Catherine Paskell – Learning through creativity and play

How much time in a month do you put aside for ? How many days, hours or minutes do you dedicate to games, and fun? Learning through is very important for developing our social and creative sensibilities and for the social expression of the things that have meaning for us. Yet often in our busy and interconnected social lives, we forget the role of . As we run around achieving we sacrifice those small moments of playfulness that inspire sparks of .

In 2009 I was fortunate to meet an emerging creative cultural leader in Wales, Catherine Paskell and learn from her work exploring creativity, fun and playfulness through and other forms of performance and expression.

Catherine is one of the founding members of National Wales and one of the first Creative Associates (2009-2011) of the company.Recently she was awarded with an Arts Council of Wales Fellowship for 2012/2013 on the prestigious Clore Leadership Programme and in December 2012 was listed by WalesOnline as one the magnificent seven emerging artists to watch in 2013.This my 21st # tribute, I dedicate to Catherine Paskell. A passionate and talented Welsh woman. Independent theatre director and creative cultural leader.

Learning from community and playfulness of theatre

At NTW, Catherine ran the New Critics scheme and directed the Assembly community programme. A collaborative work with people from across Wales, in the towns and cities NTW where staging their first production year. In this work she supported local community artists and citizens through a creative, collaborative and fun process; while exploring an important question that had emerged from the community.

In this the process and journey was just as important as the final result (Catherine Paskell).

Catherine also directed the 5th production in the inaugural production year, The Beach. Working from her values of love, openness, collaboration, fun, happiness and integrity, her work is motivated by questioning.

I want to change the world through asking questions, mainly through theatre but also through other forms of performance and expression (Catherine Paskell).

In 2010 I participated in her production, The Beach. A collaboration between Catherine (NTW) and Hide and Seek. The Beach was a production that set Prestatyn in North Wales as its stage. It followed the story of two young men (TJ and Charlie) who had returned to the coastal town they once called home. It explored a dominant discourse today of a missing generation, the young men and women who leave small towns for big city lights every year. Through play and games on a beach, told through face to face and mediated dialogue, the narrative unfolded while participants devised ways to inspire the return of this generation.

She has continued to forger her own path as an Independent theatre director, and an Arts Council of Wales Fellow. She is a core member of Dirty Protest (Cardiff-based new writing theatre company supporting Welsh and Wales-based writers.) and runs an artist development night at Chapter Arts Centre called The Forge: it’s a theatrical scratch and work-in-progress night.

Currently, seconded to the British Museum as part of her role on the prestigious Clore Leadership Programme. Catherine is working with performance and across their Advocacy projects accumulating with Pompeii Live, a live broadcast of the upcoming Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum in cinemas across the UK on 18th June 2013.

Amidst all her great work (and busy schedule), I reached out to Catherine a few weeks ago and asked if I could steal some of her time for an interview for this series. Her work with NTW, Chapter Arts, Dirty Protest (amongst many others) and the Clore Leadership Programme inspires many opportunities for learning.

This interview, I share with you here.


Learning about change through artistic practice

Kelly: What is your proudest achievement or moment?

Catherine: I’ve had a few! I’m proud of a lot of what I’ve done. Particularly founding National Theatre Wales, The Beach and seeing the legacy and reach achieved by the company and projects I started, such as The Assembly and New Critics. I’m proud of getting on the Clore programme and representing Wales, thinking about how we can develop leadership and the cultural sector in Wales.

Kelly: What has failure and success taught you?

Catherine: To keep going and never get complacent, whether you have experienced success or failure. To always be the best you can be for yourself and for your audiences. And keep laughing and having fun.

Kelly: What is your biggest moment of life change?

Catherine: Moving to California for a year. Theatre and new writing training there but also seeing how Britain is perceived from abroad (I lived with people from all over America and the world). Also Americans are brilliant, I loved the life outlook of my peers there and how they believed in stretching yourself and your world view as much as possible. Starting NTW was also a life changing time as that was the moment I felt I was able to move from an emerging director to a professional theatre practitioner and above all – I became an emerging cultural leader. This has set me off on my current path.

Kelly: Is the glass half empty of half full?

Catherine: My glass is always FULL! If it’s half full, then I fill it up!


Learning about creativity and nurturing innovation

Kelly: Can you recommend a video talk to watch and why?

Catherine: Ira Glass on creativity (credit to Benjamin Partridge for discovery). It sums up my own experiences and journey from an emerging director to an independent practitioner and cultural leader.

It is the message I would most want to give to emerging theatre practitoners; to keep plugging away and learn your craft, earn your stripes and don’t expect things to happen overnight. Talent does emerge so make sure you give yourself permission to grow and find your own path.

Kelly: What advice would you give to senior decision makers/funders working in the Arts today

Catherine: Lead with and nurture ambition and risk in the arts sector. If we are to sustain and grow an excellent, strong and confident arts sector, we have to seek out innovation and take risks. Don’t take the easy routes and look at what is happening out there that is new and exciting. Brave visions and taking risks mean that we are always being the best we can be, providing value for money but also exploring how the arts can make the world a better place.

Kelly: What advice would you give women thinking about a career in the Arts today?

Catherine: Think about what makes you special and don’t try to be anyone else. This isn’t just about the work you make, but the kind of person you are. If you’re quiet, then nurture this in yourself, don’t try and be the loud person who seems to take all the attention. You are making a difference and giving in a different but just as vital way. Develop inner strength and self-confidence, people may try and bring you down but have the self-awareness to know what suits you, what development you need and where you can push ahead.

Make clever choices and listen to good advice. In fact, just listen more. Surround yourself with people you love and people who are different to and/or better than you. They will protect and push you, and make you stronger. Seek out mentors and critical friends. Keep learning and experimenting. Ignore the negativity and rise above the gossip. Above all, always keep in mind who you are, what drives you and measure success against your achievements, not those of others.

Kelly: What do you feel/think about social media in your life and work? (I have to ask a geeky question)

Catherine: Social media is essential in my life and work. From connecting to friends, peers and creative networks, more creative opportunities are now being borne from social media contexts. It’s the easiest way to contact a director who you admire or build a relationship with a theatre company you’d like to work with. I map my personal life and work progress through social media and I am soon going to be making a Clore blog!


Learning about “Who Inspires You?”

Kelly: Can you tell us about a Woman/Women in Wales who have inspired, mentored or supported you?

Catherine: I love Miranda Ballin. The work she does with Valleys Kids is really inspirational. Under her leadership, the gorgeous young members of Valleys Kids get fantastic opportunities, to grow and flourish. She’s enthusiastic, energetic, passionate, intelligent and a real expert in her field. I love hanging out with her and she always makes me feel special and valuable – and that I know what I’m doing! And we all need a bit of that.

I’m always inspired by the emerging artists and young professionals I work with through community collaboration projects, such as National Theatre Wales TEAM. I really admire their personal drive and talent but also their altruism and desire to be part of something bigger. These young women make me confident in the future of exciting theatre in Wales.

Some of these inspirational women are:

Christina Handke (Newport) a creative, sensitive and intelligent director and producer I first met in 2010 when she had just began her degree in Applied Theatre at Newport University. She’s now the director of her own company, Hole in the Wall and is about to graduate. Her plans for participatory theatre and theatre in education work are exciting and inspirational.
Katie Harris (Aberystwyth, now in Cwmbran) a young director who worked on the Aberystwyth Assembly and Mega Assembly in 2011. She has a strong ambition and sense of self and I’m so excited that she is about to start an MA in theatre at Bristol Old Vic.
Laura Fay Thomas (Aberystwyth, now in Salford) a performer who first performed in Marc Rees’ For Mountain, Sand and Sea in 2010. She then created and performed in the Aberystwyth Assembly in 2011 before leaving Coleg Ceredigion to study at Salford University. She’s an excellent leader and knows exactly how to inspire her peers to work together as a group to create fantastic, relevant projects. I’m excited that she will bring her learning in Salford back to Wales.
Kelly: What do you want to share, and inspire in others if you ran a workshop, gave a talk .. or wrote a book ;-)

Catherine: Collaborative leadership in the arts and the stronger power we have working together for common goals rather than thinking of our own egos and personal ambitions. The power of the we and us rather than the me and you – togethership rather than binaries.

Kelly: What is important for you for learning.


Doing! I learn through activity and practical explorations and research. Asking questions and having permission to experiment and try new things. Sympathetic pushing and critical friends who ask questions of what I am doing.
Fun! If I’m not having a laugh, if I don’t enjoy it, then I close down and don’t learn.
Change. I need to be able to change topics and scene often (it’s one reason I chose American Studies as my degree rather than drama to learn to be a theatre director). Also, I think that’s one main reason I love directing – you are always looking at the bigger picture and pulling lots of things together, working with a range of people who all want to achieve different things.
As a director, I am never bored
Kelly: What does being a ‘Women of the World in Wales’ mean to you?

Catherine: I expect being a Woman of the World in Wales means I have a certain approach and outlook. I believe Wales must take its place in the world and must open its horizons to see itself as part of the world, acting on a world stage. We must not be parochial or defensive. We must celebrate and advocate for Women, for Wales, for Welsh Women but also for the women of the world.

My ambition for the arts is that the world looks to Wales for inspiration, for best practice and innovation, and the Women of the World in Wales can nurture and promote that reach.

Kelly: Do you want to add your own question?

Catherine: What can the legacy of the Women of the World in Wales be, to achieve my ambitions above?


Catherine may we continue to learn and be inspired by your critical questioning and creativity through theatre and other forms of performance and expression.

To the Ebullient, enthusiastic, passionate, funny and talented Catherine, I dedicate this #WOWWales tribute.

Catherine Paskell, a #WOWWales colleague, mentor and friend.

Who Inspires You?


Read more about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales.

You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #WOWWales. OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you.

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