Sun, 12 Apr 2020
Pictured above: Adam Kotz as Sir Walter Raleigh in Sir Walter’s Women, by Rachel O’Neill, Winchester Great Hall, 2018
‘Being one of the only professional actors in the village, the people who bring you the wonderful arts pages of this newspaper have asked me to write a few words reflecting on how the current crisis is affecting those in the performing arts sector and particularly actors. Obviously, this will be very much on your minds. So, where to start?’
With tongue firmly in cheek Newbury’s own TV, stage and screen actor ADAM KOTZ reflects on the impact of current Covid-19 crisis on his profession.
It's going to be tough for everyone for a while and not least for the self-employed, which includes pretty well all the people who work in the arts. Something to reflect on as you settle in to watch, read and listen to everything ever created. It is a precarious existence for most and yet, mysteriously, thousands choose this way of life. Why do we do it? The answer can only be that the highs (the call from the agent, “the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd”, the free drinks in the bar afterwards) are able to completely obliterate the memory of the lows.
Some lesser creatures – painters, sculptors, writers, composers, musicians and the like – can, theoretically, continue to create and practise in solitude, but if ever a profession needed interaction to exist, it is the acting profession.
It is what you are there for, to be in a darkened space with an audience of strangers and persuade them to engage intently with you without coughing (especially at the moment). The training for this usually starts at drama school, where much time is spent peeling away the levels of inhibition to allow you to feel comfortable in your own skin and learn to look an audience in the eye and embody the truth of your performance while wearing anything from doublet and hose to a banana costume.
What happens when there is no-one to witness this? Will our egos shrivel away to nothing if mummy isn’t watching us? Will the creative flame flicker and go out? I think not.
The current shutdown of theatres, tours, rehearsals, TV and film productions will be a very hard blow to actors and
technicians, especially when you consider the odds of having got the job in the first place and how precarious their finances often are. We are, of course, no strangers to being unemployed and have to live with insecurity all the time. I once heard that 95 per cent of Equity members were out of work at any one time, but even this terrifying statistic doesn’t prevent thousands every year wanting to join the ranks. Even so, they are no different to anyone with a family and bills to pay.
Why should you care? Well, it’s often overlooked how much the skills of actors form part of the fabric of life. A waggish actor friend once declared how people actually call on the services of actors more than on their doctors. If you consider it, this pomposity has a grain of truth (even though you’d probably think twice about letting someone from Holby City take your appendix out). Winston Churchill recognised the value of the arts when he was challenged to defend a wartime budget that called for an increase in artsfunding. “How can you propose this at a time of extreme national crisis?” asked one member of Parliament. Churchill replied: “I do it, sir, to remind us what we are fighting for.”
Communicating though stories is woven into our DNA somehow and those with a natural or learned ability to do this well get singled out and valued. No doubt it began around the fires in the caves of our ancestors. Switch on the telly or go to the theatre now and we expect and want to be entertained, moved, challenged, informed and soothed to levels we may not fully understand, but we recognise the need for nonetheless. Acting may be an interpretative skill which relies on the creativity of other artists too, but ultimately actors bring these visions to life.
Right now there are plenty of real-life dramas out there and people are fearful and confused and one of the first casualties of this is social interaction and shared experience. Actors will be among the many who are having to dig deep and find ways to make a living or simply to help and cheer up others.
Creativity, though, is a hard impulse to suppress; there was underground theatre even in Warsaw in the Second World War. New ways are emerging already online that will allow creative people to adapt and survive and share.
Sooner or later, darlings, we will gather again and the arts will be at the forefront of the celebrations.