TIMELESS – a theatrical love affair.

On 17th July 2004, when I was just 13 years old, I wrote this diary entry to myself:

‘Dear Diary,

Went to see Hair tonight at Middlesbrough Little Theatre. Words can’t describe it. I just wish I was on that stage. When I’ve left school, I am definitely going to Stockton Riverside College to do Performing Arts. I just hope that I’ll make it to the West End. Jess, if you read this in 4 or 5 years, I hope you’ll be chuffed. ’

I remember that evening as plain as day. I’d gone along to the theatre that night and I left the theatre having decided that I was going to pursue it as a career. That trip to the theatre, alongside countless others growing up, inspired me like no other experience. For just a few hours, I could lose myself in a different story to my own. Tragic tales of star-crossed lovers and murder, hopeful searches for long-lost parents and, in this case, an insight to what being an anti-war hippy was like in the midst of the Vietnam war. I left the theatre educated in new topics, I left the theatre with new songs stuck in my head but best of all, I left the theatre dreaming. I was ambitious, I had a burning passion and I’d be damned if I didn’t see it through, if I didn’t try every single little thing I could possibly think of that would get me on that stage one day.

I was a member of both Middlesbrough Youth Theatre and Teesside Operatic Society during my school years. This provided me with so many opportunities to tread the boards of ‘The Little Theatre’, to the point where it felt like a second home. I made lifelong friendships, with both cast members and the backstage crew – they still have me in for a cuppa when I come knocking!

Middlesbrough Youth Theatre was a safe space for me to express myself, both as a young actress and a teenager. It was a familiar, warm, cosy environment where I was allowed to be myself and not feel judged for it. It was a place that I could explore new ideas and feed my creativity, but it was also a place that I could fall flat on my face and pick myself back up again, without feeling like an idiot. It was sanctuary.

I feel strongly that providing this opportunity to a child growing up, especially in today’s society, is of the utmost importance. We must continue to encourage our younger generations to be open, communicative and expressive and the theatre is an excellent opportunity for a child to do just that. I will be forever grateful for Middlesbrough Youth Theatre for allowing me to do just that and I’m a firm believer that it played a key role in shaping me into the person I am today.

Theatre as a whole is an incredibly important art-form, particularly at the moment. It provides people with the opportunity to escape the outside world for a few hours. It’s  ibuprofen – it provides relief, especially in this time of political uncertainty and societal difficulty. It brings people together, young and old. It offers a chance to put aside differences and difficulties to come together for a few hours – unified.

I grew up watching show after show at Middlesbrough Little Theatre and I am still a frequent visitor today. I love coming back to Middlesbrough and supporting our home-grown talent. I love that shows transcend the years and that shows that I once adored as a child are now loved just as much by my god-daughter, my newest theatre-date. I love that I’ve gone on to play roles professionally that I first played at Youth Theatre, like fulfilling some kind of theatrical rite of passage. I love that in a world that is constantly evolving and changing, theatre is timeless.

On the evening of my West End Debut, my first performance as a cast member of Mamma Mia!, my Dad gave me that diary entry from my 13 year old self, framed to keep. A reminder of a dream coming true. Thank you Dr Theatre, I love you!

 

BEING STRONG & STABLE – without the kitten heels.

Good morning and a Happy New Year to y’all.

I woke up this morning with this urge to write, something I’ve not felt in quite some time.

I felt the sun on the drawn curtains, trying it’s best to break through and light up my room. I felt the energy buzzing from it; the fizzy optimism, the hope and excitement at the possibility of new adventures to come, the burning need to jump out of bed to see what the world has to offer today.

The last time I felt this feeling was probably at the beginning of 2018, on the first day of my last job. Pure adrenalin-fuelled excitement. Pure heartfelt love for my existence. Pure authenticity; clarity of what I have to offer to the world if I venture outside my front door… love, creativity, ideas, encouragement, positivity.

I felt… myself.

2018 had started well. I was about to embark on this venture that was going to be a pretty big deal for me professionally. The dream job. After a pretty sucky 2017, bar a few incredible additions to my friendship circle and the funniest ‘job’ (I say job, it didn’t feel like one) in Dubai, I was so ready for it to kick off. All of my problems would be solved: I wouldn’t be skint, I’d be originating a cracking part in a brand new production and I’d get to travel about and see new places. The dream job. Happiness, fulfilment, satisfaction… mint.

The year progressed. We travelled from city to city… Birmingham… Edinburgh… Liverpool… Cardiff… the weeks rolled on by and as they did, I began to come to the realisation of one very important thing.

I wasn’t happy.

Not in a missed the bus, left my purse at home, tripped over and banged my knee kind of way.

Something wasn’t quite right.

I was completely uninspired. I’d sit and try to write and no words would come. I didn’t want to watch anything, I wasn’t particularly interested in hunting for new music to listen to and I couldn’t focus long enough to read anything that had any level of depth.

I started to feel panicky in social situations, insecure and unworthy and shit. Like I didn’t belong, or something. I was surrounded by people, friends, but felt a familiar pang of loneliness and isolation. A lone wolf. Uncomfortable and empty.

I felt like someone had skipped along and blown my candle out.

For a long time, I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was going through a little bit of a thing – don’t really know what else to call it. I was so confused. I’d always gotten on with everyone I encountered, why didn’t people get me anymore? It felt fucking shit and it made me unbearably insecure and hyper-aware of every little thing I did.

I was aware that I was in a great job, playing a leading part amongst a very talented bunch of humans and I was STILL unhappy.


Not BECAUSE of the job but DESPITE the job (yes I’m SHOUTING, for DRAMATIC effect).


Christ, THE GUILT that ensued from the thought of all of that was horrific. Feeling guilty and ungrateful on top of feeling unhappy – not fun, let me tell you.

I put a moany tweet up during this time, about how hard weekly touring was/how knackered I was and signed it off with ‘don’t get me wrong, I love my job – I’m just knackered’ or something. A really kind person latched on to the fact that I’d done that, felt I had to justify myself, and responded with


‘You are 700000% allowed to find your job hard and feel simultaneously grateful for it, the fact other people would love your job doesn’t mean your feelings about it shouldn’t be spoken about. Such a shame you have to put a disclaimer on it otherwise people would complain.’

@EmmaLouiseBetty THANKS GAL, you made me feel a lot better about myself when I felt pretty damn shitty and goodness, are you correct!

Carrying on:

It was only when having a (paraphrased below) conversation with a cast mate late one night after a night out (big love to you V!) that I realised there was a deeper issue that I needed to address.

‘People just don’t get me, I don’t understand,’ I’d said.
‘Yeah but do you get you?’ my mate responded.
‘What do you mean?’ I replied.
‘Who is the real you? When you say people don’t get you, what is ‘you’?’ she said.

I’d thought about the response. She was absolutely right.

I was possibly having a little bit of an identity crisis and that wasn’t the show’s problem, that wasn’t my cast mates’ problem – that was my problem.

Now now now, I write this in a good space and won’t dwell upon the bad stuff for too long as it’s a processed thing of the past. The point of me writing today, with all of this in mind, is to share what I am going to do about it. I’ve already read one blog post this year, by my good pal Emma, chatting about life as a ‘resting’ actress and highlighting just what that entails – the 28348739 ordinary jobs we take on, not being paid on time sometimes (though from my Twitter feed atm, it seems it’s happening quite a lot) from work we’ve done, sacrificing the social life to work stupid hours… all that business.

I feel extremely fortunate to do what I love for a career, like… I fully love it from my head to my toes. I’m not even going to try and justify that and frankly, I don’t need to. I’m fully aware of what choosing to do this as a career entails, fully aware of the ups and downs. But it dawned on me last year, and has only become even more apparent as the months have rolled on since, that pinning my happiness on my work is no longer an option.

When my next job comes, I’ll be fine. I’ll save my money and I’ll be sensible and I’ll be happier,’ I’d said to myself, laid awake in my bed at 2am unable to sleep before having to get up at 6am for an early shift in a coffee shop. ‘It’s 2am and I’m miserable that I’m having to drag myself out of bed to get to my shift, to work 800 hours so that I can afford to live in this stupidly expensive city but have no life aside from that. But hey, when I start my new job and get out of this shit-hole, I’m going to be fine. That will amount to happiness because I won’t feel worked down to the ground.

These are the thoughts that crossed my mind in 2017. I pinned my happiness on my career, especially as I was about to embark on a really big, exciting step up to a leading role. And because HEY, a leading role equals success… right?

Oh, how different I feel now. The minute I stepped into that lovely, artistically-juicy environment once more and realised ‘OH FUCK, THIS DOES NOT FIX THE SHIT UNDER THE SURFACE THAT I’VE BEEN SWEEPING UNDER THE RUG’… I knew I had a lot of work to do.

An actor’s life can be far from stable. But alas, I have discovered… there is more to life than an actor’s life. I put too much on my work, I expect too much. I have a lot of my own insecurities to deal with that my work cannot fix and y’know, that’s cool man. That’s kind of exciting I reckon.

Now, I can hear some of ya out there shouting ‘GET THERE QUICKER SON, I found that out 10 years ago – nowt spesh!’ and if you are, humour me. I am aware that we all reach moments in life when priorities shift, perspectives change and epiphanies are had. We each have these moments when they are truly needed for us, as individuals. We’re not in some kinda race here – I say this as I sometimes need to remind myself to stop comparing one’s own journey to others.

Well, it seems that I may have reached this moment, at the ripe old age of 27 (how the F I made it to 27, I don’t know. Still life in the old gal yet!)

I’ve had the epiphany and I’m gonna shout it loud and clear, for the people in the back and just to cement it even more so in my brain:

Pinning my happiness on my work is NO LONGER AN OPTION.

My happiness can only be manifested from one thing alone – myself.

And so begins a New Year in doing what I can to ensure that if and when I happen to be out of work, I can be happy. At the risk of sounding like the kitten heel extraordinaire Terry May… I want to be strong and stable and work is not the fix for that. I’m on a quest to build me a good, solid  foundation, so that work can be my lovely kitchen extension that I enjoy spending time in on evenings with friends and I realise now, that it all starts with looking inwards.

I’m taking back the power.

Much more, with this all taken into account… I feel myself again.

The World Loves Pigeon-holes and I Don’t Know Why: I understand this title is weird.

This is the first post that I’m about to ‘free write’, so far in my new blogging expedition. From this point onward, I have no agenda. I have no planned analogy to share, or story to tell about a lesson I have recently learnt. I’m taking a leaf from my own ‘pro-creativity’ book. I’m taking a curious step out of my comfort zone and I’m just going to willingly write and share what comes out, right now, in this moment.

Today, we lost an icon. David Bowie.

icon
ˈʌɪkɒn,-k(ə)n/
a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration
David Bowie was an icon. He was a singer. He was a songwriter. He was a musician. He was a record producer. He was a painter. He was an actor. He was, in the words of British Vogue, ‘unarguably fashion’s king of self-invention’. He was, creatively, pretty much everything. He broke down walls. He took the things that made him stand out for being ‘different’ and, instead of disguising them to fit in with the times, he made them more obvious. He embraced them, he highlighted them and he exaggerated them.
Now I won’t babble on about the legend that is Bowie much longer, but he is a damn fine example of how greatness can be achieved creatively. What does it take to be like that, to be like Bowie? Do many of us have incredible ideas buried deep inside our brains that we personally think are completely stupid, but could actually turn out to be a stroke of genius? How will we ever know if we don’t test the water? Is the key to creative success a combination of an initial idea and… plain old bravery?
On a personal level, I don’t think my ideas are good enough. I compare my ideas to those of others far too often. I am my own worst critic. Majority of the time though, I am my ONLY critic. My opinion is one single opinion. There are many times that I have disagreed and debated over various films, pieces of theatre and books with my peers. So who am I to say that my own idea is bullshit, when somebody else out there could think ‘Now, hang on. I think we’ve got something here’? Somebody else could have a different opinion to my own. Is that so daunting? If so, then why is it so daunting? Creative ideas are only developed and constructed further when they are opened out to a wider audience, when they are put up on their feet, when fresh eyes are unleashed upon them. Why wouldn’t we want to develop our ideas?
I’m currently burying my head in various books, one being Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. A stand out quote, so far:
“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”
What I take from this is that I need to man the F up, take that idea that I think people will think is stupid and put it out there. Invest my time into it, inject some love into it and feed it. Give it a life outside of my own head.
Another thing. What I feel David Bowie did, over the course of his life, was to not give people an easy job when it came to defining him creatively. One minute he was trying to make it as a popstar, the next he was inventing the incomparable alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and after that, he was busy carving himself a successful film career… just a couple of MANY creative routes he decided to go down. People were all ‘oh David Bowie, he’s a singer. Oh shit, no he’s an actor. Oh shit, no… he’s… what is he?’.
He just existed. He existed and he produced truly original works of art. He, himself, was a work of art. One of a kind.
Today, we are living in a world that likes to label and pigeon hole people. Stereotypes are rife. They are absolutely EVERYWHERE. In the media, in the industries we work in, in the towns we live in.
Creative pigeon-holing is all round, to put it politely… a bit poo. Creative people are usually free spirited, always jumping at opportunities to try absolutely EVERYTHING. So any form of restriction is frustrating, being labelled for being a particular kind of anything can be a tiny annoyance in what is an all-round, fantastic life we may be leading. It may not be even that we want to go down that ‘different from the norm’ route, right here and right now, THIS INSTANT… but it would be just nice to know that the option IS there to have the opportunity to try something new, when we do fancy it.
The truth is… sitting around being bitter and complaining about it will not solve anything. You can post all of the Facebook statuses/tweets in the world about how frustrating it is to be stuck in a pigeon-hole… but that’s not actually making a smart move towards identifying how to, perhaps, solve the problem. So, how do we get around this pigeon-hole bad boy?
We have to get off our asses and create some shit for ourselves.
The one thing people can’t restrict you from doing is creating in your own time. Let’s face it, if you want something badly, you will, more times than enough, do anything to get it.
e.g. I will save up a month’s wages for those Kurt Geiger thigh high boots and I will be living off beans on toast for the foreseeable, as a result.
Beans on toast.
Why should our creative lives be any different? (This is the part where you ignore the beans on toast bit and pretend you never ever read it. ‘Twas only added for dramatic effect. They do look good though.)
Speaking from the area of my chosen career path:
You want to be in a straight play and can’t get seen? Write your own. Or investigate new writers who need people to read through bits and bobs. Experience is everything, if anything!
You want to play a villain when you haven’t a bad bone in your body? Watch all of the Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Tarentino you need. Read all of the books. Learn those evil monologues.
Can’t find the particular colour scarf you want? Learn how to knit and knit one yourself.
You want to be in a rock band but you sing like Julie Andrews? Broaden your musical vocabulary. Sing Paramore in the shower. Blast Royal Blood in the car. Listen to the greats, starting with David Bowie.
Be Bowie in a world full of contoured faces and man buns and all that in-season rubbish.
Be one step ahead of the game. Be a creative mastermind and play people at their own game.
Earn the right to be looked at in different light, prove your worth. The key to success is hard work and determination, and all that bollocks.
EDUCATE YOURSELF. PREPARE YOURSELF. SURPRISE YOURSELF. SHOW YOURSELF OFF.
Lord above, I’ve surprised myself. I didn’t know I’d end up here at the end of a free-write…