazing writers, David Burton and Claire Christian. They came to our Bille Brown Studio and shared their work with each other before seeing a group of professional actors do their own version of the script. The level of energy, joy, enthusiasm and empowerment from a creative process absolutely blew my mind and is something I will remember forever. Making and believing in a project is often terrifying but you know deep down when it is right. When you believe in it, you can make it happen and encourage those around you to believe in it as well. Undying faith in what your are doing is key.