By Hazel Doolan
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ –Oscar Wilde
Turning the alarm off at 5.30am I make tracks for the day ahead. Living thirty minutes outside the city centre, I stroll (which I count as exercise!) in to get a bus to another town outside of the city to my job as a Creche Room Leader. This is where I attend to the needs of busy two year olds, all while convincing myself that ‘I’m using my degree, I teach children drama!’ ‘Maybe one of them will be the next Julie Andrews!’ Meanwhile, I squeeze in time to complete admin duties, write, plan and contact colleagues throughout the day usually before work, during commutes or on lunch breaks. Some may call this madness, but this is a reality for numerous working artists, regardless of what ‘day job’ they have.
Sometimes, it gets to a point where one has to choose between an audition/call back/meeting or a pay cheque at the end of the week. For many, they decline opportunities so they won’t be made redundant. Many times, I think of the day where I can completely dedicate myself to my craft whilst making a decent living. It has been an ambition of mine since graduation. After which I left the arts for a year to get a ‘real job’ and ended up stuck in a web where escape feels impossible.
Prospective artists and or recent graduates are faced with the fear of being unable to earn a living, afford their rent or gain meaningful employment relative to their degree. The later tends to occur the most, with the lack of job security in the arts, unless you get lucky. Slowly, but surely, the creative spark and the enthusiasm fizzles out; which has unfortunately happened to me on occasion.
Having a 9 – 5 has been of course beneficial, living wise. On the other hand I have felt it put a strain on the quality of my work and my ability to meet deadlines. For example, our Jungle Door rehearsal schedule had to be completely reorganised as, being in retail at the time, I had very inflexible hours. The fact that one employee had just left and we were understaffed did not help. Another more recent example was during Dayshift. I would be attending to the needs of busy two year olds, planning curriculums, completing paperwork, talking to parents and leading the room. Come 5.30/6.00/6.30, I would run for the bus, grab food on the go, throw on some makeup, run to the rehearsal room, lead the rehearsal, possibly squeeze in a production/company meeting and run for the bus home. All of this would include completing paperwork and contacting colleagues, mostly during lunch breaks.
While the two productions were successful, the strain was definitely present and I always wished that I could have done more, despite of the demands outside of the rehearsal room. There were moments where I felt that I was letting the cast and crew down if I wasn’t my best self on the day, if I was late for rehearsal due to work/late bus, or if I couldn’t give a more helpful answer expressing my thoughts on a piece of set for the designer. Looking back however, I feel extremely lucky to have the support network that I have with Rena, any one that we’ve worked with thus far, my friends, my family and my partner. On the hardest days they always encouraged me and believed in my ability to see each production through and be proud of the work I did.
To anyone who is a working artist and feels that they are having a hard time being dedicated to their craft, I would advise the following, especially during show season;
Making a plan at the start of the week makes an immense difference to how much you get done, how you use your time and it is more helpful than trying to tackle a big task all at once. Setting small goals each day will make your tasks feel less daunting. For example, if you had to edit or write a scene, set aside a timeframe and make a word count goal.
Above most things you have to be eating well. It is so tempting to run over to Centra if you slept in and grab a breakfast roll or a can of Monster but it will not sustain you for the rest of the day. Having a good breakfast (oats, porridge, fruit, eggs) will give you the best start to your day. If possible, prepare your own lunch/dinner and throw some extra granola bars and fruit into your bag, they’re nice for sharing with cast and crew too!
Getting the hours you need will set you up for your day and you will be less inclined to reach for a Lucozade or an extra shot of coffee. It will also improve your mood and no one wants to work with a crabby and sleepy director/actor etc. If you missed a deadline, do not sacrifice your sleep, it will do you less good in the long run and you will not be your best self in the rehearsal room.
4. Movement and Mindfulness
Squeezing any form of movement into your day will be of great help when coping with stress levels. Even the smallest bit like walking, doing short workouts while watching Netflix or integrating extra movement into the rehearsal room warm ups will make a big difference. I’m a believer in meditation and mindfulness, also, and introduced it into the rehearsal room throughout Dayshift. I felt it was important for the actors to let go of their outside stresses, and to be fully rested as well as present in the space. Partaking in similar practices will also aid your mental health.
If you’re having a hard time during a rehearsal process or you feel overwhelmed, talk to somebody you trust. Your friend, a family member, a partner, the director, a fellow actor or anybody else that you trust. Holding something in will do no good even outside of rehearsals and there’s a solution for anything.
Being a working artist is a challenge that countless artists have faced for a lifetime. It is important to hold onto your dreams, use your creativity for a solution, to fight for change (like joining newly founded Theatre 57) and to inspire others.