ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE THEATRE
I don’t remember the first time I went to the theatre. Both my parents, despite being very creative and interested in various art forms, never took me. It was simply not a thing in the Italian countryside. What I do remember is the first time I was on stage, at the age of six, playing the Virgin Mary in a Nativity play and let me tell you, I was as puzzled as you are by:
A. The image of me playing the Holy Mother.
B. The weird process of standing in front of a bunch of parents recording their kids on videotapes (yes, they had those back in the ‘90s) shouting and trotting on a stage dressed like shepherds in white stockings and hand painted paper cut stars.
I was not interested in the theatre nor had I any idea why my drama teacher told me I should pursue it as a career. What did I know? To me it was a part of what children did to become adults in the school system (I know, wonderfully foolish as only children are allowed to be, about the school system not the theatre of course ;-)).
Some years later on a school trip to London in 2007 to “learn English”, we went to see a production of Othello at the Globe Theatre on the South Bank directed by Wilson Milam and...
That changed it all...
Who would have thought huh?
I cannot put my finger on what it was that made me utterly fascinated with every word they spoke (which by the way I did not understand in the slightest because Italian English teaching methods have a thing or two to answer for, amongst various other things like our own government…). Either way, standing for two and a half hours in the bliss of ignorance did not seem to bother me. Tim McInnerny’s Iago was to my eyes the best acting I had ever seen (and no I was not in love with him because he was handsome, which was admittedly to become a bias in the future). I decided there and then I wanted to be an actress at the age of fourteen, after seeing that show and when I was cast in my first professional job.
But you might be wondering where the heck am I going with this…
Being a performer is bloody difficult, that’s where I’m going! That’s the part of the story you are not normally told. What you hear is how fun and amazing and intense pursuing a career in acting is (probably after multiple awards and owning a mansion on The Hills). Yes, dreams, LA sunset drives in Malibu, red carpets, flocking directors picking you as their muse, red roses cascading on stage and bla bla bla…
No! Simply no (laughing emoji) and that was something I had to find out the hard way.
Don’t get me wrong being a creative is wonderful and as I always say, anybody can be an artist because creativity is for free (shocking to imagine even for London standards where going to the loo can cost you up to £1), but the life of a performer isn’t something you can find in the same sentence as the word “easy”. Still, the competition is as high as ever. I bet you, you could ask almost anyone in the profession (be they a dancer, a singer, an actor or a musician) “How are you?”, and get the answer: “Mmm, well know you, ups and downs, getting there” which actually stands for, “F****g hell I’m trying not to die inside, make a living, keep good vibes, stay in shape, get enough sleep, eat healthy, network, travel, be social, be creative, have or look for a fulfilling relationship, keep my sanity and of course drink enough water because God forbid I don’t stay hydrated ”.
Of course, that’s not everyone and not al thel times but still… you get me.
So the real question is… WHY ON EARTH DO WE DO IT?
The answer might be different for everyone but as far as I am concerned, the reason is not masochism (shocking I know) but what we as a company are trying to do. Tell stories. Rachel Harry sums it up perfectly in her TED MxtHood talk below. Yep, is it as simple as that.
I could rant about how human beings need stories to bear with their own mortality and that the act of observing other humans enacting our worst fears and the extreme acts of violence, love, profane and unworthy acts have a cathartic effect, but ultimately it’s because men and women are social animals and need entertainment. For whatever reason, using our imagination seems to be the only real sane part of us that has stayed intact throughout time. As civilisation has taken us from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance to the World Wars to Brexit and The Donald, these are unsettling times for any decent human (that’s us, sometimes). I believe now more than ever it is important to confront where we are going as a society and what the meaning of civilisation is by the state of things. God only knows how much we need thought provoking entertainment that might actually force us to look up from all of our devices and be reminded that beside ourselves there are other men and women (or anything in between) whose experiences might move us. For real.
Magnetic Island started from a point of wanting to challenge what we already know, to see differently and considering other perspectives. It was born from a deep friendship based on profound respect and admiration which we hope can be the foundation of any of our present and future creative relationships. As we state in our Mission, our goal is to be open and ready to listen to those stories from different voices. To put on work that speaks for itself that opens up a discussion and a learning process for us and our audiences. To teach ourselves to be patient and trusting in others, and that deep respect and admiration will allow their work to flourish. To build artistic relationships that are worth cultivating because we all deserve a chance to show what we’ve got to say and share it with others. We want to create and give opportunities for all of the people involved in the creative process, not just to make a living doing what they love but to express themselves by bringing their expertise to our vision. Because, I don’t know about you, but I believe that trusting someone to do their job properly at the best of their abilities is the only way to collective success. This is by no means easy but yet again that’s the life of a creative. Richard St John, famous marketer and analyst, explained the eight secrets to success (here) and all of them apply to the creative industries way more than others. Do you know why? Because it is a leap of faith. MI stands on the somewhat crazy premise that three people (and a growing community) are enough to make something great happen. That three people are enough to support and nourish and see the success of our collective work (and those who will join us) despite the hardships of being an artist.
Trust is the main quality of this company and we hope that each and every one of the people who will give that trust back to us will flourish and grow as artists and as human beings.
Get ready for it!
Elena is a London-based actor as well as the co-founder of Magnetic Island. She can be found at almost any theatre in London at the most unexpected times, reading Simone de Beauvoir over green tea whilst persuading you about the great taste of 99% dark chocolate or telling Louis to improve the dramaturgy of... well... anything.