Its a beautiful sunny day in August, I am in my pop- up shop sewing and listening to Solange, all is good in the world. A man walks in, he claims he heard about my pop-up shop through my Instagram post, he introduces himself as Phil. I enthusiastically shake Phil's hand, a conversation quickly develops. We discuss all things shop and then all things Phil and it turns out he is a very interesting fellow. We swapped details, a few months later followed by a few missed opportunities to meet I finally manage to get my interview.
I wanted to interview Phil because I found his story to be very uplifting; I loved that he had an idea and from this idea a business grew. Phil owns and runs theatre production company, Beartuza. Another stand out feature of Phil, the way he speaks about his business partner Laura, she would appear to be his beans to his toast! This alone made my respect for Phil grow tremendously, when he spoke about Laura he made me want to run out into the world and find someone who too believes in my dream and wants to help me build it. It was clear from the way he spoke that one of the reasons Beartuza is progressing is because he and Laura not only have the same vision but they are both determined to make it a success.
So, what was Phil doing before he had the genius idea of Beartuza..? He was living in Walthamshow and teaching at East 15 Acting School, where he actually trained a few years back. Unfortunately a series of events unfolded that ultimately forced his hand. Sadly East 15 ended their relationship, this combined with lacking opportunities to perform Phil was fed up of relying on others, fearful of a stagnant career he felt this was the time to take matters into his own hands. What did Phil do...he called Laura (co-director).
the best way to make a success of something is to be bold.
What encouraged your idea to become a reality?
Once we’d decided we wanted to do it, it just happened. We met up one Sunday morning with the idea of setting up a company and by 18:00 we had a name, branding and our first two projects planned. I was never particularly fearful of doing it, in fact I’ve probably become more worried about stuff the more we’ve gone on; as we’ve started to earn this reputation that we now have to try and maintain.
To what do you attribute to your success?
An unwavering sense of self belief is always helpful. Laura and I are both quite stubborn, actually, Laura’s a bit stubborn and I’m really stubborn, she’s much more flexible than I am. But we’re both too stubborn to not make this thing work. We’re both of the belief that the best way to make a success of something is to be bold. We always knew we were happier to go big and fail than take cautious steps and never move out of our comfort zone. This has meant that our growth has been quicker than expected and seen us take on things that we never expected to be doing but I’d rather have that than just be ticking over.
What is unique about Beartuza?
I think our name is pretty unique. It’s often a good conversation point. A lot of people want to know where the name came from or what inspired it. We like to tell people loads of different stories about where the name came from, mainly for our own entertainment.
How old is Beartuza?
We set the company up in May 2015 and started running projects in July that year, so about 2 and half years old.
What made you chose to base your company in Walthamstow?
I’ve lived in Walthamstow for the last 5 years and I was familiar with the area and where we could potentially exploit a gap in the market. There’s a huge arts scene in Walthamstow but it seemed that theatre was not getting the attention it deserved. I also liked the idea of not having to travel on rush hour trains, so setting up work within walking distance of my house appealed to me. I’ve always had the ambition of expanding the company’s reach outside of our local area and I’d love to be able to set up something Norfolk where I grew up in Norfolk.
What made you want to focus on local community projects and youth work?
The company works on multiple levels. We have the adult performing and production company and then when we’re not performing /producing, we run sessions for younger kids and projects for 11-19 year olds. We always planned on running projects for young people as it makes the company multi-faceted and improves our community engagement which I think is so important for an arts company. On top of that, both Laura and myself were lucky enough to benefit from being a part of really great youth companies when we were growing up. We were keen to provide others with similar opportunities. It’s great as we’ve got youngsters that are 7 and 8 saying they can’t wait until they’re old enough to join the older lot and we’ve recently had casting directors asking to see members of our youth company which is exciting for them.
Did you expect your company to be where it is now?
Both Laura and I always want to be doing bigger and better things, so we don’t always take the time to reflect on what we’ve achieved and where we’re at in the present. This is partly because it can be a bit self indulgent and lead you to stop pushing yourself. Having said that, if you’d told me when we were first starting out, that in two years, I’d be working full time for myself and we’d have worked with the organisations that we’ve worked with then I’d be pretty happy about that.
An unwavering sense of self belief is always helpful.
How do you and your business partner manage the company together?
We agreed from the start that everything would be split down the middle and we’d share the responsibility and the work. There are certain things that we’re individually better at, Laura’s great at accounts and the admin stuff that I can’t stand, whereas I’m kind of the mouth of the company, I do lots of the talking. Something we’ve realised more recently is that as your company grows, you can’t always be working on the same thing, as it’s not the best use of your time. You need to be able to split up and focus on different projects so you can get more done.
What would you say is key to good team work? - what should people consider when building a business with someone else?
People always say don’t go into business with your friends which I can understand but Laura and I have always tried to separate business and friendship. When we’re out with friends we make a conscious effort to not talk about work, mainly because it’s really boring for anyone else there. Also I think you need to be honest, if something isn’t right or you’re not happy with something then the best thing is to talk about it before it has a chance to become an issue.
Do you have any new upcoming projects?
We’ve got lots of exciting things coming up. We’ve been commissioned by Waltham Forest Council to create and produce a theatre and arts festival taking place across multiple local venues. Artists are being invited to apply to be a part of it and we’ve got about 40 performance slots to fill. It’s by far the biggest thing we’ve ever done, which is a bit daunting, but we’re confident we can pull it off. We’re also in the early stages of adapting a stage play that I wrote and we’ve been performing for the last few months into a short film/ pilot episode. That’s all pretty new territory for us so it’s exciting times.