Through feast and famine
When I was 22, I had just “accidentally” dropped out of uni. I can look back now and see I was in a fairly dark place, a strange state of inertia where the air itself felt heavy. I ran away to the mountains in the States but carried a sense of failure with me for many years. While I wouldn’t necessarily say “stay in school” as I appreciate all the experiences I had, I would say it would be wise to make peace with those sort of adjustments sooner - I could have kept it out of my nightmares!
Ironically, that was the age I was when I would have been reading a lot of Janet Frame. I remember finding solace in her words and a bit of a kindred spirit; I never would have dreamed I would be working with her material now. Her language was an incredible antidote.
Photo by Andi Crown from Owls Do Cry workshops. Actors L-R: Arlo Gibson, Comfrey Sanders, Ella Becroft, Hannah Lynch.
The “worry less” mantra
A couple of years ago I made one New Year’s resolution – to worry less. I knew I couldn’t say quit worrying, that’d be like telling myself to quit coffee or chocolate – forget about it. But becoming aware of how much air time in my head was taken up with worry was a revelation. That’s the only resolution I’ll make now, or perhaps a better way to frame it would be less fear, more joy.
I look back on some of my best memories and can see there is a part of me removed from the situation, wondering if there is something better around the corner, or if I should be doing more or with different people and I can see the only thing wrong at the time was not making the most of it, not being really present with what I had rather than worried about what I didn’t have.
That’s still a daily practice for me and one for a lifetime I reckon.
Photo by Andi Crown from Owls Do Cry workshops. Actors L-R: Arlo Gibson, Margaret Mary Hollins, Comfrey Sanders, Ross McCormack, Ella Becroft, Hannah Lynch - photo supplied.
Weather the temporary ouch of criticism
I saw a crossword clue recently that asked for another word for condemn. The solution was “critique”.
A bad review makes you feel like you have failure tattooed on your forehead, but everyone else forgets.
My worst ever review told the audience to keep their children away as it would put them off theatre for life! Ouch!! It created a very vigorous online debate that I watched with interest but never weighed in on as I was too crushed. But I would say there is a responsibility for reviewers to not go to forms they hate. If you love a perfectly constructed script, you might not be the best person to review a devised, image driven narrative.
On the other hand I have had a couple of reviews that were incredibly insightful and intelligent and I took that on to strengthen the work.
In the end, it’s just an opinion. Gather just a few voices around who you absolutely trust and who will be honest and make critique a rigorous conversation and get your ego out of the way. The most freeing realisation I have had recently is it’s not about me, without that judgey voice there’s a lot more space to focus on the work. I’m then better able to enable others to work to their best.
Photo by Andi Crown from Owls Do Cry workshops. Ross McCormack - photo supplied.
From feast to famine
There is a very high chance as an actor or practitioner in theatre you will go through feast and famine. To go from an intense period of rehearsal and all the adrenaline of performance into the void of no work is taxing on the hardiest of nervous systems. Learn how to best support your own nervous system physically and mentally and take care of your own precious soul.
Balance really is a valuable and elusive thing but worth striving for if that’s your gig.
I do think it’s great for practitioners to be multiskilled and definitely know your way around a budget; you don’t want to be powerless around financial decisions.
My 22 year old self was brave so she would also have advice for me –don’t worry about what others think of you, keep moving, do things you love, practice listening.
To my 22 year old self I would say enjoy that magnificent freedom you have! Seek happiness and experiences but also peace, it’s way longer lasting and less at the whim of circumstance. Stop being so damn hard on yourself. And... beer and tubs of Ben and Jerrys ice-cream is not a balanced diet.
Julie Nolan is a founding member and the artistic director of Red Leap Theatre. Julie is directing the upcoming production of Owls Do Cry, showing at Ōamaru Opera House from 4 October 2019 - 5 October 2019 and Q Theatre in Auckland from 17 October 2019 - 2 November 2019.
Julie Nolan - photo by Andi Crown.