• Philip Bird


These are extraordinary times. The plague-stricken English population of 1600 might recognise what we are going through, but everyone under the age of 100 now has never experienced anything like it. While we try and deal with our personal stories of separation, sadness, illness and financial hardship is there anything we can do in our work to prepare ourselves for the next version of Normal?

I believe there is. We are already showing how adaptable we can be in the ways we communicate, just as Shakespeare was when he wrote the epic poem Venus and Adonis in 1592 when the theatres were closed and there was no outlet for his plays. And not only can we work on the medium, we can also work on the message.

Working on the former means doing all those things that we knew we should be doing but didn't always have time for, because Life kept getting in the way. We actors need to keep our bodies and our voices strong, supple and free. We need to stay mentally alert. This could be a time for acquiring new skills, learning an accent, or a poem, or how to juggle. We could pick up the guitar/flute/ukulele that has been lying around and get better at playing it. We could hum, and (neighbours or outdoor environment permitting) we could sing. Now that Life as we knew it has paused, it is an opportunity for us to take a breath.

And the message? There aren't many actors who, at one time or another, haven't written something, be it poetry, music, prose or drama. Or jotted down ideas for something – a short film, a play, a novel or a song. This could be the time either to have another look at those ideas and see if they speak to you, or to take a moment to reflect on what is really on your mind just now. People say we're having vivid dreams at the moment; it might be worth writing them down. Because there are fewer distractions, there is less noise to drown out our inner voices. Just as people are saying they are hearing birdsong more clearly now, we can also hear ourselves more clearly now. And feeling our restless minds calm down and find their centre, we will be better able to hear each other when the time comes.

An actor's life has always been a negotiation between our inner and outer selves. We need a thin, raw skin to reveal our own vulnerabilities and to allow those of our fellow-actors to touch us, and yet we need the thickest of skins not to allow rejection to destroy us. We are simultaneously on both Transmit and Receive. In performance we are treading a line between the stage reality of our character's feelings and the theatre reality of the audience's. And we are trying to live in the present moment while at the same time being constantly on the lookout for future possibilities.

Social media have made this last challenge particularly hard. Tea-breaks in rehearsals are often the signal for a dive to our phones to check for updates, news, gossip and information, rather than being a chance to reflect on the last session and refresh for the new one.

We can live in constant Fear of Missing Out. When our friends post about their work on social media it is almost always about their successes: in getting a job, in getting good reviews, in revealing their new showreel for our Likes. If we are reading these breathless bulletins in our rooms, out of work and out of sorts, they can make us feel small, neglected and out of some mythical 'loop'. It is as if our careers and development as artists were some kind of competition and that we are falling behind.

It isn't, and we aren't. Our individual development as artists is a continuum, not a comparison. It is up to ourselves, and only ourselves, if this path leads towards our becoming more accomplished in our field. Be Nice and Work Hard is all there is.

So now's the time to reinvent FOMO, to come up with a new and better version. Focus on Moving On sounds a little corporate perhaps, a bit fridge magnet. Freedom of Moving On? Hmm. Frame Our Majestic Oneness? Could work. Sounds like a '90's psych band from Japan.

There is of course Fear of Missing – Zero! as we aren't missing anything and there is nothing to be afraid of. My current favourite is Finding Our Mojo, but I realise that the final O is only heard when it's spoken.

Maybe you've got a better one for these times, and for future times. If you have, please tell Magnetic Island, and me at pb@philipbird.net. I will even offer a bottle of bubbly to the one I like best.

Fearless Ones, Message Over.

Philip is an actor, director and musician who has written a number of plays for Junior Schools and communities. He runs courses and workshops and directs student productions and rehearsed readings at Shakespeare's Globe, where he is a Higher Education Consultant.