19 May 2020

Bruising Can Heal

Written by: Polly Anna Ferguson-Carruthers

I have contemplated several blog posts during lockdown. Each varying from frustration as a theatre practitioner and a mum, to complete tranquillity as I enjoy a sunny afternoon in the garden.

My usual day to day job involves me driving from school to school, theatres and community halls, leading dance and drama workshops, exchanging a ‘quick’ meeting on the phone in between locations, sharing ideas with facilitators, having face to face contact with children, parents, schools, facilitators and then suddenly……..9 weeks ago that has all come to an immediate halt.

There has been a dramatic shift in this new way of thinking and pressure, at times, to have a clear direction in this new way of working. Planning workshops for online drama, zoom meetings, making videos, uploading videos, absorbing how the arts are being affected and making sure you keep on top of the zillion emails everyone now has time to send.

I keep hearing people saying, ‘Lockdown has been great for me’, ‘We should find ways to carry this way of working on’ and I’ve had to sit back and reflect on how that looks for me as a facilitator and, how do I see not just myself, but other ways practitioners can move forward from this.

I’ve undoubtedly enjoyed not rushing from one place to another and making myself slow down. However, this has been a real challenge, as I’ve had to train my mind to slow down and learn this new tempo of daily life.

What have I taken from this lockdown:

Now, more than ever, I want to get inside the schools and use my skills to support teachers and pupils during this time. However, the harsh reality, is outside companies, who for years have beautifully weaved the arts through the curriculum have lost their place in schools, for the time being. I find myself creating lesson plans that allow children freedom and breathing space for when they return to school life which they have been away from for 2 months. Saying that, the great thing about children, they are resilient and have this mighty strength within them that, us adults sometimes don’t give them credit for.  A question I find myself pondering now is, how have children, teenagers and adults been affected during lockdown and can the arts help?

With it being Mental Health Awareness week it feels even more poignant to discuss how this pandemic is going to affect people of all ages, in various settings from the dance practitioner in schools, to the musician who sings in care homes. What are the strategies in which we could all use to move forward. I am by no means an ‘expert’ or trained in mental health but I can talk for myself, as a drama practitioner, as a wife and a mum.

  1. Let go of what you can’t control.

For someone who is always in control of my workload, decision making and daily activity I have had to learn how to stop struggling against everything that has been taken out of my control. Why put added pressure on yourself when life is presenting us with massive hurdles already? We can, however, control how we spend our days, what projects we put our time into,  the books we read, who we speak too and how we come out of this pandemic. And if you come out of this a little broken, that’s ok, there are always people who can help you up!

    2. Come together.

There are hundreds, of thousands of companies who use the arts in their community, and now is the time to come together and find new ways of working. I recently had the pleasure of attending a zoom meeting with 5 determined, strong, educated women who each have ideas that can make a difference in our schools and communities. In the arts, we can often find ourselves working alone or only looking at what is immediately in front of us. But why not see ways of collaborating with others around you now and in the future? Companies who you may have once seen as competition are now undergoing the same threat and strains as you? How can you elevate each other rather than you both fall? Now more than ever, the arts community need to be strong together.

    3. Allow moments of stillness. (In the words of Laura Forster)

This has been exceptionally important for me, as I am rarely still. I, like many living in this fast-paced cycle, always tend to be living in the past or the future, planning ahead for what could be. But I have really tried to find moments to simply be still, listen to what’s happening around me, be present with my children, family and friends. Listen to colleagues share how they are coping and finding moments to quietly walk and breath. Strip back everything and find moments to just stop and recharge. We must try to do this for our mind, heart and soul.

   4, How do you want to look back at your time in lockdown?

I spoke to a good friend of mine in London last week who, also lives a fast-paced life but in very different fields. During lockdown, she finds herself motivated and charged to write her second book in hospitality, build her second empire, whilst market managing several top restaurants in South East London. She said to me ‘I spend my life running from one meeting to the next, and constantly feels she is late’, however, lockdown has made her assess what is really important during this time and be clear about what she wants to put her energy into.

So that’s a question I have found myself sitting with and maybe you could too? What do you want to put your energy into? For the majority, we have found ourselves at home, with the wonder of the internet at our fingertips and we have time to think. There are choices for all of us on how we move forward in future. I don’t for one second pretend to know what the future looks like yet, but what I do know is, I would like to look back at this time and ensure I look after my mind, my health and my family. Yes, I have a list of creative tasks I would like to get completed but I’ve also learnt (and learning) to be realistic and do what I can without pressure.

   5. What does the future look like?

As I said, I don’t know the full extent how Covid19 is going to affect me as a drama facilitators, the arts in schools, local theatre companies and the arts nationally and globally. But one opinion I do not waiver from is the arts is still an integral part of society and education. We need the arts to help us communicate, express ourselves, to protest, to spark joy, to educate, to bring people together and for our mental health. Without it, there is no community and therefore why the Arts aren’t going anywhere. We will come back stronger than ever after this because everyone who works in the arts knows just how important it is for society to live.

So, don’t be disheartened if you don’t get everything done today. Be kind to yourself and others around you. Support the arts in any way you can during this time, and remember, we may come out a little bruised from this but always remember, bruising eventually heals…