A Spotlight On: Laura Horton, Plymouth Laureate of Words
When a 23-year-old Laura Horton came across a vintage Christian Dior pencil skirt, black and gold with deep pockets it seemed to be the perfect symbol for who she wanted to become, someone thin, stylish and successful, like the women she saw in Vouge or on Sex and the City. She had been visiting her brother in California when she spotted the store, and in it the skirt bearing a $10 tag– the first designer piece she had ever been able to afford.
When Horton returned to the UK, it sparked what would become an utterly ‘suffocating’ decade-long shopping compulsion. Having moved from Plymouth to London to work she signed up to a notification from every sample sale in the city, organizing her freelance schedule around it.
Laura Horton, now the Plymouth Laureate of Words charts her obsession with fashion in her Fringe First winning show ‘Breatheless’ produced by the Theatre Royal Plymouth and showing this week at the SOHO theatre.
BIPC Devon talks to Laura about her journey toward making a living as a writer, de-mystifying funding, freelancing and more…
Images by Flavia Fraser-Cannon.
How 'Breathless' began...
“Breathless (Laura Horton’s Fringe First Award winning show, which is now being shown at the SOHO Theatre this week) wasn’t written on commission, I had to put it out there myself, it’s difficult in the Arts because I feel like it’s a mixture of trying to find funding, trying to raise money to make things happen, it’s quite exhausting.
If you’re not from a family who can just give the money to you, it’s exhausting, but you know it’s the way it is isn’t it.”
So how did that work? You wrote the play yourself, then just kept applying for funding until you got the support to go up to Edinburgh and beyond?
“Yeah, that was a bit, I was asked if I wanted to present three shows at Theatre Royal Plymouth which I did, and Breathless was one of those three shows. But I had to crowd fund to pay the people involved, I didn’t pay for it myself, the producers didn’t get paid, well they did but a little bit of my own money! Then I was encouraged to apply for the Theatre Royal Plymouth Pleasance Partnership, so I applied for that and I got it!
They give you a little bit of financial support, but when I sat down and did the budget I realized I had to raise ten thousand pounds on top, to afford to be able to take the show and pay for accommodation for directors and actors. This was a one person show with little to no set.”
And how did you do that?
“Well I initially came up with lots of different ideas, I was going to walk 500 miles on a treadmill, from Plymouth to Edinbrugh in the foyer of the Theatre Royal Plymouth.
I did a crowd funder as well, but you only really make, well I made fifteen hundred pounds which was lovely, but it was generous friends and family.
I was going to try and get sponsorship, you know businesses involved, we were in the middle of planning that, and doing all the health and safety- it was a nightmare trying to source a treadmill.
Then there was a meeting at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and they decided to provide the funding themselves, for me to produce the show. As they provided the funding, they were co-producers, and they were really helpful in advising me but I did the work myself.
Then obviously Edinburgh went very well and we won Fringe First, so then there was a lot of interest in taking it further afield, and touring it, and then the theatre decided they would come on board as producers, and so I kind of set up SOHO Theatre and lots of those talks and they very brilliantly said they would produce fully.
Which is wonderful for me because obviously it means, it’s so much stress organizing accommodation for everyone, travel, I have so much respect for producers, its such a hard job and it’s quite thankless a lot of the time.
You know you don’t see the workings of it, I’m really glad I’ve done it, but it’s really hard to focus on creativity in the middle of it, so I’m really grateful for them for believing in me, so for the Theatre’s 40th birthday, they commissioned me and my Mum, they suggested that I do it with my Mum to write a forty minute poem.
So it’s great, they’ve been amazing a supporting me, and you know it’s not their responsibility but there’s a lot of opportunities out there for emerging writers, there’s not very much there to keep people sustained.
Once you’ve emerged where do you go? So I’m trying to figure that out at the moment, I’m doing the Critereon writers group run by Greg Moss, at the moment which is a great course. It’s about getting people who have had some success already to write a new play for potentially a West End stage. Trying to provide a gap for emerging and established, because it’s just quite woeful, there was an article quite recently I think in the Stage in someone said “We’re creating a culture of Primark playwrights”.
And I think that’s probably right, you know giving people one off opportunities, and then not giving them anything else, and there’s no sustainability in that.”
Making a living in the Arts...
So where is the bulk of your income actually coming from as a freelancer?
“I was a publicist before for fifteen years, and I’m trying to pause that now to focus on writing, but it’s not possible to just be a theatre writer -you can’t make a living from it even if your successful, it’s impossible.
So I’m just trying to find different ways to keep money coming in, at the moment I’m Plymouth Laureate of Words- I respond things from the city, teach courses, I get a little bit of money, about £2000 a year, although I’m going into my third year now and I don’t think I’m getting any more because they’re rolling it over. I’m also a practitioner for Theatre Royal Plymouth now, teaching creative writing, but that’s quite a new thing.
I do get asked quite a lot to go and do workshops in schools and things, so I’m going into my old school soon, to go and do some workshops in Cornwall mainly playwrighting and things like that.
I’m always looking for different projects. I run a thing called Theatre Stories which is about sharing the stories of people who are involved in theatre, but you would not necessarily think were involved in theatre.
Often in the media it’s a certain type of person they tend to put forward to talk about the importance of it.
I wanted to show the breadth of how much theatre positively impacts people, but not just through shows through community work and engagement which doesn’t often get much attention. I got Arts Council funding for this on my fifth attempt after a year and a half of applying which has now run out, so I turned it into a CIC, but I just don’t have time to try and get funding for it.
I really need to get someone else on board, but obviously I can’t afford to pay anyone, so it’s a bit of a difficult one, but it’s still there and it’s not something that I want to give up on.”
Art is about the Audience...
“I’m also doing a project called Hidden By Things which is to compliment Breathless, so I applied to The Space Arts and got a tiny bit of funding from them.
This project is about trying to de-stigmatize hording behaviours. I’m a PR at heart so I know that I’m never going to just drop a show and then not do audience development. Because I think, I’ve worked with so many artists, and not to be disparaging but so many artists think about the art as being the most important thing but I think it’s the audience. They make work without thinking about audience which I think is bonkers…hat it’s not everyone obviously, so I’m trying to build in projects alongside.
One is a podcast where I speak to different people who identify with hoarding behaviours and the other one it’s about encouraging people to share the stories of the clothes that they have, when they get rid of them, when they donate them to charity, or they sell them.
Everyone that gets involved will be sent a label to tack into the item of clothing that they have a story for, they’ll send me a story and a picture of the item and then, whoever buys it can find the pictures online um and so that, potentially that social history of that person will live on.
Because I think that’s a lot of the people that I speak to who are scared to let go of things, that’s a big reason why, they’re scared that those stories are going to get lost. That launched on the 28th of January, and that’s funded which is helpful, so again it’s that mixture of creating projects and trying to find the funding.
I also write now journalistically, so I’m on the books for Vouge, I still have to pitch, but I write for them and a few other publications.
And then obviously Breathless is on ongoing, I produced the first version of that in Edinburgh, but now the Theatre Royal have taken that on, so I don’t have to worry about it. Although I am definitely a control freak and I want to still be involved in those conversations! That’s obviously off to London to SOHO Theatre, I get a tiny percentage of ticket sales for that, but there’s a lot of interest in it and we have some bookings to tour internationally afterwards which is really exciting!
I’ve just finished writing a second play just off of my own back I’ve not been paid to do it, just because I’m very aware that I need to, I can’t rest on my laurels with the success of Breathless, I’ve got to like keep writing and show I can write other types of theatre.
And also at the moment I’m on commission with Theatre Royal Plymouth, it’s writing a nine hander, I just thought I’m probably not going to get a commission again so I might as well write the big play that I want to write!
So it’s a miss mash of things just to keep afloat!
It’s hard, I won’t lie about that, I would never have been able to do this in my twenties, and I never would have been able to do this if I still lived in London and had to pay such insane rent, down in Plymouth it’s easier because the cost of living is lower.
I’ve always been careful about creating a little nest egg for myself just in case, I earn a living but it’s not much. I’ve only really just transitioned out of still taking on PR clients in the last year, and I still have one, just in case.
And I’m nearly forty now and this industry can be so ageist. I’m starting to think things like, can I even afford to actually have a baby?
I suppose the only question I can ask is it all worth it?
Definitley, I’m a writer now and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do! And I think there’s a lot of hope. There have been so many successful writers who reached out to support me and I want to do the same. It’s hard, but I’m finally making my dreams happen.”
Breathless is showing at the SOHO Theatre until the 17th of February, you can follow Laura and all of here creative endeavours on Instagram @LauraHorton.
Feeling inspired by Laura’s Story? This spring BIPC Devon is focusing on how we can support female entrepreneurs to turn their passion into profit! Come along to meet like minded creatives at our our Women in Business launch event on the 8th of March! We can’t wait to see you there!