Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Courtney and I would say I am a businessman. I would say that 70% of my job is administrative, fundraising and the other 30% is creative and incredible. You need the structure of a business in order to be successful.
BULLYACHE is a dance theatre and live music duo that explores working class and queer identity in relation to pop culture. Established at the end of the pandemic as collaboration between myself and Jacob Samuel. We have been supported by the ACE, PRS, Raze Collective, The Place, Palm Heights Cayman Islands, Bijloke LOD Muziektheater, Sound and Music and Hackney Showroom, TalentLab Luxembourg.
We are currently the Open Lab Artists (artist residents) for the Barbican and immersive residents at European Network Oprea Association. We are being developed by Britten Pears and the Royal Opera House to learn how to make Opera.
We have also played music shows in Italy and Switzerland this year with Floating Points. We have started working with a music manager that was introduced to us through Warp Records and they have been facilitating some amazing sessions for us and giving us free studio space to help with the release of our music.
TOM, the premiere full length work, will be shown at The Yard theatre in May.
https://theyardtheatre.co.uk/events/now-23-bullyache/. This is a working class reimagining of Orpheus if it was a pop music video.
Courtney is a British/Caribbean, queer, working-class singer and choreographer. Trained at Rambert School, both a Ballroom and Latin champion and contemporary experimental choreographer, he has worked commercially and artistically with institutions across fashion, music, performance art, theatre and film. Courtney was an artist in residence at Palm Heights, Cayman Islands, 2021, associate artist with a Clod ensemble and performed as a dancer for Holly Blakey.
What made you choose this career?
I wasn’t very good at anything else. I don’t know how many jobs I have had and been fired from….
This last year and a half is the first time I have taken myself seriously as an artist and professional and my work has completely transformed. I am really good at what I do because I care about it. It’s much better to pursue something you care about than do something you hate even if its hard.
Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey.
Yes I did A-levels not very well. I would get an A or I would fail. I later found out that I had ADHD and dyslexia but I only found that out this year. It could have really helped me if I’d known sooner. Now I have a diagnosis. I get help from the Arts Council to support my applications.
I also trained at Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary dance. I never really wanted to go the school I just auditioned on a whim and got in. My dance partner at the time (I was doing Ballroom and Latin) moved back to Ukraine and I wanted to dance. I had never done contemporary before my audition. I think that is why I have a unique take on choreography.
I have no formal training in music but I did go to the national youth jazz orchestra and take singing lessons Nyjo is free. Also RoundHouse (and other collectives) offer free music production lessons and DJing this is where I started,
Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?
Who inspires you?
Katie Mitchell - directing goddess
Clod ensemble - amazing organisation that offers support and care taught me everything I know about how to lead workshops and hold space for people.
Kenneth MacMillan - Master Choreographer especially of duets. HE made Romeo and Julliet.
Dua Lipa - As BULLYACHE we always ask ourselves would Dua do this. It's a joke but it really helps us be creative and not take ourselves too seriously.
Holly Blakey - taught me to be bold.
What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?
Being freelance and not knowing where the next paycheque is.
Because the job doesn’t have security you need to learn how to create structure and boundaries for yourself. Paying myself a fair wage. Having a system, spreadsheets, budgets, year calendars. When are the funding deadlines? Diversifying income streams. IT’s still early days where BULLYACHE is concerned but we are setting up a good foundation.
Google keep. Google Drive. My creative partner Jacob built these and they have changed my life. Nothing is in my head anymore; everything has a home. Ideas, Tasks, inspiration, images, numbers, timelines. Having contracts with friends. Being very clear with your expectations and having check-ins is important. Setting up a great foundation as the thing you make gets bigger.
Find people with this skill! Get them to teach it it is really important especially if you are neurodiverse.
What do you want to change about your industry?
I straddle so many different ones.
I think two separate things I would change is tokenism and nepotism.
I don’t know how you could change these things.
It’s important to understand being marginalised and the trade off with institutions. They give you money and support and in return they get to support creatives with a different life experience. But at the moment it feels quite performative.
It would be great to see more diversity within the core teams but that comes with time both in commercial work and in institutions. It’s moving slowly. I hope.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?
Failure isn’t separate from success. The best advice I had from a choreographer I really admire was run faster than you think you can.
As an artist you need to take advantage of all the resources that are available to you, ArtsAdmin and Raze Collective Producer mornings. ArtsAnchor Newsletter. Ask Questions, shadow people you like and do the most with what you are given. You alway want to be in a room with people that are better than you.
Also your difference and marginalisation is power. Institutions are trying to engage queer, black, working class, trans people nationally. Know and understand that, understand the systems that you are working inside of. When there is a will there's a way.
Also have fun, it's not that deep. It’s art, if you’re not enjoying it there's no point.