So this time last year I wrote: http://althomasmd.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/theatre-is-hardso-lets-look-after-our.html all about my Christmas wish, that we, as an industry, could learn to look after ourselves. I asked that we would acknowledge that Mental Health was a major issue in the performing arts sector. We launched the #time4change conference, giving people 3 months to get that date in their diary.
I guess the rest has become history. . . a somewhat chequered history but history nevertheless. The conference didn't get the support that we would have hoped for, in spite of various conversations which led us to believe that it would. However it did prompt us into launching the #time4change Mental Health Charter. An initiative that over 100 organisations are currently signed up to. A charter that we categorically know has made an impact throughout the performing arts industry.
We still need more people to sign up, but for a while I need to concentrate on running a college. In the meantime, the writer of the Charter, Angie Peake, is giving ongoing (free) support to those people that have signed up, needing additional support to implement it.
I think a rather sad by product of the Charter is how jaded it's made me of certain organisations and of people in general. Organisations who decide to put petty politics before the greater good. Petty politics I should add that are entirely one sided. Suddenly Mental Health became competitive? What the hell is that about? Colleges refusing to sign up to the charter as they perceive it to be an initiative from another college. Somehow they missed the lesson that clearly stated that every 'movement' has to start somewhere - but then the momentum of change comes from the proactive masses. Or what about the ones 'already doing it'? If you're doing it . . . sign up and let's get some consistency throughout the sector then. Add your voice and experience to the 'movement'. Pop down from your ivory tower and teach us all what your experience has taught you so that we can all put that into practice.
It was only the other week that a basic thing dawned on me. I keep speaking about the 1 in 3 of our industry being susceptible to mental health issues - forgetting of course that this INCLUDES the very people that I'm trying to engage with. I have to say that that realisation made me slightly less resentful about some of the vitriol I've been subjected to this year!
In fairness though I'm not just talking about the Charter. This year has seen such political upheaval across the world, and yet we have social media activists who believe that writing a constant flow of vitriol will solve the problem? I'm sorry but get off your backsides and DO something. Don't just plan to stand in Trafalgar Square with a load of other 'activists' thinking that shouting about the problem will make things better - it won't. We need solution focussed thinking - not idealistic Utopian dreams (yes, I am saying that Corbyn will never get into power)
Every Tom, Dick and bloody Harry appear to be making a 'statement' about drama training being so expensive and becoming elitist - but what are they DOING about it. On your twitter feeds and timelines you all agree, you bemoan the latest government, but are you donating some of your money to help out? Are you donating your time to help out? Why not make a statement about how we solve this mess instead of just nodding loudly (an interesting phrase. . . but social media somehow allows us to do this)
ALW shouts that we need more diversity in the arts, we ALL agree (or at least should do). However this is a complex subject, and the answer lies right back at primary school level, as this is when a load of us decided to do this for a living. Then the next solution comes in secondary school when potential BAME performers AND their families need to know that this career is an option. It's no good bleating about it on the West End stage - the problem is endemic in society and in certain cultures BUT we could change that with education. I would suggest though that everybody making a statement about how elitist the arts is ain't helping any struggling wannabes persuade their parents that this could provide them with a sustainable career!
Then there are amazing people who pull me back from the brink of exasperation. People who are running marathons, donating time, donating money, donating 'ideas' all for the greater good. Yet we don't listen to their understated voices so much do we - as they're not shouting about themselves.
We have people that are literally donating the price of a coffee to The MTA every month. Those smaller donations for a college like ours become a life line. We're not LAMDA, able to raise £300k to ensure that 'everybody' gets a chance to train. However just 20 people donating £20/month would support 1 student a year who's already in receipt of a CDL.
I've met tutors from other colleges who are busting a gut trying to get the mental health package right. I've met with Principals, brave enough to say that they are sinking under the deluge of struggling students, which enables us to think with them about what 'we' can do to make a difference. I've spoken with counsellors swimming against the tide of ever expanding colleges, where the management have given no consideration to student welfare. Again though #time4change has enabled us to throw out life rafts to each other, so as one goes under, the rest can help pull them out. . . for now. This is indeed an ongoing issue, but there are people prepared to stay open minded, give the initiative a go, and together we CAN and indeed WILL make a difference.
Finally, and this is my biggest revelation of the year - I've realised that I've officially become Mystic Meg! No really. . . look at the evidence. For around 3 years I've been saying that Drama UK was a drain on resources to those 'in the club' providing nothing more than a name for people to bandy around. A name that was meaning less and less. Then Eureka this year it folds. Hopefully it folded returning the £6k that the remaining colleges had paid into its coffers over the past year. Hopefully soon it will finally do the decent thing and take down its website, which interestingly fails to mention that the organisation no longer exists.
I've said forever that Mental Health is an issue in our industry, and now finally, empirical evidence is being presented around the world categorically proving my hypothesis.
I've been speaking for years about the need for the training industry to become transparent. The Stage cottoned onto this a few years back, and just this week another blog was written about it. We're currently an industry relying on a reputation that's based on history and soundbites. Surely it's time for facts - especially now that people can't wave their Drama UK certificate in the air?
Procrastinate at will through the blogs of the year and then cross reference them to 'events' of the year - I am nailing these predications though.
Of course in reality we all know all of these things - but we don't chose to name them. I opted rather consciously when I opened the college to pop my head over that parapet (as I did it in private often enough). The simple joy of being self employed is that you don't have to answer to anyone. You haven't got anyone telling you to wind your neck in. We've just got to hope and pray that common sense prevails and an edit button is used every so often (a lesson that I'm still attempting to learn)
Merry Christmas - here's to a happy, healthy and PROACTIVE New Year - and thanks for reading my constant streams of consciousness.