I sit here writing this, in bed, the only sitting surface I have available, whilst I listen to my partner dealing with my beautiful, defiant six-year-old, and adorable yet demanding 18-month-old downstairs.
I’m not learning lines, I’m not checking next week’s rehearsal schedule and I’m not seeing if any auditions are coming up, but instead, I am sitting here trying to put words to paper and make some semblance of sense to the bombshell of what has happened over the past month or so.
For the first time since the 17th-century plague, the West End, and the entire entertainment industry for that matter, has gone dark. Totally. Dark.
I love the idea that a light has been left onstage until actors, audience and crew return, and despite not being ever so eco-friendly (I live near Brighton, ok? I can’t help it!), wouldn’t it be wonderful if that beautifully romantic image is true?
I will admit, my life hasn’t changed nearly as dramatically as many of my friends who were deep into runs of shows, or on tours when the theatre closures were announced. The last job I did before this all began was a recording gig in London, and a friend there, who was in the cast of a very popular West End show, told me that they were interrupted onstage during warm-up to be told to stop singing, that they wouldn’t be going on stage that night.
I hadn’t realised that people had not even had one show’s notice. I cannot imagine the shock. Waitress never even got to perform their final show, having had to officially finish their run during lockdown. Facebook support groups for those in the theatre industry quickly started to pop up, with post after post of musicians and actors desperately trying to find a way to survive and not lose everything, now that their income had dropped to £0 overnight. It’s just crazy, and I feel for everyone.
For me, it has so far been a journey of shock, then grief, and now some kind of acceptance and, on good days, even an embracing of the situation
For me, it has so far been a journey of shock, then grief, and now some kind of acceptance and, on good days, even an embracing of the situation, as much as is possible. And believe me, I’m aware that even to be able to say that is to be coming from a place of privilege.
I had just taken a year out from School of Rock to have my son, and had made the tough decision not to return to the show where I had been playing the role of Rosalie Mullins before leaving at the end of the second year with a swollen belly under my pencil skirt that was NOT very Mullins. Eventually, however, money had run dry, auditions started up again, I was losing my baby weight and I was ready to work, excited and driven to continue where I had left off, working on myself and my voice, listening out for what might be coming up, itching to get that part of me back after a year of milk stains and broken nights… And that’s when it happened.
I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I will be a full-time mummy for quite a while longer than planned, and now with a bored and friends-sick six-year-old in tow too, downloading worksheets from her school, and trying to explain fractions whilst jiggling a wailing toddler on one hip and covering up the feeling of total shame at finding year 2 maths really quite challenging by stuffing aspartame and carbs into my mouth every ten minutes. I’ve put on 7 lbs so far.
I say this, and yet beneath this mayhem, upheaval and uncertainty, plus the very real coffee shop withdrawal symptoms, I have been surprised to have noticed this underlying sense of peace and fulfilment slowly but surely creeping in. It’s been such a unique experience to know that everyone is going through their own version of this at the same time… everyone. Ironically, now that we are separated, I feel more connected than ever to everyone in my local community, my theatre community, and dare I say, even global community, as we all battle the same thing.
I am not so naïve as to think that we are all having the same experience, though. Although I’ve made jokes suggesting that parents should have an enforced week of self-isolation once school and childcare starts up again, so that we can experience this whole ‘read books and watch Netflix’ thing (they so should!), I know that I’m incredibly lucky, and really realising that has been a truly wonderful gift.
Yes, I’m worried about money, all upcoming gigs and events having been cancelled and my partner’s work having been affected too, having to lower our hopes, expectations and standard of living to… ’okay, I just don’t want to lose the house and we need to be able to feed our kids and keep the lights on’ and navigate that overwhelming and downright confusing world of claiming for Universal Credit. But once the grief of that had passed and I realised that this is bigger than me and the plans we had and our little personal story, I saw what we DID have.
Gone, or at least much quieter, is the usual daily anxiety that hits within minutes of awaking and drives me to need to be constantly achieving and moving closer towards my version of success, even at the expense of my relationship with my own children. Now all that has been stripped away. And, with desires of what I want but don’t yet have (ambition… so lauded and applauded in our society)… I can see so much more clearly what we do have. We have a home, a roof over our heads, we have outdoor space (!), and we have each other.
Looking at what is happening in other parts of the world, such as India, is just so heartbreaking, and I cannot begin to fathom what they are going through. My own privilege has been pushed up to my face and is forcing me to look. All around me, much closer to home, people I know are trying to self-isolate in one-room studio flats with no outdoor space, single parents with no one to support them or give them a moment to breathe are trying to parent and home school alone, those on the front line are working non-stop and putting themselves at risk daily, women in abusive relationships have even less of a way out and are being attacked more frequently.
Suddenly, I’m not as concerned about the next role, if I can lose that last half stone, or what some stranger on Twitter thinks of me… My priorities have shifted and gratitude, even if it’s accompanied by some fear, has replaced the old mantra of ‘more, more, more’.
Suddenly, I’m not as concerned about the next role, if I can lose that last half stone, or what some stranger on Twitter thinks of me… I’m watching the crows circling in the wind in the morning breeze, I’m looking at my family eating dinner, I’m aware of a warm body next to me during the night. My priorities have shifted and gratitude, even if it’s accompanied by some fear, has replaced the old mantra of ‘more, more, more’.
I am still as ambitious as ever for my career, and in-between the home-schooling and mummydom, where I can, I’m looking for ways to keep working on that side of myself, to keep growing, be prepared and innovative… But for once I am accepting the now and choosing, each day, to search for the best in what I see in front of me
For today, we are alive, we are together and we are safe. I don’t know about tomorrow… but we never really did. To be forced to give up that illusion of control and surrender to something so enormously unfathomable and unknown is scary, scary as hell… But there is such a gift in there too, if we can look for it.
I will leave this with one thought that has kept me smiling when not much else has been able to… I don’t care what show it is; when it’s announced that theatres are opening again, I am getting myself a ticket to the first night back.
None of the people in those crews and casts will have been left unchanged by this experience, we all have our story and journey when it comes to such a huge shift in our perspective and day-to-day life, everyone in the audience knows that and everyone onstage will know that the same is true for each audience member.
We will have all been through something together, something that well and truly jolted us out of our daily reverie, our story we were telling ourselves… And for that reason, we will all be connected more than ever, more grateful than ever, and more alive than ever… Now can you IMAGINE the energy that’s gonna be coming off that stage!?