Archives for posts with tag: Graduate

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

 

The fortnightly blog post was clearly a lie. I apologise. I do hope you’re okay with it and that we can move forward together despite my apparent lack of timekeeping skills. However, surely it’s better to write more frequently than it is to write less? I guess only time (and my friends who are on quality control) will tell. This week’s post is just a little ‘Food for Thought’. It’s an opportunity for me to let off some theatre themed steam and I’m hoping that in reading it you’ll discover a shared experience. It’s hopefully a pat on the back if you’re a graduate and a forewarning if you’re a student (remembering forewarned is forearmed). Here we go then…

Since graduating I’ve found it very hard to answer even the simplest of questions. “What are you up to at the moment?” “What’s new with you?” “How’s everything going?” There are endless word combinations that all culminate in the same scenario of me stumbling over my words, trying to justify my existence, and resenting the questioner. Now, how I expect to have a conversation with someone and this question not come up I do not know. I do know, however, that I didn’t have this problem two months ago. It is obviously the curse of an out of work actor. We all know there is no shame in not having a job (“That’s showbiz, kid”) but you still want to be able to paint a picture of the glamorous life you are living – even when, as in my case, you only have waitressing, theatre trips and a blog to show for yourself.

As soon as you choose this career path you (or at least I do) constantly justify yourself to those who “don’t get it” – the friends and family who aren’t in the business. It is undeniably easier to say: “I’ve got a part in _______, I start next week” than it is to explain the ups and downs, ins and outs and confusing reality of auditions. This is something I expect to have to explain/justify to family and friends though. I’ve been doing it ever since I first applied for drama school so I don’t get phased when they ask what I am up to – it’s like the answer is on tap. Why though am I struggling to tell people who are in the industry and consequently “get” my situation?

I’ve always instinctively asked graduate friends what they’re up to. It’s not to be nosey, it’s not to find out what they’re being seen for, it’s not to rub salt in any rejection wounds and it’s not to remind them that they still have post show blues (*COUGH*). It’s because all you’re hoping for is for them to turn around and tell you that they have a part in the aforementioned _______, and that you can gleefully hug it out. I had, until I became the out of work actor on the receiving end, always seen it as a caring question filled with hope of a positive response. I’ll admit that I sometimes got the defeated look with the “just auditioning, you know” response but I had never considered that the person could have been worn down by having had that conversation multiple times that day. Now that I am that person I can safely say (having seen many people I needed to catch up with recently at a theatrical event) that it is hard to come up with a multitude of positive replies!

What is the solution then? Not asking that question is near impossible. You want to ask in case the answer is a cause for celebration, you want to ask because you care but you don’t want to ask because you don’t want to be a reminder of their lack of opportunity. I genuinely don’t think there is a solution. Pointless blog post, you ask? I certainly hope not. I hope it provoked some thoughts in you, please let me know (@beccaridout) if you share any of these feelings on the asking or responding end. I know writing this has been like therapy for me! It means that next time I am asked I will know to control my death stare and will no doubt chuckle away to myself before launching into: “Well, it’s funny you should ask that because…”

Additionally, tonight I am off to see half of my year group for a mini reunion and to see ‘When Midnight Strikes’ at the Gatehouse Theatre. That will mean a minimum of 25 times being asked a combination of the above questions. Bring it on. I may not have an acting job currently but I’m spending time with people I love, seeing what I love. ‘When Midnight Strikes’ is written by LSMT’s own Head of Music – the man, the legend, Charles Miller (not forgetting his lyricist partner Kevin Hammonds). I know, even before I get there, that I am going to love this production with LSMT at its heart, actor friends in the cast (who, guess what, still had the same reply as me to the above questions in early August) and a top notch creative team. I cannot wait! Also, as I am typing this, the sun is currently shining in London town after days of miserable weather. It must be my happy thoughts. Remember: when in doubt, Ridout will sort you out. Or, if that fails…ask Mary Poppins (we are practically the same person after all). Happy question and answering!

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My new mantra before answering.

In regards to having a positive spin for every seemingly negative answer:

“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way”

– Rebecca Ridout

In true theatrical style, let’s start at the very beginning.

Firstly, let me explain the title of my blog. Whilst in my final year of training at the London School of Musical Theatre (from here on in I will use the acronym LSMT) I got a reputation for always having the answer to any kind of theatrical trivia question. A phrase soon came about stating “When in doubt, ask Ridout” and it caught on pretty quickly. Inspired by this I then used it as a way of getting people to pronounce my name correctly (when in doubt, its pronounced ‘Ridout’) – two birds with one stone: a nice little nerdy reputation and a correctly pronounced surname! Then over the course of the year the questions that were asked of me developed from musical theatre trivia to…well…absolutely anything. You name it, I was asked it.

Therefore, I think “When in doubt…Ridout” captures exactly what I want this blog to be (questions about my life answered) However, I’m still unsure as to what content will fill it on a fortnightly basis! Sometimes it will be an insight into the highs & lows of being a new graduate, sometimes it will be me needing to tell you all to read/watch/listen to something and sometimes it will just be a way for me to let off some musical theatre themed steam. I hope all of the above will be worth a read though! It may occasionally be an inspiration and it may occasionally have the ‘Jeremy Kyle’ effect of making you feel better about your own situation (even if its a case of schadenfreude at my expense) but that’s all it needs to be.

So here goes everything. My first experience of highs and (a very big) low since graduating.

On my first Monday morning as a graduate I had what you could call an exceptionally good day. I signed my contract with my agency, I went to the Tate Modern with some of my best friends pretending to be oh so cultured and finished the day drinking wine and rubbing shoulders with half the cast of Downton Abbey at Spamalot’s after show drinks for Hugh Bonneville’s debut. I felt pretty damn jammy. Life continued like this for two blissful weeks whilst knowing I was soon to start rehearsals for National Youth Music Theatre’s (from now on ‘NYMT’) production of ‘West Side Story’. High after high after high watching friends smash their professional debuts and thinking “that will be me soon enough” Then on the 3rd of August I lugged my suitcase (with pilates foam roller in hand) across London to head to Kent for rehearsals.

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Now I could write an entire essay on what an incredible experience ‘West Side Story’ was and what it meant to me as a performer. I won’t here though. If you’re interested though you can scroll back through my twitter (@beccaridout) and see what was happening and how blissfully happy it made me. My friend Amy replied to my tweets saying “Oh, are you enjoying your West Side Story experience then Rebecca? You should’ve said” and if you already follow me on twitter you’ll know exactly what she means. I was an incessantly happy tweeter. So I won’t bore you with it on here too!

The Saturday night performance of ‘West Side Story’ has now become what I’d like to call my “patronus moment” (just in case you aren’t a Harry Potter fan I mean one of the strongest, happiest memories you can recall). I was stood on the top of a shipping container on our incredible set and as soon as Amara said “Te adoro, Anton” I felt the vibrations of our 33 piece orchestra play out the closing chords of, arguably, the greatest musical ever written.

I think this photo shows how unbelievably elated I was – look at my little beaming face.

That was the ultimate high. In true dramatic fashion I do fear if it may genuinely be the ultimate high of my career. Not because I feel that my career won’t move onto bigger things than an NYMT production but rather because West Side Story is my favourite (and as previously stated, arguably the best) musical. It was a unique site specific production where we (or rather the creatives Nikolai Foster, Drew McOnie and Tom Deering) re-invented a classic. I can’t put it quite as eloquently as Mark Shenton did in his blog for The Stage so I’ll share what he thought:

“The joy of Drew McOnie’s work is that it is classically inspired, just as Robbins’ was, but also pulses and shimmers to its own distinctive vision, beautifully displayed by this eager young cast. There’s rawness and eagerness, vigour and danger in every step they take, and re-make; the usual critical language of dubbing it bold and breathtaking just won’t do. Instead, it does something even more vivid: it makes you look at the whole show in a new way.”

It really is going to be difficult to top that patronus moment I tell you!

Then after the high, as much as I tried to fight it, came the low. Hungover, I was driven back to London the following day (not helped by the bumpy road surfaces for miles stretching out of Manchester. I shudder at the memory) and BAM. Reality. I had a life admin to-do list as long as my arm and an insane amount of washing. I was no longer singing about a glorious place for us all or needing to have a dance off with someone over a small tiff. I had post-show blues. Then to add to this, on my kitchen table there was a letter from my school – it contained my diploma. Instead of being thrilled with my result I realised I had not mourned my loss of training because of the hiatus (remember? those two blissful weeks?) between graduation and ‘West Side Story’. These post-show blues then spiralled out of control because of combining with post-school blues. Ouch.

It’s been an emotional couple of days with tears springing out of my eyes at the most inappropriate moments (namely when I hear the words ‘somehow’,’someday’ or ‘somewhere’) However, as I learned from Uberfacts on twitter this morning: “Crying is good for your health – Flushing unhealthy bacteria out of your body, strengthening the immune system and relieving stress.” I’ve medicated my broken heart with 3 trips to the theatre in as many days, spending time in the sunshine and probably most significantly starting this blog. Rather than sitting down and thinking “I have nothing tangible in the future to look forward to” I’ve been thinking I have a great expanse of unknown in front of me in regards to my career and, to quote my favourite composer*, I am ‘excited and scared’ to start exploring it.

*I won’t say who it is, I’m hoping you’ll guess.

If you’ve got this far, thank you so much for reading this. I hope you return. Who knows what the next fortnight will hold but that’s the beauty of the industry. I guess any lessons from this experience to any newly graduated performer is to make sure you deal with any ‘no more training’ emotion before you may have to face post-show blues! Make sure you have tissues and friendly faces waiting for you when you return to normal life and if you’ve been away on residential have plenty of washing powder stocked up!

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Then when you’ve finished posing in front of a poster for a production you’ve just been in, giving it your best ‘sad face’, dust yourself off and step leap towards the next opportunity.

“Hold my hand and we’re halfway there, hold my hand and I’ll take you there. Somehow, someday, somewhere…”

– Rebecca Ridout