For this week’s Q&A, we’ve decided to put the ‘Spotlight On’ Kat Boon, Project Manager for New Vic-led arts programme Appetite, who is doing some fantastic work to engage with the programme’s regular groups during this time, and keeping herself entertained by skating around her living room…
What does your role involve?
Appetite is part of a national programme called Creative People and Places. We aim to get more people in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme to experience, and be inspired by, the arts. Since 2013 we’ve been delivering exciting cultural projects like The Big Feast and The Homecoming, co-produced with local people. My role as Project Manager is really broad; it encompasses project coordination, working with artists, developing marketing campaigns, managing our brilliant volunteer team and also site management at events. I spend a lot of time laminating signs too. It is so varied and challenging, and I love it (the whole role, not just the laminating!)
What would a typical day look like for you?
When we’re not delivering an event, it could involve: writing brochure copy, working up a volunteer schedule, meeting our Production Manager Pete to look at event plans, dreaming up new projects with Appetite’s Director Gemma and our partners, filming interviews with artists for our learning platform Artsbank, and hosting ‘Supper Club’ – our group of local residents who collaborate with us to make decisions about events.
Event days are very different! Those days usually involve getting up at the crack of dawn to put up a marquee, briefing our volunteer team, setting up site décor and event signage across the town, making sure the production team are on track, greeting artists, running the event schedule, trouble-shooting when things go wrong (like tracking down walkabout performers who have disappeared!), streaming performances on Facebook, coordinating press interviews, observing audience reaction, picking up litter, packing the marquee down… and finally having an exhausted but celebratory drink with our volunteer team! My step count on event days is about 100 times higher than on a normal day (although much to my frustration I’m yet to win a step-count-off against the rest of the Appetite team!)
What’s your background and training?
I am originally from Stoke-on-Trent but went away to university to study English Literature and, oddly, Medieval Studies, so I have quite an academic background. I then trained as a playwright on a young writers’ programme in Liverpool. Following that I came home, worked in a care home and a call centre, before becoming an Admin Assistant at the New Vic. During this time Appetite supported me through a scheme called The Kitchen, which helped me pilot the kind of pub theatre I had done in Liverpool, but in Stoke-on-Trent. This led to the formation of theatre company Potboiler, which the New Vic’s Youth Theatre Director Kat Hughes and I run, making site-specific performance in the city. Afterwards I became Appetite’s Project Officer, working my way up to Project Manager. Appetite and the New Vic have been integral to my career in so many ways! I never expected that I would be able to work in the arts in my home city, and I am so grateful that it happened.
What’s been your proudest moment in this role so far?
There have been so many! Any time I see someone being moved unexpectedly by a performance that they have stumbled upon – that gets me quite emotional.
Event-wise, Light Night in Burslem last year was my personal highlight. Seeing thousands of local people flock to the ‘Mother Town’ and experience the town lit up so beautifully was really moving. I’m passionate about how arts can reanimate towns and spaces that can sometimes feel forgotten, and I think this event epitomised that. One older gentlemen said it was the first time he had seen The Three Sisters (the derelict bottle kilns in Burslem) lit up since he was a child, and he found it really cathartic.
My second proudest moment was the time at Astley Fest when I rescued an audience member’s phone from the bottom of a portable toilet using a litter picker.
Tell us something people wouldn’t expect about your job….
I spend so much of my time in non-theatre spaces and due to the unusual performances Appetite often programme I have ended up in a lot of interesting situations. These have included: cycling around Meir in a parade of lit-up bikes playing lullabies, chasing a marching band performing 90s dance hits around Longton Market, serving tea under a giant moon in the King’s Hall, running workshops with Columbian circus performers in a Kidsgrove field, and stewarding a giant robot which had attracted the biggest crowd of excited children in Fenton.
How has your job changed in lockdown and how are you engaging with your participants now?
When your job is about bringing people together, lockdown was always going to prove challenging. However, we are trying hard to keep in touch with our audiences and participants. We’ve been developing a weekly #CultureHomeCooked menu which we’re sharing on social media and email, as there’s lot of digital content out there but it can be overwhelming. We are also holding ‘watch parties’ with our volunteers and Supper Club members, where we’ll watch a show together and then have an in-depth conversation about what we thought afterwards. Our Supper Clubs have been taken online, and we’ve been hosting quizzes, and supporting local artists to access funding and explore how to take their work online. Finally, we’re looking ahead to consider how our programme will work for the rest of the year too.
How are you keeping yourself happy in lockdown?
I’m attempting to fulfil my 20-year dream to play guitar. I can now play Wild Thing very slowly with much enthusiasm – needless to say Appetite won’t be asking me to perform at The Big Feast anytime soon!
In addition to that, I’ve been listening to lots of music, reading poetry, and catching up with people I’ve not spoken to in a while. I’m trying to write too, but other than penning a quite surreal lockdown diary it’s a little tough to focus. I usually play roller derby twice a week so am trying to keep up my skills by skating around the living room, trying not to crash into things. Apart from a painful incident in the yard I’ve not broken anything… yet.