The Showoff Talent Factory – What We’re Learning

Why does this blog exist?

We’re eight months into the Showoff Talent Factory experience, and it’s time for the people involved to start to tell everyone else their successes, failures, lessons and awards.

First of all, a history lesson. In summer 2016 I invited anyone from across the UK who had performed at Science Showoff or another gig I’ve been part of to apply for a new scheme that would give them a year of mentoring, training, opportunities and support at no cost. It’s called the Showoff Talent Factory and 69 people applied, 14 of whom I took on after sifting the applications with two other experienced judges from the science communication world. You can see the Talent Factory members on the front page of this site – they’re a mixture of professional scientists, performers, researchers and producers of science communication. They were chosen as much for their willingness to support and develop others as for their own performance potential.

Alex Lathbridge and Anna Ploszajski applauding

Alex Lathbridge and Anna Ploszajski in the final of Famelab

The Showoff Talent Factory exists for two main reasons:

The first is that I used to be Head of Public Engagement at UCL, working with researchers over a long time period to develop their skills and ideas. One of the most rewarding parts of that kind of job is helping people improve, and seeing how far they can come with your help. People I helped to start off in talking publicly about their science became TV presenters, radio stars, world-famous TED speakers, podcasters and performers of all kinds. Having been freelance for a year, and generally only working with people once or twice, I really missed that kind of intensive interaction over time, so thought I’d offer a cohort a chance to do something similar with me.

The second is that I’m lucky enough to have a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellowship at the moment. This is money and time to try new things, and one of the things I said to the panel that chose to fund me was that I would share the benefits of the Fellowship as widely as I could. I quickly realised that I couldn’t support huge networks of science communication practitioners and performers across the country (although with friends I am trying to do so in London), and the Talent Factory is a way to help people who don’t have help coming from anywhere else.

So far the Talent Factory members have set up a strong mutual support network, gigged across the UK including at festivals, entered competitions, won competitions, had training from some amazing names including Fiona Laird, Simon Watt and Sarah Bennetto and developed lots of new podcast, video and live products. They’ve experimented with new styles of performance (I’m pretty sure that the only regular science drag acts in the UK are growing out of this group) and pushed the edges of what science is supposed to be in a live environment. They’ve been screen-tested by TV companies and performed for corporate, museum, school and family audiences, as well as drunk geeks in pubs. They have had many silly photos taken.

Sadie Harrison and Jamie Upton take over the Sir John Soane's Museum on Valentine's Day

Sadie Harrison and Jamie Upton take over the Sir John Soane’s Museum on Valentine’s Day

This blog is about extending the group of people from the science communication world we’re supporting, by sharing the things we’ve learned. It will be written by people from right across the Talent Factory, and include successes, failures, formal evaluation and informal anecdotes about our work. It sits alongside work we’re doing to widen the pool of talent we’re helping, like the upcoming Science Showoff gigs in London curated by Alex Lathbridge,

This blog is also the beginning of recruiting another year of Talent Factory performers. This year’s group aren’t going anywhere, but we will be giving another 10-15 people a chance to be part of the programme and get the same opportunities that current folk have had. The scheme will open on 12th May 2017 (the formal launch will be at the London Scicomm Symposium on May 11th), with a closing date toward the end of June, and new Talented Factorians starting at the beginning of September. I’d encourage anyone thinking about applying to come and have a chat with me at a London Scicomm Social.

Cerys Bradley and Florence Schechter as Newton and Liebniz

Cerys Bradley and Florence Schechter as Newton and Liebniz

I’ve titled this blog “What We’re Learning” rather than “What We’ve Learned” to remind us all that every single performance, every gig, every talk is just practice for the next one. There’s no perfect endpoint that we can reach, just more experiments to try and more new ideas to develop.

Steve Cross

Steve Cross at Dr Jiggs Bowson's Charming Science Friends

Steve Cross at Dr Jiggs Bowson’s Charming Science Friends

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