Victoria Tunnah

So…What Do You Do?

Guest post by Kailey McGowan @somethingoodtheatre

Even though I’ve written, directed and produced my own shows since 2014, I’ve always called myself an actor. I’ve got a degree in Acting but working across multiple disciplines I’ve always felt that if I said I do it all people would think I must do at least one terribly! So I’d mostly say actor/facilitator.

When I was a kid acting was my safe space. The kids I got on with the most did drama and I always felt I could be myself there. But when I left drama school I became overwhelmed with the politics of the industry – who you know, what you’ve done etc etc. I felt I was getting jobs just for a credit so I could get the next job and the next job. Chasing this non existent thing – that if I just got that job I’d be… satisfied, happy. I never allowed myself to just BE with the present, fully experiencing each project as they came. It became about what venue would look good on my CV, what agent I could get to come and watch. I found myself not loving acting the way I always had, I’d let all the rubbish get in the way of the fact that I love making theatre. That’s it. I love it. 

So I let all of it go and started making work I was passionate about. I set up my own theatre company (Something Good Theatre) off the back of being diagnosed with a chronic illness and started putting out productions I wanted to see. I took on every role – head of marketing, chief casting director, executive producer, director – yep, going it alone is hard graft and finding the people who will support you and your vision is crucial, as with any project. 

When I found the call out for directors for Bluestocking’s All the Rage something felt very different. I’d never put myself in that box, I was an actor who did a bit of writing and directing. But when I was reading through the website, the company and work really resonated with me and I felt drawn to apply…what the hell eh? When I had the Zoom meeting with Victoria I was nervous because I’d never presented myself as just a director before, but I suddenly found it was easy to talk about my style and how I worked and the self doubt faded. I came off that call and bounded into the living room to speak to my other half about it, I was so excited and felt instinctively it was going to be wonderful to be involved. I was right.

It was so eye opening watching the self tapes. I’ve been rejected many many times and I was comforted by the fact that a part can really just not be right for you. That someone can have a little something that sparkles and it just fits with that particular role. It’s hard to put your finger on. I felt relieved almost, I’d been taking rejection far too personally, hoping and desperately wanting to be told I had the part and feeling absolutely devastated when I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong rejection never feels good but I know now it’s about finding that one person that’s right for the part and that’s that. 

Working on Zoom was a challenge but I directed ‘Motherhood’ online and so had already developed little techniques and practices I felt I could use, ways to help the actor tune into character quickly even when on our laptops. We did two days in person rehearsals and I loved every second of it, watching a piece go from script to stage, being able to develop the ideas in person, I felt like I’d tapped into something completely new and without the pressure I felt able to fully blossom in my role. I eased and relaxed into it and wished I’d been directing years earlier. 

There’s no end goal, there’s no finish line, it took me a long time to realise that when you get to that point you’ve been striving for you’ll always wonder, what next? What if we always enjoyed what we were doing and threw ourselves into the work, without wondering what next?

Becoming a Mum was a massive turning point where I felt my priorities shift and it became about taking on work I really wanted to do. Time even more precious when you have a little one. Acting was my baby and I held it on this pedestal which felt constantly unattainable, letting go of that pressure has kept me in this industry as I was getting burnt out. 

All The Rage was a wonderful event of two evenings of 6 short plays, it was a night at the theatre, a chance for us to come back together after Covid. But for me it was so much more, it was hearing female voices in management positions, feeling supported to be flexible around my family and my other work, feeling trusted to make my own decisions with the piece I was gifted to direct. I’ve seen some assistant director jobs online since and before I’d have probably thought I wasn’t experienced enough, or I didn’t have enough things that made me look like a “director.” All The Rage changed that for me, and although I still catch myself saying actor, and then stumbling through the other things I do, I feel I’ve got confidence now to stand in different roles at different times and claim the space as my own. Who knows whether in my next project I’ll be on stage or nervously twiddling my thumbs in the audience, all I know is whatever project it is I’ll be jumping in feet first and loving every single second of it. 

To Freedom – In A Cardboard Box

Bluestocking has taken over my life. It’s already grown well beyond what I imagined 2 years ago when I launched it with a solo show I rehearsed in my one bed flat with no heating. Now it’s a growing community of hardworking creatives ready to put Manchester on the map theatre wise. My once meagre ambitions have been blown into space.

Now we’re coming up to our first real event, two evening’s of brilliant new writing from emerging women writers at 53Two in October. Our community and visibility has increased hugely on social media, we’ve connected with artists all over the UK and have just raised £500 from generous souls donating to our Kickstarter (thank you thank you thank you).

There’s a palpable need for new stories and space to create work that represents women/Humans as we are – complex, intelligent, foolish, wise, scary, hideous, vengeful, blissfully in love. All of the above. The full spectrum of everything Humanity gets to experience. We want to see that, we deserve to know our stories and experience matters so we each feel we belong in this world. Loneliness is one of the most painful things we can experience and storytelling eases that pain.

Last week we got the big NO from our ACE funding bid. This is the second NO to funding we’ve had and though it changes very little for our next production, it raises questions about the sustainability of making new theatre. I remind myself it’s normal (shouldn’t be…) for new companies to produce work on nothing for the first few years. What scares me and can slow me down is when sneaky thoughts arise in my mind asking ‘what’s the point?’ Voices that whisper about how hard, how challenging it is get funding, that the company will never be viable because it’s next to impossible to get funded, that I might as well not bother. Urgh. It takes energy to constantly be aware and transcend the conditionings of our childhood.

Nobody expected anything from me. There was little support, encouragement or belief in my ability to achieve anything beyond a soul crushing 9-5. I’m not alone and we all have to deal with our demons. Lack of funds/money was common for a lot of us growing up and is a real barrier to artistic creation. The majority of us are conditioned to believe we can never become artists because the word evokes ideas of free time, constant streams of ready cash, freedom to dream, take risks and experiment, to indulge yourself and your passions. Who’s got time for that when the rent needs paying and your lekky’s running out? This is the reason we’ve found ourselves with an elite class of actors, writers, directors and producers who come from families with plenty connections, cash and freedom. We just didn’t have that. The idea that we’d grow up to be successful artists was literally laughable. Those people aren’t us and we’re not them. We’re excluded from theatre and artistic spaces all our childhood because we can’t afford it – if it’s not skidding down the dirt track behind our house in a cardboard box then it probably isn’t something we get to do. As kids, we know no one, not a single person who’s achieved anything like worldly success, let alone artistic success. But here we are, doing it anyway. Even when the internal voices whisper ‘you’ll never make it,’ ‘it’s impossible,’ ‘look at them they’re much better than you,’ even then…we crack on. We grab the battered cardboard box with our dreams scribbled all over it and we launch ourselves down the dusty slope towards freedom because… what else we gonna do? So no matter how many No’s you’ve faced and all the No’s to come, get up, dust yourself off and climb back up that hill one step at a time.

And look around you, there’s thousands of us doing the exact same thing.

We Held Over 100 General Auditions – Here’s What We learnt

Recently we held over 100 general meetings with performers and wanted to share some insights to demystify the audition process a little, if we can.

Auditions evoke a huge range of emotions which is handy since, as actors, emotions are our currency. Excitement, hope, terror, glee; you can feel them all at the same time culminating in the pit of your stomach as you wait to enter an audition room. I remember once walking to an audition feeling grounded and calm, but as I got closer to the venue nerves crept in so intensely I genuinely thought I was going to have a panic attack. No amount of deep breathing worked. I’d built the job up so much in my head, if I got it it would change my life, my dreams would come true overnight, I’d be a sensation, a star. Oh my days I didn’t get the gig and what a crash landing back to Earth. You’ve probably been there, I think experience helps. When we don’t get the job, it can be impossible to not blame ourselves and obsess over the tiniest detail. I didn’t shake their hands! I bowed and walked backwards out of the room (it was once! ), my Irish kept going Jamaican, on and on. There are certainly ways we can scupper auditions for ourselves for sure but there’s plenty of things we can do make an impression.

Rather than considering the casting people superior and giving them all our power ponder this instead – they want us to be amazing, to blow them away. They’re on your team and are excited for you. Viewed as collaborators, as equals, removing the hierarchy from the situation and feeling ourselves as artists in our own right, helps us generate a certain confidence and vibe that’s magnetic. And that brings me onto my first point;

Energy is Everything: Yup, yes and yas. Energy is having a moment and I predict we’re going to hear a lot more about it as we realise how important it is. The energy and vibe we bring to everything matters, especially in an audition room. We humans are masters at reading energy whether we’re conscious of it or not. We pick up vibes, even over Zoom. If we go into the audition feeling low, tired, hopeless, dejected, superior, guarded, it registers. Hey, we’re human. We have off days. But practising being warm, open and vulnerable in our day to day means we’re better able to access these energy states in important scenarios. So head up, shoulders back, smile and dazzle babes. Know you deserve to be there, you’re worthy of taking up space and we’re rooting for you, so root for yourself, be your own best friend, coach, support system. You deserve to shine your brilliant, unique light everyday, let us see it.

Slloooooowwww Doooowwwwnnn: The mega frenetic pace of modern life means we have a tendency to rush ourselves and our speech. Take your sweet time, give yourself space.  Ok don’t milk it but do practice slowing down, enjoy the words, enjoy the moment and trust yourself. Be present and don’t try to get anything right, there’s no such thing. Do try to enjoy the process and the fact you’re getting the chance to perform.

It’s Not an Audition: Say what? Think of it like this, this is simply an opportunity to perform, meet new people, make some lovely new connections (not for the sake of ‘getting somewhere’, just for the sake of it). Maybe it helps to imagine you’ve already got the job, or there is no job to be had, just the chance to let go and act. Whatever, just take the pressure off yourself and have fun.

That for me was the key. Is this person able to have fun? Creativity is play, when we take ourselves too seriously we’re blocking the creative flow. It can make us self indulgent and insular. We need to be connecting and vibing with those around us to create true magic on stage. So open yourself to play, have fun. We don’t work in A & E.

I hope this somehow helps you feel a little more at ease the next time you land the audition x

Perfectionism – The Enemy of Creative Joy

No idea when the belief that I needed to be perfect lodged itself into my developing mind. Perfectionism masquerades as a virtue, we wear our ability to obsess and control like a badge of honour when in reality it’s a serious condition. Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and a happily lived life.

I wouldn’t say I was a hardcore perfectionist but it’s definitely been woven though everything I’ve tried to do since I was a kid, leaving me feeling like I’m never good enough. The schooling system we’re put through has a lot to answer for, it literally pits us against each other, relentlessly grading us year on year from infancy. We come to know ourselves only through the lens of our perceived intelligence which is based on a supremely flawed system.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid….’

Said Einstein apparently. And he knew some stuff. Depending on the amount of encouragement and praise we received at home can have a major impact on whether we give ourselves space now to make mistakes, be imperfect, support and cheer ourselves on when we stumble and fall.

We expect too much from ourselves, leaving little room for exploration and play. We expect ourselves to be expert masters at things we’ve barely studied or practised. We set unrealistic standards and spend little time truly reflecting on our progress and development. We could do with more self awareness, self compassion, relaxation and permission to let go, play, have fun, enjoy. Imagine that. Perfectionism be gone. It serves no one but the little commander within who believes they warrant no love, admiration or respect unless what they put down is beyond good – it’s hyper perfect. Which as we know is subjective anyway, my perfection is your dogshit. What we deem perfect today will shift and change next year. It’s a moving target that’s never actualised leaving us frustrated, never able to truly rest in contentment and satisfaction at what we’ve created or achieved.

We each have an internal critic, judge and saboteur. One of the many reasons following a  creative path is so challenging is that these aspects of ourselves are given ample space to run rough shod over our efforts. Expecting our work to be perfect will stifle the flow of creativity immediately. Take writing, many a talented closet writer wonders around the world never giving themselves permission to explore the craft because they won’t let themselves get past the first line. The only possible way I’ve been able to get beyond it myself is I literally give myself permission to be shit. That’s it. I don’t expect my offerings to be Pulitzer prize standard anymore. I do my best to notice when I’m judging my writing or anything I do, when I’m comparing myself to others and almost always finding myself inadequate. See it, accept it as illusion, let it go. Repeat.

Practising awareness and self compassion is a powerful way to release debilitatingly high standards and feelings of not enough-ness. If we’re to allow ourselves to be artists and create (as each of us was born to), free of concepts of failure and not good enough, experiencing the joy of play and connection, we gotta let go the judgement and absurd perfectionism.

The World needs more people pouring their heart and soul into what they love, willing to fall and make a fool of themselves, making art that speaks about what it is to be Human, so we can, as one Human family come together and know we’re never alone.

So ta-ta perfectionism, you’ve had your day but it’s time to embrace messy realism and the truth of our Human experience. Rawness, realness, sometimes a bit fucked up and ridiculous. This is Life and Art ought always to reflect that.

Self Compassion – The Key to Success

Do you have Self Compassion? I didn’t for the longest time and even now it’s a constant practice. Like all other Human Beings I have good and bad days. When I feel dejected, disconnected and lost with little motivation, I can be known to crack out the metaphorical whip and lash myself with the belief that I shouldn’t be feeling this way, that I ought to feel X, that I should be doing Z. I’ll sometimes pressure and urge myself out of the rawrer, more vulnerable parts of my experience from fear I’ll never be happy again – that I’ll be languishing in a pity party for the rest of my days.

It’s a constant practice to allow myself to Be as I am and have compassion for my Humanness. When I started on my acting journey I was dealing with a lot of stuff (I was in my twenties so I basically hated myself). If you took a walk inside my mind you’d have bolted with terror at what you found there. It wasn’t pretty or cute and resulted in chronic anxiety and illness.

We know this industry is tough, we’re reminded of it constantly. It tests a person on every level; mentally, emotionally, physically, energetically. If we’re not careful we can sacrifice everything for it, our own comfort, security, relationships, other interests, our very well-being. We get a self tape through, drop everything to prepare, get the lighting just right, learn the lines 8 ways, lock ourselves in our room to go method for 3 days, hire a costume designer to help us ‘look’ the part, agonise over the delivery, send it off convinced this is the one because you literally are the character and…crickets. The email never comes, they don’t even have the respect to fire over a thanks but no thanks – another solid No to add to the heap. Anxiety creeps back in as you once again wonder – am I good enough? What am I doing with my life? Where is all this going? Is it worth it?

I’ve got the T-shirt in every colour babes…what size do you want?

This, I’m sure goes for every type of artist out there or for any creative endeavour we pursue that is original, daring and bold. It requires a certain self confidence and belief, focus and motivation. But how do we get there? And how do we maintain it once we do?

When I teach balancing poses in a yoga class, inevitably people wobble and fall (as I do, often). It’s common for people to tut, get embarrassed or frustrated, want to give up when they struggle to hold a pose on one foot. Good – I love it. This is a great opportunity to observe how you treat yourself when you fall and what you believe about yourself when you perceive you’ve failed.

I encourage people to use this moment as an opportunity to gently, compassionately encourage ourselves back into the pose, back into the game, back into the room and just try again. A little wiser, a little stronger, a little more improved. Who actually cares whether you can float perpendicular to the floor on one foot for ten breaths. I certainly don’t. I’m rolling about beside you knee deep in the shit. Literally nobody’s arsed and (mostly) nobody is judging You (apart from You). So give yourself a break.

When we’re already pouring from an empty cup, beating on ourselves for any perceived failing no matter how minor, any knocks, no’s and challenges we receive from castings or submissions of any kind can be enough to push us off the ledge we’re teetering across. Before it gets to that point can we begin to soften, go gently, be loving and kind to ourselves like we would a dear friend, reminding ourselves that we’ve already won, we’ve already succeeded by not giving up, by even attempting to make our dreams a reality when so many just don’t and never will?

Here’s some journaling questions you might like to ponder;

Are you being a good friend to Yourself?

What’s the overall tone of your internal dialogue? Is it enthusiastic? Encouraging? Supportive?

When you feel down, broken-hearted, rejected, fumin’ and fed up – where do you go in your mind?

What thoughts do you feed yourself about your abilities and worthiness?

Do you nourish yourself with kind, encouraging words & beliefs?

Are you your own coach and mentor?

Do you support yourself through the highs and lows?

Radical self compassion builds resilience and strength, it helps us bounce back quicker from inevitable challenges, rejections and obstacles. Self compassion is treating yourself like the precious Being you are, unique, brilliant, endlessly creative, able to transform and start again.

We need self compassion in bucket loads if we’re to create the life and career we’re worthy of, that we deserve.

I wish it for you x

The Creative Power of Rest

Like many at 12 years old I started delivering newspapers, but this was no ordinary paper round. My patch was miles away down a steep cliff that I’d have to climb twice to reload with hundreds of copies of the local rag. One day I weighed it up and concluded the cash equivalent of 383 penny sweets just wasn’t worth the irreversible curvature of my pre-teen spine and chucked them all in the Irwell (the guilt still haunts me – as if it wasn’t polluted enough with ASDA trolleys and dead bodies).

Next, at 15, you’d find me run ragged delivering deep fried meals to the elderly in Bury’s finest chippy. Mates would wave on their way to Carol Godby’s Theatre Workshop, soon to be choreographing to N’Sync while I was battering haddock. It was a gruelling time and I’ve only just managed to get the stench of fish out of my hair.

And so it went on and on. Did A-levels while working 40 hour weeks as a chef, University it was care homes, bars, and restaurants. I graduated into the same energy. Every minimum wage job a young woman can get without qualifications I’ve had. Looking back I would regularly burn out – I was stressed, anxious and miserable. Eventually I became ill, emotional, mentally and physically. You might be able to relate. When I realised the only thing that would bring back my joie de vive was to honour my childhood promise to myself to become an actor, guess what? I threw myself into that with the same gusto. Sometimes working 3 jobs while auditioning for fringe plays, student films, recording self tapes and trying to secure an agent – I was spread thin as a steam rollered frog.

I enjoyed acting, yes. I liked classes and live performance but everything that went with it – the pressure, the rejection, the stress – was way too much. There was no time to explore myself, my creativity or what made me happy and feel alive because I was moving from a place of desperation and need for validation. It was like being on the travelator at the end of Gladiators but I’d spent the past year on the pies – no matter how hard I ran the incline was too steep and I’d collapse in a defeated mess.

I couldn’t stop and I wouldn’t let myself rest, so attached was I to this dream of ‘making it’ (whatever that means…).The dream just didn’t seem worth it. Something had to change.

It was only when I said ‘enough,’ and did something my twenty six year old self would’ve hated me for – I pulled the breaks and I quit. Gasp. I know and guess what? I survived.

I decided to step away from acting for at least a year. I listened to what I needed; simplicity, stability, routine, ease. I got a temp job, released myself from any evening or weekend obligations, I gave myself space and time. I could breathe, maybe for the first time in my adult life, the pressure was gone. I was free to spend time nurturing myself, finding out about who I was, what I needed, what I wanted.

Soon I remembered and rediscovered my love for writing and story telling – with no pressure, for nothing other than the simple joy of it, not for a competition or to show it off to the world but for me and my inner child. I learned to play again. I found myself reading more, singing, laughing, Being. Slowly things became clear. I still wanted to be involved in theatre and performance but from a very different energy. I would write my own stories and roles for myself and women like me who were working hard for the opportunity to perform but the roles just weren’t there (more on that another time…).

In Women who Run With the Wolves Clarissa Pinkole Estes talks about the necessity for rest when we lose energy and focus;

Neither should we panic when we lose our momentum or focus. But…we must calmly hold the idea and be with it for a while. Whether our focus is on self development, world issues, or relationship doesn’t matter, the animus (male aspect of the psyche responsible for our drive and ambition) will wear down. It is not a matter of if, but of when…for women it is best if they understand this at the onset of an endeavour, for women tend to be surprised by fatigue. They then wail, they mutter, they whisper about failure, inadequacy, and such. No, no. This losing of energy is as it is. It is Nature.

It is when we let ourselves rest, drawn back, sit, rock and soothe ourselves we regather strength, focus and motivation. Whether you’re an actor, writer, director (or any kind of Human) this is vital to understand. Rejection comes thick and fast and can be overwhelming. We conclude we’re not enough, that we’ve failed. No such thing. If what you’re pursuing sets your soul on fire then you must guard it and continue on but you also must learn to recognise when it’s time to retreat and restore your energy.

Take your time, find ways to deeply connect with yourself, learn to listen to the whispers of heart, mind, body and soul. Don’t be afraid to step back; take long baths, read, do yoga & meditate, take long mindful walks, re-fill your depleted cup; dream, pray, dance and laugh with loved ones.

The path will wait for your return, re-nourished and re-energised – your ideas shining brightly lighting the path ahead once more.

Happy Resting x