Kick Start Your Career: Michele Lee

Stories
Jan 13, 2014
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What are you doing now?

Come February 2014, I am going to drop down a day at my office job so I can spend more time during the week on my arts projects. I’m continuing with the development of a verbatim theatre piece through Griffin Theatre and Playwriting Australia‘s Betty Burtsall Commission; I’m working on a digital theatre project with Arts House, and I’m researching a play idea through an Australia Council Literature grant. I’m also the script consultant on a Next Wave project.

It might sound like a lot but I find that with theatre the process is often elongated, so having 3-4 live projects doesn’t mean I am working full-time on them. They ebb and flow, and there are quiet patches of time available for DVD addictions or baking frenzies. I recently had my first book published by Transit Lounge and I am just going through the slightly surreal experience of being a novelist. Perhaps people find books more accessible; I’ve had much more interest in my book writing from close and far-flung friends, and random people from YouTube channels and Belgium, than in my theatre work!

How did ArtStart allow you to do what you are doing today?

One of the great business-y things I was able to do with my ArtStart support was to establish my website. It’s been very useful in directing people to my work and for people finding me. It’s also useful for providing links to support grant applications. Here I am on the net: www.michelevanlee.com.au. I also got a graphic designer friend to design the logo on the website, and the same logo is on a letterhead which I can whip out when invoicing people (er, which is by no means a daily event). It looks very important and professional. However, my business cards are languishing as files on my laptop, and I haven’t yet printed them, although it’s probably a 21st century thing that my website is a better business card than a small piece of card. I also had a photographer/videographer document the work I did over about 12 months, and some of her photos and videos are on my site too.

I travelled to the USA for 7 weeks in 2013, and for 4 of those weeks I visited Asian-American theatre makers in LA, New York, Chicago and Minneapolis. I met with the first generation of Asian American theatre-makers, seminal people who made theatre and started up companies as a vital way to become visible in the arts. And I met with the newer generations too. It was incredibly enlightening to see what is happening in America and place myself in an international context. I returned with a lot of knowledge, books, ticket stubs from shows, and names and faces. I don’t know if I’ve laid the seeds for concrete future collaborations but something has been awakened, and it may rear its head down the track. I also joined a Facebook group maintained by Asian American artists in Chicago – Bubble Tea Networking. He he. I ate deep dish pizza and Chicago style hot dogs (no ketchup) but didn’t see one Bubble Tea outlet. Anyway, the folks on this group are very active and it keeps me linked in to some of the broader arguments, struggles and successes that are happening in the USA.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself pre ArtStart application if you could?

Pace your activities so they don’t all happen at once. Triple check your budget. Triple check the criteria. Jot down queries as you work through your application and talk to the ArtStart staff about them. Confirm with anyone mentioned in your grant that they’re on board and, if needed, get a letter of confirmation. Draft your application ahead of the due date. Leave it alone for a few days and then come back. I get too stressed leaving things until the last minute and I can’t pull effective all-nighters the night before things are due – this approach may work for others though!

What’s the one piece of make or break advice would you give potential ArtStart applicants?

Oh, probably I would draw from the above litany of advice. Make sure your application is ‘viable’. I think that is grant-speak for: specify dates, specific partners, specify people you’ll be working with, confirm these things. And use active sentences! Subject before verb.

Lastly,finish this sentence, In five years I will be…

…in production for a new show.