Lockdown 5: The Show Must Go On
The first time I remember going to the theatre was when I was thirteen. My parents took me to a production of Cabaret, and it was a catalyst experience. I have always been an avid jazz and musical theatre fan. There I was, all excited to be one of the few young people watching this phenomenal musical, where people like Liza Minnelli made their name on stage. This was avant-garde, sexy, bohemian and reckless. After all, life is a cabaret old chum and I was falling in love with it. I remembered the figure of the actress who played Sally Bowles on stage. The way she had her hair styled, the way she sang while holding a cigarette on her right hand and a glass of wine on the other, with such glamour and pose. The way her body moved and swayed on stage, her hunger and attitude. I could not stop thinking; this is where I want to be. I can do this. I want to. For weeks after the show, I spent my entire afternoons locked up in my room learning the songs from that musical. At the time, I was at the conservatoire. I used to have piano lessons after school, and but it was not until when the conservatoire decided to create a small drama group that I understood the power of dramatic arts. I mean, things at school were not necessarily easy. Some days could be especially hard and painful. I would lock myself up in my room, put some karaoke on and sing until my lungs burned out. Sometimes, I would get a random book from the shelf and read poetry out loud. I would put some music on and dress up, pretending I was on stage. When the days at school were unbearable, I would just dance and pretend to be someone else. I wanted to be someone else.
For years, I attempted to persuade my mum to let me go and try some of the youth theatres in Lisbon I have been looking up on the internet that but Lisbon was far from home so she never took me there. I kept on doing what I had been doing so far – writing, scribbling stuff on one of my many notebooks, dancing, creating castles in the air during the winter and castles in the sand during the summer. Well, I thought these were just big dreams for a silly girl living in a big world. It was not until I moved to London, and everything changed. I found this Youth Theatre very close to home, and I went to see their production of Blue Stockings. In the end, I was mesmerised, intimidated even. Then I was taken over by a familiar feeling, the same feeling I felt when I was thirteen watching Cabaret. I wanted to do that. I wanted to meet them and be there with them. I wanted to be a part of that magical world, where people come together to share and experience things and where people in the audience like myself, would gather to listen attentively, what the actors have to say.
The first time I set foot on stage, I felt something in me changing. I was not scared. I was not afraid. For the first time in my life, I felt empowered. I felt people were not there to see me but listen to what I had to say, to be touched. To be on stage brought me the peace and confidence I have never had. I could be anything and everything all at once, no one would care, and no one would know which version of me I was being. I could be myself. One of my friends at the time, this guy I have only just met even turned to me and said ‘How do you do that? How can you just come in here and be that confident? I have been doing this for three years and I always get uncomfortable.’ Just bear in mind I was a complete foreign who just arrived in the UK two years before, my English was not that good. I was surprised by his comment, and I wish I could have turned to him and said, well I do not actually know, I am not confident at all, but I feel like I have a lot to tell.
I am telling you this story because I want to emphasise the importance the Arts can have on someone’s life and how it inspires us to never give up on ourselves. We are going through some really tough times, and the industry I want to get into eventually is not being supported enough, many artists are losing their jobs. I came from a country where the Arts are underfunded and where being an artist is not as important a job as being a doctor or a lawyer, to a country where the Arts have a strong presence culturally and economically. I mean, can we really imagine a world without the Arts? Can you go a day without listening to music or watching Netflix? I certainly cannot, and I doubt you can too. The Arts are a celebration of what it means to be human. It is an identity that sees no race, where being different is a good thing. Our necessity to constantly create and give meaning, it is what keeps us alive and gives us purpose. Other areas would not exist without creativity and the capacity to create and reinvent. Therefore, instead of boycotting and overlooking the creative sector, we should actually embrace it.
These days, when I go down to central London, I walk the deserted streets of West End wondering whether these streets will ever be the same again. Many institutions have been closed for more than six months now, and many more will close if nothing is done about it. I cannot imagine the catastrophic implications there will be after the pandemic is over, with many regional theatres and off-West End venues closing down. It is not just West End and the commercial theatre that matters, independent artists often work around many social problems that are important to calibrate our society, the recreational purpose the Arts serves in our lives. It often gives a voice to those who cannot be heard. A lot of institutions such as drama schools and art galleries have been lighting up red lights in support of the Save the Arts movement. Some artists, actors like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, created The Show Must Go On merchandise as part of the Theatre Support Fund – a charity that has been raising money to help freelancers, from actors to directors and producers, within the artistic industry (you can find out more about it in here – https://theatresupportfund.co.uk). The Arts do not just involve the artists themselves but a whole creative team behind them (hairdressers, marketers, publicists, agents, art curators, event managers) who work tirelessly to keep the industry going and will also need our support.
We need the Arts now more than ever to give us some encouragement and hope. In acting, I found a way of going back to myself when I felt lost. In literature and writing, I found the power of critical thinking, of challenging people’s minds and of telling them stories. It has always been the Arts that I resorted to when I felt low. How could I ever give up something that has become such an integral part of who I am today? Just like that thirteen-year-old girl who went to see a musical with her parents that changed her, I bet there are a thousand thirteen-year-old girls out there, who need the Arts to keep them going, to make them believe that there is hope, that their show is not over yet, it must go on.
photo from @londontheatrereviews
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