What's the new normal anyway?
Think about the West End and you’re immediately transported to a land of glitz and glamour, extravagant performances inviting you to the Land of Oz or a junkyard playground of cats. Now, think of West End actors and you think about how you’ve defied gravity with Elphaba and fought with Jean Valjean. It’s hard to picture them away from the stage, doing normal everyday things. And yet that has been their only reality after theatres have been forced to close due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
So what normal things have they been doing?
Fred Smiley (Instagram: @fredsmiley)
Fred made his West End debut on Book of Mormon in February, and performed it for a month before the cast was asked to go home. He never would have guessed that would mean 7 months (and counting) of not being able to go back to the theatres. As for right now, Fred has been working at the Sutton House Academy, a SEN school for children with special needs and behaviour difficulty. Squeezing in the odd audition here and there for pantomimes, and taking fitness and dance classes to keep his cardio up to scratch. (“Book of Mormon is a very physically demanding show!” he told me.) He has also managed to film an advert for Heineken during the lockdown.
Jed Berry (Instagram: @jedlybedly)
Jed was in Kinky Boots in the West End, and is now in contract with the Book of Mormon UK tour. During lockdown, he was in a production of Fanny and Stella at the Garden Theatre in Vauxhall and as he said, it’s pretty amazing that he was able to do anything at a time like this. Other than that, he hasn’t been doing very much, but he’s been enjoying the rest – looking after his puppy, socially distanced walks with friends, just normal people things I suppose. And of course, just like the rest of us, he’s angry, angry at the fact the government really doesn’t care about the arts very much. It’s nothing new, and that’s always been the case, he admits. But everything anyone consumes on the daily is the Arts. “We are completely valid!” he said.
Alistair So (Instagram: @someister)
With Fred and Jed, they’re able to go back to their shows and perform when theatres reopen. However, Alistair, who had a contract with Phantom of the Opera, doesn’t have the same guarantee. The production is going to do a recast of it, which leaves him in an unfortunate position. He can scream and shout, but Alistair’s staying positive – taking 2 dance classes a week, and making sure to meet up with friends. Every now and then, some recording work comes his way, which he can do from home. But in these circumstances, all he wants is a little bit more understanding from the general public. “We’re not raging narcissists who just miss people giving us attention, we’re just people who want our jobs back.” he said.
And I guess that is the whole reason for this article. West End actors, albeit portraying your favourite musical theatre character – the one you’ve cried with, laughed with, fell in love with. They're normal people too. And it seems the world has forgotten about them.
All photos courtesy of interviewees.