Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Dear West End Producer: ‘How do you maintain your identity when you aren’t working in the arts?’

by -

Struggling with your identity is one of the toughest things for freelances to deal with – especially in those times when work is scarce. Actors and others in the entertainment business feel validated when they’re in work – when that magic ingredient called success is in their lives.

Theatremakers do what they do because they love it (usually). It is a vocation and can offer rewards both mentally and financially when in work. Suddenly, you have the identity you’ve always wanted – being able to justify all the other things you’ve given up to follow such a precarious career path. But not working in your chosen field and supporting yourself when in-between jobs is the most important part of being self-employed.

You are your identity – not your job. Whether you are performing or not, you are a brilliant, unique person – who is following their chosen career. It just so happens that career is not easy. And because of that, you have to be kind to yourself. Most top artists struggled at some point in their lives. It’s part of the territory – and is something you should be proud of. If you are living in London, Manchester, Scotland (or wherever) and putting yourself in a position to do something you love – bravo! Many people never have the nerve to do it.

You should never identify yourself as just an “actor/composer/director” – that is dangerous, because it implies you don’t value yourself when not doing it. You are so much more than your job title. I understand that sometimes you can feel unsure about who ‘you’ actually are – but that is natural. We are constantly changing and developing due to our environment, stress levels, financial restrictions – and who we are is not one thing. You are allowed to feel shit, low, down, unwell – but you’re also allowed to feel amazing, high, brilliant and sexy (I feel sexy all the time, dear).

With constant distractions aimed at making us compare and doubt ourselves (Instagram, Facebook, Love Island) – it is understandable to want to be different: better looking, taller, funnier, less ‘normal’ – and again this makes us question who we are. But by simply being aware of these external triggers, we can start to view them differently and avoid them. Everyone feels jealousy. Everyone feels inadequate. Everyone feels unworthy. But that’s okay. It’s what makes us who we are. And this human experience makes you the brilliant artist you are.

Believe it or not, other people admire you and will rarely undermine you (and if they do, then you don’t need them anyway, dear). They accept you for who you are, not what you’ve achieved or where you’re working. So be kind to yourself and try to be thankful that you’re doing what you’re doing – whether you’re working in the arts or not, because by simply attempting to do it, you are already an artist. In my mind that makes you a success. So try to stop struggling – you already have your identity. It’s what makes you you, dear.

And, if all that fails, you could always try wearing a latex mask and create a new one, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

Lyn Gardner: Don’t be ashamed of your day job, you can be a waiter and an artist

Want to continue reading?
Support The Stage with a subscription

We believe in fair pay for everyone who works in the arts, and that includes all our journalists and the whole team who create The Stage each week.

As a family-run, independently-owned publication, we rely on our readers' subscriptions to pay journalists to produce the informed and in-depth articles you want to read.

The Stage will always strive to report on great work across the country, champion new talent and publish impartial investigative journalism. Our independence allows us to deliver unbiased reporting that supports the performing arts industry, but we can only do this with your help.

Continue reading our quality content and support its creation with a subscription from just £4.49 →