I got divorced at the end of last year. It would be overdramatic to blame acting life for this, but long tours and erratic finances didn’t help.
This year, after a strong first six months, castings have really tailed off. I normally take quiet periods in my stride but this particular low period has coincided with the run-up to Christmas, when everything slows down and even the hope of securing a role until at least mid-January looks remote.
I’m dreading the day itself – my first on my own, and, as luck would have it, when I am utterly broke. Despite having rattled boxes for theatrical charities in the past, I’m not quite a charity case myself yet, but I do need some advice on making it through to January.
Please don’t let pride keep you from seeking help when you need it, but also don’t let your current temporary circumstances make you lose faith in your talents and abilities or doubt that what you have to offer could still be of value to somebody else. As the familiar flight safety announcement puts it, it is hard to assist anyone else with their oxygen mask if we don’t put our own on first, so let’s look at how we can help you a little, first.
The ArtsMinds website, which The Stage supports, has a whole range of useful resources and links that can help with your ongoing physical, mental and financial health. Closer to home and with a shorter-term focus on the next week or two, there may be local organisations that run dinners and other open-to-all events on Christmas Day and sometimes the days surrounding it.
While the popular Dickensian image might suggest that such events are only for the ‘poor, elderly or less well off’ (whatever those terms mean in our own heads), loneliness is also a perfectly good reason to consider attending. Not only will you meet many interesting people (you can call that ‘character research’ for your acting if you need to justify the visit to yourself) but there’s a good chance that once you are there, you will loosen up, make friends and end up having a much more festive time than quite a lot of ‘picture perfect’ family units who will be sitting at home and glaring at each other over turkey remains and Brussels sprouts.
The local library is often a good signpost to what is happening in your area. If you still feel reluctant to take up a place on a charity basis, you could check if servers or other helpers are needed at the events – you will still get to eat once your shift is done.
Speaking of volunteering, we can often have a narrow view of the type of roles on offer: sorting secondhand books and clothes, bucket rattling or sponsored runs spring to mind. All of these are noble and useful activities but, as with the theatre sector, there are a vast range of skills in use across the charity sector, some of which may involve you using your creative gifts more directly. Crisis recently told me that while many of their general volunteer roles are filled well before Christmas, they sometimes need specialist help with performance and arts-based activities run at their centres.
While acting work should always be paid, I know several actors who regularly volunteer in arts-based roles as a means of keeping both their social and their theatrical skills up to speed. Sites like Do-it.org can be very useful ‘casting’ resources for this, where you can list your skills and match them with possible charities who need them. Whatever you end up doing this Christmas, I hope it is a good one for you and that next year will be much brighter.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at firstname.lastname@example.org or @dearjohnbyrne. The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre runs a free helpline to provide well-being support for theatre professionals: 0800 915 4617, or email email@example.com. ArtsMinds is a joint initiative between Equity, The Stage, the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine and Spotlight – visit artsminds.co.uk