“I’ve made something that people care about.”

“Basically it’s like a pub crawl in bookshops,” Bex Hughes explains of the London Bookshop Crawl, an annual non-profit event in February which promotes and supports independent bookshops. If you’re anything like me (and I’m guessing you are), you’re already sold. A weekend of events, discounts and meet-ups, the London Bookshop Crawl is entering its sixth year of bringing book lovers together and giving some much needed support to bookshops. The event started in 2016 when Bex asked Twitter if anyone wanted to go book shopping with her. The following year, a hundred people turned up at Foyles’ cafe wanting to join in. Since then, hundreds of hungry book lovers descend on London every February to visit some of the 110 independent bookshops involved. 

In our interview with her, she discusses the community she has built alongside her struggles with social anxiety. “Organising the kind of events I organise,” she says, “I found that there’s quite a big cross over between people who love really books and people who are introverted, but also people who suffer with anxiety and depression.” Bex not only battles her own anxiety to create the remarkable weekend every year, but she has also used her personal experience to create a supportive environment for others. “It’s okay to have limits,” she tells us, “your brain is not broken because it doesn’t work the same way that other peoples do.” 

The growth of the London Bookshop Crawl shows that there is a real desire to help support independent businesses, something which is close to our collective hearts here at FreeBird. Bex doesn’t only support independent booksellers but independent publishers also. The founder of Ninja Book Box, her website hosts an online pre-loved bookshop, a quarterly subscription box of independently published books of all genres, and resources such as the Indie Challenge and a monthly Indie Releases List to encourage people to read more independently published books. 

Building a supportive community not only for the participants, but with the booksellers themselves, (who are fighting for survival in a world of increased online shopping and an enormous US corporation who shall not be named), Bex was the perfect person for FreeBird to talk to as we reflect on Community this month.

Looking to learn more about London Bookshop Crawl- make sure you check them out on:

Instagram: londonbookshopcrawl & ninjabookbox

Twitter: @LdnBkshopCrawl & @NinjaBookBox

Facebook: @bookshopcrawl & @ninjabookbox

“My clicks were just echoing around the room”

We chatted to Helen Murray about becoming a theatre photographer, the importance of community and building a clan, and on her recent photo series Our Empty Theatres— which took her behind the doors of theatres around the country, mid-lockdown.

Leeds Playhouse

The arts, according to Zadie Smith in her recent book Intimations, have always been considered “a sort of charming but basically useless playpen, in which adults get to behave like children – making up stories and drawing pictures and so on – though at least they provide some form of pleasure to serious people, doing actual jobs.” 

Writing in her usual tongue-in-cheek voice, back in the early months of lockdown (long before any of us knew where Barnard Castle was), Smith highlighted what would become a huge topic of public discussion— the changing place of art in our society, as a result of the pandemic. “Now there are essential workers,” she wrote, “whose task is vital and unrelenting – and there are the rest of us, all with a certain amount of time on our hands.” 

Sometimes it feels like that division— between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’, necessity and luxury— has become a kind of tourniquet around the creative industries. The need to justify art, the ‘moral anxiety’ (as Smith puts it) around how we now spend our time, has wrought huge damage on theatre in the UK, and the ecosystem of individuals who make it up.

When she set out to shoot the photo series Our Empty Theatres, Helen Murray felt none of that moral anxiety.
“I just really needed, for my soul, to just… start taking photographs again”, she said as we chatted over Zoom. “Basically, all my jobs were cancelled, and I had a couple of weeks where I was just in panic mode […] I wanted to do something that responds to the lockdown, in a way, [and the fact that theatres] were closed, and what a huge momentous time in history that was. And so I was like, ‘Actually, it might be quite cool to document that.’”

The Lyric Hammersmith

What started as an attempt to capture theatres in the state they’d been left in at the end of March, however, turned into a rare example of how “photography, like theatre, has an incredible power to make you feel” (as she says in the introduction to the series). Over the course of two months, Murray photographed 22 theatres around the country, from Battersea to Liverpool. Having started with Soho Theatre, and the Bush Theatre, more and more venues quickly became involved, inviting her to roam their empty halls and explore their backstage areas.

She found meal deal wrappers discarded on disused tech tables, props half-packed into storage boxes, chairs strewn around in rehearsal rooms. “Shooting this series has been sobering”, Helen said on her website. “Being met with total silence. No background noise, no chitter chatter, no infectious laughs bellowing out of a rehearsal room, just complete silence.”

The Young Vic

Alongside these images, she started collecting quotes from theatre professionals, in response to the question “What do our empty theatres mean to you?”. In the end, she amassed over 200 responses— from hair and makeup artists, to fight directors, to marketing managers, writers, actors, and more.

As of this morning, 21 of the images are being released as Limited Edition prints, with only fifty of each image available. 10% of the profits of these prints will go towards The Theatrical Guild, the leading UK charity for backstage and front of house workers.

What I feel most when I see these heart-stopping images isn’t sadness, strangely. I overwhelmingly feel hope. These spaces are waiting for us to return.

– Playwright James Graham, in response to the photo series

“I was really fortunate to be in a lot of freelancer Zooms during lockdown. So you’re getting to have Zoom times with the Lighting Designers, and Set Designers, and Movement Directors, which you don’t really get to do [normally]— so you’re hearing people’s stories that you don’t really get to hear. So what I wanted to do, to amplify them, was to get their voices [in the series]. That was never what I set out to do, originally, but it was the natural progression of what the piece was, and became.”

An empty Wardrobe room, The Young Vic

There’s huge variety amongst the answers Helen received— from optimistically resolved (“the future is a decision. We can decide to go back to how things were or we decide to go back to a more diverse, more sustainable way of working” – Marty Moore, Production Manager) to grimly simple (“An empty theatre means no work” – Aimee Kember, Actor and Front of House). 

When I first saw the series, the response that leapt out at me, and resonated most clearly, was Pasty Ferran’s– “WASTED POTENTIAL”. Now, a few months later, I feel more affinity with Tim Crouch; “An empty theatre is like an empty church.” Neither should have to prove their worth to society, and both only really exist to be a kind of arena for human experience.

Ultimately, what the series proves to me is the obvious need for artists, and art-making, in this historical moment– and it’s a point proven by a wildly talented, freelance, artist. The task of representing these buildings was taken up by someone from outside their doors, and embraced by a huge community of professionals who have been physically and economically displaced by the pandemic. 

Sobering? Absolutely.

Originally from Derry, Northern Ireland, Helen moved to London in 2008. She’s worked full-time as a freelance photographer specialising in theatre since 2012, photographing over 250 shows throughout the UK. (Basically, if you’ve been to a major theatre in the UK within the last 8 years, chances are that Helen has photographed a show there.) In addition to live theatre, Helen also shoots commissioned editorial portraits, publicity images and film stills. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Vogue, the Sunday Times and the Guardian. And you’ll know her most recent haunting work, the series Our Empty Theatres, which showed glimpses of 22 theatres around the UK, including Manchester Royal Exchange, the Liverpool Everyman, the Royal Court, the Young Vic, The Lyric Hammersmith, and many more.

Make sure to check out Our Empty Theatres, and the Limited Edition series of prints now available on Helen’s website. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, to keep up to date with more of her work.

“There’s a real love there”

“I’ve learnt a lot through lockdown and I’ve got better and stronger at making the right decisions. Maybe it’s naive of me, but I’m a business and I’m very much a person that believes we’re all equal, so let’s try to understand and support each other during this time.” 

When you think about success what do you think of? Money? Career? A Family? The question often asked is can we actually have it all? We all know that being able to work in a field that brings us fulfilment is not only desirable, but something we expect comes with a serious amount of hard work and dedication. This is true of course, but it’s often even harder work when the industry is niche. Theatre is not only ever changing, it’s over-saturated, uncertain and inconclusive. One thing’s for sure, Louise Dearman is most certainly a woman who has reached success on all of the above. 

Louise needs no introduction. With a seriously impressive West End, National touring and International concert CV, a supportive fan base following on all her platforms and most recently her most important role yet, a Mother, Louise has repeatedly shown her commitment to it all. Additionally, Louise has managed to do all of this whilst ensuring she keeps life at its most real and most importantly, Louise isn’t afraid to call out problematic attitudes and behaviours which continue to plague parts of the entertainment industry. 

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Having worked as an agent assistant myself for five years at leading London agency Global Artists, I’ve had first hand experience working both for and alongside Louise. We’ve shared some incredible moments together, witnessed changes and supported each other continuously. Louise was also one of the agency’s first ever clients, so she’s also grown up with the team, which I for one find rather charming. One thing’s for sure, Louise has always had many different strings to her bow. From starring in Wicked, to creating an album, to publishing a book – she’s always been creative in multiple ways and open for conversations around something new, which is exactly the reason we couldn’t wait to meet with her and discuss Growth. 

Louise’s outlook on musical theatre is incredibly positive and optimistic, and as she recalls the support she’s had from producers and other industry professionals as a new mum we understand her enthusiasm. As she explains, becoming a parent has had a significant impact on how she approaches her career and her choice of roles. Considerations on childcare, workload and scheduling have all taken a front seat in deciding who to work with and when. 

In the midst of a childcare crisis, Louise’s insight into returning to work in musical theatre after having a child is a welcome ray of positivity. Putting aside the pandemic for a second, because we can’t solve everything at once, her experience seems to be a great example of what to do (producers, pay attention!). Offering support with childcare and being flexible with schedules are vital elements to ensuring that, as Louise puts it no one “is made to feel guilty for being parents”. Similarly, the job-sharing system she encourages producers to consider could be a fantastic way to facilitate a more accessible industry, for new mothers as well as many other people who may not be able to work 8 shows a week– or 12, I’m looking at you Joseph.

It’s especially difficult at the moment to picture a time where theatre is back up and running as it was before. But what we should be planning for is a better return, where having a child does not mean deciding to abandon your passion or taking on a role which leaves you neither time nor energy to care for your baby. Let’s make best practice the industry standard, and emerge from this having grown.

“Theatre is part of my identity”

image by Cherry Laithang supplied by Unspalsh

Wardrobe supervisors and dressers turning to fashion, jewellery and mask making. Carpenters unable to build sets crafting furniture instead. Actors projecting onto paint and canvas. The small business directory Not On The West End showcases more than anything that while a lockdown might take away our stages, nothing can strip the creativity and adaptability from theatre professionals. Previously the Wardrobe Deputy on 9 to 5: The Musical at the Savoy, Anna Saunders created Not On The West End to give a platform to the many side businesses run by UK theatre professionals.

It has been five months since theatres closed their doors. The £1.57bn emergency funding announced in July won’t be reaching venues until November at the earliest. Job losses continued to increase; in the month directly after our ‘rescue’ package was announced the number of layoffs and redundancies rose from 3000 to 5000, we can only imagine what this number has risen to now, and these figures do not even represent the numerous freelancers who have fallen through the gaps of government income support schemes, nor the casual staff on zero-hours contracts who might well keep their jobs but will receive no wages once furlough ends.

I used to argue with my ex-boyfriend about the arts. A staunch Tory, he would insist that sacrificing the creative industries was a small price to pay in order to protect the more ‘essential’ sectors. The longevity of that relationship aside, I couldn’t help but think back to those arguments recently as I watched a (socially distant) crowd huddle in the rain, shivering over hot chocolates in paper cups, so desperate as they were to experience a brief, bright 45-minutes of live music after months of anxiety and isolation, and so determined our technicians, producers and baristas were to provide it for them. Theatre is essential, as are the people who create it. Proposed schemes such as Seat Out to Help Out surely have to be realised in order to save our industry, and, as the creative performance protest due to happen on 26th September shows, we will certainly keep fighting to do just that. Not On The West End’s amazing advocacy for those who deserve some recognition and business support through this downtime is just another example of the solidarity and versatility within our community. We are makers, planners, builders and fixers, and we are resilient.

We spoke to Anna to learn more about Not On The West End and her views on what needs to happen to save our industry. 

Anna, please tell us more about the project – why you started, what it has meant to you so far? The commissions must be going through the roof. 

The project is a hub of small businesses, one being featured on the Instagram and the website each day, that are helmed by theatre professionals whose income has been affected by COVID. It’s a way to support the businesses of specifically theatre people and find loads of them in one place. It’s impossible to search for them as a group on etsy, but you can find all their etsys through Not On The West End. 

Before the idea was an idea there were things that my flatmates and I, all theatre types, had noticed happening in our community. The first was how many costume and wardrobe people had jumped into action to make PPE for the NHS. We did too, if you work in wardrobe there is always a problem solving attitude. Tech rehearsals do that to your brain. 

But there was a sting to the government’s PPE tsar making a self-congratulatory announcement that the PPE shortage was over, with no mention of the hundreds of costume professionals and home sewers who had made it happen. It was especially hurtful whilst there was also no sign of any help for the arts coming. 

Once scrubs were done, I noticed dozens of friends turn to selling face masks. It became a bleak joke when I got a facebook notification to guess which of my supremely talented friends had turned to making masks to make their rent. 

I have always done embroideries for friends as presents and at the start of lockdown I was sending them out to friends as little pick-me-up gifts – including one of Ariel from The Little Mermaid, appropriately singing ‘I want to be where the PEOPLE are!”. But I had always been of the ‘my hobby is not a hustle’ mentality. 

Four months into this and that mentality was no longer sustainable. I needed to do something. Anything to fill my days and make some money. Something needed to be done. 

I had the idea less than a month ago. Friday 7th August. It was a joke name. Not On The West End – like Not On The High Street, but we don’t have jobs anymore! I got the email address and I got the Instagram handle. 

Then I got scared. But convinced by a friend it wasn’t a crap idea I sent out six texts. All to friends, wardrobe people that I knew had a creative side hustle. I was thinking about doing this thing, would they be interested. 

Within the day I had ten people signed up. Now it’s about 160. 

I knew there were a couple of things that I needed to make sure everyone knew. 

  1. Everyone featured is a theatre professional. 
  2. I would not be taking a cut of sales or charging to be featured. 

From that point the ‘Not On The West End’ community kind of made itself.

How are you finding this emotionally? Like us, we know you miss your ‘normal’ work and we can only imagine you have been as strained as we have. Do you find yourself engaging with those who send in submissions and hearing their lockdown/missing theatre stories? 

Launch day was a particularly strange one for me. The first three businesses all came out on Friday 14th August, a week after the initial idea. Beth Cousins, the amazing woman behind The Sun and Moonflower, and who would usually be dressing at Pretty Woman, messaged me after only a couple of hours and told me she’d made a sale because of it.

I made a video, that I jokingly called Parish Notices, to go on the Instagram stories at 6.30 that evening, to say thank you for everyone’s support. Day one had been a success and I had businesses lined up to fill every day through to mid-November, but after posting the video I just sat down on my bedroom floor and balled my eyes out. 

Over the previous week I had received so many emails from people who were lost, unsure how to even describe themselves; are they a lighting designer or did they used to be a lighting designer? Do they work at Mamma Mia or did they used to work at Mamma Mia? But they were still fighting. It sounds cliché, because it is, but the show must go on spirit is a part of it. People were using their skills – related to their usual job or not (because I can’t imagine how a trumpeter would usually use macramé in their theatre life) – and making things happen.

It felt like a lot of pressure, to live up to the hopes and expectations of the people who suddenly seemed to be relying on me and my little website and my new Instagram. But the thing is, theatre is so often referred to as a community rather than an industry. There’s a reason for that. 

Theatre is part of my identity – if I have a night off from whatever show I’m on, it’s to go and see a show. I’ve done a morning laundry call, gone to see a matinee and then gone back to work a show. Talking to so many people over the last few weeks I know that I’m not alone. 

We all miss it. Like an ache. I imagine the feeling of standing in the wings at the Savoy and hearing Dolly’s voice start a performance of 9to5 and I get goose bumps and well up. Imagining the call for beginners or hearing an orchestra tune up or sitting in the dark in a crowd of people all brought together for the same reason. Theatre is special and needs to be protected.

Would you like to share any thoughts on what the theatre industry needs this year? We’re all frustrated and feel the Government have let us [the industry] down, but what needs to happen from your point of view to ensure all of us unemployed theatre workers have some positivity/glimmer of hope?

The three things we need from the government are a plan, some respect and insurance. 

We need a plan. More than anything. There seems to be nothing but gossip at the moment. The money promised needs to actually get out of the government bank account and to the places it’s needed. The much-hailed announcement of the £1.57 billion now seems like more of a plan to make a plan and a way to shut us up for a few weeks. That money also seems to be dependent of making as many people redundant as possible. This government cares about buildings but not people. 

We need respect. We are being treated like theatre is our hobby, rather than a career that we trained for and excel at. We are being treated like we are stupid for wanting to have a career in theatre at all. Without theatres the West End is a ghost town. Without theatres every town and city across the country loses its heart – the places people experience their first panto, or play Tree Number 3 in the youth production of The Wizard of Oz, and see elite professionals on the same stage the next week. 

You can’t only save the big institutions and leave everything else to disappear because it won’t be long before there are not audiences starting their love of theatre in a 300 seater in their home town, and they won’t be able to travel to the next big town to see a big tour, and they won’t have the love for it built in. Theatre is a proper industry that should be respected, not just for the money it makes, but for the people it brings together. 

We need insurance. There is no point saying we can open back up if we can’t be insured. They need to be our insurance.  

We know the pain inflicted by the closure of venues and the loss of work. FreeBird aim to also promote the change that needs to occur within the theatre industry, post lockdown. What change would you like to see? The lack of support for Freelance staff has really got us thinking.

The thing we need to talk about and address as an industry is work-life balance. It would be difficult to address this without mentioning the current union negotiations. Sunday shows are being much discussed and demanded by producers. 

I don’t think that thought is being given to the lives of the people who work the performances when this is being put forward. Getting, most likely, only Monday evenings to see friends and family outside of the industry is a brutal change to a group of people who already give their jobs so much of their time and energy. 

When it is just some shows that do this, with double pay for Sunday shows, there will be people who can change their lifestyle, for a while, to do this. If the whole of theatre has two show Sundays we will be forcing experienced and talented people out of the industry for good. 

Before closures there were beginning to be rumblings of ways to make work-life balance in theatre, especially for parents, better, with much publicised job shares and companies giving over dressing rooms for nursing mothers. I think that when we return we need to make sure that this progress is not lost and is actually built upon going forward. Sunday shows as industry standard is the opposite of progress. 

If someone is out there and wants to submit- how can they reach you? 

All submissions should be sent to me via email – notonthewestend@gmail.com

What’s next for this project? Coronavirus is here to stay and so are all those creative makers and small brands- any new developments or next stages?

The next step is the Not On The West End virtual market, organised by Grace Cheetham, of Serotonin Series. Over the weekend of the 21st and 22nd November we will be hosting a special event. Participating businesses will be offering discounts, there will be a raffle (everyone loves a raffle!) and a few live streams to meet the theatre professionals who are behind the businesses and hear from them about their experiences. We are hoping it will be a great event for the community we are building up and give everyone a boost in sales before Christmas! 

Ultimately, we hope that this won’t have to be a long-term project – maybe something we can bring back each Christmas to show off our community. We want to get back into theatres and rehearsal rooms because that is what has brought us together. The love of our industry. Live theatre is not like anything else. It isn’t like films or tv. It isn’t like sport. It’s a group of creative and brilliant people coming together to unite an audience in a specific time and place and story, and then doing it all over again the next night. It’s fleeting and eternal and isn’t something that should be paused like it is now. 

Not On The West End is a coping mechanism, not a cure. We need theatres to be open and full and telling stories. You can find Not On The West End on Instagram and via their website. Keep up to date with FreeBird on all things arts, culture, events and theatre. Read our article with Stylist magazine.

“Diversify your feed”

We chatted to theatre maker Kerry Candeloro about the battle for accessibility off and on Broadway, how she came to work as a voice and dialect coach, and her work at Lincoln Centre Theater, New York Theater Workshop, and Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

Ever heard something complicated explained in a really simple way? It’s memorable, right?

“Education people talk a lot about the difference between equality and equity,” Chana Joffe-Walt says in a new five-part podcast series produced by Serial (yes, that Serial) and the New York Times. “Equality means everyone gets the same thing. Equity means everyone gets what they need.

I was folding laundry when I heard that. Podcasts, I’ve found, are the only reason I get any housework done. It was a rainy Sunday, around a week after I’d caught up with my friend Kerry Candeloro. We’d talked about the differences in our experiences of the pandemic (herself in her hometown, Philadelphia, and myself in London). We re-traced some of the steps she’d taken since we’d first crossed paths (at a theatre in Highgate, North London), and how she eventually found her way to her current job at Moulin Rouge! The Musical. And we’d talked about her perspective on ableism and lack of physical accessibility in New York theatres, as a Disabled artist.

Hearing Chana’s words, I thought back on our conversation. Equity means everyone gets what they need.

Kerry’s lived experience of disability and chronic illness intersects with live performance in a bunch of different ways, but most obviously in the public domain– the domain where artists and audience members navigate physical access to, and mobility within, a huge variety of spaces. In her years working as an off-Broadway House Manager, as well as a freelance voice and dialect coach, she’s witnessed countless instances of theatres failing individuals in very public ways; from an audience member being unable to access a disabled bathroom because the doorway wasn’t wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, to seeing “a well-known Disabled actor be carried up and down the stairs of a theatre where they were headlining because there was no accessible dressing room” (both stories from Kerry’s Instagram, where she’s collated some of these examples).

Kerry leading a coaching session 

“The real privilege isn’t just being able-bodied”, she says, in response to those experiences, “it is the assumption that you automatically have access to any space you wish to physically enter. It is assuming that you can get into/move around any building independently and without ‘being a burden’.”

Beyond the issue of literal access, Kerry also draws attention to the place of disabled people within cultural discourse– from Tik Tok, to the Tony’s. While high-profile productions such as Deaf West’s Broadway revival of Spring Awakening, and the more recent Public Theatre production of Teenage Dick (which crossed the Atlantic at the end of 2019, with a run at the Donmar Warehouse) go against the grain, big-budget productions continue to overlook disabled actors when portraying their own experiences (consider the casting of disabled characters in shows such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or even last year’s Tony-winner The Ferryman). Pop culture depictions of disability tend to iconise and de-humanise people, isolating them within ‘inspiration porn’ discourse– most recently seen rearing its ugly head in the discussion around the revelation of Chadwick Boseman’s cancer diagnosis (for a great explainer on ‘inspiration porn’, check out Stella Young’s seminal Ted Talk on the topic).

If there’s any reason for hope, for optimism about a more equitable future for disabled and chronically ill people within theatre, it lives in Kerry’s insistence on communication and action. As Kerry mentions, recent movements like the Black Theatre Coalition and We See You White American Theater (who recently published their 31-page list of demands to organisations regarding increased representation and inclusivity) underline this notion— the untapped potential for collective power when individuals all speak with one voice.

That voice is saying ‘this is not good enough’. That voice comes out in hashtags, and scratch nights, and zoom calls; in awards ceremony speeches, in full-company meetings, in Front of House bars. That voice insists that artists are not commodities, and audience members are not buyers. That voice is refusing to accept symbolic gestures, or tokenism, from any so-called ‘gatekeepers’ of the performing arts.

That voice is sounding remarkably like Kerry’s.

Her first year working on the Director’s Lab programme at Lincoln Centre Theater

Kerry is a graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualised Study, where she studied speech pathology, theatre, and sociolinguistics– developing the concentration “Vocal Transformations: Speech as Identity in Theatre and Society”. Throughout her degree, she produced shows and workshops with Gallatin Theatre Troupe, as well as helping to develop original work at Manhattan Repertory Theatre, at the New York International Fringe Festival, and at Dixon Place. She worked as the Digital Assistant for Academy Award winning costume designer Ann Roth on the film The Post (directed by Steven Spielberg) and on the Broadway production of The Prom, as well as the recent revivals of Carousel, Three Tall Women, and The Iceman Cometh. At Lincoln Centre Theater, she works alongside Dramaturg Anne Cattaneo, helping to run the Directors Lab, a developmental program that nurtures stage directors from around the country and around the world. Alongside this, she continues to work as a freelance voice and dialect coach, across the New York theatre scene. And she’s also worked extremely hard as one of the head House Managers at the Off-Broadway powerhouse that is New York Theatre Workshop, and, before lockdown went into effect, as the House Seat and Guest Services Coordinator for Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway. She is an electric force in every room, and a wonderfully articulate advocate for disability rights– particularly within a performing arts context. She’s arguably the most widely-read person I know when it comes to play texts, and her romcom reviews are the highlight of my Instagram feed.

Check out Kerry’s Instagram (@kerry_can) for more of her insightful thoughts about theatre and disability, for her knock-out Rom Com reviews— and for her recent take on Midnight Sun (she read it so you don’t have to). 

Kerry’s other recommendations:

“Let’s go back to the drawing board”

We talked to Brooklyn-based 3D Printing leader Christina Perla about the power of community, telling her own story, and enabling the creative process

Ever heard someone talk about diversity through a design lens? Or argue that it’s an organisational asset; a potential source of unlimited possibility?

Chatting with Christina Perlathe woman behind Makelab, a Brooklyn-based 3D Printing company– you realise that the current under-representation of diverse and immigrant communities in 3D Printing– as well as in Engineering, Industrial Design, and their ancillary industries– is actually limiting their potential.

“As an industrial designer, your job is to bridge two things together, and find commonalities– find that common thread. And figure out the way to bridge them together, to make something beautiful. That’s one of the approaches you take, in terms of design thinking.”

She built on this idea, taking the argument from design– the field in which she specialised while studying as an undergrad at New York’s Pratt Institute– to business.

“You don’t want to be in your bubble, as a business leader. The more you’re in your bubble, you’re gonna hit a wall very quickly, and you’re gonna stunt your own growth. So I always find that diverse and different ways of thinking should be welcome into a business leaders’ frame of mind, and their everyday. You should always be exploring. […] That’s why it’s really important to build that into your team, right, into key roles in your organisation.”

As a sector you might not typically think of as creative or artistic, 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing are renowned for not being hugely diverse in terms of gender and race– and Christina knows this all too well. “I think that this entire industry can grow a lot more if we’re a lot more inclusive. I think it’s better for everyone.” Her involvement with Women in 3D Printing, an international network with over 10,000 members, speaks to her beliefs about a more inclusive future for her industry– and that serious action is needed to get us there.

In an interview with TCT Magazine in June, she reiterated, “If we all adopt a pay-it-forward attitude and really put in the work and effort to reach more and connect more, I don’t see how it wouldn’t result in more diversity and inclusion.” On a rainy day in Brooklyn, we sat down to chat with Christina about the power of the Wi3DP network, her journey to becoming a leader and co-founder of two companies, and the role models that inspired her along the way.

One of Makelab’s 3D Printers in action

Christina Perla studied Industrial Design at the Pratt Institute in New York. After graduating, she worked for several companies in design and product development before deciding to go freelance. Around the same time, she and her partner Manny Mota started their own design and development firm, Tangent Design, of which she is Co-Founder and Creative Director. With Tangent, they combined “an artistic attention to detail” with “an engineering approach, to make every design decision functional and purposeful” (Source). They acquired 3DUniPrint, a 3D printing company with whom they’d been working closely; a natural acquisition, as part of the iterative design process they used at Tangent. Within a few months, they had renamed 3DUniPrint to ‘Makelab’, where Christina is currently CEO. A politically and socially-conscious 3D printing company, Makelab strives to simplify the process of realising creative ideas. At last count, Makelab has completed over 200,000 prints, on over 10,000 projects for 6,000 clients– ranging from engineering firms to event producers, including Silvercup Studios, OMA, AECOM, Yahoo, Oath, AOL, and collaborations with Jaden Smith, NVIDIA, and many more. A Downtown Brooklyn article from last November said that “[Makelab’s] primary source of marketing is simply doing a good job”– and they do it with heart.

If it wasn’t enough to have founded a company and acquired a second one within two and half years, Christina is also an NYC Ambassador and, as of earlier this year, a Board Director for ‘Women in 3D Printing’, an industry network that spans 23 countries, with 65 chapters, and over 10,000 community members.

When Covid-19 hit New York in March, Makelab pivoted and dedicated 75% of their machines and resources to the production of PPE– starting with a trialling process, which tested for effectiveness and safety. They now produce a range of PPE, including custom mask fitters, face shields, and mask extenders, and they’ve also helped to prototype ventilator parts and adaptors for more testing. In April, Makelab received a Hello Alice ‘Business for All’ COVID-19 Emergency Grant, to help them continue producing healthcare equipment (Source), and between April and May they nearly tripled their orders for face shields. Makelab worked with “hospitals in New York and New Jersey”.

For all of this– for her tireless passion for elevating women in 3D Printing and Technology, for her love of creativity and innovative design, and her incredible resourcefulness and ingenuity– she is one of our dream Collaborators, and we’re so glad to be talking to her.  

Check out Makelab and the Women in 3D Printing network, and Christina Perla on Twitter and Instagram, to keep up to date with her amazing work. 

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