Making Theatre Is Hard
You go into theatre knowing that it is going to be tough to make a living from what you do, but you do it anyway because it is more than a job. It is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t felt this, but you do it because you feel inextricably drawn to it, you can’t imagine your life without it. Even in the moments (and there are many of them) where you question what you’re doing and want to walk away, you can’t do it – something pulls you back. It’s like some kind of magnetic force that you can’t escape from.
Right now, I’ll be honest, I really wish I could break free from that magnetic force. I cannot see a way in which I can have a sustainable, fulfilling and creative career in theatre anymore. Before, I knew it would be difficult, but I believed. Now, that belief has largely gone.
This year has obviously been incredibly tough for all of us, in all industries, not just the arts. But this last year has stripped down and destroyed everything that I loved and hoped for and believed in. Theatres have been closed. Sources of public funding have been systematically stripped back to the barest essentials. This doesn’t just impact the making of theatre but the delivery of community and education projects, and the trickle-down effect of that money reaching freelance artists and makers. Workshops in schools and educational settings are few and far between and feel fraught with risk to personal and public health. And, more than anything, the complete lack of value given to creativity and, as such, a lack of value given to community, laughter, emotion and empathy has eroded my belief in what is actually possible and achievable in this country through art anymore.
Put bluntly, it is too hard. It requires too much effort for (at the moment) literally zero money. And I can’t do it anymore.
It deeply saddens and depresses me. Not just on a personal level, as I consider walking away from the only thing I have ever felt truly passionate about and talented at but, more profoundly, on a societal level. I simply don’t want to live in a world that values money and personal profit over humanity and sharing.
I think of all the other careers I can just about imagine myself doing – at a real stretch. They all involve some degree of public service – politics, teaching, policing. In the case of the latter two, underpaid and overworked. In the case of the former, so disconnected from the idea of public service that I can only imagine myself fighting against an ingrained system of hypocrisy, cronyism and selfishness. If that’s the case, I might as well have stayed in the arts and fought against these from there!
In many ways, this is what I find most depressing. Any aspect of our society that I truly believe has worth and contributes positively to the welfare of others, has been systematically eroded over the course of my adult lifetime.
I really want to believe that art and creativity can continue to have a place in our lives. I really want to believe that it is possible to have a career in the arts that allows you to earn enough to support a family and have a life of your own. But right now, I can’t, and I find that immeasurably sad.
If I were to use a handful of words to describe my current state: tired, exhausted, depleted, defeated, drained. You put so much in for so little reward, and there is a limit to how long you can do this for. I’ve managed about 10 years, with incredible emotional and financial support from my family. Imagine how hard it is for those without that support? This is an industry that eats us from the inside. It wears us down so that we have nothing left to give. It is like pushing a huge boulder up a steep hill – if you stop pushing for a minute, the boulder rolls back to the bottom, taking you with it and possibly crushing you in the process.
I don’t want to dishearten others. In fact, I sincerely hope you are able to carry on doing the amazing work you do. I just want to share my current state of mind so that others can maybe understand, on some level, how hard it is.
It’s heart-wrenchingly hard to walk away, whilst being impossibly hard to carry on. I still can’t quite break free from the magnetic pull – largely because I have no idea what else to do with my life. If I had another option, I would absolutely take it right now.
Working in theatre either as an actor or a director, is all I have wanted for at least half of my life. It is so unbelievably hard to come to terms with not being able to do what you love and what you have dreamed of for so many years. It is even harder to come to terms with a system that punishes you for pursuing what you believe to be in the public interest, for seeking to make the world a little more beautiful, a little more joyful and a little more compassionate. I hope I will find the energy and strength to continue but right now it feels like a losing battle.