I have just discovered a new word, ‘polyvalent’; it translates as “capable of being used for many purposes; a versatile tool.” And after 40 years in the arts, mainly theatre, I would consider myself one of “those”. A jack of all trades and master of quite a few of them.

But even though you would think that any company would be glad of someone who is versatile, adaptable and clearly extremely experienced, that is rarely the case. It seems that to be multi-disciplined means “watered down”, un-specialised and an all-rounder, when what is “apparently” needed is a specialist who knows everything about that job that has just been offered.

As creative and adaptable as the arts are, the arts sector has still not learned to value the contribution of those who are proficient in more than one discipline within the sector. Instead, there is a widespread feeling that not being single-minded reduces the quality of what you bring to the table.

It seems we have to make one choice, and to pursue that for all we are worth, waiting tables to pay the rent.

Think about the role of a project manager in a theatre’s learning or outreach department. Typically, an applicant for this kind of job will have come from an applied or participatory arts background, with experience of designing and delivering workshops. By choosing to work inside an organisation, they gain a secure income and workmates who know their name – but they have to give up the chance to use and develop their specialist delivery skills.


Yours truly considers himself a “producer”, often a self-made position for someone who has an excellent knowledge of the performing arts industry. A jack of all trades. I have been in theatre for many years, been a technician, flyman, performer, designer, marketed, created sound-scapes, directed, owned a shop, been a clown, run an agency, handed out brochures and created contracts from scratch. I have also (please see images) acted on television, been a life model, stage managed theatre shows and been a technician for rock bands. Which begs the question, why don’t theatre organisations harness the breadth of their employees’ skills and invite them to deliver some of the creative content within the projects they manage? After all, these are the people best placed to understand the scope of project in the first place. Investing in their broader experience would help the employee feel valued for, rather than compromised by, their different skills.

Conversely, the freelance practitioner who delivers theatre projects in a variety of contexts might choose to earn additional income by producing, managing projects as well. This does not mean that person isn’t ‘good enough’ to get the directing or devising work. It means they are and they have additional skills: simultaneously spinning the plates of facilitating a room of teenagers, managing a production budget and writing an evaluation, for example (spinning plates I did professionally as a clown for 10 years)….

It would be a shame if the sector which should be leading the way in valuing variety, breadth and polyvalence turns out to be the sector where being capable of many things is a weakness, not a strength. What if we adopted the improvisation technique of ‘accept and build’, believing that each piece of work someone does contributes to the next; that their success in one role derives from their capacity to fulfil another?

And as for interviews? Being dyslexic I hate interviews. With a passion. Why? Because they’re not fit for purpose. I am considered extremely good at my work. Lots of people have said why aren’t I still working. But no matter how good one is at a job one still has to go through the testing procedure which is commonly known as an interview, where lots of questions are asked and you are scored according to how well you answer the questions. At the end the scored are added up and the winner is….. The one who is best at interviews. Not the one who is best suited to the job, the one who is best at interviews. You might as well offer us an exam to see who knows the job best. I would come last then as well. Despite being very good at my job.

When will interviewers realise interviews are for judging the best person for a job, not for testing how good you are at interviews. Then, and only then, will this creative, hard-working, conscientious, adaptable, all-round worker have the chance of a job……..



Image Credits: Author images Jeremy Holloway


Creative Business Solutions 9 Droridge, Dartington, Devon TQ9 6JQ
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