My Career as a Freelance Creative Arts Facilitator

Kat Merrick. Exeter Alumn, Freelance Creative Arts Facilitator, and Director at Katerpillar Creatives

Kat Merrick is a Freelance Creative Arts Facilitator, and Director at Katerpillar Creatives  She graduated from the University of Exeter BA Drama, 2008

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?  

The balance between theory and practical work. Many of the universities that I looked around were keen to stress that they weren’t a drama school and were more concerned with theory, but Exeter allowed the opportunity to put the theory into practice. Being able to physicalise what we had learned was hugely helpful to me, and I felt like the balance between theory and practice was a perfect fit for me.  

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?  

It’s a strange one to start with, but organisation has been vital for me. I manage my own diary, bookings and invoices, so it’s really important to stay on top of that and ensure I’m giving accurate information to schools that want to book me (I’ve met facilitators who are extremely talented, but have put people off with their lack of organisation and time management – it doesn’t look good). 

“Experience-wise, I’m extremely fortunate to have worked with some amazing people and fantastic organisations, and I know how much this has helped me to form my own practice and to figure out what works for me.”

Communication is also vital for my work. When I was in London and contracting to several companies, keeping in touch with all of them was really important, and now that I’m striking out on my own, it’s so important for me to touch base with schools regularly and keep them up to date with plans and arrangements.  

There is a lot of time management involved in my work, and a level of discipline too – as I’m self-employed, often there is no one planning things for me, or breathing down my neck over deadlines. While that’s a lovely way to work, it does mean that I have to make sure I’m holding myself to account and keeping up with the work that I need to do outside of schools. It’s very easy to get lazy when no one is making you do it, so keeping up with the admin side of the job is something that I had to get used to!  

Experience-wise, I’m extremely fortunate to have worked with some amazing people and fantastic organisations, and I know how much this has helped me to form my own practice and to figure out what works for me. Every job has taught me something (even if it was ‘that didn’t work at all!’) and I find it really important to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, even after all these years. Working with other people has taught me a huge amount about different practices, but also about my own – I now have a much better understanding about what works for me, and can use my strengths to make my work the best it can be. 

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?  

Gain as much experience as you can! I’m all for valuing yourself as an artist, but if you’re brand new to the field and need to make your CV stand out from the crowd, look at the ways that you can add to it, even if that means volunteering or low paid opportunities. I volunteered with a local youth theatre while I was a student at Exeter who were delighted to have me, and spent my university holidays assisting with holiday workshops at my youth theatre at home. Not only did I learn a huge amount through these different jobs, but it meant that my CV stood out.  

“Be prepared to work hard. My line of work isn’t about getting a job and sitting in it for 20 years. It’s a continuous process of making connections, finding work, developing content, delivering sessions, and repeating.”

Following on from that – use your contacts! I was very lucky to have an amazing youth theatre tutor while I was in school, and she was incredibly helpful to me as I went through university and beyond. Whether it was letting me help out with youth projects, answering questions over a coffee, or giving me my first ever youth theatre directing job after university, she was always happy to help. If you are lucky enough to have any useful contacts (a youth theatre tutor, school drama teacher, university lecturer, or anyone whose work interests you) then do use them – keep in touch, ask for help, and take advantage of any opportunities given to you. You’ll build up your skills and your CV!  

Be prepared to work hard. My line of work isn’t about getting a job and sitting in it for 20 years. It’s a continuous process of making connections, finding work, developing content, delivering sessions, and repeating. It’s incredibly rewarding (and does get easier with practice) but you have to be ready to work hard and be responsible for driving yourself.  

“Know your worth. I mentioned volunteering earlier as a means to gain experience, but understand when enough is enough. The arts are notorious for people undervaluing our work.”

Know your worth. I mentioned volunteering earlier as a means to gain experience, but understand when enough is enough. The arts are notorious for people undervaluing our work (“What? You want to be PAID? But I thought you did it for the love of the craft!”) and it’s important to recognise what your skills are worth. Yes, I love my job, but it is a job. This is something that I’ve always found challenging (and I’m having to practice what I preach with my new business) but there’s no shame in putting a price on your skills. If you’re unsure about price points, try to find someone that you can ask for advice. Understand that things won’t always be predictable. As so much of my work is based in schools, my work can fluctuate a lot over the academic year. There are times when I’m snowed under and stressed beyond belief, and there are times when things go quiet and I wonder if I’ll ever work again. Understanding that has been vital for me personally, and after several years, I’m more able to anticipate the quiet patches and prepare for them.  

The last two years have been a huge challenge (thanks Covid) but I’m proud to have made it through. Take care of yourself. The hours can be long, the days can be lonely (I work alone a lot), and when there’s no one telling you to clock off at 5:30pm, it can be very hard to know when to stop. Try to limit the amount you’re taking on in one day, and make sure you’re making time for yourself. Whether it’s seeing friends, exercising, or doing something that makes you smile, schedule in some You Time every day. Lastly, enjoy yourself and have fun! I absolutely love my job, and for all the madness and mayhem that it brings, I wouldn’t change it for the world! 

What are your plans for the future?  

Who knows? Right now my focus is on getting my new business up and running (it’s still early days) and on getting back into schools. Schools and students have had an incredibly tough time over the last couple of years, and being able to bring a bit of sparkle back to the curriculum feels especially rewarding right now. Other than that, I’m still enjoying the novelty of finally being back in schools, and doing the work I love! For now, I’m thinking about the present – the future can worry about itself!