“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction — you must stay at home…You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say No. You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home. You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine…” Announced Borris Johnson, 23rd March 2020.
For the first time our British prime minister was addressing the nation about the Covid-19 virus and the effects this was going to have on all of us. The immediacy, urgency and seriousness of the announcement was felt with a heavy weight. Lockdown pursued in 24 hours. A fear of entering an unfamiliar situation and without knowing its future consequences. Surely I should be use to this feeling of the unknown, the insecurity and fear it brings when you have no idea what will or will not come to be. I am an actor and it’s territory is infamous with insecurity. However, you can have some element of control, for one you can give it up. Most do, in fact only 2% of actors make a living out of the profession. But this new situation of having no control and witnessing shops, restaurants and cafes close one by one in total lockdown was surreal.
Weeks before the lockdown I was having regular film acting lessons. I was learning performance techniques to camera and watching the greats, such as, Michael Cane, stealing the screen. Cane being from Elephant and Castle created for me a relatability of working class actors succeeding in their careers, amplified by the fact I was living in Elephant and Castle at the time. My lessons soon turned into virtual acting lessons, which luckily studying acting for camera allows you to practice these essential skills. But it was the beginning of the new world we were all entering. Working, socialising and even surviving through a virtual world. Actors are always taught to adapt, understand your environment and improvise creatively to get the most out of a scene. Who knew these very skills would become vital in surviving a whole year of lockdowns and virtual quizzes!
Equally the insecurity of me ever continuing in an industry that was disappearing was becoming the greatest challenge. The phrase “struggling actor” has never been more relevant now as a professional. Watching the West End theatres close its door one by one was like the soul of London city evaporating. A depression of empty stages leaving one light on as a reminding vigil that such a loss will endeavour take time to fill. Film and television productions were being postponed and doubt as to whether filming will take place. A whole industry on it’s knees and the people who work in them crippled by unemployment. Careers that can take a lifetime to build and only moments to shatter. The future was looking dreadful and bleak.
I began scrolling through social media sites and discovered a community of actors, writers, casting directors and theatre practitioners all offering support in the bewildering powerlessness of our paused industry. New forms of opportunities began presenting themselves for performers to write and perform their original work online. Whether it be for radio, zoom shows or online fringes. I decided to try my hand a writing, a medium I have avoided with the burden of doubt trespassing my confidence. So I started to write how I felt, how my surroundings had changed, how might a character respond to this? Is there a story I could turn this into? All alongside heeding the warnings from the government’s announcements to stay home. I began writing a monologue piece with all these new experiences and created a haunting tale called “living ghost.”
I sent this to the BBC upload and it was chosen to be aired on local radio; I felt my creative spark being ignited once again. The Ludlow fringe became an online festival and I decided to take part with my spoken word piece. It was wonderful to see so many other artists and performers participating and creating shows. This new online medium also creates a greater accessibility to show your work to audiences with no expense. I also wrote a poem called “Voice of the seasons” for a commissioned piece and this later was chosen for the Creswell Crags Midwinter Folklore festival to help raise funds for the museum. A brilliant example of how the arts can support the heritage sector through a crisis.
I am lucky to be a part of the people’s company based at the Southwark Playhouse. They have been incredible with connecting the people and community of Southwark through virtual performances. The most recent being the Aylesbury virtual tour, which I have contributed to writing and directing some of the scenes.
These new online opportunities to write and perform my own work has given me huge confidence to approach other festivals later this year. Most importantly it has given me hope, hope that I can continue to do the work I love the most. That there is still a future within the arts and that I can continue to build, adapt and grow within it.