A week in the life of...



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