New coaches – a few tips from a slightly more established one

As a new coach, it can be frustrating. You’ve had your training, practicing your new skills with your peers, and can see just how valuable the process can be in helping people find their own resolution to their problems and difficulties and yet, when you offer your services more broadly, no-one is biting.

Unless you’re in the fortunate position of being employed as a corporate coach with a pool of people awaiting your services, which is pretty unlikely if you’ve only just started out, finding people to coach can be pretty tricky. Don’t feel as though you’re alone in this. When I first started out in coaching, I had to practically beg people to let me use my new-found skills with them and even then, because I basically twisted their arms, our coaching relationship didn’t last much longer than three sessions consisting of introduction, recap and conclusion.

There are some things that you can do at the start of your career as a coach to start to find people who might want to work with you. Here’s just a few that I’ve found have worked for me.

Spread the word
Letting people know that you’re a coach is a good idea, but you’ll be surprised how many people have no idea what that actually means. As you may have learned through your training, coaching has different meanings for different people ranging from mentoring to psychotherapy. While we may pick tools and techniques from both of these approaches, amongst others, coaching isn’t defined by either of those things.

Identify the people with influence in your place of work (or in companies you’d like to work with if you’re working as a freelancer) and meet with them to explain what coaching is all about and the benefits it can have for individuals, teams and the whole organisation. If you’ve done some recognised training, you’ll probably have spent time talking about the benefits of coaching and how to sell this to prospective clients. If not, do a bit of homework and put together a short sales pitch for the value of coaching.

Choosing people who have influence in an organisation is important because that way, they’re more likely to be in a position to point people in your direction. Targeting individuals that you think would benefit from coaching is more like door-to-door selling. Going straight to the top is like taking out a billboard.

Be generous with your time
This can be a tricky one in today’s busy workplaces, but give your time to talk about coaching to whoever is prepared to listen as often as you can. If you’re a freelancer, be prepared to do a little pro bono work before you start to take on paying clients. Offer taster sessions. Put yourself forward to talk about coaching at meetings. Anything that raises the profile of both yourself as a coach and of coaching in general will sew the seeds and put you in a better position of securing some clients.

Form a network
Networking as a coach is really important for a number of reasons. Being in touch with fellow coaches gives you a community of practice with whom you can share your techniques, acquire new ones and talk about some of the trials and tribulations of doing the business of coaching. However, it can also be helpful as a way to generate new coachees.

Not every coach is going to be well-suited to every coachee. Not every person is in the best position to coach the people they work with. This can be particularly true if you work in an organisation and the people you’re trying to coach are those in your immediate or closest related teams. Forming a network gives you access to a broader range of people that you can feasibly and ethically coach without a conflict of interest.

Talk about your successes
One of the things that we Brits are often really bad at doing is making the most of our own successes. When something goes well, we will often find a way to minimise it or say that it was down to the tools we used, the other person, the prevailing weather conditions or anything else that doesn’t make it sound like we’re bragging and being immodestly proud of one’s own performance. However, if you’re not prepared to sell yourself and your own abilities, no-one will want you to coach them!

One of the ways you can do this is by asking for feedback from your coachees. Seeking feedback on your performance is good practice as a coach in any case, but asking your coachees if they are prepared for you to use their testimonials – either anonymously or with their names attached – can help you build a profile for yourself.

If you haven’t formally coached anyone yet, you can use the feedback you’ve received through the process of your peer coaching sessions during your training. Use this to identify your strengths and your strengths as a basis for persuading people to commit to coaching with you.

Of course, these are only a few ideas and others will have plenty of views on what has worked for them. Feel free to chip in below in the comments!

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Changing phases

I’m the one on the left, in case you couldn’t work it out…

 

Today we moved into the next phase of SOLD, with the shift from the rehearsal room to the theatre – Chapter Arts Centre theatre to be precise.

As well as setting up in the theatre today, we also spent half a day filming with a TV crew for The Wales Report to contribute to a package that will go out on the 7th November. Through the course of the filming we all had the chance to do one of our monologues as pieces to camera – something that always feels strange to me. As a theatre actor born and bred, I tend to look for a reaction from the audience. That’s one of the things I like most about working using Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) methods; they let you connect directly with members of the audience in a way that other ways of performing don’t but even in regular performances there’s a certain feedback from having people there that you just don’t get from staring down a camera lens. Still, it’s all good experience and I’m excited about seeing the result when it comes on the TV in a few weeks time.

The one thing that I noticed this week as rehearsals drew to a close was some mixed feelings that I wasn’t expecting. While I’m excited about finally getting the chance to show people the result of all the hard work we’ve all put in during the past few weeks, I also have a little bit of sadness. The rehearsal process with TO methods is so intense and seeing Andrea, Jason, Marcus, Shekira, Shireen and Jennifer every day for the past three-and-a-bit weeks means that it feels like I’m losing something by moving on from that phase of the process. Don’t get me wrong, I gain a lot as well – like the chance to spend time with my husband for starters! – but it still feels really odd to move out of that intensely creative period and into a different one.

Things are now picking up from a publicity point of view. The Western Mail did a great piece about the play and the issue in today’s edition which is also available online. Next week I’ll be on Radio Cardiff on Tuesday afternoon on the Diverse Cardiff with Michael Flynn at 2pm and the Pitch Arts and Culture show with Richard Huw Morgan on Thursday morning at 11am. I also did a Q&A on Twitter this week which gave me the chance to put across some of my own views on the subject of trafficking (something I’ll be writing more about at a later date) and about the play.

There are still tickets for the play, but they’re selling fast. Aberystwyth is sold out and reports from the other venues suggest that it you’d like to come it’s probably best to get in quick! If you want a reminder of the dates and venues, click here.

 

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It’s not us and them – it’s you and yours

At the end of our second week of rehearsals, the promotional activity for SOLD is now kicking up a gear and our flyers have been completed. I’m so proud to be part of this production and have to keep pinching myself when I look at the publicity material and remind myself that I’m a part of this. After so many years of working on a shoe-string and getting by with whatever we could cobble together, it’s amazing to be involved with a production that looks so slick!

While the publicity machine has been gearing up, the cast has been going through its paces. Our work on developing our characters has been put to some stern tests through the course of the week and we’ve been asked to do some things that would probably seem pretty bizzare to the casual observer or even the actor who hasn’t experienced Theatre of the Oppressed methods. While we’re making sure that we’re staying on top of the lines that we’ve been given to say, the vast majority of our rehearsals are spent improvising in character. The process gives us an incredible amount of creative freedom and as a result we’ve built up some well-rounded personalities and characters for the people we portray. I think of it this way – when I meet someone for the first time and chat with them about something relatively neutral, they won’t have a clue that I went to university in Leicester or that I lived in Stoke on Trent or that I had an enormous collection of soft toys when I lived at home with my parents. However, all of that background makes me part of who I am and it makes me the whole person that a stranger strikes up conversation with on a bus stop. By the same token, while some of the improvisation we do will contribute to the final performance in terms of what people see, what’s more important is our audience seeing a group of real, fully developed people rather than two-dimensional caracatures saying someone else’s words. I strongly believe that the process will speak for itself when people come to see it on the 12 October.

That said, some of the things we have been doing seem bizzare and the link to our characters and the performance doesn’t seem obvious at first or even second or third glance. Sunday’s rehearsal was a case in point. In the spirit of keeping up with the lines and the flow of the play, we went through the script and how it would be performed from beginning to end. However, at set points each of us had the chance to mould the other actors into an exaggerated posture based on how that one person’s character saw the other ones in the play. Once positioned, we had to hold that pose while trying to act. Sometimes this meant trying to speak with our mouths firmly closed or wide open with no chance to bring our lips together to make sounds. It often meant holding extremely uncomfortable and sometimes painful positions for a considerable period of time. However, while at first glance it’s hard to see how this exercise relates to the characters and the performance, after a while you start to see the connections. The physical discomfort tells you things about the pain that the character experiences. The way you are enabled to or prevented from speaking speaks volumes about the ability of your character to have their voice heard in their lives and in the play. Altogether it makes for a very powerful way of showing just how perceptions impact on these people and their interactions with each other.

As we enter the final stretch of rehearsals before our first performance, I can hardly believe how much I’ve personally learned and how much I’ve developed a character with just a few hundred words to say through the process that we’ve been through. I’m looking forward to taking Maria out onto the stage and letting people judge for themselves just how real she seems to them.

Just as a reminder, the dates of the tour are:

12-13 October – Chapter, Cardiff 029 2030 4400

15-16 October – Volcano @229 High Street,Swansea (Tickets through Theatre Versus Oppression – 07946 398006 or on the door)

18 October - Catrin Finch Theatre, Wrexham

19 October – Theatr Gwaun, Fishguard 01348 873421/  theatrgwaun.office@gmail.com

21 October – Cardiff and Vale College

22 October – Sherman Theatre, Cardiff 029 2064 6900

23-24 October Studio, The Ffwnes, Llanelli 0845 226 3510

7 November – Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tydfil 01685 722176

9 November - Aberystwyth University

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SOLD – one week in

Today is my first day off in a week. I’ve been continuing to work in my office job and write for my freelance clients as well as rehearsing for about four hours a day since this time last week. Today I decided to take a day off from the office, leave my writing to one side and enjoy the time to recuperate without a rehearsal to attend this evening.

Surprisingly, while I am tired I’m not exhausted as I thought I would be. The rehearsals are mentally and physically tiring and my brain won’t stop whirring (though if it would run my own lines instead of everyone else’s that would be really helpful!) but I’m feeling strangely energised.

Given the subject matter of the play and the distressing nature of the stories of the characters, it never ceases to amaze me how much we end up laughing in every rehearsal. Last night’s rehearsal in particular, where Jennifer asked us to amplify the emotion in our performance to pantomime levels, was completely physically exhausting but I don’t know the last time I’ve laughed that much. Watching the other characters snapping from melodramatic misery to over-the-top excitement and back in the space of two sentences was hilarious and by the time we finished my sides were aching.

I know that all this has a greater purpose, though. If we were just drilling through the lines and learning where to stand in relation to each other on stage at each point in the script, we wouldn’t have created such well-rounded characters as we already have. Although five of the six of us have previously been involved in a production of this play, I can see how everyone’s characters have developed and changed. Our newest cast member, actress Shekira Johnson, feels like an old friend already and her interpretation of the character is so different to the previous actress who portrayed her, it’s given a whole new dynamic to the way the interactions play out. I’m sure that people returning to see the play for a second time will really notice the difference.

I feel that having a day off today will be a good choice. I could feel myself getting frustrated yesterday with hearing my own voice and that of other characters I’ve played coming through in place of Maria’s. Jennifer assures us that we’re right on track in terms of character development and I agree with her that it’s difficult for us to see how far we’ve come when we’re right in the thick of it. I’m sure that tomorrow we will be able to return with renewed energy and see how far we’ve come in just one week.

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Here goes… TvO presents Sold, by J. S. Hartley

As of tomorrow, I enter one of the most intense creative periods of my life to date. For three weeks, I will join a cast of five others and our director, Jennifer Hartley, to create a world that we will take on tour in October.

Still from short film of Sold

Almost a year ago, six actors including myself went into rehearsal for a production of a play called No Soul For Sale. The production had its debut at the International Conference on Human Trafficking at the All-Nations Centre in Cardiff and was hugely acclaimed by all who saw it. From those beginnings, the play has now become SOLD which, supported by funding from the Arts Council, will go on a tour of venues around Wales in October and November 2013.

SOLD is based on testimonies of individuals who have suffered at the hands of traffickers in Wales. They come from different backgrounds and circumstances, all different ages and each with their own individual story of how they have been trafficked. In SOLD, six characters collide at a city centre bus stop on a series of winter evenings; human suffering finding solace in its fellow’s pain.

When we first started working with the text of No Soul For Sale, we had an understandably dour and upsetting story in our hands. Fresh from interviews with over 30 people who had been trafficked through Wales, Jennifer Hartley wrote the play and presented it hot off the presses to the cast. At that time, she confessed to feeling as though the inclusion of humour in a play dealing with what was at times such personal and deeply upsetting subject matter felt disrespectful. However, as we as actors brought life to the characters that separated them from the stories of the individuals whose experiences were reflected in the play, elements of laughter began to creep into the dialogue in the way so many people in harrowing circumstances try to lighten their own situations with gallows humour.

SOLD is a reworking of the original script and includes much of the material that emerged through the rehearsal process as we worked together to bring to life the characters as separate from the people whose stories form the basis of the play. With new cast members, a revised script and time to spend developing the lives of these six individuals further, the play that goes on tour is likely to be deeper, richer and more hard-hitting than before. Having been involved first time, it’s hard to believe that such a thing is possible, but knowing Jennifer and TvO as I do, I know that will be the case.

The tour starts on the 12 October in Cardiff and continues at venues around Wales through October and early November. If you are in the area and are able to attend, it would be fantastic to see you there. I’m very proud of this piece, even before we start working on it anew, and would be honoured to share it with you.

Wales tour dates:
Chapter Arts Centre 12 + 13 October
Volcano @229 Swansea 14 -15
Wrexham 17 travel – 18th 9a.m performance
Theatr Gwaun Fishguard 19 October
Cardiff & Vale College 21 October
Sherman Theatre 22 October
Llanelli Studio Y Ffwnes 23-24 October
Theatr Soar Merthyr 7 November

For more information: theatreversusoppression@gmail.com
www.theatreversusoppression.com

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A brand new face

Zoe_1_ColourZoe_2_B&WLike it or not, the business of acting relies very much on how you look. While most people tend to think of it as a need to appear Hollywood perfect, that’s not necessarily the case. The fact is, if you’re going to be using your face and body to convey the words and actions of a character, those people involved in casting need to know if how you look fits with what they’re trying to achieve.

As part of my commitment to taking my performance seriously, I booked myself some headshots with Larklight Photography. From the start, Claire’s been a delight and after exchanging some light-hearted banter by email after making my booking I was already feeling pretty relaxed before we got to the day of the shoot.

Our photos were taken at a secret location of Claire’s choosing and it was pretty much perfect for the purpose. With her lovely mum wielding the reflector and Claire snapping away and showing off her full range of regional accents, the pair kept me laughing all the way through.

Zoe_3_ColourZoe_4_B&W

Only three days after the photos were taken, the final copies landed in my inbox today and they’re everything I hoped they’d be. They show me in my best light but still look like me. They have some character and warmth but offer enough of a blank canvas to allow a casting director to paint their own picture on what I have to offer.

If you’re looking for headshots and want a professional job with a photographer who understands performers and knows how to put you at ease, I can’t recommend Larklight highly enough. I had such fun on the day and hope to work with Claire again in future.

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Writing and performance

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated here, so here’s a two-in-one shot.

Since April, I’ve been writing flash fiction on Forbes’ website for NetApp. Taking a futuristic (and often less than optimistic!) take on the future of technology in many shapes and forms, my 100 Words Into The Future posts have been getting a lot of views and generating some great discussion.

I discovered this week that there will be a new flash fiction going up every Friday from next week, bringing regular doses of futurism to the world of business and technology. If you can’t wait until then, you see my most popular piece to date here and find links to my other stories on the same page. I tweet links to each one as they come out, so if you want to see them as they happen you can follow me on Twitter.

I’m also excited to be learning lines ahead of starting an intensive run of rehearsals in September and a tour in October. Sold, which debuted as No Soul For Sale at last year’s International Conference on Human Trafficking in Cardiff, has received a grant from the Arts Council for 12 performances in venues all over Wales. I’m looking forward to going back to work with Director and Playwright Jennifer Hartley and working with a fantastic cast of actors to bring this play back to the stage.

In addition to the play, recorded Sold across several very late nights in sub-zero temperatures at a bus stop in Cardiff Bay in November and December last year. It’s currently in the edit and discussions are ongoing about what we’re going to do with it once it’s finished. We’re hoping to have a cast-and-crew premiere in August but in the meantime, take a look at the trailer.

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Confessions, by Theatre Versus Oppression

Unfortunately, due to other work commitments, I had to pull out of what looked like an extremely rewarding three-day acting course last weekend at the Butetown History and Arts Centre. As a product of the course, the participants created a piece of theatre that opened last night at the Centre and featured nine actors making confessions to the audience.

I’m not going to give too much away in case you have the chance to see this wonderful piece tomorrow night before it closes. However, what I will say is that it was an extremely moving, often touching, sometimes hilarious piece in which the full range of human emotion and behaviour was explored in one way or another. Although I’ve been working with TVO as an actor for over two years now, I still wasn’t prepared for just how in-your-face the performance was or how incredibly well every one of the actors inhabited their characters. It never ceases to amaze me how working with these methods can create such truthful characters and how completely absorbing the performances are as a result.

It was lovely to see rather than do with a production from TVO for a change and it’s wonderful to see new people coming to the company and to performance mixing with old faces. I’d strongly advise anyone who’s got the time tomorrow evening from 7pm to go and see it. It was a performance experience unlike any other I’ve had and not one I expect to see bettered any time soon.

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No Soul For Sale

Yesterday we performed Jennifer Hartley’s new play, No Soul For Sale, for the first time to an audience attending the International Human Trafficking conference in Cardiff’s All Nation’s Centre.

We have been rehearsing the play for just five weeks, having only received the script on the day of the first readthrough, and it almost seemed surreal to be putting it in front of the people who had commissioned the work after a relatively short time in rehearsals. After working on Til Death Do Us Part for about two years, five weeks seems like minutes in comparison.

This is the first work I’ve done with TVO that’s involved the use of a set. Our bus stop, at which all the action is based, was built by TVO volunteers and really looked the part. With its Cardiff Bus signage for buses from Bute Street, it was perfect and really set the scene. I was also really impressed that it could be erected in less than five minutes and all collapsed to fit in the boot of Jennifer’s car, sandbags and all!

The play went down well and, for the first time in my career as an actor, we received a standing ovation from the audience. It was great to hear people laughing at some of the more humourous lines in what can be an extremely harrowing story in places. The feedback the cast got afterwards from people as they were leaving was fantastic and the play seemed to strike a chord with lots of people.

If you’d like to see the play, we’re putting it on at the Butetown History and Arts Centre on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 November from 7pm. After that, we’ll be switching to a screenplay script and filming the story as a short film.

You can see a trailer for the play and short film here.

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Til Death Do Us Part – a trailer

I had a message from Jennifer over the weekend while I was living it up in a muddy field in Suffolk (of which, more later) telling me that Suzanne had finished editing the trailer for mine and Paddy’s version of the play. If you’d like to see it, you can go watch it here.

We have another set of workshops coming up next week, this time working with young people with challenging behaviour. That should be an interesting set of sessions, that’s for sure!

We’re also due to have a set of publicity photos taken. Once they’re out, I’ll post those up too.

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