On the 17th March, it will be exactly one year since UK theatre came to an overnight standstill. Every day as we approach the anniversary, Theatre Bubble will be releasing personal accounts from theatre makers across all areas of the industry, telling us what this unexpected and unprecedented year has been like for them. See the full series here: Hands Face & Empty Space
Abel Law: Musical Theatre Student
WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAMME TO BRING YOU BREAKING NEWS. Okay, maybe the announcement was not as dramatic as that, but in my mind, this was exactly how it played out. 18th of March 2020 in Malaysia (17th in the UK) was supposed to be just a regular day. I was supposed to be doing regular things like going out to buy groceries, getting my phone fixed, preparing for work. But Ms Rona had other plans. I don’t think anyone was prepared for the sheer carnage, disruption and despair that would season the days to come.
What was I doing? I, like many Musical Theatre trainee – hopefuls, was waiting to hear back from drama schools. I had the whole year planned out: work a lot while back in Malaysia to earn enough money to support myself in pursuing my DreAmS of being a performer on stage. After 3
horrific traumatising formative years at Law school to get my degree, I thought this would finally be the year to do something that I wanted to do. But lockdown meant schools would go online and extracurricular activities would be suspended until further notice. What I was actually doing was NOT going to work to earn that money. Being a Speech and Debate coach meant that my hours were dependent on the allocated extracurricular hours that the school gives me. No Hours, No Money. Thanks, Rona.
By some miracle, I managed to secure my place at the Royal Academy of Music, with enough support from the school and various other organisations to enable me to wedge myself amongst 30 other glorious performers. Arriving in November when the course was due to start in September, I had a grand total of 5 in-person classes before having the gates of the Academy close on me. Surprise, surprise. This was Lockdown 2.0: the Remix. Thanks, Rona…
If there’s one thing I know about this particular industry, it’s that we rarely take things sitting down. What became clearer to me as the days of lockdown turned into weeks, then months, was that this industry is growing tired of being overlooked and is now starting to flex its muscles. But any amount of anger and frustration I had could not possibly compare to that being felt by art creators currently working in the industry. In a time of crisis, their pleas for help were met with deafening silence.
But like revolting children, the Arts decided that if the world could not see that they were “viable”, they would scream it in their ears. Petition after petition, article after article, all in hopes to garner support for the struggles artists faced as a result of the lockdown. The tone-deafness of many figures of authority has proved a shocking reality: that the Arts is an industry that is severely disregarded. I think this was one of the reasons why I was so adamant about pursuing this career, especially this year. I thought I was pretty viable, and I wanted to prove it.
On a micro level, I am extremely grateful to be in an environment where I am surrounded by people who love the arts. Being a member of the 20/21 Musical Theatre company at RAM has made living alone in London much easier, and has made navigating this strange minefield we are in a little more fun. Despite being apart, you can still feel the bubbling energy of the industry. People want to do things, to create, to perform. More and more artists are taking to social media and using the internet to share their work and their art. Our company also decided to join the party, performing “Spread the Love Around” from Sister Act (edited, produced, masterminded by Natalie Pound. Love you girl). The lights in the theatres may have dimmed, but the fires in the community never once burned out. If anything, the heat was on like never before.
To be able to choose to be part of this industry, I think, is a privilege and luxury. But having made this choice, having been given the opportunity to train and grab a slice of that “forbidden” pie, I don’t think I’m ready to pack my bags just yet. The world is not ready for what this industry is cooking. All I have to say is, Get Ready. I think it’s supper time.
Abel is appearing in Graduates at Cadogan Hall 26-28 March