Our Admin Officer, Kirste Vandergiessen, who is very skilled in her admin and organisation abilities, is also a writer and digital illustrator! Fleur was really determined to find her a role at RYT to support and nurture those abilities while doubling as a role to document the day-to-day of RYT.
Thanks to Tully Barnett and Dr. Sarah Peters from Flinders University, RYT was able to acquire some funds to support Kirste in some time for documentation, writing and creating.
RYT is a tiny organisation, with one full-time Fleur and two part-time staff (Alysha and Kirste), which means that a lot of the important documentation, reflection and data collection of RYT events often falls through the cracks. This is what Kirste’s secondary role is about, filling those gaps and making sure we’re showing the community what RYT is really about.
Kirste’s documentation role has been funded for 20 weeks. In this time, Kirste will be posting weekly Mini Outcomes (things like interviews with RYT regulars, making playlists, writing poems, etc.), attending some of RYT’s classes to watch, listen and chat, writing a Final Outcome (a fictional fantasy short story, with illustrations), and putting some hours into her own personal writing project.
Keep up to date with everything Kirste documents on this page.
Note: “Live Doc” does imply this is unfinished and unedited. This is for viewers to see Kirste’s full writing process.
WEEK 1 - THE WHO, THE WHAT & THE WHY
Howdy there. Thanks for coming. Welcome, welcome.
I’m Kirste, some of you know me as RYT’s admin officer, last year I worked with Writers SA on the No Limits: Young Regional Writers team as their Riverland Coordinator (we also won a Ruby Award, not to brag… but also totally to brag), I’ve done a lot of work with Alysha Herrmann, and Part of Things, I also work with Our Town Berri, I’m a writer, a digital illustrator, producer, and bartender. So yeah, there’s a good chance you’ve seen me around.
Anyway, thanks for visiting this page! You might have some questions:
Wayfinder is technically two different projects.
- Creative documentation for Riverland Youth Theatre.
- A small personal writing project. A fantasy/adventure short story, in which some of the creative documentation will reflect in this story, and maybe illustrations!
What Am I Doing?
I’m spending the next 20 weeks listening, watching, chatting and absorbing all things RYT. Once a week I’ll update this page with Mini Outcomes – creative things like poems, letters, out of context quotes, comic panels, profile sketches, interviewing RYT regulars, taking photos, making playlists, pinterest boards, etc.
Once a month I’ll be updating the personal writing project (which may also be referred to as Wayfinder or the Final Outcome in future posts).
Why Am I Doing It?
In the time that I’ve worked for RYT, I’ve learned a lot about its recent history. When Fleur jumped on board, everything was such a rush for her – so many events, participants to keep track of, RYT was growing at a rate that the team couldn’t keep up with and some things (like reflection, data collecting, documentation and taking a lungful of air) fell through the cracks. It’s been an adrenaline rush for two years. But finally we’re taking some steps to remember to slow down, take breaks, rest, reflect, and savour the moment.
So, that’s where my role comes in.
I wish I remembered or wrote down how this came about. But I’m pretty sure it was Fleur just asking how I would feel about doing a writing day at RYT and me replying with ‘um, yeah?’. Which is funnily how a lot of ideas happen in the RYT office.
Literally a week after that conversation, we were meeting with Tully and Sarah on Zoom. Fleur started by talking about RYT’s needs for documentation and connection with community, and how she wanted to see me supported as an artist and writer. Tully offered us the funds to cover an extra day of my wage for 20 weeks, mentoring sessions with herself and Sarah, and before I had time to breathe (or even fully realise what was even happening) everything was locked in. I was in the office alone, I leaned back in my chair and just went ‘what the [redacted] just happened.’.
Mind you, I’ve only been working for RYT since the start of May – so just over three months. This project was locked in on June 20th – a month and a half after I started working with them.
The lord works quick, but RYT’s Creative Director works quicker.
It’s been thrilling and refreshing to plan and think about a whole new project (two, technically!), but it’s also forced me to face Writer Kirste – and her cobweb-threaded hair and dust-covered shoulders, after being left in a dark corner for so long.
I’ve neglected writing for, what feels like, a long time – it’s been about a year, I think. So coming into this project, I’m already juggling a bunch of complicated feelings. There’s such a huge sense of pride, and excitement. I feel ridiculously lucky, and seen, and valued as an artist, and privileged.
But there’s also this weight of fear. And guilt, actually.
There are so many people that are fighting against towering waves on my behalf to make sure I don’t get lost at sea. And I’m not certain I deserve it. Or, at least, there might be someone else who deserves this opportunity more than me. You’re telling me that a girl who hasn’t touched her work-in-progress novel for a year is being paid to write once a week? Make it make sense (please, someone).
But I also have to take a step back and think about the why. Why am I being given this opportunity? Why is this project so important? Why aren’t I writing?
The reality, for a lot of artists, is that we cannot just work as artists. Right now, I’m working three pretty demanding and very different jobs – admin assistant, communications support and bartending. I spend a lot of my mental, emotional and creative energy in these spaces and that leaves little in the Creative Well when I actually do have the opportunity to dive into my personal projects.
Which is why being gifted this opportunity from Flinders University, Riverland Youth Theatre, Tully Barnett, Dr. Sarah Peters and Fleur Kilpatrick, is so generous.
Paying writers to write. Paying writers to think. Paying writers to show their process. Paying organisations like Riverland Youth Theatre to have a staff member to document the joy, the laughter, the chaos, and the panic that comes with running a youth arts organisation. I want to see this role in all arts organisations.
So, as you might be able to tell, I’m taking this project incredibly seriously.
Until next time,
WEEK 2 - The Blank Page & Filling The Gap
Here’s what you missed at RYT
- Term 3 classes began
- Fleur recovering from sickness
- Alysha out sick
- Zoe started on placement
- The Bacchae has its cast
- Fleur has had some successful writing time
- Fleur and Alysha working really hard on our major project War of the Worlds
- Lot’s of “ahhhh panic” from Kirste (re: taking on her first class, 3rd Place with Zoe)
- Zoe did lots of driving (re: teen pickups and drop offs, and meetings to promote her program in September!)
- Kirste found paperwork from 2004, while sorting through the biggest pile of mystery papers on top of the filing cabinet.
- Fleur was told she looks like Madonna
- Gave many long hugs to our Teen in Residence
- Teen in Residence shared raccoon memes
- Kirste admitted to a room full of teens who like metal, rock and alt music that she’s only really been listening to Taylor Swift recently.
- Big conversations about how school’s a badly constructed system that doesn’t actually help or benefit students. Also school has a lot of dumb rules.
I didn’t expect these long-winded blog segments to be part of my documentation process, but I’m finding it’s the format I gravitate towards when I start my writing day – which is interesting considering how many creative outcome ideas I have written down. But I start with a list of dot points, like above, that I’ve collected through previous weeks and it naturally forms into word-vomiting about my week, reflections and experiences.
Finding ways to fit Creative Brain between Admin Brain, Comms and Marketing Brain, Bartending Brain and Producing Brain has been a much more difficult flip than I anticipated. I don’t feel particularly creative. I’ve taken lots of notes while sitting in the office and chatting to office visitors, but finding ways to translate those conversations and experiences into creative forms has felt like such an impossible task. So candid journal-style-writing is what you’re getting – at least, for this week.
No matter how many plans I plan, the plans never plan. As a hyper-organised person, this is a devastating realisation.
Even yesterday (August 17), at my first 3rd Place & Digital Art Jams class for the term, I went in thinking I would interview one of the teens with a list of questions I preplanned, or draw the title banner for my Final Outcome piece.
Here’s what I exited with:
Horrifying. I’m pretty sure everyone drew something except for me, actually.
But! The reason I came out with a blank page is because I got so caught up in talking and connecting with a bunch of cool, complicated and interesting young people, most of whom I’d met for the first time that night. Zoe and I asked the teens why they came to 3rd Place. Most of the answers were “I’m here because X is here” or “I always come to 3rd Place” or “I just wanted to hang out”, there was a really honest response from one of them.
“I struggle making friends.”
And that’s exactly what 3rd Place is for. Connection. So for that evening, I wasn’t just the artist, I was facilitating conversation, making sure everyone was included, asking intentional questions about everyone in hopes they’d all find some common ground in interests.
We’re going down a tangent now, but I promise we’re circling back. I had a conversation (many, actually) with Alysha Herrmann a few years ago, in which she asked me what my ultimate goal was in the arts industry – where do I see myself fitting? And even though I hadn’t really thought about it specifically before she asked, I told her that I wanted to be a support person for emerging artists.
As it turns out, I am doing that – in ways I didn’t expect – as RYT’s admin officer. Not in the typical admin officer role job description, but something I’m beyond happy to take on.
Teen in Residence, Rowen, came to me with a piece of writing they’re entering in a competition last week and asked if I had time to read over and give some feedback. This moment with Rowen, plus 3rd Place, were enough for me to realise I’m fulfilling that role as a support for emerging artists.
So I sent through edits, feedback and suggestions, and they sent their revisions back to me. Their piece is so powerful, visceral and paints such a clear image of their experience of gender dysphoria.
It’s moments like these that show me that our roles at RYT are important in more ways than what’s seen on the surface. Sometimes we have to wear multiple hats.
Fleur for instance, comfortable in her role as Creative Director, is working so hard to hold the fort as company manager too. She’s always transparent in her feelings about how she doesn’t think she’s doing enough or doing it right. But to quote Alysha, “you are doing the hardest job at the hardest time”. Managing a youth arts organisation in regional South Australia is demanding. As the only full-time staff member at RYT, that’s so much for her to carry. But she does it.
Alysha is our Community and Digital Artist, facilitating online spaces for our outer-Riverland and statewide creatives. But she’s also lurking behind the scenes, keeping our budgets looking beautiful and organised, sitting at Fleur’s desk when Fleur takes (well deserved and long overdue leave) looking for gaps in the organisation and finding ways to fill them, and building some strong foundations for our board.
And on top of that, we’re all trying to make sure our young creatives are being supported and nurtured in a safe environment.
Yeah, no wonder the creativity gets a little lost.
So, to recap:
- Adapt to the environment participants create and let them lead the way.
- Plans don’t always go to plan, and that it’s okay.
- Our roles are more than just our job titles – we do those jobs and we do them well, but this organisation requires us to be more than that. And sometimes the “more” is more important and impactful.
- Being creative is hard.
Anyway, I’ll leave you with those thoughts. Until next time,
WEEK 3 - Refilling the Well & Sleeping
Here’s what you missed at RYT
- Kirste was on leave and she has no idea what happened 🙂
WEEK 4 - APAX, Percy & The Writing Process
Here’s what you missed at RYT
- Kirste came back from leave to 94 unread emails – Kirste’s nightmare.
- Fleur, Alysha, Rowen, Axel, Sam and Mik go to Cairns to pitch War of the Worlds at APAX!!!
- Rescheduled Tweens Sketch Comedy
- RYT was visited by Maeve MacGregor and Percy!
- Percy poured water into her gumboots
- Percy helped Kirste with her invoices
- Percy worked at Fleur’s desk for about 2 minutes and learned how to run the whole organisation (sticky notes are important to her process)
- Maeve sifted through the very outdated policies and started updating them for us – featuring a very pretty spreadsheet.
- Pussy Riot attempted murdering Kirste (Kirste is allergic to cats)
- “Please no blood drinking in the vehicle”
- Many cute group photos from the team in Cairns.
- Cancelled online D&D
Here’s a collection of photos, you may have seen some on Facebook.
I’m consciously not doing a reflection of the list above, like previous weeks. This week I actually forced myself into creative writing. No blank pages [insert flexing arm emoji]. But you’re also getting a little bit of reflection about my writing process… sorry 🙂
Live Doc Link – if you want to keep an eye on the story progress (and keep me accountable).
Three very important lessons I’ve learned as a writer:
- 3am ideas are the most groundbreaking ideas you will ever have.
- Write the 3am ideas down. You absolutely will not remember it tomorrow.
- Do not question the writing process.
And all three of these things came into play this week. At 3am on Monday, my brain got attached to the word Barley, the word repeated over and over and over, and at some point it wore me down enough to make the decision that it would be Wayfinder’s main character’s name. When I woke up on Tuesday and read my notes back, I audibly groaned.
But it’s fine right, I can just change the name.
The thing about naming characters is sometimes the names cling to them. And no matter how many alternatives you try, they just don’t stick. Instead of trying to yank “Barley” away from my main character, I decided all my characters, creatures and places would be named after grains and grasses. As it turns out some of them are very fantasy-esque. Admittedly, this particular 3am idea wasn’t the most groundbreaking, but the solution feels pretty genius. So, if a name sounds dumb, don’t question it – it’s part of the process and definitely intentional.
So, what can you expect when you click into the live doc? I didn’t have much of an idea of how to open this story, but after Maeve and Percy visited RYT, and Percy drew me a personalised treasure map (pictured above), the intro became quite clear. And, as mentioned in previous weeks, my experiences at RYT are going to influence this story. A win is a win. Thanks Percy.
I’m not usually someone who shares my work before it’s finished. But I thought this was be a good opportunity to start moving away from that fear. Readers also have the option to make comments! If there’s something you like, or something you don’t like, or something you want to flag, or if you want to laugh at a grain-character-name, be my guest.
WEEK 5 - TEENS, GODS & WORM CREATURES
Here’s what you missed at RYT
- Kirste sat in and watched Bacchae rehearsals – hilarious and fantastic, in her opinion
- God character exploration
- Poe worshipping
- Board Chair, Clint and Vice Chair, Eliza visited RYT
- Clint fixed some wobbly tables
- Zoe started her 4-week program Hey Anxiety! Let’s Move!
- Discussions about crushes on animated characters
- “Toast makes me anxious”
- Kirste joined the Online D&D discord and watched how a game session plays out — much more corpse dragging than she expected
Welcome back to the “Kirste spends a lot of time trying to remember what happened this week” program. I have an awful memory, but I’m pretty good at taking notes – usually. I did not take enough notes this week.
Here’s what I do know. I spent this week popping into some of our regular classes! Partly because of this project, and partly because they look like a riot (ha). But also, as the admin person I write and promote these classes but only understand the surface level of it, I’m a curious little creature and had to know more.
The Bacchae rehearsals and Online D&D were lots of fun, also a really great opportunity for me to spend a little more time with our regular teens – who I am slowly getting to know through 3rd Place. Each of them are such bright, energetic, funny, and complex individuals. We spent some time talking about our weeks – from trying out embroidery, to meeting cool trans artists, to new puppies, everyone had very exciting weeks.
This is representation of me with the teens now (ironically one of their names is Arlo):
I furiously scribbled notes while everyone was exploring their characters, developing their godly-persona – what that godly-persona does, and how people can worship them.
Here are some poems that came out of the dialogue exchanges.
And as for D&D, I had no idea what was going on. There was digital dice rolling. Math that made me go ???? Terms that made me go ahhhhhhhh??????? There was monster-fighting. The monster was a cat-hater, attacking Ryot (the D&D equivalent of theatre cat, Riot). The dragging said monster’s corpse. Talk of tearing his beak off and wearing it as a party hat. What a crazy hour. Hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing at all the shenanigans and chaotic teamwork.
It’s endlessly inspiring and heartfelt to see how connected these teens are to each other, how supportive they are, and how comfortable they feel with each other, and with the RYT team. I have such a sense of pride knowing that RYT and our program has been able to be part of that connection.
All in all, a pretty great week.
See you next timmeee~
WEEK 6 - OUR IMPACT
Here’s what you missed at RYT
- Fleur fought with Microsoft Word formatting – “Oh Word, you crafty devil.”
- Rowen received exciting news about their ABC Heywire competition submission!
- RYT crew sang along to hold music while Fleur asked around for River Fringe dates
- More major projects set into motion
- Birds are actually FBI droids.
- Teens helped me start a Spotify playlist – the song choices vary, be warned. (I tried to embed a Spotify widget, but of course the website didn’t like it, so it’s just a boring link)
My role as Writer in Residence means documenting the everyday of RYT life and the impact we have on the people that come through those doors. Our impact is so much more than recording numbers – which is basically all our annual data reports require. So much of the Good Stuff is often missing. RYT’s impact often shines through in quality and impact rather than quantity, but there’s little opportunity to show that. Which is where I come in.
Due to some pretty massive projects RYT is undertaking this year, our capacity looks much different than previous years. We’re doing less term classes, and the classes we are doing are running for less weeks; this is an active decision we’ve made to make sure the staff are taking care of themselves, and to give the organisation a little room to breathe, and to give our team some time to focus on our major projects. But it does mean our participation and event numbers will look much lower than previous years, and to some that will seem like we’re doing something wrong – that we’re less successful than previous years.
But we’re delivering some really incredible and gigantic projects, in which a lot of our teens and participants are highly involved with. For example, War of the Worlds, this is a huge, huge, huge production and already this year our crew have made a trip to Cairns for APAX and about to embark on a two week development at Fairfax Festival in Swan Hill. The experiences, skills development and networks they’re building through these events is so valuable — in so many ways, now and in their futures.
We’re even seeing impacts on a smaller scale. The piece of writing that Rowen asked me to read and give some feedback on a few weeks ago (I posted about it here too) has been shortlisted for a competition! So much joy and pride radiated from them. Electrified stimming, hopping and dancing all day.
Our impact holds more weight than just the number of people we have in the room.
This week Fleur, Alysha and I talked about the exhaustion we feel (professionally and personally) and how there are so many problems in our industry (and beyond), that we feel a little powerless against it. We often see the Big Picture Problems, and they’re quite overwhelming at times. There are so many problems to fix, but not enough time, energy, capacity, resources or solutions to even begin the repairs.
We do a lot of good at RYT. And we need to remember that in the midst of our “ohmygod the world is burning”, we are doing good. We’re offering incredible opportunities to our young artists – things like attending APAX, and Fairfax Festival, developing War of the Worlds with other youth arts orgs across SA, developing The Bacchae (with the potential of showing it at Adelaide Fringe and River Fringe!), offering our artistic experience to help develop their skills, offering safe spaces and people, a listening ear (for good and bad times!). I keep calling these small impacts, but I assure you that for our young artists and participants, what we do means so much to them.
As I said, we don’t often see the impacts our projects have. So in my admin hours, I’ve been collecting information about some of our previous major projects and events. I’m writing down the excited babblings from the participants, asking for their favourite moments, listening to all the things they’re doing.
In my experience, moments like these sometimes just evaporate from the internet, and the only evidence of these incredible and impactful projects lives hidden away in our brains. Which is annoying in general because these projects deserve to hold their spot on this world wide web, but also particularly to our emerging artists and participants that are looking for them in the future (sometimes for reminiscing, sometimes for CVs!). It’s so important to make sure this kind of documentation is available – for all kinds of reasons.
There’s now a new tab on our website totally dedicated to some of these projects. For a project like War of the Worlds, for example, I’m able to keep it updated with every progression, collect reflections from Alysha and Fleur (who can give us big-picture views for the project), testimonials about the impact the developments have had on our teens, photo documentation, and other fun bits. The page is still a work in progress, only some of the buttons work, but I’ll slowly work away on it in the coming months to make sure we’re recording our impact.
Until next time,
WEEK 7 - WRITING. HARD.
Here’s what you missed at RYT
- We installed sensory swings at RYT! Regular teens dove straight into the swings when they arrived at the office – very excited and even gave us a dramatic rendition of “I’m just Ken” while swinging.
- Grant writing for building capacity – RYT is drowning in 15-year outdated policies and we need some help.
- Is it affect or effect? And why can we never work it out?
- Whales are cool
- Fleur started out wanting to be a classical singer – she comes from a family of musicians – but then she wrote a play about how depressed she was, won an award at 17 and decided that playwriting was the way to go.
- Zoe’s a writer too! She’s writing a novel.
This week I was supposed to write (of the creative variety), and then write about my writing. But as it turns out, I’m in a deep writing burnout. Like I said in earlier weeks, I haven’t sat down to write since late last year. I added a little to Wayfinder’s live doc, but I have to admit I spent a lot of time on Pinterest and did a little bit of drawing this week – classic Kirste procrastination (“You need to write.” // “But what if I didn’t.”).
While the sketches, the Pinterest board, and the playlist (links at the top!) are all adding to my understanding of the story, it’s definitely not adding any actual words. And don’t get me wrong, all these things are part of my writing process, so I’m glad I’m showing it off. But I’m aware that this week it was more about avoiding the words, than adding to my understanding of the story. Now that I’ve recognised it, I’m wondering if it’s worth changing the format of Wayfinder – maybe short comics would be a better way to tell this story.
Anyway, here’s the sketch of Barley:
In other news, I also spent some time thinking about my unfinished novel (sitting at a respectable 60,000 words), which seems like a tiny thing, but feels like a huge win. I didn’t open the document, but I did think about how much I missed the story and characters. The next time I take some annual leave, I’d love to spend some time rereading and potentially finish it. I could absolutely use my time in this residency to revisit it, but I’d really like to finish a small writing project before jumping back into a novel-sized one because novels are very overwhelming to think about sometimes.
And in conclusion, writing is hard.