Being an actor in 2020

My first acting tour was in 2016. Not so long ago. I’d been training as a performer since 2012 and had dreamed of being an actor when I was a kid, travelling across the city to a state school that had an extra performing arts course. (For those of you in Leeds, you may have heard of Intake.) Acting was what I wanted to do. But then, y’know, life, death, stuff happened and I didn’t continue after GCSEs. I had years of living and not acting at all.

Then in 2011 I had a big rethink. I started training, with Red Ladder, with Greentop in Sheffield, with Circomedia in Bristol and over to Philippe Gaulier in France. I came home and applied for any and every acting job going, eventually landing a role with a theatre company that toured schools. But I didn’t identify as an ‘actor’. I was still just Ruth.

Then one day, in 2016, we arrived at a school and the receptionist called through to the teacher, saying, ‘The actors are here.’

I thought, ‘Well, if she is calling me an actor, and my day job is getting up on a stage and acting, then… I guess I must be an actor.’

It was a big moment for me. The receptionist had no idea what an impact her words had on me.

The tour was followed by more acting work. And more and more. Three years of panto amongst other jobs. And a brain haemorrhage. Then other jobs. I was always training and started enjoying screen work as well.

I noticed, when I was on tour, which is usually 6 days of performing a week, that the day going back, I’d feel extra nervous, and worried I’d ‘lost it.’ Just one day off. Having three days off at Christmas was even worse. Of course, going back was always fine. Great, even. But still, some confidence had gone.

Now I haven’t performed in front of a live audience since 5th March. That’s 7 months and counting. So you can maybe imagine how my confidence has gone down. And because I’m not acting, no-one calls me an actor. At the moment.

But weirdly, I have more certainty in this global pandemic than I have had for years and years. I work at the hospital on weekends. I take care of my nephew one day a week, I volunteer as a telephone listener, and my weekend is Thursday and Friday, when I often go swimming in rivers. I’ve got closer to friends and family and I’ve had TIME to invest in writing and myself. I’ve done 2 month-long writing challenges and I’m in the middle of another one. I’m on a playwrighting course and have signed up to another one later. I’ve started counselling. I’m doing various life coaching programmes to shift some unhelpful thought patterns and it feels like they’re ACTUALLY shifting.

This stuff is all good.But it is possible to both be grateful for the positives that have come out of a situation, at the same time as being absolutely GUTTED.

Gutted that I no longer perform live for people – the thing I have dreamed of since I was a child, trained for for years, and get a KICK out of. The thing I am good at. Having a positive impact on people’s lives; bringing them magic.I’m gutted that my career is frozen. My sense of purpose. My passion. My JOB. My identity.

Y’know, when the mines got closed, and the shipyards, people were gutted. Losing that sense of purpose is gutting.

I’m not sure how helpful it is to force people to ‘focus on the positive’. Sure, there are positives to be found. Always. But I also believe in listening. And letting those emotions be expressed. So if it hurts, it hurts. If there’s rage, there’s rage. Fear. Work through it. Let it out. It will pass, and something else will come along. Nothing lasts for ever, but emotions can get stuck if you just paper on top of them with positive memes.

2020 is what it is. And I’m only now realising that it’s possible to be both massively grateful and totally devastated about the same thing at the same time.

Sounds like acting talk… Like, how would you follow that direction???

Anyway…Even while I’m not acting, all this stuff I’m doing is filling me up, as a human. And it’s all fuel for future acting.

I just wanted to share where I’m at, because really, that’s what I’m all about – as an actor, as a massage therapist, as a person – I want to be real. And to allow you to be real with me too. If you want.

Identity, it’s tricky stuff. Oh 2020…

I’d love to hear how you are doing,

Ruth x

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