So you’ve just ended an intense period of work with a group of fellow actors. 99.9% of the time the actors you didn’t already know become long-term friends and remain in your life, even if it’s intermittent.
You’ll bump into them maybe at casting, you’ll see them when you go to see a show, you might, if you’re lucky, work with one or two or maybe all of them again both collectively and severally.
But the nature of being an actor is at once both communal and solo.
So what does happen when you finish a play and everyone goes their separate ways. Now it’s so much easier to keep in touch with folks, social media, mobile phones and email. None of that was available when I first came into the profession. It was landlines, public telephones, and snail mail. First night cards and telegrams from your agent. So not surprisingly often you just literally lost contact with people. In this day of technology if you want to keep in contact with someone it’s pretty simple.
Having recently completed an amazing job at The RSC, something that will always be special and a production with which I take immense pride in having been part of; but as they say, all good things must come to an end and it did on March 25th, 2017.
I have always suffered, to varying degrees, from depression when jobs finish, especially, theatre jobs. It taps into my predilection towards depression. I suffered a nervous breakdown when I was a young adult kept it quiet for more years than I care to think of. But over those years I have learned to “cope.” Finding activities that keep your mind busy and focussed elsewhere. I write, I draw, I used to play musical instruments. (I must get back into that). These days I write and I create digital canvasses. By and large, it helps to fill the vast expanse of empty time. You go from 100 to 0. Doing everything and anything. Having structured days and evenings, to doing nothing. As an actor you constantly experience the highs of working, engaging with people, reconnecting with actors, and friends you might not have seen for sometime. You’re performing (what you trained to do or have spent a life time doing) and socialising as you wind down.
To the loneliness and isolation of nothing. Very often nothing in the pipeline and the worry of how you’re going to cover your bills. You hope, you pray that ‘something’ will come along sooner rather than later. In the old days, cash in hand work was easy to find. Now even temporary work has expectations of commitment, contracts and minimal shifts to be worked. It’s not that easy, unless you find a sympathetic and supportive employer. Or a reputable agency with plenty of work on the books, but good ones, truly good ones are over subscribed and can afford to pick and choose who they take.
Calling it the post-show blues is a bit like calling Postnatal depressionthe baby blues. I just as guilty as the next person.
It belittles the seriousness of the condition. Most actors “shrug” it off and try to get on with things. For the most part it “works.” But there are and have been recent tragedies and it doesn’t always stop when you get the next job.
Thankfully it is getting easier to talk about such things. But there are still many, who I am sure, suffer in silence because of the perceived and historical stigma of having mental health issues.
How do actors cope with such extremes? If you’re lucky enough to be going from one job to the next – the average working actor can find themselves languishing in such depressions and each time it hits harder because the joy, the thrill of being employed feels all the more intense, it is all the more precious especially if the interludes between work have become longer.
The starvation and the feast heightened and intensified. I suppose one could say it’s an occupational hazard. One of the many that face the freelance, self-employed, trying to be, jobbing actor.
I’m lucky I have another job to turn my energies to and a potential job after that one. For the likes of an actor like me that’s amazing infamous, unknown female actors or colour over fifty don’t find themselves in a position like this too often. But plenty of actors, old, young, male, female, BAME not BAME do find themselves in despair and fighting off the black dog as it circles around you. I don’t have answers, I don’t have ‘a solution.’ I wish I did.
All I know is that recognising the signs is the first step, talking to someone you trust the second and taking each day as it comes the third.
No pre-loading, no transferring or second guessing yourself, just putting one foot forward after the other and taking your time. Taking all the time that you need.
On a rather flippant final note I do also find the odd glass of red wine in good company or a G&Ts helps too – here’s to keeping and staying well.
Here’s the thing. The King & I is set in Siam. It’s about The King of Siam. Simple isn’t it. But according to the latest revival little things like historical accuracy i.e. The King of Siam being from Siam or as we now know the country Thailand, this is role that is quiet obviously for an East Asian actor, no? Mais non, aussi incroyable que cela puisse paraître,ce faitest sans conséquenceàtous. ParAnglais: But no,incredible as itmay seem,this fact isof no consequenceat all. It appears , that when it came to the casting of this revival UK director Lee Blakely saw nothing inappropriate, nothing “wrong” in casting French actor Lambert Wilson as The King and Lisa Milne as Lady Thiang. Monsieur Wilson according to his IMBd profile he was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, France. He is French his father, Georges Wilson, was an actor, theatrical manager and director of the Theatre National de Paris, now known as Théâtre du Châtelet from 1963 to 1972 – coincidence, peut-être? As far as I can ascertain Monsieur Wilson has not cultural, ethnic or heritage ties or personal associations with East Asia. Not that the latter should matter. What matter is that as good an actor Monsieur Wilson is, what in god’s name is he doing being cast as The King, in The King & I? And the same goes for Opera singer Lisa Milne.
Now some would say this is one for those that advocate colour blind casting. Choose the best actors for the roles. Yes it would if it were globally a two way street and traffic was going both sides of the track up and down, not just in one direction. But it isn’t is it. You get a BAME actor or actress playing a part that’s more obviously written or traditionally play by an Caucasian actor then usually all hell breaks loose. This tend to happen more frequently in movies, the platform and media maybe different, but the issues are the same. Suddenly the casting a BAME actor affects the integrity of the work. Those that haven chosen to cast in this manner wake up to headlines such as:
In terms of a BAME (Black, Asian Minority Ethnic) actor in the UK being cast in what is considered traditionally white theatrical roles, recently I can only think of one. A Black actress cast in the part of Bobby in The Railway Children. I am sure there must be others. But for the life of me I cannot think of any at the time of writing this blog post. The actress playing Bobby got a mixed reception. Some went with it, for others it ‘spoilt’ the show. They complained of having to try and explain things to their disappointed children. I couldn’t help thinking at the time, was it the children that were disappointed or the adults? Was it about the fact that the role had been played by a Black actress , most of whom admitted she did a fine job, or that audience members’ own prejudices and preconceptions prevented them from sitting in a theatre, suspending disbelief and just enjoying the show? After all in the theatre, is that not the contract that the audience and theatre enter into? For a brief time all things are possible. If you want realism watch the news, watch a conventional documentary. Theatre is all about the imagination. The audiences’ and the actors’ combined imaginations, or at least it used to be.
Thing is, I don’t see too many BAME actors being cast in white roles. The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) claimed that it was breaking the mould back in 2000 when they cast David Oyelowo as Henry VI, at the same time Adrian Lester was about to tread the boards as Hamlet in Brooks production at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris, December 2000. Both actors received, as far as I recall, great critical acclaim for their portrayals.
But it’s not an everyday occurrence. A BAME actor, (more often than not a Black-Caribbean or South Asian actor in the UK) playing a classical lead, is the exception not the rule. It is happening more. But considering 2000 was the first time that the Royal Shakespeare Company actually cast a Black actor as a King, it is pretty shabby going.
Back to the matter in hand, Théâtre du Châtele’s revival of The King & I.
My point being, yes BAME actors do sometimes get cast in “white” roles. But not as often as their Caucasian counterparts get cast in BAME roles. Caucasian actors can go seamless from playing anything and practically everything without raising an eyebrow in many quarters. It’s appears to be ok for a work to be re-ethnicised, to be culturally re-structured to accommodate the casting of a Caucasian actor or actress. But you trying doing that, the other way around. Questions are asked, fingers pointed, barbed comments quite often bandied about freely on social media.
My ears are still ringing to the furore that Talawa’s all black Importance of Being Earnest elicited back in 1992. It literally split the professional theatrical and artistic community in two, those for and those against.
Whilst on the one hand a revival of The King & I can be staged in a manner that strips out the very heart of the piece, the political and the cultural concerns, by casting the King and Lady Thiang with Caucasian actors.
A company that in the UK looks at doing Chekhov’s Three Sisters or Ibsen’s Ghosts with a mixed or all British East Asian cast, would be in for a very rough ride indeed. One only has to look at the reviews from around the globe when it comes to multiracial casting – please I’d love to be proved wrong.
Is it fair, no. Will it continue to occur, yes. Will things change, possibly, but only if we ALL stand together and refuse to be complicit, refuse to enable this type of cultural laundering of work.
It seems that there is still one rule for the culturally dominant in society and another for those that are not.
It’s taken a high-profile BAME (British Asian Minority Ethnic), Lenny Henry to embarrass Aunty into doing something. While all of this is great. It means nought if there is no robust mechanism, procedures and protocols in place to ensure that these plans are rolled out effectively and efficiently and are actually practically affecting the way the media and the arts utilise BAME talent.
The BBC according to the recent exchange they had with East Asian student Bess (AKA Katherine) Chan stated that they had measures in place when it came to diversity.
Already I see a huge flaw. Once again British East Asians appear to missing from this ‘major action plan.’ Will these new measures stop the BBC and other media producers from discounting East Asian artists as ‘lacking in authenticity’ and therefore feeling justified in casting overseas? Attitudes have to change in the UK and that starts with robust monitoring, encouraging and bringing on East Asian writers of ALL ages not just “emerging” for which it appears one has to be between the ages of 16-30!
There is a wealth of British talent, of British Asian Minority and Ethnic talent that the BBC ignores at its peril. There is a wealth of British East Asian talent that is still being side-barred and not just by the BBC. But as the flagship, as a publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC should be leading the way. Excuse me for not being overly enthusiastic but I have seen many initiatives over the years come and go. I have also seen many of my (BAME) friends, colleagues and acquaintances pack up, either leave the country or just give in altogether.
Those that have left these shore, many have found that they can make a living over in the US (and other places) something that very few actors, let alone BAME actors can do on these shores.
When you consider that the UK has in many cases invested in these actors, via the old grants system in my case, or student loans, it seems an utter madness that this investment is not nurtured to full fruition. But, I suspect, if the establishment and country that you live in doesn’t see you as part of the society; for example some of the comments that Lenny Henry received after he had given BAFTA Television Lecture many via Twitter
‘If he (Henry) wants a lot of blacks around go and live in a black country.’ On another occasion, Mr Henwood tweeted: ‘Islam reminds me of the 3rd Reich Strength through violence against the citizens.’
To which of course many responded, that Lenny Henry already did. Didn’t he (Mr Henwood) realise Lenny came from the Black country?
Then you’re not going to be considered and therefore you won’t figure in the big media scheme of things and there is a disjunct between what is actually happening in Britain and what Producers and those responsible for media content view as reality. Whether that through a comedic, dramatic or factionalised lens.
You only have to scroll through the comments below the two Daily Mail articles to see what British people, who happen to have non Caucasian roots, still have to endure in supposed modern, multicultural and poly ethnic British society. Diversity is here to stay, though I am sure, there are many on all sides of all fences. Be those religious or cultural who spout their preference for their own elite and pure “isms” sadly we will never be able to stop such people from having extreme views. But the majority of people, I’d like to think, just want to get on with their lives. They want the best for themselves, their children and their loved ones. They want things to be proud of, things that reflect the country that they live in. Just think back to the Olympics 2012.
No one is saying that the BBC has to give actors jobs. BAME artists would just like to be able to compete on a level playing field. We’d just like to know that we will be considered not just for the “obvious” roles because that’s what BAME actors have always been cast as – but for other roles, that reflect more completely and accurately, the diversity which can be found on British streets, in British businesses, schools and colleges.
If we want our media to better reflect actuality, then the media has to start viewing BAMEs as part of society not additional, separate or as an “add-on” to it. We are part and parcel of the British landscape, no matter what feelings that might instil in people. Diversity is here, it’s real and it is reflected in the faces of the people you walk past every day. BAMEs are not an adjunct, an addendum or a mere footnote – we are real, we have purpose, we have vision and we contribute.
It’s great, sobering, slightly depressing, sad and a truthful read. A read that had me nodding my head in recognition, remembering, recalling and thinking, ‘yep, I know what that feels like.’
But it got me thinking specifically about my own circumstances. How things were in the good old U of K. Across the pond, here in the UK, there is no studio system. Getting to make a Brit film always seems to be done in spite of, not because of. Where friends and acquaintances consistently seem to be leaving these shores to work in the US, especially if you’re an artist of colour.
It irks me, well that’s not true. It more than irks me, it really p**ses me off. Talented men and women who’ve gone through the system in the UK. They’ve taken out student loans to study their craft. Or in my case in the golden days, an actual grant. So the UK has invested in them. But once they’ve graduated UK PLC seems to lose interest in their investment. Why is that? Is it simply because in the creative sector, what we create can not be boxed and priced per unit? That what we trade in is non-definable and subjective? If it were that non-definable then we wouldn’t be able to sell tickets to the West end shows at £80 per head. Films wouldn’t generate thousands of pounds in box office takings.
So why do British trained BAME actors feel they have to leave these shores to be appreciated, to get a level of work that can sustain them, so they can earn their living doing what it was that they trained for? Very few BAME professionals in the UK reach the stage where they are making a living 100% from acting. But then according to a recent research just one actor out of every fifty makes more than £20,000 per year in the UK. (New Articles – The Independent http://ow.ly/xmObz.) Pretty grim really isn’t?
As for British East Asian actors, the conditions that East Asian artists have had to contend with here in the UK still falls woefully short in comparison to other BAME artists and the opportunities that they can expect. And that in itself isn’t really saying much. Being a BAME artist and having many friends from a wide variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds, I realise we’re all feeling the lack of inclusion, the lack of opportunities, the subtle restrictions that are almost subliminally and implicitly present at castings. They lurk at the back of the decisions made by gatekeepers as to what new writing or writers they will support, what is considered authentic Chinese/East Asian and how Britishness is still defined.
This is isn’t contest about who feels more discriminated against. Everything is relative. From my personal perspective as a female transracially adopted British East Asian actor, writer and filmmaker things are pretty grim. In my life time on the small screen we’ve had only one positive drama TV series that had mainline characters that were British East Asian. The Chinese Detective. There have been a couple of films about the British Chinese community, but he first, the ground-breaker was PING PONG, which centred on the experience and concerns of the British Chinese community. It was shot twenty-eight years ago. PING PONG should have been for the British Chinese and East Asian community what My Beautiful Laundrette was for the British Asian community.
That was my first professional job. Fresh out of drama school, wide-eyed, hopeful and as green as they could possibly come. It should have been a fairy-tale start to my career. The lead in a feature film. How often does that happen? The Film was received with great warmth and praise at the Venice Film festival. But back home, a part from Time Out and Alexander Walker, the film was basically ignored. Invisible like the section of British society it wove its story around. Recently there has been a surge of re-interest, I guess you could put PING PONG into the category of now being somewhat of bijouette cult film. That is to say a film that not many people have seen, but many have heard off and want to see.
I can be nothing but British and East Asian. Which would be fine if more people accepted that I can be both East Asian and British. The two things do not dilute, lessen or cancel each other out. Contrary to popular belief, I AM A FULLY TRAINED ACTOR. I graduated from a recognised UK drama school. In fact, I was probably one of the first British East Asian females, if not the first to attend a UK drama school and graduate, back in the mid 1980s.
I’m blowing my own trumpet (as apparently no one else will) which is all very UN-British of me.
I’ve worked with some of the best that Britain has to offer in acting, film, TV and radio, including but not limited to: Sir Ian Holm, Dame Helen Mirren, Roger Rees, David Threlfall, Pam Ferris, Kathryn Hunter, Eamonn Walker, Alexander Siddig and even an Oscar winner George Chakiris. I’ve been directed by the best, including but not limited to Richard Olivier and Thea Sharrock. But it might all as well have been for nought. A very good and dear actor friend of mine made this rather sober and depressing point, when he said to me.
If a Caucasian actress of the same age, had achieved what you had when you had (first pro job lead in a Feature Film, major Shakespearian role before hitting 25) you would have had at least one major TV series under your belt, stared in at least on other feature film, had a hat full theatre credits including a West end show or two and have worked at the National and RSC at least once
In spite of the CV that I have accrued and the many compliments that I have received from industry professionals, directors, producers and casting director, they all ring hollow now. None of those who professed undying admiration for the way I practice my craft and heaped praise upon my work. have ever deigned to employ me. Twenty-eight years on and I’m still waiting and hoping that my experience, my talent will shine through and I’ll be cast in a major project that might lead to greater mainstream exposure and more prominent paid work. Who knows – it’s a funny old business.
I can only assume that like many, not only in the creative industry sector, but within society as a whole, British East Asians just don’t figure. Why, because British East Asian appears to be an anathema to many. For most people there is no such thing as British East Asian or British-Chinese. Yet if you are of African-Caribbean heritage or South Asian heritage you can refer to yourself as Black British or British Asian if you so wish, and quite rightly so. We East Asians don’t get that option. It is Chinese and if you’re lucky “Other.”
The condescension that runs through the BBC response to Elizabeth Chan’s query to the BBC about the lack of BEA representation in the media is jaw droppingly awful.
So what will it take for me and others like me, to be able to call ourselves British East Asian or British-Chinese and not feel as if I’ve said a dirty word out loud in public? Paying my taxes, contributing to the National Health Service by paying not just one type of NI but two if you’re a freelancer, that doesn’t count then? Yet if all the “immigration” and “integration” chatter and rhetoric is to be believed then it should. I’m a passport, tax paying, law-abiding British citizen and as such should be treated with the same considerations and have the same opportunities as every other British citizen has, shouldn’t I?
I’ve lived here in the UK for all but eleven months of my life, how much more integrated into British society can it get? It would seem that being born or raised in Britain is not enough if your skin is a shade or two darker, or your eyes and nose don’t conform to a European ascetic.
I watch TV like the majority of the nation. Soaps, dramas, comedy, docudrama, historical pieces, mysteries, cop dramas. Surely I’m not the only East Asian in Britain who indulges in this type of entertainment behaviour? Yet where are the fully rounded, well-defined characters that represent me? Where are the bus drivers, the taxi drivers, the lawyers, the teachers, the 30 some-things, hell the 40s, 50s and 60s some-things? The other British East Asians that aren’t takeaway or restaurant owners.
You do know don’t you that not every British East Asian in the UK works in the catering industry.
Many of us live useful and productive lives in other industry sectors, such as new-media, publishing, legal, scientific, academic, educational and medical to name but a few. But we never ever see that side of British society. The East Asians who don’t speak with a heavy East Asian accent. There are British East Asians who don’t speak Chinese, isn’t that part of being British East Asian or British Chinese. We grew up in Britain, we went to a normal British school like every other British kid. There are British East Asians in the wider society who don’t keep themselves to themselves and are more at home eating at the Ivy or Jamie Oliver’s Dinerthan they are at Memories of China. There are British East Asians whose education wasn’t a state school and Chinese Sunday school, but the corridors of Oxford and Cambridge.
Why aren’t I seeing these characters on TV, British funded films and West End theatres? Why is that to have an authentic Chinese or East Asian character in a creative project in the UK, more often than not, they have to speak with an accent? Even if the whole damn thing is set in a far eastern country and the majority of the characters are East Asian, why do the East Asian characters have to have an accent? That isn’t always the case there have been exceptions Hungry Ghosts at The Orange Tree Theatre 2010 and more recently the World of Extreme Happiness at The Royal National Theatre in The Shed.
But for everyone project that breaks the mould there seem to be at least half a dozen that don’t and they merely re-enforce the Victorian stereotype and caricature of what Europeans feared and projected onto the Chinese and East Asia. It is incredible when you think about it. In the twenty-first century this country still sees East Asians through a distorted historical lens.