I am sure my situation is just one of thousands you are hearing about, but I hope you can give me advice. I was on a three-week tour in Germany as the coronavirus situation began to gather momentum in Europe.
The plan was to return next week, go back to my day job as a substitute teacher until summer and then do a season at a theme park. The tour was cancelled last week. It looks like we will be paid for the work we did, but that may take some time.
Meanwhile, with schools closed, I have no work to return to. Although I feel fine so far, two other cast members have tested positive, which means I am now in isolation.
My agent has let me know that the theme park job is cancelled and that other performing work is unlikely for at least three months. I’m not a quitter but I am very scared. What would be your plan to get
Although the current situation changes by the hour, positive and inspiring responses continue to emerge, ranging from generous organisations making themselves into online and offline hubs for information and resources to a plethora of online classes and showcases springing up in every corner of the internet.
Less helpful are ‘motivational’ memes trumpeting the achievements of Shakespeare and Isaac Newton while they were quarantined. Yes, these challenges can potentially bring out the best in us, but piling pressure on ourselves to produce masterpieces when most of us are still getting our heads around the sudden collapse of almost every career and financial certainty is not the best foundation for clear thinking.
Any sustainable project, theatrical or otherwise, requires taking stock of where we are, then creating the best conditions to move forward. In theatrical life, the difference between what is due in and what bills are going out has always been precarious – the twist now is that the chance of a new casting, tour offer or other ‘big break’ changing that is temporarily much lower.
Day jobs can feel tedious at times. Like you, many of us would gladly welcome back that tedium compared to having the safety net so suddenly whipped away. If there was ever a time to ditch the ‘you are not a successful actor if you are not a rich actor’ mentality, it is now. Use those information hubs to find out exactly what benefits you are entitled to, and whether there are sources of financial help you can access.
Work doesn’t just bring in money, it gives us structure, which can be important for mental health. Try to create a daily routine. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but it should divide up your work time from your relaxation and self-care time (even more important in the current scenario).
Explore every performance and income possibility open to you. Improvisation and creativity is part of the DNA of our industry and as we collectively come to terms with the new landscape, good ideas will continue to appear. Try them out, but in addition to ideas that ‘may just work’, create smaller goals with outcomes firmly within your own control. That might be mastering a new accent or writing the one-person show or play you always meant to. Celebrate when you hit those milestones and please share them so we can celebrate with you.
What’s on the other side of this crisis is uncertain. What we can be sure of is that – in self-isolation or not – the more we support each other as a community, the faster we will reach that better place.
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne