From Podcasts to Prom to Pickle: Shaun’s 2017 Year in Review

From organising my school’s Year 13 prom almost entirely on my own to writing and creating my own web series; from going on holiday to Brussels on my own to releasing over 20 hours of podcast content; and from being invited to film premieres by Disney to going to the Evening Standard Theatre Awards this Winter, 2017 has been another brilliant year for my life. And, very excitingly for me, I’m going to break all of that down right now!

2017 A Year in Review

I look forward to this moment every year, the moment where I get to sit down and look back on the year that’s gone by. Last year (which you can read about here) I emphasised that I couldn’t fathom how I found the time to do so much and if that was the case last year then it is most certainly the case once again in 2017. If I look back on the year as a whole, it splits into a perfect two halves, before and after I left school. It’s a time in my life that I obviously knew was approaching, but was a day that I don’t think I could’ve been prepared to have met. It took me a long time to come to terms with my entire world flipping upside down, but about six months later, I think I’m getting into the swing of things. Living in a new house with new people and starting a new job, it’s bizarre to think of the changes that 2017 brought to my life, but it makes me excited to explore them and unpack them in this year’s annual review.

In January of this year, on New Year’s Day itself, I started the year off by launching a new project I’d been working on. Nolan Letter was a monthly email newsletter that featured three articles per issue outlining peoples’ personal experiences in the world. It’s hard to summarise what the publication was in a matter of sentences, but it was an idea I liked the sound of and liked pulling together. The launch issue featured essays by my buddy Rukaya on what it’s like to deal with the grief from losing a parent, my friend Verity on why she lives a vegan lifestyle, and an essay from me on why the idea of driving a car terrifies me greatly. Each essay was accompanied by artwork from Maria Domingue and a new newsletter flew into peoples’ email inboxes once a month for the first few months of the year. Eventually though, I came to realise that my heart wasn’t really in the project; it was one of those things where the idea of it excited me more than the reality and ultimately, I closed it down for business. While it was a great shame that it eventually didn’t work out for me, I’m excited to share that the future of the essays featured in Nolan Letter will live on in a new and exciting format, which I’ll have more to share about in the early months of 2018.

In February of this year, I solidified a new friendship. After meeting her for the first time at my London walking tour launch walk in the summer of 2016, Rukaya and I started chatting properly and finally met up and went to see Half A Sixpence in February. It feels crazy to me that we have only been friends for under a year because we have the kind of close friendship that feels like it’s been going on for a lifetime, but alas, 2017 was the year that we became buddies and I am eternally grateful for that. Not only do I think that Rukaya is a wonderful friend to have who is caring and kind and helpful and loving, but I also think she’s a great human being on her own as well. With her own YouTube channel where she discusses theatre, over the course of the year, she has shown me that there is a crossover between film making and vlogging if you care to take the time and look for it. Rukaya does just that and as a result is one of the hardest working people that I have the pleasure of knowing.

By March of this year, a few really cool things were cropping up for me. At the start of the month, I finally turned 18 and in the same way that I said I can’t believe I only became friends with Rukaya this year, I can’t believe I could only go and buy a drink from a bar this year? It feels crazy to me that this only started a matter of months ago… what on Earth did I do with my Saturday nights before that? I actually had a lovely birthday overall though and despite kicking off the day with a mock A-Level exam, I had a lovely lunch with my friend Abbie and my grandparents before taking a trip into the Big Smoke to see my favourite actress (Imelda Staunton) in my favourite play of all time (Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). It may sound like a pretty simplistic birthday, but for me, it’s one of my favourites I think I’ve ever had.

A matter of days after my birthday, I decided that I wanted to do something really crazy and spontaneous to mark this monumental birthday. So, that Monday night, I sat down at my computer and booked myself a solo trip to Brussels for three days… on a Eurostar that was leaving St Pancras about 72 hours later. To this day, I am bowled over by how audacious it was to do such a thing, but I am so proud and so glad that I did it. It is probably the single most life-changing adventure that I embarked upon this year and I feel like a changed man as a result. I had always felt like an independent person before the trip, but I had never accessed such deeply rooted self-reliance until this adventure; as a result, I am certain I could do most anything entirely on my own now. If you want to read more about the trip, I wrote about it in great detail (my favourite thing I wrote this year, in fact) in another blog post that you can find right here.

While in Brussels on my little trip, I received a very exciting (albeit really random) email from the people over at Disney UK inviting me to attend a friends and family premiere of the Beauty and the Beast remake with my little sister. Considering BATB is my favourite film and Disney had invited me to the IMAX in Leicester Square (God knows why) I was absolutely over the moon. So, after getting home from Brussels at 7pm on the Saturday, going straight to a friends’ birthday party and going out on the lash until 3am on the Sunday, I was on a train to London for 10am with a seven year old in tow – while the trip was exciting to go on, I was more impressed that I actually managed to do it without losing a child! The day was wonderful and the foyer was decked out with loads of activities for my sister to take part in and do before finally watching the film on the (absolutely fucking massive) big screen. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the memory of taking my sister on her first trip to London and it being a premiere of Beauty and the Beast. A highlight of the year for sure.

In April, a heck of a lot more stuff went down as well! The month started with the Olivier Awards and as a theatre blogger in London, it was the busiest blogging time of the year. Like I have done in previous years, I live-tweeted the entire ceremony over on the London Theatre Direct Twitter account, an activity that I always enjoy partaking in. It’s the only time of the year that I feel like we all get to come together and celebrate the amazing art that we have got to see this year and it always warms my heart greatly. On top of that, Rukaya invited me along with her to the TodayTix Olivier Awards party where we got to be the live studio audience for a special Olivier Awards episode of The Curtain Up Show (Rukaya did a vlog of that here). I don’t get starstruck ever really, so brushing shoulders with a bunch of West End stars in a very small space doesn’t cause me much anxiety, so I think it’s a privilege that I could get pretty used to…

A week after that, my friend Ellie (who I also happened to first meet on my London walking tour launch in 2016) came up to stay again for the first time in absolutely ages. One of my favourite things in life is bringing all of my friends together from different walks of life and seeing them get along and Ellie is one of those people for sure. My friends from school love her as much as I do so when she was down, we all met up and went out on the town and had the best time. She came down and stayed again a few months later and we did the same kind of thing and I’m already nagging her to get her bum back up here again in the Easter break so we can do it once more. And if she’s reading this now, consider it another hint!

At the end of this month, I had a few amazing live performance experiences that defined my year. The first of these was a theatre blogger’s event over at Half A Sixpence. I took my Grandma along with me and met up with Rukaya and Sam from Sam4G0d and throughout the day, we got to chat with Charlie Stemp, learn some tricks on the banjo and perform a dance routine from the show on the stage, all ultimately culminating with a performance of the show. It was one of those special experiences with friends and the theatre that only comes along once in a blue moon and it was delightful to get to be there and experience it. A matter of days later, I also got to see my early-teenage idol Lea Michele live in concert for the first time in Shoreditch. Since Glee has come off of the air, I haven’t been as big of a fan of hers and my love for her as moved on, but getting to relive that feeling of nostalgia made for a very crazy night this April. That Saturday, I made my final amazing theatre trip of the month by going to see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Glass Menagerie in the same day, my first and second favourite plays of all-time. The best two-show day you can have, really!

In the month of May, my whole life started to completely change. The 20th of May brought along my final day at school a day that, as I said earlier, I knew was coming but I wasn’t really ready for. To celebrate the day, everyone in Year 13 dressed up as characters from Disney films. I chose Darla from Finding Nemo because I was adamant no one else would dress up as her and when I found out that someone was considering it, I bought their plastic braces off of them and it didn’t happen (lol). Decorating the school and all dressing up was good and fun, but the real good time came from spending time with friends and having loads of laughs. For me, it wasn’t a day filled with sadness but was instead a day packed with love and nostalgia. I also was pretty instrumental in organising and arranging our year group’s final assembly, so I had that to keep me distracted throughout the day and a song to sing at the end of it which kept my nerves on edge for sure. It’s pretty crazy to think that that chapter of my life has now come to a close, but in some other respects, I can’t even begin to consider the idea of going back and doing it again. It was definitely fun while it lasted, but it had run its course for sure.

Also on the 20th of May was the release of the final episode of the second season of my podcast Opening Doors, a season of the show that I am wholly proud of. Having started the season on one of the days that I was in Brussels, it’s always crazy to think of the 10 week span that the series runs over and what can happen in that time. This season of the podcast – which adds up to a total of about 15 hours running time – featured an episode including Debbie Issit who wrote the Nativity films, an episode that was hosted and curated entirely by my Grandma, and an episode that featured some of my favourite teachers from my time at school. The show was originally conceived around the people I had at my disposal at school and was largely recorded and edited there, so to have it grow beyond that is going to be a challenge, but it’s one that I look forward to embarking upon.

In the month that followed, I didn’t do all too much at all. Because of the subjects I had chosen to take for A Level, I only had three exams to take when it came to exam season and I had almost five weeks between leaving school and when they would all take place. As a result, I utilised my time by catching up with as many friends as I possibly could and soaking up the sun before a busy summer began. I had lunch dates with Rukaya and took my stepsister to the theatre; I had drinks in the sun with Abbie and went on a family trip to Brighton; I went to theatre events and got day drunk with Olivia and Rukaya and celebrated birthdays with my friends.

Also in the month of June, I made two new, amazing friends. As I just mentioned her name before, let’s start with my amazing friend Olivia. As a theatre blogger, I’d known of Olivia for quite a while and we’d even (infamously) sat next to each other at the theatre a couple of times, but it wasn’t until June that our friendship really began to blossom. Olivia is, just like Rukaya, a warm, heartfelt and dedicated friend who I again cannot imagine my life without. Over the course of this year, the three of us have become firm friends and a brilliant trio that have stuck together through thick and thin and I feel so lucky to have them in my life. Olivia’s theatre blog is basically like an entire empire that she runs, so her hard work ethic infects me with a lot of drive as well and I love that too. It’s so special to have friends that you love on a personal level but also admire on a professional one and I’m so glad to have found just that in the two of them.

The other friend I made in June was one I adopted: my third cat, Salem! Named after the iconic black cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Salem came into our life because he was a kitten from a friend of a friend who simply couldn’t look after him herself. I have two cats already (Charlie and Casper) so adding a third one to the roster was difficult to begin with, but he’s now so close friends with Casper that I cannot imagine one without the other. To learn more about our experience of getting him, check out the blog post here.

As July rolled around, I had two major tasks to undertake, the first being my school’s Year 13 prom. I wrote about the experience of doing the prom in more detail here so it’s perhaps best to refer to that over for more details and pictures, but much like my trip to Brussels, this was a life-defining moment in 2017 for me. When I took on the task of organising the school prom, I didn’t anticipate being the only person on the prom committee and while I did get a lot of help near the big day from my friends Savannah and Amy, it was a largely solo task that was overwhelming at first. Organising an event for 150 people that could go totally wrong is an immense pressure, but somehow, somehow, I managed to pull it off and everyone I spoke to genuinely loved the experience. To me, it wasn’t just a lesson in how to organise massive events and sort a huge workload and deal with vast swathes of cash, but it was also a lesson to me that being frank with yourself is a key to success. My friends will vouch for me when I say that I take things with a serious pinch of salt and have an eye to see a fault in anything – I guess that’s where the reviewer within me comes from – so being able to identify with myself “that’s shit” or “I want that” is a great skill to have and I’m proud to have honed that on this task.

A week or so later, I hosted another event I’d organised: a charity midnight walk for Mind. You may remember me mentioning it in last year’s roundup post, but in the Spring of 2016, I was appointed the chairman of my school’s charity committee and ultimately helped to raise a record-breaking £3100 for our chosen charity. That hard work and huge reward for people in need really gave me the bug and drove me to doing more charity work for a shoebox appeal in Winter 2016 and again in the Summer of 2017. After talking to my friend Zoe from MammafulZo on my podcast, I was inspired to help raise money for a mental health charity and Mind seemed like the obvious choice. It took a lot more organising than I thought but, ultimately, the small team of my friends and I managed to raise over £1000 for the cause in just under three weeks. I was blown away and in that cloud of shock, I wrote about it on my blog, which you can find here.

August was, in my mind, the busiest month of the year for me. Amidst the craziness of organising a prom and a charity event, I’d taken a look at a play I’d been working on for a few months and decided I absolutely hated it, but that I didn’t want to get rid of the material altogether so instead, I developed it into a script for a web series which ultimately became Pickle. I’ve said more than enough about the web series to last a lifetime so I won’t go on to say much more about it here, but what I can say is that it was an experience I will never forget. After pulling the script together in a matter of hours, I pulled a team and a cast together and immediately planned on making this vision a reality, despite the fact that I literally had no money. Everything we used from costumes to filming locations to lighting boxes to cameras were borrowed from friends of mine and together, a team of 40 of us managed to make an entire web series – with a total running time of over two hours – in just under a month. I don’t know how I managed it, truly, but what I do know is that I am so glad I did, both as a person and as an artist. I’m the first to recognise that the show is far from perfect, but for me, the whole point of it was to learn something; to learn about myself as a writer and a creator and to see how the process of making television (or something similar) can be done. In that sense, it was a successful mission indeed. The show was originally released on YouTube from September through to November, following on from a screening of the entire series that I gave a large group of my friends before they went away to University. It was a busy bloody month indeed and Pickle was definitely the event that defined my year.

Also in August – as if making a web series wasn’t enough – I managed to take a little two week vacation when my Aunt made a visit over from Sydney. My Grandma, my Aunt and I are the best of friends and whenever she visits, we end up having a massive sleepover full of laughs and fun trips and Chinese food and good fun. It’s the most therapeutic time of the year and is a brilliant way of recharging the batteries and smiling again. She’s back for a few weeks in January, so I’m already excited to do it all over again!

And on top of that in August, I also organised and hosted my annual summer party which involves organising decorations, getting someone to illustrate on my entrance board (thanks Meg!), organising playlists and food and drink and games and then executing all of that on the day. As per usual, it was a rousing success and was just another example of how little sleep I managed to get through August 2017!

As well as releasing Pickle into the World in September, I managed to take on two other big projects that month as well. First of all, I helped one of my best friends Lianne co-produce a music and dance revue at a local theatre all in aid of the Florence Nightingale Hospice, a charity that helped her mum and her family over the time when her mum was ill with cancer right up until she passed away in February of this year. It was of course a tough time for all of us, not least Lianne, but we managed to pull together a fantastic event and she raised £2500 for the charity. I also performed a few songs in the show, one of them I released over on Soundcloud (if you fancy taking a listen, look right here), but also a soprano duet (don’t ask) with my friend Jess singing Sutton Foster’s version of Craig Carnelia’s “Flight”.

A week or so after that and just before Pickle came into the world, I also added a second podcast to my collection called Home or Away?a show co-hosted by me and my best buddy Abbie as we discuss what our lives are like as someone who chose to go to University and someone who didn’t. The show is ongoing and weekly and will be back in January 2018 as soon as Abbie is back at Uni so follow the podcast on Twitter for updates or to catch up if you haven’t already. In 2017, we managed to get a lot of ground covered and ultimately made over five hours of content which isn’t too bad at all!

As we rolled into October and all of my friends had gone to University, little did I know it, but it was time to for my life to change and completely overhaul. Over the five weeks or so between releasing Pickle and the start of November, several major life changes happened. Firstly, I decided it was time to pack in my theatre blogging boots and embark on a new adventure. It’s something that I knew was going to happen by the end of the year and by October, I was more than ready for it to come to an end. When I was at school, theatre blogging was the only thing I really had the time or the confidence to do and it gave me a lot of amazing access into the world of theatre without having to make a fool of myself creatively. But after having left school and making Pickle and starting some serious work on other artistic projects, I knew it was time to call it a day and on October 29th, I closed the site for good. I wrote about it in great length in a blog post right here if you want to go and check it out in more detail, but it’s a decision I still stand by making and am very glad to have done. And let me take this opportunity to thank you all for still sticking by me on all forms of social media irregardless of my status as a blogger – it really does mean the world.

Also in October, I moved house, which is something I really didn’t see coming and all seemed to happen rather quickly. It was with no hard feelings, but I moved from my mum’s house into my dad’s so that my mum could downsize house for the sake of herself and my sister Ellie-Mai. There are no hard feelings and I emphasise that sincerely, but it was a change that I was terrified of from the moment we decided on it, but looking back, it was something that I am so glad has happened and I wouldn’t change at all. All of our lives are different now, but different in a good way it seems and I’m walking out of 2017 very happy as a result.

It was also around this time – and in the early days of November – that I attended several different careers fairs for jobs in the arts. I’d been interviewing for some pretty amazing companies for months now, but it was finally the time for me to work out what on Earth is going on here. I know that, ultimately, I will end up being a creative freelance doing artistic work, but for now, I want a day job in the Arts where I get to do admin or something else that I love. It’s a tough course that I needn’t talk about on here but it’s one that I’m determined to keep on plodding through in 2018 and hopefully finding success. In the meantime, I’m doing some social media, marketing and events work for Chaya’s (who worked on Pickle with me) mum’s shop… the shop that Pickle works in in Pickle! As if life didn’t imitate art enough, right!? Jokes aside, it is great fun and I’m excited to get back to it in 2018 and keep working towards some of those goals.

Through the rest of that month, November was the time that I really started to knuckle down and get to work on a lot of things (over 15!) that I intend on putting out into the world in 2018, some absolutely massive and some not much bigger than what you’ve already seen from me. It was a very exciting time full of a heck of a lot of writing and planning and emailing and talking, but it has given me even more confidence than I had before both in myself and in the future I can have. Theatre blogging really did open a heck of a lot of doors for me, both in regards to the opportunities I have in front of me and the people I’ve gotten to know through it, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

And finally, in December of 2017, I had another amazing month to round everything off perfectly. I started the month by spending some amazing quality festive time with friends before catching up with Ellie face to face for the first time in months and heading on down to the Evening Standard Theatre Awards (as if I couldn’t get swish enough with a Disney premiere earlier this year!) It was a remarkable evening and, while I don’t always agree with their awards choices or guest list, was a night to remember and to celebrate for sure. Not long after, I had the veritable thrill of seeing Hamilton which was of course a landmark theatre moment for the year and was where I got to have a lovely chat with Cameron bloody Mackintosh himself.

Also in December, Pickle received its first set of laurels as it was picked as a semi-finalist for Best Web Series at the Los Angeles Cinefest. The idea of that blows my mind and I am so proud of the team and myself for making something that, though not perfect, is something that a lot of people enjoy. I think it goes to show that good storytelling isn’t about being flashy and high-budget, it’s just about good words and good people. As well as that, Opening Doors kicked off its third season this month with a Christmas special featuring an amazing slew of guests and being presented in a new format and style. I won’t say much about this season of the podcast as it doesn’t properly kick off until January of 2018, but let it be known that I’m very excited indeed…

And to draw the month to a close, I got to see the new Star Wars at the IMAX midnight screening like I always do, have my annual Christmas party with all of my friends after they came home from Uni and eventually visit the theatre for the 250th time in my life with the woman who started it all, my Grandma (Les Miz was my celebratory show of choice if you’re wondering). Oh, and obviously an amazing Christmas which was the best one of my entire life with lovely family and friends as well.

As I’ve just mentioned theatre to you once again, let me take this opportunity to point you in the direction of my 2017 Year in Culture review which I posted yesterday on my blog as well. In the post, I outline my favourite theatre, film, TV, books and music of the year, a thing that I haven’t done and won’t do in this post. But this year, I did manage to see over 150 hours of theatre, watch over 500 hours of TV and film, read over 13K pages of books and listen to over 550 hours of music, so I think that was a success. How the hell I manage to fit all of this into the year you’ve just heard about amongst sleeping and eating and catching up with friends I will never know, but I still think there’s room for more!

It goes without saying that I think 2018 is going to be a year to remember packed full of hard work, amazing projects and amazing fun. While I don’t know absolutely everything that’s going to be going down next year (how can I!?), I do know that what I’m working on is going to be a whole lot of fun and I can’t wait to see what the year brings to me.

Have a very Happy New Year everybody and I hope 2018 is a bloody good one for you, too. X

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