The pandemic comes at a great price for actors and artists around the world. How can you remain optimistic in the face of possible health and existential worries and the inability to carry out your profession and passion? In this article, Alys talks about her lockdown experiences and why any act of creation is profoundly optimistic.
From Scottish dancing to mezzo-soprano
Alys is a professional actress and theatre-maker from the UK. Since she was trained at the internationally renowned school of Jacques Lecoq she has performed in numerous theatres across the UK and beyond. This portrayal, however, does not do justice to her creative mind and the breadth of her talent and skills. Apart from her experience in various forms of theatre and performance, she is skilled in puppetry, as a scriptwriter, director, clown and mime artist, singer, choreographer and dancer – whether it’s ballet or Scottish dancing.
Audiences locked away
With audiences isolating at home, venues shuttered, events cancelled and freelancers’ paychecks melting away, she is among those more severely affected by the pandemic. My question “What makes you as an artist optimistic?” therefore came at both the least and most appropriate moment. Although it seems particularly challenging to answer this question at present, it may be especially valuable to do so. Because ultimately, Alys succeeded in facing these difficulties and creating hope with one of her greatest strengths: creativity. Below follows her full answer.
A state of stubborn denial
I’ve resisted writing this for several months. It seemed hypocritical to write something about optimism while living in a permanent state of stubborn denial, punctuated with random outbursts of crying, and dutifully taking my daily anti-depressant.
I don’t claim to have had the worst lockdown. There are so many who have been worse off. But I am a theatre artist, a raging extrovert, and a workaholic, living (aged 27) with my parents in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, miles away from my nearest friend.
So what’s the case for optimism?
I have found it, perhaps unsurprisingly, in creativity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those Insta-sparkly, endlessly productive people who have mastered a new instrument, finished their fourth novel and made their own web series since the pandemic began. In fact, I’ve found that trying to write plays or make theatre has, on the whole, been too lonely, too painful and too void of inspiration to do by myself. Work-related creativity sends me into an endless spiral of ‘am I doing enough?’, ‘am I earning enough?’ and ‘am I good enough?’ and usually ends in chocolate and hibernation.
Something out of nothing
But being creative in ways unrelated to work – making my own Christmas cards, drawing again for the first time since school, tying some sticks together and calling it a wind chime – has kept me going. Any act of creation is profoundly optimistic. Creativity relies on the assumption that something can be made out of nothing. Or else something rubbish can be made into something beautiful, or useful, or silly (or equally rubbish but in a sort of surprising way). When you put a pencil to paper, decorate your Christmas tree, or sit with your sellotape and contemplate a pile of toilet roll tubes, you are staking faith in potential. You are choosing to believe that a transformation can happen – that you could give birth to something new. You have inside you an innate ability to make things.
Creativity is hopeful and if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, a good number of couples have cottoned onto this and been very ‘creative’ during lockdown. Whole new humans have come into the world. Like the one curled inside my best friend, and the one who grins at me on video calls, gap-toothed and innocent, before throwing me down the back of the sideboard. They have so much ahead of them. Making new things is such an act of hope.
Expression over achievement
So make something. In the process, you’ll be enacting the hope you long for. And don’t fall into the horrible, capitalist trap of obsessing about the final product and whether it’s any good. Kids draw 20 pictures a day and rarely notice that most (or all) of them end up in the bin, not on the wall. Creativity is all in the process, not the product. It’s about expression, not achievement. You only have to look at Malevich’s famous masterpiece to know that artistic achievement is a pretty subjective thing anyway…
(Left) ‘Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions’ by Kazimir Malevich, otherwise known as ‘Red Square’ because… it’s a red square.
It takes a lot of energy to create hope from nowhere, too much, sometimes. But cutting little triangles out of a folded piece of paper and calling it a snowflake is surprisingly easy – making a mess always is! And creativity is a covert operator; it’ll sneak hope in the back door of your brain while you’re busy with the scissors, turning a blank into brilliance. So if your heart is feeling emptier than your bank account, and your spirit more deflated than the balloons from the birthday party you never had (Rita Ora excepted), make something – make anything. And let it make hope for you x
Thanks for reading and thank you, Alys, for sharing your story.