Brief one from me today, but something sirius need to be said before it gets too late. 

Spoiler: it’s about* spoilers. 

*No actual spoilers of anything will be featured. Just the word spoiler. A lot. 

I’ve had many arguments about spoilers over the years – mostly Game of Thrones induced. The general opinion in support of spoilers from the perpetrators is that if you can’t watch (or read) something upon its immediate release then you need to avoid all human/cyber contact until you have done so. Otherwise you’re not allowed to feel upset when something is spoilt for you. “If you’re not a big enough fan to make it your priority then you can’t get angry” was a particular mind boggler – you know, ‘cos life gets in the way of television scheduling. I stopped wasting my breath trying to argue that including plot ruining spoilers in a post was a ridiculous use of their social media presence anyway but hey, you can’t win with some people. However, there’s a different matter up for discussion today and that matter feels personal to me. That’s right. Ridout’s got something to say about the world of theatre. Who’d have thought it!?

If you’re of the (widely held) opinion that a ‘spoiler’ for something (eg. a book, film or television programme) is when a plot point is revealed then I believe that a new set of rules needs to be written for theatre. Its definition (in this non-car context) is: 

Spoiler    noun

A person or thing that spoils something. 

Theatre is not just a story to be spoilt through a leaked plot point but also an experience that will be dampened with the more you know about its delivery. As theatre goers we know that the thrill of experiencing the wonders of stagecraft can’t be replicated (or beaten in my opinion). Everyone should be allowed – and is entitled to – the full, glorious, experience. Inevitably, some aspects will be known in advance because of press photographs/an EPK, but these will have been specifically chosen moments that have been approved by the team who know what’s appropriate to unveil in advance of the theatregoers experience. Every other aspect should be experienced first-hand. That shouldn’t be up for discussion. 

Spoilers have been in the spotlight today (and inspired me to put pen to paper) following the first preview of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child last night – and a select few leaked details. In the magical world of Harry Potter, I’m pretty sure that the stagecraft involved is going to be pretty damn spectacular and is also likely to be the first of its kind on stage. They will definitely be things that will be spoilt if you know they’re going to happen before the fact. 

In less that 24 hours after the first preview I’ve had 2 features of the production told to me (one was to my face, without invitation and without time for avoidance tactics aka running away screaming). Two things. That’s nothing to moan about (say some people of the Twittersphere). Right? Wrong. Statistically that is terrifying. I’m not seeing the show until January 2017 and for people that are yet to secure tickets that’s an even more frightening thought. Two features per month would be bad. Two a week would really bad. Two a day is going to require a riddikulus amount of restraining orders (because apparently embargoes don’t work *cough certain tabloids who shall not be named*). 

I understand the want to talk endlessly about astounding theatre, I really do. It’s me. Sometimes show marketing even tells you to share what you enjoyed with the world (#LoveMormon). However, The Cursed Child have it plastered on the walls and even give you a badge (I won’t class that as a spoiler because it helps my argument and I love irony) telling you to #KeepTheSecrets. If J K tells you to do something, you should do it! 

Perhaps they should try an additional approach – like the West End’s longest running play, and best kept theatrical secret, The Mousetrap – and make an announcement. Theirs says: “Now you have seen The Mousetrap you are our partners in crime, and we ask you to preserve the tradition by keeping the secret of whodunnit locked in your hearts”. It’s been running for 64 years. I’ve been alive for 23 of those and not heard so much as a whisper. Sure, that audience is asked to keep the plot-twist secret. The Cursed Child audience is asked, in messages passed down from J K Rowling herself, to keep all of the secrets. Seriously guys, silencio. 

That’s what I have to say on the matter anyway. If you disagree then please stay away from me until February 2017 when you will no longer be able to spoil even a fraction of my experience of the mostly hotly anticipated stage production ever

Let’s respect that theatre is an experience and people should be able to experience it first-hand – with fresh eyes and a clear mind that’s ready to blown to smithereens by what it witnesses. 

Happy not spoiling theatre productions! Many thanks, muggles everywhere.  

Listen to the woman, people!

 
“[They’ve] got magic to do, just got you….”

– Rebecca Ridout 

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“…Applause! Applause!”

Three years ago (*gulps*) I was performing in my graduating show ‘Applause’ at LSMT. At the time I adored the title song (well, I still do) and I thought that the lyrics perfectly reflected what working as an actor would be like. It talks about how through all of the hardship (“your bank account’s bare”, “you’re thinking you’re through”, “you’re losing your hair”) that the sound of applause will be all you need to keep yourself going. That the validation of applause is all we actors need to live a happy existence. No, Ridout. That’s obviously not the case. I’d like to think I’ve always known that it takes more than people meeting their hands together in appreciation of some work you’ve done to find happiness. I’d also like to think that I’m very good at keeping content in times of funemployment. However, it’s become apparent that I’m not very good at sorting out my priorities – I didn’t foresee that being in work (and having people clap at me) would play a big part in my unhappiness. The past two months have taught me that. This industry can take so much from us and, like Denise Gough in her Honest Actors podcast (found here), I’m not going to give it more of my life than is necessary anymore.

“Work is not my life. My life is my life. Work is part of my life” – Denise Gough

Let me explain…

This industry ingrains in everyone a pre-historic message that, come rain or shine, come hell or high water, that the show must go on. Pressures to make this happen come from producers and audience members alike. This leaves us, the performers, caught between a rock and a hard place. Consequently, it’s so easy to not make a move at all – to stay silently still – and pay the price personally later. It’s something that’s been heavily featured in the industry (and also reached general) news recently and I’ve now found myself in a situation where I have an experience to add to the discussion. In case you missed the news (I’d be surprised as so many papers joined in to add fuel to the fire), there was uproar when Sheridan Smith announced that she would be missing a performance of ‘Funny Girl’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Instantly, thanks to the immediacy of Twitter, there were disgruntled ticket holders* demanding refunds not only for their tickets but also for their travel costs because they wanted to see her – evidently not the wonderful piece of musical theatre that ‘Funny Girl’ is.

*Now, I won’t get into the rights and wrongs of people wanting refunds/exchanges for shows because of their “star” billing in this blog. That would open a Sunset Boulevard can of worms that I don’t quite have the energy to take on. It’s just important to acknowledge that the audience applied a lot of pressure for the purpose of this post.

The producers worried about the implications of Sheridans absence on the finances of the show – after all, the Menier is a small theatre! In a tweet that was later deleted, Sheridan named the producers and stated how they were “desperately” trying to get her back for the next show, putting pressure on her and not giving a f*ck about her situation.This was all despite the fact that Sheridan had an understudy.

Understudy: to study or know a role as to be able to replace the regular performer in case of need.

In a “normal” job, your rights state that you are entitled to time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent (your father falling ill, for example). Sheridan wanted, and understandably needed, time off following the news of her Dad’s cancer diagnosis. That’s a cause for need of an understudy if you ask me. The ‘Funny Girl’ producers later released a statement in support of Sheridan’s decision to take time off the show but it seems that paying audience members still didn’t share the same understanding and acceptance – despite it being her right, putting human compassion aside.

Thankfully, Sheridan has a brilliant understudy in Natasha Barnes (who has previously contributed to this blog – if you can guess her entry) who could step in, in Sheridan’s time of need. I was ecstatic to see the responses she was receiving from the public for her performance as Fanny Brice. Isn’t it amazing that actors can take time off and someone else can keep the show running to critical acclaim!? Huzzah for understudies!

Sometimes though, even if one of the pressures to go on is removed (eg. the producers don’t mind because you have an understudy), as actors we put a pressure on ourselves to soldier through regardless. Actors have an instinct – a unique dread – that they could be letting their loving public down or doing their professional reputation a disservice if they don’t just grin and bear it. It’s a complaint among older actors that the younger generation don’t have the same do or die attitude that they had. (Tangent: I’d be interested to know statistically if – in thirty years – more actors from our generation keep going until later in life because they’ve taken better care of themselves. See ya in 30 years for that follow up blog.) Left to our own devices (or with an inadvertent fear that your understudy may do a better job than you) actors so easily get their priorities all wrong and choose the limelight over their life.

In his book, ‘The Rules of Acting’, Michael Simkins shares his story of how he learnt this lesson the hard way. Michael would happily, and often, boast that he’d barely missed a performance in his 25 years as a jobbing actor. It was then during a run of ‘The Old Masters’, in which he played a cameo role, that his mother went into permanent care. Then, one Friday afternoon, he was told she’d fallen unwell. Despite worsening bulletins all of Friday evening and Saturday, he clung to the notion of completing his two shows. “For reasons that still haunt me, I resolved to stay on and do my one small scene in the evening”. In his journeying to visit his mother after the show she died just minutes before his arrival. He’s now vowed to never let a performance get in the way whenever real life needs prioritizing.

I had read this story years ago (clearly some things don’t stick until you experience them yourself – take heed!) but was reminded of it by my colleague whilst working on ‘Princess Caraboo’ at the Finborough. Her husband was the “perfectly capable understudy” Michael spoke of in his book and what isn’t included in the anecdote is that Simkins went onto miss numerous performances because his experience had left him so distraught. We can suffer more in the long run (and miss more performances) by failing to face up to circumstances and bring brave enough to say “I need this break”. Sarah was telling me this story because during our run, my Gramps was hospitalized. In Michael or Sheridan’s situation I’d have been home like a shot but I was stuck through my circumstances. ‘Princess Caraboo’ was a no-contract, profit-share agreement and we had the bare minimum in cast numbers – meaning no understudies. With other small casts I’ve worked with we’d joke about what would happen should one of us fall ill. “Well, if you’re still in control of your bodily functions and can run into the wings to be sick rather than centre stage then you’re good to go on”. Indeed, when I was in Sound of Music, because cast changeovers mid-contract, we were left with no spare male understudies and so my colleague had to go on whilst suffering with a painful (and noticeable) abscess in his mouth. He had to sing…with an abscess. Crazy, I know. I’ve also known of performers who have been seriously injured performing in a show, undergone surgery, and then still had pressures from the powers that be to get back on stage quicker than the usual recovery time (understudies cost more – lest we forget #coverfee). It’s only when someone physically cannot make it onto stage that a show with no understudies has to be cancelled. Naively (or stupidly), I didn’t feel like emotional trauma fit the “I deserve a break” bill and so I let Doctor Theatre* cure me whilst my family came together, counties away, to support eachother. .

*Doctor Theatre/Doctor Footlights: name given to the magical healing that happens to an actor when they are struck down by illness or infirmity and still have a show to get through. Endorphins (and the validation of applause) take over and numb out he pain and/or stress.

One of the (many) difficulties with Fringe work is that because you’re not being paid, part of you thinks “well, I’m not being paid for this so screw it, I’m going home!” whilst the other part of you shares such a strong camaraderie with your fellow performers that you don’t want to deny them a show and deny them the opportunity to earn more profit. Plus, I was struggling so much financially that I couldn’t realistically afford a day off work, let alone a train fare home. I was caught between a very hard rock and a very hard place, in the middle of London.

Then, in the penultimate week of the show, sadly my Gramps passed away. (Apologies, I know this is very heavy for a whenindoubt blog but writing about it has been incredibly helpful for me and it may help someone else). I hadn’t made it down to see him in his final days but that wasn’t what made it hard (some family members even envied my position because my lasting memory of him was a relatively healthy and happy one). It was the fact that I couldn’t get home to be with my family to deal with it all that made it so difficult. I was a mess. People can attest to that fact. I can’t count the number of times I would be crying backstage and pull myself together just in time to step into the lights. People would tell me “your Gramps would want you to be performing, doing what you love”. Indeed, Sheridan also said that her Dad had wanted her to get back on – it’s her escapism. I think that’s essentially what makes the idea of Dr Footlights stick. It’s that acting is escapism for us. You’re not being yourself for two and a half hours. You don’t have your problems (or your cold, or your pulled hamstring). Then you hear applause and you think “that was worth it”…until you’re home and alone with the repercussions. Burying your problems like that repeatedly takes its toll eventually. Trust me.

To add a cherry on top of this sundae of a situation, I was also auditioning for a West End show at the time and had a final two days (and four shows) after my Gramps’ passing. This was another example of how I gave perhaps a bit too much to the industry in a time that I really needed to be looking after myself (and my family). I know “what if”s would have haunted me should I have pulled out of the process at that stage but I’m not sure soldiering on was the best decision either. I was looking at the world through a dark, murky cloud (and puffy eyes). I couldn’t focus on any tasks properly – even making a cup of coffee involved copious mental distractions. How I expected to do myself justice and perform to my best ability I have no idea.  It’s hardly surprising to note that I didn’t do my best and I didn’t get the job. What I had done though was genuinely pause my mourning and I came crashing back into reality so much harder as a consequence.

I don’t really know what the answer in this situation is – any opinions would be welcome! Do we cancel potentially career changing auditions? Do we hire swings for every show? Do we allow ourselves/our colleagues to cancel shows – no matter what the result could be for others involved? I’m pretty sure that there is no black and white answer. What is clear to me though is that we need to prioritize ourselves over our work some of the time (I’m not saying always. You can be the judge of when it’s necessary). We shouldn’t be slaves to what we do or allow anyone else to let us think that we can’t make that decision for ourselves. These were examples where we need to exercise our right to avoid additional sadness. However, there are plenty of examples of how, as performers, we also miss out on things that would just add joy to our lives. I – and many others – have missed weddings (one was whilst I working in Edinburgh and we played to an audience of approximately 6 people that night. Hindsight tells me we could have cancelled the show). I’ve also recently missed drastic changes in the development of my baby brothers. Waiting eight weeks to see babies when you know they’re smiling, laughing and growing ridiculously fast is tough. Plus, baby cuddles are very useful in a time of mourning – circle of life and all that jazz. I feel very lucky (I always find a silver lining) that I’ve had this heartache and moment of realisation only three years into my career – rather than Simkins twenty-five. I can now remain aware of my priorities and will hopefully not have to endure what I’ve experienced these past two months again. All I can advise is: if you have an understudy, just go. Also, it might seem overly precautious but if you know someone close to you who is ill, think seriously before taking a fringe job – ensure that you wont get stuck between a rock and a hard place if you do. Make sure you’re putting your life and your well-being first. I know for a lot of us, we derive the majority of our happiness from performing. Applause does, indeed, make our hearts happy. Just know when to step back. Sometimes a night out of the lime light will make you much happier in the long run.

Happy doing-a-Hermione* and sorting out your priorities!

*In case you aren’t a die-hard Harry Potter fan (who are you!?) then this is referencing an exchange in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone:

Hermione: Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.

Ron: She needs to sort out her priorities!

CarabooFbro-SRylander-1500-038

Whilst doing this, I was missing…

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…this. That’s happiness. Right there.

“Why kick up your legs, when draining the dregs of sorrow’s bitter cup? Because you have read some idiot has said “the curtain must stay up”!

– Rebecca Ridout

Today is “Blue Monday”. For those of you who may not know, “Blue Monday” was a claim made years ago (by a travel company, no less) stating that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year. Scientists have poo-pooed it as a pretty nonsensical idea, but it still grips our negative attention as soon as we are reminded of it. Your mind instantly turns to analysing aspects of your life that could be giving you cause for distress and then that negativity festers. Consequently, and unsurprisingly, it then easily becomes the most depressing day of the year. The ridiculous con/claim to get people to book a holiday has started to carry some weight. I, unknowingly, picked up a mug at work today which had a very apt quote:

“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” – Buddha

Quite right, Buddha. Quite right. So I thought this would be the opportune moment to talk about some musings on the mind – and our focus on negativity – that I’ve had recently.

We all have inner demons to varying degrees of severity and whilst some are fed by exterior influences, most are self-induced. They can crop up occasionally (y’know, in an audition when your leg starts to shake and they jump into the room to make sure you’re focusing on this phenomenon rather than the task to hand) or they can follow you around daily and chip away at your optimism (y’know, when you’re speaking to hundreds of people about the conservation of birds as a temp job and become increasingly sure you’ll never work again). They are ever present and, despite having the occasional bonus of being the foot up your backside, they generally need to be told to pipe down.

I’m just starting to find the balance between listening to the demons and quashing their efforts when I need to. It’s so easy to become your own worst enemy when you’re looking for work. A wavering confidence in your ability/skills set could easily be your downfall. In these periods of unemployment, it’s all too common for people to spend their time seeking confidence boosts from outside sources. We forget that, actually, we are in the position of power. We can find it for ourselves – we need to be our own cheerleaders*.

*In our minds, mind. I wouldn’t advise going into a full Elle Woods-esque “What You Want” routine every time you’re presented with an opportunity to seize. As much as the thought of us all doing that fills me with joy, it might be better kept in our imaginations.

It’s certainly something that I’ve struggled with. I could really do with a pair of metaphorical pom-poms. I was once told by a choreographer that if it wasn’t for us having worked together previously, I would have talked myself out of being featured in a dance break. It’s that dreaded ol’ “how is your [insert dance/tap/soprano/belt range etc etc etc here]?” question that gets asked in auditions and in the rehearsal room. We’re so terrified of sounding arrogant about our own abilities that we inevitably play them down and are quite likely to lose out as a result. In this example, I made a lucky escape. It’s an easy mistake to make.

Recently, I spotted something in the press called “Just Not Sorry”, a plug-in that alerts people to their use of apologetic language in emails. It’s a trait perceived to hold people back in their careers – especially females. Consequently, there’s been a lot of feminist backlash against the app (“Where’s the Just Not Arrogant and Over-entitled plug-in for men?” – Barbara Ellen, writer for the Observer). However, I think in our industry it’s a trait shared by all – in emails and in person. We’re a (stereo-typically English) apologetic bunch of numptys. We have this weird ingrained thought that self-deprecation will win people over. Sure, being humble and pliant will make you more likable over an egotistical counterpart but will it make a panel think you’re up to the job? It’s all about finding the right balance. We need a Just Not Sorry and Just Not Arrogant mash-up for our minds to counter the efforts of our inner demons telling us to people-please to the point of inadvertent self-harm.

I overcame the biggest hurdle presented by my self-sabotaging  demons right at the end of 2015. A production, with a director I really wanted to work with, sent out an initial breakdown that deemed me wholly inappropriate (high-level actor-musician, preferably string) and I quickly put the idea to bed. However, many weeks later I learned that they were still looking to fill the role and so I threw my demons, my inhibitions and a bit of my shame out of the window and put myself forward – despite playing a woodwind instrument to (what my demons told me was) a questionable ability. I tried my utmost to quash the Negative Nancy in my head and put myself on the line by saying (not in these words, but you get the idea): “This is what I can do. Who knows, it might be what you’re looking for. Ps. sorry sorry thanks for your time sorry”. (Apologetic language in emails is something I’m still working on. I might get the plug-in.) Much to my surprise, they did think that what I had to offer was of use and I got the job.  Huzzah. Ridout 1 – 0 Demons.

Then, in rehearsals, the buggers came back with a vengeance. I really struggled with the idea that I was good enough – despite being there and doing the job. The occasional squeaks from clarinet corner, whilst entertaining for my colleagues, were like a stab in the gut of my self-esteem. I felt like a con artist for quite a while. However, despite it being quite the emotional drain some days, these inner demons were the kick up the bustle I needed and it made me come out of the contract in a much better place. I worked hard to conquer my clarinet fears and, as you’d expect, I got stronger every day. I caught the actor-musician bug so much so that I am currently having flute lessons as well. Thanks, inner demons! It’s important to be able to identify when the negativity is springing you into, what is ultimately, positive actions or whether it’s tripping you up at important hurdles.

It’s not about ignoring negative thoughts. Sometimes they are needed as a devils advocate to help you fully assess a situation or, indeed, light a fire in your belly. So this year I am suggesting listening to your inner demons and trying to recognize when you’re paying them too much attention and standing in your own way as a result. Try to notice what language you use to respond to questions in auditions (eg. the classic trying-to-be-humble “on a good day” when you know you can, every day), make a note of what you say and try to think of alternatives for the next time you’re posed with the same question. Be your own “Just Not Sorry/Arrogant” plug-in and put this positively filtered version of yourself out there for the taking. You never know when what you have to offer might be exactly what they’re looking for. Wouldn’t it be awful if the only person stopping you was you!? We’ve got enough going against us in this industry already. Forget about everyone else. Don’t rain on your own parade. Don’t throw away your shot.

Happy tackling your inner demons!

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Imagining if I hadn’t been able to wear this costume because of denying my clarinets existence. 

I shall forever be imagining everyone sat in audition rooms giving themselves a personal pep talk to the tune of: “What you want, it’s clear. What you want, right here. What you want is right in front of you, front of you!”

– Rebecca Ridout

 

As actors, people always tell you that in periods of unemployment you still have to get up, get out and work on yourself. This (normally) means working on your skills set by attending class, upping your fitness and generally keeping in good nick so you’re on ‘standby’ mode for when the right job comes along. This year, unintentionally, I’ve worked on myself in a completely different way. Through the jobs I’ve done in my funemployment stages, I’ve worked on being a better individual within the industry. I’ve been working on my empathy through taking a walk in other people’s shoes.

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

You’d assume that actors are within the group of people that excel at empathizing with others. After all, we try to take on another persons mindset – their hopes, their fears – and capture how it affects their every move for a living. However, aside from character development, we live in a very self-centered world. More often than not, people are so focused on their own pursuit of happiness that they don’t consider that of others. If you think I’m bold in saying that, genuinely question if it’s applicable to you, then reconsider. It was certainly the case with me – I live in a little goal orientated bubble. My experience this year has shown me just how many other people work tirelessly behind the scenes (not just backstage) to make a piece of theatre happen. I’ve barely scratched the surface and it’s opened my eyes (dramatically, of course).

Over summer I worked for the National Youth Music Theatre who produce a season of 3 musicals (in different cities) whilst housing and feeding everyone involved (80% of whom are aged 11-23). It’s no mean feat, I can tell you! I’m forever in awe of Jeremy Walker – the man who makes it all happen. Whilst working for the company I took on many a role: pastoral care (eg. keeping everyone alive aka supplying creatives with constant caffeine), public relations, programme editor (all 10,000 words of it), chaperone (the most unnecessarily hated people in theatre), wardrobe and, basically, wonderwoman. It was exhausting and exhilarating. I loved every second. I learnt so much about the varying teams that come together to make the magic happen. Plus, I had a first-hand experience at tackling some of the workload. It’s mammoth. I thought I at least had a grasp on how much work went into producing theatre but, as it transpires, I knew very little. I thought NYMT would be the biggest eye-opener in that regard. That was until I started working on Mary Poppins…

I’m currently* dressing on the opening month of the Mary Poppins UK tour whilst it’s at Curve (I know, I can’t stay away).

*Almost literally. I’m sat in, what is deemed, Wardrobe Village in the stage left wing. Everyone’s currently teching ‘Step in Time’ so I’ve got a hot minute to gather my thoughts.

As it’s the first venue, every department is still figuring out how it’s all going to work. It’s very much a GINORMOUS puzzle that we’re collaboratively trying to put together. This show is huge. Curve couldn’t do a conventional meet and greet (y’know, where you stand in a circle and announce your name to a room of people who will instantly forget it) because of the sheer number of people involved. Wardrobe, sets and wigs are spilling out of every room they’re attempting to fit in. It’s miraculous how all the necessary bits actually slot backstage (although a lot does hang above your head – you just have to avoid looking up if you’re of a nervous disposition). Being here through this process – which I know is unlike many I shall ever see – has astounded me. As an actor, during tech you’re (quite rightly) concentrating on your track, looking on from the wings and thinking about your next move, not staring at the 4 people behind you moving a set of chimneys onto a truck. I’ve spent this time observing and learning, with growing adoration for the people surrounding me dressed head to toe in black. Plus, my drama school wardrobe is finally being put to use again. Huzzah!

What has shocked me the most about this job is how much I’ve loved being on this side of things. Mary Poppins is one of my favourite shows so, naturally, a lot of people thought I’d find it hard working on it – not in it. The reality is quite the opposite, I can assure you. The kick I’ve been getting from making a quick change happen is bizarre. Well, actually, it’s not bizarre…it’s so satisfying! I’m loving the feeling I get from being part of the team that makes the magic happen – and with a show like this, the magic is real. Ahhhh Disney (and Cameron Macintosh, of course). There’s also a cherry on top of this situation. Half the joy of not being in a show you love is that you get to see it. I always have a silver lining me. I’m so looking forward to going to another venue to see this beautiful show in all its glory. The only challenge will be stopping my heart from racing/hands fidgeting during quick change moments. I’ll probably loudly exclaim “YES!” every time someone makes it on.  Otherwise I’ll be a great theatre companion, I swear.

Following this experience, I would highly recommend taking a backstage job to any actor who is floating around between contracts. Or, even, whilst looking for acting work. Never again will I automatically dismiss a “+ assistant stage manager” job. It’s brilliant for keeping involved, keeping inspired and making you a more aware & appreciative actor. The superheroes in black won’t blend into the background for anymore – they’ll shine like the stars they are (I know I’m cheesy, you don’t need to tell me). Not forgetting, of course, the people sat in back offices doing all the administrative work. After all, they get the bums on seats to fund your pay check and actually write it too. There are so many unsung heroes in theatre. It’s a shame that so many are afraid of the limelight, otherwise I’d suggest a technical team curtain call*.

*On that note, I don’t think I’ve ever stood for a standing ovation with such gusto as when the acrobats/technical team legends came out during bows for The Light Princess. How did they not get a collective ‘Best Suppporting Artist’ nomination!? They are the definition of that for me. Incredible.

So if you’re currently in a show, take a bit of extra time today to notice every person working around you. What are they doing to make you look good? Do you know everyone’s name? I wish I could make a £1 bet with every actor that they don’t – I reckon I’d be rich by tomorrow. If you’re not in a show, take a bit of extra time today to look for jobs you could be doing behind the scenes temporarily*. You’ll learn a lot and come out a changed person – I can vouch for that.

*It’s always worth getting in touch with a theatres wardrobe department (in a city near you) to see if they need additional dressers for big tours. That’s why I’m here.

This year I’ve walked in, what has felt like, a lot of other people’s shoes. I’ve tried things that I’d never have envisaged myself attempting and I’ve loved it. They were totally my (steel-toed) shoes. Trust me, I still want to be an actor – my priorities haven’t changed. I just know that when I approach my next job I’ll be more grounded, more observant, more thankful and less of a bumbling fool around my dresser.

Happy appreciating all of #TeamTheatre.

Back at Curve, different department.

“And I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn’t known before…”
– Rebecca Ridout

It’s true. The internet is really, really great for so many things. However, the more time I’ve spent on it recently, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s also really, really awful. The positives and the negatives are seemingly present in equal measure. For every genuine, positive, social interaction through Twitter there’s also a troll. For every pep-filled post on Facebook, there’s sure to be someone taking the piss. It’s because of this that we’ve become people obsessed with the public perception of ourselves. We’re so conscious of attracting unwanted, negative attention that we – quite literally, thanks to Instagram – filter our lives for the sake of others. Or, in some cases, create a whole new avatar/profile in order to express some opinions that you wouldn’t dare share as yourself (I’m looking at you Audition Pianist, Winter Strallen etc…#kisses).

Especially within our industry, we are constantly aware of how others may perceive us. Even though ‘public image’ is a term I would associate with celebrities, it’s becoming something that’s applicable to most with the rise of social media. Ninety percent of the people that I follow on Twitter don’t have private accounts which means that their profiles are open to viewing by anyone and everyone. It’s a public image. It doesn’t matter how active you are on social media (I’m a self-confessed addict), it’s still a public portrayal of yourself. Recently, I’ve become hyper aware of this and censor myself – although that might be hard to believe if you follow me on Twitter! I’ve been incredibly hesitant to post blogs if I’m not 100% happy with them. You should see my drafts folder. I know I don’t make enormous waves but I’ve become incredibly anxious of the reactions that they may receive. Obviously, blogs often open up debate and people have differing opinions. It’s not that kind of reaction I have an opposition to, but rather the negative personal reaction that could come in tow of that. After all, who is this Rebecca Ridout person writing all this stuff about the industry? WHO IS SHE!? It seems to me that negativity makes a much louder noise on the internet than positivity. Therefore, I panic at the thought of making even the smallest of ripples.

Case in point: I tweeted a small (sassy) rant about the result of the general election and made the biggest Twitter impression I will probably ever make. I’m one of the 46,420,413 people that voted in the GE2015 yet my tiny voice still made a bloody ripple.

Twitter

“WHAT IF SOMEONE I WANT TO WORK FOR IS TORY AND NOW HATES ME!?”*

*Probably the stupidest fear ever considering you work in the Arts, Rebecca. But it’s still a thought that ran through my head, a lot.

It’s no wonder we’ve all become our own Public Relations representatives and are only allowing our best bits into the limelight. Such edited excerpts aren’t an accurate portrayal of ourselves, yet we are all increasingly guilty of comparing ourselves to our internet-crazed peers. This industry, undeniably, fuels that comparison fire. We all know people who are regularly thrilled to announce a job (seeeeeriously though guys, what other industry does that!?! I want to know you have a job but I don’t want you to “announce” it to me – that’s reserved for babies/engagements #sorrynotsorry), people who publicize their audition diary so you know when they’ve been seen for that show and that show, and people that tweet, pre-audition, that they’ve already been to the gym (2001 Cathy from the Last Five Years would have been LIVID). But, who am I kidding, we’re never going to convince all those people to change their ways so instead you have to find ways to embrace these traits and keep strong in that favourite Ridout mantra of running your own race.

I recently read the book ‘Happiness by Design’ by Paul Dolan which points out that happiness and misery are contagious. You should do all you can to catch the former and avoid the latter. Basic, but sound, advice. However, choosing the right reference group of people is central to this. Social media has given us flexibility in choosing our peer group (hence all the confused, lefty, Arts folk who were bemused that we didn’t win the election, without realizing that we tend to follow like minded people). Dolan recommends that you prioritize a group of people whose behaviour you want to copy. SO HOLD ON! Don’t do that massive cull of people who commit the above sins just yet – they could be a positive influence on you. You just have to be realistic. You don’t want to look to and hope to copy people’s behaviours if it’s an unobtainable upward comparison – that might make you a whole lot less happy. After all, we can’t all be Cynthia Erivo! It would be silly to compare your career to hers, but she’s pretty damn inspirational so her filling up your news feed with joy is no bad thing. It’s about recognizing the difference between someone who is a tad annoying – because they’re ultimately advertising that they’re in a position you want to be in – and someone who is actually doing you harm with their social media behaviour. Ask yourself “Is this somebody whose voice I need to hear?”*. If you’re leaning towards a ‘no’ then you know what to do. That’s a glorious bit of advice I got from Marie Kondo – the author or ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. I love a positive mind book, I do. Can you tell?

*Cue Ridout descending into sheer panic at the thought that people might read that and think “well I bloody well don’t need to hear yours, love”. Please like me, Internet!

My personal advice on this subject would be to just take everything you see online with a big-ass pinch of salt. People are, naturally, hiding their demons offline so it’s not worth even beginning to compare yourself to their selected showings. Try to soak up the positivity they put out into the realms of the internet and reflect the bits that you can. Plus, don’t forget that your Facebook-savvy Gran is looking to your updates for a glimpse into your well-being. Your posts – even if only your selected ‘best bits’ – make the people who love you smile. So keep at it and when you’re brave, maybe post something a bit more vulnerable and truthful. Don’t be scared to show both sides of yourself. This is my first step towards stopping the social media censor. After months of hesitating, I finally wrote another blog that will be out there for the internet to judge. Take that, comfort zone! I’ll leave you with my favourite quote ever. Heed this advice:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” – Dr. Seuss

Thanks, Dr. Seuss! You’re so right.

Happy social media lovin’!

Note: The photo below has been posted on my Facebook page. I was having a lavely old time with my friends on a Sunday for my birthday. The following day I was back at work in a call centre. Unless I was to #LiveTweet my life, I think it’s okay to be a bit selective.

I'm gonna use #blessed - but it's totally ironic.

I’m gonna use #blessed – but it’s totally ironic.

“Tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet….HOORAY!”

– Rebecca Ridout

I’ve been listening to Joe Stilgoe’s album ‘New Songs for Old Souls’ on repeat* this week but there’s one lyric in particular that keeps on jumping out at me and it got me thinking – with a theatrical spin of course. In his track ‘Roll’ he says that “youth is wasted on the young” and even at my tender age I often wish I could go back and squeeze more out of my youth. I know, I know, some of you may be mentally (quite vigorously) shaking me right now saying “YOU ARE STILL YOUNG, WOMAN!” but I’m talking childhood/teenage years here. Youth is definitely something we all take for granted. It’s the ultimate never-knowing-how-good-you-had-it-until-it-was-gone scenario. Childhood was the best wasn’t it!?

*I seriously mean on repeat. I listened to it all the way home from work and I’m still listening to it. I just danced to my kettle, danced whilst making a cuppa and danced back to my laptop. I defy you to resist the jazzy goodness of that album. Please note: I’m not being paid to advertise it. It’s just that good.Trust me, you need it in your life.

Childhood is something we grow envious of with age. We get nostalgic for those carefree times and ultimately start resenting the present with all of it’s real-life, real-time problems. Having recently fallen back into the joys of actors funemloyment it would have been so easy for me to feel that way. However, I consider myself very lucky to have just spent the last 5 months working alongside endlessly energetic, lovely, talented kids. They’ve put a spring in my step that I can’t seem to shake. Seeing kids do the same job as you (or doing much more that you in the case of the Von Trapps vs. Nuns) but miraculously never tiring and loving every second is infectious. They were a burst of inspiration daily – both before the show and during. Granted, my track in the show had very little cross-over with the Von Trapp gang but as a consequence one of my favourite parts of the show was the party. Whilst Maria and the Captain were Landler-ing their way into eachothers hearts we’d all be out on the terrace and the kids would lift spirits and always make me crack a smile (perhaps because they named me and my hubby the very appropriate names of Colin & Shaniqua…). They never suffered on matinee days, they don’t want it to be Saturday because that means they won’t get to do it the day after and they live for every second. That’s how, when as kids we decided we wanted to become actors, we always thought we would feel and it’s exactly how we should be. I feel very lucky to have had that drilled into me by three teams of exceptional youngsters leaving me with enough mojo to keep me going until 2017 at the very least.

However, I understand that orchestrating being cast in a show with kids perhaps isn’t the easiest way to give your spirits a lift. Luckily, I’ve found something that is equal – if not better – soup for the stage-driven soul.*

*side note: if you haven’t read any of the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ books you really should. They’re just that.

Instead of working alongside them, you just need to go and watch talented youngsters absolutely smashing a professional production out of the park. It will either inspire you or give you a good kick up the bum (“they can do THAT and they’re HOW OLD!?”) but either way you’ll feel better for it and you’ll want to get up and get at it.

You could go and see Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (unfortunately you’ve just missed The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and the hauntingly good performances from the girls in The Nether) but there’s one show in particular that, in my opinion, is guaranteed to revive your childhood spirit. You need to go and see Bugsy Malone at the Lyric Hammersmith.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about kids pretending to be mobsters that just tickles my funny bone beyond belief. I’m pretty sure that I grinned from ear to ear from start to finish. Firstly, it is ridiculously heart warming (sure there’s gang warfare but it’s ANGEL DELIGHT) and they resolve to all get along and give out love on the understanding that it will all come back around. Yes, yes and more yes to that you mini mobsters you. Add to that the most talented group of kids (nay, I could even say cast – you won’t believe the calibre until you see it) I have ever seen and you’ve got a surefire, life-affirming, energy-inducing hit. You’ll be propelled from your seat (initially for a standing ovation, then) with your new found enthusiasm for life and the industry.

I know that’s high praise and a lot of hype from Ridout over here, but I really don’t think it’s out of place. Those kids (and kidults in the cast) will astound you and they’ll make you believe, all over again, that you can be anything that you want to be.

“Think about it, says cast member Isaac Gryn, 16: “We all stand there singing to the adults in the audience: ‘You don’t have to sit around complaining ’bout the way your life has wound up.’” It’s a call to arms – just as long as they only shoot Angel Delight” – from Matt Trueman’s article, The Guardian

Remember, the creative adult is the child who survived.

Happy recapturing your youth and, if you know what’s good for you, watching Bugsy Malone!

Baby Rids thinking she could be anything that she wanted to be.

Baby Rids thinking she could be anything that she wanted to be.

“I won’t take no for an answer, I was born to be a dancer”

– Rebecca Ridout

I’ve recently been a major culprit of using every excuse in the book to justify why I didn’t get a job/didn’t hear back from an audition. I’ve also sat and listened to many people doing just the same. We’re awful for it. I think it must be how actors flex their creative imaginations whilst ‘resting’. The things we come up with, I tell ya. It’s laughable. Well, at least, I laugh at myself whilst verbalising these stupid, unnecessary, reasons. So, I’m going to quote a film that I think might have some relevant references…

“Why do we say this stuff to eachother? Is it possible it’s because we’re scared and it’s too hard to say the one obvious truth that’s staring everyone in the face…

“[insert generic creative/casting director’s name here]’s just not that into you!”

It was whilst driving through Cairo (I know, casual. Ridout’s pensive time has gone international) that the famous “he/she hasn’t called me yet but…” scenario came up in conversation. So, being the dramatic person that I am, I declared: “THERE NEEDS TO BE A STAGEY VERSION OF HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU!” because I seemingly can’t keep on topic in a conversation – it has to relate back to theatre.

So…here we are. Ridout’s going to try and equate relationship advice to the theatre industry.

The first scenario (as addressed in the film too) is when you leave an audition/date and instantly get on the phone to your friend to tell them how well it went. You’ll inevitably pump yourself up with enthusiasm and, hopefully, get some validation from your friend meanwhile the casting director/date is calling in the next person/calling someone he’d rather see. Ooosh.

From this scenario you just have to take that it’s not necessarily how you performed (in the audition/on the date) but rather that you might not be quite what they’re looking for and they happen to have someone else in mind that is. It might feel personal, but it really isn’t. You have to remind yourself of that and take each audition/date with a pinch of salt.

What follows is the horrendous wait for a call. Whilst waiting to hear from jobs/prospective dates we become slaves to our phones. I’ve got the T-shirt for putting my life at risk, bolting it out of the shower to answer my phone, for a false alarm (it was Joshua Tonks…we spoke about Ru Pauls Drag Race). We’re constantly checking them and when we find nothing there we start coming up with excuses for a delay.”I think Vodafone is having problems with its signal today”, “My voicemail is full and I don’t think missed calls are showing. Bloody iPhones”, “They’re running off to see the Oklahoma tour in Dublin actually so I don’t think I’ll hear until late tomorrow…” We even find out we haven’t got the job/recall through the stagey grapevine or, worst of all, on Twitter.

Gigi: “You have to just go around checking all these different portals to get rejected by 7 different technologies. It’s exhausting!”

Ain’t that the truth! It’s a lesson I’m only just getting to grips with (the above shower incident was only a month ago). I’m regularly checking my phone as if, by some miracle, in the past 10 seconds someone’s called me and I missed it (despite my phone always being on loud). STOP. Put the phone down. Have a cup of tea. Sing a showtune. Just move away from the phone and if it rings, great. Just don’t sit around driving yourself crazy over it.

It’s admittedly a bastard, what with all this “I don’t know how long I’m supposed to wait before giving up” malarkey. At least with dating you have the option of taking the dive of humility and calling them yourself. But in our industry, this is when you start listening to other peoples “wait time” situations and assuming it’ll be the same for you.

I, for instance, waited 6 weeks to find out whether or not I had a recall for The Sound of Music. SIX. Then on the day of my recall they called me 2 hours later with my offer. TWO. That throws a confusing “wait time” spanner in the works. Plus, it just so happens that this example ended in a positive outcome. More recently, I was on hold for a job for over 4 weeks. I was constantly using the above as a justification and a benchmark for how long I’d be kept waiting. “I waited 6 weeks to hear from Sound of Music and then I got it!” so when these 4 weeks resulted in a no it was a right old smack in the face. A smack in the face I’d set myself up for.

He’s Just Not That Into You Example:

Janine: “Let me tell you, after I went out with Ben for the first time he didn’t call me for 11 days and now he’s like the worlds best husband”

SPOILER ALERT: Ben cheats on Janine with Scarlett Johansson’s character.

Just because something happened once doesn’t mean it will happen again and it certainly won’t always end the way you want it to.

We have to stop listening to stories of “I knew someone whose partner was cheating on them but now they live happily ever after” or “I know someone who was rejected for a show but 6 months later got the part because…”, “I mean, it could happen right?” NO. STOP THIS. If you’re always looking for comparisons to draw on in order to fool yourself then you’re only increasing the height from which you may eventually fall. Save yourself the added distance and don’t listen to hearsay (unverified knowledge, feel free to listen to the band). Take each new experience as just that…new! Don’t let anyone cloud you with opinions on what it “could be like” because you’ll unquestionably be in entirely different circumstances to anything that might have happened to them – or that friend of a friend of a friend.

I’ll refer you now to, perhaps, the most famous part of the film (or book I should say, it was a book first people):

Gigi: “But maybe he did call and I didn’t get the message or maybe he lost my number or is out of town or got hit by a cab or his Grandma died…

Alex: “Maybe he didn’t call because he has no interest in seeing you again…”

Gigi: “But what if I’m the exception?

Alex: “No you’re not, you’re not at all. In fact, you’re the rule”

In this over-saturated, competitive industry of ours it should be obvious that we are the rule. However, there’s something intrinsic in all of us that makes us want to believe otherwise. In dating and theatre alike we thrive on the drama of it all.

Alex: “You take things and twist them into something else and it’s INSANE!”

It is insane. But I’m with Gigi on this one…

Gigi: I may dissect each little thing and put myself out there too much but at least that means I still care”

…and to that I say hell yeah! (Yes that rhymed, what of it?)

It’s true, we do it because we care. We do it because we want it. Badly. If we didn’t then what would be the point of it all?

My favourite scene in the film is when Janine flips out about her lying, cheating, douchebag of a husband and smashes a mirror on the floor. She then instantly leaves the room and promptly returns with a dustpan to start cleaning up. I think that’s the perfect metaphor for how to get by in this industry/the dating game/life in general. If you get hurt by someone or through not getting a job then allow yourself a freakout (although I’d advise a mope and some Ben & Jerrys rather than smashing a mirror) but then quickly start to pick up the pieces and begin moving forward.

It’s important to stay passionate about what we do but I think it’s equally important to be able to stay at a safe distance from the end result so that the clean up remains achievable. If we get in too deep it’ll be harder to bounce back and if you wallow for too long you might be letting an opportunity pass you by.

Don’t let auditions cloud your mind after you’ve left the room, don’t let the possibility of the phone ringing dictate your existence and don’t listen to hearsay. Trust your own journey and remember why you’re on it in the first place. MUSICAL THEATRE, I’M SO INTO YOU.

There are more lessons to be learnt from He’s Just Not That Into You – Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck have a rocky old road to marriage and Drew Barrymore realises that MySpace is not the way to find true love (*cough* Tinder *cough*). However, I think you’ve got the idea (and these ones seemed relevant to my theatrically inclined mind). So I’ll leave you now with the closing, poignant, voice-over of the film – just with a couple of stagey additions:

“Maybe it’s you, on your own, picking up the pieces and starting over – freeing yourself up for something better in the future. Maybe the happy ending is just moving on. Or maybe the happy is ending it this…

Knowing that through all the demoralising dance calls, endless auditions, sirening in public, temping in a call centre and waiting weeks for the phone to ring…

…you never gave up hope.”

Happy auditioning/dating!

Plus,10 points if you know what musical lyric Lottie (my wonderful Gal-entine) used on my punny Valentines card:

Ignore the blinking and see if you recognise the stagey lyric in the Ridout pun...

“NO! I THINK I BLINKED”

“You just never know, in a moment he might walk through that door. And he’d stop my heart from sinking and my head from over-thinking. That’s what we do it for. That’s why we do it, why we put our poor selves through it. That’s what we do it for!”

– Rebecca Ridout

WARNING: This blog post contains multiple references to The Sound of Music. It may be cheesy, but I’m cheesy so just go with it.

I know it’s been a while since my last post but I try to wait for the right inspiration before writing. It just turns out that I need to travel to another continent (and listen to an orchestra rehearsing one of my favourite scores as I write) to find it. So here is a little one that I hope provides you with a bit of inspiration too.

(As a side note, on the off chance you don’t stalk me, I’ve just finished playing Sister Margaretta in Curve’s production of The Sound of Music and now I’m in Cairo playing Sister Sophia. I can’t seem to break the habit. BADDUMMCHHHHHHH. Right, back to the blog….)

I’d never have thought, this time last year, that I’d currently be sat in a purpose built tent, in the middle of an Egyptian desert, rehearsing The Sound of Music. I don’t think anyone would have! In February last year I was working in a restaurant with little sign of relief. I only had my own self belief, thinking that something good was bound had to happen sooner or later.

Now, a year on, I’m in a very lucky position having just gone from one contract straight into the other – albeit, hilariously, a different production of the exact same show. I still thank my lucky stars daily. After leaving the Curve, I moved back to London and started rehearsals for The Sound of Music Mark II the next day. It was only going to be a short run, traveling to Beirut of all places, and would leave me funemployed for the unluckiest day of the year – Friday 13th. It was then by some strange twist of fate that our contracts got thrown back up in the air and we followed (in a plane, mind you) bringing us to Cairo. I must have said “what is this crazy life we lead!?” at least fifty times this week – if not today. I mean, on our day off we went for a saunter around one of the Seven Wonders of the World. What is this crazy life?

It got me thinking (you know what I’m like and we have a lot of thinking time whilst driving into the desert) about the uncertainty of our career choice and how we choose to look at that uncertainty. I know it’s daunting to have a period of unemployment ahead. Trust me, I’ve been that terrified waitress. However, I think it’s important to spin the potentially devastating thought into exciting ones. Try to find, or imagine even, the endless possibilities that could be on the horizon for you and keep working towards them – if only for your own sanity.

You’re often told (or, at least, I was) that it’s about waiting for the right job to come along at the right time. I know, for me, that was incredibly true. The right show for you could be just around the corner so it’s important that you’re ready for it when it comes. The thought of what could be should always keep you inspired and wanting to keep on top of your game (as much as I hate that phrase – it is a bit of a game we play).

I’m always preparing for hypothetical auditions of shows I want to be in, so when (not ‘if’ – positive thinking and all that jazz) the opportunity presents itself I’m ready to go. The best example of this neediness is that I kept on top of some Latin repertoire should The Sound of Music ever appear. So when Curve announced it as their Christmas show I said “I’m going to be in that!”* and started working towards that aim. Then, like London buses, multiple productions appeared and now – as the Rogers & Hammerstein Estate said to me (SOMEONE PINCH RIDOUT CIRCA 2014) – I’ve almost completed a hat trick of the Sisters. Who’s laughing at obsessive, over-prepared Ridout now!?

*DISCLAIMER: This is not how you get a job – I’m a very lucky girl – but positive thinking never hurt anyone.

Sure, this production will finish soon, my bubble will burst, I’ll fly back to London and I’ll get a ‘resting actor’ job. However, where previously I would have feared the unknown ahead I now know that I just need to keep looking for the next opportunity and trusting that what is meant for me won’t pass me by. After all…

Maria: Sister Margaretta always says “When God shuts a door”-
Captain: I know – “He opens a window”

So keep looking for that ruddy window. Who knows, you could end up in a hotel that looks over the FREAKING NILE. (I’m not over the fact that I’m in Egypt, can you tell!?) You truly never know what might be ahead. No-one knows what this year will be like for you but you can imagine and create an exciting one. You could also try climbing a mountain, fording a stream or following a rainbow as I hear they help.

Happy finding your dream!

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Just, you know, getting photo-bombed by a London pigeon in front of THE PYRAMIDS (ignore the fact I’m blinking please and thank you).

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Spot Ridout in the Curve Nuns & Buns.

“With each step I am more certain everything will turn out fine. I have confidence the world will all be mine. They’ll have to agree I have confidence in me!”

– Rebecca Ridout

A few days ago I drafted a blog about the joy and sorrow that the fringe has brought us this year in terms of theatrical delights and actor’s livelihoods driven woe. It read a little something like this:


This year I have spent a lot of time visiting and loving fringe theatre. Indeed, this year was my first (can you believe it?) trip up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it’s safe to say I fell head over heels in love with the whole thing. Fringe theatre offers unparalleled opportunities in creativity to actors and creatives alike – taking risks that mainstream theatre entrepreneurs wouldn’t dream of – resulting in exciting and innovative productions that have the industry raving and flocking in attendance. The questionable conditions that its creators work in inevitably become part of the charm – especially when up in Scotland, on the Mile, in the rain, still going strong – but they are equally the reason that the fringe ends up under the firing squad. Whilst watching the show it’s hard to forget that the actors are being paid a pittance (if anything) and have probably come from an 8 hour shift just so they can pay their rent and buy the occasional value sandwich. Consequently, it’s also hard to escape the accusations of acting increasingly becoming a career solely for the middle/upper classes because it’s boiling down to those who can afford to a) train and b) sustain a life on predominantly no income!

I’ll be honest and say that I feel like I’m on a see-saw of opinions – never settling on what I think is the right option. On one hand, I am an actor and of course I should be paid to do what I do. It’s not a hobby, it’s a profession and all that jazz. But then I consider the flip side suggesting that the fringe simply wouldn’t exist if everyone was paid (the investment could never be matched and therefore wouldn’t go ahead in the first place). The latter has been brought to light recently with the director of a “profit-share” fringe show winning an appeal against his actors demanding minimum wage for the work they had done. The result was applauded with “sense” prevailing and producing for the fringe remaining financially viable.

Read the full article in The Stage HERE.

Whilst I believe that actors should be (or should I say are) entitled to at least minimum wage such an ask would likely prevent producers from producing and then we would be robbed of the exemplary work that we do have on offer on the fringe scene. It’s of a high standard, it’s highly regarded and some of theatre’s biggest and brightest talents come to use it as a creative outlet – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And I know I am not alone when I say that my favourite works of 2014 were to be found on the fringe. In The Heights and Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse created storms of inspired audiences, Carousel at the Arcola had broadsheet critics bowing down, Drunk at the Bridewell brought together dance and theatre audiences and left them craving Happy Hour, Sweeney Todd (both in Twickenham and currently Tooting Arts Club) had us blood-thirsty for more, the Howard Goodall season at the Union (which is still running with ‘Girlfriends’) had us swooning at the scores….I could go on and on (you know I could). If an enforced minimum wage had prevented the producers from bringing us these pieces just think how deprived we would have been.

The same can be said of Edinburgh – “don’t go to Edinburgh if you want to make money”. However, that doesn’t stop thousands of people (this year 3,193 shows ran) being mad, making art, sharing it and having a bloody good time in the process. And it’s no wonder – the whole experience is intoxicating. (If you haven’t been, it’s truly impossible to try and imagine what kind of effect being surrounded by all that creativity will have on you. There’s nothing like it. You simply must go. But anyway, back on topic.) In Edinburgh, I was working with an American and he said that with their union standards, nothing of the sort could ever happen in the USA. Isn’t that such a sad thought? With all that talent that country harbours they don’t and can’t have the same creative playground. I then started noticing the numerous American companies present at the festival. People had come to our little island in order to put on a show and revel in the unique collaboration of actor and audience that we have on the fringe (you know, when you could be the only person in the audience but the company still give you their life and soul at 11 in the morning). So here I am torn again between having the strength of a union (that I am sure many of us crave) or having the chance to frolick around Scotland for a month and be a deliriously happy thesp. I’m pretty sure I favour the latter.

2014’s fringe offerings have truly been a theatrical treat, providing solace from the increasingly treacherous West End. I did three shows on the fringe this year – two in London and one in Edinburgh – and I’d do them again in a heartbeat. That’s the problem with us actors, we do it because we love it. Therefore we agree to things no normal (sane?) person would and accept a nomadic lifestyle (as my physio put it so nicely) all for the love of the craft. I truly feel caught between a rock and a hard place – where the rock is the right to earn a living in this profession and the hard place is the life rich with inspiring art. After all, the earth without art is just ‘eh’.


So that was the draft (NB: DRAFT).

If it wasn’t for my impending move to the Midlands yesterday I would have posted this on the fence piece without knowledge of how the fringe could move forward to exclusively spreading joy (no equity woe). Then, as if by some miracle, the heavens above answered me in the form of Paul Taylor-Mills & the Morphic Graffiti team Stewart Charlesworth and Luke Fredericks.  On Friday it was announced that the team will be bringing us a revival of ‘Bat Boy’ to the aforementioned gem of a fringe venue, The Southwark Playhouse in January 2015. Great news right!? But the ever greater news is that they have agreed with equity to ensure that everyone on the production will receive at least the National Minimum Wage. WOOOHOOO. 

Emmanuel de Lange of Equity said: Equity members want to see a fairer fringe and I am commited to tackling the endemic culture of low pay and no pay in theatre, but we often hear management claim it’s just not possible to pay. This agreement shows that we can work together so professional performers are treated ethically, even when they’re starting out their careers.

Paul Taylor-Mills said: We’re committed to doing everything we can to prove better rates of pay for our actors and at such our break even point for Bat Boy is terrifyingly high. This is a risk we are prepared to take if it means we are moving in the right directions to try and make the fringe a model that can work for everyone. It isn’t a battle; this is a dialogue and requires openness, humility and a greater understanding from both actors and producers.

I don’t think show announcements come much better than that. But you’ve heard the man, the break even is high so make sure you book (…ASAP….CLICK HERE) to show prospective producers that it can be done and that they should follow suit. Don’t be like the hundreds who flocked to see Dogfight in the final week and were turned away disappointed when they could have booked without trouble in the weeks prior. Guarantee yourself a seat to say “I was there when”!

We’re having art created for us AND people are being paid to do it. That’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year rolled into one and it’s only November. If I thought fringe was on top this year, I can’t wait for 2015.

Please let me know your thoughts on any of the above. Have you ever boycotted fringe on principal? Do you think we’ll be able to move forward in this way? Any other fringe joys you’d like to highlight? It’s truly something I could talk about all day so please join in the discussion.

In the meantime, happy fringe working/attending!

Final walk down the Mile on the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Final walk down the Mile of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

 

“If we prove that they’re wrong, they’ll come round before long and we’ll all sing a song full of comfort and joy!”

– Rebecca Ridout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

//

I think the title of this blog is the most obvious and cheesy lyric choice yet but, let’s face it, Larson is always poignant when you start thinking about the passing of time. I’m sticking to that.

A year ago, to the day, I graduated from drama school. In wishing all of the new graduates luck and quoting the school’s anthem “It’s Just The Beginning” I’ve become very nostalgic and have spent some time reflecting on these past 365 days. It is tradition at the London School of Musical Theatre to pass on some wisdom to a new student arriving in September to help them out (or terrify them) for their year ahead. So, I’d quite like to write a little post as an updated version of advice for all those beautifully talented people about to take their first steps in the industry.

 Graduates of 2014, this one’s for you.

Now I have the gift that is hindsight, I can say that your first year in the industry will be an unexpected roller-coaster ride. I say unexpected because as far as careers go there are very few that you plan and dream the details of quite as much as a career in the performing arts industry. Of course, there are a very lucky number of people whose journeys will play out like a dream and it’s amazing to bask in their happiness (I’ve spent a lot of evenings crying with pride at professional debuts this past year). However, 9 times out of 10 your journey won’t play out quite as you had envisioned from aged 7, doing one-woman shows in your living room. It seems silly to say so, but remember that! You’ll have been told it plenty of times but it’s so easy to lose sight of that and cry tears of the green-eyed monster watching a friend’s debut rather than the aforementioned tears of joy. It should be all about the joy grads. So here are some tips to help keep it that way:

#TipOne: Pinch yourself occasionally…

…and remind yourself you’re one of a lucky minority (yes, it will seem like a large old industry at times but we’re still a minority) following their dream career. Even if you’ve finished a 13 hour shift carrying plates up and down 5 flights of stairs (yes, that’s what I do) remember that it’s all a means to an end.

#TipTwo: Pat yourself on the back for the small things too.

For your sanity’s sake I think it’s important to think of any achievement as a big one in your first, intrepid, year out of training. Things might seem like baby steps but they are all significant. From a good audition to (god forbid) actually getting a job don’t forget to take stock and note your achievement. It will help your esteem in the long run.

#TipThree: Keep your friends close.

You’re all in it together. You’ll need a network of people that you love and trust that you can call on when you’re struggling for audition material, need picking up off the floor when you don’t get a job or to chat to in an effort to calm your dance-call-first nerves. It’s also necessary to have a group of nearest and dearest who you can celebrate good news (and fight over press night plus ones) with too of course!

#TipFour: It’s a small industry.

That’s more of a statement than a tip. I guess it’s more of a reminder! We’ve all heard it a thousand times before but it still shocks me, almost every day, how everyone is connected. Naturally, there will always be some people in this industry that you’ll want to keep at arms length because of their negativity (amongst other things I am sure) but as long as you kill with kindness you’ll be fine. Plus, I’ve also learnt that playing ‘how many mutual friends do we have’ at auditions is a great way to pass the time. I dare you to try playing ‘do you know Ridout?’ and please report back any findings.

#TipFive: Enjoy every second.

This year will really be about finding your feet and learning how to get the career you’ve envisioned out of your head and made into something tangible (well, as tangible as an acting career can be). It’s not an easy process. I’m a year out and I still don’t have all the wheels in motion – it’s a Reliant Robin at best – but try to enjoy it as much as you can. Allow yourself to cry when you need a cry but start patting yourself on the back again as soon as possible. Get out of the house, find a show you only need £10 to see and get re-inspired. Sing in the rain, dance in the street and use all the world as a stage.*

*Was that sentence too much? Am I too much? Or is the rest of the world not enough? Answers on a postcard please.

#TipSix: Run your own race.

I won’t repeat myself on this one so if this is the first blog of mine that you’ve read then please reference this post on what I mean by that. I will, however, add one more ridiculous running analogy just for my graduation anniversary (mainly because I’ve been using MapMyRun far too much recently): For every 10 minutes of a marathon you may achieve varying distances for each but, ultimately you’re aiming for an end goal and to finish at your personal best. Which roughly translates as: Each year you may achieve different levels of accomplishment in terms of building your dream CV but you know your personal end-sight and you can only ever do your best. Just because one year you achieve less on paper than the last doesn’t mean you’re not going to end up where you want to be. I hope that makes as much sense to you as it does to me.

THAT’S IT!

Like with the tradition at LSMT, I could write a book of advice for what to expect for your year ahead. I hope that these select few nuggets of advice were of interest and that they will serve you in the incredible year you have ahead of you. 365 days later and I’m perfectly contented with where I am right now in terms of my career and I am a very happy individual. I can only hope that you feel the same in another 365 days time. 

Here’s the graduation anthem from LSMT’s own Charles Miller to set you on your way. Just give those lyrics a listen and you’ll be alright. 

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Final day of LSMT. Class of 2013.

“Down the road, around the next bend, who knows what’s ahead? But we’ll keep on and still keep in mind what so many said…”it’s just the beginning”…”

– Rebecca Ridout