A week in the life of...


27/11/2020 - Sam

It’s 11pm and my monologue is uploading to Vimeo. I’ve got to be up at 5:45am tomorrow. A large part of me wants to fall into bed. Instead, I’m writing this. 


Why? A good question! And exactly what I keep asking myself, as I glance around the kitchen. Like so much of my living space, it is teetering on the edge between eccentric disorder and desperately-needed-tidying-two-weeks-ago. 


The answer, I realise, is that I believe in the value of community. Or perhaps, more honestly, I want to belong. The monologue, the early wake up, and writing this, are all in service to groups, of which I am but a single part. It is the desire to be a fully functional part of these greater wholes, that makes all of this seem worthwhile. 


It was at this point that I went to bed.


So, having established that there is a limit to my commitment to a literary device and to sleep deprivation on behalf of other people, let’s continue in a slightly less grandiose manner. (We’ll see how well I manage that)!


What I think my sleep deprived brain was trying to express, was that I want to be part of something greater than myself. (Failed already). But at a time when it is so much easier to spend time alone, (and to feel alone), the sensation of belonging to a group is incredibly valuable. 


I must confess, sometimes I want nothing more than to be left to my own devices. The energy of others can feel overwhelming and demanding, and yet, I know that they have been going through struggles of their own and have probably found my energy equally out of sync with theirs. Perhaps this is part of the value of community. We all have times of hope and doubt, but, because they so often happen at different times, we can take it in turns to drag each other, grumbling yet grateful, towards a common goal.


I cannot pretend to have always felt enthusiastic about the next task we’ve set ourselves, but, despite my inner grumblings, I’m always grateful in the end. Together we achieve so much more than apart. I know that the only reason I have done anything involving acting since the first lockdown is because of the collective support of every single other person in Althea. My hope is that on my good days I am able to do the same for them.


So what am I trying to say? I’m trying to say thank you. Thank you for your grace in accepting me, and each other, as we are on our best days and our worst; for your confidence that we can be more than we are, even when that feels like a very slow process; and for your hope that all is not lost and that tomorrow will bring new opportunities for us to explore. Together.


Sam





20/11/2020 - Lilac

Hello new-old friend,
It’s been a while since I wrote to you. To be honest, it’s been a bit stressful, how has it been for you?

It’s 7.54am and I can hear my cat chewing from the other room. I’m sitting with my laptop in bed trying to write this blog which I was due to send 3 days ago.


Can I tell you something?
About 3 or 4 months ago now, I decided that the wisest action I can take is to apply for all the jobs, all the opportunities, all the commissions. I gave it most of my time and energy and the more I did it, the more I felt like I was writing about someone else. My experience felt so far away from me that it was almost as if I was writing it for a different person. Interesting.

The funny thing about applying for all the jobs is that you can then be rejected by all the jobs. Drive at full speed to a great big wall of No Thank Yous. And you can’t blame anyone else, because you’re the one who’s put the GoogleMaps with the destination (maybe not that specific destination, maybe I was thinking we would end up closer to the Great Gate of Welcomes as opposed to the Great Big Wall of Not This Time). And that’s what it is, isn’t it? Not this time. I sometimes need to remind myself that not this time isn’t – not forever.

Anyway, it crushed me. All these missed opportunities crushed me. And one of the things that truly helped, (as well as copious amounts of coffee, chats with friends, adopting a cat and takeaway food) is the following story from my grandma: she was a student in university and they had a small group sitting in a seminar. On the desk there was a brown A4 envelope. The professor asked them, do you know what this is? They didn’t, so he said: ‘this is a manuscript to a book I wrote and I just got it back from a publishing house with a no, thank you’. Do you know what I’m going to do with it? They didn’t (I suspect this was the point) so he said: ‘I am going to take it out of this envelope, put it in a new envelope, change the title of the book and say I’ve made some improvements and send it to a different publishing house’.

My grandma broke her hip a few months ago. I haven’t been able to fly to visit her. It’s been stressful, have I mentioned that things have been a bit stressful? Maybe more than just a bit?

Through this lockdown we have had to repackage ourselves, give ourselves different titles and keep ourselves afloat. And that’s ok. What am I trying to say?

The reason I’m saying this is that we can no longer settle on fine. No one’s fine – and we need to talk about it. We need to give space for it and to allow it to come out.  

My cat is back now, she’s sleeping on the bed and I think she’s slightly resenting my laptop for being on my lap because that’s usually her place around this time in the morning. It’s 8.21am and I realise that what has helped me all along was that my friends and my collaborators were always there for me to have the conversations – to feel at home. And I do hope, dear new old friend, that you have been feeling more at home with these blogs too. That you have been pouring yourself a cuppa and have been joining us for a chat.

A lot has happened over the past few months since I’ve written to you. Breaking hips. Unexpected passings. Cat cuddles. New vegan sweets to eat. A new folder in my mailbox titled – ‘Thank you, next’. Arts Council Applications written and rewritten. Watching BSLZone and understanding a bit more than I understood before. And through it all, we are here. We are still here, and we will continue to be here.

Until next time friend,

Lilac x





13/11/2020 - Cole

He was just Biden his time.
 
Wait….what?!
 
Nah….this can’t be 2020 surely?
 
I can’t deal with this positivity; it’s no longer in my nature.
 
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or you just don’t care about who’s in charge of the World’s leading Superpower, then I am of course referring to the US presidential election.
 
Yes, the bigoted narcissistic bellend will not be going to a second term, which hasn’t happened since Jimmy Carter. Imagine being so terrible at your job and disliked by so many that you can’t even beat Joe Biden to the presidency. Even George Bush Jr got a second term, a clear indication of Trump’s ignorance (although arguably Dick Cheney had a great deal to do with that). Not to mention the incredible farce of ‘Four Season’s Gate’; my favourite joke regarding this is as follows – ‘The four seasons garden centre is between a sex shop and a crematorium – stuck between a cock and a charred place.
 
Anyway you look at this, it’s a huge win for the World. Yes, you can grumble that the US operates on a different political scale to us and that actually the Democrats are centre right anyway and there are still massive systemic inconsistencies when it comes to matters of race, healthcare (no doubt we’ll be selling off bits of the NHS to the US throughout the Biden administration era) and tackling the climate crisis*, but this is a massive leap in the right direction for Western politics. Kamala Harris is the first female, mixed race Vice President; another step closer to routing out an administration dominated by an elitist circle of rich white men.
 
Althea presents diverse stories from across different cultures in the hope of catching a similar sentiment. There are so many unheard voices in the world that are under represented in our industry, so many ‘other sides’ to the same story that are just not illuminated or addressed. Hopefully the trend of progress, like in the US, continues, and we can broaden and celebrate all walks of life. It will only help to enrich our work further and ensure that all those stories that are often ignored are brought to the fore.
 
Thanks for reading. I’ll be interested to see how the Biden administration liaises with Brexit Britain and Boris Johnson & his pack of pantomime villains. Perhaps we won’t get as good a trade deal as we would’ve had under Trump, although I’m a million percent certain the World is better off for it. I hope you feel the same. If not, then I’m happy to meet you around Christmas time for some chlorinated meat to discuss UK sovereignty.
 
All the best,
Cole
 
*speaking of climate change, what is it with plastic packaging that reads ‘not yet recycled’ or ‘check local recycling’? Just because you slap ‘yet’ next to it doesn’t make your poisonous plastic any better, stop trying to schmooze me into believing that you’re actively trying to save the planet when you’re clearly not. Do better please.





06/11/2020 - Tom

The difficult second album

 
Weird day. Weird week. Weird Year.
 
Remember when a national lockdown was a once in a lifetime event? It was new and scary and confusing, but also unifying; we had a common enemy and a plan to defeat it. For once, my own patented brand of being a professional actor (sitting at home at 2pm on a Tuesday) actually served a purpose. This time it feels different.
 
I’m writing this on Bonfire Night. I could have started earlier in the week but I had hoped that the day of lockdown might bring some knowledge with it, some clarity. Or perhaps the ridiculousness across the Atlantic would have resolved itself in some inspirational way. No such luck. Even good ol’ Guy Fawkes hasn’t helped; the DIY fireworks displays are going on all around, but for some reason the idea of setting fire to a makeshift Catholic just isn’t doing it for me this year. Also, leaving things to the last minute is my M.O.
 
In theatre terms, this is the second night. The second night has a reputation of being… not the best. The adrenaline that you experience on opening night can’t be matched and when the second night comes around and the house is a little less full there’s a danger of allowing the stress of the preceding days – the frantic last rehearsals, tech rehearsals, and dress rehearsals – to finally take their toll on your energy levels. So maybe lockdown 2.0 is like that; a little less novel, a little more weary.
 
Or maybe this is a sequel. But if it is a sequel which kind will it be? Some sequels are as good as or even better than the first outing: ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘The Godfather part II’, ‘The Rescuers Down Under’. Most, however, don’t live up to their predecessor, and some are so poor they’ll sour you on the original you knew and loved: ‘Go Set a Watchman’, ‘Toy Story 2’, ‘Gone with the Wind 2: Careful, it’s Blowing a Gale out there!’
 
In theatre it’s a bad idea to try to recreate the previous performance because it just doesn’t work like that and it ends up feeling soulless and synthetic. When it comes to sequels, however, it’s a pretty solid plan. This is the third kind of sequel; one which takes all the best bits of the first and just does them all over again to make a perfectly serviceable part two that people are happy exists. Take the same main character, same plot points, same bad guys, and swap one scary looking heart-of-gold old person for another and you have ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’. It’s exactly the same as the first one and people like it.
 
So, what should we steal from the first lockdown? I think the kindness and comradery. We all need it but it seems to have been lost somewhere along the way as we’ve tried to get back to normal. Be kind, look after yourself, and reach out if you’re struggling.
 
Take care,
 

Tom 





30/10/2020 - Isabel

Hello Blog Readers,
 
I was about to say it’s been a while since I last wrote, but it’s actually not that long – seven weeks to be exact. Half a school term, 1.5 months or around 50 days. Obviously, for most of us, time has no meaning anymore - so for you this might have flown by. On the other hand, you might be looking back at early September in confusion and feeling like Autumn 2020 has already been about 400 years long.
 
So, anyway. What’s new with you?
 
Last time I wrote, very little was new with me. I’d done all the normal lockdown stuff (Tiger King, baking banana bread, staring endlessly into the void of time) and was wondering where the year had gone and when the hell things would go back to normal. My second blog however has timed itself perfectly with a good ‘what’s new’ answer – I’ve been back in an audition room.*
 
*(COVID-safe, socially distanced and thoroughly disinfected obviously).
 
Lilac and I are working towards an R&D of a new play I’ve written, which Arts Council England have kindly funded. A lot of our planning has been virtual, but this week we actually got to meet some actors in person. And read some text. And give notes. And play. After nine or so months of staring at Zoom screens, I don’t think I’d fully prepared myself for the wave of feelings this would bring. And as this blog is all about sharing our thoughts, I wanted to share some of mine.
 
So here it is: a few thoughts, from my newly minted experience, on how being back in a rehearsal room feels.
 
You won’t be totally prepared. That’s OK.
Honestly, it’s been months so I thought I’d be raring to go – but it’s alright to have a weird wobble. ‘Can I still do this?,’ ‘Have I forgotten how to do my job after months of lockdown?’, ‘We’re still in a pandemic, is it even sensible to think about the future?’ – all perfectly valid.
 
It might be more emotionally impactful than you think. That’s OK too.
EVERY emotion was heightened. That felt weird. Someone does a good reading – you burst with pride. Someone brings an edge to a character you weren’t expecting – you’re on the edge of your seat. You see a friend you haven’t worked with since February, and it makes you want to cry. All very normal in a pandemic, as that turns out.
 
You’ll want to hug everyone.
And obviously you can’t, because SOCIAL DISTANCING. You’ll have to restrain yourself from physically running at people.
 
You might feel angry.
RETRAIN, Rishi and Boris? Seriously? Have you seen these people? You’ll be totally amazed at what actors can do, and furious that there should be any debate about whether their work counts as a career.
 
You’ll be TIRED. Really tired.
Big emotions + lots of focus + adjusting to the mechanics of doing your job again = needing a nap as soon as you get home. Don’t fight it. Embrace it.
 
News about a second wave might hit harder.
I’m writing this just as the news is breaking that the UK might go into a second lockdown. Thanks, Twitter. This week I’ve gone on a rollercoaster between total elation (‘theatre is amazing and IT’S COMING BACK!’) to total anxiety (‘oh no, not again, please no…’)
 
It might remind you why you’ve chosen this career in the first place.
Lack of self-employment support, no Government plan, a career that’s currently about as stable as the tower in Ker-Plunk… why the hell did we choose to do this again?

Here’s an amazing thing – once we got into reading and playing with scripts in the room, I momentarily forgot about everything going on. Just for a moment, obviously.

But that’s an indicator of what theatre can do. And that’s pretty amazing.
 
Isabel





23/10/2020 - Carolina

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
 
 
When I was growing up my dad used to say to us a French saying that goes: “Les plus accommodants ce sont les plus habiles: on hasarde de perdre en voulant trop gagner.”  Which translates to something like: “Those who are the most adaptable are the most skilful: You risk loss in wanting too much gain”. For a weird reason I’ve always thought it was a quote from Napoleon, but I discovered a few years ago, to my relief, that it’s not attributed to the French Emperor, but to his co-national the fabulist and poet from the XVII century Jean de La Fontaine

A few weeks ago the government re-launched a poster as part of a retraining campaign; where we see the picture of a ballet dancer tying her Pointe shoes with the words:  Fatima’s next job could be in Cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet) and the slogan: Rethink. Reskill. Reboot
When I woke up and saw the poster on someone’s Facebook wall I felt really angry to say the least.  Very easy and insensitive from the part of the government to suggest to us artists that we can forget about our vocation, our passion, and simply retrain in Cyber Security.  Especially now when the Art industry is being neglected and the help from the government is not enough. 
 
The anger of the artistic community was so strongly felt on social media, that by lunchtime the advert was gone. Even the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden disapproved of it calling it “crass”. The afternoon gave us brilliant memes parodying the poster; I guess that’s what you get if you mess around with creative artists.
 
But once the issue was calmer I started thinking: What if we really have to retrain? What if the sensible thing to do, the ‘skillful’ thing is to ‘adapt’ in these changing times?  The pandemic doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon, and a lot of theatres may not survive by the time they are able to open at full capacity.  What’s going to happen to all the people that work for the industry and to us actors? Are things going to become tougher than they already were before the pandemic, and acting jobs are going to become scarcer than before? Especially for a foreign actor like myself?
 
The reality is that big catastrophes in history bring change, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, but always change.  Change in the way we perceive life, the way we live it, and our habits.  The two World Wars brought a lot of hardship, but with men in the battlefield women were incorporated into the work force and, more women than ever before in history became economically independent.  (Earning much less than men then and still now, but that’s another conversation)
 
What would I do if it wasn’t theatre? I have been doing theatre for 26 years, and working professionally for 17.  Mainly Theatre in front of a living and breathing audience. What would I do instead? I could explore more photography as I’ve always wanted, or I could see myself perhaps working in a gallery?? The sad thing is that all the answers involve the Arts.
 
As artists we are very good working with what we’ve got. Being inventive, creative and solving problems on the spot. When things don’t go the way we expect them to go during a live performance, (believe me I don’t know where we get it from, and those moments are really scary!) we are able to continue, we “sort it out” because “the show must go on”.  We are undeniably skillful.
 
We have been embracing change already and adapting as we can. In Althea we have continued to create as a company, despite not being in the same room; we are writing and self-taping monologues for each other and have brain storming sessions for our new project. We probably would have never done things this way if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Around the world Theatre groups are also adapting; presenting their plays online, which gives us the opportunity to watch plays from all over, and even creating new content in order to stream it.
 
But how much change are we willing to embrace in order to adapt and at the end of the day survive?  (to put it in Darwinian terms)
 
I can’t picture myself doing anything else, and above all not working in Cyber. But these changing times will require us to adapt. It’s too soon to say how much things are going to change since the pandemic is far from over and we don’t know what will be left of the Theatre Industry at the end. Theatre as an art form will never be over, but a lot of things won’t be the same. These uncertain times raise a lot of questions and maybe we should stay open to change. Because as the saying goes: “Never say never” or as we say in Spanish Nunca digas de esta agua no beberé” (never say from this water I will not drink) 
 
Thanks for reading and stay safe,
 
Carolina

 





16/10/2020 - Josephine

Unexpected Life Lessons from Brunhilde


I've had Brunhilde (my sourdough starter) for 2 years now. I've never managed to grow and/or keep a living thing alive for that long before. 

It's not a particularly complicated relationship, but we're still figuring each other out. 

Aside from a 6 week 'science experiment' when I left a chunk of her in the fridge unattended just to see if she'd survive whilst I was in Finland (she did, I knew she has hardy) - we've averaged about loaf a week, and I think only one of them was inedible. 

I started because I was curious to see if I could learn to make decent bread. I've ended up learning so much more:
 
1) It's satisfying getting your hands dirty.
 
2) Sometimes you follow all the right steps and things just don't work out.
 
3) Being gentle is as important as being strong.
 
4) You cannot rush the process. 
 
5) Sometimes mistakes are happy accidents. 
 
6) Get curious rather than defensive. It is not personal.

7) Leave it overnight. It'll be different in the morning. 
 
8) There isn't much that can't be saved by toasting and covering in butter. 
 
9) Consistency is key. 
 
10) Some people just don't get it. That's OK.
 
Josie x





09/10/2020 - Thomas

I’m much more of a jealous person than I let on. 

Are you?

As an actor, having envious thoughts about other actors is like forgetting to bring your mask to the supermarket – inevitable.You know you shouldn’t feel that way. You know it isn’t healthy or beneficial or necessary or useful or productive or conducive to creating any sort of positive outlook on your career whatsoever but - God Damn it, that job of yours looks good! Why can’t I have been cast in that? Why was I not even seen for that!? I can do that too! *folds arms, lower lip wobbles, gets beer from fridge*

It’s certainly not helped by IMBD Pro’s literalization of this insecurity in their ‘Star-Meter’, which is the absolute worst - giving you a number corresponding to how your popularity ranks against every other actor ever. Cheers IMDB, nice to know you hold my worth at 9,776,525 below Millie Bobbie Brown, your current number 1. Just love having my job-prospects converted into a laughable number, just top-tier mental-health advocating work their IMBD *chef’s kiss*.

I’m being facetious of course. Well… still fuck IMDB, but it’s obviously silly to let any such thing define you. Unfortunately, however, an actor’s jealousy isn’t always as easily dismissed. The reality is that actors have been negatively comparing themselves to their peers long before social media made it cool – I’m looking at you ‘The social dilemma’. It’s simply intrinsically built into the beating heart of the industry – Surprise, there are too many actors and not enough jobs – Oh, and now Covid has reduced those jobs further – at least Rishi’s got our backs – oh no wait.

But hey, nothing here is news to you eh? Assuming you are a fellow creative? So, it’s at this point I want to pivot towards a more positive take.The thing is you see, us actors are actually incredibly skilled at managing this jealously, particularly when it comes to friendship maintenance. After training, (or however you entered the industry) actors quickly become very familiar with the push and pull between envy and genuine goodwill. Those testing moments are so prevalent and so relentless that most of us become very proficient in recognising how unavoidable yet entirely disposable those jealous feelings are.

The reality is we are caring nurturing souls, we trade in empathy after all. Of course we genuinely wish the best for our peers, so when the green eyed monster shows his head we’ve become very adept at maintaining requisite passive small talk with him instead of letting him fully consume us. Our friendships are way too important to us to let them be tarnished by this bell-end.

So, don’t ever feel bad about having those guilty thoughts. They are inevitable and unavoidable. Instead celebrate the fact that you know how to deal with them. If you simultaneously wish goodwill and also wish you had been cast in that show too, the fact is you still wished goodwill! And that’s what’s important. Chalk it up with all the other remarkable qualities that actors possess along with a thick skin and a passable Christopher Walken Impression.

Thanks for reading,

Tom





02/10/2020 - Sam

Do you ever feel irrelevant?

There I’ve said it. Now I’m just going to leave you with that for a sec.

Not out of malice, I should hasten to add, but simply because it’s a rather big question for a Friday morning and it’s probably worth sitting with for a little bit. I’ll admit it’s definitely something I’ve been grappling with for the past six months. Maybe you haven’t and it’s just me, indeed I hope that’s the case, but just in case I’m not alone in this, stay with me. 

Sometimes, and especially over this year, I look at what I do, and the inescapable question seems to be… why? Why do I get dressed up in someone else’s clothes, to say someone else’s words, to someone who is pretending to be someone else yet again, in a place that everyone is pretending is somewhere else entirely? 

Still with me?

It can all feel slightly futile and, dare I say, silly. Particularly, at a time when people’s lives are under threat and there is an ongoing struggle to change systems that threaten the very existence of people simply because of who they are. How can I look at the world and go, “what it really needs is my monologue about the pizza I had last night”? The answer is of course, I can’t! But if that’s the case, then, ridiculous examples aside, do I, as an actor and musician, have anything to offer the world? I’m not sure I have a complete answer yet, but what little I do have can be summed up in one word. Stories.

Well, great, what am I supposed to do with that? What’s so important about stories? 

I would argue that the answer might well be… everything. I don’t think it’s too grandiose a statement to say that humanity runs on stories. From intentional fiction, to national myths, to the daily stories we tell ourselves and others about our lives, they permeate every minute of our day. Allow me one small example to illustrate this. Halfway through lockdown I clocked that I could change my entire mood based on the story I told myself about my day so far. I could either repeat the litany in my head that I was alone and lonely and would continue to be so for who knew how much longer, or I could tell myself that it was sunny, and I was walking through a beautiful park, on my way back to a safe and warm flat, with food which I was lucky enough to have the money to buy. The second I changed the story in my head my mood went from distraught to almost content. Maybe you’re far wiser than me and you’re wondering why it’s taken me this long to figure that out, but for me it was a lightbulb moment. We shape our lives with the stories we tell. Moreover, it hit me this morning, how can I question the importance of storytelling, when Jesus, whom I believe to be God, made them the core of how he taught. Nearly every time someone didn’t understand something, he told them a story. Now at this point, I should make it clear that this is my personal belief and not that of Althea. We are lucky enough to have company members from a wide range of spiritual and non-spiritual backgrounds and I believe that this only makes our storytelling richer. But the universal point is that stories are effective teaching tools. Why? Because they stick; they’re memorable; they make an issue relatable and personal in a way that a bald statement of the facts may not. Stories help us process the world around us and as such every human is a storyteller. As creatives we take that one step further and become intentional storytellers.

So, does that have value? My conclusion has to be, yes, absolutely. But it is also a responsibility. Firstly, knowing that stories have power means that we must take responsibility for the stories we tell. What underlying messages are they conveying to the audience? Does that mean that all creations from now on must be “deep” and “serious” in order to be of value? Absolutely not. Truth can be expressed through comedy, just as much as it can be through tragedy. It simply means that we must be aware of the pre-existing stories woven through our new creations and ensure that they are stories we want to perpetuate. Secondly, as storytellers we must also learn to recognise the stories we’re being told. Through creating stories, we have, hopefully, begun to learn their structure, their tricks, their methods for leading the audience. We must not only be responsible story-tellers, but we must also become responsible story-listeners. We must learn to recognise when a story is being told that is damaging and, perhaps even more importantly, we must spot the stories that have already been told, and may have been told for a long time, which distort our view of other people and bind them into a narrative they did not choose for themselves. 

As a creative our power is twofold. One, our stories influence the world around us, two, we can recognise, and so not be misled by, stories hidden within half-truths. 

So, go forth and create, because stories will change the world.

Sam 






25/09/2020 - Josephine

It’s taken me 174 days to put my finger on what it is I’m missing. 

This feels like a discovery, so I’d like to share it with you. It may, in time, turn out to be less big than it feels right now. It might turn out to be nothing more than a shift into one of many gears, but here we go…

At first, I thought it was people. The experience of sharing an energetic exchange with someone gives me more than I can explain. FaceTime and Zoom don’t do it for me. I don’t think I’m alone in that.  

Then I thought it was my freedom. The novelty of “use your daily window of allocated Outside Time well” wore thin quite fast. 

Then it was each of my jobs, it was the rehearsal room, going to the pub, it was being anywhere except my flat. 

Eventually, it became distilled into one single thing: 

I miss the hope that comes with possibility. 

I have never wanted a small life. By that I don’t mean I want big, grand and showy. I want expansive experience, and I’ve been so lucky to have had opportunities that have challenged me so much. I’m scared of almost everything, (honestly, I am) but I’ve tried to always force myself to turn towards that because I really believe that simply being afraid of something is not a good enough reason not to try. Good stuff generally lives on the other side of fear. Or if not, a good story for the pub. (I miss the pub).

When the world of the industry we inhabit came to a slow, shuddering and painful halt, so much of that possibility vanished. We can’t get excited about what might happen next week because right now we sort of know what next week looks like. Or, more to the point, we know what it doesn’t look like. 

So, what I’m trying to do (and not often succeeding, but trying) is to frame the uncertainty another way: 

There isn’t far to fall.

It’s a good time to experiment with new ideas, the stakes are low. We know that nothing lasts forever. Nothing. It’s a pretty safe bet to say it won’t always be the way it is now. 

The arts as we knew it is in a bit of a mess, and we don’t know what the future looks like.  But because we don’t know what the future looks like, anything could happen. 

And if anything could happen, we deserve to have hope. 

You deserve to have hope.

Stay hopeful,

Josie x






18/09/2020 - Tom

I propose we make a deal, you and I. A pact that lasts for the duration of you reading this. An entente cordiale between the two of us in which I promise not to mention it and you promise not to think about it. Keep reading if you agree to my terms. Ok. I want to be clear; “it” refers to the C-word. Actually, to be clearer; “it” refers to the C-word that’s not the four-letter C-word, but the C-word which in March became the nailed-on, sure-fire, dead cert to be the OED’s word of the year for 2020. Got it? Good. Now, DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. And why should you? You won’t think about “it” because I haven’t explicitly written about it, and I haven’t written about it because this is a theatre blog after all. Or, at least, this is a blog on the website of a theatre company that hasn’t done theatre since January because of… circumstances beyond our control. Whatever the case, let’s keep this about theatre, shall we?

So. Theatre. Theatre, theatre, theatre. Don’t think about “it”, think about THEATRE.

I did, in fact, see a play not too long ago. Live. With actors. In a theatre – red velvet seats and everything. If this feels like bragging it’s because I absolutely am. Yes, I had to wear a mask, and no, I wasn’t able to completely forget that I was wearing a mask. BUT I was actually there and so actually were they; that alone felt monumental. Then the actors started doing acting – right there, just metres away (at least two) – they were bloody brilliant; one of them was a good friend and he was quite simply the knees of that idiomatic bee. I loved every second. AND I didn’t spend two hours fighting a silent turf war with a stranger over the shared arm rest.

Prior to this, the last time I was in a theatre was the 11th of March, 148 days before. I should mention that I don’t usually go this long between trips to the theatre, but this gap can be explained by… global events. Anyway, on this particular occasion I was in Vigo, in a theatre – red velvet seats and everything. This time, however, I was a cast member performing what had just become the last show of a tour – I forget why, but all of the other scheduled dates had just been cancelled; I’m sure there was some reason. Now, I’d like to tell you that this time also felt monumental; that we were there and the audience was there and it was all amazing but I’m not sure that’s true. While I do think we did a good job, my abiding memory of that performance is feeling distracted. When I should probably have been savouring what I knew – what I had been told – would be my last experience like this for some time, what I actually was doing was thinking things like “the journey to Madrid is going to take at least six hours so I should try and get some food before setting off” or “I’m pretty lucky to have a seat on that flight, but will it be cancelled?” I think this is probably pretty normal – I’ve never heard anyone say that the anticipation of absence makes the heart grow fonder – I didn’t know then what we know now.

There’s a hypothetical future (fingers crossed one with hoverboards and self-lacing shoes) when “it” doesn’t have the stranglehold that it has now; when the “new normal” has become the old normal, when the old normal will be the current normal again,  when things that are weirdly normal now will feel abnormal, and when ‘Normal People’ will have a second series (although, what are they even going to do with that? Hasn’t the whole story been told?). Basically, there may come a time when we can go to the theatre again and make theatre again, and a little further down the road it might even stop being unusual, but I hope it doesn’t stop feeling special. All of us – whether you’re a theatre goer, you’re a theatre maker, or you’re theatre unsubscribed – are now part of what will hopefully be a unique generation. Maybe you wanted to run 26.2 miles on a hot Sunday in April or watch England win Euro 2020. Maybe you had a holiday booked or you were going to be married. Maybe you wanted to go to a restaurant, not queue for the supermarket, see your friends, your family, touch another human being, say goodbye to a loved one. We’ve all missed out on so much and continue to. For me, the big two have been my job and hugs. I was always a bit of a reluctant hugger before, but I think I’m converted now. I’m not saying I’ll never again take these things for granted, but now I will know – we all will – we’ll know what it was like to not be allowed, to not be able. I think that’s valuable.

So how did you get on? I’m pretty proud of myself for not writing about “it”.

See ya,

Tom





11/09/2020 - Isabel

Autumn has always been my favourite season. I think it’s a combination of things: the colours, the weather, and the calendar of events (Halloween! Bonfire Night!) which means there’s always something to look forward to. I love crunchy leaves, fireworks, frost, knitwear and being able to justify any alcoholic beverage by heating it up with some spices and calling it ‘mulled’. And, there’s always a sense of promise too: maybe it’s the fact we grow up with Autumn bringing in a new school year, but it always feels to me like anything could happen next.

We’ve found ourselves in the autumn of 2020 seemingly overnight, and, although seeing the leaves change is giving me a familiar sense of excitement, it’s hard not to feel sad this year too. It feels like we’ve missed so much - I can’t really get my head around it being September when it was April barely yesterday. Where did the summer go? How am I suddenly 30? Remember when we thought life would be a bit more normal by Christmas?

At the start of the year, myself and Lilac had two theatre projects on the go – my play Heroes completed a work in progress run at VAULT Festival, co-produced by Althea, and we were gearing up to an industry reading of my new play Kaleidoscopes at the Criterion in April. When everything went into lockdown, it was like someone hit pause on 2020: not just on our creative projects, but on life too.

This year, it’s hard not to feel an ongoing sense of grief - not just for missed seasons, but for missed seasons of things. For many of us who work in theatre – onstage, offstage or backstage – our months tick past with a series of unchangeable milestones. VAULT and Edinburgh previews in the spring, festivals and Edinburgh in the summer, new seasons and tours in the autumn and Christmas runs or panto in the winter. The world has been disrupted twice – on a global level, where life has changed, but also on an industry one, where the people and events that shape our existence have disappeared. Three weeks after Heroes ended, VAULT Festival shut early. In April, Edinburgh Fringe announced that it wouldn’t be going ahead in 2020 for the first time in its 70+ year history. One by one as the weeks and months ticked past, Christmas projects and pantomimes begun to cancel.
Winter, or at least the bit after New Year, is my least favourite season. The magical rush of Halloween into Bonfire Night into Christmas into New Year passes, and we’re left with two or three months of general greyness and sludge. We’re back at work, but the party is over and the festive season has drained both our livers’ capability to process huge amounts of beer/novelty flavoured crisps and our bank accounts.

Now, as the weather gets colder and we hurtle towards the end of the year, theatre is still facing an uncertain future. Wave after wave of redundancies and cancelled projects mean I’m finding it hard to balance the protection of my mental health with the importance of tuning into industry news. We’ve gone through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression – but we’re a long way from acceptance while so many of us (and our colleagues) don’t know where we’ll go from here.

How do we move forward? As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, there is something comforting about knowing that a winter is always followed by a spring. The New Year is also often a time for making resolutions and changes as we battle the mundanity and the cold. We think of our next projects. We commit to spending more time with people who make us feel wonderful. We sow seeds knowing that even if we can’t see them yet, flowers will grow.

Admittedly, 2020 is not the easiest time to remember this. We’re mourning the loss of the past months, grappling with an uncertain and changing present, and also trying to get our heads round an uncertain future. Will we make work again? When? Will our careers survive this? Will anyone’s? 

But while this Autumn might not guarantee big crowds at Bonfire Night, house parties at Halloween or a festive season where we can see and hug everyone we’ve missed this year, I’m still taking a cue from my favourite season. I am holding my hands around the little sense of promise that it brings and clinging to the hope that the sun has to come out sometime, even after the bleakest of winters. Throughout lockdown, we at Althea have still managed to come up with ideas: whether that’s making plans for future shows over Zoom, working out ways to support each other as people as well as artists, and even creating actual theatre (online) with our virtual Chumologues sessions. I can’t tell you what will happen next, but I do know we’re facing it together – both as a company and as individuals in a huge network of people in an industry we all love and want to protect. And there’s something magic about that.

Take care,

Isabel





04/09/2020 - Thomas

How is it already September? For a year that bottlenecked very suddenly in March, we now seem to be accelerating at a breakneck pace towards 2021, which is a shame because it doesn’t seem like January the 1st will be the instant cure to Covid many memes suggest it will be.

So, since time is simultaneously in stand-still and drastic free fall, shouldn’t we try shake off this ‘Groundhog Day’ mentality and accept that this ‘garbage truck on fire’ of a year isn’t slowing down for anyone. We’ll likely be hearing ‘All I Want for Christmas’ before we’ve even bought a pumpkin.

2020 will be over and what will we have to show for it?

If, like myself, you’re a freelancer in the creative arts, perhaps this feels familiar – the contestant nagging thoughts – “You’re not doing enough”, “You hardly did anything today, you could have done more”, “When are you going to some work that goes towards your actual job – being an actor – right now you’re watching the 3rd YouTube review on some retro video game you have no intention or means of getting so why aren’t you applying to get a new agent – which you actually need – Tom – Sort – Your – Life – Out.”

You know, those sorts of thoughts, right?

And even though Covid is a great leveller (in some respects) i.e. I’m not getting work but neither is David Tennant - those nagging thoughts of unproductivity are still very much part of our lives and, in some cases, exacerbated by the current pandemic.

For anyone reading this who recognises themselves and is thinking ‘Oh my God we’ve only got three months left of the year!’ all I can offer is some solace in the knowledge that myself and, I assume, many others are feeling the exact same thing.

Perhaps these three things might help too, they seem to help me at least.

1 – Be realistic – Don’t overload you day with everything you want to get done. Completing one set job feels much better than only completing one of five.

– Little and often – I’m lucky enough be a member of Althea, and between meetings here and there and some self-tape experiments we are gradually moving the needle towards our next show. It’s not a big snowball just yet and Covid has undoubtedly hampered proceedings but slow progress is still progress and, you know what, it feels great knowing we’re mobile instead of stagnant. Similarly, for my own actor-y work, my progress feels like wading through treacle but at least I’m wading right?

3 – Don’t get too hung up on ‘Motivation Porn’ – Now this might be my own personal experience and perhaps things like this work for you – in which case ignore this, but any time I watch a video about some established actor or some leading figurehead in a particular field of expertise talk about how they ‘never gave in’, ‘would wake up early every morning and grind’ or ‘make hundreds of attempts until they finally got that meeting/audition’ it actually has the counter effect on myself in that it makes me feel deeply inadequate. I want to be enthused but I’m often watching it while still in bed eating a Snickers so I’ve realised, at least for me, it’s better to just ignore it. If it doesn’t actually motivate you, leave it, but if it does, well, go and fill your boots with the many ‘inspirational’ Honorary Degree Speeches out there.

Anyway, I doubt I’m mentioning anything you’ve not considered yourself before but I often find it useful to be reminded of things I already know in order to help re-enthuse myself, even if it just helps to organise a single day.

So, in a nutshell - keep going, as long as you’re moving, however slow, it’s still good, ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ and all that stuff right? You’ll get what you’re after, just probably not today… but maybe by 2021 when everyone receives their New Year’s Day vaccine, who knows?

Thanks for reading,

Thomas






28/08/2020 - Carolina

So Far So Close


I can’t believe almost half a year has gone by since we went into lockdown. It was March and cold outside and now summer is almost over.  Days, and weeks, and months go by as if we were in a Chekhov play. Days seemed to all merge into one with the little daily routines, but even though it seems not much happens, a lot of things have gone by internally and everywhere in the world.

We all have been affected by the Pandemic and the lockdown. We still are. During this time, I have had the opportunity to reflect, fear, re-discover, re-value and appreciate little things in life.

I would have never imagined a year ago that being able to buy eggs, after they have been out of stock for weeks, would give me so much joy!  Joy and sense of appreciation for eggs, flour, rice and everything we eat after witnessing empty shelves.

I even ventured into baking bread for the first time, once I was able to get my hands on yeast; and I also managed to make Marry Berry’s scones improvising a rolling pin with an empty bottle of wine, since they were a few of those lying around.

There has also been time to cry, and longing to be with my family that is more than 5,000 miles away. Learn to cope with the frustration due to the impossibility to get on a plane and travel to Colombia since the airport is still closed.

Planning has become tricky and we have to be In The Moment now more than ever. We won’t be able to celebrate with Dad his 80th Birthday next month, so we will have to live with yet another Zoom meeting, to feel a bit close despite being so far.

With the Pandemic many latent problems of the world have come to the surface: Inequality, poverty, racism and corruption to name a few. The crisis has made evident the ability of those in power to show us how disconnected they are from the people they in theory represent.  We have seen the pattern repeat in different countries.  To prevent the spread of the Coronavirus They created many rules, sometimes confusing and incongruent rules, but nonetheless rules that We follow, because We want the wider good. But these rules seem to be created by Them for Us to follow. They can do as They please, because They have the power, right? And if They get caught Infraganti, most of them don’t even bother to apologize.

Apart from the obvious fear of loved ones contracting the virus and the fear of an uncertain future for the theatre industry of the world, there is also the fear of unemployment, poverty and hunger in many countries, but specially in developing ones like Colombia, where 46% of the economy is informal. Which means almost half of the population has to go out day by day in order to secure that daily meal, Covid-19 or not.

The Lockdown has also been used to exacerbate the violence in regions of Colombia where the government is not present.  43 Massacres have been committed in 2020 so far, and no one has yet been made accountable.

Not all has been doom and gloom. There has been time to be creative and feel inspired. Dancing in the living room by myself for more than an hour. Making the most of the online subscription to MasterClass and watching lessons by Helen Mirren, Natalie Portman, and David Mamet. Or re-discovering the challenging pleasure of writing, by writing monologues for other members of Althea and experimenting by self-taping and editing the ones that I’ve been assigned.

Getting excited, dreaming and narrowing down ideas for our next show. Hoping to be able to get into a room sometime soon, and do what we miss the most: playing, exploring and creating stories and ways to tell those stories.

Nobody knows what the future holds or when the Pandemic will be over, but we can only keep reflecting, dancing, cooking, eating, Zooming and dreaming until we can all be together safely breathing in the same space, sharing stories with an audience.

Take care,

Carolina








21/08/2020 - Cole

Society’s Mask


Morning potential readers, I hope this finds you well and you don’t take offence to the ranting spiel that is about to unfold. 

I saw a video of a man in Ireland spouting drivel to a journalist about the use of Masks during this Epidemic and I felt compelled to base my Blog entry around the idea of ‘the Mask’ and Identity. 

What is most concerning about this gentlemen is that he is clearly a very well educated person and a concise orator when it comes to his argument, however much he completely ignores the case statistics when it comes to Covid-19.  Choosing instead to focus on the idea that ‘The Mask’ seems to take some part of your identity, that you lose an aspect of your personality because your nose and mouth are concealed. 

Even if this is the case, do you want to know what I believe is worse than losing your identity? 

Losing your life. Where theoretically your identity then ceases to exist also.

It made me draw comparison with the use of Mask in Theatre. Indeed if we take Ancient Greece as an example their use of the Mask as a device was to expand and represent other personalities, identities, and characters, not to inhibit or quash them entirely.  The Actors of the time were very much limited to convention, so the Mask device actually allowed them to expand and impersonate several characters throughout.

Cut to today and I see many people wearing all sorts of different colourful masks that they have fashioned themselves and it makes me think we can still cover half our face, abiding by Covid guidelines and still denote a sense of creativity and personality. 

What worries me more about this pandemic that these Anti-Maskers, Anti Vaxxers and Anti-Protesters seem to be ignoring and are probably ironically ‘masking’, is the considerable lack of holding our Government to account for failing to protect our Society through this pandemic. One needs to take one look at New Zealand just to see how a proper lockdown can be established and be successful. A week earlier into lockdown would’ve saved thousands and Masks from the outset Thousands also. However as always with this type of Government the Economy will always take precedent over Human lives.

It made me think of the types of Masks that don’t physically exist but are still present. The Mask of our Prime Minister or the US President and the role that they are playing in this stage show (shit show?) we call 2020. There’s a clear difference in my mind between the Physical Masks we wear to stop the spread of deadly virus and the deceptive Masks our leaders wear to spin their own agendas.

Perhaps instead of trying to vilify those who wear Masks to stop the spread of a Global pandemic, labelling them as robotic conformists, we should be looking towards the Masked Villains in Parliament that care more about lining their pockets out of a pandemic than saving Human lives and by extension our Identities.

Anyway, ranting spiel over. I hope you made it this far and perhaps Althea can employ some Mask work into some of their future endeavours. Watch this space.

Cole





14/08/2020 - Lilac

I hope it’s ok for me to write to you as if you’re an old friend of mine whom I haven’t seen in a while. And we’re meeting for a cup of tea or a glass of wine. And we might look a bit more weary than before or a bit more fragile, but that’s ok. For today, we are who we are.

Lockdown, I suppose, has brought up very strongly for me the question of who I am as a person, as a theatre maker and as the artistic director of Althea Theatre. We created the ensemble six years ago to bring together the voices of British and international artists working together on our first project, One Last Thing (For Now). But who are we today?

Over the last six years we have travelled around the UK, Europe, the Middle East and North America and shared our work with different audiences. So what are we meant to do with this peculiar and sad time in which we cannot physically build these bridges? How do we still make sure we have conversations about belonging and our experience of home?

Well, I suppose that this is why we started this series of blogs. To continue the conversation and to hold space together. We recognise that this space that we hold might not necessarily be a place to talk about theatre. And that’s ok. Some days it’s hard to talk about theatre when there is so much loss and uncertainty around. In our Zoom company meetings, we always check in and start by asking:

So what’s our relationship with theatre today? How do we feel about it?

And whatever comes up – is ok. So, for today, my relationship with theatre is quite transactional because a lot of what I’m doing has to do with applications and forms. Which is quite logistical and an art form in itself. And I do miss being in a room and making work. During lockdown, one of our creative tasks was writing short monologues for our fellow ensemble members and recording them. We also started playing D&D. We have been thinking and reflecting and imagining what our next few years could look like.

If there are just a few things I could recommend and which helped me throughout this time, they would be:

-Chat to someone you admire. Whether you know them yet or not, inspire yourself by having a conversation with a theatre maker whose influenced you (it might take them a while to reply but it would totally be worth the wait)

-Eat your favourite food, which for me is Chinese food. It lifts my spirit and keeps me in the moment.

-For 5 weeks now, I’ve had a daily reminder at 10pm to write 3 things that went well and why. It really made a difference. Find one moment each day to be present and grateful for what you have. Savour what goes well.

-Allow for your expectations of yourself and your to do lists to be flexible. Instead of saying, this is what I must do, say – this is what I want to consider doing. And if it takes a bit longer – then it takes a bit longer. Not everything can happen today.

-Have patience. It took me two more weeks to write this blog than we planned and the only thing that matters is that we did it. A bit later but we’re here, and for all intents and purpose, it’s just the right time.

As of today, I am continuing my campaign encouraging individual to apply for Arts Council England (APPLY FOR ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND!). They are offering grants for various developmental projects and it’s their way to maintain a freelance community on the other side of this crisis. If you’re thinking about applying and are not sure – look on their website, here is the link: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/projectgrants

Finally, my new-old friend, I just want to tell you that it’s lovely to share this online space with you. You are not alone and there isn’t a right way to handle this situation. I am sending you my best thoughts and a spiritual Oreo (which I have finally managed to buy from the shop after nearly 4 months). If you enjoyed reading this, please do come back in a week’s time for our next blog. We would also love to hear from you. Tell us how you’re doing, tell us about your work, tell us what your favourite food is or what you've found helpful in this time. You can even send a thumbs up and a smiley emoji. Whatever you do, help us continue the conversation.

Take care and speak soon,

Lilac