Archives for posts with tag: Happiness

“…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!

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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

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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

“…let the good times roll!” Thanks for that Steve, I will indeed let the good times roll.

It’s been 2014 for a while now and I’m only just getting ‘back in business’ as it were, having told my unproductive backside that I am my own ‘business’ and the industry (or, rather, my conscience) demands an improved work ethic. With actors everywhere returning from panto or other seasonal theatrics in the past few weeks I’ve had my social feed full of people’s toasts to productivity and their ‘bring on 2014’ attitudes. I’ll be the first to admit that I love a good public declaration of productivity but I will also dutifully confess that it’s often to guilt trip myself into actually achieving something rather that procrastinating in the stagiest corners of Youtube (I am currently ‘OBSESSED’ with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Or7mrEGAGXE and I spend a large amount of my time practicing it).

After the buzz of New Year died down, I felt I had to actually start some resolutions (“Well, I’ll properly start on Monday…”) so I did a few clichéd ‘New Year, New You’ things. I got myself a new little-black-book diary, bought the latest Rhonda Byrne book (which I then dropped in the bath –  I’m nailing life at the moment), stocked up on soup, cut my hair off, started learning the guitar and, best of all, I quit my job. Whilst it felt amazing to leave a job, dramatically reduce the amount of time spent on my hair care and be able to accompany myself in some rather soprano-ey pop song renditions, I realised that it’s really ‘New Year, Same You’  and there is nothing wrong with that.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Dr Seuss. There is always a Sondheim or Seuss quote to fit every situation. Fact.

Resolutions will, 9 times out of 10, leave you disappointed in the strength of your will-power, whether the ‘failure’ comes on day one, February 1st or even months down the line. I’m the kind of person that punishes themselves for days (or, in some cases, the rest of my days) for one slip up, so this year – even if it is a delayed reaction – I have resolved to do what makes me feel happy and not put unnecessary pressure on myself. To deny yourself a day on the sofa catching up on Sherlock, reading a book that (god forbid) isn’t about acting theory or even just catching up on some necessary beauty sleep is just no way to live! As addressed in a previous blog, you can’t always be leaping through the air on absolute form if you don’t have your down days to recoup.

However, last year I was given a piece of advice that has really helped me in feeling like I have made a step in my career (or at least not falling off the horse and staying there) on a daily basis. That advice was: Do three things a day that relate to the industry. Sounds simple doesn’t it? I’m pleased to tell you it genuinely is. Even if it’s the tiniest of tasks, you can tick off (mentally if you’re not a list person) your three things and feel better. It can be anything – googling the director of that TV show you loved last night, singing through some repertoire, updating a website, planning audition outfit combinations, looking up who wrote that song you loved and see what else they’ve written or even, my personal favourite, going to the theatre. The list is endless. The beauty of it is that you can be the judge of your productivity and soon it becomes second nature. I reach a stage in the day and think “better do my three things” and realise I already have surpassed that number and then I feel amazingly productive. You can always fit 3 little things around a gruelling work rota and you won’t feel yourself slipping away. This will soon be the case with me when I start my new job (yes, I have a new job, I’m not that exciting and impulsive after all) so I’m taking the next 9 days to cram in as many theatre visits as possible as my 3 things will have to reduce in size when I’m working a 40 hour week. And that’s okay!

As far as I’m concerned I’m back in business, merrily rolling along and I seem to have a pretty good thing going. (Can you tell I saw the transfer of Putting It Together yesterday? Nothing like a bit of Sondheim to put everything right in the world.) So I just wanted to put this out there to say Happy New Year to you all and if you’re falling into a mid-January slump, like me, that there’s no need to be hard on yourself. Roll with the punches and keep taking three little steps to get back on top. Happy seizing 2014.

My view on New Years Eve. Let the good times roll.

My view on New Years Eve. Let the good times roll.

“Now is the time to seize the day. Stare down the odds and seize the day. Minute by minute that’s how you win it, we will find a way. But let us seize the day”*

*With thanks to Sinead Wall for inspiring this lyric.

– Rebecca Ridout