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My Creative Career – Vanessa Fielding, Director of The Complex

What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I am Artistic Director of the Complex and have been since 2010.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I have always been a theatre director, working freelance in the UK and in Ireland, until I no longer wanted to work in theatres with fixed seating and a separation between the audience and the performer. At that point I decided to try to create my own kind of place where the physical barriers were obsolete and multi-arts could co-exist. It is inspiring to work alongside artists in neighbouring disciplines because I have found it leads to more open thinking, braver decisions and a more varied taste palette.

I am committed to the local community and especially of Dublin 7, in which I have been immersed for the last eighteen years. The Complex is involved with the projects in the area, producing some work with the High Hopes Choir for people in homelessness, ‘Browbeating’ a collaborative piece of theatre with the Abbey, with women experiencing intimidation through debt and crime, and through Complex Youth Theatre, drama for young people in their teens.  I am proud that we have the local people’s support which is down to presenting work in an inclusive and accessible way.

My job definitely chose me. I have made several attempts to get away, but it catches me up and returns me like a hostage.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

I have to pinch myself on most days. The Complex is in great shape and has been really rewarding, with artist’s studios that have all enjoyed full occupancy since the beginning and a full programme of exhibitions, theatre, festivals, circus, music and dance, bringing a myriad of practitioners into contact with me and the team here. It is always changing and so never predictable or repetitive. And people are always interesting especially when they are sharing their creativity and allowing you into their vulnerabilities, and to see what they care about.

I like leading the team and enabling projects to happen, finding ways around the roadblocks. We have space to trade which is a valuable commodity in the City Centre. It means there is usually a way to make possibilities become real.

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

The Complex has defied the odds and inhabits a large warehouse in the city centre at affordable rent levels. The challenge is always around the corner that it will go under development and we will be displaced out into the suburbs where we will struggle to get audiences. The City Council has been incredibly supportive but it may need to take a step further to ensure that art houses like ours are retained in the City, through planning measures, ensuring that first plans are not repealed.

The Complex has been lucky with a fantastic stream of workers over the years. But I am territorial about my team, like an old wolf and I take it badly when staff want to move on.

How do you relax?

I go hiking with my teenage son and our dog at the weekends. And I drink.

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

You have to like leading and making brave decisions. You also need to listen to your instincts, collaborate when necessary, to enjoy people and acknowledge their strengths, play to them and always retain your humour, in the face of the successes and all the calamities too.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

I would advise them to try to do something else, because it is a precarious road, and only to pursue it if they cannot avoid it. Then to watch and learn from the good ones.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

To know when to stop trying to control my life’s course.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

It was when I completed my first site specific production of a new play called ‘Green’ by Anthony Goulding as part of the 1996 Dublin Fringe Festival in the North Dublin Brewing Company. The freedom was overwhelming to be able to stage a story in that way, with the audience close to the action, mobile like on a film set.

What are your career aspirations?

I hope to develop a final and permanent Complex in the markets, with a larger ground floor space, comprising an open plan venue that can seat 400 if required, with height and scope for all kinds of live arts and the ability to livestream or film productions for transmission. It will have 20 studios, a gallery and room for technical building, a bar, a restaurant and a community arts room. A pipe dream…or?