“You staying on with the RSC then?”

Whisper #83

Hello Ladies and Gents,

My second-to-last blog for the RSC Swan Company here! Since last writing to you, The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich closed, I had two weeks’ holiday (split between Wales and Lanzarote – quite a few of us went abroad, which might explain why most of the male ensemble in Malfi now look nice and tanned!) and now I am back for the last stretch of The Duchess of Malfi. The end is in sight.

It was very sad saying adios to Mrs Rich. It was a great show, very fun and the Company made it rather special. As a cast, we were pretty tight, which isn’t always the case on shows. We all got on well, it was a fun play, we were all friendly; however, when the controversial review came in from ‘he who cannot be named’, we came together on another level. We became tight friends and a super-collective, so saying adios was really sad, but the WhatsApp group continues, people are coming up already to see Miss Littlewood and we have a wedding to look forward to.

Ah, show talk. Miss Littlewood. Go and see it. I will openly admit, my theatrical knowledge for an actor is nowhere near as educated as it should be. Alas, being brought up in an area where there was very little care, time or attention for Drama, my only education is either self-taught or came from a syllabus. I had no clue who Joan Littlewood was until March this year. I knew Oh, What a Lovely War! as a play but that was it. Well, since the play’s been developed, I’ve read up on her and the actors in the cast have been telling me stories and all sorts and it’s just a wonderful show. Full of love and goodness. It’s happy and she is just a hero. Absolute hero. 

Graeme (front left) in performance in The Duchess of Malfi.
Graeme (front left) in performance in The Duchess of Malfi.
Photo by Helen Maybanks © RSC Browse and license our images

Once it's over, it's over

Whilst I am here, I thought I would use the platform to talk about mental health. I’ve already been asked by numerous people, “You going to stay on with the RSC then?” like it’s my choice, or the good old, “Can’t you just get into EastEnders?” or, even better, because of my beautiful Midlands tones, “How about getting on Peaky Blinders?” Questions like this are perhaps the most frustrating thing said to me; however, the people asking can’t be faulted. How would they know any different? Like any self-employed contract, once it’s over, it’s over, so you must put yourself out there to other employers. For me, that means the end of this contract on 3 August.

This is where the exploration of mental health begins. I will be very open about how it works for me. I know that it is not exclusive to me as a few of us have spoken about this issue already, which is phenomenal. It really fosters a superb environment when we as actors and as people can talk about our growing anxieties and realise that it’s natural to feel them and embrace them. It’s normal. 8.2 million people were diagnosed with anxiety issues in 2013, for example, around 8% of the country, so it is normal and needs to be normalised.

For me, it was around May/June that anxiety revisited, as I began to think about what’s next? How am I going to pay for obligations? How much do I need to save? How long will I be unemployed? Where am I going to live? All these questions pop up and the anxiety grows. Then from June, the auditions start coming in. I have had two that either came on days when I was performing or not in the country, so I couldn’t attend either. The organisations wouldn’t rearrange, which is rubbish, especially as one is one of the biggest in the country and we all know when matinees are. Note to industry – please be more understanding. 

Several members of the cast are all walking with their hands on each others shoulders, a man in a red shirt is in focus at the front of the line of people.
The Mrs Rich cast in rehearsals.
Photo by Helen Maybanks © RSC Browse and license our images

Glamour, excitement and rejection

Australian mental health report

Performing Arts workers experience symptoms ten times higher than the general population, and depression symptoms five times higher.

As August creeps closer, the realisation hits that you aren’t going to walk from one contract into another, but that’s normal. I am very lucky that I have worked from January ’17 straight through to August ’18 with my biggest break between jobs being 18 days. This is rare, so I am happy and accepting that this was a very good ‘stretch’ and that it’s ok to have a month or two off (though I’d obviously prefer not to). However, then you come back to rent, bills and obligations that aren’t as understanding about your sudden decline in salary. This is the balancing act. I am not trying to pull the old ‘woe is me’ card, but this is a very difficult time for actors, and can lead to complicated mental health issues that are often dismissed or not even acknowledged. In 2015, an Australian mental health report shared that Performing Arts workers experience symptoms ten times higher than the general population, and depression symptoms five times higher.

I know issues with mental health are not exclusive to actors, but I can only talk about my own experience. Often the outside appearance of the profession is one of glamour, excitement and more (which it most definitely can be); however, it can also be very cold, lonely and full of rejection (amongst many other things), which only exacerbates the anxieties. The battle with our mental health can sometimes be obvious to see, but are mostly hidden well, especially in a profession where it’s our job to be other people. It may not be as easy to see the people suffering, so let’s start looking after ourselves and each other. Support yourselves and if you need help, please go and seek support. There is an amazing charity named ArtsMinds, who specialise in supporting people who work in creative industries. As creatives, we often don’t talk, and I don’t understand why – let’s try to challenge ourselves to talk to each other and end the stigma of silence attached to mental health in our profession. If you had a cold or a broken bone, you would talk openly and freely about it. Our mental health is the same. Let’s support each other and be friends.

This applies to everyone – let’s talk. If you think someone may be struggling, ask them if they’re ok and if you can help. Be there for them. Let’s not judge, not try and ‘own’ their struggles or seek a payoff – just be present and listen regardless of age, gender, religion – all of it is inconsequential. I hope that we can help each other.  If you don’t think you can confide in your inner circle of family and friends, there are so many positive charities – The Mental Health Foundation, Together, Depression Alliance and so many more. We are all important to someone, somewhere and we are all special to someone, somewhere.  

Lots of love,

G. x

Graeme Brookes

Graeme Brookes

Graeme Brookes has been an actor for 13 years. He is a native of the Black Country, supports Walsall FC, likes Vimto and Pick & Mix. Follow Graeme on Twitter @Mr_Brookes04

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