Bryce Youngman is the artistic director of Poetry In Action, a performance company that focuses on poetry as a performance medium, which has been rapidly growing for the past 7 years expanding across Australia, making its way to a national level. Bryce speaks to arts interview about his personal and professional experiences, the decision-making involved in running a business and building a career, with insight into pros, cons and outcomes.

Interview by Natalia Ilyukevich

What influenced your decisions to get involved in poetry and how does that tie in with your background in performing arts sector?

The poetry concept came about when my business partner and I first started talking about helping schools generate revenue for other theatre shows that we wanted to do. So we asked ourselves what our skill set is and what we can do in the same way to start our own business. We knew we could do acting, had script growing skills, organisational skills and all this kind of stuff. We then thought about putting together sized down versions of plays that kids would have studied, presenting them in 45-minute performances and doing poetry reading. Having this off-idea of doing poetry, we have realised that no one else was doing it. We had a lot of skills and people to call on from our networks who could do what we needed to do. We decided to show kids that poetry is something that could really be very vibrant, very relevant, and that you just need to have the courage to put your own voice, feelings and emotion behind it and go on this little journey.

Do you have a career plan that influences your decisions or do you wait and see what opportunities present them?

The company has a 5-year plan and I have a 1 or 2-year plan. I do not like to have anything too much further ahead at the moment. I have things that I want to achieve personally and with writing and acting I have a plan set out to do. I have allowed Poetry In Action to take some precedence over personal things, but I was ready to make that sacrifice and wanted to have this to build on. We are booking quite well across Australia, doing a lot and it still feels like it can be bigger. I just have to give myself time, which I have been doing with my agent, to make decisions and plans about the things that we want to do. It can be as simple as a new headshot and making sure you always do something for yourself. My advice for anyone starting a company is to not let the company consume you and maintain some self.

In hindsight, have you regretted any or many choices, and if so then why?

It is hard for me to say that I regret choices when I feel like I am in a very good position. If I was asked this 6 months ago, I would have said that I regretted splitting Shaman Productions (primary company prior to Poetry In Action) and Poetry In Action in half, but I have realised that it is a momentary split which actually empowers the project, and I guess that is about trusting the people you work with. A lot of the time my business partner and I have a lot of friction. We both have input in everything, but his main job is to look after the brand and functionality, Facebook, the public face of Poetry In Action, and I am a little bit more on sales and artistic direction wrangling the actors and other creative things. So sometimes I do not understand where he is coming from, but I respect the fact that he is a very smart bloke and there is a reason that somehow what we do works. And although on this occasion, I strongly felt in my bones that it was not something I wanted, in hindsight I realise that it was probably the best thing to do. So I do not regret any choices that I have made as it has not stopped me from doing anything.

What decisions relating to your career would you make differently and why?

There are not really any decisions that I would make differently. There were some vital moments in my life where I made some good decisions. When I got accepted into Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), I also got accepted into the University of Western Sydney Nepean drama course which was very reputable at the time, in my suburb, much easier and cheaper to do. By choosing WAAPA I realised how much I needed to get out of home, stretch my legs and be on my own as an 18/19 year old. I have taken opportunities when they have presented themselves, and some of them have not worked out, but I would not do anything differently as such for the business. However, there was a tough time when starting a business with friends. You need to set rigid roles and structures, there has to be someone leading. It is extremely difficult to make decisions on group consensus democracy, it just does not work. Instead, you can take people’s opinions in by all means, but at the end of the day someone has to make a call on the basis of what is the best thing to do. Otherwise, it can lead to friction, confusion, and ultimately anger, because people may feel they are doing more and not being financially rewarded.

Further reading on decision-making in career and business development: