I recently did a short interview for John Byrne at The Stage. I had completely put it to the back of mind until I received a Facebook message from a producer early one morning saying “I think this is the most beautiful quote and something that is so easy to lose sight of: “I encourage my clients to see ‘the industry’ as separate from ‘the community’”
It is, like most things, something I learned the hard way – years of slogging through endless auditions without any feedback, working for little to no money on the Fringe, pouring every penny I earned from my other jobs, journalism, promo, GCSE marking, into workshops and networking events. I sat wailing “I love this business so much, why can’t anyone see that?” until a friend looked at me sobbing over my Spotlight and said “Why should it? That’s like adoring a building or a piece of art and expecting it to give a shit. The industry is a business, it’s not a person, it’s never, ever going to love you back, so stop expecting it to.”
Suddenly it all clicked in to place. I was pouring all my time and energy into the wrong thing. I was focussed on trying to get “the industry” to love me (hell, to notice me would have been a start) instead of trying to develop my place in “the community”
The industry is a cold, hard motherfucker. It is only infrequently concerned with talent and passion and more often concerned with cash, status and prestige. The industry is a business. Yes, it’s run by people passionate about their craft (hopefully) and determined to create works of beauty (sometimes) but the bottom line is often one thing – money. And that’s not, in any way, a bad thing. Money makes the world go round, it enables bigger and better pieces of art to be made, it allows our reach as creatives to go further and be more widely appreciated. Money matters.
It is, however, never going to love you back – it is fickle and mercurial, its eyes dart away to the new and shiny, like that boy you talk to at a party whose eyes constantly flicker away to the door to see if anyone more interesting, or more attractive, has come in.
Within our industry there are many tribes; the musical theatre actors who love the commercial West End (is Freedom still the unofficial clubhouse?), the physical theatre types locked in sweaty embraces rolling around on the floor of a warehouse in Tottenham, the intense bookish types passionate about the classics, brooding over battered paperbacks on the Southbank, new-writing aficionados throwing back craft beers at Soho Theatre. And more, so many more tribes of passionate, dedicated, crazy people. We come from all over, we pour onto the streets from our drama school training, our University degrees, our Media or Theatre Studies A Levels, our Saturday classes, those bullied at school for preferring Sondheim to Stormzy, the quiet ones in University common-rooms who could name every film by Truffaut but scorned the commercialism of Tarantino. We come together under the guise of ‘creatives’, all under one umbrella, only to find, so often, that the umbrella doesn’t suit us.
What I should have been doing, instead of trying to get ‘the industry’ to give a shit, was to build my ‘community’ of like-minded individuals, interested in similar things. What I needed to find was ‘the community’. I needed to find my tribe.
Tribalism is coded into our DNA. As humans we have, for centuries, arranged ourselves into clans – we lived, hunted, and died together as groups, mainly geographically to begin with but as we have evolved we herd together according to class, gender, geography and, crucially for the creative, interests. While we no longer gather round an Alpha Male or Alpha Female in our fight for survival, we carry with us our innate tribal instinct to be part of a group. Our body chemistry even changes when we move from solitary to societal; Oxytocin and vasopressin are released making us relax, trust and sympathise with those we are familiar with.
The community is your support group and your defence. The community will hold you up and dry your tears and push you on and encourage you to do better, be better. Once I realised this I was able to recognise that through my life I have belonged, in varying degrees, to many different tribes. My passion for new musical theatre is shared by my current close friends and husband, my interest in physical theatre is enriched by the tribe I joined in New York when I spent a glorious summer living there studying Grotowski, – I could go on and on, tracing my development back through the friendships I have formed, the tribes I have joined, the communities I have drawn strength from.
It is the people in my life with whom I have shared unique experiences that I turn to when things get rough; my best friends from my teaching days remain my best friends today, my flatmates and confidants from Bristol University are the people who know me, I think, better than anyone else and my friends from Mountview, our friendships only developing properly after I left that strange hothouse of ambition, are the ones who understand what life is really like in this industry.
Finding our own tribe is crucial to our enjoyment and success in the industry. Good training should open you up to a myriad of possibilities, of worlds to explore, a hundred different tribes and communities. Follow your interests, find your community.
We are the Industry. We are the Community. Here’s to us.