The Impenetrable Wall of Theatre
OnStage United Kingdom Columnist
It's sometimes really easy for me to view the theatre industry as an impenetrable fortress. A really intimidating, steel-walled, towering fortress. I've heard it's great on the inside; people make things and create productions and explore their passion for live performances and stagecraft. But on the outside, it can be a pretty cold and lonely place. It's like all your resources are on the inside, but you're stuck on the outside, trying to peer in.
Unfortunately, that is how I sometimes feel. No matter that I love theatre with every ounce of my being, or that it's the one thing that makes me truly happy- it's still an industry that is notoriously tricky to get into. I know this because I've been trying to climb that steel-walled fortress for three years now, but my ladder just isn't quite tall enough. It can be a depressing thought, and the reason many people give up and try something else, but I don't feel like giving up is an option. I will get inside, and I will make theatre, but not knowing when is what makes it difficult.
I have had some fantastic experiences since leaving school and having the freedom to explore my interest in theatre. I've worked as Front of House at a rural theatre, marketing the new shows and creating events to help spread the word about productions touring to our little venue. I've worked with a theatre company who I have adored since I was a little girl, and lived the dream by working on their productions including 'Wind in the Willows', 'Macbeth', 'Much Ado About Nothing' and 'The Legend of King Arthur'. I've shadowed a brilliant mixture of directors, on productions ranging from the Jacobean tragedy 'The Duchess of Malfi', to a devised piece with classical music for children called 'Hubbub'. I've loved all of it. But so far, the experiences I have had are just glimpses and snatches of what I want to do all day, everyday. I'm plunged into a world I love for the briefest of moments, and then pulled right back out.
Pursuing a career in theatre is tiring and difficult and frustrating, but those brief moments are what keep me going. When I'm in a rehearsal room, that is when I am truly happy. When I am surrounded by a team of people who share your passion and your vision, that is when I know that my efforts haven't been in vain. I'm getting there. Just very slowly.
I think it's difficult for a number of reasons, but I'm trying to change my mindset and view these difficulties as strengths rather than weaknesses. Living in a rural village has meant that I have had to actively look, and find, and sometimes even create, my own opportunities. But although I find my geography my biggest barrier, it can also be my biggest strength. I have a passion to make theatre accessible to everyone, no matter where they come from, and I think this comes from living in an area that sees very little in the way of live theatre. I love touring companies, because they travel to many different places in the country, and bring productions to people who may never have had the chance to see them. I visit London a lot, but I find it hard to connect with the theatre there, because all I can think is that people living in villages like mine, probably won't get to see these shows. And so this thing, living in a village, the thing that I have always viewed as a weakness and a disadvantage, has become my strength. It's something that I can use to my advantage as I carry on trying to climb the Impenetrable Wall of Theatre.
For me, I only realised that I wanted to pursue a career in theatre when I started on the wrong path. I took a path somewhere else, and realised that I needed to go back and start again. So I did, but it's taken a long time for me to figure out where my place is in the theatre industry. I still don't fully know, but I've got an idea. This has meant that I've been able to explore a vast array of different roles and have a lot of different experiences, from directing to prop making, to film making and marketing. I see all of these experiences as equally valuable, and I've started to view life as one big experience. I want to collect as many experiences as possible, whatever they are, because they will end up giving me plenty of stories to tell. And that is important to me.
I have recently realised that it is children's theatre that I really want to create. I like to see 'Grown-Up Theatre', but it doesn't often get me excited or passionate. Stick me in a rehearsal room for a children's production, however, and my brain goes wild and my imagination starts to whizz about in a frenzy. I know this can only mean good things. I know what I am passionate about, and that's a good thing to be able to recognise. I am passionate about inclusive, accessible theatre. I am passionate about children's theatre, and I want to learn more about how story-telling is possible through the use of puppets. If that's not a good place to start, then I don't know where is.
But that's the thing. You get excited when you finally figure out what it is that you want to spend the rest of your life doing, but you don't have a clue how to get there. And that is infinitely infuriating for me. There is no definitive path or method or way to get into that fortress. You have to make a way in for yourself, and you have to keep at it. Opportunities can be sparse, and it's up to me to facilitate them for myself when there aren't any around. It's all up to me, and that is both reassuring and terrifying. But I'll get into that fortress, one way or another, whether that be with a ladder or a disguise or a month digging a tunnel under the foundations; there's a way in. I've just got to find it.