BUFFERING (A Meantime Happy)
I’m writing this behind a bar. A local pub holding an eclectic mix of working men (Bud John- who only drinks Bud, Charlie- with a cat named Bastard, and Ponytail Adam), and students from the Conservatoire across the street (Louisa, with her highlights and LuLuLemon leggings, Trumpet Stacey, and Samir- with his fancy camera and theories on why Wes Anderson is ‘just, like, the best’). These people- these friends, regulars, former peers- have one question in common;
“What’s next, Beth?”
Well, Bethany Jean, what the heck is next?
The pub, my family, everyone who cares about me is asking. They don’t mean to cause anxiety, they really don’t, but they do. Each time someone asks me 'what’s next?' my soul leaves my little blonde body, and I make some joke about being a starving artist, and living la vie boheme. Everybody laughs, and I go about my day. Jokes aside, I feel like these people only really want to know whether or not I’m on the West End yet- an upsettingly common definition of success. They don’t want to hear about the all-female profit share musical I’m doing at the Edinburgh Fringe, or that the thing I’m most excited about right now is flying to a small Scottish Island next month to devise a new piece of music theatre. I’m not going into Les Mis. Or Mamma Mia. Or Hairspray. These things I have that excite me are small, and my Granny can’t sing along to the soundtrack after a glass of sherry, so my non-theatre family and friends remain uninterested.
What’s next, Beth?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’m about to have two months of solid performance work, more than a lot of people get the summer of graduating from drama school. I came down with a mild case of ‘right place, right time’, and I am riding my miniature wave of success as long as I can. The only thing is- I’m petrified. And I’m not the only one. Everyone I graduated with, even those with work right now, are scared. Scared of that inevitable break in work, that bout of unemployment, that little voice in your head that says “if you were good, you’d be employed”.
My good friend Emma said to me “It’s almost like your life is buffering until you get a job, and that can be okay if you find things to keep you going, like when Netflix is on 99% for ten minutes”. The summer after graduating from drama school is the ultimate buffering moment. A pause in time. A raised hammer. A sharp inhale.
She’s right. (Emma’s always had a way with a simile.) Life is buffering, and that doesn’t mean anything’s broken, or the next chapter in the series isn’t worth waiting for. It just means you need to be patient.
So maybe the question isn’t “What’s next?” but more “What now?”
When a film or episode is buffering, I make tea. I message friends. I send ugly double-chin snapchats to my boyfriend (ah, the true test of love). These small things don’t serve too much purpose in the long run, but they make me happy now. This meantime happiness gets me through the seemingly never-ending buffering, and with this in mind, I’ve discovered a small list of things I can do (as well as some things suggested by my performer friends) to make the most of my buffering phase.
1) Watch things.
Theatre. Films. Netflix. Your cousin’s new girlfriend’s daughter’s dance show. You could save up for that West End show you’ve been dying to see, or you could pay a fiver and support your local AmDram society. Remind yourself what you’re passionate about, what you like to watch, and what you want to do.
2) Find a hobby again!
It can be sugar-honey-iced-tea when you wake up and realise that your only hobby has become your job, and it’s not even a job you’re currently employed in. (It happens to the best of us, friends.) Finding something you love that you feel no pressure to be good at (I personally am a terrifically bad watercolour artiste) can be a saving grace when you want to fill some time, clear your head, or be creative without the pressure of a paycheck.
3) A social life? Never heard of it.
See your friends and family! This is the time! You’re not in tech, you’re not on tour. In between auditions and gigs, see the people who matter most to you. Try to see this break from work as a gift. (I know, I know.) Time to sit with you mum, or best friend, or flatmate over tea and actually talk, not just fling a quick life update at each other as you rush to the next rehearsal. Help your sister plan her wedding- something I’m doing now and have about forty Pinterest boards dedicated to. Help your flatmate rearrange her room. Get some cocktails with your old school friends. These are the things that you wish you had time for when you’re in a show or film, and these are the things that can often get forgotten.
4) Keep skills alive. (Sounds boring- doesn’t have to be.)
If you’re a dancer, take a class. If you’re a singer, learn some new music. Fork out for a lesson once in a while. Practise your instruments. (Even if it’s that bloody clarinet you thought would be a good idea. You’ve done it now, Beth. Commit!) Read plays and keep searching for monologues. The last thing you want is to get an audition and feel like you’ve forgotten how to do that thing you spent years training to do. Be ready, keep on it, an don’t forget how skilled you are.
5) Make your own work.
Write, direct, film. There are a million facebook groups looking for actors and creatives for new work. Spend your evenings and weekends doing what you love, and make something you’re proud of. Who knows? Maybe it’ll get picked up. The next Rent, Spring Awakening, Come From Away. They all started out small. You do you, boo.
6) Get a B Job you like. Or at least doesn’t make you want to cry.
I thrive on my bar job. Taking to people. Being in control of the music. I’ve even used it to make some friends who live in the area. Friends! Real ones! It’s not where I want to end up in life, but it’ll do for now. Find something that’ll do for you.
6) Don’t despair. Please.
This period can seem the loneliest of your life. I feel you. My parents and siblings live in a different country, almost all of my closest friends moved city after graduating, I was close to broke, and for the first three months after grad I was in a long-distance relationship (Glasgow to New York). Loneliness and boredom was something I started to associate with my daily life, and I hated it. I was living and waiting for the next audition. Waiting for a text. Waiting for a shift at the bar. For my friend to facetime. For anything, really. But I don’t want to wait anymore. I want to live a fulfilled little life- whether I’m a working actor or not.
At the end of the day- I’m twenty years old. I don’t have to have a fabulously blossoming career just yet. I can enjoy a bar work, get pinterest-obsessed, write and rewrite my poems and songs and scripts. I can have a beer, a sneaky fag (don’t tell my old singing teacher), and do Justin Timberlake karaoke. I can laugh along to the ‘starving artist’ jokes. I can casually deflect the questioning parents and grandparents, the ‘pay us back when you’re famous’, the comparison to my apparently more successful peers.
I don’t owe anything to anybody apart from myself- and neither do you.
Written Summer 2018, Originally Published on the 98% Blog