My five-year-old told me this morning that she would like to be a hedgehog. The full existential impact of her statement only struck me when I realised that she was speaking as much for me as for herself.
How is one expected to achieve anything in January? It’s the darkest corner of the year and, starved of light and finances, I would love to retire to a burrow and emerge in March.
Then there is that nagging worry, somewhere in the depths of my actor’s consciousness, the professional ‘FOMO’ – what happens if I’m not around for this audition or that opening night? If I’m not out in the world hustling, will people forget about me?
And then there’s the word ‘resting’, with its ever-so-subtle pejorative undertones, which people love to append to our job title. It’s usually said with a gentle head tilt and a sympathetic smile, often by a kindly aunt: “Ah, you’re resting at the moment” – to be interpreted as: “Nobody wants you right now.”
But in truth, that’s what I feel I want to do – rest – partly because I have a one-year-old who thinks sleep is for losers. The main reason is that I’ve just finished a job that, even with a supportive family around me, was so absolutely relentless that, having stopped, I need to recharge and indulge in a little self-care.
I remember talking with actor friends in Paris about the support provided by the French state for theatre and TV practitioners (performers and technicians) when they are out of work. They become ‘intermittents du spectacle’ (literally: ‘people on a break from shows’). Provided you’ve worked a minimum of 507 hours (roughly 72 seven-hour days) within the preceding 319 days, you’re entitled to a significant proportion of your last wage until you get your next gig.
Now, I could drone on until March, and set you all off to sleep, about how undervalued by the state the performing arts are in this country when you compare us with our European neighbours – which is ironic when British politicians love a soundbite about how valuable the arts are. But it’s even more fundamental than that. What’s so brilliant about the French scheme is that at its heart is an appreciation that our work has a unique structure and pace. To get through the sheer relentlessness of mounting a production and performing eight or more shows a week for several months, we theatremakers need time not working to recuperate.
This is not unique to theatre people – it applies to every kind of ‘gig economy’. As pace and structuring of work rhythms become much less regular and predictable in many sectors, we could perhaps take something from this idea. In our world, creative energy is not limitless and we want to be able to grow and develop in our creative practice over a lifetime of work. The candle only burns at one end.
I am going to use the next couple of months of cold and dark to enjoy resting and give myself a fighting chance of producing some good work again. I hope you get to take care of yourselves too.