Thursday, 10 October 2019
I interviewed for an usher position at a theatre today. It pays £10 an hour.
It’s a lovely job. Nice people. I get to see some theatre for free. I can walk there in half an hour. I love the building, the ethos, I’d like an actual acting job there. It’s a job I can do without paying for childcare. Which is just as well, as childcare costs £12 an hour.
I’ve had many day jobs in my time. Some temporary, some part-time, some full-time and permanent. I was good at them. I worked hard at them. The last full-time EA job paid me £40k a year. I have a brain and skills and a good work ethic [I think! You’d have to ask some former bosses to be sure]. But, I want to act. And any day job, no matter how much I’ve enjoyed it or felt a sense of satisfaction from it, doesn’t engage my heart or my soul. Doesn’t make me feel alive. Isn’t where I’m meant to be.
And so. I guess if you’re in work fairly regularly as an actor, you can get by. Or if you partner has a steady, well-paid job, then you can get by. But if you’re both creatives, both juggling the need to pay the bills with the need to keep your talent and your soul alive, and your light shining (and that’s a biggie), and you’re not getting that much work, and you have 2 kids, what do you do? Does one of you take the hit for a few years and then you swap? I’m not sure the acting industry works like that....
So my options, as they seem to me currently (and bear with me but I think the actual practicalities/options are worth stating), in lieu of a well-paid acting job appearing forthwith, are:
- Work from home doing PA / typing stuff. Which is theoretically possible, but baby has a max 2hr nap a day, not guaranteed. Evenings are busy and in a 2 bed flat, there isn’t really a place I can hide from the kids to try and do some typing without them coming to assist with the “button pressing”.
- Sign up for temp work as a PA etc. But the joy of temp jobs is that they are mostly short notice, which I can’t do with school drop offs/pick ups and a 13 month old. Without paying for childcare. And I'm genuinely not sure I have any more space in my brain to do this sort of work currently!
- Get a job I can do out of office hours with minimal impact on family life, which may not pay as highly as options 1 and 2. See above usher job.
- Jack it in and find an alternative career, one that doesn’t require paid study or training, because no grants/loans are available if you’ve already got one degree, and CHILDCARE, and I have enough organising to do on a day to day basis with a husband and 2 kids, without going to work to organise some more people, no matter how well paid.
So those are the logistical, financial issues at play. And I haven’t even touched on managing on a touring wage when you need to find digs suitable for yourself and a baby (and childcare, that old chestnut), and indeed husband and older kid(s), at a weekend, or the travel. Or even just managing the logistics and finances of arranging or cancelling childcare for little ones at short notice when the call sheet for any given day in rehearsal / tech / production week, gets sent out late into the evening the night before...
Let’s move to the emotional and mental issues for a mum who is also an actor.
Parenting, it seems to me, for all its many joys and hilarity, is also a daily exercise in how you deal with failure. And guilt. Which are by no means the lion’s share of the day, but are a very present and daily occurrence. Managed to keep calm for 90% of the day despite repeating every request at least 3 times, but focused on the 10% where I raised my voice? Managed to get them out of the house, clean and dressed and on time, only to look in the mirror and realise I have some crumpet squashed into my boob and a sliver of ham in my unwashed hair, as I navigate the hedge-fund mums in their floaty dresses and coiffed tresses who have their nanny in tow at the school gates? Remembered to write half the thank you’s for their Birthdays from 2 months ago, but haven’t posted them or written the other half? Managed not to crack open the wine before 5, but have moved on to 3 coffees a day to keep my eyes open? Tick.
It’s a tough gig. Rewarding. Joyful. Enlightening. Hilarious. Infuriating. Exhausting. And then there’s the acting. Which, as we know, is a world of excitement and anticipation and rejection and failure and excitement and anticipation and rejection.... that ever spinning wheel of emotions. Much like buying a lottery ticket. With only moderately better odds.
Life has felt tough of late. And in part that is due to the kids ages - Hector has just started school and Arno is crawling like a madman. And having no family nearby. It’s the toughest point. I know that. Deep down, I know. But I have genuinely wondered lately how people survive it. Not just in terms of their own mental and emotional health. But how they weather the storm of parenting and trying to carve out a career which feels so hard. And out of reach.
The hardest thing, is knowing that you are good at what you do, not that I’m Meryl Streep, but I have a whole fucking world of parts I know I can do, and wondering if I’ll ever actually get to do them. Because work begets work. And if we live in a society where there isn’t enough support for parents (and for mums especially), where family aren’t as involved, where childcare is exorbitant, and the economy is about to go fully tits up, then you perhaps find yourself in a position where you have to do some other work. To survive. And then you’re not free for the acting work.
And the other hardest thing, is knowing that you can stand on one leg with one baby on a boob and a 4yr old “helping” you cook, whilst noting down what shopping you need and singing along to your repertoire playlist so you can fit in practicing your songs, whilst texting the PTA, and remember *some birthdays and learn a scene in one evening and work out some way to film it and send it at the crack of dawn without having a breakdown, and saying NO, I don’t already have loads of West End runs on my CV but I fucking should, and YES I can - just look at HOW MUCH I am doing, all at the same fucking time, so give me an audition and give me a fucking job for the love of God. Actually. Just look at how much I am doing. How much Mums are doing. Which is not to take away from Dads. But Mums. Mums are on fire and putting out fires at once.
I don’t have any answers. I can’t currently work out how anyone with more than one child, gets to bed before midnight. I’d be curious to know how people do that. How couples manage to have sex without paying a childminder to take the kids out so they can actually find the time and not be keeping an ear out for a plaintive cry. I haven't even managed to start reading the books on Motherhood that I want to read as research to write a play on Motherhood.What jobs parents do in between acting or other creative jobs. How you cope. How you pay your bills. How you sleep. How you keep your light shining. Tell me. I’m all ears.
Monday, 20 February 2017
When I listed myself on Guardian Soulmates in 2011, I stated categorically that I wanted a partner who preferred to stay in bed on a Sunday morning for some shenanigans, not one who wanted to go out for a jog, or whose profile picture was a shot of them skiing. I have nothing against skiers per se, it’s just that there only seemed to be two tribes of people on Soulmates in those days: artistes, and skiers. Also, I can’t see your face in a ski mask. Now, I haven’t started skiing. And I’ve barely begun jogging. But if you see me in the near future, I may bore you senseless with my talk of Banting. Not to be confused with ‘having a bant’ or some ‘bantz’, or indeed our beloved Swan Company Whatsapp Group ‘Dr Bantermist’.
You can all google, I won’t go into the specifics, but Banting is a diet, or as the Banters like to call it, a WOE – way of eating. You basically can eat as much fat as you like, moderate protein, and hardly any carbs. I really do mean hardly any – under 30g* per day. As an average day, I have scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, protein and salad and cottage cheese for lunch (plus 2 squares of 90% dark chocolate which isn’t really permitted, but I’m still breastfeeding and I need some chocolate in my life), and protein and veg for dinner, followed by blackberries and double cream. Booze has sugar/carbs, but they don’t limit your booze – they leave it up to you.
Those that know me or have read previous blogs, know that weight has always been an issue. I’ve done most diets. I’ve had colonics. I’ve been to the gym. Hell, I even did a couple of 10k’s about a decade ago (the St John’s Ambulance lady looked vaguely worried at my shade of purple, and I probably jogged/walked it in the same time your average Joe could walk 10K but, I did it). The only common denominator during all this time was that I was always hungry. I literally cannot ever remember being on a diet and not being hungry. In fact, most of my life I have felt peckish. All the time. Or been thinking about my next meal ;-)
So, why did I begin Banting? Well, I felt pretty lethargic and kept getting poorly, and I was fat. But primarily, I had high blood pressure and wanted to get off the medication for it as I hate taking pills. I also wanted to be in a position that when another job came along (please God), I was ready and able to do whatever the director wanted, which is kind of important as an Actor. In Don Quixote, I kept busting my knee attempting to step onto a tall ish box (actually I had two people helping me up, bless them, but it still hurt), because I was overweight and I had zero stomach muscles post C- Section. It still bugs me that I couldn’t do what they wanted choreography wise. That I felt scared I might bugger up the routine or the symmetry of the piece. We’re watching ‘This Is Us’ on Sky at the moment and the character Kate had this scene where her boyfriend told her she had to stop letting the ‘fat’ rule her life. She explained that it is ever present – when you’re sussing out the gaps between tables in a restaurant to see which way you should go, when you have to put your bum in the face of people at the theatre as you edge to your seat (I used to face them but we were practically humping), the airplane seat belt, the knife edge every time you take in some clothes to try on in a changing room. I could go on. It’s not really a way to live. Though to be honest, most of the time I don’t even notice I make all those calculations and adjustments – they’ve become part of my every day life. And it wasn’t until that episode that I realised, shit, that’s what I do. Husband helpfully told me I wasn’t as big as her, but that’s not really the point.
So, said husband kindly said we could put a little of our savings towards me having some personal training, so that I could feel a tad more confident about what my body could achieve. My trainer, Malcolm, recommended Banting. And I’m not sure I could be more grateful to anyone. Ever. Because, after the first two weeks (I’m not going to lie, they were pretty tough folks), during which you’re in sugar withdrawal and what they call ‘Carb Flu’ descends, the hunger stopped. And I really do mean that. My husband didn’t believe me. It took me about 3 weeks to persuade him and then he tried and realised it was true. I’m not saying there are zero cravings, especially when I pass a doughnut shop. But I can go hours without food. I’m not thinking about food. My body feels calm. And it’s probably not just the diet – it’s the training (we started at twice a week, and are now down to once a week so that I get used to doing it on my own as well, quick smart before the dosh runs out!), and I’ve been doing yoga once a week at Battersea Yoga which is a true haven. And probably does more for my emotional and mental health as much for any toning or fitness. Malcolm is high energy and, for a trainer who primarily works in the parks, has OCD about dog poo, which I find highly entertaining. It’s like they can smell his fear and they all run over to him and look like they’re about to mark their territory, whilst he stands still as a statue pretending it isn’t happening.
Now, the key is, does the weight stay off. And I guess we’ll have to see. But every other major diet I’ve done hasn’t ever seemed sustainable, and this is. I began just shy of 4 months ago. I’ve lost 15kilos, 20cm off my waist, my blood pressure is 118/80 and my resting heart rate has dropped from 93 to 70. I list those not to brag, but to emphasise that all has happened WITHOUT being hungry. And I’ll be honest, I debated about posting this. Because I look at the women’s magazines on the shelves and they’re all covered in diet stuff. I’d say at least a third of all the posts in my various groups on Facebook (primarily for mums, but not all) are about wanting to lose weight or getting fit. And the story is always the same – always hungry, fell off the wagon, back on the wagon, etc etc. And I feel sort of evangelical about this WOE. And I want to shout it from the rooftops. And I know for many of my friends, weight isn’t an issue – they can eat what they like. But since the 70’s when the US suddenly decided fat was bad, and carbs were good, obesity has steadily risen. And it makes me beyond angry that we were fed advice that was actually wrong. The US has recently changed their dietary guidelines and there is now ZERO limit on fat intake, but there is on sugar. I could go on about this all day, but if you want to read more, I’d suggest starting with Jason’s Fung’s The Obesity Code. Similarly, if you want some personal training or Banting coaching, I’d highly recommend Malcolm. Just bring a pooper scooper ;-)
It’s probably also worth saying that according to the joy of the medical profession that is the BMI Scale, I still have 14 kilos to lose, just so that I fall into the ‘overweight’ category, rather than the ‘obese’ one. So, I have a little way to go, though I have no desire to be super skinny. I like being curvy. I like the freedom of it. The non conformity of it, I suppose. I like falling into the ‘character’ actress category, and given that even if I do shed another 14 kilos, I’ll still be larger than most actresses, I think that casting bracket is safe, though I might need some new headshots soon. Most importantly, I’ve assured the husband that even at my smallest, the boobs didn’t really decrease, so he’s happy.
Gem (soon to be seen high kicking for 2 hours non stop in the West End. I’m not, but you know, I could… ) x
*for the breastfeeding mums – I started at 80g of carbs per day and reduced by 5g per week, so that I could check it wasn’t affecting my supply. I now average 40g per day.