Interview by our Associate Producer, Zainab Syed from Performing Lines WA.
It's been a year since Cecile and I joined Performing Lines WA - the first time I met her, she offered me home-made dehydrated orange slices. Since then, there's been seeded crackers, capsicum hummus, gluten-dairy-free cake, apricot and cranberry chocolate, onion balls...and the list goes on. All of them, home-made. This woman has a way with food (James, you're a lucky man!) but also with hearts - as I have witnessed in the past year. As we looked back on the year: the incredible people we've met, the artists and presenters we've worked with, the audiences that have left us feeling fulfilled and how we've grown through it all - I wanted to know more about this kick-ass Marketing Coordinator/Office buddy whose french, fashion style and food are always on point. We sat down for a coffee and here's how the conversation unfolded:
Often it is our earliest experiences that shape how we live our lives, can you tell me about the community you were a part of growing up and how that shaped your path?
I grew up in the French countryside, in the tiny Breton village of Quily, home to 300 people. Even though it was small, there was a lot happening there and a real sense of community. It was a safe place where kids could wonder around and play in the surrounding forests all day. The whole village lived and breathed through the only primary school where everyone was welcome to come and share their passion. As a result, we were gifted with a smorgasbord of workshops facilitated by parents and community members, including drama and music classes, parquetry, bread making, sailing, rock climbing, etc. It was a normal part of growing up, discovering and exploring our creativity. This is what shaped my desire to work in a creative field shared with the community.
How did you first get involved in the Performing Arts?
As far back as I can remember, Performing Arts, and more specifically Theatre, has always been part of my life. As a young thespian, I featured in so many productions from plays in my parents lounge room, to the big time on the school stage. Critics were in awe, until I left my village, and had to perform for strangers who were not so fawning, and took the wind out of my sails. I was forced to admit that my acting skills were not so great (laughs), but I always loved Theatre, and knew I wanted to continue in some capacity. As a child, I used to attend a Theatre festival each year, and when I was old enough, I volunteered there and knew instantly I had found my niche. Within a couple of years, I was producing my own productions for the festival, and it was so much fun.
What made you switch from pursuing a career as an artist to a career in Marketing and arts management?
After high-school, I went to Quimper Arts School where I studied fine arts for five years. I learned so much, from photography to sculpture, graphic design and installation art. Unfortunately, they did not teach anything about communication and how to market and sell our work afterwards. Although I loved it, I could not really see myself embracing a career as an artist. However, I got excited every time I listened to my classmates or artists talk about their project and the background or story behind it. I realised that communication is intrinsic to the success of a project, and without good publicity, could be misinterpreted or never make it off the ground in the first place. It was then I decided to add another major in Marketing and Communication, where I also learned the secrets of good project management.
When did you come to Australia and what brought you here, oceans away from home?
I came to Australia in 2009 as a way to spice up my life with a new adventure, and improve my English (this is what I told my parents so they would let me go!). Living and working in a foreign country was on my bucket list. I did not have any plans when I arrived here, and I quickly fell in love with the long sandy beaches and the people. Australians are very friendly, and everywhere I went I felt welcome. I traveled all around Australia and this was the best year of my life (so far!). It was on one of these long sandy beaches that I met my partner, and nine years later…here I am, freshly married!
In the 9 years that you have been here, you spent four in Port Headland – how did you end up there and what was the experience like?
Although in my memory I met my partner on a long sandy beach, in reality it was on a rocky foreshore in Port Hedland (laughs).
Port Hedland was supposed to be just another stop on my journey around Australia to refuel my bank account before heading to the Kimberley. Despite the seemingly bleak landscape as I entered town, I quickly uncovered the true beauty of the place, hidden in people’s hearts. I met some amazing friends there, including my partner. A few months after, I started work at the Matt Dann Cultural Centre run by the local Council, and within a few weeks I was offered a permanent job within the council as their Events Marketing Officer. I loved my job so much because it put me in touch with a lot of community groups and organisations in town, nurturing my passion for small communities.
Even today when I mention that I lived in Port Hedland for four years, I get a wide eyed “really?” from people, until I tell them how wonderful and warm the people are up North.
You told me, had it not been for the different opportunities you had in the past 8 years you would not be here, at Performing Lines WA, today. Can you also tell me more about your work with Community Arts Network and how that brought you to us?
Coming to a new country, and looking for a job in your field can sometimes feel a bit daunting, especially when it’s not your language (remember I said I came to Australia to improve my English). While there is a lot of competition in the in big cities, in my experience work is more accessible in regional towns. My job at the Matt Dann Cultural Centre gave me a foot in the door, and the chance to meet and liaise with a lot of people and arts organisations around Australia. By the time I moved to Perth, and applied for the job at CAN, I had a better understanding of the Arts here in Australia. Working at CAN was such a wonderful experience as I got to work on so many projects with small communities around the South Wests. After two years working as a project coordinator for CAN, I couldn’t resist going back to my first love - performing arts, and joined the team here at Performing Lines WA, that I knew through my time in Port Hedland.
You have had such deep and meaningful engagement with communities that are quite small – from the community you grew up in France, to Regional WA. What has the experience been like? What do you find to be some of the challenges and benefits of creating and promoting art in small communities as opposed to metro areas?
Here in the city, you know you have a large arts crowd, and custom arts venues, so presenting shows can be fairly easy. Delivering shows to regional communities from the city can be harder because it’s faceless, and you are only liaising with the venue. However, you can have a knock-out show in the city that for whatever reasons doesn’t hit off in the region. Working in the community makes it easier as you can rely on your advocates for support and to help you reach the right people. Working in small communities can also be more rewarding when you get a successful turn out, and you can really sense the audiences’ engagement.
Has Motherhood changed the way you perceive art, your role in the arts, arts for children? Do you take your daughter to shows? Have any been particularly memorable?
It’s actually the other way round. Before I became a mother, I used to take my nieces and nephews out, so I was already excited for the days to come where I would be able to bring my kids to shows and make sure their life is filled with creativity and arts. My daughter is only young (2 years old) but she has already seen a few shows, including Sensorium Theatre’s undersea production Oddysea. I was particularly excited about this one. It is such a beautiful show for young children and their family. My daughter also loves to dance, so I can’t wait to take her to see contemporary dance shows.
Now, almost a year on, what has it been like working at Performing Lines WA with a kick-ass all women team + Thom?
It has been a fantastic yet very challenging experience so far. Fantastic because I love our cosmopolitan team, the projects we produce and the artists we work with. Challenging because it took me a couple of months to get my head around Who’s Who in the industry, and also because Performing Lines raises the bar so high, I want to make sure I always strive for the best.