Self Validation In The Arts

What is it we all seem to want in the Arts industry?

In my experience, it’s feeling a sense of validation, of having your own niche. Even if you are someone who works in multiple areas of the arts, you want to create your own identity. But this begs the question, are you then worrying about what others think of you? The honest answer to this is yes.

We all spend more time than we should, wondering what others think about our work, not so much the audience of course, but our peers. Yes, those people you pretend have no effect on your work and there are no comparisons made by you, between them and yourself. For some reason we think everyone is so concerned with what we are doing, when in reality they really don’t. They are more concerned with finding their own place in the Arts.

So what if an audience didn’t give you resounding praise for your play? That should not mean you are less enthusiastic about the piece of theatre you have created, in exactly the same strand as if the feedback was very positive. Nurture your work and make the play the best it can possibly be. This can be said for ourselves, we need to give ourselves the same care.

The validation we need to focus on, is mostly a self one. This one we need to look at in detail with ourselves, how can we expect an entire industry to feel a sense of belonging within it for us, when we aren’t comfortable with ourselves as an artist? We need to be at peace at who we are and realise our worth, that we are irreplaceable in the arts, we are unique.

Guest Blog-From Theatre Publicist And Director Chris Hislop 

This Isn’t For Everyone

It seems odd to write an article where the brief was “inspirational” about quitting the industry, but I mean what I put in the title – this isn’t for everyone. Theatre has some incredible highs, but there are barriers to success both practical and emotional, and it takes a certain sort to survive and thrive in the industry. This isn’t a negative – far from it. This is what makes it so special.

Because this is a immeasurably hard industry to thrive in. It’s incredibly hard to get into in the first place, with the barriers to access, being quite rightly decried industry-wide as limiting theatre to the non-wealthy, after which there is no guarantee of work and/or success, with the former being hard to come by and the latter being subject to the wholly subjective whims of producers, audiences and critics. Even then, the truly successful can never rest easy, and with industry salaries being a fraction of what can be earned elsewhere unless you’re at the very apex of the industry (and, in some fields, not even then), there are truly no laurels to rest on.

And yet, every year, thousands of new drama school students apply, or make their way on to the hundreds of actor training schemes that claim to offer the same. The jaded maxim is that they’re chasing the dream – this elusive hope that they might be able to fulfil their childhood passion of treading the boards with the greatest. It’s no surprise “actor” comes up frequently, alongside “astronaut” and “rock star”, in idealised childhood job fantasies – and yet the reality pales quickly in comparison to the dream.

But is it as cut-and-dried as all that? I tend not to think so anymore – nearing on 15 years in the industry has meant that I’ve transitioned from early idealism through jaded cynicism into a sort-of zen realism – but it hasn’t shifted the little nugget at the core of my being, the thing that drew me to theatre in the first place and, despite many different jobs in many different theatres, has never really changed: the desire to tell stories.

I know, right? Hokey. “The desire to tell stories” – what silly social media meme did that come from? It’s actually one of our earliest anthropological traits as a species – we’re absolutely desperate to tell stories, to get better at telling stories, and I personally believe that, in those that make their way into theatre, that drive is just more pronounced. Be it onstage, offstage, or in support of, theatre is one of few media where you can tell a story and see DIRECTLY how it affects an audience. Unlike performing to camera, theatre gives the storyteller their audience where they can see them – and where they can see their ability at work. It humanises them to us and us to them; it creates rapport where there may be not a shred of common ground; and it facilitates the best kind of storytelling – where the reaction of an audience changes how you tell them the story.

But let’s not get too bogged down in theatre theory of the whys and wherefores of this – you’re reading a blog on a theatre website so I’m guessing that either a) you’re a fan or b) you’re interested in it already – let’s focus on why people do it. Because everything above is still patently true, and five minutes spent trying to be an actor/director/thespian of any stripe will get you crashing down to earth sharpish about the long hours, lack of financial reward and intense amount of drive, self-belief, determination, gall (and maybe even guile) needed to even begin to be lucky enough to make all of these disparate pieces become a theatre “career”. And yet some people stick it out – some to immense success, most to a generally peripatetic, floundering existence from one paycheck to the next with vague grandiose plans that never quite come to fruition. Despite the humungous drop-off rate into other careers or stay at home parenting/partner support, there are still a collection of mad nutters who wrangle the very fringes of a living out of this. Why?

Because their desire to tell stories, in whatever way they can, supercedes their desire for anything else. There’s an element of self-sacrifice to it – often a crippling emotional openess that can make them both the life and soul as well as the soul-sucking vacuum of most social encounters – but these fools have decided, for whatever reason, that telling stories is more important than a stable home life, sensible working hours, traditional family/children, retirement… And it is, from the outside, entirely foolish. And if you feel at all on the fence about it – as many, many colleagues and friends have over the years – I say what I started this article with: “this isn’t for everyone”.

Maybe you have to be a fool to work in theatre. But the fools that do wouldn’t be anywhere else. So come be a fool and tell stories – or go and do something, anything more sensible with your life. Your parents and your bank manager will thank you. But if you are one of us fools: accept the hardships, face the trials, for Heaven’s sake DON’T become one of those people who endlessly moans about it, and come tell more stories. Your heart will thank you.


Guest Blog-From Writer Gemma Murray 

The arts is a place of performance, creativity, imagination and storytelling. A space for ideas and freedom – chosen by those with the creative minds to build a world on a page or tell a tale with their bodies. However, this thinking outside the box, people often struggle to prove themselves. 

The unemployment rate for actors, calculated by the actor’s equality association is at 90% and a separate study shows that an estimated 52% of every 10,000 scriptwriters are unemployed. The statistics speak for themselves, proving that this certainly isn’t an industry with high success rates, it is though, an industry with possibly the highest rates of passion for the job than any other. This combination of rejection for the art that you love, can lead to an unsurprising rise in mental health problems, affecting those working in creative industries. 

The arts is a place of expression and this is undeniably wonderful for the positivity and mental health of those who flourish in the industry – the passion to create and speak to the world in a safe place, for people to show themselves, their ideas and soul and in turn, give a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. But what happens when this art is rejected? When your passion is turned down and feels underappreciated? The feasibility, need and relevance of the arts are things that have undoubtedly been in question in the media and when creative passions are queried, this sense of self is too. Perhaps a root of this mental health crisis stems from a lack of appreciation on a larger scale, the argument of the extra-curricular nature of the arts is an angle that cannot be ignored. There is difficulty, in choosing a job, that most people see as a hobby and the constant justification to both the world and yourself, of your passion’s importance. 

Dancer Phoebe elaborates further:

‘In many schools at the moment subjects such as dance are being cut from the curriculum, which leaves dance to serve the only purpose its left with – extra curricular activities. We need to stop thinking of subjects in terms of outcome. The outcome of maths is not can you do algebra, but it is the process itself that is important. This is the same with the arts. The arts should not be valued in terms of your outcome at the end of the subject, did you produce an art work and did you achieve a correct/final answer? It should be valued in terms of its process as a disciplinary subject. That being – what it teaches you along the way, the skills you develop, how this can be applied in things other than the one subject you are specialising in. Art is important for everyone. Art teaches you how to be open minded, it teaches you values, subjectiveness and objectiveness, to think of things on a deeper level, to question and to establish your own opinion. Its important for social integration, communication, bonding and inspiration, which of course is always relevant. Where would children and even adults be without books and colouring pencils? ‘ 

The mental health of artists is something that we must not ignore – the struggle for recognition and high level of stress when this is received. Supporting our artists is something that must not be bypassed and seeking help may be far easier if this was an issue addressed, something that ‘ArtsMinds’ is championing. With a study estimating that symptoms of anxiety are ten time higher and depression 5 times higher within the arts, ‘ArtsMinds’ is a place to safely speak and gain help for mental health problems within the industry – as ArtsMinds say themselves,  life can be the hardest act of all. 

Offering help to performers, writers and artists is something that I feel is particularly important. I myself have suffered from anxiety all my life, and writing, scripting and art are all things that have allowed me not to suffer this in vain, being able to transform my overthinking worrying brain, into scripts and art. Another, rather relevant quote for you ‘No artist sees thing as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.’ (Oscar Wilde)  The place of creativity, freedom, art and love should not be one of loneliness in the inevitable times of rejection , and so perhaps it is time to ask. Ask you friends how they are, do not presume their happiness. Question their coping mechanisms and encourage them without prompt. The arts is a safe and glorious space for championing the wonders of the brain, and so perhaps, give a second thought to those wonderous brains when they are not creating.

If you feel as though you would like some help , please do not be ashamed! This is such a common feeling , and help is not as scary as you may think (trust me, I have asked, and the world, much to my surprise, did not collapse around me).