Whether we’ve really had time to think about it or not, most of us theatremakers are feeling pretty crappy right now. Mirren Wilson certainly is and in an effort to make sense of her feelings, found not five, but seven stages of grief. Here are her findings…
The term ‘job security’ has never been something that I have been particularly interested in or focused on. It’s also not what I signed up for upon entering the creative industry, but boy would it have been a relief right now! Building a career as an actor is an incredibly slow process and it’s relentlessly unpredictable at the best of times. I often ask myself “do I wish I’d gone off to uni to study one of those subjects that would lead to a stable job?” and I’d be lying to myself and to any reader, if I didn’t say I’ve answered “yes,” on more than one occasion.
Until this pandemic, I hadn’t realised how much of my day-to-day life was invested in theatre, and how much of my life was essentially unstable for relying on it. I worked front of house at a few venues, started a new box office job (an attempt at 6 months stability), led theatre tours, reviewed shows, rehearsed a new play, and then attended theatre for enjoyment in my spare time.
With this in mind, it’s absolutely no surprise that the sudden disappearance of theatre came as a bit of a shock to the system! Every single life has been touched in more ways than one, I understand that, and we’re all having to adapt, but why is it a constant struggle to accept the cards I’ve been dealt?
Now, I don’t know if anyone is familiar with the seven stages of grief. The original Kubler-Ross model referred to five, but recent psychologists have adapted this and added to the framework. After stumbling across this concept, thanks to an inspirational podcast, it was almost laughable at how relatable it felt to me. Let’s take a journey and reflect on this idea.
Stage 1. Shock: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.
Ah yes, all the bad news that came in dribs and drabs. “Unfortunately, we are not in the position to proceed any further with this play.” “All theatres are closing due to the banning of mass gatherings.” “We can’t sell tickets for a festival that might not happen in August.”
Stage 2. Denial: Trying to avoid the inevitable.
“Okay not to worry, it’ll only be for a week or two.” Need I say more.
Stage 3. Anger: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
Cue the overwhelming feeling that the world is collapsing around you and a massive sense of injustice. Everything that you’ve ever worked towards seems gone and meaningless. The world suddenly becomes small and terrifying, you’re hurt and feeling guilty about self-pity. Where the phrase “We’re all in the same boat,” doesn’t seem helpful because you feel like you’re on the Titanic. It’s important to accept all this.
Stage 4. Bargaining: Seeking in vain for a way out.
How many people manically applied to work at the supermarkets for 7-hour contracts? Who else is clinging to the gift of online performance streams? Just when all hope seemed lost, the government introduced the Job Retention Scheme, to the relief of the entire country. Hello to all of you fellow furloughs.
Stage 5. Depression: Final realisation of the inevitable.
Theatre is at a standstill. At this point, I think I spent about 3 days lying on my living room floor. Which is absolutely acceptable. But to be honest, it’s a bit of a blur.
Stage 6. Testing: Seeking realistic solutions.
Funnily enough, a pandemic is out of anyone’s control. So, what can we control? Thinking as short-term as possible and living day-to-day has been essential. Maybe that involves reading a play, maybe it doesn’t. A triumphant event can be making a cup of tea.
Stage 7. Acceptance: Finally finding the way forward.
This is where I believe to be now. Grief is the response to loss. In this case, a loss of theatre and life as we know it. It’s not a straight-forward reaction, it’s not as linear as the structure above. But it is normal, and it is very human. It means that we’ve cared for something or for someone, and it’s crucial to remember that and be grateful for having loved.
Circumstances continue to change as theatres head into administration, a backlog of production builds or furlough agreements are unable to be extended – it certainly doesn’t seem jolly. Since the 5th century at the Theatre of Dionysus, people have been performing live and telling stories. Theatre has survived wars, revolutions, censorships, plagues, evolution, and humanity. Today, in 2020, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that theatre will make a triumphant return. But realistically, it’s going to take time, patience, money, and it may just be a struggle.
So, what about now? Job security still floats in my mind and I wonder what else I could do. Maybe it’s time for a slightly different venture? Always one for an inspirational quote, Coriolanus tempts me with, “…there is a world elsewhere” but Jacques is a winner, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts…” So even if it is time to “play another part” as it were, theatre will be welcomed back like an old friend when the time is right. There’s a long journey ahead and these stages of grief may be part of the journey, but it’s not the end. We will get through this.