Something keeps shifting in me. I am happier than I have been in many years. It’s been happening since the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s a shift that I hope will have profound consequences for the rest of my working life. And it has come out of the fact that I have profoundly loved and embraced lockdown for what it is. I want to explain what it has meant for me.
First, I am someone who has three risk factors against me if I were to contract coronavirus. I turned to my ex-partner the other day and scared them by saying that I didn’t think I would survive Covid-19. I might be one of the statistics. Yes, I can’t know that for sure. Despite these risk factors I have always gone to gym, looked after my eating and because of lockdown I have conquered my fears of running outdoors. I hit 5.5km the other day after barely been able to do 100m back in March. So I am fitter and feel healthier but these factors remain. I am acutely aware of this as we are about to go into a second lockdown.
At the beginning of the first lockdown there was a plethora of activities organised over Zoom by my actor friends. It was so wonderfully telling of our resilient natures. They were setting up play readings, discussion of plays, small ‘ think tanks’ about Covid and how to carry on, to show our solidarity with the rest of the industry. I was invited on to many of them. But something kept whispering to me: NO. STOP. LET GO. But the pull was seductive. I wanted to prove, like all actors do, that we are up for anything. To show positive engagement, to do something that keeps my artistic brains active – to not let it atrophy. I was wondering where the ‘LET GO’ was coming from. But of course that was easy. If you have read my blog up to now you will understand. The agent story, the weird work experiences. They all lead to one thing: EXHAUSTION.
I don’t think many people realise how exhausting being an actor is. How the quest to be an actor involves insane choices on a daily basis and insane fear levels that can thwart a balanced mental state. You always feel like you SHOULD be engaging. That you can never say no. It’s an endless cycle of: writing to agents and casting directors, making sure your CV on Spotlight is up to date, spending money on new headshots, making sure your teeth are clean, that you have a job that allows you to go to auditions, then prep for new auditions coming in at random times, then travel to auditions at a moment’s notice if you live outside London, the constant worry where your next job is going to be, and whether that next job is coming at all, how will I pay rent, my bills, how will I look after my child if I am called next day to a casting. All these things and more make acting an exhausting profession that can eat away at your equilibrium.
And suddenly all that went away. It all lifted – evaporated when we went into lockdown. There was nothing I could do. So rather than pretend that everything was just carrying on like normal I started to say no to my friends because I realised one profound truth:
We are being offered time to stop. To surrender. We are also being offered time to really see the effect our lives have on us, the effects of uncertainty and wastage, and if you have been artistically sidelined, what you can do about that. Time offered so that we can see what COULD BE. To question our assumptions and to perhaps find better solutions to systems we take for granted. To get off the spinning wheel of all the things you SHOULD be doing, none of which guarantee you any form of success, (those 200 letters I sent to casting directors and agents still remain unanswered) and start to see your world in a new way – perhaps start to mould it more instead of being the clay that others mould.
Like I said, lockdown has provided me with time to engage with all of the above. I am one of the lucky ones that was eligible for SEISS grants. So I am deeply grateful for the lack of money worries and I am sickened by hearing how friends are struggling. I know poverty. I think all actors have at some point. There is a burning empathy around poverty in me. And it is just pure chance that that has dissipated for me for a while.
But not having to engage with the constant guilt that I should be doing more to promote myself and my career, the lack of money worries, has left a space that I have now filled with writing. I have always wanted to write. But the exhaustion of being an actor meant I never seriously engaged with this and other interests. I have now written a short film and have handed it in to a grant competition, a short story that is expanding into a novel, this blog and adapting a beloved novel into a screenplay. I have made a short documentary using film editing techniques I taught myself and I have applied and been accepted on a filmmaking course sometime next year in London.
I wonder if lockdown hadn’t happened whether I would have done any of this. My days are fuller than they have ever been before with projects and writings that are helping me find my artistic voice. That artistic voice that was silenced before by the constant anxieties and the exhausting nature of being a working actor. I know that this is not everyone’s experience. I know too that I am in a fortunate position. But I really don’t take that for granted for a single second because I have been in poverty. I have barely survived mentally some years too. Gratitude spills out of me that those times have passed for now with an awareness that if I continue in an artistic career that the bad times could come again.
But for now I am finding my voice. Time to do that, that lockdown has given, has been a priceless gift. And I wonder if I will be a better artist because of it.
I cannot say right now.
A POLITICAL SIDE NOTE: Lockdowns are good for two things only. Firstly to help the NHS so that it doesn’t become overwhelmed by sick and dying patients. Secondly, to provide the government time to put systems in place that work, that will ensure recovery from this moment in time. I am sickened by how many people are saying lockdowns don’t work, that they are an economic disaster. Yes, that might be true but we are here because a government has failed spectacularly. It would be a disaster if this second lockdown comes and goes and the above two conditions aren’t met. It requires a competent government with a plan to make lockdowns work. They are not answers in themselves but they offer time. More time to act. I wonder if this government will act this time?
BIG RESPECT TO ANYONE WORKING IN THE NHS.
THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.