Unpacking a Portfolio Career

What I do

It's hard to explain what I do. At parties, when someone asks. On forms, with a field for occupation. Or at census time, when the government demands that everything fit into categories. 

It's easy to feel like the government doesn't really understand me. Because I don't have a sole occupation, or an employer. I have a portfolio career - a full time workload broken down into various modes of employment. Sometimes contract, sometimes part time, sometimes tiny scraps of work that fit together to make a living.

It's hard to explain what I do, because really this is the only way to survive as a young theatre artist in Brisbane, 2016. The Australia Council for the Arts acknowledges this. QUT teaches this.

And I'd like to say that 'making theatre' is what I do, but in reality it's more complicated. In order to do the thing that I feel compelled to do, I have to do a lot of other things at the same time. And that's not to say that I resent all of the other things - I absolutely love many of these jobs! But there's a difference between the work that fulfils your purpose, and the work that supports or enables such pursuits.


How to Explain

After a stupendously busy year, I wanted to sit down and map out my modes of employment. To somehow illustrate what my portfolio career looked like.

I started this exercise as a tool for personal reflection, but I also felt compelled to share my findings. To give a bit of insight for those who were never sure. I try to explain what I do when people ask, but maybe this can answer the question more effectively. I'm sure that some of my personal friends are always confused about what I mean when I say I'm 'at work'...

So the following is a rough approximate breakdown of what I did for 'work' in 2016.

I have tried to make categories to crudely define how these jobs intersect. Or at least, to explain why they're in my life. 

For curiosity and to better illustrate, I have also made (very crude) estimates of how many hours each job demanded. This has been estimated somewhere between hours that were budgeted, and hours that might have actually been used (bear with me, this bit was hard to nail down). 

I've also included an idea of earnings for each category - in the form of percentage of annual income. This is also rough.

And one last caveat - I started building this data in early November, when some of the work was yet to take place., and some of the work may not yet have defined itself.


The 2016 Portfolio


>> working as a performance-maker, the bigger ambitions, my art, my research, my pursuits... <<


+ Tyrone & Lesley in a Spot (cabaret)
co-creating new work with David Megarrity, for QLD Cabaret Festival
approx. 65 hours

+ Bad Gravy (new script)
commissioned to write new script for young performers, via Markwell presents & Villanova College
approx. 75 hours

+ Spectate (work-in-progress)
developing new work as writer/director, part of my masters research
approx. 150 hours

+ MFA Study
practice-led research masters degree-in-progress
approx. 70 hours



>> work as an AV designer, artistic collaborations using my craft & skills, potentially less of my voice <<


+ Song (play)
AV co-design for remount & tour of one-woman show by Yakkana and Accolade Productions
approx. 26 hours

+ Viral (play)
AV design & creative development for new work by Shock Therapy Productions
approx. 166 hours

+ Plunge (site-specific play)
AV design for creative development by Seeing Place Productions - a site-specific performance at the Southport Aquatic Centre
approx. 95 hours

+ It's Not the Heat, It's the Humidity (docudrama performance)
AV design & operating for remount of one-man show by John Willsteed, presented at QUT CreateX Festival
approx. 24 hours

+ Blue Bones (new play - creative development)
AV design & creative development for new work by Merlynn Tong, produced by Playlab Inc.
approx. 92 hours

+ Other AV Design Support
assisting with small AV Design favours for other works
approx. 5 hours



>> other engagement in the arts sector, research of exemplary practice, opportunities to influence cultural ecology, immersion & participation in the arts community <<


+ Short+Sweet Queensland (Festival)
Co-producing & directing festivals of short theatre & cabaret between Brisbane, Gold Coast and Townsville
approx. 440 hours

+ APAM Research Project
Work as a research assistant on the Australian Performing Arts Market
approx. 56 hours

+ Matilda Awards
Digital marketing & communications for The Matilda Awards (for Brisbane Theatre)
approx. 50 hours

+ Australia Council's Youth Arts Summit
Representing Markwell Presents at 3-day sector event
approx. 24 hours

+ FAST Festival Feedback Panel
Providing formal critical feedback to young & emerging artists at the Festival of Australian Student Theatre
approx. 22 hours

+ Melbourne Research Trip
Including 2-day workshop with performance collective Gob Squad, some meetings, and seeing work in Melbourne Festival
approx. 20 hours

+ New York Research Trip
Seeing 11x shows in 8 days, including world class exemplars of contemporary performance
approx. 35 hours

+ Other Workshops, Forums etc.
Including industry forums and workshops at Metro Arts, QUT, etc.
approx. 12 hours



>> teaching arts & creative industries in the secondary and tertiary sectors <<


+ QUT International College
Coordinating a unit that introduces the arts & creative industries to new international students. Includes lecturing, running workshops, marking assessment & developing the unit material.
approx. 315 hours

+ QUT Performance Studies
Work as a tutor for performance studies units, teaching first, second and third year drama students. 2016 included Postdramatic Theatre (theory) and Production 2 (practical - facilitating a devised performance work). Also occasional guest lectures for drama units.
approx. 215 hours

+ In-Schools Work with Markwell Presents
Workshops, masterclasses and artist residencies in QLD secondary schools for Markwell Presents. Includes directing & designing theatre projects for students. Work in Cairns, Mackay, Sunshine Coast, Nambour, Coomera & Brisbane.
approx. 220 hours



>> borrowing arts-based craft & skills for work that is creative but sits outside of the arts, or doesn't necessarily have an artistic agenda <<


+ Corporate Video Gigs
Filming & video design for corporate clients, often via Markwell Presents.
approx. 14 hours

+ Underground Opera Events
AV design for underground concert events, site-specific revue-like performances by operatic & musical theatre singers.
approx. 70 hours

+ Archival Videos
Filming, editing & producing archival and/or promo videos for theatre shows. Through Markwell Presents, for school clients and performance companies.
approx. 70 hours

+ Etsy Store
My Christmas time project - Foldable Cardboard. The anti-hallmark Christmas card store on etsy.
approx. 60 hours



>> necessary work that enables the other work to happen <<


+ Application & Grant Writing
Preparing & writing applications for jobs, programs, producing opportunities or funding opportunities
approx. 90 hours

+ Misc. Emails & Project Management
Daily communication and managing five different email accounts, planning for all jobs as needed.
approx. 250 hours

+ Misc. Meetings
Frequent meetings with individuals or groups in a range of different contexts - necessary communication to secure, retain, or proceed with projects.
approx. 150 hours

+ Managing Markwell Presents Cinematic Theatre Co.
Working as creative director for this youth arts organisation. Includes design & maintenance on website, administration and project management.
approx. 220 hours




Percentage of Time

Percentage of Income


Reflections and Notes

I guess it goes without saying that my ambition is to maximise the first category as much as possible. It may never pull its own weight in terms of the time-income ratio, but that's where the other categories can step in and support.

I do believe that all categories have an ongoing role to play in my career, but 2016 clearly shows a problem with overcrowding. Although all of these time estimates are crude, adding them up demonstrates an average workload of 62 hours per week. 

I'm the first to admit that this is unsustainable. But it's a difficult risk to manage in a portfolio career. The quest for income sustainability and the emphasis on (low-income) arts activities means that it's easy to over-commit. 

2016 has been rough in this way. The perpetual multi-tasking becomes dizzying and at times it's hard to re-connect with the joy that these jobs should offer. I don't have a clear answer about how to improve in future, but this exercise has been very therapeutic.

I'm cutting back on a lot of commitments for 2017. There are some big plans already for categories one and two, but I'm being mindful about balance in the other areas. Knowing that these categories exist, and being conscious of their makeup, is my current strategy.


Further Reading

If you're interested in reading more about the portfolio career, or about the general quest for work in the arts, check out this infamous report from The Australia Council:
Do You Really Expect To Get Paid? An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia