As I enter my ninth week of lockdown in the UK, I wanted to start to write down some of the thoughts I have had about the society we desperately want to return to and the way our relationship to it has changed. As much as I have to say about the way the pandemic has been handled here, this is more about considering the path back from this and the effect isolation from our normal lives has had. This is not going to discuss the lockdown politically, more the social effects that I have felt and our place in society now.
I was lucky enough to speak at a conference about the impact of Coronavirus on young people in the arts and I wanted to share here some of my thoughts. Firstly, we have seen a drastic shift in the arts world, with theatre doors closing, tours cancelled, auditions moved online and a bleak forecast for graduates. Suddenly we are required to utilise skills we have never needed until this point and those with editing skills, quality equipment and access to large spaces are succeeding faster than those without. It is widely accepted that being able to isolate is a privilege, and that privilege extends further than having access to your own studio and at the core is more about being able to stay somewhere where you feel safe and you are loved. Right now, we need information and accessible training for skills we are being asked for but don’t possess, or haven’t accessed in years, but after this is over, we need opportunities for entry level graduates and schemes to support those who are suddenly fearing going back into a world that has half the amount of jobs and three times the number of competitors.
I know I am not alone amongst my friends for looking at other options as my industry is threatened and I have considered whether it is a good time to further my education. The scary reality of being furloughed is you aren’t able to be a soldier on the frontline trying to respond quickly and fight for survival, so you have to leave your faith in those left behind and the power of the government to protect your future, a reality I have never desired for myself.
We also have the ongoing battle within ourselves that has the ability to generate energy, desire and motivation, but also leave us feeling empty, raw, unfulfilled and sad. I use the analogy that we were once on a high speed train with likemind creatives, generating energy through the communities we crossed paths with, engaged with, as well as the incredible people we surround ourselves with everyday. Now that is gone and our train has been derailed, we are each responsible for restarting our own trains and creating our own motivation and passion, which is exhausting! I am inspired by the friends I have that are still managing to turn their frustration into passionate projects and haven’t yet run out of steam by week 8 of lockdown, but I know that isn’t the case for the majority. Sometimes it feels like we are inundated with workshops, training courses, online classes and ‘craft projects’ to fill our days with, when a lot of us struggle to find the energy to get out of bed and put on normal clothes each day. I think we are struggling with a supply and demand issue, with many suppliers not understanding what is actually needed right now and those who need it not knowing what to demand.
We also have hundreds, if not thousands, of artists who have been abandoned by their societies, drama clubs, safe spaces and mentors who have had to give up their studios, close their doors and many of whom have had to be furloughed as the income streams dried up. This is affecting so many children and young people who are struggling to comprehend the lockdown nevermind the concept of their support being furloughed and not being able to understand why they aren’t there for them anymore. There are limited solutions for us to take these spaces online and zero provision for those who don’t have access to a laptop, but trying would be a lot better than hunkering down for the storm and switching the light off on the thousands weathering their own, alone.
As social distancing measures were put in place, sadly the effort that was put in so valiantly by many young people (and many not-so-young) to create a more sustainable society and try to reverse some of the impact of climate change for future generations has grinded to a standstill. Yes, there are plenty of incredible environmental impacts that have come from reduced pollution, particularly the kind that comes from active city centres and commuters. We absolutely could return to a society where working from home is the norm and even the rule, where we cut down the number of cars on the road, but to me it seems unlikely that this won’t lead to more people choosing to travel by car for their own protection and social distancing. I applaud the effort to invest in cycling lanes and solutions for workers to be able to access funds for bikes from their companies, but the reality is sadly that most people will live too far to bike (I will caveat here that I live in London and it is definitely more possible in other cities and many people do manage in London but I could not). We saw obvious changes such as reusable cups being banned in coffee shops before lockdown. Now, with schools attempting to maintain their students education, we have packs of materials being sent out to homes at the expense of those schools, the labour of the postal service and the waste of plastic/wrapping/packaging in order to make this possible. We also have generally a huge increase in the number of items being ordered as individuals aren’t able to go out to the shops anymore to buy things generally, where people may have tried to avoid large retailers like Amazon prior to this. So as much as I am thrilled by the concept that nature is taking this time to heal and we will be reversing a lot of the damage we have done during this time, I worry that stark contrast with a lifted lockdown and the world resuming will quickly make up for that.
A slight segway here (well done if you’ve kept up with my brain dump so far), but I have managed to participate in a course during this time, which looked at our needs as humans at this stage. It is a task I would encourage everyone to complete. We are all probably aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but if like me you haven’t looked at it for many years then the refresher might be helpful as it was for myself. Start at the bottom and read through what we need as humans and note down the needs you feel you are missing within yourself right now. That might be shelter, personal safety, employment, health, self-esteem, self-actualisation, recognition (all sadly areas that many will lack during this time). Then think about what needs are not being met that involve other people (friendship, intimacy, family).
I’m sorry to say I am not here to provide you with solutions, but when you know what you are missing right now, the way you feel during this time might start to make a lot more sense. If we are missing the most basic of needs, such as safety and physiological needs, how can we even begin to function right now? If we miss love & belonging and esteem, then it seems obvious we will be struggling with motivation, feeling loved or connected, or even happy. If our needs are met through the majority of this chart, then even still for a lot of people we have been unable to achieve self-actualisation* during this time and that is frustrating!
*Self-actualisation: the realization or fulfilment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone.
Sadly we are getting to a point where we have been isolated and lived in fear for such a long time that going back to the world as we knew it is going to be incredibly difficult. For those who have been furloughed, schedules have completely shifted, we have been cut off from our communities and networks and a lot of businesses sadly won’t survive this financially. Particularly working in the arts, which is on the most part a service industry, we will be the last to reopen and repopulate, as people are hesitant to rush back into sharing spaces with strangers beyond what is completely necessary and also many won’t have the capital to be able to afford to. That is scary and it won’t be the case for everyone, but I am trying to speak out about my own concerns in order to connect and start to think about the society we we rebuild and what that looks like.
There are arts and service companies on the forefront of trying to envision a new future, how would theatre work online, how can we make events online, how can we create a sense of coming together without doing so physically to rehearse, socialise and rebuild?
I am not trying to be totally negative at all, many great things have emerged from lockdown. Old relationships rekindled, new routines and stronger relationships have been formed. However, this is however a time for blue sky thinking. We are on the longest pause the world has taken in a long time if not forever. So I leave you with a few questions:
If you were to reset the human race, what would you build and why would that be meaningful to you?
What did you enjoy about your life before lockdown?
What skills do you have that you want to be paid for, that bring you the most joy?
What, right now, are you thankful for and what do you miss?
Thank you for reading and do share any responses you have below, these are just my musings right now and I appreciate many won’t share my view.
Notes: the workshop I mentioned is on it’s final week, but the next edition of the workshop starts in June if you want to join! – please find the workshop here!