There has only ever been one thing in my life that I’ve been absolutely, 100% sure about since day one and that was my career path. No matter where I’ve lived or what I’ve been doing during my 27 years on this planet, I have always thrown myself into the performing arts and never once questioned my love for theatre. It’s an inherent part of myself and without it I don’t really know who I’d be. Throughout my time at school, to me, it was an indisputable fact that would be going to Drama School. I didn’t see the point in learning the periodic table and I couldn’t have cared less for Pythagoras because all I wanted to do was read plays, write stories and act. I gave up on my Law, Philosophy, French and English A Levels within 6 months of joining college, instead choosing to embark on a vocational Performing Arts course and, when it came to it, I resented going to university open days because I just knew that I would one day I would land a place at an accredited conservatoire. And I did.
In my final year, the head of the school asked me what I wanted to do when I left… and at that moment, I realised I had no idea. I’d spent my younger years planning on going to Drama School but I had never really thought about what I wanted to do after I’d finished. It sounds ridiculous but all I ever wanted was to spend year after year studying plays, acting, learning about myself and other people, empathising with characters, researching history, crying, laughing and the opportunity to be really fucking brave – which I did, and I was so proud of myself – but, when it was all said and done, I wasn’t actually sure if I wanted to be an actor.
And the fear when I left that place was REAL.
Suddenly I was no longer a 19 year old girl with a fun little hobby. I was a 24 year old woman with more ambition than she knew what to do with – but no idea where to place it. I was already fighting a losing battle with my own mind at this point due to a range of reasons and it wasn’t long before I found myself experiencing a full blown quarter-life crisis.
… I find it fascinating to know why people get into acting. I hear a lot of reasons, from simply ‘I want to be famous’ to ‘because I love being other people’ and I think that was the main reason for me too. No matter what was going on around me, I could always escape by living somebody else’s life. This was a feeling that started as me being a butterfly in Alice in Wonderland at 5 years old and stayed with me until my final production at Drama School. I also found that, although it’s fun to play people totally different from yourself, it was incredibly therapeutic to play people who are similar to you. I felt so much grief, sadness and rage about a particular situation during my time in that place and I cannot tell you how healing it was to be able to read somebody else’s words and find solace within the pages of plays written sometimes hundreds of years ago. For me, that’s what acting is and has always been about; reaching out to people, empathising, exploring what it means to be human, finding purpose within different contexts, to challenge view points and to move audiences emotionally.
I signed with an agent after graduation and worked in various jobs whilst waiting for auditions. I ended up doing a couple of professional acting stints (nothing even remotely exciting, sorry!) before moving away from the city to try and improve my mental health. I quit my life as an actress/waitress/receptionist/bartender and ran away started working in a pub by the sea. I didn’t know much at that point, I was totally lost, but I did know for certain that I was absolutely fucking miserable and that, I suppose, was a start. I knew I couldn’t sustain a life in Cornwall because the theatre scene is pretty much non-existent down there and without that I felt trapped and frustrated. At the same time, I couldn’t live in the city because I was beginning to resent it and didn’t want to work in hospitality any more whilst waiting for my ‘big break’ which I never cared about anyway. I didn’t want to be an actor enough to sustain the low wage, flexible jobs I was bouncing between but didn’t want to work in any other industry because it was my lifelong love. I was stuck. And then at EXACTLY the right moment (I had just packed my car ready to move down to Cornwall permanently and posted my key through my ex fiancés letterbox) I received a phonecall inviting me to interview at an Actor’s Agency in Manchester to be the maternity cover for their assistant. I drove all the way to Cornwall, dropped off my things and then drove all the way back up solely to go to the interview. I stayed on my friends sofa and prayed and prayed and prayed that things would work out. When I got the call the next morning telling me I’d been successful, I cried like a baby (with joy/relief and the overwhelming feeling that actually, I was going to be just fine). I had a few days to secure a flat – which I did, fuelled by cigarettes and caffeine – and after ANOTHER trip back to Cornwall to pick up all of my things, I moved into my little Spectrum sanctuary. The stars aligned for me that month. It was stressful as hell, my anxiety was through the roof, but it was fate. That was 18 months ago now, I’m still working at the agency (now in a permanent role) and I am happier than I’ve ever been.
I get asked a lot if I miss acting and the answer is no, not really. It’s become evident that I used to use it as a means to hide behind a character, to make sense of the world, to have the opportunity to escape my own life for a while, to access the emotions that I used to repress as myself and to relish playing women that had more confidence than me. Performing was my main source of joy for a long time; it was fun, I had a voice, I was confident in my ability, I met incredible people… but I think it served as a tool for me to grow into the person I am today, rather than my life’s ambition. I no longer feel like I need to be on the stage and actually, what’s left, is my love for theatre and brilliant scripts. There is nothing quite like seeing a play and having the hairs on your arm stand up because something within you resonates with an actor’s performance. Now I just want to find incredible talent, go and see as many plays as I can and contribute to this industry without being in the spotlight. I saw Yerma by The National Theatre last year and… fuck. I could write a blog post on that play/those performances alone, how it moved me in the most ridiculous way, and why tv/film/theatre/radio is so important but it mainly comes down to empathy and emotion and, again, what it means to be human.
No matter what’s happened in my life I’ve always had this spark of ambition to do with performing, it’s always been in my heart and I think, at times, it’s kept me going. My teacher in Year 11 wrote in my leavers book: ‘One destined to succeed, just remember to THINK and then speak.’ Haha! I think she’d be proud of me – and not surprised at all that I landed a job where I spend 99.9% of my time talking. I want people to succeed so badly and when I think about the future and all the people I’ve yet to meet and things I’ve yet to experience, it makes me so excited.
‘When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows in, not the flower.’
If you have a dream or feel something in your gut – do not give up on it. That’s your calling. I knew that I needed to be within this industry but not as an actress. I didn’t understand what that drive in me was but it all makes sense now; if I hadn’t got my place at Drama School I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or the contacts that eventually landed me this job (thank you, Peter!). Everything connects and everything eventually makes sense, even if the odds are stacked against you and you are going through hell, KEEP GOING.
Fortune favours the bold, I’m telling ya.
PS. I wrote this a couple of years ago when I was still acting and also co-running a theatre company: ‘I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the type of theatre I’d like to produce and, in all honesty, I can’t tie it down. I’m interested in new writing, old writing, any writing just as long as it means something. I’m not going to get behind a project just because it would be a cool thing to do or for my own gain. I need to be involved with theatre that’s going to make people think, that’s going to move people and makes people feel like it was a night well spent because of those things. I want our casting process to be inclusive and not exclusive, I want to meet lots of new people, see a wealth of talent and hear loads of strong opinions. Most importantly, I want our company to be accessible, not just to actors, but to the community we live in. I don’t want to have to worry about impressing the local professional circles because, for me, that’s not why I got into theatre. I got into theatre to help people, to say the things they might be too scared to say, to make people think, to make them laugh (a lot) and to make them cry. I didn’t get into theatre to have my name in lights or to get 5* reviews…’ And I guess that’s it. I may have been totally unsure of my path back then but it makes sense that I got into this side of the industry. (Turns out you don’t need to worry about impressing the local professional circles when you’re a part of them, who’d have thought I’d end up here?!) Wrongly or rightly, I’m constantly leading with my heart rather than my head and although I may have stumbled spectacularly at times, it’s not failed me as of yet.
I’ll keep you posted on the career lark, I have high hopes. ♡