Tag Archives: friendships

Forget it, Jake. It’s Edinburgh.

Happy Sunday!  Shall we have a roast?  I’ll do the spuds if you don’t mind chopping the other veg.  Ok?  Great.

Today I would like to tell you, fabulous reader of mine, about mental health at the Fringe.  If living in London can be compared with being in a bad relationship, doing the Edinburgh Fringe is like having an affair with the Marquis de Sade.

It’s incredible.  The noise, the people, the flyers, the weather: everything about this festival conspires to give you a complete sensory overload.  The Fringe is very good at casually sauntering up to you and nicking the things you hold most dear, like time with loved ones, decent sleep and a sense of reality.  And yet we love it.

I really do love it, by the way. I know I sound a bit overwhelmed (blame the lack of sleep), but this is my favourite time of year.  It’s something that my cast and I have been working towards for about seven months, and we are determined to enjoy the hell out of it.

The thing about doing the Fringe a few years in a row is that you can usually track your progress.  For lots of people this is in terms of their career: my gorgeous comedian friend Laura Lexx has posters EVERYWHERE this year, which is good because she has an excellent face and an even better show – but personally I’ve noticed more progress in terms of my mental health.

Looking after yourself in Edinburgh should be very simple: eat well, get enough sleep, drink water, exercise, try not to stack it on the cobbled streets.  These all sound very straightforward, and hopefully they are also rules which we apply to our general lives.  But trying to preserve your sanity at the Fringe is akin to balancing a sea lion on a chopstick, so it’s important to learn lessons early and stick to them.  Here are a few of mine:

  1. Exercise.  I’ve been to the gym most mornings since we got here, and at the Fringe most people choose to walk everywhere rather than worry too much about buses.  I cannot tell you how much of a difference it makes to get a few endorphins going through your system before you tackle flyering on the Royal Mile.  (Plus, if you time it right, you might get to overhear some excellent conversations in the changing room at the gym.  The other day I was in there when a group of old ladies had just come out of an aerobics class, and the lewd comments they were making about their male instructor were beautiful to hear.)
  2. Sleep.  I’ve only had one “oh my God when did it become 5am and why is the sun up?” night since I got here, which is definitely for the best.  Last year I wasn’t so much burning the candle at both ends as setting fire to the candle factory, and I can already feel the difference this year.  It’s always tempting to stay out for one more drink or a bit more chat, but the same lovely people you’re talking to will be here tomorrow.  Go to bed.
  3. Eyes and ears.  There’s a weird phenomenon at this festival called “Fringe eyes”, which is when you’re talking to someone and they start to look past you, just in case someone famous or influential is in the vicinity.  It is the rudest and most irritating thing in the world, and people who do it are to be politely moved away from.  In the same way, if you’re talking to someone about their show, you know that this spiel is rehearsed and has been said a thousand times.  Ask questions about the rehearsal process, or where the idea came from.  Listen to the answers.  Treating flyerers and performers like human beings is weirdly rare up here, and they’ll remember you for it.

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    My producer Kate Goodfellow with one of our lovely posters. We were on our way home from the gym, actually. That’s fitting.
  4. Passing Ships.  You will see lots of people you know here: ex-colleagues, very old friends, intimidatingly famous people and that girl who was in that show last year with thingummy-jig, what’s her name again?  Amy?  Alice?  Something like that.  Can’t remember.  Text whatshisname and ask him.  It can be frustrating to only see these people in passing, but the trick is to realise that the month is intense for everybody, and most of us are perpetually late for a show.  Don’t take it personally if your oldest friend is a bit difficult to get hold of, or the person you’re madly in love with is never at the same bars as you.  A month is a decent amount of time to catch up, network, flirt and generally converse.
  5. Treat yourself.  Your mind, body and emotional well-being can take an absolute hammering at the Fringe.  Be nice to yourself.  You’re working hard and you deserve to be proud of your work.  Make the most of your time off, see some shows that interest you and for the love of all that’s good and holy make sure you do something that has nothing to do with the Fringe.  Edinburgh has a lot to offer; climb a hill, jump in the sea, visit the Royal Botanic Gardens and go to the zoo.  The Fringe is only one tiny aspect of an incredible city.  (My main non-Fringe activity is going to be getting a tattoo with my friend next week, but by all means you can go for something less extreme.)

Whether you’re at the Fringe or not, have a smashing day.  I’ll start peeling the potatoes.

No Man is in Ireland

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Hello, dear reader.  How was your weekend?  I hope you managed to catch up on your sleep.

Last week my lovely friend Katie nominated me on Facebook to post “seven things that you might not know about me”.  I love Katie very dearly, and I respect the fact that she met this challenge, but I will not be completing it myself.  This is for two reasons:

1) Whatever the seven facts about me would be, there’s probably a reason that they’re not common knowledge, i.e. they’re boring as hell.  Who cares about my Year 6 SAT marks?  Not you, that’s for sure.  Not really me, either.

2) I’m a very transparent person, and I’m not sure that there are seven facts about me which aren’t common knowledge.  My Year 6 SAT marks, by the by, were 6, 6 and 5.

I make no apology for the fact that I’m an open book, because I think being honest about yourself is the only way to make real connections with other people.  Obviously I don’t go around with a megaphone broadcasting my personal information to the unsuspecting public of London town, but if someone asks me a question I will do my best to answer it truthfully.  (Except in very specific circumstances, such as when I’m being interrogated by MI5.)

Making connections with other people is important, because we need each other, don’t we?  Even Bernard Black needs Manny.  Ok, here’s something that you might not know about me but could probably guess: I’m very dependent on other people.  I set a lot of store by my friends’ advice, because they’re a pretty wise bunch, and when I’m sad or ill or cranky I want hugs and sympathy.  Sometimes we might berate ourselves for needing other people.  We do this because it doesn’t really fit in with the whole “independent, capable go-getters of the 21st century” persona that we are all so determined to portray, but actually that’s just a knee-jerk reaction to feeling insecure.

It’s all very well to look like a self-sufficient success story, but in reality nobody is completely independent.  No man is an island (or “no man is in Ireland”, which is what I thought the phrase was until I was about 11, and it confused the heck out of me at the time).  Yes, of course we should be able to take care of ourselves, be aware of our own worth and cross roads without other people’s assistance, but there is no shame in respecting and valuing the emotional contributions of the people in our lives.  That’s why we have them in our lives in the first place.

This is also true from a professional perspective.  Working in the arts is demanding (not least because the amount of effort you put in very rarely corresponds with your salary), and we need each other’s support in order to stay motivated.  In the case of Tumbling After specifically (the show I’m directing in Edinburgh this year – here’s some more info in case you missed my last post), the devising process means that we all need to trust each other and be as honest as possible.  Just in terms of the admin, the producer and I find that we are more productive if we meet up to swear and glare at our laptops together.  Sure, we could sit at home individually and do the same thing, but we are more productive (and more importantly, much happier) if we have someone to share ideas and coffee with.

Have a beautiful day.  Go and hug someone who contributes to your life.

Twenty-Four Going on Sixteen

Hello and welcome to Wednesday!  I hope your week is treating you extremely well so far.

Last night two actor friends of mine came round for the first rehearsal of a short play that we’re performing in Camden in April.  The piece is about two people whose friendship is on the rocks, because they’re no longer sure what they want from each other.  The rehearsal went really well and we had a lot of fun (especially a certain unnamed actor who got a very serious case of the giggles), but we also had a very interesting discussion about relationships, friendships and how our feelings make us behave.

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As you can see, we took the rehearsal very seriously.  Anyway, as those of you who read yesterday’s blog will already know, my friends and I are not fond of fancying people.  It’s difficult and stressful and it makes us feel unnecessarily girly (and yes, that includes my male friends).  Apart from the obvious vulnerability that goes with having feelings for someone, I think that one of the problems my generation has with the entire dating thing is that it makes us feel like we’re still sixteen.  Even in our mid-twenties, when we have  a fair amount of emotional experience under our belts, we’re still not entirely sure what we’re doing or what the other person is thinking.  That’s hard to process.  How can we not have conquered this in a decade?

We as a generation have been programmed to aim high: we’re fighting against a tidal wave of economic uncertainty, we have to fight hard to get jobs (and even interviews) in a way that not many generations have had to do before, and we are annually told that our excellent A Level grades don’t mean anything.  Of course the exams are getting easier; why would we be getting cleverer or more conscientious?  It’s not like we’re trying to succeed at life or anything.  OH NO WAIT.

If we are so good at working hard for professional success, why are we so bad at coping with our personal lives?  When we were discussing this last night, one of my actors made a very good point: to a certain extent, we have control over our professional progress.  We might not always get the jobs or the opportunities that we want or think we deserve, but to a degree fate favours the people who put the hours in.  When it comes to relationships, friendships and other people in general, we have absolutely no control over how they feel about us.  Sure, we can dress nicely, smile a lot and be the best possible version of ourselves, but there’s no equity involved: being as awesome as you can be doesn’t guarantee that someone will like you.  Unfair, but true.

The bizarrely reassuring thing about this whole situation is that it gives us all a level playing field: nobody feels completely sorted when it comes to this stuff, and even the highest-flying executive can be baffled by a crush.  We have learned a lot since we were teenagers, but no one has yet conclusively proved how feelings work, so at least we’re not alone in our confusion.

Have a wonderful day, and make sure you have something delicious for dinner.