I’m currently preparing the role of Yum-yum for Chatswood Musical Society’s Hot Mikado and it’s been such an exciting process. The rehearsal period has been relatively short and it’s completely different from anything I’ve ever down before – it’s funny and slapstick, and the dialogue moves along so rapidly! The plot is silly and confusing but so much fun to put together. There are 22 of us in the cast and we’ve become great friends. My character Yum-Yum is young and naïve and in a lot of ways, a typical romantic lead, but there are a few lines that prove she has some real feistiness about her too. It has been really important for me to develop that, and I guess I can see some of my own fire in her. During the last few weeks of rehearsal you can really get stuck into the character: the lines are learnt and the blocking is set, so you’ve got space to develop. I remember in drama school a teacher saying that it was useful to explore each character as having all elements of fire, wind and water within them, and then work through the dialogue deciding which element to bring out. That gives you lots of choice and helps you determine why your character is saying what they’re saying.
Drama school was the best, the worst and the most challenging three years of my life. The system really does break you down and then builds you back up to try and make you a more open minded human and actor, which is tough but if you can get through it, it helps enormously. The outside world is incredibly tough on all creative people and drama school does try and get you ready for that. One of the most important things I learnt was that you never stop learning about your character, not even on closing night, and if you can continue to find things out about your part’s motivations and convictions you’ll always keep it fresh and interesting for both yourself and your audience. And that no matter what, you have to be a team player. No person in a cast is more important than another, regardless of the size of their part. When you find a company that makes those relationships a first priority it is the most wonderful thing. I’m from the UK, and when I moved to Sydney originally the first thing I did was find a company to act with, because when you get that right cast it feels like family.
When you first get out of drama school, the pressure is enormous, and I remember going to auditions and getting down to the very last two people being looked at for a part and not getting chosen, which was absolutely soul destroying. It can feel so incredibly lonely, particularly when you’ve spent so long with your colleagues at school where everyone knows your strengths and weaknesses and it doesn’t matter so much when you mess up. My first audition out of school was for Les Miserables and I couldn’t control my anxiety at all: I stood in front of the panel feeling so alone and naked. Rejection is always hard and often times you don’t learn that until it hits you in the face.
Learning best how to look after your mental health is crucial for all artists and you don’t get taught that in school. It’s a tough job and because there’s so much competition it’s sometimes hard to feel good about the work you’re putting in. You have to have a thick skin, which is hard when you suffer from anxiety which I have done since my teens. Since moving to Australia though, things have improved. I haven’t “cured” it by any means, but I have a super support network around me and that helps me manage it better. I really believe that there shouldn’t be any shame in discussing mental health and anxiety in this industry, or any industry for that matter – we all go through the same things and we should be able to talk to each other about that!
It’s important also to be truthful to yourself and others about balance: it’s not always possible. I work full-time while pursuing theatre and sometimes you’ve got to focus on one thing at a time. When I finished with the last show I was part of I had to take a break, because sometimes you need to do things after work that aren’t rehearsals. Now that I’m back in another show, my nights off are sacred time and I try and do as many life-admin things as possible! When it’s been a long day and I’ve been sitting in front of a screen and forgetting I’m a creative person I have to come home and just belt out a song. It’s a bit like Bridget Jones’ Diary where she’s in her pyjamas singing “All By Myself”! But seriously, it works.
If I could give young creative people one word of advice it would be to talk to people about you’re going through. If you’re struggling with rejection and the stresses of the industry, reach out to someone – your GP, your friends and family or a mental health professional. Allow them to take that weight off your shoulders. I didn’t speak about my struggles for a really long time but keeping it in just made me feel even worse about myself and my progress. I really urge people to be brave and share.
Chatswood Musical Society presents Hot Mikado at The Independent Theatre from Friday 22nd September. Tickets and more information here.