Blogger in Residence, Shu-Ling Chua, recently spoke with Lex Hirst about her experience in organising a writing festival. Catch up on Part 1 here.
[Photo credit: Sarah-Jane Edis]
What is your favourite thing about organising NYWF?
I love the community aspect but what I really love is, that moment when an idea you’ve discussed all year and these different artists that you’ve been so excited about are firstly on stage and taking that idea to such a different level. The discussions are always more interesting than you even imagine they’re going to be and when you see it take on a life of its own, that’s wonderful to watch.
The other side of it is seeing everyone chatting afterwards, becoming friends and talking about creating new work. When you see those people interacting and moving around the festival together, you know that they’ve made connections that are probably going to create a much better, stronger community for them. It’s a really amazing moment when you see people engaging with each other and you realise that you’ve had some small role in that.
What was the most unexpected?
I think how close the whole team became. I didn’t know how reliant we would be on each other but it’s a really bonding experience because putting together a festival is so many hours and everyone’s a volunteer. And also just the opportunity to spend so much time with these other really brilliant, creative people that I’d never met before, that are so inspiring in their own way and bring such different things to the team. I didn’t expect to become as close to the people that I was working with because I think you always have a good relationship with colleagues but it’s quite a different thing when you’re under that stress. You’re making something really magical happen together.
What was the most challenging?
Not being able to switch off at all is a really big thing. I think that in the second year, we’re all a fair bit better at finding moments of self-care for ourselves and for each other. You have to be incredibly professional and constantly in contact with a huge number of people, which I think all of us enjoy. We’re all sort of people that quite like that responsibility but it also does weigh on you after a while. You’re in constant contact with everyone and that is something that slowly erodes your sanity a little bit. It’s so important to put other moments in place where you can step away from that.
Lessons learnt or thing you wish you had known?
I think the self-care thing is a huge thing. I don’t think as an editor it’s something I thought about a lot and I know it’s something writers try to engage with. In this industry that requires so much passion, drive and long hours, it’s something we really need to put in place for each other. I think I did discover that, luckily in time. Moments where you’re able to entirely switch off and also blocking out times when you actually aren’t contactable, those sorts of things, are really important.
Any tips for anyone thinking of becoming a festival director or producer?
I would say it’s one of the most exciting, rewarding things you can do and to make sure it’s something you can dedicate yourself to fully and that you’re going into with the idea of being really communicative, really talking to the different communities and groups involved. Festivals are ultimately there to serve a purpose, and that purpose is bringing people together and showcasing their work and professional development. There’s no point in going in with all these ideas if they’re not going to connect with anyone else.
Be prepared to communicate with people and be constantly updating and negotiating the way you look at events as well. Just like with writing, it’s one of those things where you can’t afford to stand still. You need to be open to different suggestions, comments and challenges. You’re doing something public as well so you are going to have reviews and criticism. As long as you’re open to taking that on and moving with it, I think it can be an incredibly rewarding job to do.
Shu-Ling Chua is a writer, reviewer, Noted festival 2016 Live Producer and HARDCOPY 2015 participant. She blogs at hello pollyanna while living the memoir she hopes to finish one day. Her work has appeared in BMA Magazine, The Victorian Writer and Scissors Paper Pen. Shu-Ling spends her free time reading (favourites include Alice Pung and Sylvia Plath), traipsing and measures her life in playlists.