What I've Learned Since Graduating
It’s been nearly two years since I stumbled out of the doors of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, naive, starry-eyed and desperate. Oh boy was I desperate. Nothing mattered more to me than auditions, getting auditions, smashing auditions, talking about auditions, did I tell you that I had this audition? How many auditions are you getting? Am I getting as many auditions as this person? Why am I not getting this sort of audition? How did they get an audition for that? I wanted something to hold on to. As I slept on the floor of my grandparent’s box room, I thought about how my life would just be so much better if I could get a series regular or a tour, get a steady boyfriend, move into a flat in Hackney and buy all my food from organic markets. These were the pinnacles of success and happiness for me. I went through three part-time jobs in three months.
I worked in a bar with amazing people but the money was terrible and it was so far from Barnes that it didn’t make any sense, I then worked for a street PR company handing out Deliveroo flyers but walked out after they made me flyer for a loan shark company in Elephant and Castle. I felt so self-righteous, wrote them a scathing email and of course received no reply and no pay check. During this time I had one of the best and worst audition experiences of my life. I had an audition for the German tour of the Tina Turner musical. I was dead excited about the prospect of leaving London and speaking German for a couple of months. I got a recall, felt pretty smug and then found myself in a very, very intense dance call where I had to learn an entire music-video-esque routine to Nutbush City Limits. I hadn’t been warned about the dance call, so I was still in my tight chinos, wedges and fancy top. I looked like a slug, everyone else looked like Beyonce in a leotard. My make-up ran so much that I had to run to Wilkos before my job interview but I was too poor to buy both deodorant and make up. So I used the tester foundation to smooth my face out and bought the 99p deodorant. That was one of the first moments I realised that I really couldn’t take myself too seriously. This job is both tragic and hilarious. If it doesn’t make you laugh, it’s going to make you miserable.
My next job was in coffee. I loved it. I would pop out every so often for auditions and run back into the shop to an adoring crowd of customers who thought my life was so glamorous. When I finally got my first TV job, I had been up since 4am to open the shop, sped up to Elstree to audition and made it back just in time for the afternoon rush. My agent phoned me in the middle of the nightmare coffee madness to tell me that I had got the job. I was so happy. I thought the ground would shake when I walked over it. My wonderful coffee colleagues bought some prosecco using the tip money and we wandered into St Paul’s after closing the shop to celebrate. I quit my coffee job and went up to Birmingham to do my two days of filming. I felt like an absolute superstar. Surely, I thought, this is where things start shifting.
No. Things pretty much continued in the same vein, except the auditions dried up and I freaked out. I got a job working for a market research company. It was lovely, I was warm and we had weekly office lunches from Borough Market on Tuesdays. With hindsight, this was a really short period of time but when living it, it felt never ending. I joined the gym because there was a Black Friday deal on membership fees and also because I was eating my feelings. My friends got married on my birthday, I got a boyfriend, I spent five hours making a self tape in my bedroom because I had no one to read in for me. I thought the lack of auditions meant that my career was driving itself into a dead-end. Then I got an audition for an amazing project and I was so excited. I got through to recall and then didn’t hear anything for three weeks. I assumed that it wasn’t happening. I was flyering for a Panto on Leicester Square after working in the office so I could buy Christmas presents. It was so cold. I would wander around and talk to strangers, sometimes I would sing to myself and look at the Christmas lights, sometimes I would just stroll through the Apple Market in Covent Garden feeling desperate. Desperate for people to take my flyers, desperate for money, desperate for a call from my agent, desperate to not feel so trapped.
Again, with hindsight, life really wasn’t so awful. I had a boyfriend, I had a job, I lived with my grandparents in their warm, christmassy house in Barnes. I really had nothing to worry about. But I felt so lonely and so sad. I felt like I was failing and I wasn’t even sure what my idea of success really looked like anymore. It wasn’t that I hadn’t expected graduate life to be hard, I just didn’t expect to feel this confused and miserable. Then a week before Christmas as I was handing out flyers by Covent Garden station, I missed a call from my agent to say that I had got the job. I burst into tears and blubbed to anyone who would listen. It was pathetic but I was so relieved. That Christmas I could tell my relatives that I was working, I could let all those people who had invested financially in my training, that it was worth it and that I would be able to pay them back soon. Christmas was a blur, I moved into a sublet in Streatham with some amazing women, I started workshopping the play and continued to work at the market research company in between. Again, things seemed good, I literally had nothing to complain about. Yet I was having weekly panic attacks. I felt paralysed by fear, I hid from my friends and relied heavily on my boyfriend, I spent a lot of time alone in my room.
Then I went to New York and saw one of my best friends. I thought perhaps I had just needed a break from London, that a holiday was the cure. I felt so happy in New York. I felt light, free, I suddenly cared very little about being an actor. But when I got home, the fear returned. It chased me wherever I went, in the rehearsal room it throttled me of any confidence, it made me desperate to be loved, noticed, appreciated. Nothing any one said made it better. Other members of the cast were gong for amazing auditions and I was being seen for nothing. Looking back it was a lot of Stokholm syndrome. I was terrified of being found out as a fraud.
I moved to Bristol and lived with one of my favourite women in the whole world. But even her love and support couldn’t penetrate the insecurity I felt. People close to me were going through some awful things, my boyfriend was having a breakdown, one of my closest friends had a miscarriage. I felt their pain so acutely and I felt furious that I couldn’t do anything to help them. My job felt self-indulgent and I didn’t even feel like I was doing well at my job so the whole thing just felt pointless. Thankfully, the cast I was working with was amazing. We took care of each other, we laughed a lot and we bore each others burdens.
Two weeks after the show finished I returned to London with no job, no boyfriend and no home. Oh and no auditions. I had a fight with my best friend, I had to move churches, I moved into a house with brand new faces. I stayed at my cousins house and cried so much that she had to keep waking me up to hydrate me. I felt like I had really bombed it. Like I had failed quite spectacularly.
One friend told me to start writing again, so I did. Pages and pages of dialogue and poems. Every morning I got on my hands and knees and said to God, here is my day, I have no money, I’m miserable. Please help. And every day money would come in the form of lunch or some work and misery would be dispelled for an hour over coffee with a friend. I went to Hampstead Ladies Pond and swam amongst the Lily pads. I went to auditions but they were a blur. I cycled around London, bumping into people I wanted to know, I made new friends, I solidified the ones that mattered. I started to realise that being desperate really gets you no where. That fighting for something without periods of rest can kill you. Everything that I was afraid of happened and I didn’t die. I realised that I had to let go of what I wanted my life to be. I couldn’t hold so tightly to elements that were out of my control. I had to focus on the things that I could do for myself. I tell you all this because it’s so easy to look at people’s lives and assume that they’re wonderful. Last weekend I went to see a one woman show that my friend created. She left drama school with such bad anxiety she could barely do showcase. She took a job in Dubai as a writer and really thought that performing was over for her. Now look at her, she's a leading lady with her own show and she's about to perform at the Tabard Theatre. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOUR CAREER IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE.
- Not everyone’s journey is the same. You cannot follow a trajectory in this industry, it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t fair and it isn’t logical.
- Be an encourager. No matter how miserable you feel, turn up and support your fellow actors. You need them and they need you.
- Be friends with people who don’t work in the industry. Listen to them, no I’m serious, stop talking about yourself, listen to them.
- As Amy Poehler says, your career is a ‘bad boyfriend’ it will be fickle and inconsistent and you will let it treat you badly because you absolutely fancy the pants of it and sometimes it’s ‘really, really thoughtful and sweet’
- Separate your creativity from your career. Indulge in your creativity, write stuff and don’t worry about showing it to people. Dig deep and express yourself on a daily basis.
- Give yourself boundaries and find a core group of people who have your back no matter what. You don’t need everyone to love you but you do need to be loved for who you are and not what you do.
- Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.