It’s 4pm on some idle Tuesday in Australia and I have the urge to write and try and answer the seemingly simple question: What the hell am I doing?!

Looking out at the teens catching the surf, couples holding hands in between Instagram posts (#perthisok), and older ladies and gents simply sitting, I can’t help but analyse my choice of career.

My brother moved over here 4 years ago with his fiancé and has never looked back. After a year of travelling and various jobs he felt settled. On the way back to his weekly futsal match (that’s right they play futsal here and it’s way better organised than back home) he asks me, “You never thought of moving out here?”

“Yeah, but… all my work is there.”

We in the UK, it dawns on me, are in an enviable position when it comes to making theatre. Our long history of Shakespeare is coveted abroad, British actors are all the rage in Hollywood and our acting training is considered amongst the best in the world. When it comes to putting on other people's clothes and shouting other people's lines, the UK has it made.

And yet, I know first hand and through the experience of all who work here at the RSC, the lifestyle of a storyteller (I include those who perform and those who make performance possible) can be a treacherous once, filled with sacrifice and uncertainty.

Talk to any member of our company about how they got to the RSC and they will almost certainly give you one hell of a tale. Broken relationships are the norm, often the result of a nomadic life, unable to stay in one location for too long, irregular working hours, and the emotional roller coaster of constant rejection while working a separate day job.

This holiday has been a treat for me and all the Royal Shakespeare Theatre company. A designated 2 weeks off during a season is a luxury I have never been afforded before. Even when I am in between jobs, the nature of the industry means I could get an audition at any moment but still have bills to pay and a life to live. The idea of having a family like my brother's seems a pipedream. How would I afford childcare? How can my working hours sustain a relationship with a child? Will I have to give up certain jobs like touring knowing it will put too much strain on myself and my hypothetical family? My admiration for those in our company with kids knows no bounds. They make it look so easy, when I'm sure it isn't.

With all this in mind, the setting sun over Cottesloe beach snaps me back to the question: What the hell am I doing? Perth is BEGGING for young skilled people to enter the country and help grow it's burgeoning economy.

Looking out at the sea over the shore from a patch of grass
View of the sea in Perth
Photo by James Cooney © The artist Browse and license our images

" But ... But ... But all my work is there."

This isn't a cry for help or a tale of woe is me. The best way to make an actor complain is to give him a job right? But instead I am challenging myself over why I do this job at all. Answering that will tell me a lot about myself. I am choosing this life. No one is holding a gun to my head forcing me to be an actor. I always have a choice, even if it doesn't seem like I do. There is no optimal lifestyle. But what we choose defines who we want to be. We may not be able to create our life to be exactly as we want to be, fortune often has its wicked way, but we can curate it. We all have of our own 'Australia', that thing we could do instead, where the grass looks a luscious green. So why not do it? Who is stopping you?

If after that challenge you still want to create theatre/TV/film, you may just be exactly where you want to be.

For all the heartache of rejection, the inability to plan holidays, the espressos made for others on a weekend, I love when I get the chance to act. I love being on a stage negotiating life with other people, whether that is by sharing laughter with them at presenting royalty with gaudy tourist presents, sharing a sadness with them at the words of a lament written 400 years ago, or even just breaking up the monotony of a mediocre Tuesday with 3 hours where they don't have to think about work and their mortgage. I love being a part of that.

I am also learning to love the failures. The moments where I fail miserably and look stupid because that's when I learn and grow. I love putting myself out there and seeing people tweet their criticism and realising after it that I am still alive. Amazingly, it's taken me years to realise this simple fact: no one dies if I give a below par performance. Go figure.

Finally, I love WHO I work with. Sir Ken Robinson's book The Element discusses "finding your tribe", the people who share your passion and want to better themselves with you. I started finding mine back at LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) and thankfully each job I do seems to confirm my faith in artists. There are fall outs and disagreements of course, but the unity and solidarity you feel with other people standing in front of hundreds (and in the case of RSC Live thousands) of people often puts ego aside and you are glad of the people stood next to you knowing that inside they are just as terrified as you. 

The latest answer to my brother? "All my work is there. When I don't love it anymore, I'll let you know.

James Cooney

James Cooney

James Cooney is an English-Filipino actor and voice over artist from Manchester appearing in his first season at the RSC. James first got in to acting playing Harry Potter in a devised production at St Mary's Primary School in Radcliffe entitled Harry Potter and the Ruby of Radcliffe. Fifteen years later, he is still seen playing school children on stage. Follow James on Twitter @jkcooney

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