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BLOG: Annemarie Lewis Thomas – New Year… Same Problems

Annemarie LewisFirstly I’d like to wish all readers to these ramblings a very happy and healthy 2015. Secondly a big thanks to all the people that have contacted me about my Christmas Wish as written about in my last blog.

What has struck me, is quite how many people have privately emailed to say that this is a very real problem BUT they can’t be seen to be supporting it publicly because they don’t want ‘the industry’ knowing that they suffer from Mental Heath issues. How incredibly sad is that? We have people struggling within our profession but they feel obliged, for the sake of their careers, to struggle on in private, while acknowledging that a more public movement in support of Mental Health issues would have helped them earlier on in their careers.

Having prompted Drama UK to respond to my proposal on Twitter, I was supposed to be ‘reassured’ by their tweet informing me that they “support schools in their work for healthy/happy students” however “we rarely insist on how schools are run, but will continue to monitor how schools offer support to students in a range of ways”. So there you have it. The almighty Drama UK, which supposedly regulates a ‘high standard’ of training over here in the UK are actually doing nothing to address this problem in our industry. Yet another good reason why I categorically refuse to attempt to be ‘regulated’ by an organisation that is so clearly inept in its job… and pay for the privilege.

And so my campaign will continue until people actually sit up and listen.

A few things have struck me over the past few weeks (metaphorically speaking of course – there’s nobody in the office with me throwing obstacles at me) that has left me rather disappointed in the industry. Firstly there was the much discussed “Idinagate”. She sung a bad note, people recorded it, and everyone had an opinion. Now clearly there’s an irony here as I’m going to wade in too. However my comments are not going to be about ‘the note’ or indeed about ‘Idina’, but rather how social networking allows every body to believe that they’re an expert, and more than that, an expert that we need to hear and listen to. What’s that about? How did that happen? I read so much nonsense on my Timelines written by people that clearly had no technical knowledge at all, but who suddenly were ‘vocal experts’. Explaining to their sycophantic minions exactly what went wrong with that note. Offering up analysis on somebody’s career that in reality they knew nothing about at all. It struck me how dangerous Twitter/Facebook etc had the potential to be (it also struck me how many people were working as teachers in our industry that really shouldn’t be teaching anything as they were clearly unsafe judging by their ‘knowledge base’.)

I’d hate to be hypocritical here, I’ve often heard a bad note on an off day and hypothesised as to what exactly happened BUT I’ve never gone public with my thoughts, and I’ve certainly never assumed that my hypothesis is correct. Yet people were gung-ho in shoving that opinion out there, as if they felt that the rest of us were sat at home desperately waiting to find out what ‘Person X’ thought about the situation. Isn’t that odd?

It also struck me that the people that were the most vitriolic were the ones that hadn’t had any ‘real’ success in their lives (which prompted me to be ever more grateful of The MTA’s policy of only hiring a faculty that are professionally still successful… I really do believe that there’s a correlation between the two). Lots of my more ‘successful’ acquaintances rightly point out that everybody has a bad day so give Idina a break, and there for the love of God goes each and everyone of us in this age of You-Tube.

My second observation was more of a reflective sigh really. Around 8 years ago I sat on a panel up in the Edinburgh Festival and said that I felt quite strongly that Musical Theatre had to embrace the fact that producers needed celebrities in shows, and we, as an industry, had to go out there and effectively create celebrities out of our own stars. Idina Menzel is actually a great example here of what Broadway does so well – it still has the potential to create a star. Musical Theatre performers on Broadway can be ‘the celebrities’. When Smash hit the TV screens a few years back, heaving with Broadway big hitters, Joe Public in America already knew who they were. Imagine a series like that over here, full of MT star names? The British Joe Public would assume that they were all a group of new comers – as we’re too busy actually making Joe Public into a celebrity. Right now in the Big Brother house – we have people who are allegedly famous simply for having plastic surgery and selling kiss and tell stories to the tabloids? Or the ‘celebrity’ in there simply because they insist on saying contentious things? I mean what ever happened to talent creating celebrity, as opposed to desperately trying to find talent in a celebrity?

For many years some of our performers have had this dichotomy well sussed. So people attempted to break into TV first, get a name for themselves and then go back into theatre, surprising the public with their rediscovered singing and dancing skills. Of course the difficulty with this is that most MT performers have no camera experience at all, which leads to them all shouting about how hard it is to cross over into the medium. In 2014 The MTA became the first (and indeed it is still the only) Musical Theatre course to split the focus of our acting course 50/50 between stage and screen. I wanted to ensure that my graduates did have the necessary skillset to cross over between the mediums.

Somehow the MT world has to wise up to the world of ‘celebrity’ (as indeed it has ever been thus), embrace it, reclaim it… and only then will we see ‘true stars’ getting the careers that they deserve. The day that Heat Magazine has a theatre special will be the day that we’ve succeeded in this goal. So PR people, agents, et all I fear that it’s a battle for you – but here’s hoping that we see it happen finally in 2015, if not we will forever be living in a Chicago type of nightmare.

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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Glen Pearce. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.