Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Whole Truth...and nothing but the Truth

The truth seems like such a simple concept doesn’t it? It’s what actually, physically happened surely? Simple. Yet for every event, ever occasion we will all have our own truth of what’s actually happened. We can all witness the same event, but by seeing it from slightly different angles, with slightly different agendas, we can create a truth that isn’t actually truthful at all.

  1. the quality or state of being true.
    "he had to accept the truth of her accusation"

    • that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.
      noun: the truth
      "tell me the truth"

    • a fact or belief that is accepted as true.
      plural noun: truths
      "the emergence of scientific truths"

So this is what google has just told me as the definition of truth. It’s the latter definition that is really the most confusing one though…we ‘accept it to be true’. Why is that? Why do we just ‘accept’ at all? Isn’t our job as intelligent beings to actually question the truth to go out and discover a collective truth?

Now I’m not trying to get all philosophical here - in simple terms I’ve read a few things online recently which I personally don’t believe to be true…they have not been my experience of the truth.  I’m not calling the writers liars, as I believe that they own every word that they’ve written, however they’ve been so one sided - where is the other truth, and shouldn’t all truths be told for readers to make informed decisions?

Infamously most of us ‘get this’ with the Daily Mail don’t we? They write ‘a truth’ that thousands of reads believe, then the Guardian gives another truth which sheds more light on the Mail article.

For example:
People have been appalled that ‘so called’ refugees have been coming over to this country ‘with their mobiles’ so we’ll negate the fact that their homes were bombed, and they fled with whatever they could carry, fearing for their lives, we’ll forget entirely the fact that they were leaving a developed country, they weren’t your ‘mud hut’ refugees that you understand a bit more, we’ll brush over the perilous journey that they had undertaken to get ‘this far’…and we’ll focus on their mobiles shall we? ‘These people’ are ‘us’. I’m sorry but to everyone that knows me, they know that if I had to flee my home, after ensuring that my family were safe, the first thing that I’d take would be my mobile, my communication to other friends and relatives, an opportunity on a contemporary smartphone to find out what was really happening in my country. Surely a mobile makes the most sense? Oh yes…and ‘these people’? They are doctors, and lawyers and students and shop workers..and….they are ‘us’.

Two truths….in that very paragraph above…you chose which ‘truth’ suits your agenda….your deep seated belief will actually decide for you, without you actually realising.

‘THEY’RE NOT CHILDREN…THEY’RE ADULTS’ they cried….next day ‘NOBODY SAID THAT THEY’D BE TODDLERS’ (I’m paraphrasing both headlines) tomorrow it will be the ‘TODDLERS ARE BEING TRAINED TO KILL headline again. All are true…yet all have the bias of the author or the publication attached to them.

How do ‘these people’ fight back? Do they have a platform to write ‘their truth’? If they don’t we’re left with very one sided discussions aren’t we, with the rest of us basing deep rooted decisions based on one person’s interpretation of that word ‘truth’.

Over the years in this profession, indeed in my life (says old granny Thomas) I’ve had various run ins with people saying that the college couldn’t work, I didn’t know what I was doing, calling me a liar (which is a fascinating one to try and disprove because of all the above)…and back in the day I used to get really worked up about it. I would be adamant that ‘my truth’ be heard…as I didn’t want the last word to be my ‘untruth’. Social media took off and I began to realise that you couldn’t police it all. FB and Twitter allows anybody to write anything about you - and you can’t really stop it. You’ve given up the will to live by the time their ‘authorities’ look into it. Our own personal FB pages gives us the freedom to vent….and if we don’t like what the other people say…we delete their words….and eventually we delete them.  I’ve done it myself on numerous occasions - life is just too short to be arguing all the time.

So maybe it’s good for us all at times to stay curious about that word truth, as it’s actually not an absolute. It’s a transient word based on one person’s experience, and one person’s agenda…and might…just might, not bear witness to a collective truth.  

My head goes above the parapet so often I just as well buy a stool (I’m too short to actually just stand), so I am bound to come under fire again at some point…so I would say, the next time you hear a ‘truth’ about me…ask me about it….as we should all have the opportunity to collect THE ’truth’

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Audition Time

From 20th October potential students can apply to be part of #theMTAway.

Personally the 'start date' always feels like it should be heralded with a fanfare or something, as the next round of the carousel takes off. 

It's always an interesting few months auditioning people. Every year is always so different, which of course in turn leads to every year group being so different.  As we are student led, as opposed to 'course led' - and by that, I mean that our entire course is essentially written around the year group that we have, as opposed to having the 'model course' which the year group need to fit into. This approach keeps us on our toes, and as teachers makes us have to work even harder.

This is the reason that I will only employ people that are actively working in the industry, as our course also needs to adapt each year to what the industry is asking of performers. So for example, last year for the first time we had to add a self tape component as that is the 'audition preference' of the moment. Who knows what it'll be be this year.  However I know that I have a great team within my faculty who will shout out (loud) if we're getting wrong, and more importantly shout loudly if we've suddenly become dated.

I don't know how students are going to chose their courses this year. I mean it's appalling that the Drama UK site is still live, when the organisation itself closed a few weeks ago?  It still implies that there is group of colleges that have been approved under a strict criteria. Now if you've followed any of my blogs you'll know that I've always had an issue with this, as it's clearly been an 'stamp of approval' peer led, by the same group of people for years.  I mean it's worth stating again that all the colleges on that list were not re-tested to get accredited back in 2013 or whenever it was it reformed - so they are NOT an elite list. They are a list of convenience.

That said there are some brilliant colleges on that list that are truly doing the business...but there are also some colleges that aren't delivering the goods at the moment.

It's hard...we're about to audition our 9th year group, which still makes us a baby in real terms. 
Even since I started the college in 2009 there's been such a change in the industry. So many more courses, the existing courses suddenly doubling their intake (and yes, this is a dig...doubling their intake without doubling their pastoral support systems).  So what advice to give to the incoming class of 2017?

It's the usual actually - audition in as many places as you can afford and go with your gut instinct BUT start asking for facts too. As there are some pretty big, well established colleges, actually doing rubbish out there....and there are some smaller colleges doing exceptionally well. So get the facts and ensure that you stand a good chance of recouping your fees at least by working.

I would add one thing to parents. . . get advice from 'real people' - not the online experts. Phone colleges up and ask them what the 'real deal' is? If you were buying a car for £30k you'd want to know cold, hard facts - you wouldn't be satisfied with hearing a mate telling you that they had bought one and it was'd want to invest your money wisely surely? 

Finally...and we're a long way off this. I wish that people would include what pastoral care their students were really getting into the equation. Don't fall for the 'we've got this and that' and 'we've got a policy on this and that' - go to the shows, and speak to the students and ask them what care they are getting in real terms.

NB: Blatant Advertising:
Auditioning #theMTAway involves spending the day with us. You'll be auditioned by the people that are going to train we see no point in getting in 'experts' as they won't know what the course is able to do for you. You'll do a few workshops, you'll sing a solo, say a monologue, you'll have time to look around, chat to the current students/staff, very often time to chat to graduates as they're always around. That evening you'll get written feedback and our decision. No faffing about with recalls etc as your audition day will only have between 15 - 20 applicants in it. So we will really be able to 'see' you.  We then ask all auditionees for feedback to ensure that we're giving value for money etc. In 8 years of auditioning 100% of applicants have felt like they've received value for money, a large majority of them have actually thought that we've delivered more than required. Most applicants like the fact that we know your name by the end of the morning. Most applicants wish that they could sing more than one song too....but there you go ;-)

Sunday, 9 October 2016

#worldmentalhealthday #time4change

105 Organisations have now signed up to the #time4change Mental Health Charter. In reality that 105 individuals that have gone to their partners, Boards, associates and said that Mental Illness is real and that we ALL have a moral obligation to do something about it.  More than that it's 105 people that weren't afraid of saying those 2 words....'Mental Health'

Today is World Mental Health Day, as ever their message is to talk.  This year their hashtag is #Iamwhole with a campaign for "Tea and Talk"
Mental Health is such a taboo in the UK we have to be persuaded to 'talk' about it. Man when I get ill I want everyone to know,  so that I can garner at least one version of 'poor you', 'are you OK?' 'can I help?'. Yet when people are ill, but not in a physical way, there is often no conversation. Even with themselves, the conversation can simply be 'it'll pass'.

I used to suffer from migraines. I wanted everyone to know about it. I'd walk around with the face of someone begging 'recognise that I'm ill'. People were thoughtful, asked me if light was bothering me (did I need to sit in a dark room for a bit)? Was noise an issue? As maybe discussions could happen somewhere elsewhere.

What if you're depressed though? What do you do then?

The general population think that the depressed person should either 'pull themselves together' and just 'get on with it', they think that it's 'a phase'. I mean. . . if they were really  depressed they'd be crying,wouldn't they? They'd be the person huddled up in the corner of the room, with everyone else feeling awkward about it?

So here's the thing. . . very often the most severely depressed person is the person sitting next to you smiling. Asking you  if you're OK? They're probably listening to your  problems. The depressed person is seldom the one that you think.

What about the 'anxious' person - well they all need to just 'take a deep breath' because it'll be 'OK'. You encourage them to go and do the activity that's making them anxious, as 'they'll feel better when they're there'. Anxiety is surely just nerves, butterflies in your tummy?

Here's the thing though. . . those bits of advice, however well meaning they might have been, might have just been wasted air.  Did you ask them what they needed to help them in that moment? Does your 'anxious' mate prefer to be alone or with company during an anxiety attack? Have you asked them? Have you found out what their anxiety attack looks like? It might not be the panic attack that you've heard people talk about. I mean what exactly is a panic attack anyway? Then you see one - it scares you because you've never seen one before;  someone gasping for air, scared that they just can't take air in, scared that they might even die, the sensations are so bad? Everyone is so different.

Eating Disorders are easy to spot though, aren't they? I mean people just suddenly look thin, and you ask them if they're OK...and then you tell them they need to eat more. Sorted!
What about Bulimia though - they tend not to lose the weight? How do you spot them?

We need to talk EVERY day about Mental Health, just like we do EVERY day about our physical health. If you have a cold...don't you tell people when they ask you if you're OK? That's a viral thing, a thing that couldn't be helped, a thing that took over your body that you had no say in. My migraines were physical, I had no say in them, they just arrived and I had to deal with them. Mental Health is a thing that takes over your brain that you have no say in. What's the difference?

When you're physically ill don't you look for treatment to help you get better? Why is it so different for Mental Health?

This week I was thrilled when the owner of the website 'Not A Pushy Mum' got in contact with me to find out how they could get involved in #time4change. They have a unique 'in' with the parents of children going into the arts.  As we're hearing in nearly every government review at the moment Mental Health in the young is on the increase. If all those parents that are so desperate for their children to do well in life read the charter, they might, just might read something that starts to ring some bells for them.  Then if they're very brave. . . they'll address what they've just discovered. They'll do this because they'll want the best possible start for their child's life (even though they might be scared of what they've discovered/realised)

The majority of colleges have now had their Fresher's week - I'm already hearing the figures of people that have presented at counselling services looking for support. The figures are staggering. The person that once mentioned a Tsunami is not wrong.

Many students arrive at college wanting to be different, wanting to reinvent themselves. It is BRILLIANT when part of that reinvention is dealing with a mental health issue. It's sometimes easier to address this when away from your parents.

How sad then that I'm also hearing about long waiting lists, about counsellors not even returning calls as a 'holding' strategy.

We need more colleges on the #time4change charter. We then need to sit down and look at how we talk together, in a way that promotes best practice, and in a way that maybe manages to support each other too.

These are the stats released today:
Latest suicide statistics* highlight young suicide in the UK at its highest for the past 10 years. In 2015 1,659 young people under 35 years took their own lives; an increase of 103 more than in 2014 and 58 above the previous highest recorded figure (1,631 in 2011).
“Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK. It is a national crisis that can no longer be ignored,” said Ged Flynn, chief executive of national charity PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide.

These well-meaning campaigns should not be happening, because Mental Health is real, it's happening, and we should be discussing those illnesses like we discuss a migraine or a cold.

#time4change is ongoing. Are YOU an individual that could make a difference today?

Saturday, 1 October 2016

100 thanks

The #time4change #mentalhealthcharter has now been 'signed' by 100 organisations. 100! 63 agencies have agreed to send out the fact sheet to all their clients, present and future, 7 colleges/training organisations have signed up to promote good mental health provision within their faculties. People within those organisations have worked hard to ensure that their institution can commit to all the points that the Charter asks of them. 4 theatres, have agreed to 'source' and clearly 'signpost' mental health resources to all of their visiting companies. Finally 26 organisations from Accountancy firms to Vocal training groups...including nearly all of the 'new breed' of production company currently producing the goods off West End and in some instances around the World. Importantly this section includes technical theatre too with White Light and the Stage Managers Association agreeing to distribute the fact sheet.

This blog is just a huge thanks to these 100 companies who are trying to make a difference.  Thank you for allowing me to bombard you with emails and tweets. Thank you for making a commitment to do things differently.  Thank you in lots of instances for sharing your stories of why your organisation felt like it had no choice but to sign up to the charter.

The biggest thanks of all goes to Angie Peake who actually wrote the charter.  Donating time to the cause to both write up the charter, and in some instances supporting organisations/people to implement it.

These last 3 months have been such a rollercoaster ride. The excitement as the numbers started to grow, quickly followed by the lows of constantly having to bang on about a subject that just seems so obvious and evident in our industry, but yet wasn't really being addressed.  The highs of working closely with organisations to support them to be able to sign up to the charter, followed by the lows of other people's agendas hindering progress on a larger scale.  The highs of actually connecting with a lot of new people, followed by the lows of being perplexed by long term work colleagues, and even friends, coming up with silly excuses as to why they were unable to commit 'at this moment in time'.

The highs of hearing about shows starting with all the cast/crew being presented with the charter just as a matter of course, followed by the lows of finding out that someone had signed the charter but hadn't actually sent it out to their cast/clients.

The best highs of all - the emails from people that the charter had resonated with, and indeed had helped.  I said at the beginning that even if we were doing all of this for one person, then it would be worth it, but we already know that it's helped more than one.

The campaign goes on, colleges have to sit down and discuss how we can ensure that the Charter's practises are working? How peer supervision will work to keep the charter alive?

More colleges need to sign up! We need to work together to solve this problem. We need more theatres outside of London to sign the chances are that people could find help in their home city. . . but they wouldn't have a clue where to start should they be working away from home.

The charter will be an ever evolving piece of work - however having committed the last 3 months to promoting it, plus a few months before that prepping it, hosting the #time4change conference etc, it's time for me to return to my 'crap' job, as The MTA gets ready to welcome our 8th year group and begins to hunt down a 9th.  It's also time for me to really focus on my 'real' job, as I need to write a panto, and produce some backing tweak an older show...and start work on a brand new show.

Now that we've started the conversation - let's all try not to block it.  Let's keep talking about #time4change and encourage people to commit to it - as therein lies the secret. A simple, free charter, low maintenance to implement. . . but potentially a game changer for a lot of people.

The moral of this story though - never tell a short Welsh person that something can't be done - it's a little bit like a red rag to a bull.  Don't dismiss an idea before you've tried it. Just because you can't visualise it. . . remain curious, and give it a go.

In impro we teach not to block and to be accepting of new ideas.  Not a bad motto in life I reckon.

So. . . . who's next?