Acting apart

Hopper in Arbuthnot and Pals adventures in Oz.
Hopper in Arbuthnot and Pals adventures in Oz.

I’m an actor, writer and director. How has the coronavirus pandemic affected me? I lost two national tours and four productions at a local theatre. I was worried about my financial situation; I think like most self-employed creative people, my whole life has been living from job to job with nothing much in the savings account. So straight away I typed up a CV and handed it in to every supermarket in my immediate area and luckily for me I got a job straight away as a night shift worker, picking online orders for customers.

So there we go, problem solved? Wrong.

At first it seemed OK. I was quite optimistic at this point, thinking the lockdown would last for a month at the most. I was so wrong and as the time dragged on, I felt like a part of me was missing: being creative and performing.

This is hard to explain to people who do not work in the theatre industry. Entertaining is something I have done throughout my whole life; my first pantomime was at school when I was twelve. I got my first professional job at the age of seventeen. I trained for three years to do what I do. Theatre performers are some of the most passionate people I have ever met. To have that taken away from us has been one of the hardest things we have ever had to go through.

So how could I be creative whilst in lockdown? I turned to performing live videos on Facebook to raise money for my local theatre, The Customs House, South Shields. I wanted to give back something to a place that has done so much for me. Currently I have raised almost £3,000 to save our theatre.

However, at the time of writing I am terrified. Right now, I’m being told that footballers are more essential than me. Footballers are currently doing their thing, obviously not two metres apart from each other. Whereas we have been told that theatres can open but no live shows can take place: why? How is that fair? Where is the logic?

Hopper regularly takes the popular role of Arbuthnot in Custom House pantomimes.

What if it was a one man show and the audience sat two metres apart? What if it was a comedian? What if the cast isolated together two weeks before and after the run of the show? What about outdoor theatre? What about a cast live streaming a musical?

It seems that I’m not ‘essential’. This a word that is thrown around a lot just now. Of course, I’m not trying to take away anything from our amazing NHS workers. But how many TV shows and movies have you watched during this time? How much Netflix and Disney+ have you watched? How much music have you listened to? Surely this has all been essential?

I may not be essential, but I’ll tell you what are. The theatres that I trained in, the theatres that have been stepping stones and the start of careers for the big famous stars you watch on your screen, the writers behind your favorite shows and the musicians who record your favourite songs. And unless something is done urgently to help the theatres and the music venues, the next generation will have a lack of arts in their education, and will lose their spark of creativity and their understanding and appreciation of performance.

Think of all the people affected by keeping the theatres closed. Performers, directors, choreographers, musical directors, producers, writers, composers, lighting designers, sound designers, set designers, costume, stage managers, musicians, technical crew, prop makers, makeup artists, marketing, front of house staff, cleaners, caterers and bar staff, to name just a few.

So, I’ll continue working in the supermarket, as many actors and creatives are at the moment. But I implore you, go on your local theatre’s website, see if there is anything you can do to help fund them, buy a ticket for a future production, buy a script or merchandise or even just leave a donation. So that people like me can return to doing what we love and we can entertain and educate the younger generation through the arts.

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